Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Thinking of Egypt.....1874

British novelist Amelia B. Edwards' memoir
(from the digital archives of the
University of Pennsylvania.)
For the past two months, I've been immersed in a project set in Egypt, specifically the Nile between Thebes and the First Cataract, circa 1874, and have not stayed on top of 2013 events as I should be.  For the most part, I've been checking headlines at trusted sources.  However, as I read accounts by Americans and Europeans traveling up and down the Nile in that different era, I keep running into the deep misconceptions and fears these wealthier or mission-driven outsiders had about both place and people, misconceptions that seem so egregious and obvious to readers now.  What will seem obvious in the next 100 years about this painful transition as we watch and unfortunately judge so much (and so loudly) from the outside?

Notes from my comfortable confines: a few of the works I've been looking at in particular, are the travelogue Murray's Handbook for Travelers in Egypt (1860s) and Amelia Edwards' 1000 Miles Up the Nile.  Despite its dated attitudes and perspective, the information and detail of the British novelist's voice bring the river alive and with well-intended affection.  Earlier this spring, in my class on Biography at the CUNY-Grad Center, I had the good fortune to be assigned, Lytton Strachey's "The End of General Gordon,"which takes place in Upper Egypt in close to the same year. This short work takes a direct hit at late Victorian colonialism in Strachey's signature, darkly humorous style, and reveals the short-sightedness and narcissism that ignites misuse of power. My project is not  political in nature, but views offered from this very particular window sadden further what I see happening now.