Did you know

13 Ara 2022

Did You Know? Gladys Peto

Born in Maidenhead in 1890, Gladys Peto studied at the London School of Art and was a member of staff of the “Sketch” Magazine from 1915-1926. Her style in writing and drawing is very much within the Art Deco movement and much influenced by Aubrey Beardsley (1872-1898).

Peto’s drawings of Cyprus have architectural elements, figures, and include animals –not as pets- but as a labour force. Costumes produce an exotic and picturesque effect, descriptions bring out the oriental aspect of the island, e.g. the bazaars, and nothing much is said about the historical aspect of the monuments apart from a few lines, set in a “picture postcard“ framework.

Gladys Peto can be taken as an example of the British society’s attitudes. Well aware of small countries and indeed small societies, both local and foreign or visiting, Peto wrote her book with the characteristics of these societies in mind. She does not describe them in a dry scientific or academic way. On the contrary, she presents them in humorous episodes from everyday life, accompanied by drawings and watercolours. She tries to be fair in her descriptions, satirizing both societies, but inevitably, being a product of her times, a colonialist, her humour derives from her presentations mostly of the Cypriots.

Certain attitudes reek through her text: The back of beyond! The incompetence of the uncivilised, the beneath “civilised” standards of the country. Yes, Ms Peto is in Cyprus, along with others to teach civilisation to the Cypriots, to effect a change which will help them join the western world.

However, unlike many other writers, she does this with a kind of affection, or an affected affectionate manner, always appearing condescending. Of course, she always remembers to keep her distance and keep her position. She observes, she writes, but she is not involved. And her book is primarily addressed to a readership of colonial British families that would be coming to live in Cyprus or any other country of the Empire.

This is not to say that she exonerates totally her own folks. She is exasperated with the “British housewife abroad”, and makes obvious her disapproval of discrimination against women. She is annoyed with the snootiness of men, but she takes all this for granted at home and abroad.

You walk through the echoing tunnel that runs beneath the city walls:

You must then lead your tourist to look at the moat, and the earthworks which form the city walls, and to see the city gates. The Famagusta Gate is very impressive. Even the great wooden door is still there. You walk through the echoing tunnel that runs beneath the city walls (it contains a small room all complete with fireplace that was used by the guard) and come out immediately upon fields and meadows. This is of course the way the city ought to end and not in straggling villas and market gardens. Alas! It is now through such environs that you approach Nicosia from the Limassol and Troodos roads.

The ‘Did You Know’ series is made possible with the support of OPAP (Cyprus).

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