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The Mistress of Nothing

3.57  ·  Rating Details ·  3,162 Ratings  ·  546 Reviews
The American debut of an award-winning novel about a lady’s maid’s awakening as she journeys from the confines of Victorian England to the uncharted far reaches of Egypt’s Nile Valley

When Lady Duff Gordon, paragon of London society, departs for the hot, dry climate of Egypt to seek relief from her debilitating tuberculosis, her lady’s maid, Sally, doesn’t hesita

Hardcover, 256 pages
Published January 4th 2011 by Touchstone (first published 2009)
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Ariel Leigh
I was exceptionally disappointed with this book; I was reading an Advanced Reader's Edition, so perhaps the official release is better. However, I doubt that the sheer underwhelming nature of this book would have been revised.

For a travel/adventure story, particularly one that is meant to emulate a Victorian expedition to Egypt, I found the narrative to be extremely lacking in the sensory detail and vivid description that I craved. The most sensuous Pullinger's language got was to state the obvi
Marjorie Campbell
Jun 04, 2010 Marjorie Campbell rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone
Recommended to Marjorie by: Bestsellers to go - EPL
This is a fabulous book. I read it in one sitting and must say that Pullinger manages to keep you interested in a domestic story of manners for the entire length. It is a very interesting insight into Victorian mores and make me wonder at whether the role between domestic staff and their employers has changed much. The presumptions which dominate the relationship between Lady Duff and her lady's made, Sally, are fascinating. The fact that the mistress treats everyone as if it is a privilege to w ...more
Megan Baxter
I am procrastinating on starting this review, because it's one of those books I struggle to write about. If there's lots to love, I am effusive. If there's lots to hate, I rant. Then there are those books that are just fine, but that's all they seem to be, and you try to sit down to find enough words to make up a review worth writing, and they prove to be elusive little buggers.

Note: The rest of this review has been withheld due to the changes in Goodreads policy and enforcement. You can read w
joy *the clean-reader extraordinaire*
i honestly have NO idea why this doesn't get better reviews around here. it is fantastic! perhaps it's a bit too literary for the average goodreader? not by much, though, and the prose is gorgeous. i stayed up late to finish it.

pg13 for unmarried relations of the *fade to black* type, illness, war/rebellion/suffering, and perhaps an epithet or two.
At first I was a little taken aback that this book was not written in the voice of Lady Duff Gordon, on whose letters this novel was based. I thought I might prefer the voice of the woman whose entrance into a room made the party brighter, suddenly more fashionable, very au courant. Lady Duff Gordon suffered from a malady of the lungs, which required a warm, dry climate rather than that of England at the turn of the 20th century. She left her family and moved to Egypt with her lady’s maid and sp ...more
Apr 03, 2012 Karen rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jun 03, 2011 Cynthia rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I did not realize this was based on a true story until I read the author note at the back of the book. Somehow, that let me give it the extra star. I liked this book very much, but found it nearly unbearably sad in parts. I have recently read several books where the main character is rather slow to understand the world around them and the consequences of their actions. So I was annoyed that was the case again and I held a grudge while reading.

Still, it was compelling--the idea of English woman l
Jan 20, 2010 Alexis rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2010
I'm not generally one for historical fiction but I really loved this book. It won the 2009 Governor General's award for fiction, which is well deserved. It tells the story of real life Victorian English adventurer, Lucie Duff Gordon, who went to live in Egypt for numerous years along with her maid, Sally Nardett. The book is told from Sally's point of view.

The story is deceptively simple, but there's a lot in here, and it's a nuanced story with multiple themes. It appears straight forward, but w
Jan 23, 2011 Felice rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The Mistress of Nothing takes it's start from real life. Lady Lucie Duff Gordon wrote her famous Letters from Egypt in the 1860's after being forced to go there from her home in England because of consumption. Although Gordon was a famous entertainer and trendsetter in England she was not rich. So when she was forced to leave her family and go away for her health she was only able to bring one maid along with her, Sally Naldrett. Once in Egypt both women go native. They abandon their Victorian e ...more
Jun 03, 2011 Trish rated it really liked it
At first I was a little taken aback that this book was not written in the voice of Lady Duff Gordon, on whose letters this novel was based. I thought I might prefer the voice of the woman whose entrance into a room made the party brighter, suddenly more fashionable, very au courant. Lady Duff Gordon suffered from a malady of the lungs, which required a warm, dry climate rather than that of England at the turn of the 20th century. She left her family and moved to Egypt with her ladies’ maid and s ...more
Oct 15, 2012 Marie rated it liked it
I was quickly drawn into this story based on the life of Lucie Duff Gordon. This unusual, progressive woman, whose life is greatly affected by TB, left her family to live in Egypt in the hope of healing in the warm climate. The story takes place in the mid 1800s. Her only companion for the voyage is her maid, Sally, who is herself unusual given her station in life. Drawing from Duff Gordon's letters, the author describes vividly what the two women experience on the journey both in terms of the c ...more
This book was amazing! It was a quick read at 249 pages, but mostly because I couldn't put it down. I ended up reading the whole thing on a Saturday afternoon. I loved everything about it, I don't like to put spoilers in my reviews so you will have to read it to find out the details as to why. The main character had me by the heart-strings the whole book. This book was amazingly well written, although it did take me a chapter or two to get use to the author's writing style. I enjoyed being taken ...more
May 31, 2015 Pamela rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
(view spoiler) ...more
Sep 13, 2011 Roberta rated it really liked it
Shelves: egypt
What to say about this book?
It was fascinating following the trek through Egypt! Each place the characters visited was someplace that I looked up online so I could virtually travel with them through this magical, enchanting land (one of my favorite things to do while reading a book). The descriptions were brief but enticing.
Just as it was fascinating to virtually visit all of the places in Egypt, it was troubling to follow the characters through their roles. The story is based on a Victorian-era
Julie Smith (Knitting and Sundries)
This review first appeared on my blog:

