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Modernism: The Creation of Nation-States

Ahmet Ersoy
Maciej Górny
Vangelis Kechriotis

Chapter II. Self-determination, democratization, and the homogenizing state

The life of one year. Letters from an Athenian to a Parisian lady, 1896–97

Kalliroi Parren
Traduction de Mary Kitroeff

Texte intégral

1Title: Zωή έvóς ἔτoυς,. ’Eπτoτoλαί ’Aθηvαίας πρός Пαρτσvήv, 1896–97 (The life of one year. Letters from an Athenian to a Parisian lady 1896-97)

2Originally published: Ἀθήvα, έκ τoῦ τυпoγραϕείoυ Пαρασκευα Λεώvη, 1897

3Language: Greek
The excerpts used are from the original, pp. 342–345.

About the author

4Kalliroi Siganou-Parren [1861, Rethimnon (the island of Crete) – 1938, Athens]: journalist and activist. She received her primary education in the Nuns’ school in Piraeus, and later studied at the Arsakion school, a model school for girls in Athens. Upon her graduation, in 1878, she was invited to run the Greek girls’ school in Odessa. Two years later, in 1880, she returned to Athens, where she married the Constaninopolitan journalist John Parren, the founder of the Athenian News Agency. Her activity began in 1887, with the publication of the ’Eϕημερίς τῶv Kvρῶv (Journal of ladies), the first Greek newspaper published by women and targeting women. The first issue sold as many as 7.000 copies in a capital of 65.000 inhabitants. The newspaper was published until 1917, when Parren was exiled by Eleftherios Venizelos’s government to the island of Hydra due to her pro-monarchical loyalties. As part of her feminist activity, Parren represented Greek women in international conferences for the rights of women in Paris (1889, 1891, 1896 and 1914) and in Chicago (1893). At the same time, she played a prominent role at the creation of charity foundations. Between 1890 and 1896, she founded a Sunday school as well as asylums for poor girls. In 1896, she founded the Ἔvϖσίς ‘Eλληvίδωv (Greek women’s union) and in 1911, the Λὐκειον ‘Eλληvίδωv (Lyceum of Greek women), which, even to this day, is a significant center of cultural activity. In 1897, upon Parren’s appeal, prime minister Theodoros Deligiannis (1820–1905) approved the acceptance of women into universities. Later, it was due to her intervention that the first female medical doctor was appointed. In 1900, through another appeal, she achieved state protection over children’s and women’s working conditions. In 1894, she addressed prime minister Harilaos Trikoupis (1832–1896) with the request that women should also be given the right to vote. However, this time her appeals went unheeded and women were not enfranchised until 1951. Apart from her social and political activity, she devoted much of her time to writing. Kalliroi Parren was the first major figure of the feminist movement in Greece. She managed to incorporate women’s claims for emancipation to the nationalist discourse of the time. This activity prepared the conditions for a socially-oriented movement and its eventual detachment from the nationalist discourse, especially in the inter-war period. Parren and her peers are recognized in recent feminist literature as the pioneers of women’s emancipation in modern Greek society.

5Main works: ‘H ίστoρία τῆς γυvαικóς [The history of woman] (1889); Zωή έvóς ἕτoυς,. Eπιoτoλαί ‘Aθηvαίας πρός Пαρισιvήv, 1896–97 [The life of one year. Letters from an Athenian to a Parisian lady 1896–97] (1897); Tἁ βιβλíα τῆς Aὐvγῆς [The books of the dawn] (1900); Ή χειραϕετημέvη [The emancipated] (1900); Tó vέov συμβóλαιov [The novel contract] (1901); ∑χoλεῖov τῆς Ἀσπασίας [Aspasia’s school] (1909).


6In the last decade of the nineteenth century, Greek society witnessed an increasing wave of fervent nationalism. Both the proliferation of Bulgarian activity in Ottoman Macedonia and the devastating effect of Harilaos Trik-oupis’s resignation in 1893, accompanied by bankruptcy in the public finances, led to the emergence of a radicalized nationalist discourse. This discourse mainly exalted the military potential of the nation, while underestimating and denigrating the enemy. At the same time, it saw a direct connection with the heroic achievements of the Greek Revolution (1821–29), the goals of which, allegedly, had not yet been accomplished. These sentiments culminated with the first Olympic Games, which were held in Athens in 1896, after the initiative of Pierre de Coubertin and the guidance of the director of the organizing committee, Dimitrios Vikelas (1835–1908).

