19th Century female travellers – are they the more open-minded Europeans?
Ida Hahn-Hahn’s and Ida Pfeiffer’s contribution to German-Austrian travel writings dealing with the 19th century Ottoman Empire
Travel writings dealing with journeys to the Orient came into fashion in the German and Austrian parts of Europe at the turn from the 18th to the 19th century. They were particularly well liked by those people who could not afford to go on such a journey. Those people were looking for the exotic, the erotic and the extraordinary with those writings.1 As Gabriele Habinger points out in her preface to the 1995 edition of Ida Pfeiffer’s “Reise in das Heilige Land” readers were longing for stories on the Harem and on unveiled Oriental (i.e. erotic and exotic) women when reading those books, especially if the texts had been written by women.2
Trips to the Orient (i.e. to Egypt, Syria, Palestine or the Lebanon) had become quite common with the upper classes of European society at the time, and they were a genuinly male business. However, they turned into some sort of fashion also with European women who followed their husbands.2 Female travellers without male company were still a rare sight in 19th century Europe. This was true of journeys on the European continent and even more with trips to the Ottoman Empire. The only journeys on which it was common for women to be travelling alone were pilgrimages.3 Although journeys to the Holy Land were seen as pilgrimages in 19th century Europe, woman travellers like Ida Pfeiffer and Ida Hahn-Hahn were nevertheless exceptions even to this rule as the so-called Holy Land was part of the Ottoman Empire and regarded a place not really safe for women.
Still, it was not just due to their travelling but even more to their life style that both women to a certain extent were considered rather unusual or eccentric back home. When the untitled Austrian commoner Ida Pfeiffer, who had been brought up like a boy by her parents and who had been used to a bourgeois, Catholic lifestyle under the Metternich government for all her adult life, went on board a Danube steam boat in Vienna to begin the journey that would take her down the Danube to Jerusalem via Istanbul, Smyrna and Beirut in the spring of 1842, she was 45 years old, used to providing for herself and to living on her own.4
Ida Hahn-Hahn was 38 years old when she set out on her Oriental journey to the Holy Land from the German town of Dresden in August 1843, going to Vienna first and continuing her way by ship down the Danube to the Black Sea and Istanbul, and from there via Smyrna and Beirut to Jerusalem. She was a German Protestant, belonged to the lower aristocracy and had been living in a less restrictive political system than Ida Pfeiffer for most of her life, but like her was without a male partner at the time of her journey.5
Although coming from different national, social and religious backgrounds the two women had several things in common: they were divorced from their husbands; they went on their journeys without male company; it was their first journey to the Orient; people had warned them not to go on their Oriental journeys because of the dangers and inconveniences to be expected; however, they went anyway, looking forward to seeing the Holy Land and Jerusalem in particular; they were curious and eager to learn about Oriental culture on their ways there, and both state in their books that they would avoid giving one-sided and stereotypical accounts of what they had experienced during their stays in the Ottoman Empire.6
Judging from these statements readers of their texts might expect accounts of Oriental life and culture diverging from the mainstream views shared by the members of their cultural backgrounds. Regarding an Austrian cultural background the common approach towards the Ottoman Empire shown in travellers literature was still a predominantly favourable one strongly fostered by a selective perception of Ottoman culture as the Other – a perception still current at the time when Ida Pfeiffer and Ida Hahn-Hahn went on their journeys and published their travel accounts. It was not until the end of the Metternich-government in the Habsburg Monarchy that this approach gave way to a more critical one. The selective perception of the Ottoman Other then took a different direction.
Yet, which were the main aspects of Ottoman culture open to the concept of the Other and consequently to a positive or negative judgement when perceived selectively during the 19th century? Choosing them seems to have been strongly linked to the pressure put on 19th century Europeans in general to establish their nationalized cultural identities.7 This implied not only the definition of their inner-European cultural compatibilities and incompatibilities, but also of their extra-European ones, and it concerned nearly every field of life: culture, mentality, politics including political alliances, history, and language. Even religion and religious denominations were still considered essential factors because, in fact, the secular movement of the Enlightenment had not been able to abolish the European notion of Christianity at the heart of European civilization. So, any members of any religions and cultures different from Christianity had a good chance of being identified as extra-European incompatibles.
