The Mistress of Nothing by Kate Pullinger

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Lady Lucie Duff Gordon was the toast of 1860’s London. Tennyson, Meredith and other such literary lions adorned her salons.  Her translations from French and German books were published and acclaimed, but her tuberculosis was killing her.  It was agreed that her only hope was to go to a hot, dry climate, so she and her maid Sally Naldrett travel to Egypt.  Initially they stay in Lucie’s married daughter’s empty house in Alexandria.

 

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Lady Lucie Duff Gordon was the toast of 1860’s London. Tennyson, Meredith and other such literary lions adorned her salons.  Her translations from French and German books were published and acclaimed, but her tuberculosis was killing her.  It was agreed that her only hope was to go to a hot, dry climate, so she and her maid Sally Naldrett travel to Egypt.  Initially they stay in Lucie’s married daughter’s empty house in Alexandria.

 


Camping out in the Alexandrian house was a trial; neither woman spoke the language and they existed on meager rations that Sally could manage to buy.  An acquaintance perceives their need for a dragoman, a factotum, and recommends Omar Abu Halaweh.  He is the answer to their problems and together they travel to Luxor and rent a house.

The ménage á trois is a success.  Lucie’s health improves and life in this outpost is pleasant and varied.  Lucie establishes a salon of local dignitaries and passing Europeans, and ministers to the sick with much success.  All is well until Sally and the married Omar fall in love and she becomes pregnant.

This absorbing story is based on fact and Pullinger’s intimate novel depicts romance and biting social comment against a background of historical detail rarely seen in such a readable book.  The interplay of power, love and loyalty are woven into a fascinating mix.


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