Wednesday, June 09, 2010

New Book: Edward William Lane

Egypt Today (Passant Rabie)

Edward William Lane: A Biography
A new book documents the man behind the orientalist

When Edward William Lane arrived in Alexandria in 1825, he couldn’t wait to leave. The city, populated with foreign soldiers and not enough old architecture, was simply not appealing to him. However, as soon as he left the shore for Cairo, the 24-year-old was mesmerized by a city that seemed to meet his expectations.

Now, the influential orientalist scholar, famed for his observations of Egyptian customs, is the subject of a new biography by Jason Thompson. Thompson describes in great detail how Lane’s experiences translate into a body of work that still influences people’s views of Egypt. But with Western opinions on the Middle East having changed so much in the last century, it isn’t clear how a 750-page academic tome, detailing the source of so many stereotypes, will help bridge the gap between cultures.

Lane was a British orientalist who came to the country in the midst of an Egyptology craze abroad to immerse himself in the culture and observe the functions and values of Egyptian society.

After living here for two and a half years, Lane published his observations in the book Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians, which came out in 1836 and has never been out of print.

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