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A Novel

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On Sale: March 11, 2008
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“I suppose I ought to warn you at the outset that my present circumstances are puzzling, even to me. Nevertheless, I am sure of this much: My little story has become your history. You won’t really understand your times until you understand mine.”

So begins the account of Agnes Shanklin, the charmingly diffident narrator of Mary Doria Russell’s compelling new novel, Dreamers of the Day. And what is Miss Shanklin’s “little story?” Nothing less than the creation of the modern Middle East at the 1921 Cairo Peace Conference, where Winston Churchill, T. E. Lawrence, and Lady Gertrude Bell met to decide the fate of the Arab world–and of our own.

A forty-year-old schoolteacher from Ohio still reeling from the tragedies of the Great War and the influenza epidemic, Agnes has come into a modest inheritance that allows her to take the trip of a lifetime to Egypt and the Holy Land. Arriving at the Semiramis Hotel just as the Peace Conference convenes, Agnes, with her plainspoken American opinions–and a small, noisy dachshund named Rosie–enters into the company of the historic luminaries who will, in the space of a few days at a hotel in Cairo, invent the nations of Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, and Jordan.

Neither a pawn nor a participant at the conference, Agnes is ostensibly insignificant, and that makes her a welcome sounding board for Churchill, Lawrence, and Bell. It also makes her unexpectedly attractive to the charismatic German spy Karl Weilbacher. As Agnes observes the tumultuous inner workings of nation-building, she is drawn more and more deeply into geopolitical intrigue and toward a personal awakening.

With prose as graceful and effortless as a seductive float down the Nile, Mary Doria Russell illuminates the long, rich history of the Middle East with a story that brilliantly elucidates today’s headlines. As enlightening as it is entertaining, Dreamers of the Day is a memorable, passionate, gorgeously written novel.

From the Hardcover edition.


Chapter One

I suppose i ought to warn you at the outset that my present circumstances are puzzling, even to me. Nevertheless, I am sure of this much: my little story has become your history. You won’t really understand your times until you understand mine.

You must try to feel the hope and amazement of those years. Anything seemed possible—the end of ignorance, the end of disease, the end of poverty. Physics and chemistry, medicine and engineering were breaking through old boundaries. In the cities, skyscrapers shredded clouds. Trucks and automobiles were crowding out horse-drawn cabs and drays in the boulevards below. The pavement was clean: no stinking piles of dung, no buzz of flies.

In 1913, America had a professor-president in the White House—a man of intelligence and principle, elected to clean up the corruption that had flourished in the muck of politics for so long. Public health and public schools were beating back the darkness in slums and settlements. The poor were lifted up and the proud brought down as Progressives reined in the power of Big Money.

In the homes of the middle class, our lives ticked along like clocks, well regulated and precise. We had electric lights, electric toasters, electric fans. On Sundays, there were newspaper advertisements for vacuum cleaners, wringer-washers, radios, and automobiles. Our bathrooms were clean, modern, and indoors. We believed that good nutrition and good moral hygiene would make us healthy, wealthy, and wise. We had every reason to think that tomorrow would be better than today. And the day after that? Better yet!

The Great War and the Great Influenza fell on our placid world almost without warning.

Imagine: around the world, millions and millions and millions vital and alive one day, slack-jawed dead the next. Imagine people dying in such numbers that they had to be buried in mass graves dug with steam shovels—dying not of some ancient plague or in some faraway land, but dying here and now, right in front of you. Imagine knowing that nothing could ensure your survival. Imagine that you know this not in theory, not from reading about it in books, but from how it feels to lift your own foot high and step wide over a corpse.

What would you do?

I’ll tell you what a lot of us did. We boozed and screwed like there was no tomorrow. We shed encumbrances and avoided entanglements.We were tough cookies, slim customers, swell guys, real dolls. We made our own fun and our own gin, drinking lakes of the stuff, drinking until we could Charleston on the graves. Life is for the living! Pooh, pooh, skiddoo! Drink up—the night is young!

“I don’t want children,” said one celebrated writer after an abortion. “We’d have nothing in common. Children don’t drink.”

Does such callousness shock you? But I suppose it does. You see, by that time the plain stale fact of mortality had become so commonplace, so tedious . . . Well, mourning simply went out of style.

And just between you and me? Even if you find yourself among illustrious souls, you can get awfully tired of the dead.

Let me count my own. Lillian and Douglas, and their two dear boys. Uncle John. And Mumma, of course. Six. No, wait! Seven. My brother, Ernest, was the first.

