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The Sensible Apostle of Woman Emancipation.
second half of the nineteenth century was an era of reconstruction for the newly
established, independent Greek State.
In the midst of the multiple
practical problems which were confronting it, the modern Greek nation was also
enmeshed in a process of redefining modern Hellenism by a two-directional
course: to westernize its culture and, at the same time, find its fundamental
Greekness in local customs and mores. In
the same period of time, the irredentist ideology of Megali Idea, the liberation
of the still enslaved Greek territories beyond the borders of the free country,
was formulated, gradually becoming part of the consciousness of the nation. The
woman question, which raised the feminist awareness of the Greek society toward
the end of the nineteenth century, was intertwined with the country's ongoing
struggle to define its ethnicity and secure its national viability.
Within this socio-historical context,
Callirrhoe Parren (1859-1940),
born Siganou in the small
Cretan village of Platania
in the Rethymnon Prefecture, became
the first successful female reporter and editor of the Efimeris ton Kyrion
(Ladies’ Newspaper) for thirty years (1887-1917), and the acknowledged leader of
the feminist movement in Greece at
the turn of the nineteenth century.
the pressure of developments of national importance, such as the annexation of
Eastern Romulia by Bulgaria in September 1885, which displaced about two million
Greeks, and the continuous terrorization and bulgarization of the Greek
populations in Macedonia and Thrace, the new ethnic demands to shape and
strengthen Greek identity, both within and beyond the national borders of the
country, became even
stronger felt from the end of
the 1980s onward. Greek intellectual leaders realized the important role women
could play, as mothers and school-teachers
in the process of identity building. Cultural discussions began promoting a new
messianic role for Greek women. Thus, toward the end of the 1880s, women began
being considered as the cornerstones of the country's ethnic/national
regeneration. They were praised as the depository of Greek
traditional values and as fundamental agents in the passing on of the Greek
language to future generations. Their role as active agents in the formation of
ethnic identity was emphasized and promoted.
Literature began reflecting this new role of women as achievers of national ideals while Palamas, the greatest poet of her times, who was among the most fervent supporters of women, acknowledged the importance of their ethnic role in several of his poems. It is worth remembering Poem #95 in “Ekato Fones” of Asalefti Zoe (Still Life), dedicated to Callirrhoe Parren and published in The Ladies' Newspaper (May 23, 1904), which illustrates this new tendency:
Hail, Woman, You, Athena, Maria, Helen, Eve'.
time has come. Try your beautiful wings and rise
as you are weightless and slave no more,
toward the future holy land first,
prepare the new life, you, weaver of the new joy
then, embrace, lift and take there the male,
create, you, o Love, the original harmony,
Beauty, you, Wisdom, Persuasion and Virginity.
to the new social demands,
women all over the country began organizing "Ladies
Associations" which addressed practical problems in Greek society whereas
young teachers dared teach Greek School in the occupied territories under harsh
conditions, often risking their own lives.
It is not accidental that Callirrhoe Parren, a qualified teacher herself, who
had taught in Odessa and Adrianopolis for a few years, chose that time to start
the publication of The Ladies'
Newspaper (Efimeris ton Kyrion), which became the forum for promoting
social change and feminist positions for thirty years (1887-1917). Parren was
among the leading figures who engaged in the "woman-question"
discussions that pushed Greek society towards a feminist awareness at the turn
nineteenth century. Through
her weekly, she mobilized women and organized fundraisers to support the
philanthropic institutions she and her collaborators founded. In 1911, Parren
founded the Lyceum of Greek Women for the preservation and promotion of Greek
national dances, an institution, which is still active.
Greek women at International Women's Conferences (Paris/1889, Chicago/1893,
etc), and fighting for their rights to education and the work place at home,
Parren decided to fictionalize her vision of the “new woman.” To this end,
between 1900 and 1903, she wrote three novels, which comprise a trilogy on
"the woman question." She cleverly combined the "messianic"
role women were expected to play in Greek society with the traits of the “new
woman” in the heroines of her trilogy, appropriately named “The Books of
Dawn.” The trilogy was followed by a play, based on the first two novels of
the trilogy and named The New Woman, which was performed in Athens (1907), Kairo
(1908) and Constantinople (1910). There followed another three novels, all
dealing with the “new-woman” expectations of young women within Greek
society. Entitled Without
a Name, (1905-06), The
withered Lily (1907-10), The
White Rose (1915-17), the three novels, along with short stories,
travelogues and history works, were all serialized in the Ladies’ Newspaper.
Prof. Anastasopoulou’s book gives a sweeping view of Parren’s times, her life and works.
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Last renewal:: 13-07-2003 .