7Many nationalist societies were created at this period, moved by and articulating the rising nationalist sentiment. The most important was the Ἐθνική Ἐταιρεία (National society) founded in 1888. In 1897, the ‘National Society’ gathered funds and recruited troops in order to be sent to the island of Crete in support of another in a long series of uprisings. Mobilized by such activities, a large part of the Greek society was eager to be engaged in a war with the Ottomans. The war was finally declared; it lasted for thirty days and resulted in a catastrophe. The bitter defeat of the Greek army and the advance of the Ottomans constituted a traumatic experience, which turned patriotic enthusiasm into a feeling of national disaster.

8This ‘unfortunate’ war, though, gave the opportunity to a group of women, already politically active, to claim a significant role in the public sphere. The 1880s had already witnessed the appearance of a movement for equal rights for men and women. This movement was supported by educated women of the middle class who developed, as it has been pointed out, a ‘feminist’ consciousness. This consciousness gained public support in 1887 with the publication of a weekly feminist review, the ‘Eϕημείρς τῶv Kυριῶv (Journal of ladies), edited exclusively by women. The review constituted a forum for debate on female issues and the elaboration of a new female identity.

9At the same time, the review supported nationalist activity. During the Greek-Ottoman war of 1897, together with the ‘Union of Greek Women,’ founded in 1896, again by Kalliroi Parren, the review initiated an international campaign which mobilized a large number of women. Thus, the war of 1897 gave Parren and her peers the opportunity to prove that women should not live in isolation, but could efficiently claim their role in the public sphere. These women shared with men of their class both patriotic ardor and the basic assumptions of nationalist ideology. They utilized the arguments of nationalism in order to be fully integrated into the national body. Moreover, through their activity in fields which had been always denied to them, they would claim for themselves legitimacy in the public domain as they delivered services to the nation. The most efficient way to make the male population share their views was the employment of the well-known metaphor of the nation as a large family which needed the motherly care of women. Thus, women presented their contribution as indispensable. At the same time, appeals to patriotism allowed them to consolidate their networks and establish new ones. This would constitute the basis for the development of the women’s movement in the decades to come. The defeat of 1897 rendered their task of rehabilitating the nation even more urgent. In an atmosphere of despair and self-reflection, Parren attributed the military incapacity of men to women’s ignorance of how to “raise patriots worthy of their glorious national heritage.” Women were now urged to become “better Hellenic mothers of Hellenic men” and to raise their children according to pure Hellenic (that is, ancient Greek) traditions.

10In the series of letters written in 1896–97 and published under the title ‘The life of one year. Letters from an Athenian to a Parisian lady 1896–97,’ Parren sought to reinforce the morale of women who had sought her advice. In her view, Greek women held a large part of the responsibility for the defeat. They were destined to refashion themselves as mothers of Hellenic sons. However, Parren believed that especially those who came to Greece from abroad were not able to give to their offspring a Hellenic national education since they had a cosmopolitan background. They betrayed their nation by demonstrating an attachment to foreign life styles. This attitude proved not only that the Hellenes were a small nation, but also a diseased one, since they could not develop their own model of education, but always needed to imitate some foreign model. Therefore, Parren concluded that, in order for this diseased nation to become healthy again, to gain some respect and survive, it had to undergo a cultural purification.

11Apart from the apparent organicist discourse, very popular in many contemporary accounts, what is striking here is that the Greek nation is described as one among the younger nations, a claim that departs from the widely accepted norm of strong historical continuity. The modernist tenets of such texts have recently attracted the attention of scholars working on women’s studies and nationalism as well as feminism.


The life of one year. Letters from an Athenian to a Parisian lady, 1896–97

13All of you [women who lived and grew up in foreign but civilized lands and who came to live here either gradually or shortly after the liberation of our country] are very much answerable for the frivolity with which Greek women in general have undertaken our creative work in the well-nigh anti-patriotic upbringing we give our children, who are coddled and frail, speak foreign tongues, are slaves to all things foreign and are taught in foreign ways. Do not knit your brow, I beg you, and do not blush and do not protest and do not prepare to hurl my letters into the waste paper basket. You and all the utterly Europeanized Greek women ought to listen to me for a little in order to be convinced that I am not wholly in the wrong and to no longer think that you are wholly without responsibility, wholly without sin regarding the evils, the misfortunes, and the calamities of our Nation.

