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Gudrun Wedel

Autobiographies of German-speaking Women in Constantinople in the Late Ottoman Period


My talk will be based on my research in the context of a project concerning autobiographical writings of German speaking women, who visited Constantinople during the late 19th century. Some of them were women writers: Helene Böhlau, Marie von Hobe, Bernhardine Schulze-Smidt, Mathilde Weber and they will be the centre of my reflections. These four writers had very different reasons to leave for the multi-ethnic metropolis of Constantinople. Some stayed there for a long time, others only for a few weeks.

My paper will concentrate on two points. One is the biographical context in which each of these writers faced the new cultural living conditions. Because they came by a variety of reasons, their perspectives on the foreign and unknown environment differed accordingly. Two women came as tourists, well prepared by famous travelogues and ready to pass a set of well known sights. One came together with her husband, who started his service at the Ottoman court. The writer Helene Böhlau went to marry according to Islamic law.

The second point will deal with the different ways women writers treated and integrated those phases of their lives in their autobiographical writings. Most of them made a record of their experiences and their surroundings during their stays in Constantinople in preparation for publishing. The range of text types published later on was diverse, likewise the media of publishing - for example as a book, in newspapers or magazines - as well as the selection of topics.

SvD, October 2012

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