Literature as public sphere : gender and sexuality in Ottoman Turkish novels and journals



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This study examines the mutually constitutive relationship between the print culture of the late nineteenth-century Ottoman Empire and the framework of social, cultural and political transformations in which that culture operated. This study crosses traditional disciplinary lines between literary studies and intellectual history by arguing for the modification of one of the central premises of modernization theory: the existence of an overtly masculine political public sphere standing in contrast to a supposedly nonpolitical feminine domestic and private sphere. By examining newspapers, magazines, journals, and novels, which reflected the emergence of communities of readers, I show that the print culture became central to the mediation and diffusion of themes in public discourse; and furthermore, I show that it diminished the separation between the public and private spheres as it penetrated into the domestic space and was used to insert issues from the private sphere into the public domain. Arguing that Ottoman intellectuals saw the novel as an instrument to disseminate their political, social, and cultural agendas, I examine Henüz On Yedi Yaşında (Only Seventeen Years Old; 1882) by Ahmet Mithat Efendi, focusing on how gender, ethnicity, and sexuality in early Turkish novels were imagined and represented. Based on my research in Ottoman and Turkish archives between 2004 and 2006, I show how women’s journals ensured the visibility of Ottoman women as writers in the public sphere. Women’s journals established a real intellectual community of women writers and readers who between them overtly introduced a feminist agenda into the public sphere. As part of my project of recovering the cultural work women's novels did within the political arena of nineteenth century Ottoman society, I also discuss the forgotten life and works Fatma Aliye Hanım, one of the first Ottoman woman novelists, analyzing two of her novels, Muhâdarât (1891-92) and Refet (1897). Finally, I explore the reasons why several Ottoman women writers were forgotten after the establishment of the Turkish Republic and why they are not included in the Turkish literary canon today.