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`And what should I do in Illyria?'
English Literature and the Balkans
Between 1811 and 1814 Britain possessed a small piece of Illyria. Bought from the Venetians, the Dalmatian island of Vis remained in British ownership for three years: long enough to build several fortresses whose ruins still dot the rocky Mediterranean landscape. These ruins, and a few neglected tombs of Georgian naval officers killed in a nearby engagement, are the only traces of the British Empire in its briefly held, forgotten Balkan outpost. Apart from the Ionian islands (including Corfu), purchased in 1809 and ceded to Greece in 1863, this tiny island off the eastern shore of the Adriatic, the coast which British writers continued to describe as Illyrian until well into this century, was to remain the only British colony in the Balkans. As one of the great powers Britain has possessed, and occasionally exercised, enormous political leverage in the region over the last two centuries. Its cultural and economic influence, however, was negligible in comparison with the Ottoman and the Habsburg Empires which, between them, divided and ruled the Balkans. All the other European great powers, Russia, France, and -- more recently -- Germany and Italy, at different stages, occupied and governed parts of the peninsula.
In the field of literature and its by-products in film and television, however, Britain's impact on the way the Balkans are seen and imagined throughout the world far outweighs the achievements of its rivals. Accounts of British experiences of the Balkan world (from those of Byron to those of Rebecca West and Lawrence Durrell) and, in particular, British imaginings of it (from those of Shakespeare to Anthony Hope's The Prisoner of Zenda, Bram Stoker's Dracula, and John Buchan's and Graham Greene's adventure stories) helped shape the imaginary geography of the peninsula to the extent that images created by British writers represent for many people the best known `faces' of the Balkans. As shared points of reference, these images continue to be evoked by politicians, journalists, historians, lobbyists and advertisers.
This book seeks to explore the way in which one of the world's most powerful nations exploited the resources of the Balkans to supply its literary and entertainment industries. Such `imaginative colonisation', compared to traditional imperialism or economic colonialism, appears to be an innocent process: a cultural great power seizes and exploits the resources of an area, while imposing new frontiers on its mind-map and creating ideas which, reflected back, have the ability to reshape reality. The level at which this reshaping can take place ranges from the comparatively insignificant attempts of the `imaginee' to create and present a recognisable face to the `imaginer' for economic benefit -- as in the transformation of Castle Bran in Romania into `Dracula's Castle' in spite of its tenuous historical link with the historic Count Dracula -- to the more important impact of preconceived ideas on the processes of decision-making which determine the extent of foreign loans and investment, the level of military and humanitarian aid, and the speed at which individual Balkan countries are allowed to join `Europe', NATO or any other international organisation or club.
The imaginative colonisation of the Balkans by British writers is particularly interesting in that it takes place in an area whose history offers a mirror image of the types of colonisation normally studied in the framework of literature. While volumes of Orientalist and subaltern studies explore representations of areas of Western domination over the Eastern world, the Balkan peninsula provides a unique instance in modern times of Eastern colonisation of an area of Europe. Instead of descriptions of an `exotic' Other, we encounter perceptions of Balkan identity in an ambivalent oscillation between `Europeanness' and `Oriental difference'. Historically, it also coincides with the emergence of the first popular newspapers, the development of a vast market for the popular novels demanded by an increasingly literate and affluent nation, the consequent growth of genre fiction, and the origins and development of the film industry. All of these imposed strains on the sources of raw materials available to the entertainment industry as a whole.
The process of literary colonisation, in its stages and its consequences, is not unlike real colonisation. It begins with travel writers, explorers and adventurers undertaking reconnaissance missions into an unknown area. They are gradually followed by novelists, playwrights and poets who, in their quest for new plots and settings, rely just as frequently on research through atlases and timetables as on direct experience. By this stage the capacity of the new land to feed the ever hungry mother country -- and to make nabobs of those with the wits and ruthlessness to exploit it -- is well established. Once `mapped', new territories are further appropriated by the writers of popular fiction, who delineate the final shape of the imaginary map and secure their stakes as surely as European colonists secured newly surveyed parcels of land in America, Australia or New Zealand. Their need to visit or know the area they describe is, at this stage, relatively remote, and the `authenticity' they aim to achieve is one which fulfils the desires and fantasies of the reader. At this point they and their collaborators in the film industry can begin the full commercial exploitation of the appro- priated territory.
