A study of Orientalism in English literature, 1707-1824

Rompkey, Ronald (1968) A study of Orientalism in English literature, 1707-1824. Masters thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

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Abstract

The earliest travel literature about the Orient provided English readers with distorted and fanciful descriptions of far-Eastern countries, and one of the popular notions which evolved from this body of literature was that the Oriental person was grotesque and savage - quite unaccustomed to the level of civilization enjoyed in Europe. Such exaggerated ideas were reflected in literature until the eighteenth century when communication with the Orient improved and the picture of Oriental life became more accurate. More Englishmen now visited the Orient than ever before, trade with the East increased considerably, and numerous Eastern commodities became available on the English market. Even Augustan writers like Alexander Pope and John Gay, who are not noted for their interest in the exotic and the remote, show an awareness of Oriental culture and manners in their poetry. Throughout the eighteenth century English interest in the Orient increased and Orientalism became a cultural phenomenon of some significance, affecting architecture, gardening, and interior decoration as well as literature. In literature it appears in most of the various genres which English writers were using during this period. -- This Oriental vogue was really a manifestation of the general change in taste from neo-classicism to romanticism. In the first half of the century the tendency of writers of Oriental fiction and poetry was to use the Oriental material as a means of moralizing or of satirizing the follies of their own culture. On the stage Oriental plays demonstrated the iniquities of mankind and drew attention to obnoxious practices in contemporary society. But in the second half of the century prose writers were more interested in the exoticism and strangeness of the Orient. Likewise, in poetry the Orient provided a new mythology, with fresh images and illustrations to supplement those already being used by poets. And on the stage, with the great interest in pantomime and melodrama, Oriental plays provided spectacles with ornate costumes and splendid scenery. -- The overall contribution of the Orient to English literature has been to provide a means of escape, a fresh point of view. Late in the eighteenth century when the scholarly study of the Orient began with Sir William Jones, writers began to view the East more realistically, and consequently some of the romance and wonder which had been associated with it disappeared. Romantic sultans and genii were replaced by characters that were more earthly and real. Romantic poets like Byron and Moore still wrote about the East in narrative poems, but the public was now becoming interested as well in such realistic stories as Thomas Hope's Anastatius (1819) and Morier's Hajji Baba (1824).

Item Type: Thesis (Masters)
URI: http://research.library.mun.ca/id/eprint/7045
Item ID: 7045
Additional Information: Bibliography: leaves [156]-170.
Department(s): Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of > English Language and Literature
Date: 1968
Date Type: Submission
Geographic Location: Great Britain; Orient
Library of Congress Subject Heading: Comparative literature--English and Oriental; Comparative literature--Oriental and English; English literature--18th century--History and criticism

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