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Improbable Women

Five Who Explored the Middle East

by William Woods Cotterman

Publication Year: 2013

Improbable Women examines the lives of five women writers, all upper-class British women, who rebelled against the conventions of their own societies and lived, traveled and explored the Middle East.

Published by: Syracuse University Press

Front Flap, Title Page, Other Works in the Series, Copyright, Dedication, About the Author

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pp. 2-8


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pp. vii-viii

Maps and Figures

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pp. ix-12

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pp. xi-14

Few are able to say that their book was written entirely on their own. I am not one of those. First, I must thank Syracuse Univer-sity Press and its able staff, in particular Deanna H. McCay, Kelly Lynne Balenske, Fred Wellner, Mary Selden Evans, Kay Steinmetz, and Lisa Kuerbis, who were both kind and professional. I learned ...

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pp. xiii-xxiii

...moments of what Israelis now call the Yom Kippur War, decided to arm their nuclear weapons, and on October 9, the General Staff rec-began with an attack by the Egyptians and the Syrians, a body blow that forced the Israelis into their fi rst defensive war, a war that Arabs now call the October War. In Kuwait at the time, I was on assign-...

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Part One: Augusta Zenobia: 241–275(?)

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pp. 1-28

Figure 1. Herbert G. Schmalz, Britain, 1856?1935. Zenobia?s Last Look on Palmyra. 1888, London. Oil on canvas, 183.4 x 153.6 cm. ...

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1. That Woman in Palmyra

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pp. 3-18

Astride her white Nubian mare, she stared into the distance far drils of smoke rose from temples where priests and priestesses sent incense into the early light of dawn, petitioning for her victory and safe return, a momentous day for Palmyra, the day Zenobia would warhorses, their ceremonial armor glistening in the sun?s fi rst rays. ...

Part Two: Lady Hester Lucy Stanhope: 1776–1839

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pp. 19-46

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2. Hester’s World

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pp. 21-27

While Zenobia slipped into the mists of time, Aurelian, who led her into Rome in golden chains, came to a conclusive end. In 275 CE his personal secretary, Eros, began to fear that Aurelian was planning to have him killed, and in a preemptive move prepared a fake ?hit list? containing the names of army offi cers and saw to it that the list ...

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3. Forged in Conflict

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pp. 28-37

More than 1,500 years after Zenobia left the scene, Lady Hester Lucy Stanhope marched in, greeted by great fanfare. No European British consul urged her to abandon the venture, and the pasha in Damascus warned her that the desert was dangerous even for Arabs, as local tribes were at war and a force of fi erce Wahabi warriors was ...

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4. First Lady

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pp. 38-47

...planned to see her brother Philip and fully experience the continent so often discussed by her family and friends. By this time, tours fol-lowed organized coach routes and offered the options of purchasing or hiring carriages, some fi tted with elliptical spring suspensions segments, such as the Mount Cenis pass from Switzerland to Italy, ...

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5. On Dealing with Brutal Men

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pp. 48-67

The towering mass of Gibraltar formed a gateway to Hester?s new life. She and James were received by the governor-general, whose quarters still exist, and they were besieged with offers of hospitality. The experience was similar to that of her Grand Tour, but the social life of Gibraltar was a pale shadow of London and Rome, and her ...

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6. A Nun in Lebanon

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pp. 68-80

Plague was sweeping over Syria, and if Hester and her party were to escape, it would have to be from a port. The only plague-free port was Latakia, so they left Hamah on the 10th of May 1813 and and the relationship between Michael and Hester was wearing thin. Michael was sent on his way. Apparently as a way of wrapping up ...

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Part Three: Lady Jane Elizabeth Digby El Mesrab: 1807–1881

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pp. 81-108

...brow crowned with such fi ne tawny coloured hair; this creature of steel. No horse, whatever his mettle, can fi ght against her nervous wrist, her soft hand that nothing in the world can tire. Her passion is all African; her desire rises like a whirlwind in her eyes, desert full of azure and love, with its unchanging sky ...

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7. Jane’s World

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pp. 83-87

Napoleon?s invasion of Egypt launched a fashion trend in England and Europe. The material and images his expedition brought back created a romantic aura that infl uenced architecture, decoration, painting, and literature. Into the arms of this trend was born a lad who, in the Highlands of Scotland, was called Geordie. Wee Geordie ...

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8. Everything for Love

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pp. 88-97

Cast against a background of loss, grieving, and romantic failure, the loss of General John Moore was the event that thrust Hester Stanhope into the journey that would last the rest of her life. Simi-larly, cycles of romantic hope and disappointment drove the life and travels of Jane Digby. In Jane?s case, disappointment did not lead to a ...

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9. Affairs to Remember

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pp. 98-110

At this early point in their affair, Felix was as engulfed by emotion as Jane. They were passionately in love and everything else, including discretion, was secondary. There must have been some semimystical feeling of invisibility as well, for a major venue for their affair was 73 Harley Street, a few doors from her father?s residence at 78 Harley ...

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10. From Bandit to Bedouin

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pp. 111-122

...of Albania, a volatile cross between patriots and brigands, instru-1828. Some of them were highway robbers, and it had reached the point that travelers outside of Athens were liable to be relieved of all their possessions, stripped, and left to walk naked to the near-est town. To placate the Palikar and hopefully restore order to the ...