In the context of this study, precise details of Balkan history and geography are less important than the imaginary or near-imaginary landscapes of the British concepts of the Balkans. Any attempt to define the boundaries of the Balkan peninsula shows that, as a specific geographic entity, the Balkans themselves represent a historical construct, a series of overlapping imagined spaces in which whole countries are defined as `Balkan' in some accounts, but excluded from others.
The German geographer August Zeune is usually credited with the invention of the name for the peninsula, which was chosen through the common geographic practice of naming a region after a prominent mountain range, although Zeune's choice was somewhat arbitrary. The Balkan Mountains, now lying in Bulgaria and known as Stara Planina (Bulgarian for `The Old Mountain'), were referred to in antiquity as Haemus. They were neither the most extensive nor the highest mountain system in the peninsula. Even the name itself appears to be a result of a misunderstanding: the Turkish noun `balkan', denoting a mountain chain, was assumed by Western travellers to be the name of this specific range. The `Balkan Mountains', thus tautologically named, lay on the overland route from the Habsburg Empire to the Levant, which, offering relative safety and ease of travel, came to represent a popular path across the peninsula.
Part of an attempt by Zeune to divide Europe into nine discrete geographical areas, the name Balkan was used sporadically at first, but it became widely accepted during the 1870s and 1880s, when it fulfilled a need for a short-hand reference for the new states crystallising in the territory previously known as Turkey in Europe. The Ottoman withdrawal gradually exposed the unmapped foreshore of the `Near East'. (The terms `European Turkey' or `the Near East' variously replaced even older names by which portions of the area had been known, such as, for example, the Greek, Illyrian or Byzantine Peninsula.)
Without an easily definable borderline between the peninsula and `mainland Europe', disagreements about the exact extent of the Balkans still persist. The area encompassed by the Balkans seems to expand and contract according to changing political boundaries. The older editions of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1910 for example, define the Balkans as encompassing `Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia-Slavonia, Dobrudja, Greece, Illyria, Macedonia, Montenegro, Novibazar, Servia and Turkey', a definition which excludes most of present-day Romania, as well as some South Slav areas ruled by the Habsburgs (the Slovene lands and Vojvodina, for example), which came to be defined as Balkan in more recent editions. The Encyclopedia Americana (1991), trying to wrestle with the duality between the `political' and `physical' extent of the Balkans, states: `Although European Turkey, including Istanbul (Constantinople) lies geographically within the confines of the Balkan peninsula, it is now part of a non-Balkan state, and generally it is not considered part of the region. Hungary, despite its close links with the Balkans, is similarly considered a non-Balkan state.' This mention of Hungary -- in order to deny its `Balkanness' -- reveals the implicit assumption that Austria, despite its equally close links with the peninsula, would not even be suspected of being Balkan.
The reasons for this lack of consensus about the exact extent of the Balkans lie only in part in the absence of geographic features which could serve as dividing lines between the peninsula and the rest of Europe. A more insidious reason is that inclusion in the Balkans carries with it a range of unwelcome symbolic meanings. The Oxford English Dictionary offers the figurative application of the adjective Balkan as `with allusions to the relation (often characterised by threatened hostilities to each other or to the rest of Europe); so in the derivatives Balcanic, Balkanoid, Balkanism'. The examples of usage which follow are more illuminating than the carefully phrased definition. They include sentences like `Patches of glaring `Westernism' ... merely emphasize Belgrade's fundamental `Balkanism''; and expressions such as `his swarthy face with its cunning Balkanic eyes', or `Balkanoid principalities of homicidal atmosphere'. Similar usage is encountered in other European languages, including those spoken in the Balkans themselves. In Romanian, the Academia Romana dictionary informs us, `Balcanic' means inapoiat [backward], primitiv, necivilizat'. The Serbo-Croat language distinguishes between `Balkanac', a proper noun denoting a person from the Balkan peninsula, and `balkanac', a common noun denoting `a crude, primitive man', while `balkanizam' refers to `insufficient cultural development'.
