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'Racial' Politics in Anastasius

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'Racial' Politics and Personal Ethics in
Thomas Hope's
Anastasius

 

Ludmilla Kostova

 

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Published anonymously in 1819, Anastasius, or Memoirs of a Greek Written at the Close of the Eighteenth Century turned into one of the literary sensations of the 1820s. It was read by Walter Scott and Mary Shelley, and even Byron, the age’s greatest celebrity or ‘star’, claimed to have ‘wept bitterly over many pages of it [because] he had not written it’.[i] However, interest in the novel subsequently waned and it fell into oblivion, only occasionally punctuated by brief complimentary or derogatory references.[ii] This state of affairs still persists, despite the enduring critical favour for historicism, which has considerably broadened the traditional literary canon by stimu­lating the rediscovery and reinterpretation of long-forgotten texts. 

Significantly, even when interest in Anastasius was at its height, the prevalent atti­tude to the novel’s author Thomas Hope was rather dismissive. That wealthy dilettante of Dutch-Scottish descent had acquired a sorry reputation for eccentric pranks and displays of conspicuous consumption which all but obscured his valuable contributions to architecture, painting, costume- and furniture-design. Moreover, a society that was resolutely moving away from the sporadic cosmopolitanism of the Enlighten­ment and embracing the ideological premises of insular nationalism found it difficult to tolerate Hope’s ineffaceable foreignness: gibes at his ‘effeminate face and manner’ and ‘broken English’[iii] were frequent, as were sneers at the triviality of his aesthetic pursuits. That he could possess a literary talent comparable to Byron’s appeared incredible to a lot of Anastasius’s early readers. When the fact of the dilettante’s authorship became known, the serious press reacted with disbelief. Thus Sydney Smith, one of the founders of the Edinburgh Review, exclaimed:

 

Is this Mr. Thomas Hope? Is this the man of chairs and tables – the gentleman of sphinxes – the Oedipus of coal-boxes – he who meditated on muffineers and planned pokers? – Where has he hidden all this eloquence and poetry up to this hour? – how is it that he has, all of a sudden, burst out into descriptions which would not disgrace the pen of Tacitus – and displayed a depth of feeling, and a vigour of imagination, which Lord Byron could not excel![iv]

 

His colleague of Blackwood’s Magazine seemed to entertain even stronger doubts on Hope’s capacity to produce such an ambitious text. Apart from suggesting that ‘the man of chairs and tables’ ‘had been beguiled to stand godfather to the abandoned progeny of the noble poet [i.e. Byron]’,[v] the journalist claimed that Hope lacked ‘an intimate knowledge’ of the novel’s setting which comprised practically the whole of the border­less, ethnically and culturally hybrid region known as the Levant.[vi] Such a remark was eminently unfair to Hope, who had provided positive proof of his exten­sive travelling by, inter alia, including his own ‘exotic’ drawings in his book The Costumes of the Ancients (1809) and its 1812 sequel Designs of Modern Costumes. He therefore responded by writing a letter to the Editor of Blackwood’s Magazine mentioning his early journeys through different parts of the Ottoman Empire and asserting his familiarity with local history, customs and languages. His novel, he averred, was a ve­hicle for his own observations on the East and had been completed long before ‘Lord Byron’s admirable productions appeared’. [vii]

 

As David Watkin has suggested, the published text of Anastasius may have been based on notes written in French in the course of Hope’s tour of Turkey, Egypt, Syria and Greece.[viii] However, it seems reasonable to assume that the original version was revised as it was translated into English[ix] and might thus have imbibed certain Byronic elements in the process. This might explain the reactions to the novel which were noted above. Overall, what may be termed the Anastasian controversy is instructive insofar as it provides insights into early nineteenth-century British social and cultural life. Hope’s impressive career as a writer, collector, patron of eminent artists, and practitioner of the ‘applied arts’ (a term he himself coined) could not dispel prejudice and gain him the recognition he so well deserved. While we should in principle resist the sentimental impulse of commiserating with ‘the Oedipus of coal-boxes’ on account of his position as ‘a displaced Dutchman with Scottish background [sic]’, as Reşat Kasaba has recently done,[x] we should nevertheless acknowledge the difficulties Hope must have expe­rienced in a society with a rising predilection for ethnic and cultural purity and corresponding distrust of figures that appeared in any way hybrid or ‘impure’.[xi]

 

Anastasius was made available to the reading public at a time when the political destiny of Greece was an important topic of public debate: in 1819 the Greek War of Independence was only two years away. It therefore seems reasonable to inquire whether Hope’s ideological stance was close to that of late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century supporters of Greek liberation or whether he espoused the more conservative, pro-Ottoman position.[xii] The novel does contain passages that flout Western European attempts to portray the modern Greeks as the long-suffering heirs of classical Hellas. In spite of this, claiming that Anastasius presents ‘the real Greeks of eastern Mediterranean [sic]’ as ‘too poor, too religious, and too well integrated into the Ottoman Empire to respond to the call’ of European Philhellenes for ‘the rescue of Greek civilisation from the Turkish rule’,[xiii] as Kasaba has tried to do, appears simplistic. My own contention is that the novel fruitfully engages with the late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century Western European controversy over the character and historical destiny of the modern Greeks. The problem of continuity between them and the ancient Hellenes is the object of speculation and debate in the text itself and, as will be shown further on, may be linked to Hope’s understanding of the newly established analytical category of ‘race’. The novel considers the pos­sibility of forging a Greek identity which is free from the tinge of servility and crass ambition, usually imputed to the modern Greeks by Philhellenes and Hellenophobes alike, and is based on personal integrity and mutually beneficial relations with others. Significantly, the text eschews closure and reading it in monological terms, either as an expression of unadulterated Philhellenic feeling or of pro-Ottoman bias, detracts from the wealth of ideas and richness of human experience that it aims at conveying.

 

The emergence of ‘race’ as a classificatory category and the gradual establishment of a new ‘racial science’ at the close of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nine­teenth centuries added a new dimension to controversies over ethnic identity such as the one concerning the Greeks.[xiv] Insights from the new area of inquiry combined with earlier reflections on different forms of government in order to explain historical change and cultural difference. Hope’s own position on the rise and fall of ‘races’ and the government of ‘nations’[xv] is abundantly illustrated by his voluminous Essay on the Origins and Prospects of Man (1831). Although he mostly worked on it after the publication of Anastasius, we may nevertheless assume that the ideas expressed in the Essay were not characteristic of the final years of his life only but were accumulated gradually from his youth onwards. This is borne out by the text’s wide conceptual scope and diverse examples from ancient and modern history. A reading of relevant passages from the Essay should shed light on Hope’s representation of different ethnic (‘racial’) groups in Anastasius and prepare us for the encounters of the novel’s narrator with them.

