Magazine article The Spectator

The Joys and Pains of Solitude

Magazine article The Spectator

The Joys and Pains of Solitude

Article excerpt

The joys and pains of solitude GERTRUDE BELL by H. V. F. Winstone Barzan Publishing, £19.95, pp. 483, ISBN 0954772806 * £17.95 (plus £2.25 p&p) 0870 800 4848

Life in Iraq may not be half as apocalyptic as the media would suggest, but it is still sufficiently turbulent to welcome the reissue of Victor Winstone's classic biography of Gertrude Bell, Arabist, explorer, archaeologist, snob and co-founder of the Iraqi state. Originally published in 1978, it has been updated to include the most recent conflict in the Middle East. This is a shame and disappointment, because much of Winstone's revised introduction reads like a teenage diatribe against Israel and America. It is not worthy of his fine study of this remarkable woman's life.

He writes contemptuously of the 'disgracefully named' 'Shock and Awe' campaign, claims that past mistakes were repeated with 'sinister exactness', and detects 'a sinister American-Israeli claim to hegemony'. 'The motives of these modern campaigns, the erosion of Palestinian rights and hopes and the determination to immobilise Iraq, are all too clear,' he concludes. They aren't all that clear in Baghdad, where one sees the Coalition manfully doing its best to stabilise and reconstruct the country. Never mind the Palestinians. The injustices committed against them do not belong here.

Bell, the child of an immensely wealthy and well-connected industrialist's family, succumbed early to the pull of the East. At 32 she made her debut in the desert, a camel trek across Syria. Of the Orient she wrote, 'I find it catching at my heart again as nothing else can, or ever will, I believe, thing or person.' Tragically, she was proved right. Love was not entirely elusive, but those she loved either died before she was able to marry them, were married themselves, or both. She therefore joined that fascinatingly troubled band of British desert explorers, together with her contemporary Lawrence and successor Thesiger, whose professional successes in the sands were never matched by personal happiness. 'There is poetry and beauty in solitude,' a friend once told her. There was, there is, but she didn't always want it. In fact, she craved a husband and children and admitted to her inner circle that she was merely 'carrying on an existence'.

What an existence! For 58 years this virtually indomitable woman was sustained by stupendous personal reserves of energy and willpower. She possessed an ability to inspire and make friends around the world, married to a fierce intellect and felicitous talent for Eastern languages. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.