Volume 15, 2010

   Volume 5, December 2004

Volume 14, 2010
Volume 13, 2009
Volume 12, 2009
Volume 11, 2008
Volume 10, 2008
Volume 9, 2007

Volume 8, 2007
Volume 7, 2006
Volume 6, 2005
Volume 5, 2004
Volume 4, 2001
Volume 3, 2000
Volume 2, 1999
Volume 1, 1999

Anglo-American Identity and Romanticizing Arabia:
Wilfred Thesiger’s Arabian Sands and
Paul Bowles’ The Sheltering Sky

Al-Hussein University, Ma'an Jordan

University of Northampton


This paper analyses the mode of representing the Other that selected writers of the twentieth century have employed in their depiction of the area of Arabia and North Africa. It seeks to explore the related yet divergent romanticizing tendencies in the work of two Anglophone travel writers; specifically Wilfred Thesiger and Paul Bowles. Although having a different geographical, social and economic background both of these writers choose to depict the peoples and cultures of the Arabic and North African area as a means of reflecting their own ideological and spiritual desires. Bowles’ The Sheltering Sky (1949), (hereafter referred to as SS) and Thesiger’s Arabian Sands (1959) (hereafter referred to as AS) portray an unmistakably Orientalist interpretation of the Arab as ‘Other’, interrogating at the same time Western civilization and the notion of the Oriental. This interaction cannot simply be reduced to a gestural inflection. While both authors’ texts espouse a set of ideologies that could in part be considered Orientalist, it is somewhat reductive to suggest this is all they offer. Indeed, this paper will attempt to argue that neither text is entirely Orientalist in the very negative sense coined by Edward Said. Rather both writers’ work can be considered to diverge from Orientalist literature/discourse in significant ways, conveying a commitment (be it positive or negative) to the indigenous cultural values of the peoples they observe. As such this paper will re-examine these two texts in the light of the double focus of representing the Arabs as Others; oriented towards the object (Arabia and North Africa) and towards the subject (the consciousness and literary style of the authors). Both writers seem to represent a restricted encounter between East and West, both writers ignore the standard conventions of representing the Other cultures in order to accommodate their narratives with the local people of Arabia and North Africa. Secondly, both writers appear to represent what postmodern anthropologists and literary critics have called ‘imperialist nostalgia’ (Rosaldo 68) as cliché, which indicates an innocent yearning for a simple life within those very colonial people who have modified or destroyed the Orient. Finally, both writers seem to have a desire to depict Arabia and North Africa as Oriental, mythical places of exoticism and perfect theatres for romanticism; Thesiger goes there to prove his masculinity while Bowles’ characters find that the Oriental fulfils their sexual hunger and nihilism, while providing spiritual relief.
In “Grains of Utopia: The desert as Literary Oasis” Syrine Hout explores the connections between Thesiger and Bowles. While Hout’s thesis rests on a belief that the two writers are almost interchangeable in their ideological outlook; “the similarities are staggering” (Hout 112), this paper will attempt to argue that although the two writers do share significant factors in common, there are important differences in the manner in which they romanticise the Arabian desert, its peoples and their way of life.

Keywords: Wilfred Thesiger, Paul Bowles, Orientalism, Arabia, The Sheltering Sky, Arabian Sands, Heroism, Masculinity, Imperialism


 Webmasters: Neic Răzvan and Crăciun Bogdan