We recently came across a story by Claudia Roth Pierpont about the Victorian adventuress Freya Stark in the special April 18 travel issue of The New Yorker and we must admit, it we have not stopped thinking about this extraordinary woman ever since.
How is it possible that we knew nearly nothing about the Dame (yes, she held that lofty title) who lived such an extraordinary life and died at age 100 in 1993?
Born to bohemian parents in England in 1893 and raised in Italy by her mother and her mother’s paramour, an impoverished Italian count, Stark was one of the first Westerners to travel to many parts of the Middle East and she wrote about her escapades in 24 travel books and autobiographies, not to mention eight volumes of letters from the 1930’s to the 1980’s.
We were not only captivated by her wit, charm and incredible accomplishments — we were also taken by her obvious style. This intrepid nomad, who suffered a horrendous factory accident as a child that ripped off her right ear camouflaged her damaged side with marvelous hats and imaginative hairstyles. But even such a catastrophe could not keep her down. Stark was apparently a fearless, idealistic woman whose spirit knew no bounds. We can just imagine her tying on a fabulous bonnet, perhaps donning a utilitarian outfit in pristine white to guard against the sun, and riding her camel across the desert.
We here at the Brooklyn Gal plan to dive into one of her extraordinary tales, straight away, starting with her first book, The Valleys of the Assassins. Thankfully many have recently been reissued.