Because of this the most important general issues concerning Ottoman culture to be found in the Austrian texts of travel and subject to controversal discussion among Austrian travellers are: the cultural concept of the Orient and the Occident in general, Islam and Christianity in particular, a woman’s Oriental social status and a woman’s Occidental one, the Oriental concept of slavery and the Occidental concept of serfdom, the Oriental, seemingly natural, moral behaviour reminiscent of the „Noble Savage“ and the European law-and-order mentality, colourful and vivid Oriental urban sceneries and rather grey and monotonous European ones, Oriental multi-culture and European mono-culture, Oriental tradition and Occidental progress.8
These issues focussed on by the average travellers indicate how puzzling Ottoman culture was for 19th century Austrians. It represented Oriental, i.e. Muslim, cultural traditions in terms of architecture, customs, and everyday life.9 In line with 19th century Habsburg political pragmatism Ottoman culture was said to be the culture of a friendly state, which in some ways was similar to the Habsburg Monarchy. In both empires people of many different ethnic and religious backgrounds lived, yet, in both empires there was an official religion and a ruling ethnic group.10 However, Islam including polygamy, and a state still unofficially tolerating slavery were factors considered incompatible with respect to the Austrian national identity as Christianity obliges men to be married to only one woman, and serfdom had been abolished in the Habsburg Monarchy by the end of the 18th century.
Reading through the texts you find that the seemingly paradoxical nature of Ottoman culture perfectly served Austrian travellers as the negative reflection of (or foil for) their own (Austrian) cultural features. The construction of the Other solved the paradox by embracing all sorts of oppositions and offering the chance to take both (cultural) sides at the same time. Austrians perceived Ottoman culture selectively based on what their personal reading of the Ottoman Other was. They saw what they wanted to see, and did not see what they did not want to see.11 Their approach to Ottoman culture thus turned out to be a function of how well they identified with their national identity. Roughly speaking, those who did not identify with the restrictive political system installed by Metternich, the strict regulations being part of this system, accelerating industrialization, growing cities, new means of transport, and their religious background constructed Ottoman culture as a desirable other. Those who were at peace with their national identity constructed Ottoman culture as a more or less neutral other. Those who were enthusiastic about their national identity constructed Ottoman culture as a rejectable other. Mostly, however, the positions were somewhere inbetween, as is shown in a passage Friedrich Fürst von Schwarzenberg wrote when he was staying at „Bujukdére“ in the middle of August in 1837:
Genußreich ist für mich hier eigentlich nur das Abentheuerliche dieses Lebens. Es ist dies das einzige Land, wo man spazieren reitet, mit den Pistolen in den Halftern, spazieren fährt mit Segel und Steuerruder, spazieren geht unter Pest und bissigen Hunden; wo nicht jeder Schritt, jede Stunde, jedes Ereignis schon in der Frühe abgezirkelt und im Programm des Tages angezeigt vor uns liegt. Das einzige Land, wo nicht jede Handlung von einer väterlichen Autorität schon vorhinein erlaubt oder verbothen, wo nicht jeder Weg und Steg schon durch die Katastral-Vermessungslinien vorgezeichnet, ja sogar von der löbl. Polizeibehörde jeder Fleck bezeichnet sein muß, wo man in dringenden Fällen hinspucken darf! (Strictly speaking, the adventurous nature of this life is the only delightful thing for me here. It is the only country, where you ride on a walk pistols ready, cruise on a walk using sails and helms, take a walk surrounded by the plague and by vicious dogs; it is the only country where every step, every hour, every incident has not been planned in the morning and marked in the daily schedule. It is the only country where every action has not been either allowed or forbidden in advance by fatherly authorities, where one’s way has not been marked in the land register, where not even every spot has to be marked by the laudable police where you are allowed to spit in a case of emergency!)12
