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Cultural Encounters with the Arabian Nights in Nineteenth-Century Britain

Melissa Dickson

Hardback (Forthcoming)

An overview of the cultural transmission of the Arabian Nights within nineteenth-century Britain

  • An overview of the cultural transmission of the Arabian Nights within nineteenth-century Britain
  • Fresh readings of canonical texts such as Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, Charles Dickens’s Hard Times and Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland
  • Diverse primary sources analysing the presence of the Arabian Nights in distinct areas of cultural production: constructions of childhood, archaeological and geological science, theatrical display, and exhibitions

Aladdin, Sinbad, Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, Scheherazade winding out her intricate tales to win her nightly stay of execution: the stories of the Arabian Nights are a familiar and much-loved part of the English literary inheritance. But how did these tales become so much a part of the British cultural landscape?

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List of Illustrations

1. ‘For a time their world made mine’: Childhood Encounters with the Arabian Nights

2. Underground Palaces and Castles in the Air: The Realms and Ruins of the Arabian Nights

3. The Magical Metropolis

4. Magic and Machines at the Great Exhibition

5. Epilogue: A New Arabian Nights


About the Author

Dr Melissa Dickson is an ECR-funded researcher at St Anne’s College Oxford. Her publications include Anxious Times: Medicine and Modernity in Nineteenth-Century Britain, co-authored with Ameila Bonea, Sally Shuttleworth and Jennifer Wallis (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2019), ‘Jane Eyre’s ‘Arabian Tales’: Reading and Remembering the Arabian Nights’, Journal of Victorian Culture, 18:2 (2013) and ‘Charles Wheatstone’s Enchanted Lyre and the Spectacle of Sound’ in Sound Knowledge: Music and Science in London, 1789-1851, ed. by Ellen Lockhart and James Q. Davies (University of Chicago Press, 2017).


This wonderful book shows how firmly the Arabian Nights was embedded in the British cultural psyche during the nineteenth century. From childhood reading through to stage performances and the narratives of archaeology and industrial modernity, this astute study tracks the ways in which the Arabian Nights wove its own forms of entrancement. Dickson’s subtle text calls for a recalibration of our understandings of ‘Orientalism’ in the nineteenth century.

- Sally Shuttleworth, University of Oxford

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