PhiN 15/2001: 79

Natascha Ueckmann (Osnabrück)

Towards the Orient: French Women Travelers between Emancipation and Colonial Thinking

In opposition to the hitherto favoured emancipational discourse within the research of women travelers, this work pleads for a differentiated way of dealing with the topic of "women travelers". The gender concept comes under fire of criticism when it is enlarged by categories of difference like cultural affiliation, class or ethnicity. Instead of glossing things over and reading the texts under the central idea of emancipation and liberation, the aim of this research work is to problematize the female complicity in the European colonialism and its ideology. French women gain in power through their possibility of travelling, especially in countries dominated by the Western countries. In the end the cultural affiliation seems to overlap the gender specific aspects.

What a chance to evade everyday sobriety...
(Adèle Hommaire de Hell 1860)1

Gustave Flaubert – a "sex tourist"?

When talking of the gender of Voyage to the Orient, one immediately thinks of Gustave Flaubert, Gérard de Nerval and many other French authors. Anyone who thought himself important made use of 19th Century orientalomania in order to demonstrate his familiarity with this foreign world. Especially after the beginning of French colonial exploitation in North Africa, it was normal to use the Orient as a source of inspiration for writing, painting and musical composition. With regard to French authors, the illusion of the penetration of the harem or of the hammam is undoubtedly the most widespread and common topos. In other words: "[...] the Harem dream reflects a masculinist utopia of sexual omnipotence." (Shohat 1991: 70)

The European man faces the Other, especially the foreign woman, who, in general, functions as an object of desire. In the case of Flaubert – being one of the key figures in the Oriental canon – it can be proven that the only women he meets are prostitutes, who are disposable objects, par excellence. Certainly, the most famous prostitute and dancer is Ruchiouk-Hânem. Flaubert's broken image of the "beautiful foreign woman" is typical; the description of her outward appearance is the formulation of her savagery and vulgarity. The following text illustrates this:

[...] Kuchuk Hanem is a tall, splendid creature, lighter in coloring than an Arab; she comes from Damascus; her skin, particularly on her body, is slightly coffee-coloured. When she bends, her flesh ripples into bronze ridges. Her eyes are dark and enormous, her eyebrows black, her nostrils open and wide; heavy shoulders, full, apple-shaped breasts. [...] She has one upper incisor, right, which is beginning to go bad. [...] after some violent play, coup. She falls asleep with her hand in mine. She snores. [...]. Feeling of her stomach against my buttocks. Her mound warmer than her stomach, heated me like a hot iron. [...] How flattering it would be to one's pride if at the moment of leaving you were sure that you left a memory behind, that she would think of you more than of the others who have been there, that you would remain in her heart! (Flaubert 1972: 114–119)2

PhiN 15/2001: 80

In this context, we have to remember that the only women who travelers could meet were women who earned their living through prostitution. Oriental women were not usually allowed to meet strangers. In my opinion, Flaubert knows just as little about Egypt as about Ruchiouk-Hânem. Transferred into the actual context, Flaubert's Voyage to the Orient is reminiscent of a story about Thailand written from the point of view of a 'sex tourist'. The foreign woman is transformed into a courtesan, is possessed by the traveler through penetration and then transformed into a myth. Consequently, the Orient is a feminine space conquered by travelers in a way that is not just artistic.

My approach to Orientalism is from the point of view of women travelers. It is amazing to find out that hardly any women exist in French literary history related to the Oriental canon, but this is no way an isolated phenomenon, as one might suppose. In my research work, I have found more than 200 stories of travels to the Orient written by women in the 19th Century and the first half of the 20th Century.

The emphasis of this discourse is placed upon a study of space. In pinpointing two contrary spaces – the harem and the desert – I would like to focus on a modified experience of the Orient. I would like to enlarge the Orientalist discourse by following the path of Edward Said and integrating the 20th Century and those stories written by women. The integration of the 20th century in concentrating on travels into the desert opens up a new genre within the Voyage to the Orient: the Literature of the Desert.