 

I. Hope’s ‘Racial’ Politics: Greeks, Egyptians, Arabs and Others

 

An Essay on the Origin and Prospect of Man (1831) is long, repetitive and occa­sionally incoherent but nevertheless provides first-hand knowledge of Hope’s views on history and the ‘progress’ or decline of ‘races’. The text comprises a series of critical engage­ments with eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century ideas on the ‘racial’ diver­sity of ‘the family of Man’, different forms of political government and their affinity with ‘racial’ essences, the relationship between freedom and happiness, aes­thetic taste and the development of the arts.

As already stated above, the emergence of the new classificatory term was among the ideological and anthropological highlights of Hope’s time. Since the author of Anastasius was a cosmopolitan figure with numerous contacts with continental savants, he must have been familiar with some of the specialised German writing on the subject. While he does not mention Johann Friedrich Blumenbach’s key texts, he expresses views that are to a certain extent similar to those of the founder of racial anthropology. Thus, like Blumenbach, Hope supports the monogenist conception of human origins and refers to the Caucasus as ‘the first cradle of the first scriptural pair’.[xvi] Moreover, he repeatedly identifies that region as the depository of superior ‘racial’ stock. While Hope does not use the adjective ‘Caucasian’, which Blumenbach coined, he claims that the modern population of the Caucasus is still distinguished by the finest physical qualities:

 

To this day, the Circassians and Georgians boast the features, in most regular proportion […] and these fascinations they still retain in their genial regions at so much later an age than elsewhere, as not to render incredible the period to which Homer extended the beauty of Helen. (E, III, 308-9)

 

The Caucasus is also described as ‘the first birthplace of the [ancient] Greeks’ whom Hope regards as the highest of known human ‘races’ (E, III, 308). The ancient Greeks migrated out of it and were subsequently ‘degraded’ through the ‘remixture’ of their blood with that of ‘inferior’, non-Hellenic blood into the original pure “Caucasian’ stock.  Nevertheless, the ‘partial remains’ of the ‘pre-eminent forms of which their art offered the imitation’ are still discernible even among ‘their degenerate descendants’. Physically at least, the modern Greeks are not all that far removed from their ancient ancestors. However, rather than attributing their ‘degeneracy’ to Ottoman despotism, as a number of his contemporaries in Western Europe had done,[xvii] Hope claims a ‘racial’ cause for it: the admixture of inferior, non-Hellenic blood into the original pure 'Caucasian’ stock.

 

For Hope ‘race’ is decidedly ‘a category of physical classification’ but it also functions as ‘an analytic category of culture’[xviii] and intellectual achievement. For ins­tance, we are told about the ancient Greeks that they possessed ‘the highest capabilities of mind’ as well as ‘the highest organisation of body’ (E, II, 412). Their intellectual superiority was borne out by the fact that they ‘made in art and science the furthest strides in the most opposite directions’ with ‘the least assistance from foreign example and tuition’. Besides, their achievements in those spheres still provide an example for ‘later nations’.

 

As the above quotations indicate, Hope’s use of ‘race’ is inconsistent. On the one hand, ‘race’ functions as a transnational or, as we might say today, transethnic, category (as it did with Blumenbach),[xix] while, on the other, it designates separate groups within the larger entities that Blumenbach singled out as the ‘Hauptrassen im Menschengeschlechte’.[xx] In the second case it seems to be synonymous with ‘nation’ or ‘tribe’. Thus Chapter XXXVI, Volume III, which is entitled ‘Characteristics Natural and Acquired of Some of the Higher Human Races’, looks in turn at the ancient Egyptians, the Arabs of the Middle Ages and the modern period, and the ancient and modern Greeks. Rather than defining these groups as branches of Blumenbach’s Hauptrassen, Hope identifies them as ‘races’ in their own right. Occasionally he also terms them ‘nations’ and ‘tribes’ (E, III, 308 ff).

 

Apart from denoting physical, mental and cultural characteristics, ‘race’ also functions as an aesthetic category in Hope’s discourse. This was already partially illus­trated by the above references to the Greeks and other ‘Caucasians’. Hope’s admiration for the Greeks betrays the influence of Johann Joachim Winckelmann.  There can be very little doubt that he was familiar with the work of the leader of European neoclassicism. David Watkin remarks on the close links between Winckelmann and the Hope family.[xxi] As with Winckelmann, Hope’s comments on the physical superiority of the ancient Greeks reflect his familiarity with examples of ancient sculpture. In his Introduction to his Costumes of the Ancients (1809) he remarks that ‘in former days [he] had had the good fortune to visit most of the celebrated Musea abroad’.[xxii] Unlike Winckelmann, however, Hope also travelled through the Ottoman Empire and familia­rised himself with the life of the modern Greeks and some of the other inhabitants of the Levant.

 

As David Roessel has shown, apart from being associated with superior physical beauty and credited with the establishment of ineffable standards of artistic taste, the ancient Greeks were likewise celebrated for their democratic traditions.[xxiii] Opposition to Oriental despotism in the wars against the Persian Empire was considered to be the highest manifestation of the Greek civic spirit and love of liberty. Such motifs were stressed in typological readings of ancient Greek history by representatives of Western European romanticism. However, one could also find traces of them in earlier texts and statements by key figures of the Enlightenment. Oriental despotism was believed to curb the workings of reason and thus stunt the development of learning. [xxiv] Hope certainly follows this Enlightenment tradition when he problematises accounts of the superior knowledge of the East from which the ancient Greeks were believed to have benefited. He agrees that the ‘tenets’ of the philosophy and religious beliefs that the Greeks borrowed from the East were ‘most sublime’ but asserts that they were ‘intermixed’, among the Orientals, with ‘absurdities the most glaring’ (E, III, 327). Moreover, Eastern societies were priest-ridden and the clerical hierarchy concealed ‘the sublime truths they chance[d] to possess from the knowledge of the vulgar’ (E, III, 328). This was a sure sign, in Hope’s opinion, that ‘these truths’ had not been discovered by ‘the vigour of native intellect’ but had been passed down to them by ‘some race earlier and higher’ (E, III, 328). Hope hints several times that the ‘race’ in question was that of the Atlantes, who must have been ‘almost entirely overwhelmed’ by ‘some of the dire deluges that afflicted this globe’ (E, III, 328). 

