“Those Eyes Kohl Blackened Enflame”

Re-reading the Feminine in Gertrude Bell's Early Travel Writing

in Journeys
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In May 1892, Gertrude Bell embarked on her first major non-European voyage to Persia, a journey that not only inspired her first published piece of travel writing, Persian Pictures (1894) and her translation of a selection of poems by the medieval Sufi poet, Hafiz (1897), but which also informed Bell's lesser-known, fictional writing. This article reads Bell's Persian Pictures alongside her unpublished short story, “The Talisman, or, the Wiles of Women” (c. 1892–1893) in order to consider the ways in which the feminine functions in her representations of the areas to which she traveled. Through this comparative reading, this article demonstrates how—through her use of the feminine—Bell subverts the “constitutive tropes of Orientalist discourse” of the East as sexualized, seductive, and dangerous (Yegğenogğlu 1998: 73), and instead positions it as an active and informed agent that knowingly challenges and resists Western colonial attempts at penetration and/or domination.

Journeys

The International Journal of Travel and Travel Writing