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1990 Book Reviews 245 Traveling with the Ladies: Women's Travel Literature from the Nineteenth Century Middle East Judith E. Tucker Letters from Egypt, Lucie Duff Gordon. London: Virago Press, 1983 Domestic Life in Palestine, Mary Eliza Rogers. London: Kegan Paul International , 1989. The Victorian traveler to the Middle East, deeply imbued with the then prevailing notion of "western" superiority and the benightedness of most things "eastern," not least among them women, would seem a poor source for reliable information on the historical development of gender in the region. As we have come to understand how distorting the orientalist lens could be, we have grown very leary of treating nineteenth-century travel literature as a historical record. These texts, as Edward Said persuasively argued, tell us far more about the hopes and fears of the European whose exploration of the otherness of the oriental served to affirm his or her own sense of the virtues of western society. Most travel literature is now read not so much for what it tells us of life in the Middle East as for what it tells us of the ways Europeans used their encounter with the region to service their own ideas, needs, or fantasies. The recent republication of two English accounts of Middle East travel in the 1850s and 1860s raises, however, some intriguing questions for the student of gender. Mary Eliza Rogers and Lucie Duff Gordon were two travelers distinguished by the length of their stays (two years in Palestine for Rogers and seven years in Egypt for Gordon), and by their sex: as women, they not only took a special interest in gender questions but they also observed Palestinian and Egyptian society from the vantage point of the English female intimately familiar with the marginality of women to so many aspects of the much vaunted progress of the "west." Although neither of them was a conscious feminist, to what extent did their own experience of being female help them refocus that orientalist lens, at least as far as the observation of women is concerned? Are these accounts, by virtue of female authorship, privileged in thefr exploration of women and gender? Certainly, the publishers seem to think so: both book jackets cite special insights into womanhood and family life as signal features of the books, features that undoubtedly led to the decision to republish with an orientation towards a women's studies market. © 1990 Journal of Women's History, Vol. 2 No. ι (Spring) 246 Journal of Women's History Spring The ability of Rogers and Gordon to deliver on their publishers' implicit promise is shaped, of course, by thefr own contexts. They were very different sorts of women. Rogers, sister of the British consul in Haifa, was a rather conventional and sheltered young woman who travelled to Palestine to serve as mistress of her brother's house for two years in the 1850s. Gordon, on the other hand, was an experienced woman in her 40s, the daughter of English radicals and herself an independent thinker, who had contracted tuberculosis and so spent seven years in the 1860s living on her own in Upper Egypt, separated from her husband and children, in the vain hope of a cure. Rogers was clearly more influenced by popular European views of the region. Her disconcerting habit, for example, of transforming the Palestinians she sees into pieces of Biblical scenery was typical of nineteenth century travelers to the "Holy Land." Women harvesting olives recall for us prescriptions in Deuteronomy, and women mourning a death in the family is described by passages from the Books of Jeremiah and Mathew.1 One travels, with Rogers, through an imaginary Biblical landscape in which the Palestinians are often called upon to represent someone else altogether. While Rogers' account is peppered with such allusions, Gordon rarely conjurs up a Biblical scene. In her very first letter from Egypt, she does remark that "all is scriptural in the country" as she watches a Bedouin woman walk alone "towards the desert in the setting sun like Hagar." 2 Quickly, however, as she gets caught up in the obvservation of living Egyptians, she drops the Biblical allusions. We are left with a very occasional...


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