The English Girl – Facts

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The first chapter of this novel takes place in Bedford where Joan comes from. Bedford is the county town of Bedfordshire. It had a population of 166,252.

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Maude originally comes from Lyndhurst, Hampshire. Lyndhurst is a large village and civil parish situated in the New Forest National Park in Hampshire. Serving as the administrative capital of the New Forest, it is a popular tourist attraction, despite local traffic congestion, with many independent shops, art galleries, cafés, museums, pubs and hotels.

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We also know that Maude studied at Lady Margaret Hall in Oxford. Lady Margaret Hall was founded in 1878 as the first women’s college in Oxford and has accepted both men and women since 1979.

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Most of the action takes place in Oman. Oman, officially the Sultanate of Oman, is an Arab country on the southeastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula. Holding a strategically important position at the mouth of the Persian Gulf, the country shares land borders with the United Arab Emirates to the northwest, Saudi Arabia to the west, and Yemen to the southwest, and shares marine borders with Iran and Pakistan.

 

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The city where Joan stays is Muscat. Muscatis the capital and largest metropolitan city of Oman. It is also the seat of government and largest city in the Governorate of Muscat.

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In Muscat there is fort Jalali, the prison, where Joan goes in disguise to visit Salim. Fort al-Jalali, or Ash Sharqiya Fort, is a fort in the harbor of the old city of Muscat. At times, al Jalali served as a refuge or a jail for a member of the royal family. For much of the 20th century it was used as Oman’s main prison, but this function ended in the 1970s.

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Joan is a fan of Maude Vickery as she is the first woman to have been in Fort Jabrin.  Jabrin  is a small town in Ad Dakhiliyah Governorate in northeastern Oman. The town is known for its impressive castle, which was built by the Yaruba dynasty Imam Bil’arab bin Sultan, who ruled from 1679 to 1692. When Maude walked through this area and Joan saw the place from above on the plane, there was no castle.

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Another place that Joan first sees from the plane is Nizwa. Nizwa  is the largest city in the Ad Dakhiliyah Region in Oman and was the capital of Oman proper. In the early 1950s, the large round tower of the ancient fort built in the centre of the town was bombed and rocketed by the British Royal Air Force, who were called in to assist the then-reigning Sultan Said bin Taymour in suppressing a revolt by leaders of the interior Imamate of Oman. The conflict was driven by a struggle for shares in Oman’s newly discovered oil wealth.

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In the parts about Maude’s expedition through Oman, she set off from Salalah. Salalah is the second largest city in the Sultanate of Oman. The Sultan traditionally lives in Salalah rather than in Muscat, the capital and largest city in Oman.

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The desert Maude crosses is called the Empty Quarter. The Rub’ al Khali (“Empty Quarter“) is the largest contiguous sand desert  in the world, encompassing most of the southern third of the Arabian Peninsula. The desert covers some 650,000 square kilometres, including parts of Saudi Arabia, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. It is part of the larger Arabian Desert.

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Maude Vickery and Nathaniel Elliot are fictional characters, and the author explains in a note that the expeditions of these two characters are based on the book by the explorer Wilfred Thesiger. Between 1946 and 1950 Wilfred Thesiger crossed the area several times and mapped large parts of the Empty Quarter including the mountains of Oman, as described in his 1959 book Arabian Sands.

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When Joan visits Maude, they talk about the sultans that Oman has had and the one who is in power: Sultan Faisal, Sultan Taimur, and Sultan Said.

Sayyid Faisal bin Turki,  (8 June 1864 – 4 October 1913), ruled as Sultan of Muscat and Oman from 4 June 1888 to 4 October 1913. He succeeded his father Turki bin Said as Sultan. Upon his death in 1913, he was succeeded by his eldest son Taimur bin Faisal.

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Al-Wasik Billah al-Majid Sheikh Taimur bin Faisal bin Turki, (1886 – 28 January 1965)  was the sultan of Muscat and Oman from 5 October 1913 to 10 February 1932. He was born at Muscat and succeeded his father Faisal bin Turki, Sultan of Muscat and Oman as Sultan.

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Sultan Said bin Taimur (13 August 1910 – 19 October 1972)  was the sultan of Muscat and Oman (the country later renamed to Oman) from 10 February 1932 until his overthrow on 23 July 1970.

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There is another man who Salim supports, Iman Ghalib. Ghalib bin Ali bin Hilal Al Hinai (c. 1908 or 1912 – 29 November 2009) was the last elected Imam  of the Imamate of Oman. Since 1954, he led the Imamate of Oman in Nizwa and Oman proper in the Jebel Akhdar revolt against Sultan Said Bin Taimur‘s attack on his lands. The war lasted 5 years until the Sultan of Oman’s Armed Forces, aided by soldiers from the British Special Air Service, had put down the Jebel Akhdar revolt in 1959, and Imam Ghalib Al Hinai managed to escape to Saudi Arabia.

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Jebel Akhdar is the mountain that Joan eventually manages to get to the top of. The Jebel Akhdar, meaning “the Green Mountain”, is part of the Al Hajar Mountains range in  Oman. It extends about 300 km  northwest to southeast, between 50–100 km (inland from the Gulf of Oman coast, and is one of Oman’s most spectacular areas. The highest point, Jebel Shams (Mountain of the Sun), is around 3,000 metres high.

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In one of Maude’s expeditions she goes to Egypt and gets to see the Siwa Oasis. The Siwa Oasis  is an oasis in Egypt, between the Qattara Depression and the Egyptian Sand Sea in the Western Desert, nearly 50 km  east of the Libyan border, and 560 km  from Cairo. Maude mentions Alexander the Great in connection with this oasis. During his campaign to conquer the Persian Empire, Alexander the Great reached the oasis, supposedly by following birds across the desert. The oracle, Alexander’s court historians alleged, confirmed him as both a divine personage and the legitimate Pharaoh of Egypt, though Alexander’s motives in making the excursion, following his founding of Alexandria, remain to some extent inscrutable and contested.

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