 

The perfect ‘race’ thus belongs to the immemorial past. There is no direct evidence of its existence. Its superior qualities can only be inferred from ‘the sublime truths’ that Eastern ‘nations chance[d] to posses’ but made a point of concealing from ‘the vulgar’ and accounts of the exceptional traits and achievements of the ancient Greeks. Hope remarks that even the latter ‘reserved some record of a nation still more highly gifted than [themselves]’ and ‘retraced its existence in those Titans afterwards subdued by their gods” (E, II, 414). For the author of Anastasius the ‘racial’ history of humanity appears to have been marked by a general tendency to decline rather than progress. Individuals or specific groups could preserve and, if circumstances permitted, perpetuate elements of what (given Hope’s advocacy of the monogenist doctrine) constituted humanity’s original stock of exceptional mental and physical characteristics.  

 

The Eurocentric (or should we say, pro-Caucasian?) element in Hope’s thought is most apparent in his pronouncements on the ancient Egyptians and the Arabs of the Middle Ages and modern times. He repre­sents Ancient Egypt as the quintessential repressive society: wily priests ‘carefully concealed [….] the sounder doctrine they had borrowed from the east’ while the common people ‘were abandoned to the grossest superstition’ (E, III, 279). Moreover, ‘the nation was divided into castes’ lest ‘each man should adopt the calling for which nature and his situation fitted him best’ (E, III, 279). Such a society could not prosper, and, in Hope’s view, the Egyptians’ ‘horror of the sea’ likewise contributed to that end (E, III, 279). This ‘horror’ and ‘the deserts that surrounded the land of Egypt’ doomed them to isolation. As a result, ‘while other nations advanced, Egypt only experienced a corresponding decline’ (E, III, 279). Hope further maintains that ancient Egypt was the embodiment of vis inertiae (the force of inertia). He identifies the country’s ‘indes­tructible monuments and incorruptible mummies’ as the outward signs of that principle (E, III, 280). There is an opposition in the Essay between the active spirit of the ‘Caucasian’ Greeks and the essential passivity of the Egyptians who were pre­dominantly confined to their own country. Significantly, a latter-day version of this opposition is incorporated into the Egyptian chapters of Hope’s novel: as active ‘Cau­casian’ migrants, Anastasius and the Mamelukes, who govern Egypt, are contrasted with the passive indigenes.

 

Arabs are similarly portrayed as restricted to their ‘native deserts’ (E, III, 282). However, this is also presented as an advantage: because of this lack of mobility ‘their race remains […] pure and unadulterated’ (E, III, 282). Their hospitality, which ‘only finds bounds in their means’ (E, III, 282), is the chief manifestation of that ‘purity’. While underscoring the pastoral virtue of hospitality, Hope disavows the ‘credit [Arabs] have been given for intellectual powers beyond their deserts’ (E, III, 283):

 

When their later descendants filled the thrones of Bagdad [sic] and Cairo, and founded the schools of Damascus and Grenada, it was under the tuition of the Greeks of Con­stantinople. These people of a higher race remained to the last their teachers in mathematics, in medicine, in astronomy, in philosophy, and in whatever abstract sciences the Arabs had the credit of cultivating… In the fine arts they never attained any eminence [my emphasis]. (E, III, 283)

 

Greek (and by implication, Caucasian-European) superiority is thus asserted once again. In the novel Anastasius is represented as decidedly more ‘civilised’ than the Arabs he comes into contact with (the primitive Wahhabees [sic] of the desert), but is also shown as deficient in their pastoral virtues. His friendly relationship with them, however, points to another Greek characteristic which Hope notes in his Essay: their ‘urbanity’ to fellow citizens and strangers alike and the ‘flexibility of organisation’ that enabled them to ‘adopt the manners […] of those among whom they resided’ (E, III, 320). 

 

The latter quality is morally ambiguous insofar as it turned some Greeks into ‘obse­quious courtiers in the palaces of the Persian satraps’ and, later, in ‘the courts of the Mohameddan kaliphs’ (E, III, 320). In Anastasius this particular feature is empha­sised by the Phanariot Mavroyeni,[xxv] himself an obsequious servant of the Ottoman establish­ment, who also claims that there is no fundamental difference between the ancient and modern Greeks. For Mavroyeni, ‘credulity, versatility, and thirst of distinctions, from the earliest periods, formed, still form, and ever will continue to form, the basis of the Greek character’[xxvi]. This line of argument indicates that despite certain affinity with the Philhellenic interpretations of the Greek condition, Hope did not sub­scribe to the view of ‘the pure essence of [ancient] Greece’.[xxvii] For him cultural mediation, albeit through collaboration with foreign masters, was a distinctive Greek trait manifesting itself in antiquity as well as ‘at the close of the eighteenth century’. His novel explores the ethico-political implications of the trait.

 

Eventually Hope accounts for what he perceives as the ‘degradation’ of the modern Greeks in the following way:

 

As entities raised highest, when their tide turns, fall lowest – as the very volubility of the Greeks, which made them advance more rapidly, when the impelling force failed, allow­ed them to retrograde faster – of that very nation once so great, so glorious, the remains, when subdued by, when remixed with, when corrupted by other nations of an inferior caste, lapsed into a state of degradation more complete than other nations, displaying a greater vis inertiae, would have done. All the elements of good, blended in them, decomposed more rapidly, and emitted a stronger taint.  (E, III, 327)

 

The passage indicates that the force of inertia (vis inertiae) has a preservationist function and is thus not totally negative. Hope attributes the ‘degradation’ of the modern Greeks to its absence from their ancestors’ psychological and cultural makeup. The principle of vis inertiae, to which he evidently assigns a role in world history, could have counterbalanced the negative effects of ‘racial’ ‘remixing’ and foreign conquest. Hope represents the disintegration of ancient Greek civilisation in strikingly physical terms as is evidenced by the reference to the ‘strong taint’ of ‘decomposition’. The Essay (unlike the novel) says nothing about the reversibility of the process of civilisational ‘debasement’. That Hope refrained from commenting on the future ‘pros­pects’ of the modern Greeks appears strange insofar as this particular text was produced after the Greek War of Independence and the establishment of an autonomous Greek state. Curiously, the Essay does not comment on the ‘racial’ status of the Turks either. No attempt is made to determine their place within ‘the family of Man’.

