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11 Two "Arabian" Romantics; Charles Doughty and T. E. Lawrence By Stephen E. Tabachnick (University of Negev, Israel) The Near East has long attracted a rare and eccentric kind of Englishman not satisfied with the more mundane interests of Continental Grand Tours and travel book writing. As T. E. Lawrence, certainly the most complex personality and the finest literary artist in this dual tradition of Anglo-Arabian travels and travelwriting , once wrote, "The mere wishing to be an Arabian betrays the roots of a quirk."! Beginning with the establishment of the Levant Company in I58I and its subsequent explorations in this area, the Near Eastern travel account edged its way from purely commercial interest to the status of an organized, highly self-conscious, and artistic literary genre, which has included among its practitioners such recognized artists as William Thackeray and E. M. Forster.2 The publication (1844) of Alexander Kinglake's Eothen3 ("From the East"), a Byronesque blend of romantic rapture and undercutting irony, marks the beginning of the artistic period in Anglo-Arabian travel writing. In the words of Iran Jewett, Kinglake "used the Near East not as an area, but as a literary theme."'*· By making the writer more important than what he sees during his travels, Kinglake developed a literary technique inherited by Charles Doughty, author of the monumental Travels in Arabia Deserta,5 and by T. E. Lawrence, whose epic of Arabian adventures, Seven Pillars of Wisdom," becomes a searing confession of character. Lawrence's literary interest in the works of his two greatest predecessors in the Near Eastern (if not precisely "Arabian") travel tradition, as well as his esteem for W. H. Hudson, the fictional and non-fictional romanticizer of the pampas and wastes of South America, fairly glows in a letter he wrote during the time in which he was engaged in composing Seven Pillars: War and Peace I thought decently written on the whole. Of course not a miracle of style like Salammbô and Moralities Légendaires: or like Doughty and Eothen and Idle Days in Patagonia.7 The high value he places on style itself, as well as the rank in which he locates Doughty, Kinglake, and Hudson, is obvious. A further indication of Lawrence's primarily literary concern with the travel book, and particularly with the work of Doughty, appears in a letter he wrote to Jonathan Cape, the publisher, relating to his own introduction to Doughty s book: As regards my introduction. Arabia Deserta, as a work of art, is better without the discordance of an introduction by a strange hand. Its value doesn't lie in its exactness to life in Arabia (on which I can pose as an authority), but in its goodness as writing.8 12 This remark serves as perhaps the best introduction to the essential qualities of this genre as it has been treated by its foremost practitioners. For if the travel book is to rely on "goodness as writing" rather than on scientific or objective descriptions of peoples, places, and events for its ultimate value, then certain other things about it become obvious. First, a subjective and in the case of the Anglo-Arabian tradition inevitably romanticized account will characterize the author's treatment. Michael Foss, in an excellent article explains how and why the Arabian travel book became in the hands of English writers something more than a purely "scientific" medium: Those who followed Burton's guide were likely to enter into a world of subtle unreality designed to satisfy a poet's need. . . Arabia continued to be illumined by the poet's shifting light. For the rest of the nineteenth century, the men who informed England most successfully of that frontier land were poets all - Palgrave, Blunt, and Doughty. . . Perhaps the English public could accept no other presentation; for whereas explorers of unknown countries started with few preconceptions, the Arabian traveller from Europe took with him the historical memories of over a thousand years of conflict with Islam. He necessarily entered into the "fabled" land of the Arabian Nights. The elements of historical romance and - in the case of the nineteenth -century traveller - Victorian hero-worship enter the relationship between Englishmen and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 11-25
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Will Be Archived 2021
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