The discourse about the Other

The most common opinion about Orientalism certainly originates from the Palestinian cultural historian, Edward W. Said. According to him "[...] [t]he Orient is not only adjacent to Europe; it is also the place of Europe's greatest and richest and oldest colonies, the source of its civilizations and languages, its cultural contestant, and one of its deepest and most recurring images of the Other." (Said 1995: 1) Starting from this fact, three questions have essentially guided me:

PhiN 15/2001: 81


What happens when a woman - traditionally considered by the man as the Other - starts a journey in a country that represents for the Occident the oldest image of the Other? Is this then a case of double otherness? Bénédicte Monicat sums up this complex encounter in the following way: "It is the Other that observes the Other. It is also the Other that sees itself in the Other, that identifies with the Other. It is again the Other that rejects its own image; it is the broken mirror, the oppressed being that oppresses in return." (Monicat 1996: 5)3 The discourse on women is superimposed upon the discourse on the Orient. In the 19th Century, the Orient was a synonym for decadence and unrestrained sexuality, as mentioned above. It is not only the Orient, therefore, but, at the same time, woman who represents a discourse related to the sexual fantasies of men.

Fig. 1. America, late 16th Century

Fig. 2. Europa prima pars terrae in forma virginis, 1588

PhiN 15/2001: 82


Since the 16th Century and from the time in which exploration first began, a tradition has been developing in which the image of foreign space is superimposed onto the female body. In this tradition, the traveler has a sexualized relation to space. Allegorical maps of Europe of the 16th Century demonstrate the semantic superimposition of space and the female body (see Weigel 1990, Pelz 1993, and Schülting 1997). According to Ella Shohat: "The geology and topography of the land [...] is sexualized explicitly to resemble the physiology of a woman." (Shohat 1991: 53) The feminization of the Orient demonstrates the general sexualization of the foreign country in an exemplary manner. This process is one of the consequences of the colonial tradition. This observation raises the question concerning the way in which women travelers may have desexualized the traditional discourse on the Orient. I accept the principle that Oriental women were not necessarily their object of desire.


We also have to ask ourselves whether the foreign country does not lend a certain kind of power to women travelers; because the woman who travels is convinced that she belongs to the dominant culture. In contrast to Edward Said who "has been the British, French and American experience of the Orient taken as a unit" (Said 1995: 16), I would like to state that there is not only one Oriental canon. An homogenous model of power between the colonized and colonizers does not exist. Through the integration of women, a greater heterogeneity of texts resulted, because of gradual differences in relation to colonial involvedness (see Mathieu 1985). In these travel stories, one finds both affirmations but also conflicts referring to colonialism, for the reason that women's access to power was rather indirect. When a woman starts a journey to the Orient, the cultural discourse is extended around the gender discourse. Texts written by women reflect the problem of colonialism and Orientalism in a different way than texts written by men, because women are both colonizers and the colonized at the same time: "The intersection of colonial and gender discourses involves a shifting, contradictory subject positioning, whereby Western woman can simultaneously constitute 'center' and 'periphery', identity and alterity.” (Shohat 1991: 63) Women travelers representing colonial power had a certain power over others. When travelling across the colonized foreign country, they were able to cast off the limitations or restrictions of their role as women. By travelling, the power position changed: "[...] the power of men over women is reproduced in the power of women over women." (Lazreg 1988: 97)

The Deconstruction of the Oriental Femme Fatale

When studying travel stories written by women in the 19th Century, these texts can, as a rule, be read as a modification of the Oriental femme fatale as described by men. The travelling women's intent is particularly demonstrated through their images of Oriental women in the context of descriptions of the harem. These completely 'desexualise' the Orient. It is a negative inversion of the erotically charged image of a foreign and exotic femininity. In this case, we encounter a transformation of male dreams into nightmares. The image of Oriental woman embodying the sensuality of the Orient is not just often disproven, it is ignored, sometimes declared false and negated. In order to verify this thesis, I have isolated some central parts of these texts.

PhiN 15/2001: 83

Fig. 3. Cristina de Belgiojoso, ca. 1836

Based on her personal experiences, Cristina de Belgiojoso (1808–1871) discovered that harems were far from what could be imagined from the tales of A thousand and one nights. In her book, Asie Mineure et Syrie. Souvenirs de Voyages she paints a picture of Oriental life:

I will perhaps destroy some illusions when speaking with so little respect of the harems. We have read descriptions in A thousand and one nights and other Oriental stories; we have been told that these are places where beauty and love reside: we are allowed to believe that written descriptions, even if exaggerated and full of euphemism, are nevertheless based on reality, and that it must be in these mysterious retreats that one finds united all the wonders of luxury and of the arts, of magnificence and of sensuality. But we are a long way away from reality! Imagine blackened and cracked walls, wooden ceilings partly split and covered with dust and cobwebs, sofas that are torn and greasy, doors hanging in fragments, traces of wax and oil everywhere. When I first entered these charming dens, I was choked; but the mistresses of the house are not aware of this. Their outward appearance is according. (Belgiojoso 1858: 15–16)4