The Balkans have also, rather unusually for a toponym, inspired a verb. So, for example, Balkanisieren in German, balkaniser in French, balkanizzare in Italian, or to balkanise in English mean `to divide into a number of smaller and often mutually hostile units as was done in the Balkan peninsula in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries'. The concept of Balkanisation is used metaphorically in a variety of contexts to symbolise a threatening division. The American Professor Harold Bloom accuses, for example, `members of the school of resentment (Marxists, Feminists, Deconstructionists, etc.)' of a `Balkanisation of English studies'. A senior British official talks about the Balkanisation of his country's civil service: `The more you balkanise the service and create more agencies, the greater the risk may be that you will import people who may not behave as they might have behaved, with the same degree of propriety and fairness to those whom they serve.'
The Balkans are `popularly defined by violence, incivility, even barbarism', Robert M. Hayden and Milica Bakic-Hayden write in their article `Orientalist Variations on the Theme `Balkan'', identifying an Orientalist rhetoric which symbolically opposes `Balkanness' to `Europeanness'. They point to the Orientalism at work within Europe itself as `a discourse which separates Europe `proper' from those parts of the continent which were under Ottoman (hence Oriental) occupation', a distinction which was, they suggest, perpetuated at the moment when the `ideological Other' of Communism replaced `the symbolic geography of Eastern inferiority'.
These constructions of an eastern Other within Europe are underpinned by an even older division -- the separation of Christendom into the Eastern Orthodox (or Byzantine) and the Western, Roman Catholic rites -- which divided the Balkan world long before any Ottoman occupation. `Byzantine' and `Oriental' are still regurgitated as metaphorical synonyms. Just before taking up the post of Secretary General of NATO, the Belgian politician Willy Claes provided an example of these symbolic mind-maps of Europe when he spoke of (Western) European moves towards integration, including countries `like the Baltic States, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia and, let us hope, Croatia', while noting that in the countries of `Byzantine influence' (he named Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Romania, Bulgaria and Serbia), `communism can root itself more deeply within an Oriental world view', as it `approaches more closely (dare we say more naturally) the latent mentality of these areas.'
When, from the late nineteenth century, the Balkans replaced `Turkey in Europe' (or the apparently oxymoronic term `European Turkey'), the peninsula retained its multiple marginal position. If it has often been seen as insufficiently different to play the role of an exoticised Oriental Other, it has nevertheless continued to be seen as too `polluted' by this Otherness to be (properly) `European'. The symbolic opposition which privileges `Europeanness' over an Orientalised `Balkanness' produces a degree of ambiguity about the inclusion of certain countries in the Balkans. The Greeks, for example, rarely define themselves as Balkan, even though Greece is routinely described as a Balkan country by historians, geographers and politicians. At the same time, Western attitudes towards Greece reveal some anxiety in relation to the same question. As an `idealised spiritual and intellectual ancestor of Europe', a `cradle of civilisation', but simultaneously a land `polluted by the taint of Turkish culture', Greece remains in an `ambiguous suspension between the exotic and the familiar'. Western journalists often attempt to `unmask' contemporary Greece -- thus assuming the existence of an idealised perception of the country in the mind of the reader -- as `primitive' and `undisciplined', a `nepotistic fiefdom' of corrupt politicians. Although it is the only country in the Balkans to belong to the European Union, Greece is nevertheless frequently defined by its difference from Europe, its Balkanness. Off the record hints that the Western members of the EU regret admitting Greece frequently surface in newspaper articles. In such a symbolic position, the Greeks can be seen as doubly alien, for, as Michael Herzfeld writes in his Anthropology Through the Looking Glass, `the ancestral holiness of the Greeks and the current pollution of their Turkishness are mutually analogous in that both are Western discourses that exclude Greece from the European structures of power."
