This essay argues that Byron’s Lara (1814) invokes Orientalist discourses so as to suggest the queer potential of its love plot. I contend that “Oriental love,” with its expansive connotations, represents a more apposite name for Byron’s pluralist sexual drives than the “Greek love” that has often been attributed to him. The essay supports these claims by examining a recurring type in Orientalist ethnography: the page boys who served eminent men in the Ottoman Empire, sometimes sexually. Allusions to the figure of the page boy in seventeenth- to nineteenth-century texts show that Muslim same-sex practices were widely known, if not lengthily discussed. After tracking the circulation of this Orientalist trope, I look at its reworking in the form of Lara’s boyish servant, Kaled. I maintain that, by juxtaposing the nonexclusionary nature of Ottoman eros with the open question of Kaled’s sex, the poem undermines the hermeneutic urge to decide, according to the emerging hetero/homo binary, the sexual identity of the characters or the poem’s author. At the same time, I show how Lara stages and ironizes upon the textual and social processes of heterosexualization that have made this queer suggestibility pass unnoticed for a general readership.
- © 2013 by The Regents of the University of California