 

Instead, the concluding chapters of the third volume consider the relationship bet­ween human happiness and such factors as independence, free agency, liberty, and education for the lower classes. Hope specifically considers the nature of despotism, generally recognised as a distinctive trait of the Ottoman government at the time. He indirectly engages Charles de Secondat Montesquieu, the most important Enlighten­ment theorist of state organisation, in a debate over it. For Montesquieu the despot (unlike the monarch who rules ‘by fixed and established laws’) ‘draws everything along by will and caprices’.[xxviii]  The distinctive characteristic of a despotic government therefore is the absolute mastery of one man over the rest of the population irrespective of social rank or merit. Writing earlier than Hope, but documenting a later tour of the Levant than his, Byron’s friend John Cam Hobhouse declared:

 

It is remarked by Montesquieu, that in a despotic government power is deputed and des­cends entire. This transmission of absolute authority displays itself in Turkey by the total annihilation of every lower dignity in the presence of superior rank. Commanding amongst the Turks is sole and individual…[xxix]

 

Significantly, Hope opposes this conventionally liberal line of reasoning in his Essay. He begins by admitting the despotic character of Ottoman government but claims that ‘even in Turkey the mass of the population is contented and happy’ (E, III, 338). This is above all due to the restricted influence that ruling despots are in a position to exercise:

 

[I]n a despotic government, even if the despot swerves from the best dispositions res­pecting his subjects – if he becomes an oppressor, a tyrant – his single weight can only press hard on a few individuals immediately surrounding him. It requires infinite study before oppression can be so organised as to descend in regular gradation from the highest orders to the lowest; and this very study leaves a constant chance of events by which its effects may be counteracted. (E, III, 338-9)

 

Ottoman despotism is thus ‘underdeveloped’ but this, in Hope’s view, is preferable to the kind of government in which ‘there is, in a great many individuals, a great deal of freedom, […], a great deal of power over a great many others’. The control exercised by the latter form of government would be much greater and the outcome for the governed would be ‘great suffering, great unhappiness, great misery’. According to Hope, the ancient Greek ‘commonwealths’ and ‘those of Italy’ in the Middle Ages provided instances of high political organisation that led to individual un­happiness. It is difficult to reconcile this inference with his earlier admiration of the ancient Greeks and his castigation of caste restrictions in ancient Egypt.       

 

Such contradictions underscore the hybrid character of Hope’s thought and his appa­rent unwillingness to opt for ideological closure of any kind. For me the concluding emphasis on individual happiness is indicative of the writer’s reluctance to generalise or to move beyond lived experience. Needless to say, the particularist approach, which he opted for, was eventually bound to lead to confusion. This may explain why his Essay was neglected by commentators. I hope to show that Hope’s novel Anastasius is characterised by the same emphasis on the particular.

 

II. Anastasius: Chronicling History’s Manifold Games

 

In a recent article on interpreting Philip Meadows Taylor’s 1839 novel Confessions of a Thug, Mary Poovey remarks on ‘the nature and purpose of fictional narratives’ in the following terms:

 

[They] constitute a complex, sometimes self-contradictory, tissue of rhetorical engage­ments with social and literary issues, all of which leave traces in the text that require theoretically informed interpretive paradigms and that benefit from historical research.[xxx]

 

Studying the ‘traces’ of Hope’s novel’s ‘engagements with literary issues’ poses some problems. As was shown earlier, nineteenth-century readers underscored the text’s affinity with Byron’s oeuvres, especially with Don Juan. In a recent article about James Morier’s Hajji Baba, James Watt follows this line of interpretation by representing Hope’s novel as an example of ‘the Oriental picaresque’.[xxxi] In his view, this subgenre ‘employed the device of the wandering hero or pícaro, already popularised in the period by Byron, as a means of surveying… [Oriental] society and staging contacts between [Orientals] and Europeans’.[xxxii] Hope himself describes Anastasius as ‘a historic novel’ (E, III, 357), thus aligning it with a different set of literary conventions. The two views are not incompatible. Insofar as the text portrays the Ottoman Empire as the site of ‘an all pervasive,… [occasionally] comic corruption’,[xxxiii] it is close to the Oriental picaresque as defined by Watt. On the other hand, Hope historicises Anastasius’ story by placing it ‘at the close of the eighteenth century’ and by envisaging the possibility of change, if not for the (anti-)hero himself, then for some of the novel’s other Greek characters. Such elements contrast with the representation of the immutability of Eastern life in the Oriental picaresque.[xxxiv] In addition, Hope’s novel bears some resemblance to the Enlightenment romance of ideas, of which Voltaire’s Candide is the best known example, in the sense that certain characters in it represent specific ideological positions that Anastasius either embraces or rejects. The text thus ‘writes across’ genres,[xxxv] and its generic indeterminacy corresponds to its ideological relativism.

Irony is the novel’s dominant trope, the only exceptions being the sentimental epi­sodes dealing with Anagnosti, Euphrosyné and Alexis, and the ‘polemical’ chapters recounting Spiridion’s attempts to recall Anastasius from his ‘career of vice’. The protagonist is a modern Greek living in the conditions of Ottoman despotism. The libe­ral trend in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Western European thought, which was briefly considered above, stressed the preoccupation of the subjects of Oriental despots with ‘personal advancement, to the exclusion of any larger [moral or social] con­cerns’.[xxxvi] Despite his contestation of some of Montesquieu’s dicta, Hope had no illusions about the demoralising effects of Ottoman despotism. As a result, in the con­text of the novel, most characters ‘ha[ve] to shape their moral stature in a highly ambivalent fashion’[xxxvii] because ‘survival [often] depends on a partial, studied reversal of normal virtue and vice’.[xxxviii]

In the course of the narrative, Hope’s protagonist emerges as a border figure, repeatedly making and unmaking the divide between self and other, as he switches from a Christian to a Muslim identity and plays a variety of morally dubious roles in his quasi-Byronic thirst for new experiences. The author underscores Anastasius’ liminal status by drawing attention to his ‘droguemanic blood [my emphasis] (A, I, 64)[xxxix], his own activities as an interpreter and guide in Istanbul and his close association with the Phanariot ‘aristocracy’ through a considerable part of the novel. To understand the full impact of these aspects of Anastasius, we need to consider the part that Levantine dragomans played in the Western cultural imaginary in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

 

(i) The Spook of Dragomanism

 

In his authoritative book about Western fantasies of the East, Alain Grosrichard claims that ‘from the end of the seventeenth century through all the eighteenth, a spectre haunted Europe: the spectre of despotism’.[xl] To my mind, his statement could be modi­fied as follows: apart from being haunted by the grand spectre of despotism, Western Europeans were occasionally amused and irritated by the minor spook of dragomanism. The dragoman, who could play the part of an interpreter, tourist guide, political adviser, and/or spy was a key figure in the Ottoman Empire. Michael Cronin has drawn atten­tion to a recurrent emphasis in culture on the ambivalence of the interpreter’s trade.[xli] While on rare occasions, ‘the monopoly of the scarce resources of language can confer on [the profession] a prestige and authority normally reserved for myth and majesty’,[xlii] it has far more often been perceived as a necessary evil in the post-Babelian world of uncontrollable linguistic diversity. As a result the individuals practising it have syste­ma­tically been exposed to distrust and denigration. The old adage of ‘traduttore, tradittore’ suggesting that the language mediator is an unwitting or fully conscious traitor is one of the signs of this attitude.

