Friday, July 25, 2014

Odalisque by Édouard Manet 1832–1883

Édouard Manet (French artist, 1832–1883) Odalisque

Odalisque comes from a Turkish suffix expressing a function, sort of as English "er" or "ary" might when added to a noun. And oda is a room, here a chamber in a harem.  The odalisque traditionally refers to the female slave or servant in the harem of a Turkish sultan. The term was adopted during the 19C by academic Europe as a form of artistic eroticism in orientalism.  In an interesting twist, Turkish writer Melek Hanum (Hanim) [1814-1873] used the word odalisque referring to a slave in her autobiography Thirty Years in a Harem, as she wrote: "If any lady possesses a pretty-looking slave, the fact soon gets known. The gentlemen who wish to buy an odalisque for a wife, make their offers. Many Turks, indeed, prefer to take a slave as a wife, as, in such case, there is no need to dread fathers, mothers, or brothers-in-law, and other undesirable relations."  So much for troublesome in-laws.

Orientalism is a term used by art, literary, & cultural studies scholars for the depiction of aspects of Middle Eastern & Eastern cultures by writers & artists from Western cultures. Orientalist painting, depicting mostly "the Middle East" was one of the many areas of 19C art.

Thought you might like to read the 1872 Harper's review of Melek Hanum's autobiography.

Henry Mills Alden 1872
Harper's New Monthly Magazine Volume 45

Editor's Literary Record
Thirty Years in a Harem (Harper and Brothers) is a very remarkable book. It purports to be the autobiography of Melek Hanum, wife of H. H. Kibrizli Mehemet Pasha. The imprint of the publishers is a sufficient guarantee that the book is what it purports to be, though the cautious reader will probably very soon recognize the fact that the authoress has an ambition to make a sensation, and accordingly will receive her story with some caution. Those who know the stainless character of her first husband, Dr. Millingen, whom she so violently and unjustly asperses, will look with reasonable suspicion on her nspersion of others who are less well and widely known in Christendom. She does not, indeed, conceal the fact that she is a totally unscrupulous woman; prides herself on her political intrigues; writes with a curiously simple naiveté of the contrivances to which she resorted to secure bribes during her Turkish husband's administration of government in the Holy Land; and even in recording her attempt to palm off upon him another child as her own appears to be far more impressed with a sense of her folly than with any shame at her guilt. The history of such a woman, written with a scarcely concealed purpose to secure from the public a condemnation of her foes, is not only liable to all the suspicion which attaches to extravagant statements, but to the special suspicion which attaches to the extravagant statements of a jealous, humiliated, and wholly unscrupulous woman, who by her own showing disregarded the universal sense of Turkish propriety while seeking a refuge from Turkish persecution among the giaours. But with full allowance made for coloring and misrepresentation, it is certain that this volume gives an interesting view of Turkish life, customs, and laws, such as has never been afforded to the Christian world. Plenty of travelers have looked on the outside, and told us what to an observer it appears to be. Melek Hanum carries us into the interior of Turkish life, describes its corruption, its profligacy, its injustice, its violation of right and of chivalry, its flagrant oppression of the weak, its outrageous tyranny over woman. Her second husband was, in various positions, a leading official of the Turkish government, being at times a Grand Vizier; and it is evident that, in spite of the “subjection of women" in the East, they are greater politicians than in the West. At times her story, which is always dramatic, becomes sensational in its episodes; and certainly if it were a novel, not a biography, we should class it among the sensational romances. Yet this sensationalism is not in the style, which is that of a simple and seemingly untutored narrative, but in the incidents themselves. Indeed, those which are most capable of being highly wrought are told with the greatest simplicity. It is not, however, the story which chiefly interests the thoughtful reader, but the portraiture of Turkish civilization which that story embodies. Government at the Sultan’s court and government in the provinces, political intrigue and domestic life, marriage and divorce, Turkish law and Turkish lawlessness, are all revealed by one who knows whereof she speaks; and the disclosure is such as to demonstrate, even after all allowances are made, that the condition of the “ sick man" is even more desperate than it has generally been supposed to be.

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