In 1862, after contracting Tuberculosis, Lucie Duff Gordon’s travelled to Egypt, not just seeking adventure but hoping to improve her dwindling health. Her Letters from Egypt are not just random correspondences between herself and her family, they have become since her first collection was published in 1865 some of the finest, articulate and detailed accounts of life in Egypt during that time.
One factor that has always fascinated me (along with millions of others) is Ancient Egypt, and although these letters are not set in that time, they do offer a scintillating insight into the lives of those living in the Egyptian lands, whose traditions haven’t changed for hundreds of years, with some still maintaining traditions that date back to the time of the Pharaohs themselves. This wouldn’t have been possible if Lucie Duff Morgan wasn’t the woman she was, strong, determined and kind-hearted, and educated enough to appreciate and understand that this was their land and she was the foreigner.
One of the many outstanding aspects of Duff Gordon’s Letters from Egypt is not only her health and the Tuberculosis that was to eventually claim her life in 1869, that maintains its foreboding presence in the background, it’s the stoic determination to get things done, not to let the condition beat her, which can bring an air of melancholy to the book but also a celebration of Diff Gordon’s Joie de Vivre which shines throughout, with her sharpened wit at the ready to combat almost any situation!
What is striking throughout the letters is the Egypt in which we’re shown, which appears to be in sharp contrast to the world we know reading the news today. In Letters from Egypt, Lucie Duff Gordon presents an Egypt at peace, open to outsiders and welcoming to all. The religion shown here is the religion of the people living at peace with each other in a time before we outsiders went in and exploited the Middle East for our profits. There surely is a lesson for us all here, never to take appearances for granted, for here is a rich and diverse culture that many of us could take a lesson from.
Although Lucie Duff Gordon’s life ended shortly after the last of these letters were written her life stands as a testament to the strength of her will and humanity, as she set up a hospital for the local people, she soon became indispensable to the people she met in her travels, and it is her humanity that shines through her words on these pages.
- Letters from Egypt by Lucie Duff Gordon is published by Eland Books (£12.99). To order a copy go to www.travelbooks.co.uk
Founder and Editor of Pilgrim House, currently undertaking a research degree at Bangor University and working on a book on Folklore and early Welsh Christianity. Tom’s other work on music, poetry, health along other writings and images can be found at tomasstanger.com