In 1919 Mrs Ruby Dora Charles went through the legals proceedings the British Consular Court in Cairo to divorce her husband. There is a file in the National Archives at Kew which holds a record of the evidence brought in the court-case. The file contains the story of a woman who, from 1917 to 1919 had a dizzying number of love affairs with the men of Heliopolis of all classes and nationalities.
The star witness in the case was Mrs Charles’ friend Artemis Constantinou, who had met her in 1917 and become her friend, getting intimately acquainted with all her love affairs.
Firstly, she was renting a room on Rue Abbas with a British officer called Captain Saul. They would sometimes spend nights there together away from her husband. As well as captain Saul, she was also seen around town with an Australian soldier called Handley. She, apparently, told Artemis Constantinou that she would move with him to Australia after the war.
She was not only interested in foreign soldiers. The evidence continues to note that she was also having an affair with Labib Barsoum, the Copt who kept the Heliopolis Dairy, a chemist called Mr Fletcher and with George Koutzy of the Cafe Bosphore near Port Limoun Station, who would shower her with gifts of money, jewels and clothes.
Ms Constantinou also relates the story of one evening she spent with Dora Charles. They had been at the Arabic theatre with her servant Fahima. When they returned to the Heliopolis they happened to run into a man called Mohammed, who turned out to be another one of her lovers. She used to spend evenings with him.
She also used to spend evenings in the Koubbeh Gardens with an Egyptian called Amin Bey. They would frequently leave the cafe at 10 p.m. “the worse for liquor”.
In court, evidence was also taken from the waiter at the Koubbeh Gardens, called Anastassi Zervos, who confirmed that she would come there often to drink, first with British officers and then with Egyptians.
Reading through the files, her wild and thrilling character immediately leaps off the page. One is transported into the sordid underbelly of bourgeois Cairo in the 1910s. However, there is a hint of tragedy to it all too.
She has a young son called Harry who she used to take with her to lover’s houses. Ms Constantinou (no doubt disapprovingly) says that she used to take him to the house of her lover Mohammed. The waiter at the Koubbeh Gardens said that he often saw he with a little boy, whom she claimed was her brother. What, we wonder, happened to little Harry after the divorce?
Sorry as we must feel for Mr. Charles, there is also the over-riding sense from the evidence given that Mrs. Charles never wanted to be married to him in the first place. As a woman of the 1910s she was, in many ways, forced into marriage even if that was not what she wanted. The end of Artemis Constantinou’s statement carries a melancholic request from Mrs Charles. She said “that she wanted to leave he husband. She had nothing to complain of against her husband and wanted nothing from him but her freedom.”
I don’t know what happened to her after 1919, but would love to find out.