Cristina de Belgiojoso also speaks of "the dirty atmosphere of the harem" (Belgiojoso 1858: 15).5 She characterizes Oriental women as rivals making a ridiculous impression:

PhiN 15/2001: 84

Mirrors being very rare in this country, the women adorn themselves in frippery, and cannot imagine its bizarre effect. They stick thick needles decorated with diamonds and small stones into printed cotton scarves which they wrap around their heads. Nothing is more unkempt than their hair, and only the very important ladies who once lived in the capital have combs. What concerns their multicolored make-up, of which they make immoderate use; they are only able to regulate its application by giving each other recommendations, and as the women living in the same house are also rivals, the one encourages the other to apply the most grotesque coloring. They put vermilion on their lips, rouge on their cheeks, on their noses and on their foreheads and chins, and distribute white powder adventurously. As a finale, they put blue powder around their eyes and under their noses. (Belgiojoso 1858: 16)6

To sum up, she declares making a Voyage to the Orient as a rather dangerous affair, of no value to a young woman. This is the reason why such travel is superfluous and the Orient should be forbidden as a place of residence for a decent woman:

I don't see how such travel, executed on camels in desert countries and among Arabs, could contribute to forming the heart and soul of these young women destined to live in another hemisphere, in the middle of a completely different society or civilization, nor help them to become obsequious girls, faithful wives or good mothers. (Belgiojoso 1858: 316 f)7

In her book, Les mystères de l'Egypte, Olympe Audouard (1830–1890) compares Egyptian women to slaves, "living closed up in their prisons, unable to read or write, ignorant of the world and its conventions [...] they are females, and not women" (Audouard 1865: 425)8. Female here means the female animal. Taken at the human level, this word devalues the persons to which it is assigned. Female means: only following one's sexual instincts. Olympe Audouard accuses foreign women of the same prejudices – the woman is determined primarily by her biology and possesses no reason: a concept with which the fathers of the Enlightenment, such as Diderot and Rousseau, prejudiced European women.

In her book, A travers le monde: la vie orientale – la vie créole, Adèle Hommaire de Hell (1815–1883), who accompanied her husband – a geologist and famous engineer – across Russia, Persia and Turkey, concludes that:

[...] here [in the harem, N. U.] all my illusions vanished to make way for true astonishment. What a miserable and vulgar reality availed my eyes. What a blanket of icy water doused my white heated curiosity. [...] As regards Oriental luxury; it was conspicuous in its absence. Instead of gold and silk cloth [...] I saw only Indian clothing and Indian covers etc. I saw the slave, and not the slave garlanded with flowers. [...] I left the place with a heavy heart, furious about this Turkey where our sex plays such a pitiful role. (Hommaire de Hell 1870: 55–60)9

Pitying the women of the harem, she concludes: "We, their sisters of the Occident, we have to pity them and we have to forcefully demand that they quit their state of moral degradation [...]". (Hommaire de Hell 1870, 63)10

PhiN 15/2001: 85

Marie d'Ujfalvy-Bourdon (born 1845), another assistant to her husband, formulates in her book, De Paris à Samarkand. Impressions de voyage d'une Parisienne: "The condition of women in the Orient is truly lamentable; condemned by polygamy to be nothing more than an instrument of man's pleasure." (Ujfalvy-Bourdon 1880: 56)11

Fig. 4. Valérie de Gasparin, 1852

And the tireless woman traveler and moralist Valérie de Gasparin (1813–1894) writes in her story, A Constantinople: "[...] it is an absolute lack of gaiety, it is a monotony of sadness, it is an unconscious obsequiousness, yesterday, tomorrow, for ever, and I assure you that my heart was heavy with pity." (Gasparin 1867: 334–335)12

This list of quotations could be continued as you like. What has to be emphasized is that, instead of demonstrating solidarity with Oriental women, the woman traveler underlines the difference. Cultural differences are constructed as opposites, often to the detriment of the foreign women. The harem descriptions function to prove their cultural backwardness and anachronistic domestication. By despising Oriental women, women travelers have contributed to the propagation of prejudices and stereotypes. Not only their colonial background, but also their own departure makes demonstrating solidarity with the foreign woman very difficult.

