Sculpture in the harem: ethnography in Felicia Skene's Wayfaring Sketches

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Felicia Skene’s account of her residence in Athens between 1838-1845, Wayfaring Sketches Among the Greek and the Turks (1847), was typical in its approach to Greece as a semi-antique landscape, abounding in silent ruins for the appreciation of an audience versed in the classics. However, Skene was interested in portrayed a Greece that had recently emerged from Ottoman rule and explored this through her description of a young Greek woman, Katinko, who serves as an allegory for Greece’s incomplete emergence out of the East and into Europe. Descriptions of Katinko posit her somewhere between an antique sculpture, and an orientalised slave. The attempt to historicise Katinko as a character, to understand her though a material historical context, offers one of the first sustained attempts by a British woman to describe a real Greek woman. While Katinko’s mother may have escaped a Turkish harem, the Orient continues to infect, or disrupt Skene’s vision of her as a paradigm of Hellenic beauty. This offers a crucial variation on the traditional harem travel narrative by women: penetrating the harem in this context is no longer literally gaining access to one, rather it is a metaphorical device to consign Greek women to an interstitial space between East and West.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationWomen Writing Greece
Subtitle of host publicationEssays on Hellenism, Orientalism and Travel
EditorsVassiliki Kolocotroni, Efterpi Mitsi
Place of PublicationAmsterdam
Number of pages16
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2008


  • Felicia Skene
  • Greek women
  • Greek literary representation


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