Essays in French Literature, Thought and Visual Culture
Edited By Georgina Evans and Adam Kay
MICHAEL HARRIGAN Méchant Chrétien ne sera jamais bon Turc 9
Michael Harrigan Méchant Chrétien ne sera jamais bon Turc The missionaries, adventurers, scholars and curieux who were the writers of seventeenth-century French travel narratives to the Near East testify to a lingering fascination with the Islamic cultures they encountered there. Voyagers’ accounts of the history of Islam and the description of its rites accompany lengthy and supposedly first-hand testimony on manners, laws, and other cultural traits. However, a long history of conflict between Christians and Muslims and the perception of a real physical threat from the East had combined to taint Islam, in the eyes of Frenchmen, with an association with usurpation, or of potential violence. These author-voyagers consistently portray Islam and its followers as a presence surrounding or imposing on what were considered to be traditionally ‘Christian’ lands. A great danger facing the Christian in the East, particularly in the Holy Land and the lands under Ottoman control was repeatedly warned against – that of renouncing one’s faith and of embracing Islam. This chapter aims to analyse the forms this threat took, the reasons and circumstances that were supposed to force Christians to convert, and the implications that this had for French representations of Islam.1 This will be undertaken by the close reading of a core corpus of first-hand accounts written mostly in the seventeenth century itself. While many of these were written by missionaries, other sources, like the texts of the artist Grelot, or the early naturalist Tournefort, have been used, and demonstrate the widespread perception of...
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