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one Loving the Orient: The Romantic East and European Literature My heart is open to all the winds: It is a pasture for gazelles And a home for Christian monks, A temple for idols, The Black Stone of the Mecca pilgrim, The Table of the Torah, And the book of the Koran. Mine is the religion of love. Wherever God’s caravans turn, The religion of love Shall be my religion And my faith. ibn al-arabi, “THe inTerpreTaTion of longings” I n 1146, the French king Louis VII embarked on the Second Crusade to Jerusalem accompanied by his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine . Eleanor had not been in the Holy Land for very long before rumors began spreading of her love affairs with various Muslim men. Included in the list of her supposed lovers was the great Salah ad-Din Yusuf ibn Ayyub, known to the English as Saladin, the Kurdish sultan of Egypt and Syria who later became famous for his chivalrous treatment of his foe Richard the Lionheart during the Third Crusade.1 The rumored affair between Eleanor and Saladin was impossible; he was still a very young child and it is unlikely the two even met. Nevertheless, Eleanor’s presence in the Orient produced the first of many European tales about white women’s sexual or romantic desire for Muslim men. As Maria Menocal notes, in all « 28 » Desert Passions the scandalous tales that circulated about the queen, Eleanor was always assumed to be complicit in her own seduction (1987: 51). Eleanor came from a family with a history of involvement with both the Crusades and the aristocratic poetry of romantic love developing in southern France around the twelfth century—a genre recognized to be one of the earliest and most important literary traditions in western Europe (Rougemont 5). She was the granddaughter of the ninth Duke of Aquitaine, William “the Troubadour,” who was one of the leaders of the Crusade of 1101, and who popularized the poetry of “courtly love”2 throughout France. Eleanor’s daughter Marie of France was the patroness of one of the most well-known troubadours of the twelfth century, Chrétien de Troyes. Marie’s own husband, Henri I, Count of Champagne, also took part in the Second Crusade with his father-in-law, Louis VII. Eleanor and those who traveled with her would thus have been steeped in the French culture of romantic love; so just what was it about the Muslim world of “the Orient” that appealed to these Europeans’ fantasies about romance and seduction? Why did a connection develop between crusading and courtly love during the High Middle Ages (Heng 1998), especially since the Orient of the Crusades was supposedly populated by Muslim enemies who were sometimes portrayed as monstrous black idolaters? What made the Orient romantic to that generation as well as to the Western women who, eight centuries later, would thrill to the thought of being seduced by an Arab sheik? In this chapter, I examine how the Muslim world became associated with love even while European writers portrayed it as a place to be feared and derided. I trace the ways in which many of the tropes that are found in contemporary Orientalist romance novels developed in Europe from the twelfth to the twentieth century. Whether or not modern romance writers are aware of it, the Orientalist motifs that abound in contemporary sheik romance novels derive from a long European literary tradition of imagining and interpreting the Orient. Accordingly, I look at how ideas of romantic love spread from Islamic Spain throughout Europe, before considering how Europeans wrote about cross-cultural, interreligious romantic unions during the late medieval and early modern period. I follow the development of classic themes in Orientalist romance novels during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, when the Muslim threat to Europe moved eastward from Islamic Spain to the Ottoman Empire. I explore topoi such as abduction by Barbary pirates, slavery, the renegade hero, the Oriental despot and his harem, the figure of the liberty-loving European concubine who has the power to convert the Oriental monarch, loving THe orienT « 29 » and fantasies of rescue and escape from the harem—all of which can be found in romance novels today, as can the figure of the Byronic hero as the noble outlaw or outcast from a society that has wronged him. Beginning in the nineteenth century, ideas about the Orient were influenced by Romanticism, especially the poetry of Byron, who probably did...


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