Debates about Hungary and its potential inclusion in the Balkans are in some way similar in origin. Hungary was the eastern part of the quintessentially `Central European' Austro-Hungarian Empire, but large parts of it had been subject to the Ottomans for over a century and a half, from the late 1520s to the 1690s. Austria, on the other hand, is defined as Balkan only metaphorically, in reference to the possibility that its European essence might itself be threatened by Oriental influences. (The Turkish sieges of Vienna in 1529 and 1683 -- with camels grazing in the Vienna Woods -- delineate the symbolic northern boundary of the Balkans.) It is in this context that the Austrian Chancellor, Metternich (1773-1859), famously remarked that `Asia begins at the Landstrasse' -- the road out of Vienna to the east. As `a European from the Rhineland', wrote A. J. P. Taylor in The Habsburg Monarchy, he `felt that the Habsburg Empire did not belong to Europe'. `If it is true, as some Germans insist, that the Balkans begin in Austria, then this tiny Bavarian town in the foothills of the Alps marks the boundary between two worlds; the point where index-linked pensions fade into pyramid schemes,' The Independent correspondent began his recent report from the German town of Lindau. A similar idea that Austrianness is `tainted' by the Balkans lies behind the observation that the origins of Nazism are Balkan. In his book Balkan Ghosts, the American writer Robert Kaplan sees Hitler's Austrian background (implicitly his `Balkanness') as somehow responsible for his monstrous philosophy. `Among the flophouses of Vienna,' Kaplan writes, `a breeding ground of ethnic resentments close to the southern Slavic world, Hitler learned how to hate so infectiously'. The choice of words -- `breeding ground', `infectiously' -- implicitly defines `Balkanness' as a contagious disease.
Accepting such symbolic distinctions between the Balkans and Europe, Balkan nations themselves frequently assert their own place in Europe in an implicit allegation of their neighbours' `Balkanness'. For example, in his Letter to a Serbian Friend, the Slovene writer Taras Kermauner explains Slovene `Europeanness' thus: `The symbolic fact that the rulers of the Slovenes were Charlemagne, Charles V, and Napoleon is less important. It is more important that we embodied the way of life that was created in central-western Europe.' `Europe' is similarly a historical construct, rather than a geographical description in the historian John Lukacs' assertion of the essential `Europeanness' of Transylvania. This, he claims, distinguishes the area from its neighbours, which, even if they are in some cases geographically further west, remain Oriental (or non-European):
Transylvania had its high Middle Ages, cathedrals, Cistercians, a whiff of the Renaissance, its Baroque, its Enlightenment -- the historical ages that made Europe ... that did not exist in Russia or in Rumania, Moldavia, Oltenia, Wallachia, Bessarabia, Bulgaria, Serbia, Macedonia, Albania, Greece, the Ukraine.
The idea of the borderline represents one of the most persistent symbolic images of a peninsula which, throughout known history, has been defined by major divisions. The Eastern and the Western Roman Empires and their Christian successor Churches, the Islamic and the Christian worlds, the Communist and capitalist, all met and clashed in the Balkans. While the Balkans themselves could be represented as a multitude of (sometimes tragically overlapping) peripheries, where the cultural ripples created by the great imperial centres outside the peninsula clash to form interesting patterns even as they subside, individual Balkan identities were shaped over the centuries by the idea of a frontier existence on which they based their own sense of importance. Various Balkan nations symbolically define themselves as being at a gate, on a bridge, or at a crossroads between different worlds. `They live at the cross-roads of Europe and are the most resilient race on this earth,' Queen Victoria's granddaughter, Queen Marie of Romania, used to say of her subjects. `At first we were confused. The East thought that we were West while the West considered us to be the East,' St Sava (Nemanjic, 1175-1235), the founder of the Serbian Orthodox Church, wrote in an epistle, adding:
Some of us misunderstood our place in this clash of currents, so they cried that we belong to neither side, and others that we belong exclusively to one side or the other. But I tell you, Irinej, we are doomed by fate to be the East in the West, and the West in the East, to acknowledge only heavenly Jerusalem beyond us and here on earth -- no-one.
