A Folio Society limited edition

Travels In Arabia Deserta

C.M. Doughty

Introduced by T.E. Lawrence

Charles Doughty travelled on foot and rode by camel around an area the size of France, a region so desolate that it was occupied by just a few tens of thousands of people. This Folio edition celebrates the masterpiece born from his journey.

Limited to 780 copies

Published price: US$ 790.00


Travels In Arabia Deserta

Charles Doughty travelled on foot and rode by camel around an area the size of France, a region so desolate that it was occupied by just a few tens of thousands of people. Initially he travelled with the Haj, the sole Christian in a caravan of 6,000 Muslim pilgrims. At Madain Saleh, half-way to Mecca, he studied monuments left by the ancient Nabataean civilisation, before travelling into the desert interior alongside a Bedouin family and other nomadic groups. He reached the city of Unayzah, and finally Jeddah, in 1878. This Folio edition celebrates the masterpiece born from his journey.

Production Details

Travels In Arabia Deserta book
  • Limited to 780 hand-numbered copies
  • Preface by Rory Stewart
  • Introduction by T. E. Lawrence
  • Numerous integrated illustrations
  • Text printed on wove paper with approximately 200 integrated illustrations
  • 52 pages of plates printed duotone on art silk paper
  • Half bound in goatskin with hand marbled paper sides by Jemma Lewis
  • Halftones printed on art silk paper
  • Fabriano endpapers
  • Gilded top edge
  • Ribbon marker
  • Map is mounted onto book cloth and then bound into a buckram book case
  • Buckram slipcase holds books and map
  • 2 volumes, 1,328 pages in total
  • Book size: 11” x 6¾”

The finest travel narrative in the English language

‘It is the true Arabia … there can never be another picture of the whole, in our time, because here it is all said, and by a great master’
T.E. Lawrence

Doughty’s odyssey was perilous in the extreme. There were long marches across harsh, rocky terrain, sometimes through the night. The sun was perilously hot, the nights cold and the winds fierce. Arriving at Madain Saleh, he finds the air fetid and the tombs bleached: ‘Sultry was that midday winter sun, glancing from the sand, and stagnant the air, under the sun-beaten monuments.’ Elsewhere he recalls a heat so intense that ‘we seemed to breathe flames’. His health – poor even before he began his journey – was an abiding concern. What’s more the Bedouin diet, with its staples of camel’s milk, dates and occasional meat, was extremely lean. He observed: ‘The Arabians inhabit a land of dearth and hunger, and there is no worse food than the date, which they must eat in their few irrigated valleys.’ Then there were the dangers of travelling as an Englishman and a Christian through Wahabi areas, inhabited by xenophobic communities and forbidden to non-believers on pain of death. Doughty – displaying a mixture of astonishing bravery and extraordinary stubbornness – repeatedly ventured alone into areas that other Western travellers would have avoided even with a retinue of translators and guides. As Rory Stewart notes in his preface: ‘Almost anyone he encountered, any time in 21 months, could have robbed and murdered him, with complete impunity.’

T. E. Lawrence, acknowledging the hardships of travel in Arabia, even with ‘a train of servants, good riding-beasts, tents and your own kitchen’ described the ‘sheer endurance’ of Doughty’s journey as ‘wonderful’. This uncompromising, unencumbered approach to travel also brings a rare authenticity to Doughty’s writing.

A monument to Arabia written in lyrical, innovative prose

arabia deserta

What, for many, makes Doughty remarkable is his knowledge on subjects as diverse as geography, nutrition and ophthalmology, alongside his singular endeavour to purify the English language. Looking back to Chaucer, Spenser and the King James Bible, Doughty sought to strip away what he saw as modern encumbrances. He invented words, altered syntax and incorporated many Arabic words, often using his own transliterations. The result is a prose style both evocative and economical – remarkable for its atmospheric, poetic qualities and its painstaking precision: ‘The Syrian lark rose up with flickering wings from this desolate soil, singing before the sun; but little on height and faltering soon, not in loud sweetness of warbles …’ In fact, so notable was Doughty’s style that, in 1939, the Society for Pure English devoted a publication to it. He also created an extensive glossarial index, which is included in this limited edition.

