New York: Boni & Liveright, 1928. First U.S. edition. This first American edition of Gertrude Bell’s Persian Pictures was bound from sheets printed in England for the second British edition - the first published under the author’s name. The American is the more striking edition, with heavy, laid paper sheets with deckled edges bound in quarter tan cloth over vivid purple boards and issued in a striking dust jacket of pale purple illustrated and printed in dark purple and black.
In 1892 Gertrude Bell, a twenty-four-year old Oxford graduate, traveled to Persia with her Aunt to visit her uncle, Sir Frank Lascelles, a newly appointed Minister in Teheran. The result of her travels was Safar Nameh, Persian Pictures: A Book of Travel, a slim volume published anonymously in 1894 to little response. In the following decades Bell achieved political influence as well as notoriety as a travel writer, prompting renewed interest in her scarce early works. The preface of this posthumously published volume written by Sir E. Denison Ross notes “the only copy known to me is that from which the present edition is being made.”
This copy is very good in a like dust jacket. A suggestion of ex-library status is limited to small remnants of what might have been labels on the rear pastedown and lower dust jacket spine. The binding is square and tight with sharp corners and only hints of shelf wear and sunning to extremities. The contents are clean, with no previous ownership marks. Minimal age-toning affects only the page edges, with light spotting to the top edge. The unclipped dust jacket retains the “$3.00” front flap price and shows only minor loss at the corners and spine ends and skinned paper and a small hole at the lower spine where a label was apparently removed. The jacket spine is lightly toned and the jacket protected beneath a removable, clear archival cover.
Gertrude Margaret Lowthian Bell, CBE (1868-1926) was the intriguing and influential adventurer, scholar, writer, and diplomat who, like her contemporary T. E. “Lawrence of Arabia” did much to frame and shape the Middle East during and after the First World War. Raised amid industrialist family wealth, Bell lost her mother at age three, increasing a “sense of independence and self-reliance” perhaps already inherent to the “physically restless and intellectually gifted” child. By her mid-twenties – during the trip that prompted her to write this book - the unmarried Bell discovered intellectual and emotional fascination with the Middle East. “Outstanding literary and linguistic skills” coupled with “determination, bravery, physical strength, and endurance” invigorated contributions to travel literature, translation, archaeology, and architecture, eventually evolving into engagement in the region’s socio-political currents. By the First World War, Bell became “a voluntary agent of Britain’s interests in the Middle East” and assumed her defining role – as “a woman trying to break one of the most challenging barriers of her time: the physical conquest of the desert and the decoding of the moral and ethical code of its inhabitants.” (ODNB)
Bell’s linguistic and tribal knowledge made her indispensable to the Arab Bureau (the Cairo intelligence office of the British government during the First World War), contributing articles to the Arabian Report and the famous Arab Bulletin. After the First World War, Bell remained an influential figure, helping persuade Colonial Secretary Winston Churchill to maintain a British presence in Iraq, helping secure the throne for the King of Iraq, and facilitating the Anglo-Iraqi treaty. One of her last accomplishments was to gather funds for a national museum in Baghdad, which was inaugurated in 1923 and installed in a permanent building in 1926, the year she died. Like the contemporary figure to whom she is often compared, Lawrence of Arabia, Bell was disappointed in some of her hopes for the region and died comparatively young. Item #005778