Rather than spend a long time explaining the concept of this new blog, I start it with a post that I hope sums up its aims. Essentially, I want to collect a lot of interesting old pieces of paper (mostly in my possession) and try to expand a little on their stories and show why I find them interesting. A humble aim, perhaps.
The first thing, then, is a copy of Lydia Pashkov’s (also spelled Pashkoff, Paschkow, etc.) collection of “exotic short stories” Fleur de Jade.
Pashkov was, herself, a very interesting woman. The most easily available short biography of her is here in a book about Madam Blavatsky and the Theosophists as she was involved in those circles, if not necessarily a theosophist herself; she was a journalist and travel-writer by profession and was, perhaps, most famous for her 1872 account of her trip to Palmyra. She says of her own life:
“I have paid dearly for this passion for danger and a life of liberty. Like Lady Stanhope and Lady Ellenborough, I have loved the Orient; like them I have lost my Fortune.”
Here is a picture of her from “Voyage to Palmyra”
However, this particular copy ofFleur de Jade offers a snapshot in her life that illustrates why specific old books can be so interesting. It came from the library of a man called Stephanos Caratheodory, father of the mathematician Constatin Caratheodory and Ottoman ambassador in Berlin, St Petersburg and Belgium.
Thanks to the little clues that he has stuck inside the book we can guess that he picked it up (was perhaps given it) at a feminist conference that Pashkov organised in Paris in 1896.
Helpfully, the owner has also stuck a short article about the conference in the front of the book.
Other than interesting details of the conference, it turns out that the Egyptian writer, publisher and dramatist, Abou Naddara was also present and performed a short skit on “the Oriental woman”.
Abou Naddara, or Jaqoub Sanua, was an extremely successful self-publicist and Egyptian opposition figure, who claimed to have started the Arabic theatrical tradition in Egypt and whose satirical publications riled the Egyptian authorities. By this time he was living in exile in Paris.
Sanua is much discussed in Arabic scholarship but his relationship with Lydia Pashkov is not. In fact, it can only really be found either in books or websites about the Theosophists or in conspiracy theories about Salafism, which claim that Pashkov was Sanua’s “girlfriend”. It seems at least likely that Sanua helped provide Pashkov with contacts in Egypt and perhaps other places in the Middle East to aid her travelling.
Of course, I also want it to be true that they were romantically involved. There is little evidence for this, but this book at least gives a glimmer of hope. On another of the front pages the owner of the book has also inserted the business cards of both Sanua and Pashkov. I admit that it is not strong evidence, but it does conjure a scene of the two lovers having a conversation with this Ottoman dignitary as they milled around at Pashkov’s feminist conference. At least it shows how, with a little work, stories can be elicited from books like these that are at least entertaining enough to fill the pages of this blog.