Saturday, 30 March 2013

Exoticism



Another important aspect of Romanticism is the exotic. Just as Romantics responded to the longing of people for a distant past, so they provided images of distant places. The distances need not be terribly great: Spain was a favorite "exotic" setting for French Romantics, for instance. North Africa and the Middle East provided images of "Asia" to Europeans. Generally anywhere south of the country where one was resided was considered more relaxed, more colorful, more sensual.

Such exoticism consisted largely of simple stereotypes endlessly repeated, but the Romantic age was also a period in which Europeans traveled more than ever to examine at first hand the far-off lands of which they had read. Much of this tourism was heavily freighted with the attitudes fostered by European colonialism, which flourished during this period. Most "natives" were depicted as inevitably lazy, unable to govern themselves while those who aspired to European sophistication were often derided as "spoiled." Many male travelers viewed the women of almost any foreign land one could name as more sexually desirable and available than the women at home, and so they are depicted in fiction, drama, art, and opera.

Just as Scott was the most influential force in popularizing the romantic historical novel, exoticism in literature was inspired more by Lord Byron--especially his Child e Harold's Pilgrimage (1812-1818)--than by any other single writer. Whereas the Romantic lyric poetry of Coleridge, Shelley, Keats and Wordsworth had a negligible influence outside of their native tongue, the sweep of Byron's longer poems translated well into other languages and other artistic media.

Romantic exoticism is not always in tension with Romantic nationalism, for often the latter focused on obscure folk traditions which were in themselves exotic to the audiences newly exposed to them. Goethe's witches were not more familiar to his audience because they were Germanic, unlike, say, the Scottish witches in Macbeth.

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