Consequently, on a more detailed level of discussion oriental colours are praised as vivid and exotic aspects of a world full of variety and sensuality, although sensuality itself may be regarded as voluptuousness depending on the traveller’s individual (positive or negative) concept of the Ottoman Other. The same can be said about the travellers’ approach to what they called Oriental luxury (vs. extravagance), the Oriental native’s naturalness (vs. Oriental indecency), Oriental patriarchal hierarchy (vs. Oriental Despotism), a woman’s and a slave’s life and status as examples of Oriental human wisdom and traditional humanity (vs. Oriental backwardness and inhumanity), Oriental calm and stability (vs. Oriental lethargy, apathy and rigidity), the superflousness of Occidental intervention (vs. the necessity of Occidental intervention), the Orient as the origin of all civilization embracing the ideas of the Orient stimulating Occidental cultural development and of antiquity still being part of Oriental everyday life (vs. the Orient as a place of doomed and deteriorating civilizations), the Orient as an idyllic place reminiscent of a pastoral scene (vs. Oriental scenery as a mere facade which collapses as soon as you come close), and last but not least, the Orient as a place of refuge for members of Occidental civilization (vs. the Orient as a place reminding Europeans of the superiority of their Occidental civilization).13
Ida Pfeiffer discusses all of the general issues listed above – however, not each to the same extent, and as soon as it comes to a more detailed discussion she is not always in line with the average approach shown in the other texts of the time. With all aspects linking the Orient to a concept of idyllic sceneries which may disappear as soon as you come close, she positively takes an average position. Her enthusiastic account of her first sight of the Istanbul skyline when arriving at Istanbul harbour, which soon afterwards gave way to deep disappointment when she entered the streets on her way to Pera, ought to be quoted at length to illustrate the nature of this average approach:
Morgens drei Uhr, als wir in den Hafen von Konstantinopel eingelaufen waren, lag außer einigen Matrosen alles in tiefster Ruhe, und ich stand auf dem Verdeck und harrte und sah die Sonne im vollsten Glanze ihrer Pracht über die mit Recht bewunderte Kaiserstadt aufgehen. Wir hatten Anker geworfen in der Nähe von Tophane, und ausgebreitet vor meinen Blicken lag nun diese Stadt aller Städte auf mehreren Hügeln, deren jeder selbst wieder eine Stadt trägt und doch sich passend und großartig dem ganzen anschmiegt. Die eigentliche Stadt Konstantinopel ist von Tophane, Galata und Pera durch das sogenannte Goldene Horn getrennt und durch eine lange, breite hölzerne Brücke in Verbindung gesetzt. Skutari und Burgulu erheben sich terrassenförmig am asiatischen Ufer. Der herrlichste und großartigste Zypressenwald umgibt Skutari von außen und innen. Im Vordergrund, auf der Höhe des Berges, liegt die schöne und große Kaserne, welche zehntausend Mann faßt. Die wundervollen Moscheen mit ihren fein gezeichneten Minaretten, die Paläste und Harems, die Kioske und großen Kasernen, die Gärten, die Boskette und Waldungen von Zypressen, die vielfarbig angestrichenen Häuser, über welche oft wieder einzelne Zypressen ihre schlanken Gipfel erheben, und endlich der ungeheure Wald von Masten – dies alles bildet einen unbeschreiblich überraschenden Anblick. Und erst als das rege Leben der Menschen begann, sowohl am Ufer als auf dem Meer, da langten meine Augen nicht aus. Eine Unzahl Kaiks bedeckte nach und nach das Meer und das Goldene Horn, so weit der Blick reichte. Das bewegteste Leben am Ufer, von Menschen aller Nationen und Farben, vom weißen Europäer bis zum schwärzesten Äthiopier, das Gemisch der eigenthümlichsten, verschiedenartigsten Trachten – alles dies und noch viel mehr hielt mich gebannt auf dem Verdeck. Die Stunden flohen gleich Augenblicken dahin – und für mich kam die Zeit der Ausschiffung viel zu früh, obwohl ich von früh drei Uhr bis acht Uhr stand und nichts als schaute. Alle Mühseligkeiten der Reise fand ich reich belohnt, ich war glücklich in dem Anblick dieser wunderbaren, morgenländischen Bilder und hätte nur gewünscht, ein Dichter zu sein, um dieses Wundervolle, Herrliche schildern zu können. (At three o’clock in the morning when we had reached Istanbul harbour and everyone apart from some sailors was still sleeping I was standing on deck waiting and watching the sun showing all her splendor and magnificence in rising over this imperial city which has been admired so much with good reason. We had dropped anchor near Tophane, and now this city of cities was spreading over several hills in front of my eyes, each hill being covered by another city, yet, each one going marvellously with all of the scenery. The actual city of Constantinople is parted from Tophane, Galata and Pera by the socalled Golden Horn and connected to them by a long, and wide wooden bridge. Skutari and Burgulu terracelike climb the Asian shore. Skutari is surrounded by the most beautiful and marvellous cyprus wood which is also to be found in the centre of the city. In the foreground, on a level with the mountain, the big and beautiful barracks are situated which accommodate ten thousand soldiers. The wonderful mosques with their gracefully