In this chapter, I intend to discuss not the historical accuracy or inaccuracy of Orientalist representations in the nineteenth century but the Oriental fantasy elements at play in British fiction in the Victorian age, the Orientalist conventions that writers drew on for their imaginative work. This means I distinguish between fiction set in the Orient (the genre that stages in fictional form the complex interchanges between East and West) and “Orientalist discourse” (a vast body of writings of multiple genres that Said draws on in his book Orientalism: the body of work produced by professional and amateur Orientalists). In particular, I am interested in exploring a larger theme that gives some shape to this diverse body of fiction or at least the canonical representatives of it: what one might call the gradual displacement of the focus of Oriental fiction from a fascination with Oriental object to fascination with European subject, its gradual movement from a preoccupation with what Disraeli called the “Great Asian Mystery” to foregrounding what I am calling “The Great European Mystery.” That early twentieth-century British fiction focuses intently on British character and empire, anyone familiar with the work of Forster, Orwell, Greene and others can attest, but it is prevalent in nineteenth-century canonical fiction set in the Orient as well.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Arts and Humanities(all)