Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Noble Dreams, Wicked Pleasures: Orientalism in America, 1870-1930 [Amazon, Abebooks, Local Library] by Holly Edwards.
Noble Dreams, Wicked Pleasures: Orientalism in America, 1870-1930 is a large handsome book published by Princeton UP in connection with the eponymous exhibition at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts at the turn of the millennium. (The show later toured to Baltimore, Maryland and Charlotte, North Carolina.) In principle, the first half of the book is a set of five scholarly essays within the specified field of concern, while the second half is the exhibition catalog. In practice, the essays are copiously illustrated, and the catalog images and data are supported by a robust text in thirty short chapters from curator Holly Edwards.
In both her “Million and One Nights” paper and her catalog notes, Edwards traces the Orientalist phenomenon from academic beaux arts to popular entertainment and material culture. The 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago proves to be a particular point of inflection, and it receives its own essay from Zeynep Celik, along with a dedicated catalog chapter from Edwards and numerous references elsewhere. The paper by Steven C. Caton regarding “Instabilities of Race and Gender in Transatlantic Popular Culture of the Early 1920s” is highly nuanced and worthwhile.
The oversized folio volume on heavy paper has high-quality illustrations throughout, mostly in full color. It provides many satisfying stopping-points for a reader, and my progress though it was slow. But I am glad to have completed it, and I am shelving it with the anticipation that I will refer to it in the future.