Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Travel Writing in Algeria: Representation, Ambivalence, and Empire

  • Yasmina Bia

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This thesis draws on the links between travel writing, colonialism, and Orientalism to provide a comparative study of the representation of Algerians and responses to the French Empire in Algeria in the non-fictional and fictional works of traveller-writers, Eugène Fromentin, Théophile Gautier, Emile-Félix Gautier, Isabelle Eberhardt, and Paul Bowles. Taking its bearings from postcolonial theory as put forward by Edward Said and Homi K. Bhabha, it examines the discourse employed in their narratives to identify any bias in the writers’ representations and whether this reinforces Orientalist stereotypes about non-Western countries that might control their responses to Algeria. It also investigates the five authors’ ideological engagement with the Empire as to how far they support the civilising mission. This study centres on a one-century span (1850-1950), focusing on the political and social circumstances that motivated French imperial expansion in Algeria and the cultural contexts of American travel to North Africa which, at the surface, might seem at variance from the French tradition.

The thesis examines how the five authors adhere to the Orientalist tradition in their representation of indigenous Algerians within the framework of ‘Self’ and ‘Other’ in their texts, in particular by drawing on familiar stereotypes of backwardness, superstition, and timelessness. Despite their different backgrounds and motivations in travelling to Algeria, the dominant representation of Algerians is exoticist. The thesis will also claim that the writers divide over the question of empire: Fromentin, Théophile Gautier, and Emile-Félix Gautier write in support of the French imperial presence in Algeria and promote the idea of civilising mission as part of their respective commissions to popularise the nascent colony. Eberhardt and Bowles differ from the earlier writers in their opinions about empire and adopt divergent attitudes. They are more engaged with both Algerians and their culture and are ambivalent regarding the French colonial occupation of Algeria and even question the existence of empire. This research will investigate continuity in the use of Orientalism as a colonial discourse yet also identify its changes in the twentieth century, along with some diminishment in its popularity, with the aim of demonstrating how the discourse of travel writing enabled, reinforced, and challenged Western superiority.
Date of AwardJul 2023
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorJanet Wilson (Supervisor), Sonya Andermahr (Supervisor) & Sam Reese (Supervisor)


  • Representation
  • Orientalism
  • Imperialism
  • Ambivalance
  • Postcolonial
  • Colonial Discourse
  • Travel Writing
  • French Colonialism

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