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Senem Timuroglu

Neither East Nor West: Zeyneb Hanoum, An Ottoman Woman Without A Home


In my paper, I will be focusing on the letters that Hadidje Zennour, pen name Zeyneb Hanoum, wrote to her close friend Grace Ellison in English, which were edited by Ellison and published as letters detailing her itinerary in the book A Turkish Woman’s European Impressions, published in Britain, in 1913.

Zeyneb Hanoum, who spent her childhood and early youth under the despotic rule of Abdul Hamid II, was one of the “feminist” Muslim Ottoman women who contemplated women’s freedom. The difference between her and the other feminist Ottoman women, who were not happy about their conditions and tried to change them, was that unlike the others she travelled in order to find a free land to live. Taking her sister Melek Hanoum with her, she departed for a Europe about which she and her sister had often listened to stories of freedom.

Believing that she was going to find freedom on the very first day of her journey to Europe, Zeyneb Hanoum, who was also described in Pierre Loti’s novel Les Désenchantées (The Disenchanted, 1906), was highly disappointed and after a time, as a “disenchanted” soul who had lost all hope of finding freedom, went back to the country she had left.

These letters provide very valuable material to make us question Western and Eastern women’s ideas on each other in an “Orientalist” context, examine their dialogues and most importantly see the patriarchal tyranny that Western modernity and outer-Western modernity creates in different ways.

On the other hand, the disappointment and the feeling of being homeless that are presented by these letters, written in the early 20th century when Orientalism and the discourse of Western modernity were at their height, invite us to reflect about the trans-nationality of the conditions of womanhood.

AsK, September 2012

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