The Beautiful Jewess as borderline figure in Europe's internal colonialism: Some remarks on the intertwining of Orientalism and Antisemitism

Ulrike Brunotte*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


European Orientalism had different societal and cultural frames in France and Great Britain. These were the main objects of investigation in Said's book Orientalism , a process which Said treats as an explicit political-colonial setting and colonial discourse. According to Said's widely criticized thesis, Germany, a country without many colonies, played no important role in the scholarly and political enactment of orientalism. Referring to the prestigious German orientalist and biblical scholarship, and also to processes of internal orientalization as tools of Germany's “colonial fantasies” and minority politics, this contribution explores discourses on the “Orient” as a prominent way in which to form a discursive construction of the Jews as internal Others. Moving beyond Said's dictum that orientalism is “a strange, secret sharer of Western anti-Semitism,” I investigate the plural history of topical discourses, hybrid figures and recurrent narratives that symbolize internal religious and cultural differences. The Jews have often been regarded in the Western world as occidental and oriental. The liminal position of the Jews in European imagination is all the more relevant when it comes to the gendered dimension of orientalist discourse. This article focuses on the figure of the “beautiful Jewess,” analyzed as the gendered and affective embodiment of the Jewish Question. Starting from the presupposition of her situatedness on a border zone between religions and cultures, I focus on her depiction in literature. I analyze how literature explores the ambivalences of the stereotype and opens up third spaces of reflection. Narrative and scenic discourses on the “Orient” are analyzed as a multi-layered and ambivalent ensemble of relational references. A special focus is on the role of gender in the representation of the Jews as “internal Orientals.”
Original languageEnglish
Article number3
Pages (from-to)166-180
Number of pages14
JournalReOrient The Journal of Critical Muslim Studies (peer reviewed)
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • Orientalism
  • gender
  • frontier figure
  • 'Beautiful Jewess'
  • Religion


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