Interpreting played an important role in the Ottoman Empire, particularly in big commercial centres such as Istanbul where the mixture of ethnicities and languages was indeed Babelian. An old Levantine folk song identifies dragomans (dragomanni) as one of the three evils of the capital’s ‘Western’ district of Pera alongside with the ‘plague and fires (peste, fuoco).’[xliii] However, unlike the plague and fires, dragomans were indis­pensable to both Westerners visiting the Empire and to their eminent hosts in it. This is borne out by, among other things, the ubiquity of the word dragoman, or ver­sions of it, in European languages.

Historically speaking, there were two categories of dragomans. On the one hand, there were the interpreters of ‘Frankish’ descent, i.e. descendants of Italian and French settlers in/invaders of the Levant, who mostly worked for Western embassies and mis­sions and were based in Pera. Eventually, this group also came to include well-educated Catholic Armenians and uniate Greeks. On the other hand, there were the dragomans of the Phanar, the part of Istanbul where the Patriarch of the Eastern Orthodox Church resided together with other dignitaries, who traced their descent back to the Byzantine aristocracy. Predictably, they were Eastern Orthodox in creed and were predominantly – but not exclusively – Greek by ethnic extraction.[xliv] The Phanariot dragomans estab­lished themselves as interpreters working for the Sublime Porte and key Ottoman functionaries such as the Capitan (Kapudan) Pasha, the Admiral of the Ottoman navy. Dragomans occupying such positions of trust could become temporary rulers of the two trans-Danubian principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia. That was the main attraction of the profession for educated Greeks and other Eastern Orthodox Christians plying the dragoman’s trade in the Ottoman Empire.

Late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century British travel writing and fiction about the Levant exhibit a preoccupation with the Phanariot group, despite the fact that the drago­mans working for the British Embassy belonged to the ‘Frankish’ one.[xlv] Thus Lady Elizabeth Craven ironically speaks of her encounter with the Prince of Wallachia and his family, who went so far as to claim her as an acquaintance from the Phanar.[xlvi] Hobhouse describes a visit to the Caimacam or Vice-Vizier of Istanbul in the suite of the British Ambassador in the course of which he was able to observe a Phanariot dragoman in action. He claims that the dragoman presented 'a mournful picture of the wretchedness of dignified slavery'.[xlvii] Further on Hobhouse wonders at the persistence with which Greek Phanariots sought 'the perpetual humiliation attendant upon the office of Dragoman' and 'the very uncertain tenure by which the mimic sceptres of [Wallachia and Moldavia] are held'.[xlviii] For him this persistence is a sign of the overall degeneracy of upper-crust modern Greek society in which the heroic virtues of the ancient Greeks have been replaced by 'a love of pomp'[xlix] and cheap vanity. Hobhouse does not spare the drago­mans’ womenfolk either: he pronounces the wives and daughters of the Phanariot 'nobles' to be no better than their menfolk. They 'are fostered in every luxury and all the soft pomp of the Asiatics', and, predictably, this 'improves neither their tempers nor their manners'.[l]

Hobhouse’s representation of the dragomans probably influenced Mary Shelley’s portrayal of Evadne, the disruptive femme fatale of her 1826 grim futuristic fantasy The Last Man. Burdened with the 'bad blood' of many generations of unworthy pseudo-aristocratic ancestors (for Mary Shelley's novel is set in the late twenty-first century, and 'the first Dragoman of the Porte of Greek extraction' lived in the 1600s[li]), Evadne 'naturally' subverts order and wreaks havoc in every sphere of life. It has been suggested that she functions as Pandora in the context of the novel and that 'the misery she unleashes into the world is the plague - which literally enters the world with her death, replacing her as a destructive female agent'. [lii]

Given the bad press that dragomans and their families received from travellers and fiction writers alike, Hope’s choice of a protagonist is indeed striking but, as must have become clear by now, quite logical. The author himself apparently thought Phanariot dragomans central to his plot because he provided an appendix to the book containing ‘Details respecting the Fanariotes [sic] of Constantinople’.[liii]

 

(ii) ‘Great Causes’ Versus ‘Minute Circumstances’

 

Commenting on his own conversion to Islam, Anastasius declares that ‘historians often err in attributing to a single great cause the effect of many minute circumstances com­bined [my emphasis]’. (A, I, 77)  The narrator evidently advocates a particularist approach to history and disavows the unequivocal privileging of ‘single great causes’. The statement provides an insight into the way in which his own story is constructed as well as guidance to prospective readers. One of the distinctive traits of Hope’s text is tension between ideologically prominent Western interpretations of the modern Greek condition and the author’s own observations filtered through the fictive consciousness of his narrator.   To trace the complex process of interaction between these two strands of representation, we need to consider some of the twists and turns of the novel’s plot and their political-symbolic implications.

As was indicated above, the alienation of modern Greeks from the great achieve­ments of their ancestors was a recurrent motif in late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century Philhellenic thought. Their degenerate state was signalled by, among other things, the state of child-like barbarism into which they were supposed to have lapsed, thus reversing the Enlightenment paradigm of human progress from savagery to civi­li­sa­tion. Western European travelogues and historiographic commentaries abound in disparaging descriptions of seemingly irrational social customs and instances of primitive superstition.[liv] In Hope’s novel this reversal to a child-like state is ‘diagnosed’ by Anastasius himself, who describes his predicament in the following terms:

 

[I was] a being of mere instinct; a child over which the cravings of the sense still reigned uncontrolled; and which, like all children, still acknowledged no subjection save to superior strength; still could be made to obey the voice of reason, or even the dictates of caution, by no other means but those of physical compulsion.  (A, II, 203)

 

