Critical Evaluation

(Masterpieces of British Fiction)

James Morier’s romance is both an Oriental tale and a picaresque narrative. With its treatment of exotic customs and manners, the novel resembles such eighteenth century romances as Samuel Johnson’s THE HISTORY OF RASSELAS, PRINCE OF ABYSSINIA (1759) and William Beckford’s less philosophical VATHEK, AN ARABIAN TALE (1786). As a picaresque narrative, THE ADVENTURES OF HAJJI BABA OF ISPAHAN resembles the episodic novels of Defoe and Smollett. Like most novels concerning a rogue-hero, Morier’s book satirizes the foibles not only of the characters in the story but also those of humankind. Hajji Baba is an amiable opportunist and schemer, experienced in the worldly arts of guile and deception, but not the sole rascal in the book. On the contrary, Hajji learns his impudent tricks from others, and although he is an apt pupil, he is simply more successful—not more wicked—than most people. As one of his teachers, the Dervish Sefer explains: “We look upon mankind as fair game—we live upon their weakness and credulity”; from such counsel, Hajji discovers how to expropriate riches from the weak and stupid for the sake of his own ease. In a world of scoundrels and fools, he is seen as amoral rather than immoral; the reader sympathizes with his desire, in the contest of life, to be the world’s knave instead of its victim.

During the course of his roguish adventures, Hajji ranges through almost all the social levels and professions of Persian (and, indeed, Middle-Eastern) life. At various times he is a barber, a merchant, a robber, a slave, a “seller of smoke,” a saka (water carrier), a luti (privileged buffoon), a dervish, a physician’s apprentice, a sublieutenant for the chief executioner, a scribe to a man of law, an ambassador to foreign powers, and finally, the shah’s deputy. He...

(The entire section is 752 words.)