PhiN 15/2001: 86

This extreme reduction in status of the Oriental woman also indicates a defensive reaction from the side of the woman traveler. In the Orient, European women encounter a form of life from which they have just managed to distance themselves with some effort: the woman traveler reencounters her own problems of emancipation. The woman of the Occident comes from a culture which traditionally applies the intérieur as a static space. Having been freed from this system of axes through travel, the European woman meets «her own Other» in the harem.

I conclude that women travelers of the 19th Century are to be found in an extraordinary relationship of opposites: on the one hand, the liberation of roles in response to discrimination, and on the other, colonial thinking due to their privileged status.

Women travelers of the desert and their perception of the Other woman

I would now like to pass on to women travelers of the 20th Century, that is the traveler of the desert. Whereas the desert as a symbol represents a place of liberty, of solitude, of marginality, and a place free of conventions, the harem represented a foreign but yet familiar place at the same time. This exile, chosen freely by women travelers, could be interpreted as a flight from the patriarchal norm. The desert is a place predestined for dreams of departure, and for new beginnings. Hélène Cixous confirms these observations: "The approach to oneself passes through a place where the external super-ego, where the world [...] is diminished, where you only have your super-ego for yourself." (Collin 1976: 17)13 Julia Kristeva's expressions 'the symbolic' and 'the semiotic' also show that every woman is placed at the border of symbolic order. The desert becomes a place of refuge, of asylum and exile all at the same time. It is also a place of experiential extremes, a loss of orientation, which is typical for the modern individual. In other words, the subject of a mythical return to the roots, to a pre-civilization, is discovered here: "The desert is non-civilization, negation, lack of progress; [...]. The idea of civilization creates the idea of the desert as its negative projection, as its necessary contrast". (Henry 1984: 434–435)14

At the end of the 20th Century, the hunt for the last bastions of retreat of the pre-modern requires an ever larger degree of effort (see Wolfzettel 1986: 37). At the "end of the voyage" (Jean Baudrillard), Africa, and in particular the desert, emerges – after the Orient – as the quintessential image of anti-civilization. The vacuum of the desert particularly serves as a projection of the sufferings and desires of the soul. The experience of the "end of the world" (Paul Virilio) is transformed into the conclusive travel experience here.

According to the opinion of most women travelers, the women of the desert dispose of an extraordinary authority and a liberty greater than the women of the harem. In their eyes, nomadic women are approaching a hypothetical society which is known as matriarchy. Having destroyed the image of the exotic Oriental woman, the woman traveler creates a new and contrasting image of the nomadic woman as the self-determining woman. Is this a new ideal of female liberation? Do we transfer our dreams and utopias onto other societies?

PhiN 15/2001: 87

Fig. 5. Madame Pommerol

Madame Jean Pommerol, who spent two years with the women of the Sahara at the turn of the century, treats them all with condescension, except for the Tuareg women: "Tuareg women are much freer then their companions from other tribes". (Néron 1899: 1)15 Pommerol writes in her report, Une femme chez les Sahariennes:

The Tuareg woman enjoys great independence and influence. She goes out alone on a dromedary through the immensities of the desert. She is admitted to the councils, she benefits from the powers of her husband as the chief if she is widowed. Furthermore, the Tuareg system of heritage is passed down through the woman; one becomes heir through one's uncle and not through one's father[...] Are we ever sure to be the son of the latter? (Pommerol 1902: 312)16

The distribution of the gender role is apparently in opposition to the usual concept of the sexes. The Targia or Targuïya17 woman does not wear a veil but simply a shawl. The veil covering the face belongs to men's clothing.

[...] Tuareg women [...] appear to possess the intelligent element in this country. They can all read whereas their husbands remain in complete ignorance. They are free to go out without covering their faces; the men remain veiled and very rarely agree to show their faces. [...] these women are very happy [...] They do little work, only spinning and weaving when it is needed for their household. The men sew and wash. (Néron 1899: 1)18

The feminist Hubertine Auclert who accompanied her husband to Algeria over four years summarizes in her book, Les femmes arabes en Algérie: "The traditions of the matriarchy have been conserved with the Tuareg. [...] the child always follows the blood-line of the mother. A formulation of their traditional laws states that 'It is the belly that colors the child'." (Auclert 1900: 100)19

