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February 2011 BOTM: The Mistress of Nothing: A Novel by Kate Pullinger

A monthly discussion on varying themes guided by our members. (Book of the Month discussions through December 2011 can be found in this section too.)
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Currently reading: The Farm at the Edge of the World by Sarah Vaughan
Interest in HF: The first historical novel I read was Katherine by Anya Seton and this sparked off my interest in this genre.
Favourite HF book: Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell!
Preferred HF: Any
Location: North Yorkshire, UK

Post by Vanessa » Thu February 24th, 2011, 9:14 am

That's terrible news for you, Margaret! Hope you get it sorted to your advantage.

I agree with you about Lady DG's husband - he didn't show much compassion for her condition, did he!
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Post by Susan » Fri February 25th, 2011, 12:41 am

Lady Duff-Cooper's book Letters from Egypt is available for free download at http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/17816 This is the collection of letters that Lady-Duff Cooper was writing in the novel.

I was also fascinated with the book and enjoyed the character development and learning about Egyptian life at that time.
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Post by annis » Fri February 25th, 2011, 4:07 am

Posted by Margaret
Here's a review at the Globe and Mail by a reviewer who seems more conversant with the underlying facts than I am. She brings up some interesting points.
Including this bit

"Even so, Pullinger's harsh depiction of Lucie Duff Gordon has prompted British writer Anthony Beevor to ask in The Guardian: “…(W)hy cannot novelists use the far more legitimate technique of roman-à-clef if they wish to rewrite events or characters for dramatic effect?”

Knowing that only some of the novel's events are based on fact kept me wondering: Which ones?

As the great-great-grandson of Duff Gordon, Beevor may have personal reasons to pose this question."

How interesting - I hadn't realised that Anthony Beevor was Duff Gordon's great-great-grandson. The reviewer quotes Beevor as saying in a 2009 Guardian article (see here) : "A new novel, The Mistress of Nothing, by Kate Pullinger, raises again the debate over faction."

The subject of HF misuse of actual historical figures appears to still be exercising Anthony Beevor, judging from a recent Guardian article by him on the perils of faction.

Sorry to hear about your difficulties, Margaret. It may be that, like here, in law inherited money is exempt from consideration as joint property, but that's a legal issue and doesn't change the moral obligation.
Last edited by annis on Fri February 25th, 2011, 7:40 pm, edited 5 times in total.

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Post by Margaret » Fri February 25th, 2011, 6:36 am

That's funny about Beevor. Last week when I linked to his article about "faction" in one of my blog posts, I had not yet cracked the cover of The Mistress of Nothing, did not realize Beevor was descended from the Duff Gordon family, or that he had gotten upset about Pullinger's novel.

Lucie Duff Gordon was quite a fascinating person in her own right, and admirable in many ways. For much of the novel, I was really cheering her on as she unbent to relate to Sally and Omar in a much less strictly unequal way than was the "proper" English way of relating to servants. It would be strange, I think, as a Gordon descendant, to read a novel about an admired ancestor and suddenly to see an uglier side of her character in her interactions with her servants. Many people were ugly to servants at the time, and Gordon's treatment of Sally comes across as so particularly harsh largely, I think, because she seemed as though she was going to be an exception. I do think that comes across in the novel. And Pullinger does have Sally recognize that she made a mistake in keeping her pregnancy secret for so long. In the context of the novel, it's hard to condemn her for that mistake, but it does seem that things would likely have turned out differently if Sally had had the courage to confide in Lady Gordon. Or would they?

Thanks for your kind thoughts, Annis and Vanessa. Actually, divorce courts in Oregon can take an inheritance into consideration, so the outcome will likely be okay. (And I am, after all, warm and comfortable in my apartment as things currently stand, unlike a lot of people who just lost their homes in Christchurch.) It was just such a shock to get such an unfair settlement proposal from someone who, within the month, was asking if I would consider reuniting with him. And it was a strange synchronicity to find the proposal in my email in-box just minutes after I finished reading The Mistress of Nothing. Perhaps I would have felt worse if I had not just read the novel. History doesn't say how Sally coped after losing her job; I liked the way Pullinger crafted a happy ending for her.
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