Rather than defining themselves as peripheral, the Balkan nations derive a sense of centrality from a position at a crossroads, offering themselves as European buffers against the East or the interpreters of it. `True, Greece is quite unlike the rest of Europe, but herein lies its strength ... Greece has an invaluable insight into the psychological aspects of new nationalisms springing up in the nether regions of Europe,' Despina Cristodoulu, using images rich in phallic threat, commented in The Independent. The symbolic eastern frontier shifts 300 or 400 miles further west in the political proclamations made by the Slovenes and Croats as they struggled to achieve recognition as independent states in the early 1990s. `Independent (and Westernised) Slovenia (and Croatia) could and would act as a `cordon sanitaire' against the eastern tide of chaos,' wrote the Slovene Minister of Science, while the Croatian president, Franjo Tudjman, asserted: `The borders of Croatia are the borders of Western Europe.'
If the Orthodox Christian peoples of the Balkans are depicted as `Eastern' in relation to Western Europe, they are traditionally portrayed as `European' in comparison to the Islamic world, and described as the upholders of the Christian European identity, antemurale Christianitatis, `the guardians at the gate'. A range of works, from R. G. D. Laffan's recently reissued The Serbs. The Guardians at the Gate (1918) to Rebecca West's Black Lamb and Grey Falcon (1941), reflect this perception. The ambiguous position at the portals of that Christendom which `Europe' metonymically claims to represent contains in itself the possibility of pollution by the Other. Even when portrayed as `European', the Balkans are frequently seen in terms of their difference from (`real') Europe and defined as belonging to the `other Europe' -- routinely described as `savage Europe' as recently as 1906. The ambiguities related to the `Europeanness' of the peninsula define Western attitudes towards it. In The Cauldron of Europe (1925), Harold Spender noted: `The Balkans remain an open question at the back door of Europe: a question bristling with menace; noisy with bombs; prickly with bayonets. Out of that cauldron came the Great War: from the same pit may yet come another conflict.' Using a similar image of a (west-facing) European home in the 1990s, Western journalists frequently wrote about the Yugoslav conflict which started in 1991 as a war in `our own backyard'. While a Yugoslav might lament: `Sadly what is happening to us today, this horror, this chaos on our soil, in the heart of Europe ... this alas is no dream but a living nightmare,' the New York Times firmly shuts the imaginary gate against the peninsula, without at the same time eliminating the threat, by proclaiming that `the blood of the Balkans is seeping under the European door.'
A symbolic map of Europe, in the context of images of privilege and inferiority, reveals a system of discourses of `Otherness', a sequence of `nesting Orientalisms', which balkanise European territory by creating a seemingly endless series of imaginary Others within its boundaries. While an `enlightened, democratic West' defines itself in terms of contrast to a `despotic East', the `industrious', rational cultures of the North claim a position of superiority over the `undisciplined', passionate cultures of southern Europe, establishing a kind of European hierarchy in which the north-west represents the highest and the south-east the lowest symbolic value.
In terms of an imagined map of Europe defined in this way, `Britishness' and `Balkanness' stand at opposing ends of the hierarchical diagonal. In view of this contrast, the self-image of British authors, as well as British projections of Balkan identity, is particularly interesting. The differing attitude towards an idea of Europe creates another important set of oppositions: while Balkan nations project a strong desire to be seen as European, the values of `Europeanness' -- observed from Britain -- are regarded with suspicion by the powerful anti-European strands within British opinion. A particularly British orientalising rhetoric identifies all lands across the English Channel as a corrupt and undisciplined Other (with Brussels as the heart of the new `Byzantium' which threatens to swallow the values of Britishness). The historical development of this type of rhetoric, in which the British identity and, in particular, the `Englishness' which frequently defines it, is seen as different from and often symbolically superior to the European one, is very clearly delineated in British fiction with Balkan settings. A study of late Victorian and Edwardian literature inspired by the Balkans reveals an implicit opposition between Britain and Europe where Europe itself is seen as a threatening Other, an orientalised space of which the Balkan peninsula could be said to represent merely the most exotic -- yet paradoxically `typical' -- instance.
