Freya Stark

By: Elina Shatkin
January 31, 2014


One of the few things FREYA STARK (1893–1993) learned from her parents was a respect for stoicism. It would serve her well when at age 11 her hair got caught in a machine at a rug factory; part of her face and her right ear were ripped from her skull. A surgeon in Turin flayed skin from her thigh — without anesthesia — and grafted it onto her face. For the rest of her life, Stark would comb her hair over the scars or wear elaborate hats. After serving as a field nurse in WWI and climbing the Matterhorn, she spent years supporting her helpless, selfish mother, desperate all the while to see the world. At 34, she left for Beirut to study Arabic. (She was already fluent in English, French, Italian, and German.) She had a sharp mind, an unquenchable curiosity, and like so many of the female explorers before her, she had broken free from a stifling life of limited opportunity. She stood 5’2″ and was not considered pretty — but as long as she was free to roam, she was happy. Before GPS had mapped the blank spots on the world’s canvas, Stark ventured into some of the most remote and mountainous terrain in the Middle East. She would publish 25 books including The Valleys of the Assassins, her search for an ancient Alamut stronghold sacked by the Mongols in the 13th century. “To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world,” she wrote in Baghdad Sketches — and she did so many times, waking up in Hadhramaut, in the villages of Lurestan, in the Shah Rud Valley… until at the age of 101 the woman The Times (London) dubbed “the last of the Romantic Travellers” finally awakened no more.


ADVENTURERS as HILO HEROES: Katia Krafft | Freya Stark | Louise Arner Boyd | Mary Kingsley | Bruce Chatwin | Hester Lucy Stanhope | Annie Smith Peck | Richard Francis Burton | Isabella Lucy Bird | Calamity Jane | Ernest Shackleton | Osa Helen Johnson | Redmond O’Hanlon | Gertrude Bell | George Mallory | Neta Snook | Jane Digby | Patty Wagstaff | Wilfred Thesiger | Joe Carstairs | Florence “Pancho” Barnes | Erskine Childers | Jacques-Yves Cousteau | Michael Collins | Thor Heyerdahl | Jean-Paul Clébert | Tristan Jones | Neil Armstrong

On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: John Lydon, Carol Channing, Grant Morrison, Alan Lomax, Derek Jarman, Norman Mailer, Jackie Robinson.

READ MORE about men and women born on the cusp between the Modernist (1884–93) and Hardboiled (1894-1903) Generations.