Haremslivet i Konstantinopel i berättelser av Elsa Lindberg-Dovlette


  • Helena Bodin


Harem, bindestrecksidentitet, orientalism i litteraturen, Konstantinopel, estetisk värld, slöja, svenska kvinnliga författare, feminism, Einar Nerman


The Swedish author Elsa Lindberg-Dovlette (1876-1944) wrote three books which narrate life in the Ottoman harems of Constantinople from the perspective of female insiders: one was a collection of short stories, Kvinnor från minareternas stad (1908) (Women from the City of Minarets) and two others were novels, Främling (1924 and 1929) (Stranger) and Bakom stängda haremsdörrar (1931) (Behind the Closed Doors of the Harem). The present contribution aims to investigate and discuss the different positions that Lindberg-Dovlette takes on harem life, both in her novels and in her own life, as depicted in contemporary feature contributions, interviews and letters. In 1902, she married the Persian prince and diplomat, Mirza Riza Khan Arfa (Arfa-al-Dawla), and lived in his harem for many years – first in Constantinople and then in Monte Carlo – as his sole wife, together with their children. Her two married surnames – one her Swedish maiden name and one alluding to her husband's Persian name – give her a hyphenated identity associated with both the Western and Oriental cultures. Her stories offer a strong critique of the norms of harem life. The strength of her argument, however, does not lie primarily in the discussions and reflections that are explicitly articulated by the female characters, but rather in the aesthetic world as a whole (Hayot, 2012), which is constructed on the basis of limited and distorted views, and depends on both seclusion and accessibility (Bodin, 2018). By bringing together the lives and fates of both Turkish and Swedish women in the space of the harem, the author crosses the conventional boundaries between the Orient and the West – in the aesthetic world of her harem stories as well as in her own life.