Authors: Charles Montagu Doughty

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

English traveler and poet

Author Works


On the Jöstedal-Brai Glaciers in Norway, 1866 (science)

Documents épigraphiques recueillis dans le nord de l’Arabie, 1884 (science)

Travels in Arabia Deserta, 1888


Under Arms, 1900

The Dawn in Britain, 1906

Adam Cast Forth, 1908 (drama in songs)

The Cliffs, 1909 (verse play)

The Clouds, 1912 (poetic drama)

The Titans, 1916

Mansoul, 1920


Of a landed county family, Charles Montagu Doughty (DOWT-ee) was born in Suffolk on August 19, 1843. At various times, he studied at King’s College, London, and the universities of Oxford, Cambridge, Leyden, and Louvain. While still an undergraduate at Cambridge, he spent a year (1863-1864) studying Norwegian glaciers and returned to England to publish his findings in On the Jöstedal-Brai Glaciers in Norway. After his graduation, he continued to study–archaeology, geology, geography, and early English literature–without any apparent pattern or purpose. In 1870, he left England, passing through Holland, Italy, Spain, and Athens before reaching Egypt in 1874.{$I[AN]9810000642}{$I[A]Doughty, Charles Montagu}{$I[geo]ENGLAND;Doughty, Charles Montagu}{$I[tim]1843;Doughty, Charles Montagu}

Doughty also made several expeditions into the Sinai Peninsula, charting the geological formations and making maps of the terrain. He then returned to Europe and wrote to the Royal Geographical Society in London, offering his information and requesting funds for further exploration. He was refused, for the society believed that it had all the information on the Sinai Peninsula it needed.

Returning to the Near East, Doughty traveled throughout northwestern Arabia for two years (1876-1878) with a group of Bedouins, living in their tents and making many notations on the land, the geology, and the customs of the tribes. Although he adopted many of the customs and mannerisms of his hosts, Doughty never denied his Christian identity, so his life was at risk almost constantly. On his return to England in 1879, he gave numerous reports to the Royal Geographic Society concerning the geology and geography of Arabia. This expedition formed the basis of Doughty’s major work, Travels in Arabia Deserta, an account not only of his scientific findings but also of the customs and behavior of the tribe of Bedouins among whom he lived. The book became enormously popular both because of its scientific interest and because of the curiosity aroused by adventures in an unknown land.

Doughty married Caroline Amelia McMurdo in 1886, and, apart from three years spent writing in Italy, Doughty did not leave England again. Having always considered himself a poet, he began to work earnestly at a long epic poem dealing with the founding of Britain. The six-volume work was finally published, when he was in his sixties, as The Dawn in Britain. Despite his patriotic glorification of the English people, Doughty did not, with this poem, reach the wide and appreciative audience he anticipated. Nevertheless, he continued writing long poems, of which Adam Cast Forth, dealing with the origin of the first human family in Arabia, is the outstanding example. In his later years, Travels in Arabia Deserta brought him fame, and he was awarded the Royal Geographical Society’s Founder’s Medal in 1912. He died at Sissinghurst on January 20, 1926.

Doughty’s early admirers had unqualified praise for his style. When writing of his travels in Arabia, he employed an archaic and ironic quality that seemed a perfectly appropriate way of presenting Arabic manners and speech. In his poetry the same style, minus the irony, led some to praise his purity of language and others to label his work boring and archaic. His admirers compared his poetry to Edmund Spenser’s rich verse (and Doughty honestly believed that he was glorifying his own age as Spenser had his); other critics believed that Doughty was only elaborating on conventional patriotism and notions of progress. Today he is admired solely for Travels in Arabia Deserta, a classic narrative of travel and adventure.

BibliographyAssad, Thomas J. Three Victorian Travellers: Burton, Blunt, Doughty. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1964. Doughty is considered as an Arabist.Hogarth, D. G. The Life of Charles M. Doughty. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, Doran, 1929. A well-documented biography.Lawrence, T. E. Introduction to Arabia Deserta, by Charles Doughty. Edited by H. L. MacRitchie. London: Bloomsbury, 1989. Another famous Arabist writes a revealing introduction in this edition.Tabachnick, Stephen E. Charles Doughty. Boston: Twayne, 1981. An excellent introduction to Doughty’s life and works.Tabachnick, Stephen E, ed. Explorations in Doughty’s “Arabia Deserta.” Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1987. Doughty’s masterpiece is examined in detail.Taylor, Andrew. God’s Fugitive: The Life of Charles Montagu Doughty. London: HarperCollins, 1999. Includes a bibliography and an index.Tidrick, Kathryn. Heart-Beguiling Araby. Rev. ed. London: Tauris, 1989. Includes an index and a bibliography.Treneer, Anne. Charles M. Doughty: A Study of His Prose and Verse. London: Jonathan Cape, 1938. Includes a bibliography.
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