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>>   Fiction Pilgrims' notes
Abstract:
A novella combining fiction with scenes from the lives of Abdu'l-Baha and the Baha'is in Haifa in the early 1900s. Includes introduction by Bei Dawud.
Notes:
While this book is full of Baha'i-related content, the pilgrimage section starts on page 123, "A Visit to Acca."

Ayesha of the Bosphorus:
A Romance of Constantinople

by Stanwood Cobb

Boston: Murray and Emery Company, 1915

1) Introductory comments
by Bei Dawei, 2014

Cobb resembles the hero, Roland Carver, in some respects, but not in others. Both taught at Robert College in Istanbul, and met 'Abdu'l-Bahá during a visit to Haifa / Akka. However Cobb, unlike Carver, was already a Bahá'í when he went to Turkey, and ultimately (in 1919) married a Canadian, not a Turk. He describes his real-life meetings with 'Abdu'l-Bahá in “Memories of 'Abdu'l-Bahá,” reprinted as chapter 2 of the compilation In His Presence. (Kalimat, 1989).

Carver’s first meeting with 'Abdu'l-Bahá is very similar to Cobb's first audience in Feb. 1908, though the novella must be set a year later, since it goes on to depict the 31 March / 13 April 1909 countercoup of Abdulhamid II. On the other hand, 'Abdu'l-Bahá is later made to declare — apparently through clairvoyance — that the titular Ayesha, a fictional character with no obvious real-life counterpart, is in love with Carver. This clearly could not have happened, at least not as written. I assume that the other quotations attributed to 'Abdu'l-Bahá are genuine, more or less, but it is difficult to know whether Cobb took them from his several audiences with 'Abdu'l-Bahá, or from public speeches or the like.

Carver learns about the Baha’i faith from Mrs. Thrall, a Western pilgrim who seems to represent Lua Getsinger (although Carver meets her in Istanbul rather than Cairo, where Cobb met Mrs. Getsinger). On p. 114, Carver asks her whether “an American who was a Bahai [would] think it right to adopt Mohammedanism in order to marry a Mohammedan?” Mrs. Thrall mentions a certain “Herbert Weyland” who “did that very thing.” This may refer to Sydney Sprague, who married 'Abdu'l-Bahá’s niece (wife’s sister’s daughter) Farahangiz Khanum on 24 July 1910 in Haifa, with Cobb in attendance. In 1914, two years before the publication of Cobb’s novella, 'Abdu'l-Bahá excommunicated the couple along with Mrs. Sprague’s brother, Ameen Ullah Fareed, and father, Mirza Assad Ullah Fareed, for unrelated reasons. In 1931, Sydney Sprague began petitioning for readmission, which Shoghi Effendi granted in 1941, two years before Sprague’s death.

Both the novella and Cobb's memoir allude to student disciplinary problems at Robert College. According to J.A. McLean (bahai-library.com/mclean_stanwood_cobb), Cobb “told us that because he was a Bahá’í, his life had been threatened by some of the Muslim students whom he taught at Robert College in Istanbul.” This explanation could not have been incorporated into the novella, since the hero is not yet a Bahá'í at the time.

One remaining mystery is whether “Ayesha” was based on any real-life model. Was she perhaps a student known to Cobb, or even a girlfriend? (Her name would have been familiar to Western readers thanks to the alluring yet imperious titular character of Rider Haggard’s She.) And who was the model for the drawing of Ayesha which appears on the cover (by Darius Cobb — the author's father, and a noted artist)? Note that the drawing must have been done in the USA. One likely possibility would be the aforementioned Mrs. Sprague, although I have not been able to find a photograph of her. Another candidate might be Ghodsea Ashraf, a progressive young Iranian Bahá’í who made headlines in 1910-1911, during a study visit to the USA. Her photo may be viewed at newspapers.com. [— Bei Dawei, 2014, rev. 2016]

2) Ayesha of the Bosphorus
by Stanwood Cobb, 1915

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