VIP Isabelle Eberhardt

Isabelle Eberhardt (b. February 17, 1877 - October 21, 1904)

The illegitimate daughter of a Russian noblewoman and her children’s anarchistic tutor, Isabelle Eberhardt was raised to be an independent thinker and her short but eventful life proved she was. At the age of 20, she left France for Algeria with her mother, who died suddenly six months later. Despondent, Isabelle turned to drink (and quite likely, kif) and befriended Muslim students who revolted against French colonialism. She embraced Islam and picked up a sword to join a revolt in March 1898.

A European acquaintance said of her, "she drank more than a Legionnaire, smoked more kif than a hashish addict, and made love for the love of making love." (Source: Isabelle: The Life of Isabelle Eberhardt by Annette Kobak, Alfred A. Knopf.)

Sometimes dressed as a man, Eberhardt explored the region, sending dispatches in the form of crystalline short stories like "The Seduced," a heartbreaking tale of a young Arab seduced into joining the army who returns to see his family's land usurped. Like her fellow VIP Gertrude Bell, she spied at times, and like explorer and VIP Richard Francis Burton she joined the secret Sufi brotherhood Qadiriyya. In 1901, she married Slimane Ehnni, an Algerian soldier. She died at the age of 27 when a flash flood collapsed the roof of a clay house where she and Ehnni were staying.

Eberhardt's novel The Vagabond was published after her death; her short story collection The Oblivion Seekers was translated into English by VIP Paul Bowles. A book of her stories and reviews of her work, Departures, was published in 1994 by City Lights (San Francisco).

One reviewer wrote (in French), "She plays with shadows and with light, masculine and feminine, debauchery and religion. ...Her immoderate love of absinthe, kif, and often-dangerous liaisons, frequently evokes the image of a feminine Rimbaud."

Tokin Woman Patti Smith mentions Eberhardt in her bestselling book Just Kids: "I was drawn to the Middle East: the mosques, the prayer rugs, and the Koran of Muhammad. I read Nerval’s Women of Cairo, and the stories of Bowles, Mrabet, Albert Cossery, and Isabelle Eberhardt. Since hashish permeated the atmosphere of these stories I had it in my mind to partake of it...."

Pictured: Mathilda May in the 1991 film "Isabelle Eberhardt"

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