The Love of Strangers: What Six Muslim Students Learned in Jane Austen's London
By Nile Green
2016, Princeton UP, 978-0-69116-832-6, $35, hb.
Reviewed by Tom Verde on May 5, 2016
If politics makes strange bedfellows, the diary of Mirza Salih’s journey to London is the perfect bedtime story. Salih was among a delegation of six Iranian students who arrived in England in 1815. Chaperoned by Captain Joseph D’Arcy, British military advisor to the shah, the students hoped to study ‘ulum-i farang, or “the European sciences,” Salih recorded. The idea was to gain knowledge of “the rising power of the Inglis” at a time when closer ties with Britain and access to Western technology might help Iran fend off Russian aggression. In the ensuing four years, Salih and his companions were fêted by the aristocracy, abandoned by D’Arcy (who had to pay many of their expenses himself) and hosted at Oxford University. There they engaged with scholars and recognized among evangelical clergy many of the same inflexible religious attitudes they knew at home. Nile Green’s story of intellectual exchange challenges the “persistent stereotype of European progress and Muslim obscurantism.”