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Isabel Lousada

Taking the reins of her life into her own hands: Lady Hester Stanhope (1776-1839) viewed through Portuguese eyes


"Ester [sic Stanhope], the cold niece of Pitt, who led a wanderer’s life and met an eccentric death in a faraway Eastern castle": thus was she recorded by Teresa Leitão de Barros in her monumental work Escritoras de Portugal: génio feminino revelado na Literatura Portuguesa (1924). The author Cláudia de Campos (1859-1916) also portrayed her, albeit briefly, throughout her writings on the world of women, who at the time concerned themselves almost exclusively with issues related to the clan and for that same reason were disdained by the critics, misogynous and busy with the affairs of greater causes such as politics and the economy, to name but two.

This figure of an intellectual and independent woman became an icon of rebelliousness for more conservative minds and inspired young women who were more attuned to the spirit of their time, defying customs, changing habits. Thus, she was ignored by the canon, ostracised and committed to a silence which we now allow ourselves to break. Giving voice to her letters is the most symbolic way of rising in the present the issue of women’s writing down the centuries. From the private to the public, from acclaim to dissemination, dare we today say that Hester Stanhope was not a woman writer?

My paper will also seek to trace the life and achievements of Lady Hester Stanhope in the writings of XIXth Century Portuguese women, not forgetting the routes she travelled in her lifetime, from Damascus, Tripoli and Jaffa and which beyond a doubt made of her a woman traveller known as “the Sybil of the Lebanon” or “Queen of the Arabs”.

SvD, November 2012

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