Harem: The World Behind the Veil

Overview


A fascinating illustrated history of one of the strangest, and cruelest, cultural institutions ever devised. A worldwide best seller, translated into twenty-five languages.

“I was born in a konak (old house), which once was the harem of a pasha,” writes Alev Lytle Croutier. “People around me often whispered things about harems; my own grandmother and her sister had been brought up in one.”

Drawing on a host of firsthand accounts and memoirs, ...

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Overview


A fascinating illustrated history of one of the strangest, and cruelest, cultural institutions ever devised. A worldwide best seller, translated into twenty-five languages.

“I was born in a konak (old house), which once was the harem of a pasha,” writes Alev Lytle Croutier. “People around me often whispered things about harems; my own grandmother and her sister had been brought up in one.”

Drawing on a host of firsthand accounts and memoirs, as well as her own family history, Croutier explores life in the world’s harems, from the Middle Ages to the early twentieth century, focusing on the fabled Seraglio of Topkapi Palace as a paradigm for them all. We enter the slave markets and the lavish boudoirs of the sultanas; we witness the daily routines of the odalisques, and of the eunuchs who guarded the harem. Here, too, we learn of the labyrinthine political scheming among the sultan’s wives, his favorites, and the valide sultana—the sultan’s mother—whose power could eclipse that of the sultan himself.

There were the harems of the sultans and the pashas, but there were also “middle-class” harems, the households in which ordinary men and women lived out ordinary—albeit polygamous—lives. Croutier reveals their marital customs, child-rearing practices, and superstitions. Finally, she shows how this Eastern institution invaded the European imagination—in the form of decoration, costume, and art—and how Western ideas, in turn, finally eroded a system that had seemed eternal. Juxtaposing a rich array of illustrations—Western paintings, Turkish and Persian miniatures, family photographs, and even film stills—Croutier demystifies the Western erotic fantasy of “the world behind the veil.” This revised and updated 25th anniversary edition of Harem includes a new introduction by the author, revisiting her subject in light of recent events in Turkey, and the world.

Drawing on a host of intimate first-hand accounts and memoirs, Harem explores life in the world's harems, from the Middle Ages to the early twentieth century, focusing on the fabled and ever-mysterious Seraglio of Topkapi Palace as a paradigm for all. 125 illustrations, 50 in full color.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“This is a serious history, yet an immensely readable one—informative, gossipy, and grand fun.” —New York Times Book Review

“This beautiful book…stimulates the mind as well as the eye.” —Chicago Sun-Times

“An alluring invitation into the labyrinthine corridors of the Turkish harem.” —San Francisco Chronicle

“A delight to the eye but also a poignant statement about the lonely…world of women who lived in virtual slavery.” —Marin Independent Journal

“Croutier’s text, a blend of careful scholarship and gossipy family anecdotes, is richly embellished with documentary photographs and colorful ‘Orientalist’ artwork, depicting harem life.” —Christian Science Monitor

“A gorgeous book that chronicles, in equal measure, the grisly realities of seraglio life and the glowing fictions of Western voyeurism.” —Connoisseur

“A fascinating, colorfully illustrated history of one of humanity’s most bizarre constructs.” —People

“An intriguing text about those all-female worlds in the mysterious East. —Cosmopolitan

“Ms. Croutier has produced an interesting book, an intelligent speculation on the social and psychological influences of this creation.” —The Atlantic

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This study considers the everyday lives of odalisques, the harem as the Moslem equivalent of purdah and male-dominated harem life as symbolic of the collective unconscious. ``Ultimately, the text is a choppy amalgam of history, reminiscence, conjecture and intermittently overblown writing,'' said PW . ``Much more evocative are the 125 photographs and reproductions of art works included here.'' (Mar.)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780789212061
  • Publisher: Abbeville Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 9/30/2014
  • Edition description: 25th Anniversary Edition
  • Edition number: 25
  • Pages: 232
  • Sales rank: 780,387
  • Product dimensions: 6.90 (w) x 10.10 (h) x 0.90 (d)

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted September 4, 2014

    I find comfort, near spirituality, in a find from a great writer

    I find comfort, near spirituality, in a find from a great writer, Alev Croutier. Harem; The World Behind The Veil, is an extraordinary accomplishment, beautifully written, dynamically illustrated with some of the world's greatest art, and spirited with autobiographical text. Art can teach history like nothing else, illuminating the facets of experience in a single stroke of the brush; that, combined with the richness of text, Alev Croutier gives us a masterpiece. If curiosity begs the imagination, if wonders evoke riddles, let this be your guide. The life of the harem women, acquired and groomed as girls, concubines to the Sultans, protected by eunuchs all, from their private pleasures and solitary defeats, to their encompassing culture at the whims of their Sultan masters, all captured on a literary tapestry. If must reads had an annotation, this would surely be it.

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