ABSTRACT

Visiting Algeria in the winter of 1856, Barbara Leigh Smith (Bodichon) put her first impressions on paper for her women friends. She illustrated her correspondence copiously, sending with this letter to Marian Evans pages of sketches (Figures 3.1,3.2). The recipient was delighted, relishing the 'wonderful descriptions from Barbara Smith of the glorious scenery and strange picturesque life she finds in Algiers' and the exuberance with which the artist 'dashes down sketches with her pen and ink, making arrow heads to indicate the bark of Jackals! ,2 Confessing to an overpowering seduction, this letter registers a wonder at unexpected pleasures and sensory delight so often acknowledged by western travellers. Yet desire oscillates with denial; seduction with repudiation. As the writer admits, visual pleasure was accompanied by retraction: although Algeria is picturesque, it is impossible to draw or paint. Equally impressed by its mystery, strangeness and exoticism, the writer struggles with Algeria's intractability, its resistance to visual representation. Algeria is perceived not so much as oppositional to the west, but as beyond its frames of reference and visual representation, despite or perhaps because of the artistic compositions it offered.