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Narrating Ancient Egypt

The Representation of Ancient Egypt in Nineteenth-Century and Early-Twentieth-Century Fantastic Fiction


Maria Fleischhack

Ancient and modern Egypt feature in numerous fantastic stories by Victorian and Edwardian writers. This book explores how works of popular Egyptianising fantastic literature can be read as critical texts which comment on the Oriental mind-set of Europe, and especially Britain. The analysis of the genre and the discussion of possible reasons for the frequent use of Egyptianising elements show that Egypt was simultaneously a real and an imagined place – a perfect ingredient to create gothic stories and magical events, and, at the same time, of specific interest to Great Britain for cultural and political reasons.
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2. Creating Egypt in Victorian and Edwardian Fantastic Fiction


2. Creating Egypt in Victorian and Edwardian Fantastic Fiction

Egypt, the ancient Egypt, turned in her vast sarcophagus of Desert, wakening from her sleep of ages. (“Sand” 276)

The following chapter is going to outline the possible sources of inspiration for writers of Egyptianising fantastic fiction, focussing on first-hand experiences through travels as well as second-hand experiences through travel reports and museum visits. Furthermore, the chapter suggests theoretical approaches towards the definition of history and reality, as well as their originators in connection to the establishment of power-relations between the West and the East. This book makes extensive use of the concepts of West and East as Edward Said presented them in his Orientalism.19 Furthermore, to narrow the discussion down and to be able to make general statements about the group of texts, it is necessary to place nineteenth and early twentieth century Egyptianising fantastic fiction into the broader context of literary theory and history, and to define a frame for the genre.

The creation or generation of meaning in a historical context will mark the first segment of this chapter – taking a New Historicist approach to discuss and analyse the texts within their historical and cultural context. Stephen Greenblatt coined the term “New Historicism” in 1982. He refers to it as a:

“[…] critical practice [which] challenges the assumptions that guarantee a secure distinction between ‘literary foreground’ and ‘political background’ or, more generally between artistic production and other kinds of social production....

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