Adivar, Halide Edib (c. 1884–1964)

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Adivar, Halide Edib (c. 1884–1964)

Turkish author, warrior, and political activist. Name variations: Halide Salih, Halidé Edip or Edib; Mrs. H.E. Adivar. Born in 1883 or 1884 in Istanbul (then Constantinople); died in Istanbul, Turkey, on January 9, 1964; daughter of Mehmet Edib or Edip; first Muslim Turkish girl to graduate from the American Girls' College; married Salih Zeki (a noted mathematician; divorced); married Dr. Abdülhak Adnan Adivar (1881–1955), in 1917; children: two sons.

Her many novels attacked the traditional concept of a woman's role; an ardent nationalist, Adivar was outspoken in her attacks against the Allied forces occupying Istanbul and risked her life to defy them; joined the nationalist movement of national rebirth led by Mustafa Kemal Pasha (later Kemal Atatürk); commissioned a sergeant major by Atatürk himself; served on the General Staff and then participated directly at the front lines when the Greeks made their illfated attack on the infant Turkish Republic (1922); banished from Turkey because of their outspoken notions of individual liberty, Adivar and her husband moved abroad (1920s); returned to Turkey (1938) and continued to write novels and plays; many motion pictures and novels are based on her life.

Selected writings:

Doktor Abdulhak Adnan Adivar (Istanbul: A. Halit Yasaroglu, 1956); Memoirs of Halidé Edib (NY: Arno Press, 1972); Shirt of Flame (NY: Duffield, 1924); The Turkish Ordeal: Being the Further Memoirs of Halide Edib (New York and London: Century, 1928); The Clown and His Daughter (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1935); The Daughter of Smyrna: A Story of the Rise of Modern Turkey (Lahore: Dar-ül Kutup Islamica, 1940); Masks or Souls? (London: Allen and Unwin, 1953); Turkey Faces West (NY: Arno Press, 1973); The Conflict of East and West in Turkey (Lahore: Sh. M. Ashraf, 1963).

Halide Adivar was born into a family of minor government officials in Istanbul in 1884. Her father Mehmet Edib was employed by the French-administered Ottoman Tobacco Monopoly (Régie des Tabacs) in the Turkish-controlled Greek town of Joannina. Mehmet Edib was an unusually progressive Turkish parent for his day and age, and he believed that his daughter deserved as fine an education as her obvious intellectual gifts would allow. An excellent student, she was admitted to the American Girls' College at Uskudar (Scutari), graduating in 1901 as the first Muslim Turkish girl to complete that institution's course requirements. A perfect command of English allowed her to keep in touch with the most advanced ideas of the time, and in later years she wrote the first version of several of her most important books in that language.

In Adivar's day, the Ottoman Empire was undergoing a difficult process of reform, which included rethinking the role of women, and a small but growing number of females from the elite strata of society were exposed to Western ideas and ideals of emancipation. Determined to continue her education, Halide took courses privately with a number of tutors. She married one of them, the noted mathematician Salih Zeki , and gave birth to two sons. This marriage was not a success, and she eventually left her husband. Later she fell in love with a physician, Dr. Abdülhak Adnan Adivar (1881–1955), who was not only interested in medicine but in literature and politics as well. They married in 1917 when the Ottoman Empire was in its final crisis of dissolution. The Adivars led a full life raising children, writing books and essays, and engaging in nationalist politics.

In her first novels, particularly Seviyye Talib (1909), Handan (1912) and Son eseri (Her Last Act, 1912), Adivar successfully created female characters whose strong, positive personalities forever changed the landscape of modern Turkish literature. These were heroines and role models for the new women in the society proclaimed by the revolutionary Young Turks. Her 1910 novel Raik'in annesi (Raik's Mother) was a pioneering attack on traditional patriarchal Ottoman society, listing the sufferings endured by women. Adivar's thinking was mixed with nationalism and sometimes gave the impression of being illiberal. A number of fiercely nationalistic Pan-Turanian ideals made their appearance in her novel The New Turan (1912). During these formative years, Adivar was profoundly influenced by the ideas of the Turkish nationalist social philosopher and poet Mehmet Zia Gökalp (c. 1875–1924), who argued that the Ottoman Empire had to undergo a profound transformation in order to survive in a highly competitive world of national states. Adivar subscribed to Gökalp's notion that only drastic changes could enable Turkish civilization to survive and retain the core of its unique history. With its argument that strong cultural and historical ties between peoples of common Turkic ancestry justified the creation of an imperial state even larger than the already existing Ottoman Empire, Gökalp's concept of Pan-Turanianism also influenced Adivar.

When Turkey entered World War I as a German and Austro-Hungarian ally in the fall of 1914, Halide Adivar was a well-known writer. During the war years, she founded orphanages and taught in girls' schools in the Lebanese and Syrian provinces of the Ottoman Empire. When Turkey was defeated, she and her husband were determined to help their nation rise from the ashes of humiliation in 1918. The Allied forces occupied Istanbul in early 1919, and both the Adivars were listed on an arrest warrant issued by General Sir Charles Harington, the British commandant, because of "subversive" nationalist activities.

