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Star of the Morning: The Extraordinary Life of Lady Hester Stanhope Hardcover – 18 Aug 2008

4.7 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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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: 4 x 16.4 x 24.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 246,294 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

Product Description

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

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Format: Hardcover
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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By C. Ball TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 6 Jun. 2016
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In an era when women were still seen as property, to be passed from father to husband upon marriage, with very little recourse for independence or freedom, Lady Hester Stanhope chosen another path. She dared to be different. Granddaughter of the famous Pitt the Elder, adored niece of Pitt the Younger, she was headstrong and wilful from a very young age, and never altered or deviated from that in all her years. She never married, had numerous lovers, may well have given birth to or aborted a number of illegitimate children (nothing proven), travelled the world with a younger man as her lover for many years, before settling down in the Middle East and becoming a respected and mystical figure among the tribes of the Druze, Bedouin and others.

It's quite a life, especially when you compare it to contemporary women of her era, like Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, or Lady Worsley - scandalous figures in their own right but still operating very much within the conventions of the day and controlled, for better or worse, by the men in their lives. In comparison, Hester reminds me in many ways of Jane Digby, a woman who led a similar rebellious life, travelling the world, taking lovers as she pleased, falling in love with the Middle East and the Bedouin way of life. It's a shame their paths never crossed - Jane didn't venture into the Middle East until some fifteen years after Hester's death - as I think they would have been kindred spirits. Either that, or they would have hated each other!
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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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Format: Hardcover
I had heard about Lady Hester in passing and when I read the review in the Times last week had my curiosity piqued. This is a really interesting, well-written book about an utterly fascinating woman. I'm not a big fan of a lot of dull modern academic writing so this book, written for a popular audience, hit just the right note for me. And the research seems comprehensive and original. Highly recommend this for readers interested in Middle East, British History but most of all, extraordinary people who have slipped from the pages of history ... and shouldn't have.
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