Constantinople and the Saint-Simonian Search for the Female Messiah: A Travel Account from 1833
The early years of the July monarchy, established in France in 1830, were marked by a social, religious, and political awakening. The “aristocratic Messiah,” Claude-Henri de Saint-Simon, had already drawn up plans for the reconstruction of society after the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars, plans which were now being reconsidered and revised by his disciples. The “woman question” became since 1829/30 a central issue of this Saint-Simonian renewal of society. The idea of the “Rehabilitation of the Flesh” and the emancipation of women culminated in obsessive fantasies about the imminent arrival of a “female Messiah.”
With the increase of Prosper Enfantin’s authority within the Saint-Simonian “Church”, as they defined themselves, the enthusiasm concerning the imaginary Priestess also augmented. Enfantin came to be adored as “the new Jesus” and simultaneously the Saint-Simonian search for the High Priestess transformed, in Spring 1832, into a call for “the Woman-Messiah”. This religious fervour reached its high point when the social position of the group was irrevocably compromised and the authorities sealed the Saint-Simonian commune in the 2nd Arrondissement in Paris on January 22nd, 1832.
During Enfantin’s one year imprisonment his adepts continued to propound the mission of their leader as well as to evoke the figure of the female Saviour who was now considered by believers to be located in the near Orient. The female Messiah, an embodiment of the Orient and “daughter of Israel”, provided the Saint-Simonians with the impulse to undertake the journey to the Orient, and inspired a search, over many years (1833-1837), from Egypt to “Constantinople”, that never came to fruition.
In my contribution I concentrate on the Saint-Simonian journey to Istanbul in 1833, analysing the historical entanglements between real and imaginary encounter with the Orient and the female element the Saint-Simonians were searching for.
Keywords: 19th Century History, Saint-Simonism, Gender History, Orientalism
Dr. Paola Ferruta
Researcher, History Department, University of Bielefeld