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The Concubine, the Princess, and the Teacher

The Concubine, the Princess, and the Teacher

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    The Concubine, the Princess, and the Teacher
    Book Description:

    In the Western imagination, the Middle Eastern harem was a place of sex, debauchery, slavery, miscegenation, power, riches, and sheer abandon. But for the women and children who actually inhabited this realm of the imperial palace, the reality was vastly different. In this collection of translated memoirs, three women who lived in the Ottoman imperial harem in Istanbul between 1876 and 1924 offer a fascinating glimpse "behind the veil" into the lives of Muslim palace women of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

    The memoirists are Filizten, concubine to Sultan Murad V; Princess Ayse, daughter of Sultan Abdulhamid II; and Safiye, a schoolteacher who instructed the grandchildren and harem ladies of Sultan Mehmed V. Their recollections of the Ottoman harem reveal the rigid protocol and hierarchy that governed the lives of the imperial family and concubines, as well as the hundreds of slave women and black eunuchs in service to them. The memoirists show that, far from being a place of debauchery, the harem was a family home in which polite and refined behavior prevailed. Douglas Brookes explains the social structure of the nineteenth-century Ottoman palace harem in his introduction.

    These three memoirs, written across a half century and by women of differing social classes, offer a fuller and richer portrait of the Ottoman imperial harem than has ever before been available in English.

    eISBN: 978-0-292-79390-3
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. viii-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-11)

    The imperial harem of the Ottoman sultans has long fascinated outsiders as a mélange of sex, debauchery, slavery, power, riches, and sheer abandon—in short, the incarnation of the most attractive vices. Concealed behind its own veil of circumspection, the imperial harem formed an object of mystery even in Ottoman culture, as decorum demanded respect for the privacy of the institution whose name means “forbidden, prohibited, sacred” in its Arabic original.

    Penetrating behind that veil, and beyond the image of the harem in the public’s fancy, this book reveals everyday life in the Ottoman imperial harem through the memoirs of...

  5. PART ONE the Concubine Filizten
    (pp. 12-121)

    THE MEMOIR OF THE CONCUBINE FİLİZTEN CONSTITUTES ONE OF ONLY three known memoirs by slave women in the Ottoman palace harem.¹ This alone makes her memoir noteworthy, but of additional interest is that this lady spent twenty-eight years confined in Çirağan Palace along with her deposed master, Sultan Murad V, and the other members of his entourage.

    The biographical details we have on the life of the lady Filizten come entirely from the few clues she leaves in the memoir. She does not tell us her ethnic origin, but almost certainly she was Circassian, as was nearly every other slave...

  6. PART TWO the Princess Ayse
    (pp. 122-193)

    PRINCESS AYŞE, DAUGHTER OF SULTAN ABDÜLHAMİD II, WAS BORN AT her father’s residence of Yıldız Palace on 31 October 1887.¹ She was the tenth child and sixth daughter born to her father, but the only child of her mother, the Circassian concubine Müşfika, who was later raised to the rank of Imperial Consort. At the overthrow of her father in 1909, the Princess followed her parents into exile at Salonica. The next year she returned to Istanbul, where she married and started a family, but later she divorced and subsequently remarried. At the expulsion of the imperial family in 1924...

  7. PART THREE the Teacher Safiye
    (pp. 194-272)

    THE SCHOOLTEACHER SAFIYE ÜNÜVAR PENNED THE ONLY KNOWN MEMOIR by an employee of the Ottoman harem.¹ Hers is the unique perspective of an educated, inquisitive, perspicacious adult hired from outside the palace to fill a specific job within the harem, schoolteacher to the monarch’s grandchildren. As Safiye herself tells us, she was not only the first palace instructor with a degree, but also the first to reside within the harem instead of coming to the palace each day to teach.

    Though living and working in the imperial palace, our schoolteacher was never pretentious, nor did she tolerate pretensions in others...

  8. Conclusion
    (pp. 273-276)

    When considering the portrait of life in the imperial Ottoman harem that emerges from these memoirs, intriguingly enough we can conclude that the authors both corroborate and dispel the picture of harem life that flourished in the popular imagination then as now. For while in some aspects life in the harem differed wildly from that experienced by anyone not living in an Ottoman palace, in most ways the existence portrayed here varied little from that led by aristocratic European women of the day.

    We have seen that the imperial harem did indeed keep its female residents in seclusion from the...

  9. Glossary of Names
    (pp. 277-292)
  10. Glossary of Terms and Places
    (pp. 293-300)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 301-304)
  12. Index
    (pp. 305-314)