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EDWARD WILLIAM LANE (1801-1875) was a distinguished English scholar of the Arab world who made voyages up the Nile in 1826 and 1827. Fascinated by Egyptian lives and customs, he traveled to Egypt frequently and lived in Cairo from 1833 to 1835, where he studied and adopted Egyptian dress. The author of several other works, Lane is best known for his translation of Arabian Nights (1832-41).
From the Back Cover
A pioneering work of cultural anthropology, E.W. Lane's study of Egyptian society has not been out of print since it was first issued in 1836. Immersing himself in Egyptian culture, Lane learned the Arabic language and adopted the Arab way of life. Written before the forces of innovation transformed Egypt, Manners and Customs is recognized for its wide-ranging scope of detail of daily life on topics such as the nature of Islamic laws and its relation to government, birth and marriage customs, death and funeral rites, music and dancing, and the world of magic and alchemy. This distinctive work retains its power to charm and fascinate contemporary readers.
This is not for anyone! This book is written in 1830s and marks the Egypt of that time. People who aim at reading about "Egypt" should know that reading a book about an early 19th century Egypt, is not going to inform them about today's Egypt.
This said, the book is a remarkable anthropological work that records in amazing details the everyday life of Egyptians in the 1830s. This of course is a time of change for Egypt. Mohammad Ali, the Viceroy of Egypt is already sending young Egyptians to study European sciences to come back to "Modernize" Egypt according to western standards. Within 30 years of the publication of this book, Egypt was transformed into a totally westernized island in the Middle East (which came with the horrible consequences of the British colonization of Egypt in the 1880s). This book observes Egypt before the change.
The book is filled with drawings by Lane in which he records with an amazing eye for detail, every little aspect of the Egyptian way of life. The women's attire and men as well; the different classes, the traditions, celebrations, religions, different Sufi sects, political views, and music. I myself being a native speaker of Arabic, am very amazed by Lane's ability to not only learn Arabic but to be able to record with so careful an ear for detail, the different accents of Egyptian and to also write down the lyrics of many of their songs.
This book is often cited by Orientalists and is looked at carefully by Edward Said in his 1978 book Orientalism.
To read this book, one has to also read Edward Said's Orientalism afterwards to look at how Edward W. Lane is like many other Orientalists, relying on stereotypes to assert stereotypes.
I repeat again, that this book is not for anyone. It is only to be enjoyed by specialists who wish to know more about early 19th Century Egypt, and those who study the history of Orientalism.
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It is nice to go back and visit again the Egypt of of the 19th century as this book was first published in 1908. I am impressed with his detail and precision and his eye for details. However, the book has a colonial spirit that can be felt here and there. For instance, if people get some kind of an eye infection, he would call that "plague". I myself get a bad case with allergy in North Carolina, US, and I wouldn't dare call it "a plague". But given the mindset of that time period, one can't help but smile and applaud the author for his great, encyclopedic work.
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