This self-diagnosis is the (anti-)hero’s judgement on his own early life. Among the factors shaping it is his family background. Anastasius is the youngest son of Signor Sotiri, a petty Greek dragoman working for the French consul on the island of Chios. Sotiri’s interpreting is typically represented in an ironic light: ‘being very deaf, he never heard what was his business to translate’ (A, I, 1) but, then, ‘the necessity of a drogue­man reporting speeches as he received them’ (A, I, 4) is pronounced to be an utter impossibility any­way. An emphasis is further laid on Sotiri’s love of profit: he turns a conflict between Russia and Turkey into a source of income and is absolutely unmoved by Russian attempts to foment a Greek rebellion against Ottoman rule. Generally speaking, opportunism, greed and petty vanity characterise the behaviour of Anastasius’ parents and siblings. Religion cannot counterbalance those tendencies as it has been reduced to a set of irrational, superstitious practices: Signor Sotiri, for instance, gets his silkworms ‘carefully exor­cised’ every year before their spinning time. (A, I, 1)

Anastasius early learns the value of compromise. Finding a congenial occupation that would suit his active disposition turns out to be impossible: he is ‘prohibited by the Turks from the trade of a soldier, and by my parents from that of a sailor’. (A, I, 4)  His parents suggest a career in the church and he eventually has to accept this because ‘I … saw nothing better’. (A, I, 4) Despite his willingness to settle for this compromise, Anas­tasius still differs from his parents. Thus, he appears to be inspired by the example of Achilles:

 

I affected great admiration for Achilles … and regretted that I was not born two thousand years ago to be his Patroclus. In my fits of heroism I swore to treat the Turks as he had done the Trojans, and for a time dreamt of nothing but putting to the sword the whole Seraglio – dwarfs, eunuchs, and all.  (A, I, 4)

 

This instance of rudimentary nationalism evokes an archetypal conflict between East and West: the war of the Achaens against ‘oriental’ Troy. Significantly, Anastasius dislikes reading even Homer and is not directly influenced by the Iliad, which is the classic statement of the conflict. His identification with Achilles is through later stories that he has been told about him. This indicates Anastasius’s alienation from what should be his cultural legacy. However, his adolescent admiration for Achilles is never­theless an expression of elementary hatred of oppression. His parents are wary of such feelings and admonish him not to disclose them in public: ‘just rancour, they said, gathers strength by being repressed – [u]pon this principle they cringed to the ground to every Moslemin they met’. (A, I, 4)

 

The parents’ bad example makes Anastasius irresponsible and insensitive to the suf­ferings of others. His early selfishness is illustrated by his relationship with Helena, the French consul’s daughter, whom he seduces and abandons. Further on in the text he is to treat a string of other female characters in a similar way. Within the early nineteenth-century British cultural context, literary conventions had established a sharp contrast between heartless seducers and caring, protective males who were prepared to become good husbands and loving fathers. Even Byron had to take that distinction into account when he constructed the character of Don Juan: his Spaniard does not seduce and abandon his teenage mistress Haidée but the young woman’s piratical father steps in and separates the lovers. In presenting a literary figure that emphatically flouts the convention Hope apparently aimed at illustrating the degradation of the Greek moral character. 

 

Anastasius leaves Chios because he fears the consequences of Helena’s seduction and is literally thrown upon a world of violent action, political intrigue and flagrant dis­honesty to which, however, he manages to adjust fairly easily. His ‘droguemanic blood’ does not predispose him to any form of idealism. The Phanariot Mavroyeni, dragoman to the Capitan Pasha, takes Anastasius under his wing because he senses an inner kin­ship with him.  Mavroyeni has apparently inherited ‘the flexibility of organisation’ which Hope saw as a typically Greek characteristic. His ‘dexterity’ and the patronage of the Capitan Pasha have enabled him to supplant ‘the old and long-respected drogueman of the navy’ (A, I, 15) and to become the admiral’s adviser and friend as well as his interpreter. Significantly, he hails Anastasius as a ‘little Greek rascal’, (A, I, 16) makes him his coffee bearer and eventually takes him to Istanbul.

 

Anastasius familiarises himself with his master’s circle but is not taken in by the pretentious behaviour of the Phanariot ‘aristocracy’. His parents’ lessons in oppor­tunism and moral relativism, it turns out, have also instilled a fair amount of healthy scepticism in him. Anastasius is eventually expelled from Mavroyeni’s household because of his compromising love affair with an upper-class Phanariot woman. His next master is a Jewish quack doctor whose fraudulent practices result in both of them being imprisoned in the dreaded prison of the Bagnio. In the prison Anastasius is thrown together with Agnosti, a young Greek of his own age, to whom he swears eternal friendship but does not scruple to betray later on. 

For some time the narrator plies the dragoman’s trade and this brings him into contact with Western European travellers whose weaknesses he exploits.  In his new capacity he even considers acquiring a berat, a special licence which placed its holder under the protection of a particular foreign nation and ‘exempted him from Ottoman taxes, justice and – not least – clothing restrictions’.[lv]  While at first such licences were only issued to dragomans and business agents working for foreign merchants, ambassadors and consuls, the practice soon turned into a lucrative business with berats changing hands for money. Anastasius describes the prospective advantages of becom­ing a beratli (berat holder) thus:

 

[A]t once [I] would find [myself] transformed into a reputed Italian, or German, or Frenchman, wear the gaudiest colours in competition with the Turks themselves, and strut about the streets in that summum bonum, a pair of yellow papooshes.  (A, I, 70)

 

The passage denotes the instability of identity in Anastasius’ world. It constantly changes insofar as there is no system of solid religious or moral values that can produce a sense of continuity between past and present and guarantee permanence.  The narrator gets yet another opportunity to change his identity as he attracts the attention of Padre Ambroggio, ‘an Italian missionary of the Propaganda’, who attempts to convert him to Roman Catholicism (A, I, 70). However, the spiritual act of religious conversion is brought down to the level of commercial exchange as ‘for every Greek variation from the Latin creed I yielded up, he used to find me a new situation’ (A, I, 70). Western Europeans, it turns out, are no less opportunistic than ‘degenerate’ Greeks.

