Bell on Bent

Gertrude Bell in Iraq in 1909 (wikpedia/Gertrude Bell Archive).

We may very safely assume that Mabel Bent (1847-1929) and Gertrude Bell (1868-1926) were not on each other’s Christmas card lists.

Here are some references to Mabel made by the equally indomitable Bell in her diaries and letters (via the Gertrude Bell Archive, Newcastle University):

Bell’s diary, Thursday, 25 January 1900: “Fine morning and wet afternoon. Shopped after lunch. Still slack and miserable. Called on Mrs Dickson [wife of Jerusalem HM Consul John Dickson] and met Mrs Theodore Bent…”

Bell’s letter, 25 January 1900, to her father, Sir Hugh Bell: “I went to call on Mrs Dickson today and met there Mrs Theodore Bent the widow of the Ruined Cities of Mashonaland [Theodore Bent’s 1892 monograph on the ruins of Great Zimbabwe, etc.], a thin stiff little Englishwoman [Anglo-Irish], I don’t think I like her very much. I am quite the family friend in the Dickson house! I took Mrs Dickson some of my Jericho photographs of the Epiphany Ceremony and gave them to her, good old soul. They are awfully good, though I say it as shouldn’t.”

Bell’s diary, Tuesday, 6 February 1900: “Rained a little in the morning but cleared after lunch and I went out shopping, and through the town to the Valley of Hinnom. Met Mrs Th. Bent, horrid woman. Found the last of the starch hyacinths, cyclamen, anemones, and a blue and a yellow flower in the ‘adas field [sic]. Also branches of almond. Met my friend who greeted me kindly and asked me what I was going to do with all that grass.”

Bell’s letter, 6 February 1900, to her stepmother, Dame Florence Bell: “I met Mrs Theodore Bent, but having thrown down the Salaam, as we say in my tongue, I rapidly fled, for I do not like her. She is the sort of woman the refrain of whose conversation is: ‘You see, I have seen things so much more interesting’ or ‘I have seen so many of these, only bigger and older’ in fact… I wonder if Theodore Bent liked her.”

Bell’s letter, 21 March 1900, to her father, Sir Hugh Bell: “I came home to tea and sent up to Government House, so to speak, to find out what my Mudir’s letter had done for me in the matter of tomorrow’s escort. The answer came that this Mudir was away but that Amr Effendi was coming to see me. He appeared, a tall middle aged Turk; I invited him into my tent with all politeness and offered him cigarettes (you see a bad habit may have its merits!) while Hanna brought him a cup of coffee. But – the soldier was not to be had! No, another English lady had come, an old one (Mrs Th. Bent!) and asked for a soldier for Mashetta [Qasr el Mushatta] and hadn’t got one. There weren’t enough.”

Bell’s diary, Friday, 13 April 1900: “Went down to Christ Church at 11 and found the service not nearly over, so I went in and waited. Then Mrs Dickson, Mr Dunn, Baby, Mr Green and I set out to Gethsemane to see the Nebi Musa pilgrims. (I saw Mrs Th. Bent outside the church, she has only been to Mashetta and Bozrah.)”

Bell’s diary, Wednesday, 1 February 1905: “Mr Dunn dined and we talked all the evening. Mrs Bent seems to be making mischief.” [The reference is to an unpleasant intrigue being jointly stirred by Mabel and her friend Charlotte Hussey against Consul Dickson and his family in Jerusalem in the early 1900s.]