Shelley, Ireland and romantic orientalism

Bradley, Arthur (2003) Shelley, Ireland and romantic orientalism. In: English Romanticism and the Celtic World. Cambridge University Press, pp. 117-129. ISBN 052181085x

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In Percy Bysshe Shelley's Laon and Cythna (1817), Cythna predicts the revolution she leads will spread from the eastern plains of Islam to ‘the green lands cradled in the roar /Of western waves’(v. 2263–4). If it is not clear exactly which ‘green lands’ Cythna is referring to here, a number of factors suggest that the most likely candidates are the British Isles or, to be precise, Britain and Ireland. Romantic Orientalism has historically been written and read from a European perspective. Shelley himself famously described the poem in an 1817 letter as an orientalised displacement of a European uprising. ‘It is a tale illustrative of such a Revolution’ he writes ‘as might be supposed to take place in an European nation’(SL, I, p. 563–4). Marilyn Butler, in a recent essay on Romantic Orientalism and narrative, interprets the genre as a political allegory for the turbulent situation in Britain in particular. Despite, or perhaps because of, Anglocentric readings like these, though, it is surprising that the Irish context of Shelley's Orientalism has, until recently, remained relatively unexplored. There is, after all, more than one green land cradled in the roar of western waves in Shelley's poem. This hidden context has only begun to emerge, ironically, as the study of Romantic Orientalism has shifted away from an exclusively European perspective.

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05 Jan 2023 09:10
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19 Sep 2023 03:38