- More Usefully Employed: Amelia B. Edwards, Writer, Traveler and Campaigner for Ancient Egypt
In the introduction to this biography, Brenda Moon announces that her aim is to "present Amelia Edwards in a fuller light than has hitherto been directed upon her life, by drawing on a wider range of sources than previous writers have done" (3). Given the critical energy directed at Victorian travel writers during the past decade, such a project is long overdue. Although websites on Edwards's life abound, Moon's study is only the second book-length biography on this prolific writer and influential Victorian in the founding of the Egypt Exploration Fund.
For the Victorians, Egypt served as an established tourist destination that retained much of its romanticized allure—as is suggested by the reason Edwards offered for her journey to Egypt: she was inspired by her ravenous consumption of books on ancient Egypt as a child, and, as she more playfully suggests, she was searching for good weather while traveling as an adult. Moon documents Edwards's evolving passion for this nation, its people, and its past. Not only did this journey engender her most popular travelogue, A Thousand Miles up the Nile (1876), but her Egyptian expedition sparked what Edwards described as "a mission for life" (131). Building toward the formation of the Egypt Exploration Fund, both Edwards's life and Moon's study culminate in these efforts. Drawing from a range of sources, Moon details the often tendentious history of the Fund's establishment, a process that required Edwards to perform complicated negotiations with political finesse in order to accommodate French, British, and Egyptian concerns as well as opposing academic and organizational egos. Moon's chapter "A Campaign, 1877–82" details Edwards's efforts to secure this enterprise and sets up the equally informative chapter "'More usefully employed', 1882–86," which documents the political maneuverings necessary to pacify competing visions and sustain the Egypt [End Page 365] Exploration Fund. Passionately committed to this enterprise, Edwards bequeathed funds for a Chair of Egyptology and her own collection of Egyptian antiquities and Egyptological books to the University College, London.
Described in her youth as the "precocious of the precocious," Edwards demonstrated a remarkable range of talents (5). Her talent at drawing brought about the attention of George Cruikshank, who offered to take her on as a pupil, teaching her the profession, but her parents' "prejudice against the artist life, " as Edwards put it, prevented this endeavor (12). Edwards's musical accomplishments enabled her to teach and compose, toy with the idea of singing professionally, and serve as an organist. In an autobiographical memoir written at twenty-four, she lists an impressive range of areas of study: "perspective, fencing, oil painting, pistol-shooting, riding, smoking, mathematics" (26). The death of both parents in April of 1860, however, seemed to precipitate a darker period for Edwards, one in which she described herself as "idle" and living the "life of a cabbage" (70). But Edwards's melancholy then lessened through her relationship with Lucy Renshaw, who was her companion during her most productive years writing travelogues.
Although currently known primarily as a travel writer, Edwards wrote from childhood, producing eight novels, three books of etiquette, and numerous shorter pieces. She also sketched narrative cartoons, and was an accomplished artist, as demonstrated by the well-produced illustrations and plates featured in her travelogues. Moon details Edwards's extensive contribution to Household Words, such as the "annual ghost story" attributed to Dickens when the magazine was reprinted in America (22). Edwards contributed a weekly column as Wanderings and Ponderings of a Man about Town (June 1857–October 1858) and wrote children's books, textbooks, and translations. Moon includes useful appendices that provide a chronology of Edwards's life, a detailed list of her published works, and an annotated list of her fiction (especially useful because so much of Edwards's writing is out of print). An appendix listing critical works on Edwards and her texts...