Set in mid 19th century Egypt, Kate Pullinger's American debut chronicles Sally Naldrett's transformation from life as a strait-laced English maid to an independent woman perceived as having "gone native." The Mistress of Nothing
raises questions of loyalty to social hierarchies in the 1860s; to Sally's mistress, Lady Duff Gordon (a historical personage known for her belles lettres
); and to her Lady's Egyptian dragoman, Mr. Omar Abu Halaweh.
When Lady Duff Gordon, suffering from tuberculosis, is advised to travel to a hot, dry climate for the sake of her health, the family's limited finances, her husband's work and her children's schooling prevent them from accompanying her. Her excursion to Egypt is fraught with tension and the awareness that she is not expected to return to England for longer than a visit. Far from home, it is...
Beyond the Book
Born on June 24, 1821, Lucie Duff Gordon was the daughter of John Austin, a former army man and legal scholar, and Sarah Austin (daughter of John Taylor of Norwich), a respected translator. Lucie was schooled in Germany during her early years, and demonstrated an aptitude for languages. As an only child, she was frequently in the presence of her parents' literary friends, and regarded John Stuart Mill (the future philosopher), whom her father tutored, as family. When she was fifteen her father was posted to Malta and she was sent to an English boarding school. Two years later her parents returned to England and...