The Book of the Dead is dedicated to Amelia Blanford Edwards. Previously, the dedications of Jurassic anthologies have been more or less... cryptic (and/or very personal and/or completely obscure... take your pick!).
Choosing the dedication is one of the trickiest things to do, as it adds that last, intimate touch to the book - proof, as it were, that books are works of craft, created by humans for humans.
So, with that slightly melodramatic introduction... who is Amelia Edwards, and why is she the first name that the reader sees upon opening The Book of the Dead?
Amelia Edwards was born in 1831 in London. Her father was an officer in the British Army and her mother was a descendant of the Walpole family. Ms. Edwards was educated at home, and started writing at a young age. Her first published work was a poem, "The Knights of Old", printed in a weekly journal when she was 7. (The New York Times says that she published "a long historical novel" at age 12, but I've not actually found any more evidence of this.)
In 1855, she published her first novel, My Brother's Wife. This was followed by many others, perhaps the most successful being Barbara's History (1864). Nor did Ms. Edwards shy from the supernatural, with ghost stories such as "The Phantom Coach" (1864)", "The 4.15 Express" (1867), "An Engineer's Story" (1866) and several others.
Her life changed, however, in 1873, when, already fond of travel, Ms. Edwards made her first visit to Egypt. She travelled up the Nile as far as the second cataract and explored the region far as Damascus and Constantinople. From there, the course of her life was set...
"She was a distinguished Egyptologist, and the foundation in 1883 of the Egypt Exploration Fund was largely due to her efforts; she became one of the secretaries to this enterprise, and wrote a good deal on Egyptian subjects for European and American periodicals. She wrote and illustrated some interesting travel books, especially her delightful "A Thousand Miles up the Nile," and an account of her travels in 1872 among the – at the time – rarely visited Dolomites. The latter is called "Untrodden Peaks and Unfrequented Valleys:" it is interesting, but not so bright as the Nile book.
"When one considers that a large part of her output involved constant and laborious research – that for the purposes of many of the books she had to take long and fatiguing journeys – the amount of good work she accomplished is very remarkable; the more so, because she was not only a writer, but an active promoter of some of the public movements of her time. She was a member of the Biblical Archaeological Society – a member, too, of the Society for the Promotion of Hellenic Literature. Then she entered into the woman's question, not so popular in those days as it is in these, and was vice-president of a Society for promoting Women's Suffrage.
"It is difficult to understand how in so busy a varied a life she could have found sufficient leisure for writing fiction; but she had a very large mental grasp, and probably as large a power of concentration. Remembering that she was an omnivorous reader, a careful student, possessed too of an excellent memory, we need not wonder at the fulness and richness of her books."
- Katharine Macquoid, from Women Novelists of Queen Victoria's Reign (1897)
Ms. Edwards lectured throughout the United States in 1889 (the Boston Globe referred to her as the "most learned woman in the world") and passed away in London in 1892, leaving her collection of antiquities to University College, London, as well as a bequest to found a chair of Egyptology.
The Book of the Dead represents the fusion of Ms. Edwards two greatest interests: literature and Egyptology, and there's simply no better fit for a dedication. But beyond this particular volume, Amelia Edwards - journalist, suffragette, traveller, author, Egyptologist, passionate enthusiast - is a spectacular role model and an inspiration.
For further reading:
- A nice (brief) reference for her life and work.
- Her supernatural short fiction has been recently reprinted in the superb Mammoth Book of Ghost Stories by Women and our own Lost Souls.
- Her obituary in the New York Times.
- A history of the Egypt Exploration Society and Ms. Edwards' role in its creation.
- The Book of the Dead