Monday, February 3, 2014

Vintage pick - Persia and it's People: Women travelers in the Middle East

This post is a repost of a much older piece of mine, from a time when I used to work part time in the glorious Moufflon bookshop in Nicosia, Cyprus. I used to treasure the beautiful books there, and always went looking for the stories that went beyond the book's pages. 

Opening up a new shipment of books from England today, I was treated to the sight of some quite rare and beautifully-bound books filled with stories from the Middle East written around the turn of the last century. Startlingly, several of these early colonial travelogues were written by women, who at the time were accompanying husbands and brothers sent to further British colonial interests in the region as the Ottoman Empire was crumbling.

Travel literature flourished in the Victorian period due to the interest generated by the far flung places incorporated into an expanding Empire. While men wrote the majority of these books, there are a few female names that shine through. These books are important as women travelers were sometimes able to access locales and environments not open to men, as well as attempting to address themes not normally awarded value within the patriarchal social understanding of the world at that time. Although in saying this, these women were still seeing through the same lenses, as yet critically unaltered by the feminisim and reflexivity to come later in the century.

Nonetheless the women I’m referring to – Freya Stark, Lady Anne Blunt and Ella C. Sykes – were pioneers in their own right. Learning Arabic, exhaustively traveling and documenting the Middle East with their male compatriots, these women provide an alternative nuanced voice and vision of their time.We have a 1st edition, author-signed copy of Ella Sykes’ Persia and it’s People (1910) for sale. It’s a beautiful tome, hard back, blue cloth cover, 356 pages, illustrated with black and white photographs taken from Sykes’ brother’s collection. In the book, Sykes describes life in Persia based on her observations from two visits that extended over a period of three years under sections that include religion, government, travel, country life, Persian men, women and the city of Mashrad.

Interested in more information? Contact Ruth at Moufflon – - the book may still be there....