Fatma Aliye, the first novelist in the Islamic world

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Let’s go back to talking about great writers with the first novelist in the Islamic world. Fatma Aliye was the first woman to manage to publish a long series of novels in the Ottoman Empire. An excellence that has only been rediscovered in recent years.

Bir Hanım

Fatma Aliye was born in 1862 in Istanbul in the then Ottoman Empire, daughter of the renowned bureaucrat and wali Ahmet Cevdet Pasha, she received a home education from an early age, thanks to which she discovered her love for French and Arabic. Following an arranged marriage, she would not be allowed to approach foreign texts for years, which she only managed to do in 1889. In fact, his translation of “Volonté” by the Frenchman Georges Ohnet dates back to that time, a work he carried out under the pseudonym of Bir Hanım “A woman”.

Fatma Aliye
A young Fatma Aliye

All this will attract the fame of the great Ottoman writer Ahmet Mithat, who will be immediately fascinated by his ability, so much so that he begins a real collaboration with her. The latter will culminate in a novel written together in 1894, Hayal ve Hakikat “Dream and Truth”, in which Fatma writes the part of the female protagonist and Mithat of the male protagonist. However, his first novel dates back to 1892 and will be published for the first time without any pseudonym.

Women writer

Muhazarat “Useful information”, this is the title of his first work, aims to dispel the myth according to which women never forget their first love; a very strong topic that will be repeated in his subsequent works. The novel also has the merit of being the first to be written by a woman in the entire Ottoman history. In 1899 Udi was released “The musician of ‘oud”, a book that will see the author at one of its heights regarding themes and style.

Fatma Aliye

In it, Fatma tells the story of Bedia, a woman from the unhappy marriage she had known in Aleppo. It will be thanks to this figure that the author will be able to put precisely her idea of woman, deeply linked to the history of her land, but at the same time free and independent. According to Aliye, in fact, it was not necessary that they abandon their customs, at the same time, however, a strong work of emancipation was necessary, in order to be able to develop their own dimension, instead of imitating the European one. This thought will then be supported by the text Nisvan-ı Islam “Women of Islam”, an essay addressed to the western world that explained this.

Activist beyond words

In addition to literary work, an incredible activity in humanitarian and social terms must also be recognized in Fatma. After the Greek-Turkish war, he founded a charitable association to help the families of the soldiers and was one of the first to inaugurate the association of the Ottoman red crescent. It should be noted that her sister, Emine Semiye Önasya, was one of the first feminists in Turkey.

Fatma Aliye
Fatma Aliye on Turkish banknotes

Because of his deep connection with the Ottoman Empire, with the collapse of it his fame almost disappeared, replaced by women who had a more western vision, therefore more suitable for “New Turkey”. However, recently it has enjoyed a real rediscovery, which culminated in 2009 with its presence on 50 Turkish lira banknotes. Side note: Zafer Hanım was the first Ottoman woman to write a novel, but the first “serial writer” was Fatma Aliye.

Tomorrow we continue the week dedicated to women with Benazir Bhutto, one of the greatest figures on the world political scene. Follow us on our facebook, YouTube and Instagram page, every like, sharing or support is welcome and helps us to dedicate ourselves more and more to our passion: telling the Middle East.

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