(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Told in the first person by a rather androgynous narrator whose gender is never overtly revealed until the last chapters, The Towers of Trebizond seem in the beginning to be an example of the travel-book genre. The production of a travel book is the reason Laurie accompanies her Aunt Dot on the trip to the Middle East. Laurie is to provide illustrations, background history and descriptions for the book, while Aunt Dot concentrates on the plight of Middle Eastern women whose religion aids their husbands to keep them enslaved to household and other chores. Aunt Dot is convinced that a revolution in the status of women cannot occur among Islamic women until the convert to Anglicanism, preferably High Church, which is why she takes Father Hugh Chantry-Pigg along with her. Aunt Dot’s invitation to Dr. Halid Tanpinar is extended for a similar reason: From Istanbul, Halide provide additional credibility for the caravan party. Another member of the party the Greek student Xenophon, invites himself and is readily accepted because he has no particular belief system with which to threaten the other members of the party and because his jeep will, with the camel, provide all necessary transportation.

Laurie carefully describes the crossing of the ocean on the only vessel that will carry camels as well as the other ships they board to sail the fabled waters, the villages and cities that they visit and the countryside through which they pass, and the people who both harass and help the British travelers. All the while that Laurie describes the actual conditions of the Middle Easternlands and seas, however, she provides running commentary on the mythological and romanticized past of this cradle of both the Eastern and Western worlds.

The travel-book aspect of the novel provides a vehicle for Rose Macaulay’s social satire and commentary, which is spread throughout the novel in great abundance, but with a light touch. Aunt Dot’s caravan, for example, is not the only one seeking converts in the Islamic world, nor is Aunt Dot’s the only exotic caravan seeking audiences among the Arab people. Aunt Dot’s party is preceded not only by a Billy Graham crusade and a group of Seventh-Day Adventists but also by a British...

(The entire section is 917 words.)