The Real-life Plucky Girl Dressed as a Boy: Isabelle Eberhardt, a Steampunk Characterization

Isabelle Eberhardt as Si Mahmoud Essadi

Isabelle Eberhardt as Si Mahmoud Essadi

“For those who know the value of and exquisite taste of solitary freedom (for one is only free when alone), the act of leaving is the bravest and most beautiful of all.” Isabelle Eberhardt

Isabelle Eberhardt died at the tragically young age of 27, but she managed to pack a lot of adventure into those few years. From the very beginning, she was unconventional daughter of an unconventional mother. She was the illegitimate daughter of an Armenian tutor, originally the tutor to her older half-siblings. Her mother, Nathalie, was a Baltic German with Russian connections, who was convalescing in Geneva, Switzerland, with the children and the tutor just a few months before her husband’s death. Nathalie decided to remain in Switzerland, with the tutor as her husband in all but name. Isabella was born three years later, and her surname is her mother’s maiden name.

Isabelle Eberhardt in a Fez

She benefited from having a well educated father, and was fluent in at least six languages, including Arabic after her half-brother joined the French Foreign Legion. She was taught to read the Koran, as her mother had a long-standing interest in Islam. She travelled with Nathalie to North Africa, where both mother and daughter converted to Islam.

Then her family was struck with a series of tragedies. Nathalie died while they were still in North Africa, and her father died two years later. One of her half-brothers committed suicide. Isabelle decided to become mistress of her own fate, and moved permanently to Africa, making her home base in Algeria. She set out to have adventures.

Eberhardt as Si Mahmoud EssadiIsabelle Eberhardt as a sailor boy

Isabelle took on the persona of a North African man, Si Mahmoud Essadi. Dressing as a man gave her the freedom to go places and experience adventures that would have been impossible for a girl, doing good work and fighting against the forces of imperialism. She wrote of her travels and adventures in books and newspapers, and she worked for a time as a war correspondent. She nearly had her arm severed in an assassination attempt. Eventually, she married an Algerian soldier, but they spend long periods of time apart. She died when a flash flood collapsed the adobe house she was occupying at the time.

It wouldn’t be hard to adapt the history of such a brave and interesting young woman into a Steampunk narrative. Isabella seems to be too good to be true, almost the role model of the Plucky Girl who dresses as a boy. But there are certain details that break her out of that box. She converted to Islam. She fought against colonialism, not for it. She didn’t give up her career for love and marriage. From her quote, you can see she was at heart a loner. She died a tragic death … there was no happily ever after for Isabella.

Isabella Eberhardt would make the perfect ‘cameo’ character for a novel set in North Africa in the late Victorian era.

Advertisements

7 Comments

Filed under Characterization, Historical Personage, Steampunk

7 responses to “The Real-life Plucky Girl Dressed as a Boy: Isabelle Eberhardt, a Steampunk Characterization

  1. Nice Blog, thanks for sharing this kind of information.

  2. Good day I am so delighted I found your web site, I really found you by accident, while I was researching on Yahoo for something else, Regardless I am here now and would just like to say cheers for a remarkable post and a all round entertaining blog (I also love the theme/design), I don’t have time to read through it all at the minute but I have book-marked it and also added in your RSS feeds, so when I have time I will be back to read a great deal more, Please do keep up the excellent work.

  3. Have you ever thought about creating an ebook or guest authoring on other websites? I have a blog based on the same subjects you discuss and would really like to have you share some stories/information. I know my audience would enjoy your work. If you are even remotely interested, feel free to send me an email.

  4. Thanks for the marvelous posting! I really enjoyed reading it, you will be a great author.I will be sure to bookmark your blog and may come back in the foreseeable future. I want to encourage you to ultimately continue your great writing, have a nice holiday weekend!

  5. Nice Blog, thanks for sharing this kind of information.

  6. I’m not that much of a online reader to be honest but your sites really nice, keep it up! I’ll go ahead and bookmark your site to come back later on. Cheers

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s