Throughout the 1800s, European academic was interested in the unfamiliar lands of the Middle East. various Egyptologists and Orientalist scholars brought lengthy descriptions of Eastern culture, history, and customs back to the Western world. The testament of Emmeline Lott, perhaps only an Orientalist by circumstance, is extremely unique when compared with many other scholars of her time period: the English governess had the singular opportunity to experience firsthand what it was like to actually live within one of the most mysterious institutions of Egypt, the Harem, for an extended period of time. Her book authored following foray into this hidden subculture, The English Governess in Egypt: Harem Life in Egypt and Constantinople (1867), describes in depth her encounter with the court of Ismail Pasha, the viceroy of Egypt at the time, and sets out to directly address misinformed perceptions of the culture and character of the women within the Harem from the point of view of the only known Westerner to truly penetrate its locked gates. Her account of life within is especially valuable because it was published by a true insidersomeone who eventually spoke the language and learned to navigate the customs of the Harem's inhabitants out of necessityyet was still readable and understandable for a European audience because of Miss Lott's English background and upbringing. Other contemporaries saw only the palaces cleaned and specially readied for visitors and filled in the rest of the details with their imagination; Emmeline had the fortune (and at times, misfortune) of seeing both different and very real side of dailyroutines and special events inside the Harem.
[...] For this reason, Emmeline was shocked to see the women living in a state of near squalor more often than not. When she first meets the mother of her charge, it is evident that she had not quite pictured the First Wife to appear as she did by her unflattering description: “She was attired in a dirty, light-colored, crumpled muslin dress, sat a la Turk, doubled up like a clasped knife, without shoes or stockings, smoking a cigarette (Lott, 36).” The women of the Harem actually, according to the author, had horrendous hygiene habits from the view of a European: they combed their hair only once per week and often acquired fleas and other equally unsavory ailments (Wilkinson, 65). [...]
[...] As mentioned by her two acquaintances on the way to Cairo, the Harem was truly a hotbed of intrigue and only constant vigilance could assure the continued safety of the young prince. One of the most interesting quotations from Emmeline's account deals with the fact that she felt her feelings of loneliness and shock were justified “if my position in the Harem is thoroughly examined.” As outsiders analyze her experiences, it is very true that she often found herself in an exceedingly difficult position. [...]
[...] She spends a period in Cairo at the home of Mr. B, her temporary caretaker, waiting for her lodgings within the Harem to be prepared. A personal quote demonstrates her dissatisfaction with the precedent set during this period: Scarcely, however, had a few days passed, than I began to discover that my freedom of action was curtailed, and that I was as much a prisoner in my new abode as any subordinate is when his commanding officer has put him under arrest. [...]
[...] It was an opportunity missed of portraying, for life, the caged beauties of the East (Lott, 46). The use of phrases like “caged” and “inmates” appears with extreme frequently throughout the story. She even once refers to herself as a guest and pauses to correct herself: “nay, I should rather add as a caged bird, (102).” Once again, we view a reference to her total immersion into the lifestyle and expectations of a member of the Harem, reinforcing the uniqueness and importance of her role. [...]
[...] The documentation of her rare experience comprises an informed account of life in the Harems of Egypt and Constantinople, and both old and new readers gain valuable perspective into the mysterious court of the Viceroy of Egyptas a result of Miss Lott's carefully written memoirs. Works Cited Lott, Emmeline. (1865). The English governess in Egypt: harem life in Egypt and Constantinople. London: Richard Bentley. Newby, Jen. (2010, July 31). An English governess in Egypt [Web log message]. Retrieved from http://writingwomenshistory.blogspot.com/2010/07/english-governess-in- egypt.html Wilkinson, Alix. (2005). Governess to the Grand Pacha of Egypt: EmmelineLott. In S. Searight (Ed.),Women Travellers in the Near East (pp. 61-69). Oxford: Oxbow Books. [...]
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