London: Jonathan Cape, 1937. Third edition. Hardcover. This is a jacketed third edition of Gertrude Bell’s Persian Pictures, the first edition to feature an Introduction by the English poet, novelist, and Bloomsbury group member Vita Sackville-West – a personal friend of the author. 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 both political influence and notoriety as a travel writer, prompting renewed interest in her scarce early works. A posthumous, second edition of Persian Pictures was published in 1928. This third edition, the first volume in Jonathan Cape’s “The New Library” series, features the first appearance of an introduction by Vita Sackville-West (1892-1962), with whom Bell shared a fascination with the Middle East. Vita and Gertrude first met in Constantinople before the First World War thereafter maintaining a friendship and correspondence. In their last meeting, just months before Bell’s death, Sackville-West visited Bell in Baghdad and was gifted a Saluki dog named Zurcha by her host.
Condition is very good plus. The bright green cloth binding, illustrated and printed in blue, is tight and clean with sharp corners. We note only a little darkening to the edges and a slight forward lean. The contents are bright with a crisp feel and no previous ownership marks. Mild spotting affects only initial and final leaves and the top edges show some dust soiling. The dust jacket is substantially complete and unclipped with modest spine toning. Minor wear and trivial loss are primarily confined to hinges and extremities. The dust jacket is protected in 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 #006673