I last saw Ernest in September of 1918. Slim in khaki, a mustachioed captain in the Army Corps of Engineers, my brother waved from the window of a train packed three boys to every double seat. They were headed for Newport News, where the battalion would ship out for Europe.

By the time Ernest left for the coast, five million European soldiers had already disappeared into “the sausage machine.” That’s what their commanders called the Great War. To understand why, you must call to mind some modern war. Think of the casualties endured in a year’s time, or five years, or ten. Now imagine sixty thousand men killed in a single day of combat: meat fed to the guns. Imagine four years like that.

America stared, aghast and uncomprehending, while the Old World gorged on its young and smashed its civilization to pieces for reasons no one was able to explain. From the start, there was some war sentiment in America, but it was largely confined to those who knew there was money to be made selling weapons, uniforms, steel, and ships, should America join the fight.

Reelected, barely, on a peace platform, our professor-president remained steadfast even when he was called a coward for refusing to involve us in the madness of foreigners. Then, eight weeks after Woodrow Wilson’s second inaugural, a document was “captured” and made public. In it, the German foreign minister urged the Mexican government to join Germany in a war against the United States and, in so doing, to reclaim the lost lands of New Mexico, Arizona, and Texas.

Call me cynical. I always thought that document was a fraud. And even if it was genuine, why send our boys to France if the threat was on our southern border?

Of course, I was just a schoolteacher—a woman without a vote of my own, or even a husband to persuade. The men all said that document changed everything. Certainly Mr. Wilson believed it did. When he turned the ship of state toward Europe, the nation cheered and felt gratified to have exciting newspaper stories to talk about at breakfast. Those of us who saw no need for war found the enthusiasm of our fellow citizens bewildering. I read all the papers, frantic to understand why this was happening to my country and the world. To me, Mr. Wilson’s conversion was so shocking, it seemed Saint Paul had renounced Christ to become Saul once more. But there you are: even if the reason for going to war was a shameless hoax, the war itself was real and, by God, America was in it!

In fact, Mr. Wilson informed the nation, the Almighty Himself no longer wanted America to stand aloof from the slaughter in the Old World. “America,” the president declared, “was born to exemplify devotion to the elements of righteousness which are derived from the revelations of Holy Scripture.”

By turning the other cheek? I wondered. Silly woman . . .

No, exemplifying righteousness required America to fight a war to end all wars, a war so brutal and ruthless that war would never be waged again. Mr. Wilson assured us that this crusade was God’s will and God’s work.

If Abraham Lincoln had erred in allowing the press to criticize the government during our Civil War, Woodrow Wilson vowed, “I won’t repeat his mistakes.” The president didn’t repeal the First Amendment; he had, after all, recently sworn to uphold the Constitution. The press could print what it liked, of course, but the post office didn’t have to deliver it. The Wilson administration ordered the confiscation of anything unpatriotic, which is to say anything critical of his administration. Total war demanded totalitarian power, Mr. Wilson told a compliant Congress. “There are citizens of the United States,” the president thundered, “who have poured the poison of disloyalty into the very arteries of our national life. Such creatures of passion, disloyalty and anarchy must be crushed.”

Anyone who protested, or even voiced reluctance, was called a traitor. Mr. Eugene Debs was sentenced to decades in prison. His crime? He said that a war abroad did not excuse tyranny at home.

Mexico was all but forgotten in the excitement.

That’s why, by the summer of 1918, a million American men had been mobilized to fight—from career officers like my brother, Ernest, to draftees straight off the farm. Ernest’s train left Cleveland carrying nearly 250 soldiers, including a boy from Wooster who seemed to have a dreadful cold. When the troops arrived on the Virginia coast two days later, more than 120 of the soldiers already had the flu. Sixty others were ill within a day or two.

In Ernest’s last letter home, he confessed that he was afraid he’d miss the war. He was so eager to embark! I doubt he mentioned his headache to anyone else. The next letter we received was from a friend of his. Ernest had been buried at sea before the boat was halfway to France. Later we learned that most of his battalion had sickened. Many died while standing on a French dock, awaiting orders in a chilly autumn rain.

In October, the military finally canceled leave and liberty, but it was too late to make a difference. Railways had distributed the influenza with the same swift efficiency that carried coal, wheat, and livestock to and from every corner of the continent. Within weeks, the flu was everywhere.

People spread the disease before they knew they had it, got sicker, brought it home, and died. Fiancées, parents, brothers, and sisters: kissed good-bye at train stations. Ambulance drivers, stretcher bearers, doctors, nurses: working until they died on their feet. Trolley conductors, shopkeepers. Teachers.

