Marilyn Booth
In 1909, Demetra Vaka Brown (1877–1946), a
Greek ethnic subject of the Ottoman Empire,
published Haremlik: Some Pages from the Life of
Turkish Women. Writing in Eng lish for a primarily North
American audience, she drew cleverly on her insider/out-
sider position to present the harem to readers who prob-
ably felt that they already knew what the word meant, even
if they had little idea of its social realities for women of the
empire or of how “the life of Turkish women” might have
changed over time. Vaka Brown—who had lived, worked,
and married in the United States—returned to her native
Constantinople, now Istanbul, to visit Turkish Muslim
friends and to sketch the interiors of their lives for the citi-
zens of her new country. She started with the interior of,
as she put it, the “Old Serai . . . dark and mysterious as the
crimes committed within its walls.”1 She could count on an
audience: to use the word harem in a book title was to lure
readers with an image often assumed by Western European
or American observers to be characteristic of an entire so-
ciety or a vast stretch of territory in the East.2 That Vaka
Brown was in some sense a “native informant”—someone
who socially as well as physically crossed and blurred the
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