Inspirational, cross-dressing adventurer Isabelle Eberhardt died in a flash flood in the Algerian desert on this day in 1904, at the age of just 27. In February this year Song from the Uproar, an opera by Missy Mazzoli based on “the lives and deaths of Isabelle Eberhardt”, premiered in New York to positive reviews, with the cast recording appearing next month. Meanwhile, the first volume of English translations of Eberhardt’s complete writings was published in May.
In The Destiny of Isabelle Eberhardt, Cecily Mackworth examines the sudden death of this pioneering traveller, beginning with the recollection of one who experienced the catastrophic flood:
‘All of a sudden, we heard a grumbling sound that seemed like a procession of lorries advancing. The noise grew louder and louder. People passed by, running. They cried out: “The wadi! The wadi!” I did not understand. The weather was clear and there was neither rain nor storm. The mass of water arrived in the bed of the ravine in an instant; it rose up like a wall; it ran like a galloping horse; it was at least two metres high; it was carrying trees and furniture, bodies of animals and men.’
Neither [Colonel, later General, Hubert] Lyautey nor anyone else could ever discover the exact truth as to Isabelle’s death. She had always believed that she would die young and death had come for her when she was barely twenty-seven. She had confided to her friend [Robert] Randau the strange visions that sometimes beset her as she rode in the wild region behind Tenes, of the appearance of some ancestor from the steppes of Russia warning her of an approaching fate. Credulous and superstitious as she was, such premonitions may have seemed to her like an indication of God’s will. Perhaps the resignation of the Moslem – that resignation she had striven so long to attain – caused her to await passively the accomplishment of her pre-ordained destiny…Or perhaps it may be, quite simply, that she saw in that great, galloping wall of water a sudden vision of deliverance. Perhaps after rushing down the stairs with Sliman [Ehnni, her husband], the first moment of panic passed, she hesitated, turned back, and preferred to solve the great Mystery that had tormented her all her life.
Below, a taste of Song from the Uproar: