The article deals with the dialogue between cultures as seen through the picture of the Balkans drawn in British literature. Using as his starting point two valuable studies of these problems – Imagining the Balkans (1997) by Maria Todorova and Inventing Ruritania. The Imperialism of the Imagination (1998) by Vesna Goldsworthy, the author endeavours to set out the facts examined in them as well as the current methodology used to portray others in literature.
The literary colonization starts with the notes taken by travellers, explorers and adveturers who ventured into this outlying region. In their steps came novellists, playwrights and poets in search of novel plots and novel locale to use as settings for their works. So, the territory in question is “put on the map” and invaded by popular novellists who exploit it and put the finishing touches to the imagined topography of the region. Many diverse images of the Balkans abound in British literature. The strongest effect upon readers’ minds was produced by the romantic poets Byron and Shelley. Less well known are the depictions of the Balkans in popular fiction of the turn of the century such as Anthony Hope, S.C. Grier, J.L. Lambe and others. Other stock images from the Balkans are vampires, spies and killers on the Orient Express. They are to be met with in novels by Bram Stoker, John Buchan, Graham Greene, Eric Ambler, Agatha Christie, in some films of Alfred Hitchcock and others. The Balkans are viewed from another angle by authors such as G.B. Shaw, Saki, E.M. Forster, Lawrence Durrell and Evelyn Waugh. British critics devote particular attention to the representations of the “real” Balkans in the works of women writers like Edith Durham, Rebecca West and Olivia Manning.
What at first glance strikes the researcher into the British images of the Balkan Other is dialogue with oneself, the search for solutions of the one’s own problems. One possible answer to the question why the Balkans spawn so many texts in Britain, given the fact that the region is largely peripheral to British geopolitical interests is largely due to some of these disputes (principally that between Gladstone and Disraeli). To some extent the absence of geopolitical interest bears on the absence of scientific interest in the Balkans; poor factual knowledge, in turn, provides a breeding ground for popular romances, crime novels and thrillers about spies and vampires which are massively exploited by the powerful English speaking film industry.
The facts under discussion can be handled in several ways. It is no problem to condemn or ironize the negative (and inaccurate) images of the Balkans in British literature. A more meaningful approach is to seek out the underlying causes and mechanisms which engender them. A promising methodology of interpreting these causes and mechanisms are offered by non-colonial critique which however is not in itself immune from hurried and light-minded conclusions.