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Lady Burton's edition of her husband's Arabian nights

Lady Burton's edition of her husband's Arabian nights

From Lady Isabel Burton's copy of Richard Burton's Arabian nights, London, Waterlow and Sons, 1886

State Library of Victoria, S892.7 AR1B

Sir Richard Burton was an inveterate explorer, orientalist and diplomat. In 1853 he famously visited the pilgrimage cities of Medina and Mecca, forbidden to non-Muslims, by adopting the guise of a wandering Sufi dervish and doctor.

Whereas EW Lane was at pains to remove the erotic aspects of the 1001 nights, Burton seems to have been equally determined to exaggerate them. Published some 50 years later than Lane’s and at the height of Victorian sensibilities, Burton’s 16-volume version (1885–88) was available to readers only by subscription.

His wife’s three-volume edition, aimed at a broader public and devoid of much of the sexual material, was not a commercial success.