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I. THE ENGLISH ARCHAEOLOGIST, ARTHUR WEIGALL, AND HIS ANGLO-COPTIC ROMANTIC NOVEL, THE WAY OF THE EAST: GENERAL BIOGRAPHY

August 13, 2019

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The English Egyptologist and author, Arthur Weigall in 1923

Arthur Weigall[1] (1880 – 1934) was an English Egyptologist, prolific writer and a show businessman and lyrics writer. Weigall was born in 1880 to Arthur Archibald Denne Weigall and Alice Henrietta Weigall (née Cowen). His father was an army officer (Major), who died on the North West Frontier,[2] a region in British India, in 1880, and in the same year Arthur was born in Ceylon.[3] He was raised by his mother, who became a missionary in the inner-city slums of England. He had one sister, Geraldine (Geanie) F. Rutter (née Weigall), who spent some time with him in Egypt.

His fascination with ancient Egypt started from early age. Weigall entered New College, Oxford, 1900; but, finding that Oxford had no department of Egyptology, he left it after a short residence to become, in 1901, assistant to the famous Egyptologist, Flinders Petrie, first at University College London and then at Abydos in Egypt, in Egypt, on the staff of the Egypt Exploration Fund (EEF).[4] In 1905, at the age of 25, he was made Chief Inspector of Antiquities for Upper Egypt,[5] residing in Luxor, where he held his post until 1914. He made it his job to prevent the stealth and exportation of Egypt’s antiquities and to preserve what was left. During that period, the tomb of Yuya and Tuya and the tomb of Horemheb were discovered. In Egypt, he came in contact with the likes of Flinders Petrie, Friedrich Wilhelm von Bissing, Howard Carter, Lord Carnarvon, Alan Gardner, Gaston Maspero, Theodore Davis, Percy Newberry and John Storrs. During this period, Weigall published:

  • Abydos:Parts I-III (1902 – 1904)
  • A Report on the Antiquities of Lower Nubia (1907)
  • A Catalogue of the Weights and Balances in the Cairo Museum (1908)
  • A guide to the antiquities of Upper Egypt from Abydos to the Sudan Frontier (1910)
  • The Life and Times of Akhenaten, Pharaoh of Egypt (1910, rev. 1922)
  • The Treasury of Ancient Egypt: Miscellaneous Chapters on Ancient Egyptian History and Archaeology (1912)
  • Travels in the Upper Egyptian Deserts (1913)
  • A Topographical Catalogue of the Tombs of Thebes, with A. H. Gardiner (1913) [This was later supplemented by Reginald Engelbach]
  • The Life of Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt (1914, rev. 1924)

In 1914, just before WWI, he returned to London, where worked in the theatre and cinema, and was a film critic journalist for some time. As a journalist working at the Daily Mail, he came back to Egypt in 1923 to cover the opening of KV62, the tomb of Tutankhamun, which was discovered by Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon a year earlier. Weigall later went to America and was married twice.

Even though, Weigall spent most of his time following the break of WWI in Britain and the USA, he continued to write about Egypt; and his writings included archaeological subjects, but also historical and romantic novels:

  • The Life and Times of Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt (1914)
  • A History of Events in Egypt from 1798 to 1914 (1915)
  • Madeline of the Desert (1920)
  • Burning Sands (1921)
  • The Life and Times of Marc Antony (1921)
  • Bedouin Love (1922)
  • The Glory of the Pharaohs (1923)
  • Tutankhamen and Other Essays (1923)
  • Ancient Egyptian Works of Art (1924)
  • The Dweller in the Desert (1924)
  • The Way of the East (1924)
  • A History of the Pharaohs, in two volumes: Volume 1, the first eleven dynasties; Volume 2, the 12th to 18th dynasties (1925)

In A History of the Pharaohs, Weigall displayed considerable arrogance towards other contemporary Egyptologists, including Howard Carter, who, with Lord Carnarvon, had discovered the tomb of Tutankhamun in 1922.

Weigall was not confined to Egyptian topics – he wrote other books:

  • Wanderings in Roman Britain (1926)
  • Wanderings in Anglo-Saxon Britain (1927)
  • Personalities of Antiquity (1928)
  • Paganism in Our Christianity (1928)
  • Flights into Antiquity (1928)
  • Sapho of Lesbos: Her Life and Times (1932)
  • Alexander the Great (1933)
  • Laura Was My Camel (1933)
  • Nero: Emperor of Rome (1933)
  • A Short History ofAncient Egypt (1934) [His last book]

Weigall married twice. His first wife was Hortense Weigall (née Schleiter),[6] an American woman, whom he married in 1901,[7] when both of them were 20 years old, and who accompanied him to Egypt.[8] They had five children: Alured, born 1907; Anthony, 1910; Geraldine, 1913; Philippa, 1914; and Veronica, 1915. In 1927, Hortense filed a wife’s petition of divorce in the US and obtained one.[9] It seems that the basis for the divorce was infidelity. Weigall lost no time, and in 1928, aged 47, he married the Canadian divorcee,[10] Frances Muriel Weigall (née Lillie), who was born in 16 years his junior.[11] She was a pianist and sister of the famous comedian Beatrice Lillie. This marriage allowed him to get involved again in the world of show business as a writer of lyrics.

Weigall died in London on 2 January 1934 at the London Hospital, aged 53. In 2007, his granddaughter, Julie Hankey, wrote a biography of him: A Passion for Egypt: Arthur Weigall, Tutankhamun and the ‘Curse of the Pharaohs.[12]

Weigall, as the reader can see, wrote many books in Egyptology, some scholarly but other popular, and also books on other topics, including novels. But, it is his romantic novel, The Way of the East, which Weigall published in 1924, that I am concerned about here. It is a romance between an English man, Colonel Robert Romance, and a Coptic woman from Upper Egypt, Miriam Marcos; a romance that brings about topics in race. I shall talk about this novel in the coming articles.

___________________________________

[1] Full name is: Arthur Edward Pearse Brome Weigall.

[2] Present-day Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in India.

[3] Other sources say he was born in St. Helier, Jersey.

[4] The Egypt Exploration Fund was founded in Britain, in 1882, by Amelia Edwards and Reginald Stuart Poole as a non-profit organisation in order to explore, survey and excavate Egypt. In 1919, its name was changed to “Egypt Exploration Society”.

[5] Succeeding Howard Carter who resigned as a result of what is called the Saqqara Affair.

[6] Hortense was born in 1880, in Germantown, Clinton, Illinois, United States of America to Oscar Schleiter and Carrie F. Schleiter. She died in 1943, aged 63.

[7] The scanty literature mentions sometime between 1901 and 1905.

[8] It is not clear in what year she joined her husband. It may be only in 1905 when he was in a well-paid, secure job.

[9] Divorce Court File: 5433.

[10] Her first husband was John Dinwoodie Burnet.

[11] Frances Muriel was born in 1896, in Ireland.

[12] Published by Tauris Parke Paperbacks in London and New York.

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