The Earl of Shaftesbury’s peremptory “Advice to an Author” published in 1711 fully recognized-and also stigmatized-the strong infl uence that the appearance of the fi rst English translation of Antoine Galland’s Livre des Mille et une Nuit would have on its readers’ taste and imagination as well as on the numerous translations, adaptations, and imitations of Arabian Nights’ Entertainments throughout the entire eighteenth century. 1 The earl, as Khalid Bekkaoui has pointed out, insistently directed his reproof at female readership (156), and specifi cally at the “perversion” that the “monstrous Tales” of Arabian Nights’ Entertainments had instilled in “the Fair Sex of this Island,” persuasively transforming “their natural Inclination for fair, candid, and courteous Knights, into a Passion for a mysterious Race of black Enchanters: such as of old were said to creep into Houses, and lead captive silly Women” (Cooper 1: 348). The success of Arabian Nights’ Entertainments contributed to further spread literary images of fascinating oriental sultans and emperors tainted with despotism, violence, and overt sensuality and sexuality, besides fueling the “transmigration” 2 of its literary genre into Europe, shaping the trend of oriental narratives, particularly in France and Britain. About seventy years after the publication of Arabian Nights in

English, Clara Reeve discussed the passion for and the fashion of oriental tales, concluding that the readers’ irresistible attraction to exotic landscapes and virile Moors that characterized the setting and main antagonists of oriental narratives was universally acknowledged “in all the Countries beyond the Levant” (1: 23-25) and could blur the boundaries between Orient and Occident. On the other hand, however, Reeve also seemed to echo the Earl of Shaftesbury’s censure of Arabian Nights, recognizing that Eastern tales “do more than catch the attention, for they retain it. There is a kind of fascination in them, when once we begin a volume, we cannot lay it aside, but drive through the end of it, and yet upon refl ection we despise and reject them” (2: 58-59). In short, Reeve noted, oriental tales “are certainly dangerous books for youth, they create and encourage the wildest excursions of imaginations” (2: 59), and thus she sympathized with the earl’s defi nition of “monstrous Tales” that seduced and debauched female readership. Reeve’s and the earl’s language of rejection and condemnation patently drew its lexicon on the discourse of sex and sexuality from a paradigm of traditional, clear-cut oppositions that already (and still) ideologically distinguished the West from the East, such as Christian versus non-Christian, civic liberties versus despotism and violence, political order versus anarchy, modern conquest versus classical heredity, enlightened thought versus violent behavior, and, last but not least, European beauty-linguistically represented through a series of palettes or repertoires of descriptive images of virginity and purity-as opposed to oriental beauty, tainted with mystery, obscure violence, and sexual subjugation. 3

The vast majority of adaptations, pseudo-translations, and imitations of Arabian Nights’ Entertainments that appeared in Britain during the eighteenth century confirmed and insisted upon such oppositions, with the further insertion of philosophical and moral speculations that were extraneous to the original texts, and in fact represented the European contribution to the genre. 4 Representations of beauty and violence that emerged from the Nights were particularly captivating: the bloody violence of emperors and jinns, from the very framework of the Nights, with the story of the two sultan brothers Schahriar and Shahzenan, who both suffer their wives’ adultery and determine to take vengeance upon the whole female sex for their slight until Scheherazade redeems Schahriar with her endless tales, is continuously mitigated by supernatural events and markedly erotic scenes-although Galland’s version only followed the original text “but when modesty obliged us to [vary] it” ( Nights 2). 5 And yet the stereotype of the violent oriental ravisher, already present in European imagination, is reinforced and obsessively paired with sexual intercourse with equally dissolute and voluptuous oriental women, as in the “Story of the Husband and the Parrot” (Night 14) and in the “Story of the Three Calenders Sons of Kings, and of the Three Ladies of Baghdad” (Night 28ff). The Nights ostensibly provided its readers with a taste of oriental life and customs, but the result was a literary medium that definitively established and categorized differences between

cultures, employing eighteenth-century European notions of beauty and violence to support the contrast between East and West. 6 The concept of beauty that shows through in British oriental narratives required that the physical and moral beauty of the European heroine be confronted with the lasciviousness and depravity of her attractive Eastern male counterparts and tempted by the dangerous, excessive beauty of luxurious oriental gardens, rich costumes, and the sensual atmosphere of sumptuous palaces controlled by treacherous yet intriguing and attractive masters. Such confrontation prompted at first the construction of European women’s beauty as diametrically opposed to oriental beauty. Yet the latent temptation of enjoying such pleasures-directly linked to, and intersecting with, the violence of sultans and emperors, whose power is in turn asserted through acts of physical violence aiming at the sexual submission of the European female captivealso led to representations of European female protagonists whose beauty, within the seduction offered by Eastern luxuriant atmospheres and fascinating tyrants, might even become dangerously similar to oriental beauty. The Christian European ideal standard of beauty is thus tantalized and challenged by oriental excess: violence as an intrinsic quality of Eastern rulers occurs as a providential and deserved punishment for those who could not bridle their instinctive desires and deliberately chose to seek for pleasure beyond the limits of innocence. In other words, if European women eventually surrender to the seductions of oriental lasciviousness and sensuality, their beauty as female protagonists and heroines is consequently encoded into Eastern patterns of beauty, characterized in turn by an excess of fierce passions, leading to uncontrolled violence and destruction. Narratives of women exposed to and jeopardized by oriental lust could be particularly effective, since their resistance to the temptations of desire, represented by Eastern attractive beauty, established pious, edifying examples of European superior courage and models of Christian virtue.