Waves of influenza broke across the nation and all the while, the war ground on in Europe. Cleveland sent forty-one thousand boys “over there.” One of my students came to see me before he left—a boy named for the great Italian patriot Garibaldi. Gary, we called him at school. He was a good student. Arithmetic was his best subject, as I recall. Off he went with the Fifth Regiment of the Ohio National Guard, to revenge bleeding Belgium and rescue poor brave France, to make the world safe for democracy and kill Huns for Mr. Wilson.

Gary visited me again after he got home, in 1919. “You were wrong, Miss Shanklin. The Grim Reaper isn’t a metaphor,” he told me. “The Reaper’s real. I saw him. We went over the top and machine guns mowed us down, like a scythe through weeds. Row after row of us. You can’t imagine, miss.”

No, not that, but I had seen men struck down in the streets of Cleveland. They’d leave for the office in the morning feeling fine. During the day, they’d complain of being hot and achy. By evening, waiting on the corner for a streetcar, they’d fall to the pavement, already dead or near to it. Gary soon became one of them. Poor boy. He had just married his sweetheart and found a job as a bank teller. He left work feeling woozy and never made it home for supper.

Even then, before the worst of it, I wanted to escape from the sadness. I was older than the lost generation of the Roaring Twenties. I began the decade too shy to dance, too homely to imagine myself of interest even to a maimed veteran, too timid to break the Prohibition laws and risk blindness drinking bathtub gin. But in the end? I was not so very different. I, too, yearned for new sights, new sounds, new people—and, yes: a new me. I wanted to believe again in peace, and progress, and prosperity.

Prosperity, at least, I would have and this one certainty: of all my natal family, I would be the last to die. My brief obituary would be written by a bored young newspaperman in 1957: “Agnes Shanklin, heiress, dead at 76, after a long illness.”

That’s what they called cancer then. “A long illness.” And don’t be fooled by that fancy word “heiress.” No single estate was all that much, but taken together and added to $1,000 of soldier’s insurance from Ernest, they totaled just enough to afford me a careful independence.

Frugality I had learned at my mother’s knee. “Use it up, wear it out, make it do.” That was Mumma’s motto, especially after the bankruptcy and Papa’s death.

In the beginning, I believe, my parents anticipated something close to the ideal marriage of the nineteenth century. They met and married late, both nearly thirty and too mature for silly romantic illusions about love. When they pledged their troth in the sight of God, they did so in the hope that theirs would be a union of souls. They understood that this would demand an equal sacrifice of personal interests. Papa would lose his place in the home; Mumma, her place in the world. He would strive for material sustenance and guard the family from the corruption of the marketplace. In return for cooking and needlework, the bearing and raising of children, she would receive shelter, food, and a clothing allowance.

Such marriages always ran the risk of becoming cold but practical business partnerships. In the case of my parents, mutual admiration rested upon an economic arrangement that seemed to suit them both. Mumma was a fine seamstress, Papa a mechanical engineer. You might not think they’d have had much in common, apart from their children, but together they reasoned out a design for a sewing machine foot that would make cording easy and automatic. In the tenth year of their marriage, walking home from church one Sunday, they hatched a plan. They would take all their savings and start a factory right in Cedar Glen, just east of Cleveland. The business could provide good, honest work for the sons of slaves who’d come north on the Underground Railway. Those men would demonstrate that Negroes were capable of skilled labor, and the business would benefit by undercutting the competition on wages.

Papa’s probity and Mumma’s piety were well known in Cedar Glen. Their good character convinced several members of their congregation that they could do well by doing good, and they agreed to invest in the venture. Papa took the idea to a banker, who steered him toward a partner said to be a person of energy and vision.

To our family’s misfortune, Papa was an honest man in a time when business was increasingly often conducted between strangers who recognized no good or god excepting only Profit. In Washington and Columbus, politicians wearing masks of unctuous respectability legislated mightily to outlaw private sin and enforce private virtue, all the while accepting money to overlook the public crimes of industrialists and financiers who made incalculable fortunes by exploiting workers and swindling investors. In that climate, Papa’s trustworthiness was the very hallmark of a “patsy.” He built the factory; his partner and the banker disappeared with the money.

For Papa, it was a matter of honor that he keep his employees working and make his creditors whole. That determination left hardly any time or money for his family. Mumma soon found it difficult to hide our circumstances from public view, but Papa steadfastly refused help from her brother, a bachelor attorney with money to spare.

