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Magdalena Koch

East, West and the Concept of Feminism in Jelena Dimitrijevi?’s prose


From the point of view of its inhabitants, the Balkans have served as a bridge between the East (Orient) and the West. Jelena Dimitrijevi? (1862-1945), a Serbian woman writer, was fascinated by both East and West, making them the axis of her writings: poetry, short stories, novel and travelogues. She was the first female writer who introduced the combination of subjects East-West-Feminism to Serbian literature so her position is unique in this context. She travelled extensively – from Turkey, the Middle East (Egypt, Syria, The Holy Land), India and the Far East to England, Spain, France and the USA. The images of the East (or, more broadly, the Orient) and the West are crucial for her writings. In all her exceptionally wide travel experience she paid special attention to the emancipation of women in Eastern and Western cultures and thematized it in her prose.

In my presentation I am going to illustrate this problem of the relationship, or actually the influence of Western patterns of feminism on Eastern ones, on the example of two important but thus far neglected prose texts by Jelena Dimitrijevi?: her fiction, a (long) short story “The American Woman” referring also to her hybrid, non-fiction travelogue The New World or A Year in America. Until 1918 images of the East with Muslim Women as heroines dominated in her narration. The story “The American Woman” was the turning point as her first prose work devoted to the Western culture (American women in London meeting a man from Eastern Europe).

I will show how Jelena Dimitrijevi?, by using representatives of both cultural regions (a man from the East and an American woman), tries to build her concept of a new (not patriarchal/feminist) man under the influence of an emancipated woman from the New World. She finds new models/paradigms of a true emancipation for Eastern cultures (men and women) in the West. I also intend to show the literary (generic and narrative) strategies of making the comparisons between women from East and West. In her travelogue The New World or A Year in America she declares explicitly: “Of all the cities where I have been, I like Istanbul and London most”.

AsK, September 2012

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