Jelena Dimitrijević

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For the Serbian footballer, see Jelena Dimitrijević (footballer).

Jelena Dimitrijević (1862–1945) was a short story writer, novelist, poet, traveller, social worker, feminist, and a polyglot.


She was born in Kruševac on 27 March 1862, and featured as a prominent Serbian writer of the late 19th- and early 20th-century. She taught herself to speak French, English, Russian, Italian, Greek and Turkish.

Jelena Dimitrijević travelled widely, describing her experiences of Greece, India, Egypt and America in a series of books. She devoted her energies in quite early life (1881–1898) to the study of Muslim women, and published in 1897 her Pisma iz Niša o haremima. The principal feature of Dimitrijević's erudition was the vastness of the field which it embraced. She was involved in humaniterian and educational work for women, and the main focus of her interest is the Muslim women she met in southern Serbia and Salonica.

Among her achievements were gaining an understanding of the lives of Turkish women, including access to the private world of the harem, and undertaking a journey round the world in her sixities. Such portraits are valuable counter to the narrow conceptions of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century feminism which see it firmly rooted in north-west Europe and North America. Her most important novel Nove (New Women); deals with the dilemmas facing educated Muslim women in the twentieth century in relation to their traditional way of life. For Nove Dimitrijevic won the prestigious Matica Srpska prize for literature in 1912.

She also wrote lyric poetry as well as novels, but is possibly most famous for her Pisma iz Nisa o Haremima / Letters from Niš Regarding Harems (1897), a semi-fictionalised, semi-historical, anthropological narrative containing portraits of life in the Turkish harems 50 years before her birth when the south-Serbian city of Niš was still a part of the Ottoman Empire, and Pisma iz Soluna / Letters from Salonica, a genuine travelogue from the Ottoman Empire during the Young Turk Revolution in 1908, of which Salonica was the centre. The Letters were published first in Srpski književni glasnik (Serbian Literary Review) in 1908-09, and then as a separate book in 1918 in Sarajevo.

She also wrote Pisma iz Indije / Letters from India in 1928, Pisma iz Misira / Letters from Egypt in 1929, and Novi svet ili u Americi godinu dana / The New World, alias: In America for a Year in 1934.

Along with Isidora Sekulić, Jelena Dimitrijević is one of the first feminist authors in Serbia. She died in Belgrade on 10 April 1945.



Jovan Skerlić, Istorija Nove Srpske Književnosti / A History of New Serbian Literature (Second Edition, 1921), page 476.