The White Prophet. [Advance Copy for First American Edition]
Controversial novel of British colonial rule in Egypt which raised issues of literary censorship; defended by Bernard Shaw
Advance copy of a controversial novel of British colonial rule in Egypt by the incredibly popular and successful English novelist, Hall Caine (1853–1931). The public reaction to its publication raised issues of literary censorship and the relations between Muslims and Christians.
Following a violent clash in the Egyptian village of Denshawai between British officers and villagers, public outcry focused attention on the ongoing British occupation of Egypt. The White Prophet was Caine’s response to the “Denshawai incident.” Critic George Bernard Shaw (1856–1950) reviewed the book and defended Caine’s sympathetic treatment of the Egyptians, writing that the novelist “...has put his finger on the real reason why British pro-consuls get stuffed periodically with the silly romance of a murderous conspiracy of Islam against Christendom.”¹
The Denshawai incident led to a turning point between the British occupiers of Egypt and its native citizens. Caine’s controversial novel was a commercial failure despite his popularity and being the highest paid author of his day. As Bernard Shaw noted in his review, “Hall Caine sells a thousand copies where most of the rest of us either sell a hundred or cannot escape from journalism into books at all.”²
Shaw’s review was published in pamphlet form in 1909 and was reprinted later that year in the Atlanta Constitution in support of the first American edition of The White Prophet, an advance copy of which is offered here. The newspaper added its own remarks to the review:
The publication of a recent novel by Hall Caine has precipitated a tremendous literary controversy in England. The discussion involves the question of literary censorship, of a novelist’s right to portray sacred characters or public men in his books, or to criticize his country’s political policy in connection with what is admittedly a fictitious narrative. Mr. Caine deals severely with the British method of governing dependent peoples and especially with English administration in Egypt… As a result he has been bitterly arraigned by the ardent imperialists, and a dramatization of his book by Beerbohm Tree has been interdicted by the government’s theatrical censor. These developments have led Mr. George Bernard Shaw to take up the cudgels in defense of literary freedom…³
Actor and theatrical manager Herbert Beerbohm Tree (1852–1917) accompanied Caine on a research visit to Egypt in 1909 after his planned dramatization of The White Prophet was abandoned after it was threatened with government censorship. Shaw’s pamphlet The Critics of the White Prophet (1909), defended Caine’s novel and was to have been the preface to its second edition, but a second edition of The White Prophet was never published. It was the only book by Caine never re-printed.
Rare advance copy of the first American edition of a controversial novel which engendered debates on literary censorship and the relations between Muslims and Christians.
Description: The White Prophet. [Advance Copy for First American Edition]
New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1909. Advance Review Copy for the First American Edition. 613, [1(blank)], [6 (adverts)]pp. Signed in twelves and fours. 8 illustration plates by R. Caton Woodville, including frontispiece. Plain thin brown wraps, unprinted, with violet rubber stamp on upper cover: “Advance Copy.” Spine slightly perished; text toward novel’s latter parts with old, mild tideline dampstaining; very good. In custom archival housing.
Note. 1. Tyson, ed. Bernard Shaw’s Book Reviews. Volume 2, 1884–1950 (University Park PA, 1996), p230. 2. Ibid., p232. 3. Ibid., p236 (note).