Women Travelers as Consumers: Adoption of Modern Ideas and Practices in 19th-Century Southeast Europe

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Women, Consumption, and the Circulation of Ideas in South-Eastern Europe, 17th-19th Centuries

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The epigraph to this chapter is an excerpt from a letter written in 1862 by the Bulgarian philanthropist and activist lordanka Filaretova (1843- 1915), the wife of a Russian civil servant, before travelling to Constantinople (Istanbul). She addressed a friend who had already visited the city and described to her its splendours. The quote captures the prospects of spatial mobility that opened to educated middle-class women and their responsiveness to such new opportunities. Women's travel in the 19th century was still quite limited with the exception of teachers, pilgrims, Greek diaspora women, some merchants' wives, and the spouses of new professionals, such as engineers and doctors. Filaretova's later trips and deeds in the Ottoman Empire and Russia certified her keenness to adopt new ideas. For instance, after living in Constantinople between 1862-1867, she moved back to Sofia where she was among the initiators of a women's society.

This chapter explores various case studies of women travellers who traversed the Ottoman Empire, the Balkan states, Russia, and other European countries in the course of the long 19th century. It also pays attention to ways of adopting and disseminating material objects, services, and ideas as part of diverse consumption practices. I suggest that women's physical mobility, a form of consumerism in its own right, not only exposed them to different lifestyles, but also offered them novel ways of constructing gender and class identity. Both travel and consumption were intimately related to the market and women's exposure to the expanding commodification of culture (with an emphasis on progress) fostered a cultivation of new modem sensibilities and secular perceptions.


Chapter 8.



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