Lady Duff Gordon journeyed from England to Egypt in 1862, leaving behind her husband and family, to attempt a cure for her consumption. Accompanied only by her Lady’s Maid, Sally Naldrett, Gordon told of her experiences settling in the town of Luxor, where she mingled with both locals and travelers and learned to speak Arabic, in her book Letters From Egypt.
Mistress of Nothing is a fictionalized account of Gordon’s time in Egypt, told from the perspective of the Lady’s Maid, Sally, who accompanied Gordon on her travels. Sally embraces the country and people of Egypt and discovers a freedom that would have been impossible for her in England. Sally is loyal to and cares for Lady Gordon and believes that care and loyalty is returned until she finds herself in unexpected circumstances and is shunned by her employer. Through Sally’s eyes we see the beauty of the Egyptian landscape, it’s fascinating history and the kindness of its people. The story explores issues of race, class, friendship and loyalty in Victorian times. Sally’s character changes and grows in the face of adversity–learning Arabic, finding work to support herself, learning to rely on no one else, she takes control of her destiny and carves out a new life for herself in a foreign land. The appeal of Sally’s character as she makes her way in the world and the descriptive power of the author to evoke the sights and sounds of Egypt make this a very satisfying story.