Except for British reinterpretations of Greek myths and classical literature, Balkan settings make their first, rare appearances in British literature to signify all-purpose semi-mythical remoteness, an imaginative `end of the known world', an area distant but still recognisable in many respects, as in Shakespeare's use of Illyria in Twelfth Night. The Balkan settings became more firmly delineated and moved into an imaginative focus when poets such as Byron and Shelley rediscovered the Balkans for Romanticism. From the time when, as Marilyn Butler argues, `the favourite location of English poetry in the second decade of the nineteenth century becomes the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East', British writing about the Balkans exerted considerable influence on the perceptions of the area not only in Britain but throughout the world.
The most indelible images of the Balkans were disseminated through popular literature, the burgeoning of which represented a late but powerful addition to the Industrial Revolution in which Britain led the world. The authors of such novels frequently stressed their lack of any direct experience of or even interest in the area. The impact of popular genres was spread in the twentieth century by the film and television industries, with their insatiable requirements for exotic settings. Such moving pictures, with the baton increasingly being passed to the United States, reproduced and transmitted British-made images of Balkanness through dozens of Ruritanian romances, vampire stories and Orient Express murder mysteries, familiar even to those who would not be able to find any of the locations on the map of Europe.
In spite of its all-pervading influence, this body of popular literature has remained unstudied, with a few notable exceptions. The question of why the Balkans should have attracted so many British writers, given Britain's relatively slight involvement with the area, stays unanswered. Most of the existing research on British literature with Balkan themes, largely written by English literature scholars from the Balkans, concentrates on individual countries and privileges works of documentary value, leaving out much better-known imaginary and semi-imaginary locations which offer hybrid but generally more abiding and influential images of `Balkanness'. Works by British writers with direct experience of the Balkans are scrutinised more readily than those written by authors who chose the area as a setting without knowing much about it. Lady Mary Wortley Montagu's descriptions of travel across the Balkan peninsula are, understandably, seen as more relevant than, for example, Anthony Hope's descriptions of an imaginary Balkan principality in Sophy of Kravonia, or Bram Stoker's fictitious Land of the Blue Mountains in The Lady of the Shroud, despite the fact that Hope and Stoker have been infinitely more influential in shaping the way the Balkans are seen in the West than have any number of scholarly or well-travelled authors.
Focusing on historical value also tends to emphasise earlier travel writing and the otherwise forgotten works which are primarily relevant as documents in the study of Balkan history. More recent scholarship has tended to concentrate on those British writers who were seen to be championing the cause of a particular Balkan country. In contrast, the comparative look at Balkan-inspired works undertaken in this book reveals hitherto undiscussed but important similarities between authors: comparisons between Tennyson's images of Montenegro and Byron's ideas of Albania or Greece, for example, tell us more about the imaginative origins of Tennyson's sonnet `Montenegro' than its study in the context of the rest of Tennyson's work, to which it bears relatively little resemblance.
A comparative examination of fictional and semi-fictional Balkan settings in British literature also reveals cultural values and changing perceptions of Britishness emanating from a confrontation with an area which traditionally forces Europe to confront its taboos about religion and nationality. The struggle against Ottoman rule in the Balkans, for example, frequently inspired British writers to pose questions about Britain's own colonial empire, its rivalry with Russia and its attitudes towards Islam. So frequently the theatre of collision and war, like a tableau vivant of European history, the Balkans continued to pose the questions of national sovereignty and self-determination which have been such fundamental themes in post-Enlightenment Europe.
