Thursday, January 3, 2013

Death Of Srpouhi Dussap - January 3, 1901

Srpouhi Dussap was a pioneering Armenian feminist and the first Armenian female novelist. She was born Srpouhi Vahanian in 1842 to a well-to-do Armenian Catholic family in Constantinople. Her brother Hovhannes (1832-1891) had an important career in the Ottoman administration (he was Minister of Justice from 1876-1877).
Srpouhi Vahanian lost her father when she was a young child and grew under the care of her mother, Nazli Arzoumanian, a very well-educated woman. Her daughter also received a good education in French institutions. She developed little interest in the Armenian language until she was put under the tutoring of the famous poet Meguerdich Beshigtashlian (1828-1868). Afterwards, she started her literary career, writing her first pieces in classical Armenian. 

Srpouhi Vahanian-Dussap married a French musician, Paul Dussap. Together they operated a literary salon in the European style, where prominent intellectuals, writers, and public activists would gather to discuss social, political, and literary issues. 

Srpouhi Dussap worked tirelessly for the emancipation of women. She attacked traditional patriarchal structures and male oppression, that were rampant even in the more cultured and cosmopolitan capital of the Ottoman Empire. She worked for the Armenian Women’s School Society and secured funds from local banks, theatrical performances and other sources.

Dussap’s first work of fiction, Mayda (1878), written in the form of an epistolary novel,became an event. It sold hundreds of copies in a few weeks. Despite its glaring flaws that were criticized by her contemporaries, the novel marked a turning point in Armenian literature for its advocacy of women’s rights. Her next novels, Siranoush (1884) and Araxi (1888), did not generate the same level of controversy, but they marked further developments in her thought.

She abandoned writing after her third novel because of her ill health, but continued her charitable and educational labor. However, personal tragedy struck her in 1892. After her return to Constantinople following a two-year sojourn in France, her young daughter died of tuberculosis. She retreated to religious mysticism, hoping to communicate with her dead daughter’s spirit, and also burnt most of her archives. At the time of her death, she had already become a recognized name and poet Zabel Asadour (Sibil, 1863-1934) and novelist Zabel Essayan (1878-1942) were already following the path she had opened.