Mapping Male Sexuality: Nineteenth-Century England

By Jay Losey; William D. Brewer | Go to book overview

Disorienting the Self: The Figure of the
White European Man in Byron’s
Oriental Tales and Travels

ERIC DAFFRON

To the degree that “Romanticism” shapes the new discourses on
America, Egypt, southern Africa, Polynesia, or Italy, they shape
it
. (Romantics are certainly known for stationing themselves
round Europe’s peripheries—the Hellespont, the Alps, the Pyre-
nees, Italy, Russia, Egypt.) Romanticism consists, among other
things, of shifts in relations between Europe and other parts of
the world.

—Mary Louise Pratt, Imperial Eyes:
Travel Writing and Transculturation


INTRODUCTION

WHEN ROMANTIC TRAVELERS CROSS GEOGRAPHIC BORDERS INTO foreign lands, they step foot on new psychic terrain. Traveling provides the occasion for remaking the self in ways that differ from the humdrum experiences of day-to-day life in the homeland, but not without unforeseen consequences. If treading foreign turf and charting exotic itineraries offer new possibilities for orienting the self, they do so at the risk of disorienting the traveler. As I shall argue, divergent ways of thinking and practicing the self come into conflict; confrontation with non-European peoples takes its toll on the white European.1

Just such a traveler, Lord Byron toured the Orient—the Near East of Greece, Albania, and Turkey—between 1809 and 1811. According to twentieth-century critics, he launched his tour for the sake of liberation—both sexual and political. To liberate his repressed homosexuality, as Crompton argues, Byron left the moral and legal constraints in England for the perceived freedom in foreign lands. In fact, he wrote to his lawyer from the East about a grave secret and confessed to Lady Caroline Lamb upon his return about having

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