Freya Stark – Aquarian Nomad & Last Of The Romantic Travellers

Filed in MOON SIGNS, AQUARIUS

Freya Stark

Jessa Crispin on the amazing Aquarius writer Freya Stark and her Mercury – she was Sun in Aquarius square Uranus in Scorpio & Mars in Aries square Venus in Capricorn – a Zap Zone in motion.

 “You have left your props behind you, all the furniture of your life, the barricade of things and people erected by yourself and your forebears against the attacks of circumstance; and circumstance is now all about you.” – Freya Stark

When we think of travel writers, it is easy to come up with a long list of men: Bruce Chatwin, Paul Theroux, Wilfred Thesiger, Lawrence Durrell, Bill Bryson. Travel and adventure is seen as such a manly thing, the great explorer wandering into mystery and uncertainty and coming back with stories to tell. And, men are always quick to tell you, it just isn’t safe out there for a woman on the road.

Screw that, and bring me all the books of Dame Freya Stark.

Born in Paris to a Polish/German/Italian mother and an English father, she spent most of her childhood in Italy. So already she was getting accustomed to crossing borders and trading in one language, one set of customs, one way of life for another. Then a terrible accident at 14 in which her hair was caught in a machine that left her hospital-bed bound, getting numerous skin grafts while she read the entire contents of a library.

As soon as she recovered, she was off, teaching herself Latin and Persian and Arabic and going to school to learn history. At 30, she went to Beirut, and her life as an adventurer began.

Each travel writer finds themselves drawn to a particular region, a place that beats and sings in the heart, and for her it was Arabia. Her writings on the region, from Western Iran to what is now Yemen and was then called Hadhramaut, are full of adventure and excitement, but they also showcase the fact that Stark saw the people around her as people. In a time when colonial Britain’s official viewpoint of the region was paternalistic dismay, Stark depicted the generosity and friendliness of the people. To her they were not “The Other.” They were human beings, different but therefore all the more interesting.

She was born when Mercury tipped over from Capricorn to Aquarius. (Which means that her Mercury is right on top of my Midheaven and do not think I do not treat her books as if they were my own personal guru.) So it was coming out of this patriarchal sign of empire and ambition, into a more humanistic, universal way of thinking. That is greatly reflected in her writing, as is her tremendous air sign grand trine (Sun in Aquarius-Saturn in Libra-Pluto/Neptune in Gemini) that gave her a powerful intellect. She wrote in an essay, “There is no essential difference between the various human groups, creatures whose bones and brains and members are the same.”

Her intellect was put to work as she was enlisted in the World War II effort in the propaganda effort. She was stationed in Syria and put to work trying to convince the Arab nations to join the war on the side of the Allies or remain neutral. She suffered her own war-related cataclysm. Her memoir Dust in the Lion’s Paw opens with Stark learning that the dear friend who had spontaneously proposed marriage was killed in the war only two days later. Grief-stricken, she threw herself into her work and her writing.

Stark would be enough, just as a person, enough of an inspiration, enough of a person whose picture you would pin on your wall and say “more like her, more like her” ten times when you wake up in the morning, but her writing is absolutely stunning. She can paint a picture of the desolate desert landscape like a master, she can teach you the entire history of the Roman empire without it ever dragging down into that stale classroom atmosphere, and she can have you sobbing alongside her in her memoir and cheering her victorious overcoming of odds. She is it, ladies and gentlemen.

Which is why it is baffling to me why most of her books have been out of print for so long — until now, IB Tauris finding the wisdom to create the Freya Stark Collection and start putting them out one by one — and her name so obscure. She deserves to be celebrated and sung. Her memoir is essential. The Valleys of the Assassins, a region everyone thought was probably just made up until she went and found it, is tremendous. Her books of history will win over anyone who finds the ancient world dull and full of a bunch of dead white guys. The Lycian Shore, where she got herself a boat and sailed the ancient trading routes along Turkey, is an account of someone actively trying to engage with and understand where we as a people came from.

Freya Stark lived to be 100. She loved the world, and it loved her back so much it could barely bear to part from her.

Jessa Crispin is the editor of Bookslut and Spolia, and her book, The Dead Ladies Project, will be released by the University of Chicago in the Fall of 2015. If you’re interested in a tarot reading, specially designed for writers and other creatives, contact Jessa here.

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Year of the Phoenixcatfish moonislandgirlMs.akapluto Recent comment authors
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Verity
Verity

Thanks Jessa & Mystic! blood run cold. inspired full ball.

Ms..
Ms..

Mystic, this is just gold dust for me right now. Thank you. I am actually IN Paris looking for a new book befitting the journey ahead and about to meet a travel writer tomorrow. Merci xx

Domestic Triffid
Domestic Triffid

Kiss the gutter of the Rue de Bac for me !

Good luck with your meeting 🙂

Ms.
Ms.

hey thanks x
I was just there today. gave it a wink for ya 😉

akapluto
akapluto

Thank you so much…this is EXACTLY who I needed. I have spent too long saying I can’t get out and travel because I’m a girl. Strange, considering that I’m actually and extremely tough girl. But it’s still so ingrained into my head not to head “out there” alone. And this is a woman who headed “out there” when things were way worse for women then they are now.

Everything about her just pinged me so hard…her name…the term “romantic traveller”, her view points on humanity and of course the potency of her words…wow. I’m so excited to read everything!

