Reorientating the Orient: Sympathy, the East and Romantic Period Literary Criticism

Part of the Palgrave Studies in the Enlightenment, Romanticism and Cultures of Print book series (PERCP)


The growth of evangelical distaste for Hindu India, with its accompanying tendency to employ the gothic mode when writing of the country, appeared to cast doubt on Orientalism as a viable literary form. The transition formed an obvious parallel to the switch from ‘Orientalism’ to ‘Anglicism’ identified by Eric Stokes in the realm of colonial government.1 Something of the vitriol outpoured on India after 1800 is evident in James Mill’s evaluation of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata in his History of British India (1817):

These fictions are not only more extravagant, and unnatural, less correspondent with the physical and moral laws of the universe, but are less ingenious, more monstrous, and have less of anything that can engage the affection, awaken sympathy, or excite admiration, reverence, or terror, than the poems of any other, even the rudest people with whom our knowledge of the globe has yet brought us acquainted.2

Certainly Mill’s position is far removed from that of Jones, who in 1772 urged Europeans to search in the literature of the East for ‘a more extensive insight into the history of the human mind’, and ‘a new set of images and similitudes … which future scholars might explain, and future poets might imitate’, and much of the History is devoted to overturning Jones’s generally positive view of Hindu culture.3


British Literature Spotted Garment Hindu Culture Arabian Night Indian Epic 
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