Part Four: Isabel Arundell Burton: 1831–1896

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pp. 123-150

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11. Isabel’s World

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pp. 125-128

The latter half of the nineteenth century was marked by the fruit-ful intersection of peace between Britain and Europe, the accelerat-ing pace of the Industrial Revolution, and the peaking of the British ing and trade, with the colonies providing a ready market for manu-factured goods and Britain becoming more dependent on the colonies ...

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12. Creating a Dream

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pp. 129-146

Six feet tall; broad chest and erect posture of a soldier; the swarthy face of a gypsy with a deep scar on the left cheekbone, souvenir of an unfriendly African spear; thick, drooping black moustache; and a fi erce, hawklike gaze that was intended to intimidate and held more than a hint of the violence of which its owner was capable?this ...

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13. Realizing the Dream

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pp. 147-156

Richard acted as ?point? for the Burtons. When the time came to travel, Richard would pack lightly and depart to reconnoiter, leav-ing Isabel to settle their accounts and arrange for the packing and shipment of the bulk of their belongings. This became the legend-ary pay, pack, and follow of Richard?s blunt communications. So ...

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Part Five: Gertrude Margaret Lowthian Bell: 1868–1926

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pp. 157-184

...lions in strength and valor. We had better make peace with them.Figure 5. Gertrude Bell Standing Outside Her Tent. Babylon, 1909, ...

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14. Gertrude’s World

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pp. 159-164

...nineteenth century, writing was still a man?s profession, and women, well, we have discussed that. To Mary Ann Evans the solution was straightforward if not simple; she would publish under the name of Bede (1859), The Mill on the Floss (1860), Silas Marner (1861), and Library in the British Museum and soon was tutoring Mary Ann in ...

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15. Bright and Brave

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pp. 165-172

There are no elements of fi nancial deprivation in the story of Ger-trude Bell; her grandfather was Sir Isaac Lowthian Bell, ironmaster, colliery owner, scientist, and creator of a massive fortune that nour-ished the family past Gertrude?s lifetime. Her father, Sir Hugh Bell, This is not to say that Gertrude was extravagant. She gave every ...

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16. From Mountains to Mohammed

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pp. 173-188

The next fi ve years were an interlude from the East and a time of healing. There was travel of course: Algiers, Switzerland, Germany, Italy, and a six-month around-the-world voyage with brother Mau-rice. During these years she published a travel book on her travels in Persia, Safar Nameh, Persian Pictures in 1894, and in 1897 Poems ...

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17. Joyous Journeys

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pp. 189-199

Gertrude?s writing is suffused with such enthusiasm and joy that it is easy to lose sight of the diffi culties and challenges she faced. The trips from Jerusalem were far from easy and bore their share of northern Arabia in either diffi culty or danger. The latter trips leap town northeast of Damascus. Her journey would actually take her ...

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18. Creating Iraq

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pp. 200-205

Gertrude was sailing into a period of her life in which she would infl uence world events. In spite of, or perhaps because of the turmoil and pain of her personal life, she would immerse herself in the build-ing of the modern Middle East. She has been described as the most drawn from Gallipoli; the Sykes-Picot agreement had delineated the ...

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Part Six: Freya Madeline Stark: 1893–1993

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pp. 207-234

...hand: fi rst a few here and there, then more and more, till the Abraham or Jacob.?.?.?. I never imagined that my fi rst sight of ...

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19. Freya’s World

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pp. 209-211

Howard M. Sachar in A History of Israel: From the Rise of Zionism to Our Time describes a missed opportunity for Arab-Jewish coop-eration that occurred in 1913 when Arab leaders approached a Zion-ist representative and suggested a united front against the Turks. The initiative failed because of a lack of commitment on both sides, but ...

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20. Accepting the Torch

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pp. 212-221

On July 12, 1926, when Gertrude Bell was laid to rest in the harsh soil of Iraq, Freya Madeline Stark was in London studying Arabic in preparation for a career that would lead to Baghdad and far beyond. Her life would offer an odd parallel to Gertrude?s, with places and people in common. In many ways, Freya was the capstone of these ...

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21. Assassins and Incense

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pp. 222-239

...and sailed for Beirut. For Freya, having read and dreamed and pre-pared for this moment, the small vessel with fi ve other passengers and a cargo of cement, sugar, oil, matches, fi gs, almonds, and soap was the dirt, steel, and sweat equivalent of a lateen-rigged Arab dhow. An aura of adventure and mystery lay like a fi ne mist over the ship, ...

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22. War from Cairo to Baghdad

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pp. 240-252

While with the caravan from Azzan to the coast, ?My Old Uncle,? a bedouin, pulled an eighteen-inch lizard from his loincloth and pre-sented it to Freya as a gift, ?[a] scaly-tailed creature with blue gills and a crest, like a small dragon.?1 This vulnerable creature, whose only defense was to wrap himself in his tail and pretend to be a ...

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23. To the End of the Road

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pp. 253-260

Flora Stark died in California in November 1942 while Freya was still in Baghdad. The Ministry of Information had asked her to travel to the United States on a lecture tour, but she felt that it would end the nascent Brotherhood in Iraq and she put them off for a year. Had she gone at the fi rst request, she would not have been there in time, ...


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pp. 263-271


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pp. 273-285


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pp. 287-298

Back Flap, Back Cover

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pp. 325-326

E-ISBN-13: 9780815652311
E-ISBN-10: 0815652313
Print-ISBN-13: 9780815610236
Print-ISBN-10: 0815610238

Page Count: 312
Illustrations: 6 black and white
Publication Year: 2013