Revered or reviled, Gertrude Bell was a commanding figure: scholar, linguist, archaeologist, traveller and 'orientalist'. A remarkable woman in male-dominated Edwardian society, she shunned convention by eschewing marriage and family for an academic career and the extensive travelling that would lead to her major role in Middle Eastern diplomacy. But her private life war marred by the tragedy, vulnerability and frustration that were key to her quest both for a British dominated Middle East and relief from the torture of her romantic failures. Through her vivid writings, she brought the Arab world alive for countless Britons as she travelled to some of the region's most inhospitable places. She explored the Ottoman Empire during and after World War I when her travels throughout the region and her knowledge of Arabic made her indispensable to British Intelligence. Alongside T.E. Lawrence, she was hugely instrumental in the post-war reconfiguration of the Arab states in the Middle East. In Iraq, in particular, she became a friend and confidant of the new King Faisal, and a prime mover in drawing up the country's boundaries and establishing a constitutional monarchy there, with its parliament, civil service and legal system. She was influential in creating the state which had all the trappings of independence while remaining a virtual British colony. The legacy of her work is still being played out in the conflicts of today. Yet behind Gertrude Bell's public success was a backdrop of personal passions, desires and the relationships that drove this extraordinary woman. Embroiled in an unsuccessful love affair with Charles Doughty-Wylie, a married man, she found peace in the solitude of the desert. But the seemingly intractable problems of the newly independent Iraq led her to write of the 'weariness of it all'. Shortly afterwards she took her own life with a lethal dose of sleeping pills. Using previously unseen sources, including Gertude Bell's own diaries and letters, Liora Lukitz provides a deeper political and personal biography of this influential character. A Quest in the Middle East is a lyrical and illuminating portrait of a woman born ahead of her time, grappling with issues that would shape the future of the Middle East.
Quest in the Middle East, A
Gertrude Bell and the Making of Modern Iraq