With superb oratorical talents, Adivar spread the nationalistic gospel at countless mass rallies in and around the capital city, infuriating the occupying powers. Utterly indifferent to the death sentence decreed against her, she became the life and soul of massive anti-Allied street demonstrations before the mosques of Sultan Ahmet and Fatih. Such outpourings of anger frightened and frustrated the Allied forces. When her activities threatened her life, she fled the city disguised as an Armenian servant to join her husband in the new Nationalist capital city of Ankara in Anatolia. Here, the Adivars joined the movement of national rebirth led by Mustafa Kemal Pasha (later Kemal Atatürk). While her husband served as the new regime's first minister of Health and Social Assistance, Halide chose to defend the newborn Turkish state in the most direct manner possible. A physically fearless woman, a keen equestrian, and a fine shot, she was commissioned a sergeant major by Atatürk himself, serving for a time on the General Staff and on the front lines when the Greeks made their ill-fated attack on the infant Turkish Republic in 1922.

The victory of the Turkish Nationalists and the proclamation of a republic in 1923 quickly revealed deep divisions within the revolutionary camp. Principled intellectuals like Adivar and her husband discovered they were frozen out of power and seriously threatened both politically and personally. Atatürk and his power-oriented lieutenants scoffed at the Adivars' notion that the new state should be based on multi-party government and freedom of expression. When their own faction, the Republican Progressive Party, was driven out of the public arena, the Adivars decided to move abroad to join a rapidly growing circle of banished intellectuals in 1924.

Adivar and her husband found refuge in France, where both taught for almost a decade at the School of Oriental Languages in Paris. Throughout these years, she wrote with great determination, hoping to bring the essence of Turkish civilization to a growing number of non-Oriental readers. The Adivars also gave lectures in the British Isles and the United States, where they taught in 1931–32 at Columbia University. Halide Adivar's international reputation was well established by the 1930s, and she took advantage of her fame in 1935 by traveling to India, where she gave lectures at the major universities. The years of banishment were busy ones, and she wrote a significant number of novels, historical works and autobiographical statements, many of which appeared in translation. By the time her best-known novel, The Clown and His Daughter, was written in English and published in London in 1935, she had become a writer of international stature (the author's own translation of this work into Turkish did not appear in print until 1938 under the title Sinekli bakkal [The Fly-Ridden Grocery Store]). Her strongly evocative novel became a bestseller in Turkey and was immediately recognized as a major literary achievement. Few were surprised in 1942 when its author was awarded the first State Prize for the Turkish Novel. The Clown and His Daughter was planned as the first section of an epic trilogy surveying life in Turkey in the final decades of the Ottoman Empire. The volume scrutinized the human drama of everyday life and individual personalities in an Istanbul neighborhood during the reign of Sultan Abdul-Hamid II (1842–1918). Critics universally praised the work for its rich evocation of swirling life and cultural clashes in the terminal, decadent phase of the Ottoman state.

After Kemal Atatürk died in November 1938, his successor, Ismet Inönu, was less dogmatic on matters of literary and intellectual freedom, so a number of exiled intellectuals, including the Adivars, returned home in 1939 to find that the political atmosphere, while by no means ideal, had moderated considerably. Halide was appointed professor of English language and literature at the University of Istanbul, while her husband accepted the post of editor-in-chief of the Islamic Encyclopedia. Her teaching duties left Adivar sufficient leisure to continue to write, and she published books and articles to the end of her life. Deeply interested in all aspects of English literature since her earliest days as a writer, Adivar spent the 1940s writing a three-volume history of English literature. She also was responsible for translations into Turkish of Shakespeare's As You Like It and Coriolanus. Throughout her long writing career, she showed remarkable versatility, for example producing in 1918 an opera libretto Kenan çobanlari (The Shepherds of Canaan). Her only play Maske ve ruh, published in Turkey in 1945, appeared in her own English adaptation in 1953 under the title Masks or Souls; this highly imaginative philosophical allegory presented on stage such diverse personalities as Shakespeare, Tamerlane, and Ibn Khaldun.

In the last years of her life, Halide Adivar continued to write and teach, but she was also involved in political life, serving in parliament from 1950 to 1954 as the delegate of the Republican People's Party from Izmir. She retired after the death of her husband in 1955 and concentrated on her writing. Adivar lived long enough to witness the first stages of a strong revival of interest in her writings, which had for a period been neglected by the Turkish reading public because of what some felt were their overly intricate plots and stylistic infelicities. By the 1990s, almost a dozen films based on her novels and stories had been released in Turkey. Halide Edib Adivar died in Istanbul on January 9, 1964. Among the many tributes, the words of The Times of London perhaps best summed up the essence of a remarkable public life and artistic career: "She was a woman in whom passion and intellect were remarkably blended."


Barlas, H. Ugurol. Halide Edip Adivar: Biyografya—bibliografya. Istanbul: Yurttas yayinlari, 1963.

Blakemore, Grace. "Turkish Women Step Forward," in Social Science. Vol. 6, no. 3. July 1931, pp. 299–303.

Edip, Halide. "Women's Part in Turkey's Progress," in Open Court. Vol. 46, 1932, pp. 343–360.

Harris, George Sellers. The Origins of Communism in Turkey. Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace, 1967.

"Mrs. H.E. Adivar, Turkish Writer and Woman of Action," in The Times [London]. January 15, 1964, p. 15.

Tatarli, Ibrahim. "Les grandes étapes dans l'évolution créative de Halide Edip Adivar," in Études Balkaniques. Vol. 20, no. 2, 1984, pp. 15–40.

John Haag , Associate Professor of History, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia