The Salon’s Seraglio

  • Rana Kabbani


In 1829, in the preface to his poem ‘Les Orientales’, Victor Hugo mentioned the East’s modish attractiveness, saying:

On s’occupe aujourd’hui beaucoup plus de l’Orient qu’on ne l’a jamais fait. Les études orientales n’ont jamais été poussées si avant. Au siècle de Louis XIV on était Helleniste, maintenant on est Orientaliste.1

Europe was charmed by an Orient that shimmered with possibilities, that promised a sexual space, a voyage away from the self, an escape from the dictates of the bourgeois morality of the metropolis. The European reacted to the encounter as a man might react to a woman, by manifesting strong attraction or strong repulsion. E. W. Lane described his first sight of Egypt, the Egypt he had dreamed of since boyhood, thus:

As I approached the shore, I felt like an Eastern bridegroom, about to lift the veil of his bride, and to see, for the first time, the features that were to charm, or disappoint, or disgust him.2


Native Woman Foreign Woman Female Nudity Western Male Literary Metaphor 
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Notes and References

  1. 1.
    Victor Hugo, Odes et Ballades, et Les Orientales (Paris, 1940) p. 403.Google Scholar
  2. 4.
    Oscar Wilde, Collected Works (London, 1980) p. 429.Google Scholar
  3. 6.
    Gustave Flaubert, Oeuvres complètes (Paris, 1951; 2 vols) vol. 2, p. 675.Google Scholar
  4. 8.
    Norman Bryson, Word and Image: French Painting of the Ancien Régime (Cambridge, 1981) p. 92.Google Scholar
  5. 9.
    Jacques Bousquet, Les themes du Rive dans las Littérature Romantique (Paris, 1964) p. 504.Google Scholar
  6. 10.
    Claude Pichois, Baudelaire: Etudes et Temoignages (Neuchatel, 1974) p. 20.Google Scholar
  7. 11.
    Tamara Bassim, La femme dans l’oeuvre de Baudelaire (Neuchatel, 1974) p. 20.Google Scholar
  8. 13.
    Raymond Schwab, La Renaissance Orientale (Paris, 1950) p. 439.Google Scholar
  9. 14.
    Flaubert, Correspondances (Paris, 1902; 13 vols) vol. 2, p. 119.Google Scholar
  10. 16.
    Jeanne Bem, Désir et Savoir dans l’Oeuvre de Flaubert (Neuchatel, 1979) p. 96.Google Scholar
  11. 31.
    Mark Girouard, The Return to Camelot: Chivalry and the English Gentleman (London, 1981) p. 225.Google Scholar
  12. 32.
    Gerard de Nerval, Oeuvres complètes (Paris, 1961; 2 vols) vol. 2, p. 173.Google Scholar
  13. 36.
    William Makepeace Thackeray, Notes of a Journey from Cornhill to Grand Cairo (London, 1845) pp. 278–9.Google Scholar
  14. 37.
    Edward Lear, Later Letters of Edward Lear, edited by Lady Strachey (London, 1911) p. 91.Google Scholar

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© Rana Kabbani 1986

Authors and Affiliations

  • Rana Kabbani

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