The Mistress of Nothing

A Novel

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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 hesitate to leave the only world she has known in order to remain at her mistress’s side. As Sally gets farther and farther from home, she experiences freedoms she has never known—forgoing corsets and wearing native dress, learning Arabic, and having her first taste of romance.

But freedom is a luxury that a lady’s maid can ill afford, and when Sally’s newfound passion for life causes her to forget what she is entitled to, she is brutally reminded she is mistress of nothing. Ultimately she must choose her master and a way back home—or a way to an unknown future.

Based on the real lives of Lady Duff Gordon and her maid, The Mistress of Nothing is a lush, erotic, and compelling story about the power of race, class, and love
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  • Touchstone | 
  • 256 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781439195062 | 
  • January 2011
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Kate Pullinger's THE MISTRESS OF NOTHING

Author Kate Pullinger discusses her 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.

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Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for The Mistress of Nothing includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Kate PUllinger. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.

INTRODUCTION

When Lady Duff Gordon, a member of the English social elite, comes down with a debilitating illness that requires exile to a dryer climate, she and her maid, Sally Naldrett, set sail for Egypt. Through Sally’s keen and floral narration, Egypt is painted as a place of wonder—of luxuries and freedoms not afforded to native English women in their home country. But luxury, especially for a maid of a lower station, comes with a price. From a love affair with her faithful dragoman to the biting rejection from the woman she devoted her life to, Sally travels a road of little reward, and finds that even in motherhood and unerring service, she is the mistress of nothing at all.

TOPICS AND QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
  1. Why do you feel Lady Duff Gordon cast out Sally so harshly? Was she betrayed? Did she truly have an issue with propriety?
  2. Following those lines of thought, why does she not treat Omar similarly? Why is she so certain that Sally “tricked” Omar in
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