“Foolish pride,” Mumma called that. “How am I to run a proper household with what you bring home?”

“Others are worse off,” Papa said, time and again. “We shall manage without charity.”

“Easy for you to say,” Mumma would mutter, and the household would go very quiet, unspoken accusations loud in our minds.

From the Hardcover edition.
Mary Doria Russell|Author Q&A

About Mary Doria Russell

Mary Doria Russell - Dreamers of the Day

Photo © Dina Rossi

Mary Doria Russell is the author of The Sparrow, Children of God, A Thread of Grace and Dreamers of the Day. Her novels have won nine national and international literary awards, including the Arthur C. Clarke Award, the James Tiptree Award, and the American Library Association Readers Choice Award. The Sparrow was selected as one of Entertainment Weekly’s ten best books of the year, and A Thread of Grace was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. Russell lives in Cleveland, Ohio. Contact her at www.MaryDoriaRussell.net

Author Q&A

Mary Doria Russell is Interviewed by Lt. Colonel Roger C. Thompson, Professor of English at the Virginia Military Institute, in Lexington, Virginia.

Roger C. Thompson: Mary, your career as a writer is hard to classify because your books don’t fit very neatly into any particular genre box. Why is that?

Mary Doria Russell: Honestly? I didn’t know any better. Maybe if I’d studied writing instead of anthropology, I’d be more sensible. You know–pick a genre, follow the rules, stay in the box–but let’s face it. Sensible people don’t major in anthropology.

On the other hand, in film, it’s normal to change genres. Ridley Scott made Blade Runner, Gladiator, and Thelma & Louise. The Coen Brothers take on one genre after another– Raising Arizona; Fargo; The Big Lebowski; O Brother, Where Art Thou? Johnny Depp and Meryl Streep are celebrated for disappearing into an amazing range of roles.

RCT: But novelists are expected to obey genre boundaries and stay with one style!

MDR: I know! Isn’t that weird? But thinking about why I don’t . . . I guess my real commitment is to the main character, and that’s why each novel is different.

In Dreamers, for example, Agnes Shanklin wanted to speak directly. Mumma told her what to think and say and do all those years, and Agnes wasn’t having any more of that. This was her story, she was going to tell it, and I was politely told to get out of her way.

Problem was, Agnes was forty when she went to Egypt in 1921. That would’ve made her 127 when Dreamers was pub­lished, but the record for human longevity is 121. So rather than deny Agnes her voice or introduce a biological impossi­bility, I wound up writing a novel with a dead narrator.
It’s not like I thought, Hey! Magical realism might be a good ca­reer move after a Holocaust novel. The style and genre were dic­tated by the main character. As Agnes said, "If ghosts are good enough for Shakespeare and Garcia Marquez, they’re good enough for the likes of you, Mary."

RCT: Your novels always deal with one culture coming in contact with another. Your first two describe contact with an alien world. A Thread of Grace explores the Italian population coming into contact with Jewish refugees. How would you describe the cultural contacts in Dreamers of the Day?

MDR: Inept, arrogant, and destructive!

I wasn’t aware of this until just this moment–in the other novels, people are trying to do the right thing. They make mistakes, their good intentions may have tragic outcomes, but they’re trying to be decent.
The diplomats at the Cairo Conference weren’t trying to be moral or ethical–or courteous, even! Their goal was undisputed imperial domination of resource-rich colonies, guarded by military might and fueled by oil. You can see how well that worked out for everyone.

RCT: The Prelude in A Thread of Grace describes the unremarkable death of a woman under the care of a Jewish doctor, but that the woman’s child was Adolf Hitler. Dreamers of the Day also seems to be the unraveling of a similarly ordinary event that changed the course of our history.

MDR: Yes! I never thought of that, but you’re right. President Wilson came down with the flu, just like 55 million other people did, but he got sick the night before the Versailles Peace Conference was convened.

Now, maybe his Fourteen Points wouldn’t have passed anyway, but if he’d been healthy, Wilson might’ve negotiated a fairer conclusion of the Great War. We’ll never know, but there’s consensus among historians that the humiliating, vindictive terms of the Versailles Treaty led directly to World War II.

And the Cairo Conference was supposed to tidy up a few problems left over at Versailles. Eight decades later, Osama bin Laden said that the attacks on 9/11 were in part "to avenge the catastrophe of eighty years ago"–the 1921 Cairo Confer­ence! So there’s a direct line between Wilson’s flu and the fact that my nephew, Lt. Tim Riemann, was commanding a pla­toon of Marines in Iraq’s Al Anbar Province when Dreamers of the Day was published.

