Dreams of Trespass: Tales of a Harem Girlhood

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Dreams of Trespass: Tales of a Harem Girlhood
Dreams of Trespass - Tales of a Harem Girlhood.jpg
Author Fatima Mernissi
Country Morocco
Language English
Genre Memoir
Publisher Perseus Books
Publication date
Media type Print (Hardcover and Paperback)
Pages 242 (paperback edition)
ISBN 0-201-48937-6 (paperback edition)

Dreams of Trespass: Tales of a Harem Girlhood is a memoir by Fatima Mernissi (in the US, its original title was The Harem Within: Tales of a Moroccan Girlhood; this is still the UK title[1]). It describes her youth in a Moroccan harem during the 1940s and brings up topics such as Islamic feminism, Arab nationalism, French colonialism and the clash between the traditional and the modern. It is a fictional work, although this fact is only noted in the French version, not the English.[2]

Plot summary[edit]

The memoir details a fictive account of Mernissi's childhood and adolescence in a traditional harem in Fez, Morocco during the 1940s and early 1950s. The protagonist narrates her childhood at both the traditional, walled harem in Fez and the equally traditional but geographically open harem belonging to her grandfather, in the countryside.

Of particular concern for Mernissi and her cousin Samir is the definition of adult concepts—throughout the memoir, they are constantly discussing the nature of the harem, of hudud (sacred frontiers), questions of truth versus convenience, and the growing tension between French colonial forces and Moroccan nationalists.



  • Uncle Ali: Mernissi's uncle and her father's oldest brother
  • Father: Mernissi's father, the younger of the two brothers who live in the harem
  • Lalla Radia: the narrator's aunt
  • Mother: Fatima Mernissi's mother, an outspoken feminist and opponent of harem life
  • Lalla Mani: Mernissi's paternal grandmother, an extremely conservative, traditional matriarch
  • Cousin Samir: Mernissi's male cousin, born just a few hours before her. He is a constant companion throughout childhood
  • Cousin Chama: Mernissi's other cousin, a natural performer and storyteller
  • Aunt Habiba: a divorced aunt who lives near the terrace of the Fez harem, who possesses great tenderness and storytelling skill
  • Cousin Malika: Mernissi's manipulative older cousin
  • Ahmed: the hired doorkeeper, whose job it is to ensure that none of the women leave the harem without permission
  • Mina: a harem slave whose story of captivity inspires Mernissi to bravery
  • Lalla Tam: Mernissi's exacting Koranic school instructor; one of the few individuals in the story who are not members of the harem

The Harem in the Countryside[edit]

  • Yasmina: Mernissi's affectionate, rebellious maternal grandmother.
  • Lalla Thor: The "first wife" of Mernissi's grandfather; (Tazi) who alienates herself from the other wives through her wealth and haughtiness.
  • Tamou: a warrior and widow from the Atlas Mountains (An Amazigh), whose family (Father, Husband, and a young Son and Daughter) were killed while combatting Spanish occupation. Mernissi's grandfather Tazi shelters and marries her, and she and Yasmina eventually become friends.
  • Yaya: a wife from Sudan, who suffers from homesickness until Yasmina and Tamou find and plant a banana tree for her.


  1. ^ http://www.mernissi.net/books/books/dreams_of_trespass.html
  2. ^ Bourget, Carine. "Complicity with Orientalism in Third-World Women's Writing: Fatima Mernissi's Fictive Memoirs." Research in African Literatures 44.3 (2013): 30-49. ProQuest. 18 Feb. 2014 .