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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Islam and Charles Dickens

Arab/Turkish/Islamic references in the literature of Charles Dickens

Seems a strange title, right? Well, it’s not as strange as the facts that we are about to present. As we all know the truth can be stranger than fiction. And in this case there are strange facts in fiction!

It is my belief that Europe was heavily influenced by writings in Arabic coming from their interaction with the Muslim world. This occurred for centuries much like western literature and movies do now until there was a deliberate move to remove anything that indicated that there was an outside influence. We think that it occurred somewhere in the 19th century or even earlier than that.

Here are the references that we have found:

There are references to the Arabian nights text which is interesting as the first translation was a French one then an English one in the 18th centuries. So what language were they reading it in?

David Copperfield

“Perhaps some Arabian-night magician opened the place for the day...” p.397 Penguin popular classics Chapter 33 Blissful.

A tale of two cities
'If thou be changed into this shape by the will of God,' say the seers to the enchanted, in the wise Arabian stories,108 'then remain so! ...p.317

Great Expectations
“Sketchy airy pictures of himself conducting Clara Barley to the land of the Arabian nights...”

Little Dorrit

“Brought for forty purses by one of the princes of Arabian Nights..”
P.447 Wordsworth classics

The Old Curiosity Shop
“Do you feel like the Grand Turk?”

The Ottoman Sultan?

“If this is not a dream. I have woke up, by mistake, in an Arabian Night.”

A somewhat fazed description of ablution

Oliver Twist
“A Turk turns his face, after washing it well, to the East, when he says his prayers...”

Hard Times
Nothing at all!

More ramblings

Barnaby Rudge

“And hear her child recommended to peruse the adventures of a Turk and a Mussulman.” P342. Penguins

“Mussulman: Muslim, follower of Islam, natural: One naturally deficient in intellect, a fool or idiot. natural children: Illegitimate children. ...” p.716

“... a fabulous bird of stupendous size that appears several times in The Arabian Nights. round-house: Lock-up or place of detention. runts, fantails...”(ibid)

Selected Short stories

“Abd-al-Kedir (1807-83) an Arab leader noted for his skilful battles against the French...” in note 3 on page 417 referring to page 142.

“A Tobbaco-smokey French man in Algerine wrapper, peaked hood behind, who might be Abd-el-Kedir..”
p.142 Penguin

Amir AbdulQadir who fought the French occupation of Algeria for many years. So he may have gained some notoriety in England because he defeated the French so much!

Christmas books

“The lady makes signs to the tow kings in the tree, who softy descend. It is the setting of the Arabian nights.”
Hurd and Houghton

Martin Chuzzlewit
“And there was Abudah, the merchant, with the terrible little old woman hobbling out of the box in his bedroom: and there was a mighty talisman – the rare Arabian Nights – with Cassim Babba.”
P. 78 Penguin classics

Baba Qasim?
“Arab Steed.”

Arabian Steed

Dombey and Son
“It’s an Arabian night: that’s what it is,” said Richard. “I am in Damascus or Grand Cairo.”
P.251 Binglow, brown and Co.

Nicholas Nickleby
Wordsworth Classics
"A silver spoon in a Morocco case.."
Another evidence of trade.

"Yellow turban..."
Yellow turbans were worn by the Angels at the Battle of Badr and this again shows proof of trade from either the Arab world or from India.

"He was dressed in a gorgeous morning gown, with a waistcoat and Turkish trousers..."

Relaxing again!

"Lounging on an ottoma..."
Where do you think Ottoman style of furniture comes from?!

"Timour the Tartar.."
A reference to Tamerlane (1336-1405.d).

"Ferocious Turk."
More bad press!

A Christmas Carol

"Why it's Ali Baba!" "It's dear old honest Ali Baba!"

"And the Sultan's groom turned upside by Genii,"

Food evidence of trade

The Mystery of Edwin Drood

"A Turkish sweetmeat, sir."

The influence of Islam runs so deep in the Europe that it takes some digging to find jewels but then again you are not going to find jewels on the ground you are going to find them deep in the ground!

Also note that it is very difficult to gauge a culture. He would not have put references to things that people had no knowledge of. Yes, he would've wrote about things that people had not known but if he gave a cultural reference to something then he would've expected it to be understood. Given that most of his works were published in parts in newspapers the readership must've known something about Islam.


  1. Mary Shelly- Frankestein

    Has reference to the big bad Turk and some favourable references to North African Muslim women.

  2. Anonymous2:54 pm

    Assalamu alaikum,

    Who is the author of these interesting observations? Arfan Shah?

    Jazak Allah khair,

    Adnan Ashraf

  3. Salam alikum Adnan
    Yes it is I!