shaped minarets, the palaces and harems, the kiosks and big barracks, the gardens, the groups of bushes and trees, and the cyprus woods, the multicoloured houses, above which single cyprus trees raise their tops, and last but not least, the immense number of masts – all this formed a view which was breathtaking and surprising. Not to mention the moment when people became busy at the shore and on the sea: I did not have enough eyes to watch them. An uncountable number of small boats one by one filled the sea and the Golden Horn well to the horizon. People of all nations and colours, white Europeans among them as well as the blackest Ethiopians, performing the most lively activities on the shore, and a blend of the most particular, and varied costumes – all this and much more kept me on deck banned. The hours turned into moments – and I still had to disembark much too early although I had been doing nothing else than standing and watching from three to eight in the morning. I was fully rewarded for all the strain experienced on the journey. I was happy when I saw all these wonderful Oriental pictures and I wished I were a poet so I would have been able to depict all this being so wonderful and great.)14
Concerning the issues linked to religion Ida Pfeiffer rather concentrates on the general life style resulting from Muslim religious rules just as the average Austrian travellers do, and like them she takes a benevolent position, in particular praising the absence of alcohol, and people’s calm and peaceful behaviour at public festivities resulting from this. Apart from this she strongly stresses her surprise and delight at how well she was received as a foreigner and as a woman in particular by the Muslim population when moving around in public contrasting this to the reluctant reception and the lack of assistance shown by most of the Christian countrymen she had been recommended to.15 In her positively surprised reaction at the physical shape of slaves and at their relaxed relationship to their owners she goes slighty beyond the average approach concerning this topic.16 As far as issues of female social status in general are concerned Ida Pfeiffer’s book describes Oriental women as seemingly satisfied and happy creatures. She takes a quite balanced position towards the institution of the Harem. In doing so, she points out that due to her female status she gained access to some of theses places and thus was able to give information rather than passing on exotic myths like most male travellers of the time tended to do.17 What she stays away from is discussing Oriental tradition and history, the supposed potential of the Orient to serve as a refugium for frustrated Europeans, and from what other texts of travel regard as multicultural aspects of Oriental life although she mentions the racially mixed nature of the crowd.18
Ida Hahn-Hahn just like Ida Pfeiffer is impressed by Oriental urban scenery as long as she does not enter the cities.19 Unlike Ida Pfeiffer she shows a strong interest in all kinds of religious customs and in the issue of religious tolerance vs. intolerance in general. She hints at both instances of religiously intolerant behaviour directed towards her by the crowd and her decision to act with religious tolerance towards Muslims.20 She enthusiastically discusses the issue of the Orient being the origin of all religion, civilization and culture following the enlightened concept of „ex oriente lux“, at the same time stating that the Orient according to this concept was also the place of cultures deteriorating, in particular at the time.21 She deals with the implications and consequences of Harem life for both the women and their children, and with the habits, appearance and behaviour of Muslim women in a quite desperate and slightly morally disgusted tone, and praises the effects of Christianity on female social status.22 She shows contempt for slavery, and when looking at African slaves at the market she strongly utters her preference for the caucasian race in terms of aesthetics.23 She touches on the issue of a recreative Oriental potential in discussing her conviction that her experience of the Orient has effected her in terms of her European identity.24
In conclusion, it becomes obvious that both the discussed female travellers can be regarded as two of the more open-minded Europeans, but only to a certain extent, and according to a slightly different meaning of the word. They are more open-minded in terms of staying away from simply repeating common-place statements on Oriental culture. Their open-mindedness means being critical on every single issue they discuss in their books. However, they are good children of their time in selecting the issues they discuss, and even more in not really questioning their own cultural backgrounds and values but rather using them as valid yardsticks for their Oriental approaches.