PhiN 15/2001: 88

Fig. 6. The Wauthiers

And the pilot Magdeleine Wauthier, who crossed the Sahara with her husband in the thirties, comes to the conclusion in her report, 40 000 kilomètres dans le ciel d'Afrique that: "In this matriarchal country, the descent follows the line of the mothers and grandmothers. The woman disposes of a liberty and prestige which cannot be found in any other country of Europe or Asia." (Wauthier 1936: 36)20

For the traveler Marie-Louise Lédé, the Hoggar21 is not only the "cradle of humanity" (Lédé 1954: 154)22, but also "the most feminist country [...] which gives women a predominant influence in all fields of politics, literature and social matters" (Lédé 1954: 133).23 This humanism is based principally on the transmission of the female influence. The Targia bears a great social responsibility by watching over traditional values: "All those who know the Tuareg and who have studied their customs state unanimously: 'Over there, the women are the ones who govern'." (Lédé 1954: 133)24 Isolated from her own civilization, far away from the frequented tracks and the military posts, the Tuareg women make her feel at home:

PhiN 15/2001: 89

In fact, I don't feel like a stranger at all in their society. And, humbly dodging under their tent, I encounter a relationship of the heart which, wherever we go in the world, brings human beings closer to each other through the common experience of parts of joy and grief. (Lédé 1954: 135)25

With the Tuareg, Marie-Louise Lédé encounters the self-sufficient woman: "[...] she has the right to change her lover like she changes her sandals." (Lédé 1954: 132)26 This means that over there, Lédé comes across flexible relationships of couples who come together and then separate again: "In principle, a woman does not have to remain faithful except for when she is married. Furthermore, she has the right to retain a servant who may console her in case of her husband's absence, and who discreetly retires on her husband's return." (Lédé 1954: 132)27

Evidently, jealousy with the Tuareg – as is the case in the Occident28 – is rather a problem for men, because "a Targui has no right to show jealousy. If he is lovesick, he goes out into the desert and sings of his pain. In comparable cases, civilized men make a scene; the barbaric Tuareg make poetry" (Lédé 1954: 195).29 Furthermore, women control the question of fertility. Marie-Louise Lédé is impressed by "that superiority, that reversal of roles" (Lédé 1954: 133)30 and by "this sensation of tenderness and security that the feminine presence brings everywhere" (Lédé 1954: 115).31

How can we explain the strong social position of the Targia? The Islamic influence was much more important in the cities; Islam was forced to integrate pre-Islamic traditions in the villages and among the people of the Sahara. With regard to the Tuareg, it has to be mentioned that they do not form a nation or a homogenous ethnicity. The Tuareg are cattle owning nomads and belong to the linguistic community of the Berbers. Their social rank has always been transmitted through a matriarchy. Patriarchal tendencies, even with the Tuareg, have been reinforced through the adoption of Islam. But it has to be remembered that the colonial empire has strongly contributed to the nomads' decline. In spite of the fact that Islamization, colonialism and capitalism have reduced the power of the Tuareg, and especially that of the women, some spheres of influence still practice pre-colonial and pre-Islamic traditions.

To summarize: the hypothesis that the Tuareg live in an "matriarchal original" appears to be the idea contradicting the dogma of female submission represented by the women of the harem. Travel in the desert is reminiscent of a search for a "new starting point". The desert and its women inhabitants express their desire for a totally new beginning, for a utopia. In the Eighties, two female German ethnologists – A la recherche d'un matriarcat perdu – formulated this in the following manner, while living for a certain time in West Sumatra:

PhiN 15/2001: 90

Far away from home, we hoped to find something that is missing in our culture: the extraordinary position of the woman in society: respect, influence, equality – maybe predominance – the opposite of our circumstances. (Metje/Mesterharm 1988: 71)32

Beyond the self-confirming presumption concerning failing female self-consciousness or its opposite, the romanticization of earlier matriarchal cultures, it is important to record the fact that, both travelling as well as traveled women retain a plural identity. An identity which is determined by power structures, ethnic membership, class, history and gender. Neither the Oriental woman, nor the Orient itself can be expressed in monolithic terms. It is time to stop instrumentalizing them as objects of external normative discourse.



Theodore Galle: "America", Copperplate by Johannes Stradanus, late 16th Century. Figure from: Sabine Schülting: Wilde Frauen, fremde Welten. Kolonialisierungsgeschichten aus Amerika, Reinbek bei Hamburg: Rowohlt, 1997.


