Vicky Morrisroe’s New Book!

It will come as a surprise to my students to learn that, contrary to the rumours, I don’t spend all my free time drinking wine, eating pizza, and binge-watching Mad Men. In between all of that I have been researching and planning my new book which I hope to complete in 2017 and publish with Manchester University Press. To help me with this, the School of Liberal and Performing Arts have kindly approved my application for Sabbatical leave, allowing me to take time away from teaching in Semester 2. Now I have no excuses not to write! An overview of the book can be found below.

 Troubled Mirrors: Conceptualisations of ‘the West’ and ‘the East’ in Britain, 1789-1914.

NPG 4969; 'The Secret of England's Greatness' (Queen Victoria presenting a Bible in the Audience Chamber at Windsor) by Thomas Jones Barker
by Thomas Jones Barker, oil on canvas, circa 1863

This monograph explores the ways in which British thinkers conceptualised and represented the ‘West’ and the ‘East’ in the period 1789-1914. It seeks to challenge Edward Said’s seminal Orientalism (1978), which claims that Europeans always approach the Orient from a position of self-confidence, and have produced a discourse on Eastern inferiority which was first sustained by misconceptions of Islam and later accommodated to racial ideas and secular imperial designs. I argue that subsequent research has been unduly reliant on Said’s thesis, as scholars such as Catherine Hall, Christine Bolt, and Bernard Porter, have all emphasised the Victorian ‘gospel of progress’, the hardening of racial attitudes, and the jingoism of the later nineteenth century.

I draw on criticisms of Said advanced, for example, by Albert Hourani, Bernard Lewis, and Lisa Lowe, to build a framework for the re-assessment of nineteenth-century Orientalism. The first part of this book will argue that Western ‘auto-stereotypes’ were shaped by a sense of Europe’s own heritage and did not rely on disparagement of the East. It will be demonstrated that the Victorian idea of the ‘self’ was unstable, involved a complex negotiation between the ancient and modern worlds, and reflected tensions in the relationship between the metropole and its scions in Ireland, the United States, and the white settler colonies.

The second part of this book turns to the conceptualisation of the Orient, and asserts that portrayals of the East did not necessarily empower the Occidental self-image and were not always associated with the rhetoric and ambitions of empire. Despite the emergence of racial theories, Victorian discourses of ‘otherness’ remained rooted in religious prejudice, and the rival faiths of Islam and Judaism were presented as mortal threats to the integrity of Euro-Christendom. The sense of anxiety at confrontation with the Orient was only reinforced by successive imperial crises including the Indian Mutiny (1857), the Morant Bay Rebellion in Jamaica (1865), and the death of General Gordon at the hands of the Mahdi in Khartoum (1885).

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