“My ancestor, my sister”: Ancient Heritage Imagery and Modern Egyptian Women Writers

  • Molly Youngkin


The romanticization of Egyptian women is alive and well in the twenty-first century. At the time of her death in August 2013, the popular author Elizabeth Peters was working on a new Amelia Pea-body novel (Mertz, “Notes” n. pag.), part of a mystery series that features an Amelia Edwards-like Englishwoman who solves crimes while traveling in Egypt. Though Peters’s focus on an independent woman detective may be compelling to readers invested in women’s emancipation, her descriptions of Egyptian women—“native women swathed to the eyebrows in dusky black” and “wailing” women at the tomb of Thutmose III (Peters, Crocodile 23; Peters, Serpent 32)—rely on the same imperialist attitudes toward women of color found in Nightingale’s, Eliot’s, Field’s, and Glyn’s writing. In addition to the stereotypes perpetuated by Peters’s novels, popular representations of Cleopatra contribute to a superficial understanding of Egyptian women. “Sexy Cleopatra” outfits are more popular than ever at Halloween; fashion model Heidi Klum had an especially elaborate one, complete with face crystals, constructed for her 2012 Halloween party (Anonymous, “Heidi Klum” n. pag.). Also in 2012, National Geographic promoted its exhibit about underwater discovery of artifacts from Cleopatra’s time with a sultry Cleopatra, who slinks through gauzy white curtains to seduce Julius Caesar and Mark Antony in the opening video that accompanied the exhibit in Los Angeles (Anonymous, “Cleopatra” n. pag.).


Open Door Woman Writer Nationalist Movement Egyptian Woman Peasant Woman 
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© Molly Youngkin 2016

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  • Molly Youngkin

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