A play about a great woman
Isabelle Eberhardt was one of those Victorian-era women who did not so much throw over the traces as fling them to the heavens, then run away laughing. Born in Switzerland, to an eccentric, drunken anarchist father and a inept German mother who had fled to him from her Russian general husband, Isabelle grew up, at least on the account of New Anatomies, the play that has just opened in London, addicted to fantasies of the desert and Islam that had been her childhood refuge.
As a young woman, with both parents dead, she visited, with her staunchly conventional sister Natalie, her beloved brother Antoine in Algiers, where he had run away to the Foreign Legion. There she adopted male dress, the name Si Mahmoud, and took to the desert in the company of members of a Sufi mystic order. Despite her Islamic faith, she also, said one acquaintance, "drank more than a Legionnaire, smoked more kif than a hashish addict, and made love for the love of making love".
Forced back to Paris, she can only return to the desert as a French spy. But can she be truly free? Somehow you know what the answer is going to be, even if you haven't cheated by reading the biography first. READ MORE