There’s nothing like a great title to whet a reader’s appetite. One of the best in my library to date is the Egyptologist Arthur Weigall’s memoir and (partial) how-to-travel guide Laura Was My Camel (1933).
And that is what it is. Weigall plays upon and hams up early 20th century stereotypical attitudes of West towards East. He certainly wouldn’t win any prizes for political correctness today – some of his language and descriptions of the Egyptians amongst whom he lived and worked are cringeworthy. His words are occasionally illuminated with American cartoonist Otto Soglow’s line drawings, featuring a bald bare-headed Weigall in various Chaplin-like scenarios.
That being said, in Laura we are presented with a behind the scenes view of Western tourism to Egypt – the tourism that Weigall as an Antiquities Inspector had to facilitate and mitigate when the need arose. For my purposes it’s an interesting take on archaeology revealing as it does some of the more obscure (and to some extent intentionally ridiculous) nuances of the life and work of an antiquities inspector. Rather than a focus on excavation at a particular site, Weigall strings together a progression of scenes or snapshots of the myriad encounters and experiences that made up his daily routine.
Laura Was My Camel was one of the last books published before Weigall death; according to his biographer and granddaughter, it is one of his most memorable. I can only agree.
Hankey, J. 2007. A Passion for Egypt: Arthur Weigall, Tutankamun and the Curse of the Pharaohs. London: Tauris Park Paperbacks.
Weigall, A. 1933. Laura Was My Camel. London: Eyre & Spottiswoode.