“Gertrude Bell: A Woman in Arabia” by Georgina Howell

gertrudebellWith so much of our own news coming from the Middle East these days, it is interesting to read of this remarkable woman who played a big role in that part of the world some 100 years ago.

Gertrude Bell was born into a rich family of industrialists in the north of England in 1868. She was the first woman to get first class honours in Modern History at Oxford University. She set off to explore the world and found her love in trips through Middle East deserts, making seven independent expeditions in all. She learned Arabic, and also turned to archaeology, and photography. She served the British armed forces during World War I, as intelligence expert, becoming an army major.

She worked for self-determination of the Arabs and contributed to the defeat of the Ottoman Empire and the founding of the new Iraq. She understood the importance of what she called “a just comprehension of the conflicting claims of different classes of the population” and  “gaining the confidence of the people so as to secure their cooperation.” We are still trying to do this today.

There have been many books written about Gertrude Bell. In this one, Georgina Howell has collected her papers and letters. They give an excellent picture of her life and times.

Reviewed by Anne McDougall