History in Review
|The Concubine, the Princess, and the Teacher. Voices from the Ottoman Harem. Translated and Edited by Douglas Scott Brookes. (University of Texas Press, Austin: 2008. Pg. 322. 32 B&W Photos, 1 Map.) ISBN:
Reviewed by Auggie Moore - December 19, 2008
The myths that surround the Imperial Palace Harems of the Ottoman Empire are as diverse and bizarre as the human imagination can fathom. It is these myths, and the secrecy that has long surrounded life within the Harem that has kept Western interest in the Harems from fading. But what was life really like in the harem? Was it a life filled with sexual excess or loneliness? Was it a life without restrictions, within the Harem confines, or was life strictly controlled? Were the women of the Harem all slaves? What was the role played by the eunuchs? These and many more questions are explored in The Concubine, the Princess, and the Teacher. Voices from the Ottoman Harem.
Translated into English, and edited by Douglas Scott Brookes, this book exposes the reality of Harem life, and pulls back the veil of secrecy in the best way possible - by allowing the women of the Harem to speak for themselves. This book contains the memoirs of three women:
Writing across different periods, and from different perspectives, the memoirs of these three women provide Western readers with a telling glimpse into the real world of the Harem. They also examine the forced break-up of the harem in 1924.
- Çiragan Sarayinda 28 Sene: Besinci Murad'in Hayati [Twenty-Eight Years in Çiragan Palace: The Life of Murad V], by Filizten (1861?-1945?), a slave-concubine of Sultan Murad V.
- Babam Sultan Abdülhamid [My Father, Sultan Abdülhamid], by Princess Ayse Osmanoglu (1887-1960), the daughter of Sultan Abdulhamid II.
- Saray Hatiralarim [My Palace Memories], by Safiye Ünüvar (age unknown), a teacher who resided in, and worked in, the Harem of Sultan Mehmed V from 1915-1924.
Brookes begins with a detailed introduction to the book that examines the social structure and personages of the palace harem. He has included an explanatory introduction to each memoir, and extensive notes throughout the text. In addition, these enlightening memoirs are enhanced by numerous photos, a glossary of names, and a glossary of terms and places. A brief bibliography has also been included. Combined these memoirs, and associated material, serve to provide readers with not only a historical overview of life in the Palace Harems from the viewpoint of the women who lived within them, but it also provides readers with a glimpse into the social structure, religious life, and, in general, what life was like in the Ottoman Palace Harems during the nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century.
The Concubine, the Princess, and the Teacher. Voices from the Ottoman Harem is a fascinating book to read. It will delight general readers looking to discover the truth about what 'really went on' in the harems, and scholars will find it an important resource as accounts about Harem life, written by the women who lived in them, are very sparse indeed. This book will find a ready place as supplemental text in courses in a variety of subjects including women's study, Turkish and Ottoman history, and Middle Eastern studies.
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