When Lady Duff Gordon, paragon of London society, departs for the hot, dry climate of Egypt to seek relief from her debilitating tuberculosis, her lady's maid, Sally, doesn't hesitate to leave the only world she has known in order to remain at her mistress's side. As Sally gets farther and farther from home, she experiences freedoms she has never known - forgoing corsets and wearing native dress, learning Arabic, and having her first taste of romance.
But freedom is a luxury that a lady's maid can ill afford, and when Sally's new-found passion for life causes her to forget what she is entitled to, she is brutally reminded she is mistress of nothing. Ultimately she must choose her master and a way back home - or a way to an unknown future.
Based on the real lives of Lady Duff Gordon and her maid, The Mistress of Nothing is a lush, erotic, and compelling story about the power of race, class, and love.
Pullinger's imagined account, inspired by the real lives of Lady Duff Gordon and her maid, reveals fascinating strengths as well as weaknesses in both women, positing neither as being "right" or "wrong," but asking readers to consider the delicate differences between kindness and cruelty, honor and respect. Steeped as it is in Victorian sensibilities, the novel is a shaded, well-considered portrait of emotional betrayal, revealing what happens when a trusted person thinks too little – or too much – of someone else. (Reviewed by Karen Rigby).
While the setting is lovingly and sensuously portrayed, the characters lack the depth and development that would engage the readers' interest; instead they remain somewhat unsympathetic and uninvolving.
Incorporating actual quotes from the real Lady Duff Gordon's letters, and endowing Sally with tremendous character, Pullinger successfully imagines an ordinary life in extraordinary circumstances.
The Independent (UK)
Pullinger's narrative flows as smoothly as the Nile whose density and odour she seductively evokes.
The Guardian (UK)
The heat and exoticism of 19th-century Egypt are convincingly conjured, but the narrative is less successful in evoking a powerful sense of the conventions and expectations of its time, not only socially but morally and politically, so that the full impact of Sally’s story fails to hit home.
The Globe and Mail (Canada)
For me, The Mistress of Nothing soars only when Sally - and Kate Pullinger - break altogether from the clutches of Lucie Duff Gordon and the fetters of the historical record.
Recent Reader Reviews
Rated of 5
by Joann Lame This book was so bad I could not finish it. Ugh.
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 Lucie, now almost eighteen, started to move about in society, meeting Sir Alexander Duff Gordon soon after.
By the time of their marriage in 1840, when she was not yet twenty, she had already translated German historian Barthold Georg Niebuhr's "Greek Legends", though the work appeared...
In 1998 Rosemary Mahoney took a solo trip down the Nile in a seven-foot rowboat. This is the unforgettable story of her trip down the world's most historic river, overcoming both cultural and natural challenges.
This is one of 3 readalike suggestions for The Mistress of Nothing. Members have full access to all readalikes. If you are a member, please login. To find out more about membership, click here.
U.S. ebook sales up in 2012, but rate of growth is slowing(May 16 2013) In 2012, trade book sales (i.e. non academic book sales) rose 6.9%, to $15.049 billion, and e-book sales continued to grow, although the rate of growth...