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Nadezhda Alexandrova

Nationalism and Nostalgia
in the Travelogue of the Bulgarian Writer Evgenia Mars (1909)


My presentation starts with a description of the public and literary activism of the Bulgarian women, residing in Istanbul in the 60s and 70s of the 19th century. It is connected to the aspect of nostalgia for the life of the Bulgarian community in the Ottoman capital in the pre-1878 era when Bulgarians were still under Ottoman rule. It is necessary in order to understand better the combination of the nostalgic air mixed with strong outbursts of nationalism that is visible in the text of the travelogue Journey to Istanbul by Evgenia Mars (1909). The first publications of women writers and translators in the Bulgarian periodicals, printed in Istanbul in the 60s and 70s of the 19th century will shed light on the lively mode of communication and interaction between the Bulgarian women in the capital and those in the provincial areas who were part of the increasing number of Bulgarian women’s organizations and women’s schools.

Those women writers and activists lived just a generation before the writer who is central to this presentation – Evgenia Mars (1877-1945). Her travelogue A Journey to Istanbul (1909) was acclaimed in the literary periodicals (Bulgarski pregled/Bulgarian review) as the first women’s travelogue in the Bulgarian national literature. The text is published as a final part of her second book of short stories. It is a result of a trip to the Ottoman capital in 1907 when Evgenia Mars, her husband and her mentor in writing, the Bulgarian poet Ivan Vazov, spent a few weeks in Istanbul. On several occasions the travelogue contains references to previous travel writings about the city. There are no direct quotations from Western travel writings but there are some references to Bulgarian literary texts on the same topic. Evgenia Mars’s travelogue reveals her ambition to inscribe herself in the long list of those who have been enchanted by the Bosporus, who caught a glimpse of the ottoman ladies, and those, who have observed the Sultan’s Friday prayer ceremony, etc. Her text contains a snapshot of the social and cultural life of the diminishing Bulgarian colony in the city. The nostalgic emotion of those chapters mingles with nationalistic hostility when she provides a witness account of the last days of Abdul-Hamidian reign. Beyond nationalism and nostalgia, the novelty in the text is that Evgenia Mars envisions herself also as a tourist in Istanbul who seeks good food, decent service, amusing public life and entertainment.

Ask, September 2012

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