Victorian Orientalist Poetry: Origins and Meanings
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.
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