Saturday, February 27, 2016

Gertrude Bell--Queen of the Desert

"The finest place in the world is the back of a swift horse,
Bell quickly learned to ride astride
rather than sidesaddle on her
dessert explorations.
And the best of good companions is a book."  Al-mutanabbi, Arab poet, 915 AD - 965 AD



The fragment of verse above could have easily been written by Gertrude Bell (1868 to 1926).  During her time, Gertrude Bell was as famous as T.E. Lawrence, otherwise known as Lawrence of Arabia.  The daughter of a wealthy British baronet, she was the first woman to take first class history honors in Oxford.  She and her two alpine guides blazed ten new paths to the summits of Alp peaks.  Bell spoke Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Italian, and German.



The cover above is based on a photo
of Gertrude Bell, Winston Churchill,
T.E. Lawrence, and other British notables
riding camels in the Mideast.
Gertrude Bell spent years organizing and leading archaeological and exploratory expeditions  in the desserts of Syria, Arabia, Mesopotamia and Asia Minor.  The contacts she made with the dessert tribes gave her a unique knowledge of tribal alliances during her work as a British political officer during WW I and her post war work as Oriental Secretary.  She was instrumental in helping to establish the political administration of Iran after the war.  During her lifetime, Gertrude Bell was known as "Queen of the Dessert." Unfortunately, Bell never had a producer like David McLean make a blockbuster movie about her so she is unknown to most Americans.




I recently finished reading Gertrude Bell  A Woman in Arabia: The Writings of the Queen of the Desert edited by Georgina Howell.  I want to read Howell's biography Gertrude Bell Queen of the Desert next.  You can also access on-line versions of Bell's own works such as Amurath to Amurath on-line using links such as http://www.presscom.co.uk/amrath/amurath.html



Werner Herzog wrote and directed a 2015 film "Queen of the Dessert" about Gertrude Bell's life staring Nicole Kidman, Robert Pattinson, James Franco, and Damien Lewis.   The reviews have been mostly bad but I want to see the movie anyway.

 
Above is a photo Bell took during her excavations at Babylonia.  As she described the great lion statue above, "It is as though the workmen of the Great King had fashioned an image of Destiny, treading relentlessly over the generations." 

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