The Other Empire: British Romantic Writings about the Ottoman Empire

The Other Empire: British Romantic Writings about the Ottoman Empire

The Other Empire: British Romantic Writings about the Ottoman Empire

The Other Empire: British Romantic Writings about the Ottoman Empire


This book contributes to the body of postcolonial scholarship that explores the growth of imperial culture in the Romantic and early Victorian period by focusing on the literary uses of the figure of the Turk and the Ottoman Empire. Filiz Turhan analyzes Turkish Tales, novels and travelogues from c.1789-1846 to expose the three primary ways in which the Ottoman Other served as a strong counterimage of empire for both liberal and conservative writers. This study provides copious historical context for the role the Ottoman Empire played in the development of imperial discourses in a time when the colonial holdings of Great Britain increased exponentially.


"Constantinople! Constantinople!…C'est l'empire du monde."

Napoleon I (1807)

Throughout this study I have been tracing the three primary aspects of the Ottoman Empire that appeared contrary to the ideal of the growing British Empire. We have seen how the world of the harem provided a complex counterimage of domesticity; how the treatment of the Greeks inspired ambivalent reactions to similar British systems; and how Turkey's failure to industrialize and modernize exposed a persistent anxiety as well as pride in Britain's changing economy. in addition to these characteristics, the capital city of Constantinople itself acted as a rich locus around which resonant images of empire clustered. As with the other elements of the Ottomans identified above, many Westerners found the real city of Constantinople, as well as its historical associations, both attractive and repulsive. With its famous geography straddling two continents and its Byzantine and Turkish historical associations, Constantinople provided writers, travelers, and antiquarians with a host of topics about which to think and write.

In this chapter I argue that the city of Constantinople acted as a fruitful counterimage of empire because the very shape of the empire, exemplified in the administration of its capital city, fundamentally differed from that of the English. This can be seen in two distinct ways. the first is in the ambiguous domestic/political space of the Imperial Harem. As discussed in chapter three, this aspect of the Ottomans exemplified the opposite of the increasingly pervasive ideal of separate spheres of commerce and politics versus domesticity in England. the second is in the city's status as crossroads of race, culture, and religion. Utilizing Mary Louise Pratt's notion of the contact zone, I show how this aspect of the city was particularly disturbing to

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