The Orient in the Empire’s Poetry: Scholarship, Translation, and Imaginative Geography (1770-1857)
Date of Award
Byron, Henry Derozio, Imaginative geography, Muhammad Husain Azad, Thomas Moore, William Jones
This dissertation uses the idea of imaginative geography to study literary and scholarly representations of what writers in Europe referred to as the Orient during the long nineteenth century. Imaginative geography refers to a subjective collection of associations that accumulate around a place about which positive knowledge is limited, such that the imaginative associations overpower and structure any empirical knowledge about it, even when further knowledge is acquired. The imaginative geography of the Orient emerged from texts, images, and artifacts that traveled from Asia to Europe through sustained colonial contact. This dissertation studies how writers in India and Britain constituted, innovated upon, and resisted the imaginative geography of the Orient during the long nineteenth century and concludes that examining how literary representations of the Orient originated and evolved reveals them as not natural or inevitable, but contingent upon evolving responses to orientalist scholarship and orientalist writers’ political and aesthetic purposes. To illuminate this history, the first chapter examines the conditions under which colonial scholarship was undertaken, and studies how scholars in colonial India relied upon networks of local interlocutors, as well as upon a philological tradition inherited from 16th and 17th century Renaissance humanists. The second chapter focuses on one of these orientalist scholars, William Jones, who established the Asiatic Society of Bengal in 1784. It examines orientalist scholars’ aesthetic interventions in the service of their translations of Persian and Sanskrit texts, but also shows how these translations were used to justify colonialism in India. The third chapter discusses Byron’s The Giaour(1813) and Thomas Moore’s Lalla Rookh (1817) to suggest that both poets drew upon the imaginative geography of the orient to provide literary spaces in which contemporary European readers could imagine themselves beyond the social and political norms of Europe. Within these literary spaces, both poets were able to make limited subversions against imperialism. The fourth and final chapter focuses on how writers in India responded to the colonial hierarchies emerging from the imaginative geography of the Orient. The poet Henry Derozio drew upon orientalist scholarship and Romantic poetry to fashion himself as the bard of a fallen India. By contrast, the poet and scholar Muhammad Husain Azad, a product of the twilight of Mughal Delhi’s Urdu poetic culture, attempted to rewrite the poetics of Urdu to focus on naturalistic mimesis rather than metaphorical play in his literary history Ab-e Hayat (1880).
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Reshamwala, Zeeshan Riyaz, "The Orient in the Empire’s Poetry: Scholarship, Translation, and Imaginative Geography (1770-1857)" (2021). Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 1978.
Received from ProQuest
Zeeshan Riyaz Reshamwala
English literature, South Asian studies, Comparative literature
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