London: Ernest Benn Limited, 1927. First edition. Half leather. This is a finely bound two-volume first edition, first printing of The Letters of Gertrude Bell. The binding features half dark green calf with raised spine bands and red and black spine labels over marbled paper-covered boards with calf corners and blind-tooled transitions. The contents are bound with head and foot bands and fine stock endpapers. Condition of the bindings is fine, with no wear or flaws to report. The contents remain bright and complete with no previous ownership marks. Intermittent spotting is light.
Spanning 1874 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. By her mid-twenties the unmarried Bell discovered intellectual and emotional fascination with the Middle East, to which she matched her “Outstanding literary and linguistic skills” coupled with “determination, bravery, physical strength, and endurance”.
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.
From the original dust jacket blurb: “Gertrude Bell will live in the public memory most largely as the uncrowned Queen of Arabia… The letters published in this book, from her girlhood until the end of her life, show an amazing range of many-sided ability… Her genius found its best expression in the intimate study, comprehension and mastery of Arab life and politics… showing herself time and again the indispensable intermediary between East and West.”. Item #006504