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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Baker & Taylor
Recounts the life of Gertrude Bell, an English adventurer who explored the Arab world and helped create the modern Middle East

Blackwell North Amer
Reared in the comfortable and privileged world of the "eminent Victorians," Gertrude Bell turned her back on convention and sought adventure in Arab lands. Traveling numerous times through the Syrian Desert and, at risk to her life, through the great Arabian desert of the Nejd - the last European to do so before the eruption of World War I - she wrote of her travels in widely acclaimed books. The trust she earned among the Arab sheikhs and chieftains made her indispensable when war broke out; recruited by British intelligence, she played a crucial role in obtaining the loyalty of Arab leaders, and her connections and information provided the brain for T. E. Lawrence's military brawn. To cap off this amazing career, she participated in the postwar peace conferences as a major architect of the modern Middle East, helping to found the state of Iraq and installing its dashing monarch, to whom she was an intimate adviser. In her lifetime, she was known as the most powerful woman in the British Empire.

& Taylor

Recounts the life of Gertrude Bell, an Englishwoman adventurer in the style of Beryl Markham and Isak Dinesen, who explored parts of the Arab world around the time of World War I and helped create the modern Middle East. 25,000 first printing.

Publisher: New York : Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, 1996
Edition: First edition
ISBN: 9780385474085
Branch Call Number: BIO Bell 1996
Characteristics: xxv, 419 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations, maps ; 25 cm


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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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