Thus, Padre Ambroggio introduces Anastasius to Eugenius, a Western European tra­veller, who appears to be the priest’s own ‘antipode’ insofar as he preaches ‘reason, philosophy, and universal toleration’. (A, I, 77) The narrator accepts Eugenius as a mentor because ‘some of his tenets … had in them something plausible to my mind, and, if not true, seemed to my inexperience ben trovati’. (A, I, 77) The traveller is apparently a Deist who rejects ‘revealed religion’ and is convinced that differences between systems of religious beliefs are immaterial. The relativism that he justifies through Western ratio­nalist philosophy is in tune with the utilitarian lessons of Anastasius’ parents. Ironically, like them, he favours a social conduct based on hypocrisy:

 

[H]e only contended for the appeal to reason on points of internal faith, and urged, in external practices, the propriety of conforming to the established worship; - and, not from selfish but philanthropic motives[ …] (A, I, 78)

 

For Anastasius this line of reasoning provides justification for his right to convert to Islam: since ‘the Koran [is] the supreme law’ in the Empire he should support it and thus be admitted to ‘places and preferments from which I otherwise must remain shut out’. (A, I, 78) The immediate cause of his conversion is the discovery of his relation­ship with an upper-class Turkish woman but, as he himself points out, ‘the seemingly bold measure had long been preparing in petto; and the unexpected dilemma […] may only be said to have fixed the period for its execution’. (A, I, 77)

 

Through all vicissitudes of fortune Anastasius succeeds in preserving his remarkable vitality. He is motivated by a strong desire to experience life to the full. Together with his native intelligence and scepticism these qualities make him superior to both the Turks as ‘native’ Orientals and to other converts, such as the Mamelukes of Egypt. This superiority also recalls Hope’s opinion of the Greeks expressed in his Essay. Anas­tasius’ journeys through Egypt, Nubia and Syria link his fictional life to the civilisational clashes outlined in the later text but also emphasise the disorganised state of the vast Ottoman Empire and hence, the ‘underdeveloped’ state of the Oriental despotism specific to it. The authorities in Istanbul are evidently not in a position to main­tain effective control over the far-flung provinces and local chiefs fight for power to the detriment of ordinary people.

 

The Egyptian chapters also convey an impression of the Ottoman Empire as a site inhabited by displaced persons. The Mamelukes, who rule the country, are for the most part Georgians and Circassians from the Caucasus and, since they themselves are con­verts to Islam, tend to look down on cradle Muslims. Tartar princes ruled Egypt before them (A, I, 127). As Anastasius travels down the Nile into the interior of the country, he encounters an Ethiopian woman, who was married to a black eunuch in Istanbul and subsequently returned to Africa to find ‘some proper husband’ who would ‘make [her] amends for  [her] empty honours’ (A, I, 123).  Identities are modified or forged anew as individuals move, or are transported, from place to place. Most of the novel’s episodic characters seem to be intent upon survival, economic prosperity and personal happiness. Like Anastasius himself, they are full of irrepressible vitality which is expressed in the manifest lack of physical stasis. The latter quality correlates with the novel’s ideo­logical openness. 

 

Predictably, Anastasius leaves Egypt. Rather than being engulfed by the Mameluke culture of the land, he is provided with yet another opportunity to change his ways and restore his Greek Christian identity. The character, who attempts to help Anastasius gain maturity, is Spiridion Mavrocordato. Despite the fact that he is a Phanariot, Spiridion embodies the best aspects of modern Greek culture. The Mavrocordatos are said to trace their descent ‘to a younger branch’ of the Byzantine imperial family but Anastasius is sceptical of this claim and avers that they had ‘the latter and more certain honour of being related to several of the princes of Valachia’. (A, II, 195) Consequently, Spiridion is not free from the taint of ‘droguemanic blood’ either. However, in his case its bad effects are counterbalanced by the ‘expansive mind’ which he has ‘received from nature’ and which has ‘resisted even the contracting powers of Greek education’. (A, II, 200) Spiri­dion is the only Greek ‘with whom morality weigh[s] more than dogma’. (A, II, 201) He thus embodies a new type of enlightened Greek identity. Spiridion aims at awakening Anastasius’s dormant moral sense and helping him perform a civilisational leap out of the state of child-like primitivism up to a higher stage of intellectual development. In his attempts to influence the narrator he is motivated by friendship but also by the recognition of his potential for great deeds:

 

[H]e often would say he observed in me a singular and romantic turn of mind, capable of becoming as enthusiastic in the cause of virtue as it had been unrestrained in the career of vice. He believed that the same energy and boldness … might render me pre-eminent in all that was exalted and noble[…](A, II, 201).

 

Spiridion may have been modelled on Prince Alexander Mavrocordatos (1791–1865), who was famous all over Europe as a champion of the cause of Greek independence and numbered Byron, Percy and Mary Shelley among his acquaintances. Later on he was to fill a number of government posts in independent Greece.  However, one should not press the parallel too much because the story of Anastasius deals with a time predating both the prince’s maturity and what Hope (rather than his narrator) describes as modern Greece’s ‘miraculous emancipation from the bondage of error and superstition'. (A, II, 200).  Moreover, unlike the historical Prince Mavrocordatos, whose chequered career included a number of decisive political victories, Spiridion’s scheme of reform­ing Anastasius fails. The failure is partially due to events over which he has no control and which involve members of the narrator’s opportunistic family. Their greed for material possessions, it turns out, has completely silenced the claims of blood and kin­­ship. However, another reason for Spiridion’s lack of success is Anastasius’ rejection of his conception of ‘the social compact’ (A, II, 222) as the fundamental principle of state organisation in Ottoman Turkey.

 

The protagonist’s speech on the subject prefigures some of the arguments of later Balkan revolutionaries who similarly found Ottoman rule incompatible with European ideas of civil government.[lvi] Besides, like the nationalists of the future, Anastasius is exasperated by the passivity and submission of the Greeks in the face of oppression:

 

Am I alive… and do I hear a Greek, and under the yoke of the Turks, talk of a social compact – of an agreement intended for mutual benefit, support and protection, as of a thing actually subsisting; as of a thing that should regulate his conduct to his masters? Ah! Had I only discovered the faintest trace of any such agreement between Christianity and Islamism, and had I found, in those for whose security it was framed, the least disposition to enforce its terms and to resist its infraction, who would have been more proud than myself of remaining a Greek, of standing by my oppressed countrymen, and of maintaining the glorious struggle to the last drop of my blood! But … in these realms the contract, if ever it existed, had been perverted, or rather had been torn, rent asunder, cast away! (A, II, 222).

 

What distinguishes Anastasius from the future leaders of national revolutions in South Eastern Europe, however, is his determination to ‘resume [his] rights of nature, and the primeval state of warfare against all worth attacking’. (A, II, 222). Most members of the region’s national elites were to follow Spiridion in trying to raise the consciousness of the oppressed rather than opting for Anastasius’ individualist vision of a Hobbesian state of nature marked by ‘the war of all against all’. That Hope should have anticipated the drift of future political controversies about the character and destiny of the Ottoman Empire appears remarkable especially when measured against his British contem­poraries’ dismissive attitude to his abilities and stock of knowledge. What is likewise noteworthy is the presence of the serious chapters dealing with Spiridion and his scheme of moral regeneration in a text otherwise dominated by irony and ethical relati­vism. This poses the question of the novel’s coherence. The answer is that as readers we are denied the comfort and facility that this narrative strategy bestows. The novel is concerned with so many issues and presents such a wealth of scenes and episodes that fitting them all into neat ideological or ethical categories is out of the question. On the other hand, certain narrative strands appear to be more amenable to classification than others.