14Your mothers and grandmothers, that is to say, the first who came here immediately following our national independence and who, having lived in civilized, Europeanized, free countries, ought to have constituted an example to be emulated by our uncivilized women, proceeded to do what? What school of education did they create by their private life? What type of upbringing did they present to our women to be emulated? What national life did they create? These supposedly evolved and educated [women], who ought to have known the great history of our recent past and the wonderful battle of the Titans waged by their fathers, proceeded to found their homes on what groundwork of national life? Did they come as Hellenes or as cosmopolitan women? Did they come as patriots or as foreigners, with foreign principles, foreign ideas, foreign feelings, foreign manners and customs, with a foreign language?

15This, of course, was natural because one always familiarizes oneself with one’s environment, but what did they do gradually, little by little in order for their mores and their life and their actions and the education of their children to be Hellenic? Did they even love this land? Did they appreciate the virtues of their fraternal people? Did they reinforce the decent seeds which existed within its nature? And if one assumes that at that time, the women here, being uncivilized, could not attract their affection, what did the later generations do, what did contemporary women do, what are the women still living abroad doing?

16Do not expect me to tell you. I will let the facts and the numbers speak. Do you know what the Greeks in the cities of Romania numbered during our liberation? How many were to be found in the cities of Russia, how many in Marseille and all the commercial cities of Europe? Thousands; many thousands. And nowadays those in most of these cities number in the hundreds or dozens only. And this is not because a famine, the plague or cholera decimated them, but because, little by little, they changed language and nationality and homeland and became Romanians and Russians and Frenchmen and Englishmen and cosmopolitans!

17They changed language. Here is the first injury against our nation. He who easily changes his language, even more easily changes his feelings. And language is propagated, taught, created and formed by us women. Language is the first interpreter of our feelings, of our love, of our tenderness towards our children. It is our strongest tie, after nourishment, which we give them. It is the basis and the groundwork of our national life. It is the be all and end all of the patriotic ideal.

18This language, whether it is good or bad, demotic or archaic, scholarly or natural, this valuable ark of our national prestige, this priceless heritage, which is entrusted by the Nation to women, what did women do with it? How did they preserve it and how did they propagate it?

19Do I need to say it? Is it not enough for one to listen, not only to Greek families living abroad, but here, in the streets, the squares, the halls, listen to the Greek women and Greek children of so-called high society, and together with them the middle and even the lower classes?

20And is there a nation, I wonder, is there a people anywhere in the world which has committed such a great national treason as that which we have committed? Which among us women who have traveled extensively and lived in foreign lands can say that she came across this phenomenon of speaking foreign languages in even the most cosmopolitan of foreign lands? Did any of us ever hear a French woman deny her language in order to speak English, or English women French, or Italian women German, or German women Russian? Has enslavement to all things foreign nowadays reached the point in any other country which it has reached in ours?

21And as for these foreigners, these Europeans, these objects of our admiration and adoration, these heroes of our salons, these civilized, raffiné folk whom we copy in our afternoon habits and our greetings with our elbows turned up and our rough Rs, and our monocles and our children’s governesses; with whom did they join forces, whom do they side with today, against whom did they turn the deadly bombshells of their fleets and the murderous weapons and the strategic plans of their generals?

22Against us, their admirers, because they felt us to be small and weak; because we have always underestimated ourselves, and they have become used to holding us in contempt; because in our political actions we were proved mostly blundering; because we did not have the strength and the self-confidence which young nations usually have, nations which are well organized and firmly educated and healthily developed, in order to fearlessly confront dangers and to aim at their own elevation and to work towards their future.

23And the ones responsible to a large extent, I tell you again, are us women. It is finally time for us to recover, to shed our old selves, to become more Hellenic, and especially to become more the mothers of Hellenic men, true champions of the homeland, men worthy of the name which they bear.


Mary Kitroeff (Traducteur)

© Central European University Press, 2010

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