From his childhood reading to an investigation of the Levant, the itinerary of Barrès was placed under the sign of the Orient, mingling poetic dreams and a spiritual quest. Barrès was the last French writer to have been to the Ottoman Empire before the disturbances of the Great War.
An important figure in the first phase of the “Risorgimento”, Princess Belgiojoso, author and philosopher, was forced into exile in the Ottoman Empire because of her support for the “Carbonari”. Once there, she drew up a sensitive, striking portrait of the Turks’ everyday lives.
The Itinéraire de Paris à Jérusalem (1811) of Chateaubriand, so famous that it was soon designated as Itinerary, is the model of all the travels in the Orient of the nineteenth century : trying to measure itself with the Enchanter, most Writers took their steps in his own, to imitate or contradict him.
With minarets, the play of orange suns across the Sinai desert, green palm trees and blue skies, ancient ruins and traces of the expedition to Egypt, the imaginary of Alexandre Dumas was saturated with Orientalism.
Even though his Voyage en Orient was published posthumously, the great novelist Gustave Flaubert contributed to his century’s passion for the Orient with his Temptation of Saint Anthony, Salammbô and Herodias.
One of the particularities of Anatole France in his day, in comparison with Loti, Maupassant or Lemaître, as well as the Romantic and Parnassian generations, was quite clearly the fact that he was practically not an Orientalist writer at all. This blockage may have helped in his success, before it contributed to his fall from grace.
It was in Moorish Spain, which he visited in 1840 with Eugène Piot, that Théophile Gautier (1811-1872), novelist, poet, librettist, and art, literature and theatre critic, formed his initial vision of the Orient.
In 1855, Joseph Arthur de Gobineau was appointed secretary to a diplomatic mission to Persia for three years. He could not have dreamed of a better destination. During his adolescence in Brittany, he had become enamoured of the Thousand and One Nights.
At the time when Goethe undertook his journey westwards, he had just discovered, thanks to the translation of the Austrian Orientalist Joseph von Hammer-Purgstall, the full amplitude of the “Diwān” of the Persian poet Mohamed Schemseddin, known as “Hafez” (or “he knows the Quran by heart”).
Victor Hugo never travelled to the Middle East. And yet, the history of Romantic Orientalism could not be written without mentioning his name, given the extent to which Les Orientales have lastingly inspired poets, painters and musicians, and contributed to creating the 19th-century “Oriental dream”.
Alphonse de Lamartine, the French writer and politician, member of the Académie Française, author of both intimately and religiously inspired poems, Les Méditations and Les Harmonies, in 1832-1833 undertook a voyage in the Orient lasting eighteen months, the account of which appeared in 1835.
It was in Stamboul, the old heart of an ancient empire, that Pierre Loti, the final epigone of romanticism, was to have an experience that would radically alter his life and give it an aspect that is still familiar to us: that of a travel-writer, and a unique, multiple man.
A French writer and translator associated with the Romantic movement, Gérard de Nerval produced a varied, protean body of work. The Middle East, where he travelled from 1842 to 1843, polarised his aesthetic and spiritual quest during his entire life.