Byron’s Eastern Tales: Eastern Themes and Contexts

  • Susan Oliver


Byron’s fascination with the Near East and with the margins of Europe continued after the publication of Childe Harold cantos 1 and 2. His series of narrative poems addressing themes of East-West cultural encounter collectively known as the ‘Turkish’ or ‘Eastern’ Tales was published between March 1813 and April 1816. These poems consist of The Giaour (1813), The Bride of Abydos (1813), The Corsair (1814), Lara (1814) and The Siege of Corinth (1816). I shall also comment on The Island: or Christian and His Comrades, which Byron published with John Hunt in 1823. Though not an Eastern Tale, The Island is relevant to the present chapter because it deals with ‘southernness’ and ‘northernness’ through a number of recognizable orientalist configurations. The result is a reconciliation of difference that Byron represents as impossible in the earlier tales, but one that remains problematic. Furthermore, despite its subtitle’s suggestion that Fletcher Christian is the protagonist, The Island takes a lesser mutineer, a ‘blue-eyed northern child/Of isles more known to man, but scarce less wild’ (2:163–4), as its main character, situating him in a land of exotic, natural abundance and intercultural sexual liberation (a ‘bountiful’ land, in many senses).1


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© Susan Oliver 2005

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  • Susan Oliver

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