chapter  1
Exoticism as System: Diff erence and Representation
Pages 21

The present study analyses representations of the exotic by British women writers and female artists in a number of canonical and popular novels, travelogues and paintings from the 1870s to the 1930s. The authors it discusses range from George Eliot, through Anglo-Indian popular novelists, female Orientalist painters, women travellers to the Middle East and North Africa, desert romancers to, fi nally, Virginia Woolf. The study starts in Britain’s colonial centre, touches on Palestine, and then moves to India, the Middle East (the ‘Holy Land’, the Levant, ‘Greater Syria’ and Persia) and North Africa (especially Egypt and Algeria), ending with a sea voyage from London to a fi ctitious British colony in South America. Central to the analysis of the individual images and texts-both fi ction and nonfi ction-is an understanding of exoticism as theory and as critical framework for an analysis of artistic products of the colonial era. So how can we understand and critically employ exoticism? As Victor Segalen wrote:

Introduction: The idea of exoticism. Diversity. Clear the fi eld fi rst of all. Throw overboard everything misused or rancid contained in the word exoticism. Strip it of all its cheap fi nery: palm tree and camel; tropical helmet; black skins and yellow sun; and, at the same time, get rid of all those who used it with an inane loquaciousness. . . . What a Herculean task this nauseating sweeping out will be! Then, strip the word exoticism of its exclusively tropical, exclusively geographic meaning. . . . From there, move rapidly to the task of defi ning and laying out the sensation of exoticism, which is nothing other than the notion of di erence, the perception of Diversity, the knowledge that something is other than one’s self; and Exoticism’s power is nothing other than the ability to conceive otherwise.1