Chasing referents : representations of self and other in Wilfred Thesiger's Arabian Sands and Freya Stark's The Southern Gates of Arabia
Freya Stark's The Southern Gates of Arabia and Wilfred Thesiger's Arabian Sands
are commonly read as the last proponents of the Arabist tradition of travel writing.
Based on journeys undertaken in the 1930s and 1940s in the Hadramaut and Empty
Quarter regions of Arabia, they are accounts of travels which, due to the rapid
modernisation of the Arabian Peninsula, were no longer possible even a few years
after they were written. With the Arabist genealogy in decline, The Southern Gates of
Arabia and Arabian Sands were written at a point of transition. This thesis focuses the
relationship between the representational strategies they deploy - both in written text
and in their accompanying photographs - and the ideological assumptions of
colonialism and imperialism in which they were grounded.
In so doing, this thesis draws on the work of Edward Said, Ali Behdad, and, to an
extent, Michel Foucault. Their work provides a context in which to question the
representational structures and the ideological assumptions on which Stark's and
Thesiger's works are based. Consequently, it is possible to see the representational
strategies deployed by Stark and Thesiger, and the ways in which these strategies are
categorized by gender, as part of an Arabist tradition of travel writing. However, their
position at the end of the Arabist tradition also raises the issue of the extent to which
their work can be seen as colluding in its demise.