Harems of the Mind: Passages of Western Art and Literature

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Yale University Press, 2000 - Art - 314 pages
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Fascinating and mysterious, the idea of the harem long captured the imagination of the West. The Muslim practice of concealing the women of the household from the eyes of alien men tempted Europeans to extravagant projections of their own wishes and fears. This intriguing book examines the art that resulted. Drawing on a wide range of evidence from the late seventeenth century to the early twentieth century--including travel writing, literature, painting, and even opera--Ruth Bernard Yeazell demonstrates the surprising variety of expressions inspired by the harem of the Western imagination.

The book provides both a rich account of changing perceptions of the harem and a demonstration of the tenacious persistence of myth and stereotype. Yeazell shows that Europe’s hunger for facts about the harem combined repeatedly with the impulse to fantasize. Masculine erotic fantasies of the harem were reflected in the paintings of Ingres and Delacroix, the writings of de Sade, Byron, and Loti, and the work of anonymous pornographers. Alternate representations portrayed the harem as a prison or a locus of freedom, a place of murderous rivalry or a home of loving sisterhood, a chamber of erotic license or a nightmarish snare of frustration and ennui. And Montesquieu, Mozart, and Charlotte Bront among others explored in their art the opposition of the imaginary pleasures of the harem to the freely chosen union of a loving couple. In a nuanced reading of Ingres’s Bain turc and other works, Yeazell concludes that for some the appeal of the harem lay in the fantasy of eluding time and death.
 

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Contents

Some TravelersTales
13
The Fantastic Facts of LesDesenchantees
45
A Prison for Slaves
59
Rebellion in theSerail of Montesquieus Persian
66
Pleasure in Numbers
97
A Climate for Pornography
107
Lesbians and Eunuchs
119
Frustration and Ennui
127
Rivalry Community Domesticity
169
Plotting Jealousy from Racine to the Victorians
171
MardeysAlmyna and Other Dreams of Sisterhood
187
Disenchantments with the Myth
202
Celebrations of Domestic Virtue
213
John Frederick Lewis and the Art of the Victorian Harem
221
Harem Times
231
The Fastness of the Orient
233

The Couple versus the Harem
135
Free Hearts in Montesquieu Mozart and Byron
137
Taming Soliman and Other Great Ones
149
Leaving the Harem Behind
161
The Lesson of the Bainturc
243
Notes
255
Index
308
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About the author (2000)

Ruth Bernard Yeazell is Chace Family Professor of English and director of the Lewis Walpole Library at Yale University.

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