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Translated Orientalisms: The eighteenth-century Oriental tale, Colonial Pedagogies, and Muslim Reform


This dissertation positions itself within the disciplines of English and Comparative Literature, its specific intervention in the areas of translation studies, eighteenth-century fiction in English, colonial culture and pedagogy in nineteenth-century India, Urdu prose fiction, and world literature. I argue that the Oriental tale, a popular form in metropolitan England, produced tropes of despotism, homelessness, and itinerancy around the figure of the Muslim over the course of the eighteenth century that eventually travel from the metropolis to the Oriental space itself. The European idea of what I call an Islamicate Orient, therefore, is premised on the notion of a roving and transient empire best exemplified in a series of works that include Antoine Galland's Arabian Nights' Entertainments (~1707), Frances Sheridan's The History of Nourjahad (1762), and William Beckford's Vathek (1786). These tropes are then replicated and reinforced in the late eighteenth-century scholarly Orientalism around the Indian colony, most noticeably and influentially, in the work of Nathaniel Halhed and William Jones. The Muslim, in texts such as Jones' Discourses (1784-9) presented to the Asiatic Society of Bengal, emerges as alien and invader to the original civilization that the British Orientalists claim to discover in India. The second part of the dissertation shows how a system of colonial pedagogy that begins with the establishment of Fort William College in Calcutta in 1800 becomes a conduit through which the arguments of the metropolitan Oriental tale travel from the European republic of letters into the Oriental space itself. Over the course of the nineteenth century, the Fort William curriculum, designed largely for the linguistic instruction of Company officers in India, is disseminated through a colonial nexus of native schools. The critical contradiction produced here lies between the English desire to cultivate a "vernacular" language through which to govern, and the loosely, yet purposefully arranged local language complex the Orientalists encounter in north-India of which Urdu is hardly suited for universal utility. Texts commissioned at the College, including Bāġ-o Bahār (1804), modeled as an Oriental tale in a native Indian language, are mistakenly categorized under the names "Urdu" or "Hindi," causing, in the case of the former, a cleft tradition of prose writing. In the years following the Mutiny of 1857 and the fall of the titular Mughal throne, the association of the idea of a "literature" with native pedagogy becomes increasingly directed towards an infant, but emerging class of Muslim bourgeoisie. Just how deeply tropes of the metropolitan Oriental tale come to inhabit writing in the colonially sponsored vernaculars is best illustrated in Nazir Ahmad's reformist fictions, Mirāt al-`Arūs (1868), Taubat al-Naşūĥ (1872), and Ibn ul Vaqt (1888). In the first two of these novel-like works, bourgeois Muslims struggle to define themselves against both the plebian and the aristocratic, but also seem to mark themselves as essentially displaced in India, their true center located in the abstract notions of an Islamic center. I read the final text as a somber depiction of the inability of the Muslim to thrive in an empire that is not his own. The Oriental tale, then, finds a home in these reformist fictions, but with transformative effects on the way Muslim culture comes to define itself in colonial and independent India.

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