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Ever since the appearance of Edward Said’s postcolonial tour de force, Orientalism (1978), Byron’s taste for Eastern characters and settings has provoked much commentary from scholars. Byron, after all, spent a large part of his poetic career depicting the contemporary and historical Middle East, starting with Canto II of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage (1812), through the Turkish tales of 1813–14 (The Giaour, The Bride of Abydos, The Corsair, Lara) to his Assyrian historical drama Sardanapalus (1821) and Don Juan’s Greek and Turkish cantos (1819–23).
This fascinating study reveals the extent to which the Orientalism of Byron and the Shelleys resonated with the reformist movement of the Romantic era. It documents how and why radicals like Bentham, Cobbett, Carlile, Hone and Wooler, among others in post-Revolutionary Britain, invoked Turkey, North Africa and Mughal India when attacking and seeking to change their government's domestic policies. Examining a broad archive ranging from satires, journalism, tracts, political and economic treatises, and public speeches, to the exotic poetry and fictions of canonical Romanticism, Gerard Cohen-Vrignaud shows that promoting colonization was not Orientalism's sole ideological function. Equally vital was its aesthetic and rhetorical capacity to alienate the people's affection from their rulers and fuel popular opposition to regressive taxation, penal cruelty, police repression, and sexual regulation.
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