Oriental Interests, Interesting Orients

Class, Authority, and the Reception of Knowledge in Victorian Women's Travel Writing

in Critical Survey
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  • 1 National University of Ireland Galway muireann.ocinneide@nuigalway.ie
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This essay considers epistemological vocabularies in aristocratic women’s travel writing of the Victorian period, examining the ways in which travelogues use ideas of ‘interest’ to stage the processing and dissemination of knowledge about, and personal experience of, ‘the Orient’ over the course of the nineteenth century. Each of the three travellers who are the main focus of my essay develops her own distinctive model of engagement with the regions in which she journeys: models which nevertheless all turn upon particular invocations of concepts of ‘interest’. I will first discuss what aspects of knowledge these writers are interested in and how they represent their own interest in the East, then analyse the ways through which the publication of their writings appeals to the interests of their British readership, before asking how the travellers’ best interests are furthered or hindered by the modes of epistemological authority they formulate. Ultimately, I argue that these inflections of interest reflect both the British upper class’s increasing emphasis on elite societal and cultural responsibility and, more generally, changing Victorian models of epistemological engagement with the Orient.

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