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The Arabian Nights in Historical ContextBetween East and West$
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Saree Makdisi and Felicity Nussbaum

Print publication date: 2008

Print ISBN-13: 9780199554157

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2009

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199554157.001.0001

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Coleridge and the Oriental Tale

Coleridge and the Oriental Tale

(p.213) 9 Coleridge and the Oriental Tale
The Arabian Nights in Historical Context

Tim Fulford (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

This chapter argues that, contra the verdict of Edward Said in Orientalism, English writers—the Romantics at least—did not treat the Arabian Nights as mere children's stories or sources of exotic imagery. The chapter shows that Coleridge made admiration of the Nights a badge of Romantic poets, a sign of the “imagination” that he made their defining characteristic—in other words a key part of the Romantic Ideology he, and others, set out in order to advance their claims as revolutionary poets. The chapter shows that Coleridge engaged with the Nights not just (or even principally) at the level of content, but more profoundly at the level of form. Specifically, he developed from the Nights the form of the verse-tale that is discernible in “The Ancient Mariner” and “Kubla Khan,” an anti-realist form that he used to free poetry from the need to illustrate the world as it is and instead compose that world differently. In the 1790s, the chapter argues, this Nights-derived poetic allowed him to write radical re-imaginings of contemporary social mores.

Keywords:   Coleridge, De Quincey, Orientalism, poetry, Edward Said, Romanticism, imagination, Kubla Khan, Ancient Mariner

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