Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Stephen Arata - On E. W. Lane’s Edition of The Arabian Nights’ Entertainments, 1838

 Edward William Lane

Here is a good historical overview of the Nights with a concentration on Edward William Lane's version, a version well known but relatively understudied.

Arata, Stephen. “On E. W. Lane’s Edition of The Arabian Nights’ Entertainments, 1838.” BRANCH: Britain, Representation and Nineteenth-Century History. Ed. Dino Franco Felluga. Extension of Romanticism and Victorianism on the Net. Web

"Lane had little use for, and even less patience with, Galland’s edition. Large stretches of his “Translator’s Preface” are devoted to enumerating his predecessor’s shortcomings as a translator and his consequent distortions of the source material. Lane’s slighting dismissal of “the version which has so long amused us” (vii) signals his desire to lift the tales out of the realm of mere entertainment, where they had so long resided. For Lane, “what is most valuable in the original work” is “its minute accuracy with respect to those peculiarities which distinguish the Arabs from every other nation, not only of the West, but also of the East” (viii). It had long been the most banal of commonplaces to claim that The Arabian Nights provided a “window on the East,” but this is not what Lane means. Virtually alone among readers, then or since, Lane believed that The Arabian Nights in its Bulaq version was the work of a single author who lived around 1500, most likely in Cairo. While many of the tales are “doubtless of an older origin,” they were all “remodelled, so as to become pictures of the state of manners which existed among the Arabs, and especially among those of Egypt,” in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries (xiii-xiv). Lane asserts not only that The Arabian Nights is, rather than a miscellany, instead the product of a single shaping intelligence, but that it therefore provides an accurate, detailed, and thoroughly consistent account of Cairene life. For Lane, The Arabian Nights is to be valued for the abundant and precise documentary evidence it gives of the manners and customs and material life of Egypt. Since, in Lane’s view, those manners and customs and that material life had remained more or less unchanged since at least the sixteenth century, The Arabian Nights was more than merely an historical record."

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