Skip to main content

Making England Western

Occidentalism, Race, and Imperial Culture

The central argument of Edward Said’s Orientalism is that the relationship between Britain and its colonies was primarily oppositional, based on contrasts between conquest abroad and domestic order at home. Saree Makdisi directly challenges that premise in Making England Western, identifying the convergence between the British Empire’s civilizing mission abroad and a parallel mission within England itself, and pointing to Romanticism as one of the key sites of resistance to the imperial culture in Britain after 1815.
Makdisi argues that there existed places and populations in both England and the colonies that were thought of in similar terms—for example, there were sites in England that might as well have been Arabia, and English people to whom the idea of the freeborn Englishman did not extend. The boundaries between “us” and “them” began to take form during the Romantic period, when England became a desirable Occidental space, connected with but superior to distant lands. Delving into the works of Wordsworth, Austen, Byron, Dickens, and others to trace an arc of celebration, ambivalence, and criticism influenced by these imperial dynamics, Makdisi demonstrates the extent to which Romanticism offered both hopes for and warnings against future developments in Occidentalism. Revealing that Romanticism provided a way to resist imperial logic about improvement and moral virtue, Making England Western is an exciting contribution to the study of both British literature and colonialism.

304 pages | 11 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2013

History: European History

Literature and Literary Criticism: British and Irish Literature, General Criticism and Critical Theory


“[A] highly accomplished study. . . . Always interesting, politically radical and yet scholarly, this book makes a worthy successor to Said's Culture and Imperialism.”

Claire Chambers | Times Higher Education

“Makdisi has emerged as one of the most incisive and influential surveyors of British literature and empire in the Romantic age. . . . Mov[es] seamlessly between discourses of social reform and inventive close readings of literary works, illustrations, and maps to chart the terra incognita—and ‘tempus incognitum’—within the borders of England. . . . Makdisi finds new critical possibilities available once one moves away from the East-West binary.”

American Historical Review

“[An] invaluable study.”


“[An] elegant work of literary theory that also has much to teach historians of race and class.”


“Saree Makdisi has written a book that in its central line of argument and its detail is thoroughly original and compelling, deeply learned and detailed, erudite and entertaining. His skillful accounts of key Romantic writers and detailed knowledge of English social history and place create a vivid picture of social life and conditions that few literary analyses can boast. Making England Western could do for understanding the profound impacts of imperializing culture on the home front what Said’s Culture and Imperialism did for understanding the role of culture in the imperializing and colonizing imperatives of the period.”

David T. Goldberg, University of California, Irvine

“Saree Makdisi’s incisive and insightful reading of Mayhew, Place, Wordsworth, Byron, Blake, Austen, Dickens, et al. brings into view a process of Orientalism internal to nineteenth-century English history that has remained largely unnoticed. His argument that the consolidation of the English view of themselves as a civilized nation necessarily entailed, not just the process of Orientalizing others but also a targeted othering of significant sections of the country’s own population—a veritable civilizing mission at home that made England Western—unsettles received narratives of race and class in industrial England. This book will make it difficult for scholars henceforth to take the idea of Englishness for granted, or to think that Orientalism pertained to the Orient alone.”

Dipesh Chakrabarty, University of Chicago

“Saree Makdisi’s fascinating and necessary book succeeds both in providing a sympathetic revision of Said’s Orientalism and in applying its basic thesis with great subtlety to a range of texts from canonical works like Lyrical Ballads and Mansfield Park. Written with verve and a genuine desire to enlighten us all, Making England Western will have a major impact on literary specialists, historians, students of Orientalism, and anyone with a general interest in the politics of culture.”

Jonathan Mee, University of Warwick

“An erudite and intelligent study… At a juncture when the field of Victorian studies is animated by debates about the virtues of historicism, Makdisi’s book is an especially edifying read…. Making England Western throws us profitably back onto the variety of crooked paths along which the field has traveled and reminds us that the question of how to think the Victorian period postcolonially remains an open and provocative one.”

Antoinette Burton, University of Illinois | Victorian Studies

Table of Contents

Part 1: Preparing the Way
Chapter 1. Making London Western
Chapter 2. Civilizing the Ballad
Part 2: Episodes of Occidentalism
Chapter 3. Domineering over Others
Chapter 4. Occidentalism and the Erotics of the Self
Chapter 5. The Occidental Imperative
Part 3: Occidentalism in Crisis
Chapter 6. “Irregular Modernization”


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

Be the first to know

Get the latest updates on new releases, special offers, and media highlights when you subscribe to our email lists!

Sign up here for updates about the Press