Heinrich Bünting: "Europa prima pars terrae in forma virginis", 1588. Figure from: Annegret Pelz: Reisen durch die eigene Fremde. Reiseliteratur von Frauen als autogeographische Schriften, Köln/Weimar/Wien: Böhlau, 1993.


Cristina de Belgiojoso 1858:, ca. 1836, Pastel by Vincent Vidal. Figure from: Brombert, Beth Archer: La Princesse Belgiojoso 1858: ou l'engagement romantique, Paris: Albin Michel 1989.


Valérie de Gasparin, 1852. Figure from: Barbey Boissier, Caroline: La Comtesse Agénor de Gasparin et sa famille, vol. I., Paris: Plon, 1902.


Madame Pommerol. Figure from: Pommerol, Mme Jean: Une femme chez les Sahariennes, Paris: Flammarion, 1900.


The Wauthiers. Figure from: Wauthier, Magdeleine: 40.000 kilomètres dans le ciel d'Afrique. Paris: Plon, 1936.



Auclert, Hubertine (1900). Les femmes arabes en Algerie. Paris: Société d'Edition Littéraires.

Audouard, Olympe (1865): Les mystères de l'Egypte dévoilés. Paris: E. Dentu.

Belgiojoso, Cristina de (1858): Asie Mineure et Syrie. Souvenirs de Voyages. Paris: M. Lévy.

Collin, Françoise (1976): "Quelques questions à Hélène Cixous", in: Les cahiers du GRIF, 13 (October): 16–20.

PhiN 15/2001: 91

Flaubert, Gustave (1972): Flaubert in Egypte.New York: Penguin.

Flaubert, Gustave (1973): Voyage en Orient, in: Œuvres complètes, Tome X. Paris: Club de l'Hônnete Homme, 431–614.

Gasparin, Valérie de (1867): À Constantinople. Paris: M. Lévy.

Henry, Jean-Robert(1984): "Romans sahariens et imaginaire français", in: Baduel, Pierre-Robert, ed. Enjeux sahariens. Paris: Ed. du CNRS, 423–440.

Hommaire de Hell, Adèle (1870): A travers le monde: la vie orientale – la vie créole. Paris: Didier et Cie.

Lazreg, Marnia (1988): "Feminism and Difference: The Perils of Writing as a Woman on Women in Algeria", in: Feminist Studies 14, 1: 81–107.

Lédé, Marie-Louise (1954): Seule avec les Touareg du Hoggar. Paris: A. Bonne.

Mathieu, Nicole-Claude(1985): "Quand céder n'est pas consentir", in: Mathieu, Nicole-Claude, ed. L'arraisonnement des femmes. Essais en anthropologie des sexes. Paris: Ed. de l'École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, 169–237.

Metje, Ute/Mesterharm, Susanne (1988): "Der Traum vom Matriarchat. Begegnung mit den Minangkabau-Frauen in West-Sumatra", in: Dörfler, Annelie et al., eds. ...dazwischen liegen Welten... Frauenstudienvorhaben in Afrika, Asien und Lateinamerika. Saarbrücken/Fort Lauderdale: Breitenbach, 59–72.

Néron, Marie-Louise (1899): "Une exploratrice. Madame Jean Pommerol", in: La Fronde, 7 novembre.

Pelz, Annegret (1993): Reisen durch die eigene Fremde. Reiseliteratur von Frauen als autogeographische Schriften. Köln/Weimar/Wien: Böhlau.

Pommerol, Mme Jean (1902): Une femme chez les Sahariennes. Paris: Flammarion. [1900]

Said, Edward W. (1995): Orientalism. London: Penguin Books. [1978]

Schülting, Sabine (1997): Wilde Frauen, fremde Welten. Kolonialisierungsgeschichten aus Amerika. Reinbek: Rowohlt.

Shohat, Ella (1991) "Gender and Culture of Empire: Toward a Feminist Ethnography of the Cinema." Quarterly Review of Film and Video 13, 45–84.

Ujfalvy-Bourdon, Marie de (1880): De Paris à Samarkand. Impressions de voyage d'une Parisienne. Paris: Hachette.

PhiN 15/2001: 92

Wauthier, Magdeleine. 40.000 kilomètres dans le ciel d'Afrique. Paris: Plon, 1936.

Weigel, Sigrid (1990): Topographien der Geschlechter. Kulturgeschichtliche Studien zur Literatur. Reinbek: Rowohlt.

