Highlights from the Aga Khan Library Collections – Ottoman Collections (I)

Harap Mabetler (خراب معبدلر) by Halide Edip Adıvar

Reviewed by Seda Karamanli

The Aga Khan Library has a significant collection of Ottoman Turkish books. Among the many titles in this collection is the fascinating Harap Mabetler, loosely translated as “Ruined Temples,” written by Halide Edip Adıvar (1884-1964), an influential intellectual and prolific author who penned many books advocating women’s emancipation.

First published in 1910 in Istanbul by Ahmet Ihsan Matbaasi, Harap Mabetler is so popular that it continues to be reprinted. The Aga Khan Library owns a 1924 edition published by Orhaniye Printing House, Istanbul, and is the only library in the London region to have this historic work. The library copy also carries Adıvar’s name stamp, suggesting the library copy could have originated from her private library. 

Harap Mabetler comprises nine prose poems and seventeen short stories and depicts the plight of women in the male-dominated society of late 19th and early 20th-century Türkiye. The book is a daring attempt to highlight women’s issues in a highly patriarchal society of late 19th and early 20th century Ottoman Türkiye. Adıvar stories sometimes present a very pessimistic view of womanhood, where women’s problems are linked to their being women. 

The stories in Harap Mabetler narrate the identity crisis the women of the time were going through, recounting the physical and emotional violence they suffered and their inability to do anything about it. The stories are a testament to the desperation and unending suffering at the hands of the male members of their family. Adıvar bemoans that men can indulge in various pleasurable activities while women remain busy with house chores. Her narrations also criticise the women who privately gossip and moan about their position and status in society but do not dare to challenge the inherited norms. 

The stories are provocative too and portray women of the time as commodities not only of their husbands but the entire family. By laying bare their social status, the stories challenge the women who await the messiah’s arrival to change their fate. In the section “Aşk Fesaneleri” (Love Legends), through the medium of prose poems, Adıvar creatively uses the historical female figures of Ishtar, Zulaykha, Cleopatra and Hypatia to show hope to women who could not see any light at the end of the tunnel. A book like Harap Mabetler would have been a ray of light in an era when political and national issues dominated the academic and intellectual arena and social issues, particularly women’s problems, received little attention. The Turkish women who wrote about women’s rights in this period reproduced patriarchal ideas while defending women’s rights. Harap Mabetler is unusual because the case it makes for women’s freedom is based on basic human needs, not external influences. The book is essential for anyone wanting to learn about late 19th and early 20th-century Ottoman society, culture, and women’s issues.

 You can find the book in the Aga Khan Library Rare Books Collection: PL248 .A3 H37 1924

Bibliographical sources

Edib, Halide. Memoirs of Halide Edib. New York: The Century Co., 1926.

Çalışlar, İpek. Halide Edib: Biyografisine Sığmayan Kadın. Istanbul: Yapı Kredi, 2021.

Kandiyoti, Deniz. “Women and the Turkish state: Political actors or symbolic pawns.” In Woman-Nation-State, eds. Kandiyoti, Deniz, Nira Yuval-Davis, and Floya Anthias, 126-149. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1989.