L’Arabie heureuse, souvenirs de voyages en Afrique et en Asie (Arabia Felix, memoirs of travel in Africa and Asia) purports to be an account of the author’s adventures in Arabia. It is claimed that Louis du Couret (1812‒67) was a French adventurer who converted to Islam and took the name Hajji ʻAbd al-Hamid. He was commissioned with the military rank of bey (roughly colonel) by Muhammad ‘Ali, ruler of Egypt. Details of his life and the authenticity of his travel books are in doubt. The life of adventure and discovery he recounted in his writings are regarded as fabrications, probably by the famous French author Alexandre Dumas (1802‒70), who is credited with editing this publication. L’Arabie Heureuse details the author’s Red Sea wanderings south from Jeddah in the 1840s. His harrowing trip is full of episodes of storms at sea, pirates, and the romance of desert travel. The pace of the story-telling is brisk and the characters exotically oriental. He says of himself, “I’ve become Arab. I don’t travel for business, but out of curiosity and for my own pleasure.” Much of this three-volume work is devoted to his stay in the coastal town of Abu ʻArish, in present-day Saudi Arabia, where he advises the sharif (local headman) on the advantages of European military architecture and a local youth on his love life. In his work Voyageurs et écrivains français en Égypte (French travelers and writers in Egypt), French literary critic Jean-Marie Carré is emphatic in ascribing the entire work to Dumas. In a scene mirroring Dumas’s own mixed-race heritage, Du Couret tells of the unhappy fate of a creole girl from Réunion who is sold to the sultan of Oman. Dumas is well-known for his literary entrepreneurship. In an age when many novels were first serialized before publication in book form the author, in the person of ‘Abd al-Hamid Bey, likes to leave a tale unfinished, requiring the reader to buy the next instalment to learn how the story ends. Modern scholars have argued persuasively that Du Couret never existed, and that he was a complete invention by Alexandre Dumas. Dumas published another book that purported to be by Du Couret, Les Mystères du Désert (published in English as Life in the Desert, or, Recollections of Travel in Asia and Africa), which also appears to have been an elaborate literary hoax.
Attributed Name: Dumas, Alexandre, 1802-1870
Dubious Author: Du Couret, Louis, 1812-1867?
References: Jean-Marie Carré, Voyageurs et écrivains français en Égypte (Cairo, Institut français d’archéologie orientale, 1956). | Bernard Franco, “Introduction de l'Arabie heureuse au bonheur en Arabie,” in Revue de la littérature comparee 1, number 333 (2010).
Place: Africa; Middle East and North Africa; Saudi Arabia
Institution: Library of Congress
Physical description: 3 volumes ; 19 centimeters