Diagnosed with tuberculosis, Lady Lucie Duff Gordon left her family in London in 1862 to take up permanent residence in Upper Egypt or the Saeed. There she wrote Letters from Egypt (1865), which offers an intimate portrayal of the social life of the Saeed, connecting happenings there with international politics and issues around race, class, nation, and gender.
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Diagnosed with tuberculosis, Lady Lucie Duff Gordon left her home and family in London in 1862 to take up permanent residence in Upper Egypt or the Saeed. She became fluent in Arabic, studied the Qur'an, and lived and dressed simply in what she called “Arab style.” She spent her evenings conversing with her neighbours in her house on the ruins of Luxor and the local population embraced her, giving her the Arabic name “Noor-ala-Noor” meaning “light from light.” Letters from Egypt (1865) met with immediate popularity and favourable reviews that praised Lady Lucie's literary style and her ability to depict the people of Egypt with sensitivity and insight. She provides an intimate portrayal of the social life of the Saeed, connecting happenings in that area with larger international concerns. She shares her thoughts on the administration of Khedive Ismail, British and European influence in the country, the practice of forced labor, and the condition of the fellaheen. In addition, her letters provide rich primary source material for the student or scholar interested in exploring questions such as race, class, nation, religion and gender in the context of nineteenth-century encounters between the “Occident” and “Orient” or the “West” and the “Islamic world.”
Diane Robinson-Dunn is an Associate Professor in the history department at the University of Detroit Mercy.