Throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, East Asian imports into Britain (porcelain, silk, lacquerware, spices, saltpetre, tea, and opium) all generated a fascination for the mysterious and faraway lands of the East. By the middle of the eighteenth century, the European vogue for chinoiserie (a decorative style inspired by East Asian and Chinese artistic traditions) was paralleled by a similar fascination for Oriental tales, pseudo-ethnographies, sexual fantasies, and political satires. Yet this obsession with the East was more than mere exoticism. In recent years, some scholars have even argued that the emergence of Western modernity can be seen as an outcome of European contact with the East. They have suggested that the long eighteenth century, because prior to the full-scale development of imperialisms, was a period of genuine curiosity and admiration for other lands and cultures such as China, Persia, India, and the Ottoman Empire. This course will examine poetry by British Romantic writers from the long eighteenth century who imagine, engage with, and negotiate cultures, lands and peoples from the East. Through an examination of Wordsworth’s Arab dream, Coleridge’s Eastern fables, Percy Shelley’s evocations of the Indian muse, and Byron’s oriental romances, students will interrogate the extent to which these tales, romances and musings are reflective of open engagement and productive influence, and to what extent they can be seen as attempts to control and subjugate an unsettling otherness.
A course reader will be made available on Blackboard prior to the beginning of semester.