In doing so the liberal German protestant never questions the superiority of Occidental culture in general but rather sees it as the perfection of the original Oriental input. She criticizes the contemporary European version of Occidental culture for being superficial and artificial compared to Oriental culture; she sees the contemporary Oriental culture as the rather dreadful remains of its historical original in terms of humanity, culture, and everyday life. Nevertheless, she, the Catholic Austrian who was used to an authoritarian political system, experienced life in the Ottoman Empire as a predominantly positive contrast to what she was used to in terms of humanity, culture, and everyday life.
1. On this point see Veronika Bernard, Österreicher im Orient. Wien: Holzhausen, 1996, 1-31.
2. On this point see Ida Pfeiffer: Reise einer Wienerin in das Heilige Land. Wien: Dirnböck, 1844, 9-10.
3. On this point see Ida Pfeiffer: Reise einer Wienerin in das Heilige Land. Wien: Dirnböck, 1844, 6-7.
4. On this point see Veronika Bernard: Österreicher im Orient, 28-29.
5. On this point see Ida Hahn-Hahn: Orientalische Briefe, Wien: Promedia Druck- und Verlagsgesellschaft m.b.H. 1991, 5-10.
6. On this point see Ida Pfeiffer: 2, 153, 171-172; Ida Hahn-Hahn: Orientalische Briefe, Wien 1991, 15, 17.
7. On this point, in particular for a German cultural background, see Veronika Bernard: Das emotionale Moment der Veränderung. Stadt als Dichtung. Bonn: Bouvier, 2000, 174-252. If you look back in history you will see that European identity had been dominated by class background and religious belief during most of the Middle Ages, by confessional denomination after Martin Luther had established what was later called Protestantism during the first third of the 16th century, and it was not until the end of the Thirty Years War in 1648 that a secular concept of identity slowly started to take the place of confessional identity. This concept brought about the idea of national identities by the end of the 18th century.
8. On this point see Bernard, Österreicher im Orient, 83-137.
9. On this point see Bernard, Österreicher im Orient, 6, 33-34.
10. For a contrasting analysis of the Hasburg Monarchy and the Ottoman Empire see Bertrand Michael Buchmann: Österreich und das Osmanische Reich: eine bilaterale Geschichte. Wien: WUV-Univ.-Verl., 1999.
11. On this point see Bernard, Österreicher im Orient, 83-100.
12. Friedrich Fürst von Schwarzenberg, Fragmente aus dem Tagebuche während einer Reise in die Levante. Tl. 1 u. 2. Gedruckt als Manuskript von 1837. Wien: Grund, 1857: 85-86; transl.: V. B.
13 On this point see Bernard, Österreicher im Orient, 83-137.
14. Ida Pfeiffer, Reise einer Wienerin in das Heilige Land. Wien: Dirnböck, 1844: 25-26; transl.: V. B.
15. On this point see Ida Pfeiffer: 26, 41-42, 54, 56, 103, 171-172, 292.
16. On this point see Ida Pfeiffer: 43-44.
17. On this point see Ida Pfeiffer: 43-44, 81-82, 158-162.
18. On this point see Ida Pfeiffer: 25.
19. On this point see Ida Hahn-Hahn: Orientalische Briefe, Wien 1991, 20, 26-29.
20. On this point see Ida Hahn-Hahn: Orientalische Briefe, Wien 1991, 22-23, 29-30, 34-35, 57-62, 66-70, 147, 190, 221.
21. On this point see Ida Hahn-Hahn: Orientalische Briefe, Wien 1991, 25-26, 57, 88, 238, 260-261.
22. On this point see Ida Hahn-Hahn: Orientalische Briefe, Wien 1991, 38-40, 55, 78-87, 152-153, 324-325.
23. On this point see Ida Hahn-Hahn: Orientalische Briefe, Wien 1991, 48-51.
24. On this point see Ida Hahn-Hahn: Orientalische Briefe, Wien 1991, 16-17, 202, 250, 299, 339-340, 342.
List of relevant literature
Cultural and political background
Veronika Bernard, Das emotionale Moment der Veränderung. Stadt als Dichtung. Bonn: Bouvier, 2000.
Buchmann, Bertrand Michael: Osterreich und das Osmanische Reich: eine bilaterale Geschichte.Wien: WUV-Univ.-Verl., 1999.
European literature of Oriental travel
Bernard, Veronika: Österreicher im Orient. Eine Bestandsaufnahme österreichischer Reiseliteratur im 19. Jahrhundert. Wien: Holzhausen 1996.
