I seem to start every blog post I write at the moment with an apology for not having blogged recently and this one is no exception. But I am back and still in the land of the living (no thanks to the whole menopause malarkey!) and off to Egypt. Not literally, sadly, although to be fair that doesn’t really bother me as I definitely don’t have the desire for travel that Ethel and Lady Burghclere clearly had.
After over five months of not working on My Dear Elsie for all sorts of reasons, I suddenly felt a real sense of urgency to crack on with it. I’m now determined to get all the rest of Ethel’s letters and postcards typed up as soon as possible and the end-notes for each one researched and written. It feels really important to at least have a manuscript of the book in existence in case anything happens to me. After all, with everything that’s been going on in the world recently, it does make you a lot more aware of the fragility of life.
But on to happier topics! The section of the book I’ve now started typing up contains Ethel’s letters and postcards sent to my grandmother Elsie from January 1928 to March 1928 when Ethel and Lady Burghclere travelled to Egypt and the Holy Land. The reason for this trip may well be explained by this quote from an earlier letter that Ethel wrote to my grandmother:
“Now comes along Mr Howard Carter who has been lecturing in America this last few months. He has heard from the Egyptian government who want him to return, offering everything, but apparently he reads between the lines that they mean him to work under them. This in a sense he does not want to do but as he doesn’t want a thing out of the tomb and as he has difficulty to get the money out of Almina, Lady Carnarvon – why not? So what he really wants is Lady B to go out to him. He says she will have more influence than anyone else. He finds it a great drawback or did last year in not having any members of the family out there to back him up. Lady B is seriously contemplating same and in that case if I can choose, what shall I say? Egypt or America! Could anyone find a more difficult choice?”
In many ways, the letters and postcards written from Egypt are among some of the most fascinating and interesting in the whole collection. In particular, the letters that Ethel writes after she and Lady Burghclere are shown round the Tutankhamun excavations and relics by Howard Carter himself are amazing. Some of her descriptions are wonderful to read and really help to bring the whole experience alive.
Here is a little taster of one of the letters that I’ve picked out for you:
“You would not believe the marvellous workmanship unless you actually saw it. Hundreds and hundreds of things, even to a beautiful ostrich feather fan such as they carry today. There is a dummy on which his [Tutankhamun’s] clothes were made, his slippers and a little gold charm he wore round his neck fashioned in a copy of his favourite dog. A most beautiful thing, really. I must not stop now to tell you all the wonderful things I saw but I hope I shall remember them to tell you later.”
Ethel starts writing this letter from the Semiramis Hotel in Cairo and while I was doing some research on the Semiramis, I came across an excellent website based around a book by the journalist Andrew Humphreys called Grand Hotels of Egypt and its follow-up On the Nile. If you’re interested in finding out more, the website can be found at http://grandhotelsegypt.com
I left a comment on one of the blog posts and as a result, a very nice lady from Nashville in the USA contacted me showing great enthusiasm for and interest in My Dear Elsie. This has encouraged me even more to get on with the book. She also very kindly provided me with some extremely useful information on the famous Vanderbilt family as in an earlier letter from 1925, Ethel mentions that she and Lady Burghclere are going to stay with the Vanderbilts when they get to New York.
So I promise that by the time I blog again, I will have made progress!