2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
This is a fascinating book - I've read before of the journeys to and sojourns in Egypt of such intrepid travellers as Florence Nightingale, Lucie Duff Gordon and Amelia Edwards, and always admired their fortitude and courage in undertaking these steps into the unknown. This book captures extracts of writings from these authors, as well as many others, including Sophia Poole, Countess Hahn Hahn, Mary Chubb, Sarah Belzoni and many more. Their works incorporate writings dated from 1779 (Eliza Fay) right through to 2006 (Rosemary Mahoney), but most of the extracts are from the mid- to late-nineteenth century. Cleverly, instead of moving chronologically, or from one writer to the next as a whole, the book is divided into eight largely geographical areas:
1. Alexandria, the Delta, and Suez
3. The Environs of Cairo
4. Up the Nile from Cairo
5. Nubia and Beyond and Turning North
6. Northward down the Nile
7. Luxor and the West Bank - the Thebes of Old
8. Egypt Beyond the Nile - the Desert
The writers are introduced in their times and their contexts - as travellers, or as wives of men working in the area, or as artists. And their impressions and thoughts on what they see are beautifully and evocatively captured and given to the writer - in extracts long enough to be enthralling, but short enough to allow us to view a wide number of writers' works within the scope of the book. Brief biographies of each of the women are included at the back of the book also. Wonderful illustrations from a book published in 1850 of scenes of Egypt and Egyptian life complete this gem of a book. Delightful; and a book which would be dipped into again and again to enjoy the delights and wonders shown therein.
on 27 March 2015
Anyone contemplating a trip to Egypt should take with them a copy of this volume of traveler’s tales (sic: the American spelling is used throughout) and compare notes with the intrepid lady explorers who journeyed through Egypt in times past.
Editor Deborah Manley has compiled an entertaining collection of writings by over forty “journal-ists” including Amelia Edwards, Lucie Duff Gordon, Marianne Brocklehurst, Sarah Belzoni, the wonderfully named Wolfradine Minutoli (travelling as a young bride with her Prussian husband on a scientific mission), and two more recent explorers: US travel writer Rosemary Mahoney, who in 2006 rowed herself down the Nile, and Bettina Selby, who cycled through Egypt in the 1980’s.
Women writers were often better observers of life on the Nile, having more time to watch and describe; their dependence on Egyptian guides brought them a better understanding of local culture, and they were able to meet with Egyptian women, from villagers to members of the royal harem.
Beginning in Alexandria, and moving south through Egypt to Nubia and into the desert beyond the Nile, Manley interweaves the experiences of the different women, linking them by the journey rather than chronologically, so that travellers in the 1800’s share their experiences with writers from later centuries. Some of the earlier travelers were passing through Egypt with their husbands, en route to or from India; by the mid-nineteenth century some women were travelling in their own right, and sometimes on their own, with the first true tourists arriving with the advent of Thomas Cook’s Nile steamers.
The writings cover all aspects of travel on the Nile, from the scenery and peoples to more practical considerations.
In 1861, writer and artist Mrs Carey pointed out the lack of irons in Egypt, forcing Europeans to choose between taking a lady’s maid, taking a couple of irons for their own use, or doing without ironing all together; she also had some good advice for tackling the “little tormentors of our race” (i.e. mosquitoes). Marianne Brocklehurst’s first glimpse of Alexandria in 1873 brought a gasp of “Great scrimages” as she described the shock of plunging into the Old World and its fashions, while in 1988 Bettina Selby described how “occasionally, a crack opens and a remnant of the Graeco- Roman world breaks surface”, while in Cairo she found comfort in noticing that Cairo drivers “did not seem to have any real malice towards other road users”, saying she would rather be knocked off her bike by someone’s lack of skill than their aggression! Manley provides an index of writers, which is useful if you want to follow the exploits of a particular contributor.
There are also brief biographies for each traveler, and a handful of black-and-white illustrations of nineteenth century Egypt; I personally would like to have seen portraits of at least some of these authors. As a journal writer myself, I fully sympathise with Lady Tobin’s comment that keeping a journal could become a chore, and that after a “fatiguing ride of eight or nine hours on a camel, beneath a burning sun” the temptation to just lie down and relax was often overwhelming, but fortunately she and the other writers persevered, allowing us to read, enjoy and learn from their experiences today. Florence Nightingale perhaps best sums up the timelessness of travel in Egypt: “... here Osiris and his worshippers lived, here Abraham and Moses walked, here Aristotle came … they are now all gone from the body; but the Nile flows and the Pyramids stand there still”.
Review by ancientegyptmagazine dot com