Grace Ellison (d. 1935) actively encouraged dialogues between Turkish and British women at the outset of the twentieth century. Despite an impressive legacy, Ellison and her work have almost disappeared from the historical record; the republication of this 1915 work aims to address this neglect.
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Grace Ellison (d. 1935) actively encouraged dialogues between Turkish and British women at the outset of the twentieth century. Connected with those in the progressive Ottoman elite who were discussing female and social emancipation, Ellison introduced Melek Hanoum and Zeyneb Hanoum to a British audience (see this series), and herself stayed in Ottoman harems. Working as a journalist, respected both at home and abroad, she published articles about British-Turkish relations, Turkish nationalism, and the status of women across cultures, some of which are the basis for this book. An Englishwoman in a Turkish Harem recounts Ellison’s stay with her friend Fâtima (a pseudonym used to protect the Ottoman woman’s identity) and features reports on motherhood, employment, polygamy, slavery, harem life, modernization, veiling, and prominent women writers. While generally anti-orientalist and supportive of both national and female emancipation, Ellison sometimes found herself indulging in orientalist views even as she worked to correct them. Her awareness that the elite harems offered a luxury and privilege not available to her in the West, sometimes put a nostalgic spin on her depiction of Ottoman culture that was at odds with her approval elsewhere of the social and political reforms that were being introduced in early-twentieth-century Ottoman and Turkish society. However she also valued the sense of community and protection that Muslim societies afforded women and encouraged Turkey to adopt a version of feminism that held on to some of these Eastern traditions rather than abandon them and mimic an individualistic Western model. Her expertise allowed her to correct Western prejudices about Turks, while her professional status in Turkey meant that she was the first Westerner allowed behind enemy lines in the 1920s to visit the nationalists in Ankara and to interview Mustafa Kemal. Despite an impressive legacy, Ellison and her work have almost disappeared from the historical record; the republication of this 1915 work aims to address this neglect.
Cultures in Dialogue returns to print sources by women writers from the East and West. Series One considers the exchanges between Ottoman, British, and American women from the 1880s to the 1940s. Their varied responses to dilemmas such as nationalism, female emancipation, race relations and modernization in the context of the stereotypes characteristic of Western harem literature reframe the historical tensions between Eastern and Western cultures, offering a nuanced understanding of their current manifestations.
Reina Lewis is Artscom Centenary Professor of Cultural Studies, London College of Fashion, University of the Arts, London.
Teresa Heffernan is Associate Professor of English at Saint Mary’s University, Halifax, NS, Canada.