While this work initially addresses the way the Balkans were seen and imagined by the poets and writers of Romanticism, perceptions of the peninsula emerge fully shaped only after a specific Balkan identity came into being, distinct from the Ottoman Empire. The struggle against Ottoman rule, which drew European attention to the peninsula in the first half of the nineteenth century, posits the region as an imaginary European sphere. For as long as they were ruled by Islamic rulers, the largely Christian Balkan nations were seen as enslaved Europeans. The moment when the newly independent Balkan states are supposed to be joining Europe is, however, also the moment when they are symbolically differentiated from it and a new -- `Balkan' -- Other is created. The late nineteenth -- and the early twentieth -- century British literature inspired by the Balkans is, in this context, as important as the Romantic discovery of the peninsula, although it is much less frequently examined.
After the Second World War, however, perceptions of specific `Balkanness' were gradually submerged into a new, wider, symbolic division between Western and Eastern Europe. Although some of the works included in this study, for example, Evelyn Waugh's Sword of Honour trilogy, Olivia Manning's Balkan Trilogy or Lawrence Durrell's White Eagles over Serbia, were published well after the World War II, they describe the Balkans either as they were in the pre-Communist era or at the point when Communism was being introduced. These works continue to offer images of `Balkanness' rather than perceptions of life `behind the Iron Curtain' and show the persistence and continuous attractions of certain types of Balkan imagery. At the same time, they are in many ways most affected by the position of multiple marginality which, like the area itself, defines my field of study. The Balkan themes in the works of well-known writers such as Rebecca West, Evelyn Waugh or Graham Greene, are marginalised in the study of their writings in the West, while remaining, for reasons which, until the collapse of Communism in 1989, were chiefly ideological, largely unknown and untranslated in the Balkans. Olivia Manning's Balkan Trilogy, perhaps the most memorable description of Romanian life in Western literature, was not translated into Romanian until 1996. A selection of Lawrence Durrell's comic descriptions of diplomatic life in Belgrade became available in Serbo-Croat translation only in 1991. Evelyn Waugh's accounts of war-time Yugoslavia, including his Sword of Honour trilogy and his report on the Catholic Church in Croatia, were published in Zagreb for the -- first time in 1993 and 1994. Rebecca West's masterly account of her experiences in Yugoslavia just before the Second World War, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, described by the historian A. J. P. Taylor as `a work of genius', became available in Yugoslavia only in 1989 -- forty-eight years after its original publication -- in a much abridged translation published jointly by two publishers in Sarajevo and Belgrade. West's translator, Nikola Koljevic, an English scholar from Sarajevo, was soon to became the vice-president of the Bosnian Serb Republic, a position he lost a few months before his suicide in January 1997. His translation of West's work was linguistically irreproachable, but the reasons for cuts in the original text caused much heated debate amid the gathering storm of Yugoslavia's final disintegration.
In 1983 the American historian Barbara Jelavich remarked, in the preface to her History of the Balkans:
Although the Balkan peninsula has played a major role in history, the area has been subject to less intensive study than any other European region. To the outside observer, the Balkans appear to be a puzzle of confusing complexity. A geographic region inhabited by seven major nationalities [sic!], speaking different languages, it has usually impinged on the Western consciousness only when it has become the scene of wars or acts of violence.
This statement could easily apply to British literature about the Balkans, a great proportion of which deals with the theme of war in one way or another. The Balkan nations' struggle for independence fired the imagination of English poets in the first major wave of interest in the early nineteenth century, and literary works inspired by the Balkans continued to be particularly plentiful during and immediately after major crises and wars. The wars of the Yugoslav secessions in the 1990s have once again produced a wave of interest in the area which has thrown up a whole series of new works -- from political studies and eyewitness accounts and more or less hastily produced histories of newly emerging states, to books of poetry, novels and plays. For the same reason many of the volumes analysed in this study have been reissued and have been the subject of renewed interest.
