Accidental Orientalists

BookAccidental Orientalists

Accidental Orientalists

Modern Italian Travelers in Ottoman Lands

Transnational Italian Cultures, 2


July 28th, 2017

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Honorable mention in the MLA's Howard R. Marraro Prize 2017
This book identifies a strand of what it calls “Accidental Orientalism” in narratives by Italians who found themselves in Ottoman Egypt and Anatolia in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries through historical accident and who wrote about their experiences in Italian, English, and French. Among them are young woman, Amalia Nizzoli, who learned Arabic, conversed the inhabitants of an Ottoman-Egpytian harem, and wrote a memoir in Italian; a young man, Giovanni Finati, who converted to Islam, passed as Albanian in Muhammad Ali’s Egypt, and published his memoir in English; a strongman turned antiquarian, Giovanni Belzoni, whose narrative account in English documents the looting of antiquities by Europeans in Egypt ; a princess and patriot, Cristina Trivulzio di Belgiojoso, who lived in exile in Anatolia and wrote in French condemning the Ottoman harem and proposing social reforms in in the Ottoman empire; and an early twentieth century anarchist and anti-colonialist, Leda Rafanelli, who converted to Islam, wrote prolifically, and posed before the camera in an Orient of her own fashioning. Crossing class, gender, dress, and religious boundaries as they move about the Mediterranean basin, their accounts variously reconfigure, reconsolidate, and often destabilize the imagined East-West divide. Ranging widely on an affective spectrum from Islamophobia to Islamophilia, their narratives are the occasion for the book’s reflection on the practices of cultural cross-dressing, conversion to Islam, and passing and posing as Muslim on the part of Italians who had themselves the object of an Orientalization on the part of Northern Europeans, and whose language had long been the lingua franca of the Mediterranean.


'Accidental Orientalists offers fascinating material and a compelling discussion.'
Dr Giorgia Alù, University of Sydney

'Barbara Spackman’s brilliantly argued and meticulously researched work engages its reader in a complex questioning of how some of the most basic structures that support a sense of collective or individual identity have been negotiated, appropriated and performed [...] The historical range and conceptual depth of Accidental Orientalists are such that it will prove essential reading for anyone who wishes to delve into the dynamics of transcultural exchange during a period of relentless social and political change.'
Charles Burdett, Bristol University

‘Barbara Spackman’s Accidental Orientalists offers a fascinating reading of texts by nineteenth- and twentieth-century Italian (but also European) travellers to the Ottoman lands…Spackman’s book is well-researched, theoretically grounded and develops an intriguing picture of Orientalism that highlights its multiplicities and contradictions, while addressing the lability of modern and contemporary Italian identity through the lens of transnationalism. As such, Accidental Orientalists is an important read for scholars and students of Italian studies, and mobility and postcolonial studies.’

Fabrizio De Donno, Journal of Modern Italian Studies

‘Stylishly written, this close study provides a fascinating exploration of personal trajectories that challenge standard categories and conceptions of the autonomous individual as well as national types and social hierarchies.’
Anthony Gorman, Italian American Review

Author Information

Barbara Spackman is Giovanni and Ruth Elizabeth Cecchetti Professor of Italian Studies and Professor of Comparative Literature, University of California, Berkeley. Her previous books include Decadent Genealogies: The Rhetoric of Sickness from Baudelaire to D’Annunzio (Cornell UP, 1989) and Fascist Virilties: Rhetoric, Ideology, and Social Fantasy in Italy (Minnesota UP, 1996)

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Section TitlePagePrice
List of illustrations6
1. Detourism: The Orientalism of Amalia Nizzoli’s Egyptian Memoirs21
2. Hygiene in the Harem: The Orientalism of Cristina Trivulzio di Belgiojoso50
3. Male Masquerade in Mecca: Passing and Posing in Nineteenth-Century Egypt98
4. Muslim in Milan: The Orientalisms of Leda Rafanelli162
Epilogue: Divorce Islamic Style: Passing and Posing as Muslim and Tunisian in Postcolonial Italy219
Works Cited232