In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

four The Spectacular East: Romantic Orientalism in America Here is romance. Red-hot. . . . The best-selling story by E. M. Hull, scoffed at by the higher-browed critics, but read and re-read by two-thirds of the women in this country, has been made into a very exciting, very old-fashioned photoplay. “THe sHeiK,” PhoToPLay, January 1922 W hen The Sheik was published in the United States in 1921, it went through fifty printings in that year alone (Leider 153). It featured in the American best-seller list for two years, ranking as the sixth best-selling novel in 1921 before achieving second place in 1922 (Raub 119). The Sheik was evidently as successful in the United States as in Britain, but did American audiences respond to and understand it in the same way as British audiences? Did they merely draw from European traditions of Orientalism to make sense of the novel and the film, or were there specific American conditions that affected the American experience of sheik fever? In this chapter, I look at how American Orientalism shaped the meaning and reception of The Sheik in the 1920s and subsequently influenced Hollywood films rehashing similar themes in the twentieth century. I begin by examining American colonial and early republican relations with the Middle East, and the Barbary captivity literature the United States produced as a result of its interaction with North Africa. This was the start of a native Orientalist tradition in the United States, supplemented by travel narratives in the nineteenth century. Eyewitness accounts of the Middle East, however, were refracted through the prism of the popular The Thousand and One Nights or Arabian Nights’ Entertainments tales, and the Orientalist fantasies from the « 110 » Desert Passions Nights were brought to life for domestic audiences in the dizzying spectacles of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, circuses, traveling exhibits, and Wild West shows staged by Buffalo Bill Cody and others in the late nineteenth century. It was this spectacular Orient that found its way to Hollywood by the early twentieth century, creating a ready and receptive audience for The Sheik. The response of Americans to The Sheik was no doubt largely similar to that of the British. However, the translation of Hull’s novel into a Hollywood silent film entailed significant differences that are important, especially since the film arguably eclipsed the novel in influence and made the story famous worldwide, not just in English-speaking countries. Beyond plot changes and technological considerations, the differences between the novel and the film arise from the particular historical experiences of gender, race, and ethnicity in the United States. Where these issues in Britain were linked to the colonial context, in the United States they were associated with anxieties about immigration, assimilation, and citizenship . Furthermore, the two countries had different traditions of popular Orientalist discourse: in Britain, Orientalism was anchored in a principally “realist” mode of representing the geopolitical situations of existing colonies; in the United States, Orientalism arose from fairground and merchandising fantasies of “Arabian Nights.” I will conclude this chapter with a survey of the influence of The Sheik over Hollywood recreations of sheik and harem movies, particularly in the 1980s. aMerican orienTalisM froM barbary corsairs To world’s fairs American engagement with the Middle East began in the seventeenth century, as traders brought timber, tobacco, and sugar to the Mediterranean Basin to exchange for Oriental luxury goods and foodstuffs such as capers, raisins, and figs (Oren 18). Like Europeans engaged in mercantile trade around this region, colonial Americans faced the problem of attacks from North African corsairs—pirates operating privately, but sanctioned by their own governments. These privateers were based in the empire of Morocco, or the Ottoman-dependent regencies of Tripoli, Tunis, and Algiers—an area of the Middle East labeled “al-Maghrib” by Arabs, meaning “the West,” but that Europeans called the “Barbary Coast.” In 1625, the first colonial American merchant ship was captured by North African corsairs, while in 1678, “Algiers seized another Massachusetts ship and THe specTacular easT « 111 » thirteen vessels from Virginia” (Oren 19). British trading ships were more frequently the targets of attack and capture, as discussed in Chapter 1; yet these ships often carried American personnel or passengers who were also subject to imprisonment and slavery while they awaited ransom. Eventually , the British government entered a truce with North African corsairs by paying “tribute” money (i.e., bribes to leave British ships alone) to the Barbary regencies. After the outbreak of...


Additional Information

Related ISBN
MARC Record
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.