In 1862, Sally Naldrett is 30 years old, orphaned at a young age when her parents, Battersea shopkeepers, were killed in a train derailment in Clapham. She and her sister Ellen were sent to live with their Aunt Clara, who, unwilling to feed two more mouths, sent both of them out to service jobs as quickly as she could. Working her way up from a lowly scullery maid, Sally is now lady's maid to Lady Duff Gordon (Lucie),
The Mistress of Nothing by Kate Pullinger is a sensitive novel set primarily in Egypt in the 1860s, and is based on a true story. I loved the novel because it deals so intimately with the changing relationships amongst the three key characters, and because the descriptions of Egypt, while set during the 19th century, are pleasant reminders of how at home I myself felt when I travelled to Egypt on business as a young woman. The novel is narrated by Sally, a lady's maid to the intelligent and viva ...more
Nov 07, 2012 Arti rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Nov 27, 2010 Bridget rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2010-reads
I received an Advance Reader's Edition of this book, and thought it looked like it was worth trying. I'm glad I did, because it was a really good story, and provided an interesting glimpse into life in Egypt in the 1860s.

The story is told from the standpoint of Sally, lady's maid to Lady Duff Gordon, a society woman in London, who is extremely well thought of in social circles there. Lady Gordon suffers from what we know to be tuberculosis, but what is not really understood at the time, and it i
Sep 11, 2011 Jenn rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
This book was recommended to me by a friend and overall, I’m glad that I picked it up. The Mistress of Nothing is a fictionalized account of the scandal that befell the handmaid of Lady Duff Gordon (of Letters From Egypt fame) while the latter was living in Egypt to ease her tuberculosis. I have not read Letters From Egypt, but I found myself really interested in the events from that book and how they relate to the events in The Mistress of Nothing. I found myself wondering, “Did that really hap ...more
Jo Barton
Aug 14, 2009 Jo Barton rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Based on a true story, and set in the 1860s The Mistress of Nothing focuses on the mistress and servant relationship of Lady Lucie Duff Gordon and her lady’s maid Sally Naldrett. This relationship is altered irretrievably when Lady Gordon travels with Sally to Egypt in order to recuperate from debilitating tuberculosis. Their life in Luxor is fraught with anxiety as Sally strives to cope with her ladyship’s distressing medical condition. However, the situation is relieved tremendously by the emp ...more
Feb 10, 2011 Denise rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Mistress of Nothing tells the story of Sally, Lady Duff Gorgan's nurse and maid. When Lady Duff Gordon becomes ill the two women travel to Egypt in hopes that the dry climate will improve her health. Sally faithfully follows her mistress, spending every waking minute caring for her, utterly devoted and loyal. But Egypt awakens something new in Sally and when the bond between Lady and maid is tested, Lady Duff Gordon proves a formidible and cunning enemy.

The setting and backdrop of the story, a r
Feb 23, 2011 harryknuckles rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I thoroughly enjoyed this story, based on the real-life, Egyptian retreat of Lady Lucie Duff Gordon at the end of her life, when she was suffering from rampant TB.

The central protagonist and narrator of this story, Sally Naldrett, was the loyal and devoted lady's maid to Lady Duff Gordon but little else is known about her.

Lady Duff Gordon and Sally travel down the Nile and set up home in the arid air of the south of Egypt. Despite being good hearted and seemingly liberal (her ladyship treats h
Ariel Uppstrom
Overall, this was an interesting book, but I found a number of things frustrating as a reader. The main character, Sally, is a lady's maid for a woman with a terrible lung illness. The Lady is sent to Egypt to have exposure to warm dry air and Sally must go as well. Sally and her mistress do well there and learn Arabic and the culture quickly. Sally eventually falls in love with an Egyptian man who already has a wife and child. She ends up getting pregnant but conceals it from her mistress. When ...more
Jan 07, 2011 Renee rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I wish I hadn't read the reviews before picking up this book. I went into it fully believing I'd hate it. I even put off reading until the very last minute. Never ever base your book choices on other people's reviews. Why? Because what other readers like is almost always different than your own tastes.

