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Curzon's Persia

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    Available in PDF - DJVU Format | Curzon's Persia.pdf | Language: English
    George Nathaniel Curzon(Author),P. King(Editor)

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G.W.Curzon read nearly 300 books on the territory over which he would travel before setting out on his journey through Persia. The journey itself lasted six months and he covered almost 2000 miles, from the Turkish border to the Gulf, on horseback, a painful experience as he suffered from a spinal complaint and had to wear a steel corset beneath his Norfolk jacket and stout breeches. Curzon chose Persia because he was absorbed by the problems of British political interests in the East. However, this selection of chapters from the book concentrates on the travel rather than the politics and is illustrated with the pictures Curzon took himself. Peter King has edited two previous collections of Lord Curzon's writings ; "A Viceroy's India" and "Travels with a Superior Person".
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Review Text

  • By Bob Newman on November 23, 2004

    At the age of 30, George Nathaniel Curzon was an MP, already destined for big things. By age 40, he would be Viceroy of India. England stood at the zenith of empire, jousting with Russia for control of the vast swathe of land north and west of India---Tibet, Central Asia, Afghanistan, and Iran. In 1891, Curzon undertook a trip on horseback, from the newly-acquired Russian territory of Turkmenistan, into Iran, from Mashad to Teheran and from there into the Caspian lands, then down to Isfahan, Shiraz, and to the Persian Gulf. He obviously went with some greater purpose than just adventure, but the details have been edited out of this book, which only records his travels and impressions of Iran, or Persia, as the author calls it.If you are familiar with the term `orientalism' as used by Edward Said, then Curzon's book may serve as a perfect illustration of what Said wrote about. Curzon writes highly detailed and well-polished descriptions of the landscape, the condition of the post-houses where he hired horses for his trip, and details of all the towns he passed through---walls, guns, mosques, gardens and crops around, ruins, major buildings, street layouts, and more. However, for a modern reader the book may be truly poisoned because of his arrogant, racist attitude towards the Iranians themselves. OK, we should not judge other times by our own. Still, modern readers will not be edified by constant use of such phrases as "the Oriental mind", "the proverbial craftiness of the Oriental", "the repulsive, fascinating Oriental world", "the moral supineness of the Persians", "Persian artfulness", "A Persian is a coward at the best of times...", on and on. The book is absolutely full of such drivel. These were the days before travellers turned the lens of analysis on their own societies rather than casting stones at others. Curzon constantly reduces the whole strange (for him) scene to simple platitudes which became a solid part of Western knowledge of Iran for many years ! This book was read for decades by Westerners heading for Iran. Yet, the irony of it is that in the whole book there is not one SINGLE conversation or interaction with any Iranian, no description of any person at all. Curzon relieved himself of all those stereotypes and insulting generalizations without, as far as a reader can see, having met any Iranians. Plus, he twisted facts to suit his preconceptions. The most glaring example is on page 111. He tells us how silk worm disease wiped out silk cultivation in a certain area. The peasants then switched to tobacco, opium, olives, and rice. In the next sentence, with no irony apparent, he says that silk cultivation (with new methods to combat the disease) would probably never revive because Persia was a country `where new ideas and improved methods penetrate so slowly'. Yet the peasants had switched quickly.Although you can see that I did not like this book very much, I must say one positive thing. Curzon underwent considerable hardship to gather whatever knowledge he could. He kept his eyes open and produced excellent descriptions of the land and towns. He debunked numbers of other, more fanciful writers, and knew his Persian history in detail. An American reader of our times must be impressed at the quality of leaders Britain was producing at the time of its imperial height and rue the intellectual abilities of our own. If Britain engaged in Iranian adventures, the leaders had considerable, if warped, knowledge of that country. I fear that some in high positions in Washington would be hard put to name three cities in that country.

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