Harems of the Mind (Hardcover)
Passages of Western Art and Literature
Yale University Press, 9780300083897, 328pp.
Publication Date: September 10, 2000
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The book provides both a rich account of changing perceptions of the harem and a demonstration of the tenacious persistence of myth and stereotype. Yeazell shows that Europe’s hunger for facts about the harem combined repeatedly with the impulse to fantasize. Masculine erotic fantasies of the harem were reflected in the paintings of Ingres and Delacroix, the writings of de Sade, Byron, and Loti, and the work of anonymous pornographers. Alternate representations portrayed the harem as a prison or a locus of freedom, a place of murderous rivalry or a home of loving sisterhood, a chamber of erotic license or a nightmarish snare of frustration and ennui. And Montesquieu, Mozart, and Charlotte Brontë among others explored in their art the opposition of the imaginary pleasures of the harem to the freely chosen union of a loving couple. In a nuanced reading of Ingres’s Bain turc andother works, Yeazell concludes that for some the appeal of the harem lay in the fantasy of eluding time and death.