The Second World War represented a new threat to a separate Balkan identity, although, in a poignant reversal of the nineteenth-century struggle against the Ottomans, the danger now came from Western Europe in the shape of the Axis powers. In the years surrounding the war, British literature produced a number of influential writings which reaffirmed the early Romantic `recognition' of the Balkans as `European'. In Sacheverell Sitwell's Roumanian Journey (1938), for example, the peninsula offers the last refuge in which an idealised, aristocratic European past managed to survive into the late 1930s. Patrick Leigh Fermor's nostalgic descriptions of the remote palaces of Hungarian and Romanian aristocrats in Between the Woods and the Water (1986), written long after the event, could similarly be seen as a Balkan Brideshead Revisited in which he plays Charles Ryder to many a Balkan Sebastian Flyte. With the Balkans and Britain in a position which, for the first time, seemed to correspond, Rebecca West's journey into the peninsula offered an insight into their shared European traditions. While the German bombs were falling over London, West recognised, as she wrote in Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, the true essence of `Europeanness' in the Balkans.
In the 1990s, after the fall of the Iron Curtain, (Western) Europe feels threatened, it seems, not so much from within as by the `hungry masses' at its southern and eastern gates. The ship-loads of fleeing Albanians in the Strait of Otranto provoked comments about the inability of Greece and Italy to control the frontiers of Europe efficiently. `If Italy were in Schengen the Albanians who have been landing in Brindisi in recent weeks would have an open road to Munich or Hamburg,' one German official pointed out. The new developments in the Balkans -- apparent anarchy in Albania, the break-up of Yugoslavia, and the fragmentation of Bosnia-Herzegovina along national lines, at a time when `Europe' increasingly projects its future in terms of supranational cohesion -- have led to a revival of those older perceptions of the Balkans as a potentially virulent, threatening Other. These crop up again and again on the pages of many of the works examined in this book. The degree to which the area has presented a blank canvas upon which Europe's political unconscious plays out its taboos and hidden anxieties has become apparent once again. Its hold on the imagination was manifested in the fear, frequently expressed in the Western media in the early 1990s, that if the war in the Balkans were to continue, a new Balkanisation could undo the foundations of Europe itself. The ghosts of the First World War, reawakened by artillery fire in Sarajevo, made the Balkans the focus of attention. The imaginings and constructions explored in this book were, yet again, used to explain political realities. Peace, if it eventually achieves a lasting form, will return the peninsula to the European periphery. In literature, the cycle of oblivion will cover the theatres of war and replace them with new Illyrias for those travellers who know not what to do.
|Map of the Balkans|
|A Note on Spelling|
|Ch. 1||'And what should I do in Illyria?': English Literature and the Balkans||1|
|Ch. 2||Byron's Children: Literary Perceptions of the Balkans in the Nineteenth Century||14|
|Ch. 3||The Balkans in Popular Fiction||42|
|Prisoners of Zenda: The Imagined States of the Balkans||43|
|The Balkan Threat: Vampires, Spies, Murder and the Orient Express||73|
|Dracula and the Balkan Gothic||73|
|Balkan Settings of the Spy Novel||87|
|On the Orient Express Route||101|
|Ch. 4||War and Diplomacy in the New Ruritania: Comic Visions of the Balkans||112|
|Bernard Shaw's Bulgaria||113|
|Saki's Lost Sanjak||117|
|E. M. Forster's Passage to 'The Heart of Bosnia'||126|
|Lawrence Durrell and His Predecessors: British Diplomats in the Balkans||131|
|Evelyn Waugh: An English Officer with the Partisans||146|
|Ch. 5||Spectres of War: Representations of the 'Real' Balkans||160|
|Edith Durham and the Balkan Tangle||161|
|Rebecca West Travels East||171|
|Olivia Manning's Balkan Cityscapes||184|
|'Why the Balkans Attract Women'||198|
|Ch. 6||Reclaiming Balkan Erewhons||202|