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5 - Scott, the Scottish Enlightenment, and Romantic Orientalism

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 September 2009

James Watt
Affiliation:
Lecturer Department of English and Related Literature, University of York
Leith Davis
Affiliation:
Simon Fraser University, British Columbia
Ian Duncan
Affiliation:
University of California, Berkeley
Janet Sorensen
Affiliation:
University of California, Berkeley
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Summary

In a Quarterly Review essay of 1816, Walter Scott drew attention to the similarities between the “purely patriarchal” manners of Scottish Highland clans and Afghan or Persian mountain tribes; such “curious points of parallelism,” he claimed, served “to show how the same state of society and civilisation produces similar manners, laws, and customs, even at the most remote periods of time, and in the most distant quarters of the world.” The early decades of the nineteenth century saw the heyday of what has been termed “Scottish Orientalism,” as a range of writers invoked the stadial theory of the Scottish Enlightenment in order to compare the condition of European and Asian societies, and to consider the future development of British India. The authority enjoyed by such stadial perspectives on the East was nonetheless short-lived, and by the 1820s articles that were skeptical about the universal applicability of philosophical history began to appear even in the journal that had hitherto supplied one of its main platforms, The Edinburgh Review. This chapter will begin by providing a brief overview of Scottish writing about India in the period, before going on to examine the distinctive brand of Romantic Orientalism offered by two of the later novels of Sir Walter Scott. The Surgeon's Daughter (1827) and The Talisman (1825) are often seen to represent a falling away from the standard of Scott's earlier fiction, as he struggled to break new ground.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2004

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