 

Anastasius’ relationship with Spiridion belongs to the latter category. The two friends eventually part company. While Anastasius returns to his old way of life, Spiridion appears to have benefited from their discussion and to have learned a lesson in personal ethics and humility. He gives up ‘the perilous race of ambition’ for which his father has been preparing him, i.e. the dragoman’s dream of a ‘mimic sceptre’ in Wallachia or Moldavia, and finds happiness in the morally beneficial private sphere of family and close friends. (A, II, 238).

 

The rest of the novel explores the failure of Anastasius’ own scheme of waging war against ‘all worth attacking’. The twists and turns of the plot demonstrate the futility of individualism and ambition. Anastasius returns to Egypt to find that his old patron is dead and the country’s turbulent state is, if anything, changed for the worse. He then departs for Europe and joins Mavroyeni, who has become Prince of Wallachia. His old master’s fate illustrates the uselessness of serving a despotic government. Mavroyeni is mortally afraid of displeasing the Sultan and being suspected of treachery at a difficult time when the Ottoman Empire has to deal with Russian military aspirations, on the one hand, and Austrian attacks, on the other. Despite his determination to remain loyal to the Ottoman side, he is found guilty of treason and duly executed.

 

In the course of his later travels Anastasius encounters a number of characters whom he likes and respects such as the Frenchified Isaac Bey, who tells him about his adven­tures in Western Europe, (A, II, 301-303)  Hadgee Bollad-Ogloo of Anatolia, (A, III, 309-310) and the primitive Wahhabees of the desert.  (A, III, 383-395) They are free of ambition and greed and extend kindness and hospitality to him. Isaac Bey, Hadgee Bollad and the Wahhabbees have achieved a cer­tain level of personal contentment because they do not compete in ‘the perilous race of ambition’.

The (anti-)hero loses his own chance of personal happiness because of his inability to return Euphrosyné’s love and to take care of her and the child she has given birth to. After her tragic death and the discovery that he has fathered a son, Anastasius decides to change. The change, however, is postponed: he wishes to amass sufficient wealth by following his old course of violence so that he will be able to ensure his son's future. In this he also fails: the child dies as Anastasius reaches Trieste to which he intends to re-settle and to provide his son Alexis with a Western education. The novel ends with the dying Anastasius dictating his memoir to Conrad, an Austrian, who has been wounded in the wars and needs money to support his family.

 

III. Conclusion

 

We are thus left with Anastasius’ memoir as the only material trace of his existence. This book, which records his moral flaws and acts of irresponsibility and downright cruelty, is to serve a practical and morally beneficial purpose. The money that Conrad has earned from writing down the memoir is to be spent on food and clothing for his wife and children and is thus to contribute to the preservation of a nuclear family. Most late eighteenth- and virtually all nineteenth-century novelists never tired of stressing the importance of the nuclear family. That was a key element within the social structure, the element that ensured the survival of national/ethnic groups. Anastasius did not suc­ceed in creating a nuclear family of his own but posthumously provides for Conrad’s.

Such an ending might at first glance appear completely inappropriate for a novel that discusses, among other things, the chances that modern Greeks might have of acquiring self-respect and forging an identity that is based on contractual and mutually advan­tageous interpersonal relations. Why is it then that Hope’s text concerns itself with the fate of an Austrian family? Attention could have focused instead on Spiridion’s wife and offspring. Could Hope’s final choice reflect the culturally and politically superior position that Western Europe had acquired during the Enlightenment[lvii] and thus hint that a text could only acquire significance when made available to a Western public?

The latter view is definitely out of tune with the relativist atmosphere of the novel and Anastasius’ (and Hope’s) refusal to privilege Western Europe over the Levant in an absolute and unequivocal way. In fact one of the striking features of Hope’s text is that it represents the world as shared space in which people cross and re-cross borders and objects change hands. An amusing episode in the Egyptian section of the novel presents a Muslim ‘factor’, who gives a Franciscan friar a small bag of coffee beans from Santo Domingo and instructs him to send the beans to his friends in Christendom. ‘When well roasted… they will drink them for pure Mokka and admire how superior they are in flavour to the vile West-India coffee’. (A, I, 121) The beans were brought from America by Europeans, made their way to an Egyptian market and are about to re-enter Europe as ‘pure Mokka’ from the East. The episode clearly problematises concepts of originality and authenticity. Nothing is unique in the relativist and particularist universe of the novel.

The fate of the memoir is not all that different from that of the coffee beans. The Greek ‘rascal’ Anastasius tells the story of his life in French and it is written down by the Austrian Conrad, who may have been wounded in the war against Ottoman Turkey in which Anastasius also fought but on the opposite side.  Banal though it may sound, the text’s ‘hero’ is life perceived as a series of journeys from one place to another. The journeys lead to unexpected configurations of ‘minute circumstances’ that problematise the effects of ‘Great Causes’. The moral parameters of the Greek ‘race’ or of any other kind of identity that emerge in the process cannot be defined through the simplistic opposition of good and evil. While the resultant ‘impurity’ and ‘bending’ of ethical categories should not be celebrated for their own sake, it should nevertheless be acknowledged that fundamentally ironic fictional narratives such as Hope’s provide an antidote to ‘pure’, monological, hero-centred accounts of national growth and indi­vi­dual development, thus inviting us to rethink the terrains of literature and history.

 

Professor Ludmilla Kostova

University of Veliko Turnovo, Bulgaria

 

Ludmilla K. Kostova is Associate Professor of British literature and cultural studies at St. Cyril and St. Methodius University of Veliko Turnovo, Bulgaria. She has published widely on eighteenth-century, romantic and modern British literature and has re­peatedly organised seminars and chaired panels on travel writing and cultural encounters. Her book Tales of the Periphery: the Balkans in Nineteenth-Century British Writing (1997) has been frequently cited by specialists in the field. Kostova ‘discovered’ Thomas Hope’s Anastasius three years ago and has since been trying to attract attention to this unjustly neglected text. Her article ‘Degeneration, Regeneration and the Moral Para­meters of Greekness in Thomas Hope’s Anastasius, Or Memoirs of a Greek’ recently came out in a special issue of Comparative Critical Studies 4. 2 (2007).


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