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Narrating Ancient Egypt

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

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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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5. Major Themes in Nineteenth-Century and Early-Twentieth-Century Egyptianising Fantastic Fiction

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5. Major Themes in Nineteenth-Century and Early-Twentieth-Century Egyptianising Fantastic Fiction

Horus and Isis and Osiris peeped down from every niche and shelf, while across the ceiling a true son of the Old Nile, a great, hanging-jawed crocodile, was slung in a double noose. (“Lot” 82)

Loudon’s seminal text lays the foundations for the genre of Egyptianising fantastic fiction. The Egyptianising fantastic stories written during the nineteenth and early twentieth century share several aspects and issues, apart from featuring elements of ancient Egypt. While not all the following themes appear in all of the texts, at least two of these aspects feature in every story which is discussed in this book. This chapter will highlight these major themes and discuss their function in relation to the representation of ancient Egypt in the texts.

The first theme, which is not always directly addressed but which is essential and at times poses a problem, is the possibility or the impossibility of communication between the Western Self and the Egyptian Other. In most cases, the cultural, geographical and temporal distance between the West and the East is reduced by the ability to communicate with each other. Very often the authors are aware of the fact that the ability to communicate does not necessarily ensure actual understanding; the humorous texts in particular make use of cultural misunderstandings which can only occur because of communication. These misapprehensions are then used to criticise the West. In other texts, the impossibility to...

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