Halide Edib was a Turkish nationalist, feminist, author, educator, and member of parliament who lived during one of the most turbulent times in Turkish history, experiencing and contributing to the transformation from empire into nation in the early twentieth century. As a daughter of a social secretary of Sultan Abdülhamid II (1842–1918), she grew up in elite circles around the palace, getting the most premier education available. She was educated at home and also became, in 1901, one of the earliest graduates of the American College in Istanbul. She seemed to be destined for domestic life after her marriage to one of the most important scientists of the day, mathematician and astronomer Salih Zeki (1864–1921), but the Young Turk Revolution of 1908 led to the proliferation of print media. Her writing career was launched with the columns she wrote about women and education in journals and newspapers. Her first novels, Heyula (Ghost) and Raik'in Annesi (Raik's Mother), were published in 1909, to be followed in 1910 by Seviyye Talip, an eponymous novel named after its murderous heroine.
She divorced her husband in 1910 when he entered a second polygamous marriage (which was allowed by law at the time) and started a new life for herself with her two sons. She made a happy match in her second marriage to Dr. Adnan Adivar (1882–1955) in 1917. Her second husband was a fellow nationalist, the head of the Red Crescent and an adviser to Atatürk (1881–1938) during the period of the formation of the Turkish Republic, and a founder of the first Turkish communist party, Terakkiperver Cumhuriyet Firkasi, in 1924. He wrote the first comprehensive history of science in the Ottoman Empire.
Halide Edib had a productive writing career during which she wrote twenty-one novels, many short stories (later collected in four volumes), two plays, two memoirs, and several books of historical and literary analyses. She is one of the most important authors of the Turkish republican period who contributed to the development of realistic, psychological novels. She delves into questions of identity, gender, nationalism, religion, and history in her novels. Early novels such as Yeni Turan (The New Turan) in 1912, The Shirt of Flame in 1922, and Vurun Kahpeye (Strike the Harlot) in 1926 depict war periods, examining the concepts of Turkishness and patriotism. She was an influential contributor to the New History thesis, which was an intellectual project of redefining a new Turkish identity out of the heritage of an imperial Ottoman past.
In all of her novels, she presented strong, passionate women who grapple not only with social limitations placed on them, but also equally with the contradictory societal expectations that burden their lives. Her most widely known novel, Sinekli Bakkal (1936), which was originally written in English as The Clown and His Daughter, attempted to create a synthesis between Western and Eastern components of Turkish identity through the love story of its protagonists. Some of her other novels are: Kalp Agrisi (Heartache) in 1924 and its sequel Zeyno'nun Oglu (Zeyno's Son) in 1927, Yolpalas Cinayeti (The Yolpalas Murder) in 1938, Sonsuz Panayir (Endless Carnival) in 1946, Doner Ayna (Revolving Mirror) in 1954, Kerim Usta'nin Oglu (Kerim Usta's Son) in 1958, and Hayat Parcalari (Pieces of Life) in 1963.
Halide Edib traveled the world, working on educational projects in Syria and Lebanon, collaborating on pedagogical ideals and women's issues with Isabel Fry (1869–1958), teaching at Barnard College in New York in 1931 and lecturing in India in 1935. She presented her theoretical and historical analyses in Turkey Faces West (1930), Conflict of East and West in Turkey (1935), and Inside India (1937). She was a powerful public orator. Her Sultanahmet speech on June 6, 1919, following the invasions of Istanbul and Izmir by the Allied forces, became the emblem of public resistance to the occupation. She participated in the Turkish Independence War (1919–1922) as a public relations officer and nurse, earning the military ranks of corporal and sergeant. Political disagreements with Atatürk led to her half-voluntary exile with her husband Adnan Adivar from 1924 to 1939, during which time she lived in England and France, where she wrote respectively the first and second volumes of her memoirs: Memoirs of Halide Edib (1926) and The Turkish Ordeal (1928). Every aspect of her multifaceted life was extraordinary and larger than life. In the memoirs, which she originally wrote in English, she interweaves the various strands of her private and public experiences as a dual story of both her life and the birth of the Turkish nation, amply displaying her literary gifts. These memoirs not only trace the historical transition from the Ottoman Empire into Turkish nation from the pen of a witness and participant to this history, but also demonstrate a female writer's attempt to co-opt and redefine the genre of autobiography.
see also Atatürk, Mustafa Kemal.
Durakbasa, Ayse. Halide Edib: Türk modernlesmesi ve feminizm. Istanbul: Iletisim, 2000.
Erol, Sibel. "Introduction." In House With Wisteria: Memoirs of Halide Edib. Charlottesville, VA: Leopolis Press, 2003.
Kandiyoti, Deniz. "Slave Girls, Temptresses, and Comrades: Images of Women in the Turkish Novel." Feminist Issues 8 (1988): 33-50.