The Mistress of Nothing is Pullinger's fictional take on the life of Lady Duff Gordon's maid, Sally Naldrett. Of course, she researched and based the events on letters and documents from the time,
May 10, 2011 Cow rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: canada
The first half of this book was excellent. It's a historical fictionalization of Lady Duff Gordon's trip to Egypt in the 19th century, told through the eyes of her maid, Sally. And while things are good between them, it's an interesting story of their trip, and a fun bit of sociology of watching what happens to the highly rigid Victorian social roles (both in terms of class and gender) when the participants get away from the society imposing them.

When it goes bad, though, the story too seems to
Lady Duff Gordon, who has TB, has removed herself from England to the dry deserts of Egypt. Her lady's maid, Sally, attends to her, sacrificing everything to accompany her up the Nile in search of a better climate for Lady Duff Gordon's lungs. They encounter the native Egyptians, learn Arabic, and do away with their constricting English clothes in favor of looser, cooler fabrics. Pullinger attempts to show the blurring of the line between servant and lady, but ultimately tells us it happens. She ...more
Shawn Bird
Mar 18, 2015 Shawn Bird rated it really liked it
Shelves: canadian
Engaging and interesting. I didn't realize it was based on a true story until I got to the author's notes at the end.

It is also intriguing to me that author Kate Pullinger, while born in BC, has lived in England since 1982, and writes about an English woman in Egypt, and yet this is considered (by the Canada Council and the Governor General Award body) to be a Canadian novel. I find myself pondering what makes a novel Canadian, and find myself pondering that an author being born in Canada is not
Oct 06, 2011 Joanne rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
Historical novel based on the letters of Lucie Duff Gordon, who went to Egypt in the 1800s to clear up her tuberculosis. She took along her ladies' maid, Sally, and hired a dragoman, Omar. This book is told from Sally's point of view and is mostly about her personal drama hiding a pregnancy from Lady D and the painful consequences of that decision. There's also some about Egyptian-English politics at the time, and a great deal about daily living and social mores.

Quite interesting, though Sally's
Jan 17, 2011 Susan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"The Mistress of Nothing" is an intriguing book that blends the British Victorian era with Egypt at the same time period. An aristocratic woman with tuberculosis moves to Egypt with her lady's maid for health reasons. The two settle in the city of Luxor, learn Arabic, and accept the Egyptian culture with relish. The book is told from the point of view of Lady Duff-Gordon's lady's maid. I enjoyed the character development and learning about Egyptian life at that time. The novel is based upon the ...more
Dec 09, 2010 Naomi rated it it was amazing
I am very happy I stuck with this book. At first, I was having a difficult time with it and was really bored by the writing/storyline. Then, it hit me...and I felt nothing but pity for the main character which I can't go spoilers here! The unbelievable arrogance of the aristocracy also slapped me in the face big time! My advice...stick with the book cuz it does get better..enough to where you hear yourself saying "WOW".

ETA (03/06/2011): This story was an unbelievable read..for 248 page
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Kate Pullinger is an award-winning writer of novels, short stories and digital works. Her most recent book is LANDING GEAR, out in Canada in April 2014, the US and UK in May 2014. She is Professor of Creative Writing and Digital Media at Bath Spa University.

Born in Cranbrook, British Columbia, Kate dropped out of McGill University after a year and a half of not studying philosophy and literature.
More about Kate Pullinger...

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“That moment marked a change in my life, a change more profound than a new wardrobe, however wild. My Lady cast off her English clothes and it was as though in that moment our relationship shifted as well, in some unspoken, unpredicted way. I was not her equal, I was part of her routine, part of her life, my care for her so intimate that it was as though I was part of her body—a hand, perhaps. A foot. Something indispensable, to which you do not give much thought. But from that moment hence, things shifted between us, and life changed. Later that morning, after my Lady had breakfasted, I went into my room and closed the door. I remembered when my Lady had purchased the trousers and tunic in Cairo; both Mr Abu Halaweh and I had assumed she was buying gifts for her husband. I had even imagined Sir Alick thus clad—he would laugh at himself and allow her to coax him into wearing the outfit for one of their supper parties. But now that my Lady had cast aside her European clothes, I longed to do the same. I undressed, taking off the brown muslin, faded now from being put out to dry in the sun repeatedly. I took off my layers of undergarments. I unlaced my stays. Like my” 0 likes
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