The only Westerner to record in detail the life of the Arabian bedouins

arabia deserta

It is in capturing the way of life of the nomadic tribes that Doughty’s powers as an observer and a writer are best appreciated. He absorbed an enormous amount of information – either by watching and listening, or, with his customary tenacity, by seeking explanations from his hosts. When he turned his observations into prose, he did not mould them to fit a preconceived view or to formulate a grand conclusion. Instead, he created hundreds of precise vignettes of nomadic life, from ostrich hunting to popular fables, such as the ghrôl – a monster of the desert with a Cyclops eye that mimics kindly female voices.

In one passage, he tells of a servant’s assiduous efforts to preserve the body of his Persian mistress, who has died during the Haj, by killing a camel and wrapping the lady in its skin. Having related the reactions of the other pilgrims and the loyalty of the servant, he remarks, not without a certain stoical humour, that he also had reason to mourn for ‘it happened so that the beast taken for the slaughter was the camel from under me’. He tells of the fearsomeness of those who meant him harm, and the generosity and nobility of those who helped him to survive: ‘Many were the examples of Christians in that mortal extremity succoured by pitiful men of the Mohammedan poor people, for no hope of reward; but only as they were taught of God and human kindness.’

‘His greatest significance is as the only man to record in painstaking detail the nomadic life of Arabian tribes of the 1870s’

But the nomadic culture that Doughty witnessed was on the brink of irrevocable change. He himself observed the first uses of oil, imported from Europe. A few years later, the Ottomans built the Hejaz Railway, eliminating the great Damascus Haj caravan. And by the time of Lawrence, Rolls-Royces were crossing the desert, making short work of Doughty’s arduous journeys. Many of the towns he describes have changed dramatically. Others, such as the mud palace of Abu Rahid, no longer exist. Travels in Arabia Deserta is a precious record, both because of the extent and timing of Doughty’s travels, and the detailed attention he gave to his subject, uncompromised by political or material agendas.

A newly designed and illustrated edition

This collector’s edition features 48 pages of contemporary photographs from the Fine Arts Library at Harvard University, many of which have never before been reproduced. Several were the work of the Bonfils family, who set up a studio in Beirut in the 1860s and produced hundreds of photographs capturing people, landscapes, townscapes and monuments. These images, originally glass plate negatives, illustrate diverse aspects of Travels in Arabia Deserta, as they would have looked in the author’s time. The landscape of the desert interior, however, is left to our imagination, fuelled by Doughty’s powerful prose, for unlike the author, the photographers did not venture there. We have also included the 93 line and tone drawings that the author created for the first edition. They reflect his far-ranging interests, showing everything from tomb inscriptions to geological features.

‘The most comprehensive encyclopaedia of anthropology, geology, archaeology, religion, and history of the people of Northern Saudi that could be imagined’

Each volume is half-bound in Indian goatskin with blocked leather corners and paper sides hand-marbled by Jemma Lewis. The spines feature gold-blocked ornaments; there are gilded top edges and a ribbon marker in each volume. The map, which Doughty drafted on his travels and presented to the Royal Geographical Society upon his return, has been printed on toned paper, mounted in panels on book cloth and fixed separately into a binding case to allow for easy cross reference with the text. The books and map are presented together in a buckram-bound slipcase with a leather label, blocked in matt gold.


Please sign in to your account to leave a review for Travels In Arabia Deserta.

Review by Blackie on 21st Oct 2016

Text: Illustrations: Binding: Rating: 5/5

"I agree with the first review, an astounding work of literature, and his use of an older style of english is a real pleasure to read. You can't put it down as he describes daily life with the Beduw an..." [read more]

Review by poerlemans on 27th Aug 2014

Text: Illustrations: Binding: Rating: 5/5

"A real pleasure to handle and to behold. Its whole appearance is in keeping with the spirit of the times and really helps you to immerse yourself in the atmosphere and lost world of Doughty's journey..." [read more]

Contact us
  • +1 866-255-8280
  • Email us
  • Clove Building, 4 Maguire Street, London SE1 2NQ
  • Press releases
Facebook logo Twitter logo Pinterest logo Instagram logo Youtube logo

© The Folio Society 2018