Anonymous
Anonymous

just don’t go to the Middle East!!! Thing in that region are now much worse than they were before.

akapluto
akapluto

Yeah I figured…

seagoat
seagoat

This so timely I can hardly believe it. Thanks MM. Just when my own courage seems to be failing me – not a crisis as such – just a ‘WTF is this going on?’ moment – a little churning of old fears. Acute but passing. Will draw some inspiration from this adventurous clever woman.

Skye
Skye

Only a few days ago I was asking a friend, ” when did feminism die? Why are we teaching all our young girls to just preen and look pretty and little else? Why don’t the smart girls get celebrated?”
I got in a huff after seeing an ad for pretty princess parties. Groups of girls aged under 11 getting facials and mani/pedis. Were any of them reading while waiting for their toe nails to dry? Discussing their dreams and aspirations?

It’s a relief to see pages showing/ celebrating smart adventurous women. Their achievements, not their appearance. Thank you MM.

End of rant.

islandgirl
islandgirl

Feminism doesn’t make much money for multi-nationals, whereas the non-stop fashion changes, princess parties and make-up do.

The Leo Socialite
The Leo Socialite

So inspired by Ms Stark. And Ms Crispin. Thank you Mystic for this new “literary” take here. I cannot believe anyone went to a place called Valley of the Assassins – let alone a lone female?

Anonymous
Anonymous

Was thinking about this. Occurred to me that the real culture ‘there’ is probably more structured and respectful than modern day narratives and no-fun-damentalists would like. I suspect a lone woman would probably have been safer there than downtown London back on the day.

Anonymous
Anonymous

^ that was pi.
Also meant back IN the day.

Ainslie
Ainslie

Yum. Thankyou.

Veronica
Veronica

She sounds so amazing, and very keen to search out those books now! I love travel Paul Theroux, and keep coming back in my mind to Lawrence Durrel’s descriptions of the Aegean Islands. I was reminded of two things whilst reading, firstly that Frida Kahlo was horrifically injured at about the same age, and during a long forced immobilisation during her recovery started painting. Secondly of a book I read about an Englishwoman, lady Jane Digby, formerly the scandalous Lady Ellenborough, who divorced her first husband, had several notable lovers in Europe such as Ludwig of Bavaria, and at 46… Read more »

Year of Phoenix
Year of Phoenix

Yes! She was also in the book I can’t remember the name of!

Empress Josephine’s cousin who was kidnapped by pirates and wound up the Sultana and Sulyman the Magnificents mother is a chapter – apparently the grew up together for a time in the Caribbean and had their palms red and both were told they would be queens!

And Robert Burton’s (Mountains of the Moon fame etc) wife too

Damn, wish I could remember the name!

Deb
Deb

I have a book called The Illustrated Virago Book of Women Travellers, Ed by Mary Morris with Larry O’Connor (Virago, 2000), which has Freya Stark in it plus numerous others but not Lady Jane that I can see? I have got it off the shelf now and will read again for inspiration!

Veronica
Veronica

You know who else was travelling around obscure parts of Asia Minor, and China? (more in the early 20th century though)
Florence Broadhurst, of the wallpaper fame. She had a very interesting life before she settled back in Australia and started doing the wallpapers

Year of the Phoenix
Year of the Phoenix

Yes she was such an outrageous character! Tango dancing schools in 20’s Shanghai, haute couture in 50s London and hand printed 70s wallpaper in Sydney! Is there anything the woman couldn’t do?

Year of the Phoenix
Year of the Phoenix

she sounds so interesting and a real adventure travel pioneer

I read a book years ago all about females who travelled for different reasons in times and places that made them a very different tribe to the general female population – what was it called……

something daggy but it was truly inspiring like the lady above!

zinnia
zinnia

Was the book “Spinsters abroad” by Dea Birkett? Yeah, great book, daggy title!

Lovely article. What an amazing life.

Year of the Phoenix
Year of the Phoenix

I think that one wins for daggiest – but I think this one had a name like “All for Love” which is a bit misleading as mostly it seemed it as “All for Excitment”

Sphinx
Sphinx

This is a great article – thank you Jessa and MM! Putting her books on my wish list, very inspiring.

Vee
Vee

A moist and delicious banquet in a parched desert.
What a treat. Thanks Mystic M x

Charles
Charles

what the

venusyonce
venusyonce

Ah I needed this! What an inspiration. I’m about to set off on my own small adventure for the long weekend. I’m trying to ‘be my own uranus’. Being a taurus, I’ve packed some raisin toast and a million scarves for the road. Thank you thank you.

calypso
calypso

what planetary lines did she have running through the region she was drawn to?

calypso
calypso

I loved being in the Middle East too and it’s on my Mars line 🙂

Prince Stolas
Prince Stolas

eek about her hair! I wonder where Godiva and Medusa or other “hair asteroids” are in her chart?

Anonymous
Anonymous

Who gives a stuff about her hair when she’s so freakin awesome!!!

Lux interior is My Co-Pilot
Lux interior is My Co-Pilot

Cannot wait to get paws on her books….

PhoenixWolf
PhoenixWolf

Wait, so she’s NOT in Game of Thrones?

Sphinx
Sphinx

Lol, yes if Robb Stark had married that Walter Frey girl they could have had a little Freya Stark and no red wedding!

catfish moon
catfish moon

Yep!!!

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