Wolfzettel, Friedrich (1986): Ce désir de vagabondage cosmopolite. Wege und Entwicklung des französischen Reiseberichts im 19. Jahrhundert. Tübingen: Niemeyer.


1 Quel bonheur d'échapper au prosaïsme de la vie habituelle [...].

2 Ruchiouk-Hânem est une grande et splendide créature, plus blanche qu'une Arabe, elle est de Damas; sa peau, surtout du corps, est un peu cafétée. Quand elle s'asseoit de côté, elle a des bourrelets de bronze sur ses flancs. Ses yeux sont noirs et démesurés, ses sourcils noirs, ses narines fendues, larges épaules solides, seins abondants, pomme. [...] Elle a une incisive d'en haut, côté droit, qui commence à se gâter. [...] Après une baisade des plus violentes, elle s'endort la main entrecroisée dans la mienne, elle ronfle; [...]. Sensations de son ventre sur mes couilles, la motte plus chaude que le ventre me chauffait comme un fer. [...] Quelle douceur ce serait pour l'orgueuil si, en partant, on était sûr de laisser un souvenir, et qu'elle pensera à vous plus qu'aux autres, que vous resterez en son cœur! (Flaubert 1973: 487ff.)

3 C'est l'Autre qui regarde l'Autre. C'est aussi l'Autre qui se voit dans l'Autre, qui s'identifie à l'Autre. C'est encore l'Autre qui rejette sa propre image, c'est le miroir brisé, c'est l'être opprimé qui opprime en retour.

4 Je détruis peut-être quelques illusions en parlant avec aussi peu de respect des harems. Nous avons lu des descriptions dans les Mille et une Nuits et autres contes orientaux; on nous a dit que ces lieux sont le séjour de la beauté et des amours: nous sommes autorisés à croire que les descriptions écrites, quoique exagérées et embellies, sont pourtant fondées sur la réalité, et que c'est dans ces mystérieuses retraites que l'on doit trouver rassemblées toutes les merveilles du luxe, de l'art, de la magnificence et de la volupté. Que nous voilà loin de la vérité! Imaginez des murs noircis et crevassés, des plafonds en bois fendus par places et recouverts de poussière et de toiles d'araignées, des sophas déchirés et gras, des portières en lambeaux, des traces de chandelle et d'huile partout. Lorsque j'entrais pour la première fois dans ces charmants réduits, j'en étais choquée; mais les maîtresses de la maison ne s'en apercevaient pas. Leur personne est à l'avenant.

5 [...] immonde atmosphère du harem.

6 Les miroirs étant fort rares dans le pays, les femmes s'affublent à l'aventure d'oripeaux dont elles ne peuvent apprécier le bizarre effet. Elles piquent force épingles en diamant et en pierreries sur des mouchoirs de coton imprimé qu'elles roulent autour de leur tête. Rien n'est moins soigné que leurs cheveux, et les très-grandes dames qui ont habité la capitale ont seules des peignes. Quant au fard multicolore dont elles font un usage immodéré, elles ne peuvent en régler la distribution qu'en s'aidant réciproquement de leurs conseils, et comme les femmes qui habitent la même maison sont autant de rivales, elles encouragent volontiers les unes chez les autres les plus grotesques enluminures. Elles se mettent du vermillon sur les lèvres, du rouge sur les joues, sur les nez, sur le front et sur le menton, du blanc à l'aventure et comme remplissage, du bleu autour des yeux et sous le nez.

7 Je ne vois pas comment un pareil voyage, exécuté sur des chameaux dans des pays déserts et parmi des Arabes, pouvait contribuer à former le cœur et l'esprit de ces jeunes femmes, destinées à vivre dans un autre hémisphère, au milieu d'une société ou d'une civilisation aussi différentes, ni les aider à devenir filles soumises, épouses fidèles ou mères sages.

8 [...] vivant enfermées dans leur prison, ne sachant ni lire ni écrire, rien du monde, de ses conventions [...] ce sont des femelles, et non des femmes.

PhiN 15/2001: 93

9 Mais là [dans le harem, N.U.] toutes mes illusions s'envolèrent pour faire place à une véritable stupéfaction. Quelle mesquine et vulgaire réalité apparut à mes yeux! Quelle douche d'eau glacée jetée sur ma curiosité chauffée presqu'à blanc. [...] Quant au luxe oriental, il brillait totalement par son absence, au lieu d'étoffes d'or et de soie, [...] je ne voyais que des vêtements d'indienne, des couvertures d'indienne, etc. [...] Là, je voyais l'esclave, non l'esclave couronnée de fleurs. [...] Je sortis de là le cœur serré, furieuse contre cette Turquie où notre sexe joue un si pitoyable rôle.

