London: Ernest Benn Limited, 1927. First edition, sixth printing. Hardcover. These two volumes posthumously published the correspondence of Gertrude Bell, “The uncrowned Queen of the Desert”. This first edition, sixth printing is scarce thus in the original dust jackets. The sixth printing occurred two months after the first and is virtually identical, featuring the same handsome green cloth bindings and the same, striking dust jacket illustrations.
Condition is very good plus in very good dust jackets. The publisher’s green cloth bindings are square, clean, bright, and tight with only incidental shelf wear. The contents are likewise clean, with a crisp, unread feel. The extensive illustrations, as well as the Volume II folding map, are intact. We find no previous ownership marks. Light spotting appears confined to page edges. The dust jackets, printed in black on cream stock, feature striking portraits of “H.M. King Faisal of Iraq” on the Vol. I front face and “Auda, Chief of the Abu Tayi” on the Vol. II front face, each above a biographic blurb about “the uncrowned Queen of Arabia”. The jackets are inevitably soiled, but substantially complete, losses tiny and confined to extremities apart from a .75 x .5 inch (1.9 x 1.3 cm) loss at the upper left corner of the Vol. II rear face. The dust jackets are newly fitted with removable, clear, archival covers.
Spanning 1874 to a few days prior to Bell’s death in July 1926, the letters were “selected and edited” with Prefatory Note by Gertrude Bell’s stepmother, Lady Florence Bell (1851-1930). The Vol. II Conclusion includes a message from King George V to Lady Florence: “The Queen and I are grieved to hear of the death of your distinguished and gifted daughter… The nation will with us mourn the loss of one who by her intellectual powers, force of character, and personal courage rendered important and what I trust will prove lasting benefit to the country and to those regions where she worked with such devotion and self-sacrifice.”
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 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 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 helping fund a national museum in Baghdad, which was 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. Bell was portrayed in the 2015 film Queen of the Desert. Item #006108