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  • The Representation of Turkey and the Turks in Household Words and All the Year Round in the 1850s and early 1860s
  • Neval Berber (bio)

Western collective imaginaries have traditionally represented the Turk as both terrible and savage, “sex-crazed,” “harem-driven” and debauched. In the last few decades, scholars coming from anthropological, historical and cultural areas of study, influenced by poststructuralist theories and discourse analysis, have frequently confirmed the persistence of this stereotype in the history of Western popular thought.1 The historian Karim H. Karim (2000), for instance, who traces the origin of this image of the Turk in antiquity, writes that, when Islam began to represent a serious danger to Europeans, between the seventh and eleventh centuries, the repertoire of negative accounts about the Orient increased. This continued over the centuries and intensified as the Ottoman Empire was seen as a threat to European security. Regardless of the discipline, many scholars agree that the Turk stereotype, in which the Turk possesses qualities civilized European or Western people do not have, peaked in the sixteenth century, when the Ottoman Empire achieved its greatest geographical extent, and persisted well beyond (Burçoğlu 2009).

Edward Said, a subtle commentator in literary and cultural studies, elucidated in the 1970s the connections between the racialized concept of the Turks, Orientalism, and power relations within modern imperialism (1978). Said furthermore highlighted how in the age of modern colonialisms and the development of Oriental studies, stereotypes of the “Turk” and “the Oriental” merged and began to be used interchangeably. “Style, figures of speech, setting, narrative devices,” he argued, which formed the basis of texts dealing with the Orient, were the same which gave origin to the stereotypes by which the West consistently represented – and, indeed, invented – the Turk as savage, cruel and debauched, a figure devoid of moral values (21). [End Page 125] Moreover, as Nedret Kuran Burçoğlu observed in 1999, even as stereotypes of the Turks circulated among the Western-Europeans from the eleventh-century, acquiring different forms in the process, they became inseparable from the prevalent Orientalist discourse associated with expansive Western-European policy (196).

Recently, studies dealing with the phenomenon of Orientalism in the age of modern colonialisms have offered a more nuanced analysis of its meanings. For example, scholars have emphasized the instability of Orientalist representations. It has been shown that, due to the diversity of national, ethnic, gender, racial or class situations, the process of stereotyping the Orient, between the eighteenth and the nineteenth-century, was more complex and more varied than initially thought and that, rather than conceiving of one Western-European image of the Orient, it would be more appropriate to talk about its multiple forms, which developed in different times and contexts with quite different characteristics.2 These studies also stressed the bi-directional nature of these images, underlining how they were conditioned by geo-political and cultural contexts both in the (Western-European) country of origin, and in the Islamic countries of the East.3

If the West-European imaginaries differ according to their contexts of origin, and the image of the Orient and the Orientals is consequently multiple and varied, then the predominant image of the Turk as an Oriental Other should be considered starting from its multiple forms too. One of them, I contend, developed around the mid-1850s in the pages of Household Words, when distinctive social and political circumstances occurred in Turkey, in England, and in the relationship between these two countries.

In “The Spectacle of the ‘Other’,” Stuart Hall refers to the existence of “twists” and “turns” in the “regime of representation” of “otherness.” Even if stereotypes attempt, sometimes successfully, to fix meaning, ultimately, Hall states:

meaning begins to slip and slide; it begins to drift, or be wrenched, or inflected into new directions. New meanings are grafted on to old ones. Words and images carry connotations over which no one has complete control, and these marginal and submerged meanings come to the surface, allowing different meanings to be constructed, different things to be [End Page 126] shown and said.


This essay will examine the manner in which a stereotypical “regime of representation” of the Turk and...


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pp. 125-142
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