Desert Queen

Desert Queen

The Extraordinary Life of Gertrude Bell, Adventurer, Adviser to Kings, Ally of Lawrence of Arabia

Book - 1996
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In this masterful biography, Wallach shows readers the woman behind Desert Queen Gertrude Bell (1968-1926)--adventurer and ally to Lawrence of Arabia--a woman whose passion and defiant independence were at odds with the confined and custom-bound England she left behind. of photos.
Publisher: New York : Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, 1996.
Edition: 1st ed.
ISBN: 9780385495752
Branch Call Number: 956.02 WAL
Characteristics: xxv, 419 p. : ill., maps ; 23cm.


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Jul 22, 2017

Bell, born into a rich Victorian family, lost her mother to childbirth before she was three. In a way, she never recovered from that loss. Her father tried to make it up to her, and they were each other's best friends all her life. But she allowed him to rule her even when she was living in the Middle East, refusing to let her marry the man she chose. Bell never learned to get along with women, beginning with her stepmother. After being one of the first women to earn a degree at Oxford, but failing to snag a husband in the requisite 3 yrs, she went to stay with a diplomat uncle in the Middle East, and was hooked. Here she no longer needed a chaperone to go shopping, or travel into the desert and meet tribal leaders on the men's side of the tent. Freedom at last! During WW I her archaeological and map making skills earned her a place in the British spy corps, though not everyone could put up with her difficult personality. Lawrence, for instance, may have been her ally, but he didn't like her--but then he didn't like many women. After the war, she helped create the country of Iraq, for the good of Britain, and helped King Faisal settle in, though he'd rather have been king of Syria. Eventually, all her friends went home or died, and she became very lonely. She never married or had children, to her regret. Though Wallach doesn't say so directly, I'd guess Bell was clinically depressed much of her life. In 1926, 57 and ill, she took an overdose of sleeping pills, and died in her sleep. A fascinating look at a talented, flawed woman.

Jul 13, 2016

I recommend reading Gertrude Bell's travelogue "The Desert and the Sown" to gain an appreciation of her adventurousness, intelligence, and tenacity in exploring in Syria which laid the foundation for her stateswoman role in creating the state of Iraq described in the latter third of this biography. The events in Mesopotamia, following the Great War, are revealing for the light they shed on the roots of contemporary turmoil in Iraq.


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Jul 13, 2016

A thorough biography of the English woman who had a major role in the creation of the state of Iraq in the decade following the First World War based on her knowledge of Middle Eastern languages, and familiarity with the local tribes and geography from first-hand exploration. The biography provides endnotes, an extensive bibliography, maps, and an index.


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