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Enlightenment Orientalism

Resisting the Rise of the Novel

Srinivas Aravamudan here reveals how Oriental tales, pseudo-ethnographies, sexual fantasies, and political satires took Europe by storm during the eighteenth century. Naming this body of fiction Enlightenment Orientalism, he poses a range of urgent questions that uncovers the interdependence of Oriental tales and domestic fiction, thereby challenging standard scholarly narratives about the rise of the novel.

More than mere exoticism, Oriental tales fascinated ordinary readers as well as intellectuals, taking the fancy of philosophers such as Voltaire, Montesquieu, and Diderot in France, and writers such as Defoe, Swift, and Goldsmith in Britain. Aravamudan shows that Enlightenment Orientalism was a significant movement that criticized irrational European practices even while sympathetically bridging differences among civilizations. A sophisticated reinterpretation of the history of the novel, Enlightenment Orientalism is sure to be welcomed as a landmark work in eighteenth-century studies.

360 pages | 13 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2011

Literature and Literary Criticism: British and Irish Literature, Romance Languages


“With flair and fascination, Srinivas Aravamudan intervenes in a growing debate about the complex role played by the configuration of Orientalist ‘knowledges’—fictional, phantasmatic, political, moral—in the sage archive of the Enlightenment. At once an elaborate mise-en-scène and a form of mediation, the Orientalist text reveals the Enlightenment to be extravagantly caught up in the tendentious play of differences available to its social and cultural imaginary.”

Homi K. Bhabha, Harvard University

“By destabilizing and, paradoxically, enlarging our understanding of the rise of the novel, Aravamudan makes an extraordinary contribution to eighteenth-century studies and to English and French literary history. This book is as exciting as it is useful, featuring truly excellent analyses of individual texts and writers. Without question, Enlightenment Orientalism is an illuminating, persuasive, and provocative revaluation of eighteenth-century fiction.”

Robert Markley, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

“[An] ambitious, sophisticated study. . . . Those studying the European novel will be grappling with this book for the next decade.”


“In Enlightenment Orientalism, Srinivas Aravamudan focuses on the segment of Enlightenment thought that might seem most vulnerable to charges of complicity with the imperial project—but it is precisely in the unexpected site of Orientalism that his intriguing book finds an underexploited possibility for resistance. . . . Aravamudan reads a diverse, sometimes dizzying, range of texts of the French and English Enlightenment.”

Eighteenth-Century Fiction

 “Employing a playfully laconic prose style throughout the book, Aravamudan magisterially drives home his most significant point: the literary canon is an ideological construct that needs to be constantly exposed, dismantled, and reorganized if we wish to resist monologic historiographies.”

KULT Online

 “Aravamudan’s erudition, the depth and breadth of his knowledge, to pursue a challenging thesis is everywhere evident. . . . Especially gratifying throughout the book is the interwoven analysis of French and English sources uncovering a stimulating philosophical and creative traffic resistant to nationalist agendas.”

French Studies

“Aravamudan’s is a compelling account of the tremendous creativity and intellectual energy of the nonrealist forms of eighteenth-century prose fiction, one that will no doubt seed a series of such studies.”

Research in African Literatures

Table of Contents

List of Figures
Introduction: Enlightenment Orientalism

Part 1 Pseudoethnographies

1 Fiction/Translation/Transculturation
  Marana, Behn, Galland, Defoe
2 Oriental Singularity
  Montesquieu, Goldsmith, Hamilton

Part 2 Transcultural Allegories

3 Discoveries of New Worlds, Talking Animals, and Remote Nations
  Fontenelle, Bidpai, Swift, Voltaire
4 Libertine Orientalism
  Prévost, Crébillon, Diderot
5 The Oriental Tale as Transcultural Allegory
  Manley, Haywood, Sheridan, Smollett

Conclusion: Sindbad and Scheherezade, or Benjamin and Joyce



Choice Magazine: CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title Awards

International Society for the Study of Narrative (ISSN): George and Barbara Perkins Prize

American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies: Oscar Kenshur Book Prize

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