Sunday 15 April 2012

In the footsteps of T.E. Lawrence

A newer edition of Doughty's classic work - alas abbreviated!

It is no secret that I am great admirer of T.E. Lawrence - especially his activities during the period of the Arab Revolt during the Great War. In fact the whole region of the Middle East has long held a fascination for me and dovetails in nicely with my interest in the Ottoman Turks. I will get around to gaming the revolt at some point but not for the present as I have too many other distractions to service. The reason for mention of this interest of mine is because today I was absolutely delighted to acquire another copy of Arabia Deserta by Charles M. Doughty.

The main interest for me of this book is that Doughty spent some two years travelling around Arabia during the 1870s and his resultant travel guide (Arabia Deserta) was considered to be an epic of its kind and one of the finest books of its type ever written. The original edition was in two volumes and weighed in at some 600,000 words and was published as a limited edition of 500 copies only in 1888. Lawrence campaigned long and hard to have the book republished and so it was in 1921 although again it was a limited edition. In 1931 Edward Garnett was tasked by the publishers, Jonathan Cape, to produce an edited version of around 130,000 words as a popular edition. I have a copy of this and it is fascinating read albeit a little disjointed although given it is less than a quarter of the size of the original this is perhaps understandable.

The Edward Garnett 1931 edition

Lawrence used this book extensively and looked upon it with almost Bible-like reverence as the guide for many of his travels across the Middle East. In fact, the edition that Lawrence campaigned to have produced in 1921 contained an introduction written by him which is happily reproduced in the new edition I have acquired.

Needless to say this came from a boot sale for £1 and the book is quite simply beautiful. It contains a number of full sized plates of paintings from various Middle Eastern themed collections as well as a number of photographs taken by such famous travellers as Gertrude Bell and Captain William Shakespear (I kid you not!). As an aside I would like to find out more about the good Captain as apparently he travelled across Arabia with a case of wine and a collapsible bath tub and a huge plate camera!

Aside from the pictures this edition has been very carefully considered in terms of the content and so whilst abbreviated from the original the story has a much more structured approach than that of Garnett's version. Between the two books then I should have a far better idea of what the whole title covers and just why Lawrence was so enamoured with it.

All in all it is very good material for a desert loving Englishman!

From a gaming perspective this kind of book is a priceless resource to the background of what the desert was like in the 1880s and the use of this information for the creation of any number of imagi-nations is obvious.

Wilfred Thesiger, the noted explorer and himself a traveller of the desert described the edition I have just acquired as being "The very essence of that perceptive masterpiece."

I shall enjoy this and no mistake.


Bluebear Jeff said...

Sounds like a splendid find!

-- Jeff

David Crook said...

Hi Jeff,

I am a real sucker for anything Bedouin related and Doughty lived among various tribes during his two year wander. It is really fascinating stuff and beautifully written as well.

All the best,


The Angry Lurker said...

Will it ever come out in full again?

David Crook said...

Hi Angry,

I have no idea but if it did I would sell body parts to get a set!

Failing that tap Postie for a loan - or sell his body parts....;-)

Nice T shirts by the way!

All the best,