Dull, Siegrid [Hrsg.]: Frauen entdecken Konstantinopel und den Orient, hrsg. von Siegrid Dull in Zsarb. mit Studenten u. Studentinnen der Universitat fur Angewandte Kunst. Wien. Mit e. Vorw. von Manfred Wagner. Academia-Verl. 2003. 192 S.
Hout, Syrine Chafic : Viewing Europe from the outside : cultural encounters and critiques in the eighteenth-century pseudo-oriental travelogue and the nineteenth-century "Voyage en Orient".New York, NY ; Vienna [u.a.] : Lang , 1997 . - 288 S.
Kornrumpf, Hans-Jurgen : Fremde im Osmanischen Reich 1826 - 1912/13 : bio-bibliographisches Register. 2. Aufl. . - Stutensee : [Eigenverl.] , 1998 . - X, 452 Literaturverz. S. 425 - 438.
Reischl, Birgit : Die Darstellung der turkischen Frau und die Beurteilung des Frauenlebens in der Turkei in Reiseberichten des 18. und 19. Jahrhunderts / von Birgit Reischl , 1993 . - 98 Bl. Wien, Univ., Dipl.-Arb., 1993.
Schnabl, Helga : Wahrnehmung orientalischer Fremde : osterreichische Reisende begegnen dem Osmanischen Reich (1800 - 1850), eingereicht von Helga Schnabl , 1993 . - 187 Bl. Wien, Univ., Dipl.-Arb., 1993.
The Other in European literature
Barfoot, C. C. (Ed.): Western literature and the lure of The East. Amsterdam: Rodopi 1998.
Finn, E. Sinclair: Conquering Constantinople. Text, Territory and Desire. In: Topping, Margaret (Ed.): Eastern voyages, Western visions. French writing and painting of the Orient. Oxford, Wien: Lang 2004. 47-69.
Guthke, Karl S.: Der Blick in die Fremde. Das Ich und das andere in der Literatur. Tübingen: Francke 2000.
Honold, Alexander (Ed.): „Die andere Stimme“. Das Fremde in der Kultur der Moderne. Köln, Wien: Böhlau 1999.
Sources (selection of those used for original study)
Eisenstein, Richard Freiherr von und zu: Reise nach Konstantinopel, Kleinasien, Rumänien, Bulgarien und Serbien. Wien: Gerold 1912.
Fallmerayer, Jakob Philipp: Fragmente aus dem Orient. 2 Tle. Stuttgart 1845
Fallmerayer, Jakob Philipp: Neue Fragmente aus dem Orient. Leipzig 1861.
Frankl, Ludwig August: Nach Jerusalem! 2 Tle. Leipzig 1858.
Grillparzer, Franz: Reise nach Konstantinopel und Griechenland. In: Selbstbiographie und Reisetagebücher. Wien 1946. 298-332.
Hammer-Purgstall, Joseph von: Constantinopolis und der Bosporus. 2 Bde. Neudruck der Ausgabe von 1822. Osnabrück 1967.
Honigberger, Johann Martin: Früchte aus dem Morgenlande oder Reise-Erlebnisse. Wien 1851.
Lux, Anton Erwin: Die Balkanhalbinsel (mit Ausschluß von Griechenland). Freiburg i. Breisgau: Herder 1887.
Morgan, Camillo: Dreissig Tage in Kleinasien. Reiseskizzen. Wien 1886.
Pfeiffer, Ida: Reise einer Wienerin in das Heilige Land. Wien: Dirnböck 1844.
Prokesch von Osten, Graf Anton: Denkwürdigkeiten und Erinnerungen aus dem Orient. 3 Bde. Stuttgart 1837.
Schwarzenberg, Friedrich Fürst von: Fragmente aus dem Tagebuche während einer Reise in die Levante. Tl. 1 u. 2. Gedruckt als Manuskript von 1837. Wien: Grund 1857.
Schweiger-Lerchenfeldt Armand Freiherr von: Unter dem Halbmonde. Ein Bild des ottomanischen Reiches. Jena: Costenoble 1876.
Schweiger-Lerchenfeldt, Amand Freiherr von: Zwischen Donau und Kaukasus, Wien: Hartleben 1887.
Werner, Franz von, alias Murad Efendi: Türkische Skizzen. Leipzig: Dürr 21878.