Book of a Lifetime: Lucie Duff Gordon: A Passage to Egypt by Katherine Frank

From The Independent archive: Kate Pullinger on how a biography of the Victorian author cured her writer’s block

Friday 15 October 2021 21:30
Comments
<p>Lucie Duff Gordon’s own diary of her time in Egypt came out in 1865 </p>

Lucie Duff Gordon’s own diary of her time in Egypt came out in 1865

I’m not a reader who returns to books; the pressure of unread books bears down on me too heavily. I reread The Great Gatsby from time to time, when I need to be reminded of how to say as much as possible in very few pages. But while writing my new novel, The Mistress of Nothing, I returned to two books so often that they are both now so tattered and annotated and stuck-up with Post-its that they are almost art objects.

I read Katherine Frank’s biography, Lucie Duff Gordon: A Passage to Egypt, for the first time when it came out in paperback in 1995; it was recommended by a friend who knew Frank. On the whole, I’m not attracted to biography as a genre, especially biographies of writers; I’d rather read the writer’s work. If that makes me sound rather worthy, I am not – it’s the aforementioned pressure of unread books coming into play.

Frank’s biography, which I loved, told the story of Lady Duff Gordon’s life from beginning to end. But a single paragraph, describing an incident in Egypt where Lucie lived with her maid Sally, came to dominate my life for the next 14 years. It read: “A dark, moonless night, and not a soul awake on the boat, or so Lucie thought until around midnight she heard strange, half-stifled noises coming from Sally’s cabin next door. Then Sally suddenly called out for Lucie to come to her; she was in labour and needed a midwife.”

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged in