It consists largely of a series of letters written by its heroine, Emily Barlow, to her friend, Sylvia Carey. When the Emily Barlow sails from England for India in June 1814 their ship is attacked by Turks and afterwards they are taken to the harem of a Turkish dey.
For a detailed analysis of the novel see Steven Marcus's The Other Victorians, pp. 195-217.
CHAPTER ONE Emily Barlow to Silvia Carey
Portsmouth, Crown Hotel, June 18, 1814
We arrived here early this morning after a most melancholy journey. Time alone can remove the painful impressions which the appearance of poor Henry created as we parted. Never shall I forget the picture of despair he exhibited. Do all you can to comfort him, tell him although I obey my mother's and my uncle's wishes, still my heart in every clime will be true to him. Poor Eliza did everything in her power on the road to this place to amuse my wounded feelings, but it was beyond the extent of her artless sophistry to remove the weight that pressed upon my heart. Oh, Silvia! How cruel is the sacrifice exacted in our obedience to our parents, how happy had I been if this uncle of mine had never existed. I hold my dear mother, my friend, my lover; all, all, sacrificed to the prospect of possessing this uncle's wealth. Heaven knows how fondly I dwelt upon the hopes of shortly becoming the happy wife of your brother, you may guess, but I pray that you may never feel the anguish caused by such a separation, but it is decided, I can now only supplicate heaven for a speedy return.
On our arrival we found the Captain of the Indiaman anxiously expecting us. The wind having been fair for some hours, if we had not appeared as we did, he would have sailed without us; truly happy should I have been if he had; and if I had known that trifling delay on the road would have prevented our departure, I most certainly would have created it.
Adieu, my dear Silvia, a long adieu. The boat waits to convey us on board at the Motherbank, as the Captain calls it. Farewell, Silvia, comfort poor Henry, when I think of him I feel what it is impossible to describe.
Your unhappy friend,
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Ali, Dey of Algiers, to Murza, Bey of Tunis
Sept. 20, 1814
Murza, they friend greets thee, with thanks for they late present, I allude to the Grecian maid (for so she was) you sent me with the treasure. The bearer of this dispatch has the care of a pair of beautiful stallions which I lately captured from a tribe of Askulites; they made an inroad into my territories from the desert, but I came upon them by surprise, and properly chastised them their assumption, not more than a hundred escaped out of two thousand, indeed I was in no humor to spare them, they having disturbed me in a scene of pleasure, for which there could be no pardon, but more of this hereafter. The Grecian slave, I rejoice to say again, I found a pure maid, her virginity I sacrificed on the Beiram feast of our Holy Prophet. To cull her sweet flower, I was obliged to infuse an opiate in her coffee. Again, and again, I thank you for the present, her beauties are indeed luxurious, in her soft embraces I find a sure solace from my anxieties of state, but how strange it is Murza, that these slaves, whose destinies depend on our will, rarely give that fervent return to our pleasure so absolutely necessary to the true voluptuous energy of enjoyment. It is true nature will always exert its power over the softer sex, and they frequently give way to its excitement, but the pleasure they experience is merely animal. Thus it is with Zelia (so I have named your present) even in the height of our ecstasies, a cloud seems to hang on her beauteous countenance, clearly indicating that it is nature, not love, that creates her transport. The knowledge considerably diminishes the enjoyment her beauties afford me, yet still she has become extremely necessary to my pleasures. Although the novelty of her charms has gone by, the certainty of having cropped her virgin rose has created a lasting interest in my bosom, which the dissolving lustre and modest, bashful expression of her eyes daily increases--indeed her charms frequently entice me from the arms of another beauty, who I may say for these last two months I have continually enjoyed without the least abatement of my ardour--on the contrary, my appetite seems to increase by what I feed on. It is true when I think of the pensive charms of Zelia I devote a few hours in her arms, but she only acts like the whetstone to the knife, and sends me back to the embraces of my English slave with redoubled vigor and zest. In my next dispatch I will give you an account of my becoming possessed of this girl, who has so enchanted thy friend's desires--may our Prophet have thee in his holy keeping.
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Silvia Cary to Emily Barlow.
London, June 19th.
Fare thee well, dear Emily, and a safe voyage is the nightly prayer of your now lonely friend. I received your letter of yesterday, and hope you will receive this before you sail. Poor Henry has only been once out of his room since your departure. I will not shock you with an account of his wretchedness, but be assured nothing will be left undone to relieve his sufferings though I tremble for the result; your mother saw him today, she was much shocked at his dejection, but I trust time will do much, and that you may still be happy in the possession of each other. The Providence that separates may again join. It is useless to despond. Take every opportunity of writing to us, by every ship you meet on your passage! God bless you.
(This letter Emily never received, the ship having sailed before it arrived at Portsmouth.)
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CHAPTER TWO Emily Barlow to Silvia Cary.
Algiers, July 24, 1814.
I think I see the expression of surprise you experience on perceiving my latter dated from this place. Oh God, Silvia, to what a wretched fate has the kindness of my uncle devoted your miserable friend. Pity me, Silvia; pity my wretchedness. You have no doubt heard of the cruel treatment experienced by females who are unfortunate enough to fall into the power of these barbarous Turks, particularly those who have any pretensions to beauty; but it is utterly impossible for you, Silvia, to conjecture anything like my sufferings since we parted. I shudder with agony when I look back to what I have been forced to undergo. Pity me, my dear friend. My tears blot out the words nearly as quick as I write them.
Oh God, Silvia, I have no longer any claim to chastity. Surely never was a poor maid so unfeelingly deprived of her virtue. The very day the accursed pirate brought me to this place did the Dey, with cruel force, in spite of my entreaties, deprive me of my virginity. In vain I resisted with all the strength nature had bestowed on me. It was no use. In vain I made the Harem resound with my cries--no help or assistance came to succor your poor friend, until wearied out by struggling in defence of my innocence, my strength at last completely failed me, and my powerful ravisher unrelentingly completed my undoing. Oh, Silvia, your poor friend is now the polluted concubine of this most worthless Turk.
You no doubt are anxious to hear how I came into his power. The story of my ruin is short. The day after I wrote to you from Portsmouth we sailed down the English Channel with the most delightful weather, but in losing sight of land I became extremely seasick, so much so that I could not even crawl upon deck.
In this state I continued about three weeks. One day I heard a most unusual noise upon deck, when on sending Eliza to learn the cause of it, a mate told her that the ship was likely to be attacked by Moorish Pirates. You may easily guess our terror at this information, which turned out to be too true, for shortly the discharge of guns with the shouts of the combatants informed us the work of destruction was begun.
The firing continued a considerable time without intermission, but on a sudden the discharge of our guns was discontinued, when the uproar, cries and groans on the deck became too horrid to describe, or to last long. On a sudden everything became quiet, but a rush we heard coming towards the cabin too surely warned us of our approaching captivity. In an instant the door was burst open, and in rushed a crowd of armed Turks covered with blood. Unable longer to sustain the various emotions with which for the last two hours I had been agitated, combined with the remains of my sickness, I fainted in the arms of Eliza.
On recovering my senses I found my self in my berth attended by Eliza, from whom I learned we had been captured by an Algerine Corsair, who had ordered every attention to be paid me, and she believed the Corsair was making for the straits of Gibraltar.
In short, about a week after passing Gibraltar, the firing of a salute announced we were under the walls of Algiers; during the passage to this place I was not troubled with any visit from the Captain, but immediately the vessel was safely anchored, he came to the cabin, and ordered us in good English to get ourselves ready to go ashore in the course of half an hour.
Hearing him speak English so well, I took this opportunity of enquiring what his intentions were respecting us, but was struck speechless by his answering that his intention was to make us a present to the Dey! He added he thought I was particularly worthy of that honour. So terrible was my horror at this information, that I in vain essayed for several minutes to speak, and had not I found relief in a flood of tears, most certainly I think my emotions would have been fatal to me. The brute of a Captain to my tears coolly remarked, "Oh! oh! what tears! Ah! Ah!" he continued, laughing aloud! "If you should happen to be a maid, the Dey will make you cry in another way I guess." He then returned to the deck. I have since learned that this barbarian is an English renegade.
Poor Eliza appeared as much overcome as myself, for in point of personal attractions few girls could boast of more than she. A strong presentiment of my approaching fate had taken forcible possession of my mind. All Eliza could do or say brought no relief to my apprehensions. The expiration of this time again brought the Captain to the cabin, who, covering us with thick veils, conducted us both on deck. In a few minutes we entered the watergate of the Dey's Harem.
It was about half past six o'clock in the evening of the 12th of this month, I entered this palace, so fatal to my modesty. I had scarcely been in it half-an-hour ere my virtue received so severe an insult that the complete loss of chastity only could exceed what I suffered. In less than five hours the cruel Dey had thoroughly deprived me of every claim to virginity. But you shall know all just as it happened.
Directly we were in the Harem we were rather dragged than led into a most sumptuous chamber, at the far end of which sat the Dey, apparently about forty-five years of age, smoking a peculiar kind of pipe. The Captain immediately prostrated himself, and spoke to him in the Turkish language, pointing at the same time to me and Eliza. The Dey surveyed us for a few moments without rising. He then said something to the Captain, who rose from his prostrate position, took Eliza by the hand and led her out of the room. I was about to follow, but was ordered by the Captain to remain. Trembling with terror I was forced to obey.
No sooner were the Captain and Eliza withdrawn than the Dey rose from the couch, walking leisurely towards me, and laid hold of my hand, which trembled in his grasp. After considering a few moments, he chucked me under the chin, and said in good English that Mahomet had been kind in blessing him with so fair a slave as myself.
I was not much surprised to hear the Dey speak English, the Captain having spoken it so well, but the terror his address gave me cannot be described, and indeed good reason I had for my apprehensions. Directly he spoken, he was leading me towards the couch, but I instantaneously drew back, on which without further ceremony he caught me round the waist, and spite of the resistance I made, forced me to it, when seating himself he drew me to him, and forced me to seat myself upon his knees.
If it had been in my power to have resisted, the excess of my confusion alone would have prevented my throwing any effectual obstacle in the way of his proceedings. Directly he had got me thus he threw one of his arms round my neck, and drew my lips to his, closing my mouth with his audacious kisses. Whilst his lips were as it were glued to mine he forced his tongue into my mouth in a manner which created a sensation it is quite impossible to describe.
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It was the first liberty of the kind I ever sustained. You may guess the shock it first gave me, but you will scarcely credit it when I own that my indignation was not of long continuance. Nature, too powerful nature, had become alarmed and assisted his lascivious proceedings, conveying his kisses, brutal as they were, to the inmost recesses of my heart.
On a sudden, new and wild sensations blended with my shame and rage, which exerted themselves but faintly; in fact, Silvia, in a few short moments his kisses and his tongue threw my senses into a complete tumult, an unknown fire rushed through every part of me, hurried by a strange pleasure. All my loud cries dwindled into gentle sighs, and in spite of my inward rage and grief, I could not resist, so wanting strength for self-defence, I could only bewail my situation.
I told you he had me on his knees, with one of his arms round my neck. Finding how little I resisted, and having me thus with our lips closely joined, his other hand he suddenly thrust under my petticoats. Aroused by this vital insult, I strove to break from his arms, but it was of no use. He held me firm, my cries and reproaches he heeded not! If by my struggles I contrived to free my lips, they were quickly regained again; thus with his hand and his lips he kept me in the greatest disorder, whilst in proportion as it increased I felt my fury and strength diminish.
At last a dizzy sensation seized on every sense. I felt his hand rapidly divide my thighs, and quickly one of his fingers penetrated that place which, God knows, no male hand had ever before touched. If anything was wanting to complete my confusion, it was the thrilling sensation I felt, caused by the touches of his finger.
The beauty of erotic death is replayed in another classic dangerous lover narrative, as well as an early and influential erotic historical—Edith M. Hull’s The Sheik (1921), considered by some to be the first romance of the twentieth century.6 The sheik of the title kidnaps, rapes, and holds captive an aristocratic English girl.7 Again the inexorable divide: the mysterious, ruthless leader of a roving band of Arabs and the subjugated, enslaved English girl. The sheik has “the handsomest and cruelest face that she had ever seen. . . . He was looking at her with fierce burning eyes that swept her until she felt that the boyish clothes that covered her slender limbs were stripped from her” (56–57). She observes that “ . . . his face was the face of a devil” (141). His subjectivity has the hiddenness of danger: “The man himself was a mystery. . . . She could not reconcile him and . . . [the] dozen incongruities that she had noticed during the day crowded into her recollection until her head reeled”(79). He has exiled himself from his aristocratic English origins; he wanders the desert incessantly. Redemption from self-inflicted loneliness comes finally through true love. His only escape must be from outside, through a transcendence which he can’t pos- 8 Chapter One sibly see beforehand because it is so exterior to any kind of solution he could find for himself. The lover brings the caesura, the utter surprise of an interruption of restless being. As an outsider love narrative, The Sheik ends with the declaration of love signifying a pact to wander together as homeless voyagers. The Sheik makes fast the chain that links the erotic historical with pornography (and we will see everywhere these links between the dangerous lover romance and pornography, particularly in the nineteenth century). Even though Hull’s story is not sexually explicit—in fact, on the page we only read about kisses—she rewrites and romanticizes a popular nineteenth- century pornographic narrative.8 The darling of nineteenthcentury pornographers, the story of an exotic foreigner—a Turk, a sheik, a pirate, a brigand—enslaving and raping a pale and supplicant English virgin provided the ultimate titillation for the English gentleman reader. The anonymous The Lustful Turk: Scenes in the Harem of an Eastern Potentate, published around 1828, provides us with a famous example of a pornographic version of The Sheik. The narrative of The Lustful Turk, up until the all-important ending, is essentially the same as the sheik romance. Of course, with the romance the ending is everything: in The Sheik, the transcendent sphere of love “redeems” the brutality of the hero, casting a rosy glow of forever back on all sadistic acts. The pornographic version merely repeats, unrelentingly, the act of penetration, of possession. No transcendence here: meaning flattens out into a repetition which could sustain itself forever.(The Dangerous Lover: Gothic Villains, Byronism, and the Nineteenth-Century Seduction Narrative - Deborah Lutz;The Ohio State University Press,Columbus(2006)