Around the world, today’s headlines are rooted in nineteenth-century colonialism.

RCT: One day, historians may call the conflict that began in 1914 another Hundred Years’ War.

MDR: Yes, and this one may go on even longer. It certainly involves more people and vastly greater tragedy than the original.

RCT: All of your novels draw on detailed research into historical eras and other cultures–even The Sparrow, whose background is centuries of Jesuit exploration and research. Have you considered writing nonfiction?

MDR: Oh, honey, I did! Let’s see. . . . There was "A Reconsideration of the Evidence for Cannibalism at the Krapina Neandertal Site." That was a big hit. And who could ever forget "Cutmarks on the Engis II Calvarium"? Then there was "Browridge Development as a Function of Bending Stress in the Supraorbital Region." I got tons of reprint requests for that one. Trust me. Fiction is better.

RCT: In a previous interview, you discuss T. E. Lawrence’s influence on you as a writer and researcher. Was Dreamers of the Day an opportunity to pay homage to his influence on your life?

MDR: Oh, yes. Like so many boomers, I saw Lawrence of Arabia in 1962 when it was first released and when we were young teenagers. I’m not quite sure why–I really wish some psychologist would explain this–but that movie had a tremendous effect on many of us. I read Seven Pillars of Wisdom when I was too young to understand it, really, and all the biographies.

Lawrence became a sort of third parent during my adolescence. My mother was steel. My father was heart. Lawrence was scholarship. He widened my world and made it seem like a good idea to study foreign languages and get outside my own culture. Heady stuff for a girl growing up in Lombard, Illinois.
Lawrence was a working archaeologist in his early twenties, and that sparked my interest in the field I got my doctorate in. I ended up as a paleoanthropologist, though–I interpreted material that archaeologists dug up. It was indoor work, with no heavy lifting.

And the languages–what an impact that influence had! For one thing, while I was working on the Krapina Neandertal collection in Zagreb, my husband and I were permitted to adopt our son, Daniel, in part because I had studied Croatian. So Lawrence even made me a mom!

Yes, it was lovely making friends with Neddy–even fictionally!

RCT: You did significant historical research for this novel and A Thread of Grace, and your work in anthropology required rigorous research methods. How do you go about research for fiction?

MDR: I start with biographies. Well, actually–dialogue comes first. A character’s sense of humor or lack of it, the cleverness or stolidity of expression . . . I hear characters long before I see or understand them.
But then, to understand a character–real or imagined–I need biographies. I need to know about that person’s parents, too, and to understand the parents, I have to dig into their historical context as well. Time depth is crucial. So I try to study at least forty years of history prior to the novel’s period.

Each generation of adolescents has at least two historical events that color its responses to whatever happens next. My son’s generational events were the attacks on 9/11 and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. My generation’s were that awful series of assassinations–John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert F. Kennedy–and the Vietnam War. My parents’ events were the attack on Pearl Harbor and World War II. Before that, the Great War and the Great Depression.

War. Always war! The drumbeat of history, all the way back to Troy.

RCT: You have had remarkable success as a writer, winning awards as both an academic and a novelist. Has that changed your writing process?

MDR: It provided validation, and encouragement to follow my interests and curiosity wherever they lead, and I do that with a certain amount of conÞdence in the outcome and the response.

Look, if you start out by writing a novel that can be de­scribed as "Jesuits in space" and it works and gets a bunch of awards and keeps on selling year after year . . . Well, you can pretty much get away with anything after that!

RCT: When you finish a novel, do you miss the daily interaction with any of the characters, or are you glad to have them out of your hair?
MDR: You know, I was just thinking about this! The charac­ters I’m most emotionally involved with are like friends you leave behind when you move away. You don’t see them regularly anymore, but you still love them and keep in touch. For example, Emilio Sandoz made a baseball fan out of me. Every summer we get in touch, if only to commiserate about how awful the season is this year!

Right now, I’m working on a murder mystery set in Dodge City in 1878 when the unlikely yet enduring friend­ship between Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday began. It’s about risk, racism, and horse racing.

RCT: Wait–a murder mystery Western? Talk about not staying in the genre box!

MDR: I know, I know. Anyway, Doc is my new best friend. I am totally infatuated–but he’s dead, so it’s okay with my husband.

Doc played piano, and he’s introduced me to nineteenth-century piano concerti. And he got me to study Homer and Virgil. I can’t read the classics in Greek and Latin, which Doc did, but I was able to use T. E. Lawrence’s translation of The Iliad. It’s very good, and it was an opportunity to get back in touch with another old friend!

