Image of  Lucie Duff-Gordon


Lifetime: 1821 - 1869 Passed: ≈ 154 years ago


Author, Translator



Lucie Duff-Gordon

Lucie, Lady Duff-Gordon was an English author and translator who wrote as Lucie Gordon. She is best known for her Letters from Egypt, 1863–1865 (1865) and Last Letters from Egypt (1875), most of which are addressed to her husband, Alexander Duff-Gordon, and her mother, Sarah Austin. Having moved in prominent literary circles in London, she contracted tuberculosis and travelled in 1861 to South Africa for health reasons. She travelled on to Egypt in 1862 where she settled in Luxor, learnt Arabic, and wrote many letters about Egyptian culture, religion, and customs. Her letters are notable for humour, outrage at the ruling Ottomans, and many personal stories from the people around her.

Lucie was born on 24 June 1821, in Queen Square, Westminster, to John Austin (1790–1859), a jurist, and his wife, Sarah Austin, a translator. Lucie’s father was a professor of jurisprudence and a noted intellectual while her mother who was well educated for a woman of the time was used to discussing politics on an equal footing with men.

In 1826 she went with her parents to Bonn on the Rhine, and stayed sufficiently long enough to return speaking fluent German. She had scant regular instruction, but was for a short time at a mixed school of boys and girls kept by George Edward Biber at Hampstead, where she learnt Latin.

By the age of 13 she was reading the "Odyssey" in the original. She also kept her pet snake twined into her plaited hair, and was thought to be "un peu unmanageable" by her mother and "a potential homicide" by a friend of the family.

Upon her parent’s return to England in 1838, Lucie attended her first society ball, which was held at Lansdowne House, the London home of the Marquess of Lansdowne, where she sighted the handsome Sir Alexander Cornewall Duff-Gordon, 3rd Baronet, of Halkin, who was ten years her senior.  As her father descended into melancholy and self-doubt, her mother took on work as a translator, writing for various periodicals and as a teacher to support the family. Lucie was allowed to meet and walk out alone with Alexander. One day he said to her: “Miss Austin, do you know people say we are going to be married?” Annoyed at being talked of, and hurt at his brusque way of mentioning it, she was just going to give a sharp answer, when he added: “Shall we make it true?” to which she replied with the monosyllable, “Yes”.  The couple were married despite the initial objections of the groom’s mother over Lucie’s lack of a dowry) on 16 May 1840 in Kensington Old Church.

Upon her return to England she was persuaded to go to Eaux Bonnes in the autumn of 1862, which did her health harm. Lady Duff-Gordon then decided to visit the newly fashionable Egypt, leaving her husband and children behind in England. While she was familiar with the country from reading Herodotus, the Bible, Arabian Nights and Alexander William Kinglake’s Eothan they hadn’t prepared her for the realities of modern Egypt when she disembarked in Alexandria in October 1862.

Lady Duff-Gordon’s condition worsened in early 1869 forcing her to move in search of better terminal clear to the spa resort of Helwan, just south of Cairo where she on 13 July 1869, aged 48. She was buried in the English cemetery there. Her husband died in London on 27 October 1872 aged 61.

Books by Lucie Duff-Gordon

Letters from Egypt Cover image

Letters from Egypt

Non-Fiction Travel
Geography Letters

As a girl, Lady Duff-Gordon was noted both for her beauty and intelligence. As an author, she is most famous for this collection of letters from Egypt. Lady Duff-Gordon had tuberculosis, and went to Egypt for her health. This collection of her person...