Interrogating Richard Burton's Arabian Nights: Harem Literature and the Question of Representational Authenticity

  • Anees Al-Absi
Keywords: Orientalism, representation, harem, Arabian Nights, travel writing


The concept of ‘authenticity’ informs the main argument of this paper that interrogates the very 'authenticity' of Richard Burton's Orientalist representation of Oriental women by tracing signs of Orientalist intertextuality and 'authorial subjectivity' in his erotic translation of the Arabian Nights. The idea of the Orient constructed through Burton's Orientalist imaginary rendering of the Nights marks a new emerging anti-realism in the nineteenth-century Orientalism, a response to the demand of readership for exoticism. My argument pertains to this phenomenon of the imaginary or fetish rendering of the Nights by Burton, which vividly exhibits a lack of authenticity, a crisis that appeared due to Burton’s affiliation with the Orientalist main authorities on the Orient and his personal and ideological inclinations. It is clearly problematic to think of Burton's erotic and imaginary rendering of the Nights as authentic and accurate, while he conflates between ethnographic reality and fantasy. In this paper, the examination of key passages from Burton's translation of the Nights  makes it clear that he was not really true to his claims of validity for his translation, as he relied on delirious Orientalist imagination, inclined towards his ideological position and personal interests to claim authenticity for his translation.

Author Biography

Anees Al-Absi

Anees Al-Absi, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of English and Comparative Cultural Studies, Department of English, Faculty of Arts, Taiz University, Yemen.


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How to Cite
Al-Absi, A. “Interrogating Richard Burton’s Arabian Nights: Harem Literature and the Question of Representational Authenticity”. Contemporary Literary Review India, Vol. 5, no. 3, Aug. 2018, pp. 1-37,
Research Papers