Halide Edib Adıvar

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(History of the World: The 20th Century)

Article abstract: Adıvar was a leading Turkish nationalist, writer, and social reformer. She played a prominent role in the Young Turk Revolution of 1908-1909 and an even more important part in the Nationalist Revolution, led by Mustafa Kemal (Atatürk) between 1919 and 1924. As such she was one of the first Turkish women to take an active, indeed militant, interest in national politics. She was the first Turkish graduate of the American College for Girls in Istanbul, and she is credited with writing the first novel in Turkish.

Early Life

Halide Edib Adıvar’s life spans a critical period in the history of modern Turkey—from the twilight of the Ottoman Empire under Sultan Abdülhamid II until the aftermath of the first military coup in the early 1960’s. These eighty years brought momentous changes and upheavals to Turkish society; Adıvar participated actively in those changes, influencing the course of her country’s social and political evolution. She was born in the ancient, imperial capital of Istanbul, then the center of the Ottoman Empire. Her family lived in the neighborhood of Beshiktash, on a hill overlooking the Sea of Marmara, not far from the Yildiz Palace, which served as the residence of the Ottoman ruler. Adıvar’s father, Mehmed Edib Bey, enjoyed an important government office, the position of first secretary to the sultan’s privy purse, which made the family part of the inner circle of the ruling elite. Her mother, Bedrfem Hanim, died of tuberculosis when Adıvar was quite young, and her father remarried sometime before her fourth birthday.

Because of her father’s admiration for the English and for British ways of bringing up children, Adıvar’s early childhood was quite different from that normally accorded upper-class Turkish Muslim girls. She was dressed, reared, and even fed in the English manner and sent to a nearby kindergarten run by Greek Christians. A childhood illness ended her first experience with modern, Western-type education, and Adıvar was sent to live with her grandmother. In her grandmother’s more traditional household, the young girl was introduced to popular lore, folk medicine, and literature, as well as the milieu of conservative Turkish Muslim women. Later she would draw upon this fund of popular beliefs and lore in her writings. A local Islamic teacher—the imam of the nearby mosque-school—taught her to read and write as well as instructing her in the Koran. All of this changed when Adıvar was eleven, for her father enrolled her for a year in the American College for Girls in Istanbul, where she studied English, eventually becoming remarkably fluent in the language. Until 1899, she continued her studies under an English governess as well as several well-known Turkish tutors, then reentered the American College for Girls, where she was the only Turkish student. In 1901, she was graduated and married her former tutor, a mathematician named Salih Dheki Bey, with whom she had two sons.

Life’s Work

The first decade of the twentieth century was a tumultuous era in Turkish history, and, during this time, Adıvar read widely not only in classical Ottoman literature but also in European classics such as those of William Shakespeare and Émile Zola. In 1908 came the Young Turk Revolution, which represented a turning point in the centuries-old Ottoman system of rule, because the autocratic power of the sultan was limited, the constitution of 1876 was restored, and a new political elite eventually came to power. It was during the events of 1908 that Adıvar became a political essayist and writer, publishing articles in the daily newspaper Tanin that pressed for social and educational reforms along Western lines. Among the things that she advocated were gradual educational changes and the emancipation of women. Her writings brought her instant literary fame as well as arousing the opprobrium of more reactionary elements in society.

Less than a year later, a counterrevolutionary...

(The entire section is 2,321 words.)