10 Nous, leurs sœurs d'Occident, nous devons les plaindre et souhaiter vivement qu'elles sortent de l'état de dégradation morale [...].

11 La condition de la femme en Orient est vraiment lamentable: condamnée par la polygamie à n'être qu'un instrument de plaisir de l'homme.

12 [...] c'est une absence totale de gaieté, c'est une monotonie de tristesse, c'est une soumission inconsciente, hier, demain, toujours, et je vous assure que le cœur me fond de pitié.

13 L'approche de soi, ça passe justement par un lieu où le surmoi extérieur, le monde [...] est atténué, où tu n'as que ton surmoi à toi.

14 Le désert, c'est la non-civilisation, la négation, le manque du progrès; [...]. L'idée de civilisation suscite celle de désert comme sa projection en négatif, comme son contraire nécessaire.

15 Les femmes Touaregs [sic] sont beaucoup plus libres que leurs compagnes des autres tribus.

16 La Targuïya jouit d'une indépendance et d'une influence fort grandes. Elle s'en va seule, à dos de méhari, dans les immensités du Désert. Elle est admise aux conseils, elle bénéficie du pouvoir de son mari comme chef, si elle devient veuve. D'ailleurs l'héritage chez les Touareg se transmet par les femmes; on y est l'hoir de son oncle, non de son père[...] Est-on jamais sûr en effet d'être fils de ce dernier?

17 The masculine singular form is Targi.

18 [...] les femmes touaregs [sic] [...] semblent détenir l'élément intelligent du pays. Elles savent toutes lire cependant que leurs maris restent dans une complète ignorance. Elles sortent librement sans se couvrir le visage; les hommes sont voilés et ne consentent que très rarement à montrer leurs traits. [...] ces femmes-là sont fort heureuses [...] Elles travaillent peu, ne filant et tissant que pour les besoins de leur ménage. Les hommes cousent et lavent.

19 Les traditions du matriarcat se sont conservées parmi les Touareg. [...] l'enfant suit toujours le sang de sa mère. 'C'est le ventre qui teint l'enfant' dit une formule de leur droit traditionnel.

20 Dans ce pays de matriarcat, la descendance se compte par les mères et les aïeules. La femme jouit d'une liberté et possède un prestige que l'on ne trouve en aucun autre pays d'Europe ou d'Asie.

21 A large mountainous desert region in the South East of Algeria.

22 [...] le berceau de l'humanité.

23 [...] le pays le plus foncièrement féministe [...] qui donne aux femmes une influence prépondérante dans tous les domaines, politique, littéraire et social.

24 Tous ceux qui connaissant les Touareg et qui ont étudié leurs mœurs, disent invariablement: 'Là-bas, ce sont les femmes qui dirigent'.

PhiN 15/2001: 94

25 D'ailleurs, je ne me sens nullement dépaysée en leur société. Et, humblement accroupie sous leur tente, je retrouve auprès d'elles cette éternelle parenté des cœurs qui, où que nous allions sur la terre, rapproche les êtres par leur commune part de bonheur et de souffrance.

26 [...] elle a le droit de changer d'amant comme elle change de sandales.

27 Une femme ne doit, en principe, être fidèle que lorsqu'elle est mariée. Encore a-t-elle le droit de conserver auprès d'elle un chevalier servant qui la console en l'absence de son mari, et qui s'efface discrètement dès le retour de celui-ci.

28 I think for example of Shakespeares Othello, Schillers Kabale und Liebe or Büchners Woyzeck.

29 [...] [u]n Targui n'a pas le droit de se montrer jaloux. Quand il a des chagrins d'amour, il prend le désert et il chante sa peine. En pareil cas, les civilisés font des drames: les Barbares touareg font des poésies.

30 [...] cette suprématie, ce renversement des rôles.

31 [...] cette sensation de douceur et de sécurité qu'apporte partout la présence féminine.

32 Weit weg von zu Hause hoffen wir das zu finden, was uns unsere eigene Kultur vorenthält, die besondere Stellung der Frau in der Gesellschaft, Respekt, Einfluß, Gleichberechtigung – vielleicht sogar Vorherrschaft – die Umkehrung unserer Verhältnisse.