My characters always teach me things, and they remain a part of my life even when I move on.

Doc just breaks my heart. It’s so different, having a real person as a main character! I did terrible things to Emilio Sandoz, but I could give him a daughter and a grandson and the fictional prospect of a contented old age at the end of Children of God.

Nothing I write can change Doc’s fate. That poor soul is going to die of tuberculosis, destitute and alone and in misery. At thirty-six, he’ll be buried in an unmarked pauper’s grave, fifteen hundred miles from home, and I can’t do anything for him–except maybe win him some of the respect and compassion I think he deserves.

RCT: Thanks, Mary.

MDR: It was a pleasure, hon. Always fun to talk with you!

Discussion Questions

Discussion Guides

1. At age thirty-eight, Agnes Shanklin "believed that all the big questions of [her] life had been answered." If her family had not died during the influenza, do you think she would have gone on to the dismal future she imagined for herself? Are the opinions and expectations of others strong enough to determine a life?

2. Agnes begins to break the mold when she buys new clothes and gets her hair bobbed. Makeover shows are popular on television today, and people often say that "this has changed my life." Do you believe them? Are appearances really that powerful?

3. Clothing is mentioned a great deal in the novel. In what ways are the characters in Dreamers of the Day defined and/or influenced by their clothes? How do Agnes, Mumma, Gertrude Bell, and T. E. Lawrence use their fashion choices as indicators of their attitudes? Is your clothing a tool or a dis­guise or just something to cover your nakedness?

4. What does Rosie embody for Agnes? Is her attachment to her little dog "pathetic," as she suggests? How does Rosie’s existence color the novel and influence its chain of events?

5. Unlike Mumma and her devout sister, Lillie, Agnes struggles with her faith. Why are some people so at home in the religion they were born to, while others chafe at it? Does her trip to the Holy Land change Agnes’s philosophical framework, or is she left without a moral compass? Where is Agnes at the end of the novel? Is she a "soul who cannot find her way"?
6. Russell paints a vivid picture of America in the Roaring Twenties, and identifies a strong correlation between identity and consumption (with Freud and postwar advertising to thank). How has advertising changed since the 1920s? Do you recognize modern America in the descriptions?

7. Karl expounds on how it is "remarkable what people choose to do and then insist they had no choice." What does it mean when someone says, "You leave me no choice" or "I had no choice"? What does it mean when nations make this claim?

8. T. E. Lawrence, Karl Weilbacher, Gertrude Bell, Lord Cox, and Winston Churchill all have theories on imperial rule and how to best resolve the growing conßicts in the Middle East. What are their ideas and how do they hold up to hindsight and a modern historical perspective?

9. Agnes alludes to Shakespeare’s observation "conscience makes cowards of us all." Who is Agnes hearing when she listens to the voices of Mildred and Mumma (and Mark Twain)? What influences her life-changing decision to travel to Egypt? What resolution, if any, does Agnes reach through their competing voices?

10. Karl believes "to be enjoyed, life must be shared." This assessment is in sharp contrast to the independent and decidedly single Agnes, Gertrude Bell, and T. E. Lawrence. Bell dismissively maintains that "happy and contented people don’t make history." Who among them do you think is truly fulfilled?

11. Do you agree with Karl’s assessment that "[foreigners] cannot tolerate to feel ignorant long enough to understand [the Middle East]"? T. E. Lawrence advises Agnes upon her arrival in Cairo: "If you think you understand Middle Eastern politics, they haven’t been explained to you properly." After reading Dreamers of the Day, what about the Cairo Conference and the Middle East, if anything, has become clearer? More confusing?

12. When Osama bin Laden took "credit" for the events of 9/11, he said that the attacks in 2001 were, in part, revenge for "the catastrophe of eighty years ago." What "catastrophe" was he referring to? Why is it remembered in the Middle East, but forgotten in the West?

13. What advice could the British aristocracy take away from their camel ride through the desert?

14. Examine the characterization of the women in Dreamers of the Day: Agnes, Mumma, Lillie, Gertrude, and Clementine. What similarities do you find? What are their striking differ­ences? Generations later, do these women seem alien to you or familiar?

15. Agnes thinks that "every event is a reenactment" and that "observing human history has turned out to be a terrible exercise in monotony." Do you agree? Will we ever achieve Agnes’s dream of Òpeace, progress, and prosperity?"

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A personal message: