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The Harem in Egypt and Syria

The purpose of this research is to examine the harem in Egypt and Syria, reflected in Victorian travel writing in English literature. The plan of the research will be to set forth the historical and cultural context of the Victorian interest in the harem, and then to discuss, in turn, Victorian-era commentaries (chiefly, though not exclusively British) that formulated popular perceptions of the harem; Western women's interpretations of harem life vis-à-vis the position of women in Victorian culture; the response of Arab women to their English visitors as well as their own accounts of domestic life and marital arrangements; and social implications of the Victorian discourse of middle-class women compared to the Islamic perspective on the proper function and status of women.

Contemporary with the Victorian era of empire building in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia was the protracted decline of the Ottoman Empire, which from the sixteenth century onward had extended outward from Istanbul, Turkey, into the Middle East and central Europe but which by the late nineteenth century was known as the "sick man of Europe." The Ottoman Empire appears not to have persecuted non-Islamic religions. Until Ataturk transformed Turkey into a secular state, however, Ottomans also very much reflected the culture of Islam, which survives not only in Turkey but also (and indeed more strikingly) in the countries of the Middle East.

It is a commonplace of Islamic culture that the status of women is inferior to that of men. There is ample evidence of a tendency in progressive Western culture to deplore polygamy, slavery, the harem, and the inferior status of women, even though there is also evidence of oppression of women in Western culture. What makes the status of women particularly noteworthy in Islam, however, is that their institutional inferiority as a matter of what could be called cultural policy has survived or been reinvigorated in the face of...

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The Harem in Egypt and Syria. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 16:16, June 04, 2020, from