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Star of the Morning: The Extraordinary Life of Lady Hester Stanhope [Hardcover]

Kirsten Ellis
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
Price: 25.00 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Book Description

18 Aug 2008

The dramatic story of Lady Hester Stanhope – a wilful beauty turned bohemian adventurer – who left England as a young woman, unashamedly enjoyed a string of lovers and established her own exotic fiefdom in the Lebanese mountains where she died in 1839.

Ambitious, daring and uncompromising, Lady Hester Stanhope was never cut out for a conventional life. Born into an illustrious political dynasty, she played society hostess for her uncle, William Pitt the Younger. After his death, she struck out for unchartered territory, setting sail with her lover for the Mediterranean and Constantinople – turning her back on England, as events would transpire, forever.

It was in the Middle East, however, that she found her destiny. As the greatest female traveller of her age, she was the first western woman to cross the Syrian desert, where she was hailed by the Bedouin as their ‘Star of the Morning’. From her labyrinthine fortress in the mountains of Lebanon, where she established what amounted to her own fiefdom, she exerted a canny influence over the region's devious politics.

Hers was a life of adventure and intrigue – yet in the years following her death her remarkable story has been largely dismissed, reworked by the Victorians into a cautionary tale for young women with wayward tendencies. This captivating biography, drawing on fresh research from three continents, resurrects Hester as the complex, courageous and fearless woman she was, bringing to life her hidden loves, friendships and ambitions. More than a mere traveller, here was a woman whose aspirations led her straight to the heart of the shadowy race for influence between the great powers of the nineteenth century – a world of shifting alliances, double agents, romance, intrigue and murder. Above all, Lady Hester Stanhope was a woman driven by her desire to make a mark on the world, whose search for love and spiritual meaning in a war-torn Middle East provide an illuminating and moving parallel for our time.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: HarperPress; First Edition First Impression edition (18 Aug 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007170300
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007170302
  • Product Dimensions: 23.8 x 15.8 x 4.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 448,477 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Amazon Review

The life of Lady Hester Stanhope reads like the purest fiction. If a screenwriter were to present this scenario to a film company, it would probably be dismissed as unlikely in the extreme. But in Kirsten Ellis's Star of the Morning: The Extraordinary Life of Lady Hester Stanhope, we are presented with a fascinating factual biography that outdoes the most outlandish fiction.

From her youth, it was abundantly evident that Lady Hester Stanhope was likely to pursue a very different destiny from that of her contemporaries, but few could have guessed the bizarre journey she would be taking. As the daughter of the eccentric Earl Stanhope, she sported an unconventional manner even as she abandoned her family home to become a society hostess at the house of her uncle, William Pitt the Younger, the Prime Minister. Within this glittering social circle, she quickly became a star, pursued by many highborn admirers -- and a celibate lifestyle was not one that the rebellious Hester chose for herself. Her list of lovers was impressive, but she resisted the temptation to marry; she knew that there were other possibilities in her life that she must explore. When Pitt died, she found herself without a home, and decided to leave Britain. Setting out with a young lover (who later returned to Britain for family commitments), she travelled through the Mediterranean and beyond. It was in the Middle East that the seeds of her legend were sown. At this time, she became the most celebrated female traveller of her era, and was the first woman from England to traverse the Syrian desert, celebrated by the Bedouin as their 'Star of the Morning'. Establishing an impressive home in the mountains of Lebanon, she began to become a player in the tortuous politics of the region. But how was she, an Englishwoman, able to deal with the Middle Eastern rulers and politicians, not accustomed to taking women seriously? Hester, knowing that she was not cut out to wear the veil, began to dress in male clothing -- and even to bear arms. The effect of this remarkable woman on those around her was seismic, and she began to be regarded almost as a queen, inspiring feelings of awe. But Hester had always had a passionate belief in some of the obscure byways of the supernatural (she was obsessed with preparing herself for the second coming of Christ), and as her mental acuity began to wane, so did her influence. Soon, almost all she owned had fallen away from her, with only the doctor she had travelled to the Middle East with remaining as her confidant.

Kirsten Ellis's exuberantly written biography does full justice to her larger-than-life subject, celebrating this unlikely heroine who made her mark in both the male-dominated societies of Britain and the Middle East. Ellis has also discovered many startling new facts about Hester, including details of her relationships with adventurous figures of the day such as Sidney Smith and the revolutionary Latin general de Miranda (not to mention her dabbling in espionage -- another unlikely but fascinating aspect of her astonishing story). --Barry Forshaw


‘Ellis has unearthed fresh material, and retells the story with idiosyncratic panache.… Ellis is a vivid narrator with an eye for detail…This book leaves little doubt that Lady Hester was brave, whether standing in her stirrups to fend off a charge or tossing her head as gossip about a love affair swirled around the salons of London and Damascus.’ Sara Wheeler, Sunday Telegraph

‘As Kirsten Ellis vividly shows, Hester Stanhope’s story is one of brave (and often foolhardy) triumph over the straitjacket of Regency attitudes and the even more hidebound conventions of Islamic society. … Ellis has unearthed startling new aspects of this remarkable woman’s life, such as Hester’s relationships with no fewer than three Napoleonic spies. Ellis’s enthusiasm for her heroine makes “Star Of The Morning” a fascinating study with some trenchant points about the position of strong-minded women in male-dominated societies.’ Barry Forshaw, Daily Express

‘An intense and readable biography…the exploits of headstrong proto-feminists in alien cultures make for good copy and perhaps, a good film. Ellis writes clearly and objectively…and refuses to be swayed by her subject’s emotional excesses…she is excellent on historical detail, particularly the interplay between international and local politics around the Mediterranean.’ Andrew Lycett, Literary Review

‘“Star of the Morning” tells a rattling good story well’ Sunday Times

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A terrific biography and thoroughly researched! 18 Aug 2008
I've just read this biography, which I think is quite outstanding! Although I'd read earlier biographies of Lady Hester,including the one by Lorna Gibb a couple of years ago, I had no idea there was so much more to her life - there is much new material here. This is a vastly superior biography, and the author, although her research has evidently been scholarly, writes very well, in a very readable way that moves you forward with the action of the story. I was fascinated to know all sorts of things, for example that Lady Hester had been a swordswoman, had lived with the Yezidi and had studied Sufism with masters in Tripoli, and also all the in-depth detail about her relationship with the French spy, Yves Vincent Boutin - and the amazing details about her own espionage activities. This book also manages to bring both the Regency world of London and the 19th century Middle East very vividly to life. It describes exactly how the Bedouin came to revere Lady Stanhope, and why. Fascinating stuff! I came away feeling I'd plunged into a very real world and got to know many of the larger-than-life leading characters. I cannot recommend this book too highly, it's the biography Lady Hester Stanhope deserves, the best yet! It would make a great movie!
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars So much knowledge, but SO confusing! 7 Jan 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I approached the subject of this biography with no prior knowledge of the subject, Hester Stanhope (HS), nor of the historical period. I was very curious to read about HS, having just finished reading about Gertrude Bell who achieved similar renown in the Middle East as a woman pioneer and nation builder (Iraq) almost a century later. Thus, I think I judged this biography to some degree by the standards of the other. While I feel that I understand much of the motivation of Gertrude Bell, based on citations from her own correspondence, I still feel totally in the dark about what motivated HS according to Kirsten Ellis' study, even though this also draws heavily on the subject's own prolific correspondence.

Although Ellis undertook tremendous research, sadly she remains on the outside of her subject, rarely able to penetrate the psyche of HS. Her biography is much more a recitation of facts than the exploration of a living personality. My rating of 4-stars recognizes Ellis' heroic documentary efforts but acknowledges the disappointing lack of any genuine insights.

In addition there are other shortcomings that detract from the scholarship of this work:

1. The opening chapters present the unsuspecting reader with a blizzard of names, very few of which are explicated even in the copious footnotes and endnotes. Presumably the family tree offered at the front of the book is intended to offset this blizzard. However the tree is hard to read, being loaded with names of family members who have little relevance to HS, to the exclusion of more distant relatives who later come to play key roles.

2. HS was connected to numerous members of the British Government who had an influence on her life.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Queen of the East 5 Jun 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Having seen Jennifer Saunders in her hilarious 30-minute "quasi"-documentary on Lady Hester, I became curious to know more about this illustre figure of the early 19th century England - and found just what I was loking for (and more) with Kirstin Ellis' book. Beautifully written account about a great British eccentric!
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