The Book, Cat, & Cat Book Lovers Almanac

of historical trivia regarding books, cats, and other animals. Actually this blog has evolved so that it is described better as a blog about cats in history and culture. And we take as a theme the advice of Aldous Huxley: If you want to be a writer, get some cats. Don't forget to see the archived articles linked at the bottom of the page.

April 15, 2016

April 15, 1892

In The Days Of My Youth (1874) is a novel by Amelia B. Edwards (June 7, 1831 to April 15, 1892).  An excerpt sketches the living quarters a young woman rents in Paris. 

It was not long before I found such apartments as I required. Piloted by Brunet through some broad thoroughfares and along part of the Boulevards, I came upon a cluster of narrow streets branching off through a massive stone gateway from the Hue du Faubourg Montmartre. This little nook was called the Cite Bergere. The houses were white and lofty. Some had courtyards, and all were decorated with pretty iron balconies and delicately-tinted Venetian shutters. Most of them bore th6 announcement—"Apartements & louer"—suspended above the door. Outside one of these houses sat two men with a little table between them. They were playing at dominoes, and wojre the common blue blouse of .the mechanic class. A woman stood by, paring celery, with an infant playing on the mat inside the door and a cat purring at her feet. It was a pleasant group. The men looked honest, the woman good-tempered, and the house exquisitely clean; so the diplomatic Brunet went forward to negotiate, while I walked up and down outside. There were rooms to be let on the second, third and fifth floors. The fifth was too high, and the second too expensive; but the third seemed likely to suit me. The suite consisted of a bed-room, dressing-room, and tiny salon, and was furnished with the elegant uncomfortableness characteristic of our French neighbors. Here were floors shiny and carpetless; windows that objected to open, and drawers that refused to shut; mirrors all round the walls a set of hanging shelves; an ormolu time piece that struck all kinds of miscellaneous hours at unexpected times ) an abundance of vases filled with faded artificial flowers; insecure chairs of white and gold; and a round table that had a way of turning over suddenly like a table in a pantomime, if you ventured to place anything on any part but the inlaid star in the centre. Above all, there was a balcony big enough for a couple of chairs, and some flower-pots, overlooking the street.

I was delighted with everything. In imagination I beheld my balcony already blooming with roses, and my shelves laden with books. I admired the white and gold chairs with all my heart, and saw myself reflected in half a dozen mirrors at once with an innocent pride of ownership which can only be appreciated by those who have tasted the supreme luxury of going into chambers for the first time.....

Edwards wrote nine novels, and gained fame with her writing. This was however not the reason she is remembered today. Here is how the Oxford University Press blog writes up her accomplishments.

Surprisingly few people have heard of Amelia Edwards. Archaeologists know her as the founder of the Egyptian Exploration Fund, set up in 1882, and the Department of Egyptology at University College London, created in 1892 through a bequest on her death. The first Edwards Professor, Flinders Petrie, was appointed on Amelia’s recommendation and her name is still attached to the Chair of Egyptian Archaeology.

Edwards did more than anyone in the late nineteenth century to encourage interest in ancient Egypt. During a trip along the Nile in 1873, at the age of 42, she was so excited by doing a little amateur digging at Abu Simbel that she returned to England determined to devote the rest of her life to promoting Egyptology as a scientific discipline. She read up on the subject and she taught herself hieroglyphics. In 1877 she published a lengthy account of her trip, A Thousand Miles up the Nile, which was readable, as well as scholarly, and beautifully illustrated with her own watercolours. The book marked a turning point in women’s travel writing by concentrating on the traditionally masculine sphere of history and research and mostly ignoring female domestic life, which Amelia said she had very little opportunity to study.

Within a decade Amelia Edwards had become such a specialist on ancient Egypt that she was regularly contributing to academic journals. She was also canvassing professional and popular support for excavation and for the systematic and accurate recording of monuments. She had enormous energy and physical stamina as well as a talent for public speaking which was brilliantly displayed in 1889 when she embarked on an extraordinary lecture tour to the United States. For five months she criss-crossed the continent, sometimes speaking to audiences of over two thousand people. When she broke her arm a few hours before a lecture in Columbus she found a surgeon to set the bone and went ahead with the event. She was awarded three honorary degrees from American universities.

Not surprisingly, Edwards’ life is remembered in the context of archaeology. But she was a polymath. The trip up the Nile was a mid-life journey undertaken when she had already made her name as a travel writer with an account of a trek through the Dolomites. Published in 1873,
Untrodden Peaks and Unfrequented Valleys is still one of the best travel books ever published on the region and an exuberant and witty introduction to the glorious beauty of the mountains and their previously isolated communities. Unlike the Alps, the region was not overcrowded with tourists. There were plenty of opportunities for sketching, botany, and mountain-climbing....


By the time she made the trip to the Dolomites, Edwards was also a well-known novelist. She wrote articles, poems, and mystery stories for several journals including Charles Dickens’s Household Words, and she was one of the first contributors to the feminist English Woman’s Journal, launched in 1858. Her best-selling novel, Barbara’s History, touches on edgy but popular Victorian themes of bigamy and infidelity, while its eponymous heroine is feisty, well-travelled, and erudite.

Amelia Edwards later became a vice-president of the Society for Promoting Women’s Suffrage. She was one of a number of multi-talented European women who changed the nature of women’s travel writing. Jane Dieulafoy, Ella Sykes, Isabella Bird, Lady Anne Blunt, and Gertrude Bell all contrived in their different ways to break the conventional boundaries of female travel. Whether single or married, they no longer accepted that their interests and writing should be confined to literary and domestic subjects in order to guarantee publication. Although they sometimes differed in their attitude towards the women’s suffrage campaign, they all asserted their right to be taken seriously in the masculine world of science, geopolitics and diplomacy......

Amelia Edwards deserves more recognition for her accomplishments over a century ago.

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