I hope this finds you fit and well.
I have been busily working away, typing up the letters that Ethel wrote to my grandmother from her time with Lady Burghclere in Egypt and thought I would bring you a blog post or two before I move onto the ones she sent from the Holy Land.
As mentioned before, I do have a real sense of urgency to get the letters typed up, especially as I came to a major decision recently. After years of saying that I would never “self-publish” any of my books, I have now changed my mind, for all sorts of reasons. You can find out what these reasons are in a post I wrote last month for my writing blog.
Of course, self-publishing My Dear Elsie, the proposed book of Ethel’s letters, is a lot more complicated than self-publishing any of my children’s books. This is because I don’t own the copyright to the content of the letters, only the letters themselves. I’ve written a blog post on my writing blog about this issue too, if you’d like to take a look.
But back to Egypt. There is no doubt in my mind that Ethel’s letters from Egypt are probably the USP of the whole book as they are so closely linked to one of the most incredible and fascinating historical events of the 20th century, the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922. Although Ethel and Lady Burghclere didn’t visit the tomb until six years later, they still saw many of the Tutankhamun treasures in the original setting and their constant guide and companion was none other than the discoverer of the tomb, Howard Carter himself.
Here is Ethel’s description of encountering Tutankhamun’s coffin for the first time:
The great outer case is made of a lovely pink stone called Quartzite or something like that. It has a little crystal in it. It is a tremendous coffin. I believe the lid weighed several tons when they took it off. They have put a glass cover in place of it so that they can see the mummy which is enclosed in its last gold case. It is exactly the same as the two outer cases in the museum but in its real setting, how wonderful!
Next she describes Tutankhamun’s funerary chest:
We passed through this chamber and came to the chamber in which stood the funerary chest or Canopic Jar. Personally I thought this the most beautiful thing of all, made of translucent alabaster and exquisitely inlaid with blue lapis-lazuli. Again the goddesses guard the corners and one above. It is the loveliest of things.
Finally, I have included this extract from her letter describing returning to the hotel in the evening after an incredible day spent in Tutankhamun’s tomb with just Howard Carter and Lady Burgchlere for company:
And then the evening in the Valley of the Kings. How can I describe it! The great solitude and silence. The watching hills above and the fathomless sands beneath. High above us circled the birds of prey. The only other inhabitants of the Valley besides us three, to keep company with the dead Pharaohs, were two ravens which I thought might have been Elijah!
As we returned slowly down the Valley in the swiftly changing and exquisitely lovely light, when the earth began to reflect itself in the sky and the stars began to appear almost before the last rays of the sun sank on the horizon, how true in such a place as this are the words of the Psalmist. “When I consider thy heavens, the works of thy fingers, the sun, the moon and the stars which thou has ordained, what is man that thou art mindful of him and the son of man that thou visitest him?”
It was a never to be forgotten day, not only as a sightseeing one but the consciousness of the infinity of God, for one felt encompassed with divinity.
If you are interested in finding out more about the discovery of Tutankhamun, I highly recommend that you visit the Griffith Institute Archive where you can view for free the complete records of the ten year excavation which were deposited there shortly after Howard Carter’s death by his niece, Miss Phyllis Walker. It contains some wonderful material including Carter’s journals, maps and drawings, as well as the photos that the photographer Harry Burton took of the excavations.