Isabel Burton  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Isabel Burton (born Isabel Arundell) (20 March 1831 - 21 March 1896) was the widow of explorer, adventurer, and writer Sir Richard Francis Burton.

She was the daughter of Henry Raymond Arundell (1799-1886) of Kenilworth, Warwickshire, nephew of James Everard Arundell (1785-1834), 10th Baron Arundell of Wardour . Her mother, Eliza, was the sister of Robert Tolver Gerard (1808-1887), 13th Baronet of Bryn, Lancashire, and 1st Baron Gerard of Bryn.

She was an intelligent and resourceful woman, but is always in the shadow of her husband, one of the most famous of all Victorians. She wrote many books included among them an expurgated translation of The Arabian Nights which she worked on with her husband. Another work she translated was the Baital Pachisi.

She is perhaps best known now for burning some of his papers and manuscripts after his death, including his revised translation of The Perfumed Garden, which was to be called The Scented Garden, and of which the largest part consisted of the usually unpublished final chapter dealing with pederasty, plus Burton's extensive (and comprehensive) notes on the subject.

In an appendix to her unfinished autobiography[1], her posthumous collaborator points out that she had a first offer of 6,000 pounds for the manuscript, a considerable fortune in those times, and moreover that she need never have disclosed her actions at all, or blamed them on her husband. He further claims that she acted from a sincere belief that "out of a thousand men who read the work, 15 would read it in the scientific spirit in which it was written, and the other 985 solely for filth's sake", and feared that publication would blight, not her husband's worldly reputation - for his interest in the subject was notorious - but, by tempting others to sin, his prospects in the world to come.

She is buried with her husband at Mortlake, Surrey in an elaborate tomb in the shape of a Bedouin tent.

Fiona Shaw portrayed her in the movie Mountains of the Moon.


  • The inner life of Syria, Palestine, and the Holy Land: from my private journal. London: H.S. King & Co., 1875.
  • Arabia, Egypt, India: a narrative of travel. London: W. Mullan and Son, 1879.
  • Prevention of cruelty, and anti-vivisection. London: William Mullan, 1879.
  • The revival of Christianity in Syria: its miracles and martyrdoms. London : E. Stanford, 187-?.
  • Iracema, the honey lips: a legend of Brasil by José de Alencar. Translated by Lady Isabel Burton. London: Bickers & Son, 1886. (New York: Luso-Brazilian Books, 2006. ISBN 0-85051-524-6)
  • Lady Burton's edition of her husband's Arabian nights: translated literally from the Arabic by Sir Richard Francis Burton. London: Waterlow, 1886-1887.
  • The life of Captain Sir Richd F. Burton. London: Chapman & Hall, 1893.
  • The romance of Isabel, Lady Burton, the story of her life. London: Hutchinson & Co., 1897
  • The passion-play at Ober-Ammergau. London: Hutchinson, 1900.

Further Information

  • [2] has most of Isabel Burton's writings, as well as those by her husband Richard Burton.
  • Burton, Isabel.
  • Lovell, Mary S. A Rage to Live, W.W. Norton, 1998.

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