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“The Harem Revealed” and the Islamic-French Family

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“The Harem Revealed” and the Islamic-French Family: Aline de Lens and a French Woman’s Orient in Lyautey’s MoroccoEllen AmsterAbstract Aline Réveillaud de Lens (1881–1925) became a celebrated novelist, painter, patroness of native arts, and ethnographer during the French Protectorate in Morocco. The wife of a colonial officer, de Lens adopted Moroccan children and used them as ethnographic material for her orientalist novels. Her biography illustrates the culture of sociability between French colonials and Moroccans created by Resident General Hubert Lyautey’s military protectorate government (1912–25) and the paradox of Lyautey’s “respect” for Muslim culture. Unlike other women visitors to the harem (Edith Wharton, Lady Drummond Hay, Mary Wortley Montague, et al.), de Lens claimed to be a demi-musulmane herself and attempted to create a Franco-Muslim female social world and family. The simultaneity of her private journal and public art reveals the relationship between a woman’s lived reality in French North Africa and the production of orientalist fantasy. De Lens may have created a “woman’s Orient,” but it was one particular to herself.The Frenchwoman Aline Réveillaud de Lens created several careers for herself in French Protectorate Morocco between 1913 and 1925. She was a celebrated novelist, painter of the harems, patroness of the native arts, and woman ethnographer, adopting as well several Moroc-can children and transforming their lives into orientalist novels, Derri-ère les vieux murs en ruines (1922), L’étrange aventure d’Aguida (1925), and Le harem entr’ouvert (1920). In these novels written as “personal journals,” de Lens represents herself as a “demi-musulmane” living the magic of The Thousand and One Nights. Unlike the travel accounts by female Anglophone visitors to the harem (Edith Wharton, Lady Drummond Hay, Mary Wortley Montagu, et al.), de Lens claimed to enter harem society and become a Franco-Islamic composite herself. So “infinitely real” was the Morocco of her writing that Marcel Prévost speculated French Historical Studies, Vol. 32, No. 2 (Spring 2009) DOI 10.1215/00161071-2008-020Copyright 2009 by Society for French Historical StudiesEllen Amster is assistant professor of Middle East history at the University of Wisconsin, Milwau-kee. Her forthcoming book is tentatively titled Medicine and the Saints: Science, Islam, and the Colonial Encounter in Morocco, 1877–1956. This article was completed with research support from the Chateaubriand Grant Program, the Social Science Research Council, the Fulbright-Hayes Program, and the American Institute for Maghrib Studies. Many thanks to Laird Boswell, Suzanne Desan, Tom Kselman, Lou Roberts, Julius Ruff, and graduate history students at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, for thought-ful comments on earlier drafts of this article. Thanks also to Daniel Sherman of the Center for Twenty-First-Century Studies at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, and to the anonymous reviewers of French Historical Studies for thorough critical commentary.280 FRENCH HISTORICAL STUDIESthat “A. de Lens” must be a Moroccan “lady” become French by educa-tion.1 De Lens created herself as a character in her orientalist fantasies, an attempt to construct her subjectivity through orientalist discourse. De Lens’s career reflects the unique opportunities created for women by the policies of Resident General Hubert Lyautey (1912–25). In colonial Algeria, which became three départments of the French Republic after 1871, the law segregated French citizens from Muslims.2 Jeanne Bowlan has argued that this legal apartheid translated to a social hierarchy of French and Muslim womanhood.3 As Ann Laura Stoler has demonstrated, European women often constituted a bound-ary between colonizer and colonized. In colonial Indochina, European women functioned as barriers in miscegenation laws, urban segrega-tion, styles of dress, and the household economy.4 By contrast, the French Residence in Morocco (Résidence de la République Française au Maroc) was a protectorate government; Lyautey thus depended on informal relationships with Moroccan elites to formulate policy. He encouraged a culture of Franco-Moroccan sociability; colonial officers dined with Moroccan officials as their wives entertained the women of the harems. The home of Aline Réveillaud de Lens and André Réveil-laud was an intercultural salon of Moroccan ministers, Young Fassi nationalists, and French artists and dignitaries. In French Morocco the home served as a meeting place of French and native elites and as an incubator of French colonial policy. The style of rule in French Morocco opened a greater field of action for European women than that available to them in British India or French Algeria. As Hamid Irbouh has argued, the Protector-ate executed native beaux arts and education policies through French women.5 Lyautey enlisted French women as informal agents to circum-vent the legal limits of the Protectorate, for women could enter Mus-lim homes officially forbidden to the colonial state.6 Franciscan nuns 1 Marcel Prévost, preface to L’étrange aventure d’Aguida, by Aline de Lens (Paris, 1925), i–viii. See also Prévost, “La vraie romancière du Maroc: Aline de Lens,” La revue de France, June 15, 1925, 706–9.2 E.g., David Prochaska, Making Algeria French: Colonialism in Bône, 1870–1920 (Cambridge, 1990). See also Patricia M. E. Lorcin, Imperial Identities: Stereotyping, Prejudice, and Race in Colonial Algeria (London, 1995).3 Jeanne M. Bowlan, “Civilizing Gender Relations in Algeria: The Paradoxical Case of Marie Bugéja, 1919–1939,” in Domesticating the Empire: Race, Gender, and Family Life in French and Dutch Colo-nialism, ed. Julia Clancy-Smith and Frances Gouda (Charlottesville, VA, 1998), 175–92.4 Ann Laura Stoler, Carnal Knowledge and Imperial Power: Race and the Intimate in Colonial Rule (Berkeley, CA, 2002).5 Hamid Irbouh, “Women’s Vocational Schools: The French Organise the Feminine Milieu,” in Art in the Service of Colonialism: French Art Education in Morocco, 1912–1956 (London, 2005), 107–32.6 Ellen Amster, Medicine and the Saints: Science, Islam, and the Colonial Encounter in Morocco, 1877–1956 (Austin, TX, forthcoming).FRENCH


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