Victorian Orientalist Poetry: Origins and Meanings

  • Abdullah Qasim Safi Al Hadi


Orientalism in the Victorian era has two controversial issues, namely, origin and meaning. In relation to meaning, Orientalism has both positive and negative understandings: underestimation of the Oriental world or actual representation of that world, a fact epitomized in Edward Said’s Orientalism (1978) and criticism on that work. While its origin is traced back to various sources in different periods from historians predating Homer to nineteenth century literary and cultural development. However, this paper, and for the purpose of its construction, argues that Oriental studies in the Victorian period have roots in four critical aspects of eighteenth–and– nineteenth century Western culture: first, Europe’s allure for and translation of The Arabian Nights; second, the Romantics’ representation of the Orient; third, the depiction of opium obsession; fourth, the rediscovery of The Epic Gilgamesh made by the English Assyriologist George Smith in 1872. This paper will follow these origins as well as Edward Said and Orientalist discourse, Orientalism in Victorian art and literature, and for the purpose of this paper, the orientalist elements in the Victorian poetry. The paper concludes that Victorian Orientalist poetry is extremely ambivalent due to the various origins and meanings of the Oriental thought, resulting in misinterpretations.


Al-Leithy, Mohammad Ahmad (2020). Islam and Muslims in Early Nineteenth-Century British Poetry: An Orientalist Perspective. Journal of College of Education, 26(1), pp: 75-108. df
Arberry, Arthur J. (1956). FitzGerald’s Salaman and Absal: A Study. Cambridge University Press.
Arnold, Matthew (1979). The Poems of Matthew Arnold, Kennethand Miriam (Ed.). Al• lott, Longman.
Ballaster, Ross (2007). Fabulous Orients: Fictions of the East in England 1662–1785. Oxford University Press.
Belenli, Pelin Kut (2017). Robert Browning as an Orientalist in Ferishtah's Fancies. DTCF Dergisi, 57(1), pp: 289-301, DOI: 10.1501/Dtcfder_0000001515
Bohls, Elizabeth A. (2013). Romantic Literature and Postcolonial Studies. Edinburgh University Press.
Bongie, Chris (1991). Exotic Memories: Literature, Colonialism, and the Fin de Siècle. Stanford University press.
Browning, Robert (1988). The Poetical Works of Robert Browning, vol. 3, Ian Jack and Rowena Fowler (Eds.), Clarendon.
Browning, Robert (2007). The Works of Robert Browning. Wordsworth.
Cannon, Garland (1990). The Life and Mind of Oriental Jones. Cambridge University Press. Conant, Martha Pike (1966). The Oriental Tales in England in the Eighteenth Century. Frank Cass. Karlin, Daniel, editor, (2010). Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám. Oxford University press.
De Quincey, Thomas (2003). Confessions of an English Opium-Eater and Other Writings. Penguin.
Dickens, Charles (1987). American Notes in American Notes and Pictures from Italy. Oxford University Press, 1987.
Browne, Hablot Knight (2004). David Copperfield, Penguin.
Drury. Annmarie (2008). Accident, Orientalism, and Edward FitzGerald as Translator. Victorian Poetry, 46(1), pp: 37-53, Accessed 13 June 2021.
FitzGerald, Edward (1903). Agamemnon: A Tragedy, Taken from the Greek of Aeschylus.Ralph Fletcher Seymour. Aeschylus/dp/B000KVHOW6
George, A. R. (2010). The Epic of Gilgamesh. The Cambridge Companion to the Epic. Catherine Bates, Cambridge University Press.
Haddad, Emily A. (2002) Orientalist Poetics: The Islamic Middle East in Nineteenth-Century English and French Poetry, Ashgate. Islamic-Nineteenth-Century-English/dp/0754603040
Hair, Donald S. (1972) Browning’s Experiments with Genre. U of Toronto Press.
Ibn Warraq (2007). Defending the West: A Critique of Edward Said’s Orientalism. Prometheus Books. MAAJ&redir_esc=y
Ismailinejad, Zahra Sadat (2015). “Orientalist Paintings and Said Orientalism,” International Letters of Social and Humanistic Sciences, ISSN: 2300-2697, 50, pp:68-8,
Javadi, Hasan (2015). Persian Literary Influence on English Literature, with Special Reference to the Nineteenth Century. Mazda Publishers. airanica/204
Kennedy, Valerie (2017). Orientalism in the Victorian Era. Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Literature, pp: 1-89.
Khrisat, Abdulhafeth Ali (2018). The Image of the Oriental Muslim in Lord Byron’s The Giaour (1813). English Language and Literature Studies, 8(3), 59-70. https://www.researchgate
.net/publication/327287816_The_Image_of_the_Oriental_Muslim_in_Lord_Byron's_ The_Giaour_1813
Leask, Nigel (1992). British Romantic Writers and the East: Anxieties of Empire. Cambridge University press.
MacKenzie, John M. (1995). Preface and The ‘Orientalism’ Debate. Orientalism: History, Theory and the Arts. Manchester University Press.
Meester, De Marie E. (1915). Oriental Influences in the English Literature of the Early Nineteenth Century. Carl Winter University.
Rana Kabbani (1994). Imperial Fictions: Europe’s Myths of Orient. Harper Collins. Said, Edward. Culture and Imperialism. Vintage.
Sardar, Ziauddin (1978). Orientalism. Vintage Books.
Salavati, Parastoo (2020). The Intercultural Relationship between Persian and English Literature: A Translational Perspective With Emphasis on the Role of Sir William Jones. Savienza Universitaet Di Roma.
Sasso, Eleonora (ed.) (2020). Late Victorian orientalism: Representation of the East in in Nineteenth-Century Literature, Art and Culture from the Raphaelites to John La Farge. Anthen Press. ism/eleonora-sasso/
Schmidt, Michael (2019). Gilgamesh: The Life of a Poem. Princeton University Press.
Smith, George (1875). Assyrian Discoveries: An Account of Explorations and Discoveries on the Site of Nineveh, During 1873 and 1874, Sampson Low, Marston, Low and Searle.
Smith, et al., editors (2015). Artist and Empire: Facing Britain’s Imperial Past. Tate Publishing. Tennyson, Alfred Lord (2008). The Works of Alfred Lord Tennyson. Wordsworth.
Vybarr, Gregan-Reid (2013). Discovering Gilgamesh: Geology, Narrative and the Historical Sublime in the Victorian Culture. Manchester University press.
Wilde, Oscar (1997). Complete Poetry. Isobel Murray (Ed.). Oxford University Press. Ziolkowski, Eric (2007). An Ancient Newcomer to Modern Culture. World Literature Today, 81(5), 55-57
Ziolkowski, Theodore (2007). Modes of Faith: Secular Surrogates for Lost Religious Belief .
University of Chicago Press.
Ziolkowski, Theodore (2011). Gilgamesh Among Us: Modern Encounter with the Ancient Epic. Cornell University Press.
How to Cite
SAFI AL HADI, Abdullah Qasim. Victorian Orientalist Poetry: Origins and Meanings. Asian Journal of Arts, Culture and Tourism, [S.l.], v. 3, n. 3, p. 19-31, sep. 2021. ISSN 2710-5830. Available at: <>. Date accessed: 16 oct. 2021.