Summary:

This work of travel writing was based on Wharton's trip to Morocco in 1917 with Walter Berry at the invitation of the French Resident-General, Hubert Lyautey. He hosted Wharton and others on the occasion of an exhibit of Moroccan arts that he had coordinated in Rabat, the headquarters of the French colonial regime, and she took a motor tour through the French-controlled region of the country.

The book describes various cities seen during her tour, including Rabat, Moulay Idriss, Meknez, Fez, and Marrakech, giving vivid, exotic impressions of the markets, harems, palaces, mosques, and ruins that she visited. She provides accounts of ceremonies that she had the privilege of attending as a Western visitor and as a woman, including the self-mutilating ritual dance of a religious sect, the Hamadchas, in Moulay Idriss. She also records in detail her visits to four different harems, describing the young women brought in from remote villages to serve as concubines.

The latter part of the book also includes chapters on Moroccan history and architecture, respectively. In addition to the chapter devoted to "General Lyautey's Work in Morocco," Wharton makes complimentary references to the French governor's influence in Morocco throughout the entire text. In particular, Wharton praises his efforts at preserving historic architecture and art and in making the country more accessible, through the construction of "firm French roads," to visitors with automobiles. She also commends his keeping control of Morocco despite threats posed by German forces during World War I, showing the world that France was capable of maintaining "business as usual" in its colonies during this conflict. Her language also often reflects an Orientalist outlook, forming generalizations about the Moroccan people as inscrutable, apathetic, and as possessing a curious mixture of "barbarous customs and sensuous refinements."

Discussion Questions:

1. What qualities does Wharton tend to note about Moroccan culture? How might these perceptions be influenced by the era in which the book was written, and Wharton's own cultural and geographical positioning?

2. How does Wharton describe the effects of the French colonial administration in Morocco?

3. How does Wharton's praise for General Lyautey, particularly in Chapter VI, relate to the context of World War I, which France was engaged in during the time of Wharton's visit?

4. What is Wharton's attitude towards the women in the harems she visits (Chapter V)?

5. In what ways is this text more than simply a book of "travel writing"?


--Contributed by Charlotte Rich, Eastern Kentucky University