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Sarah Wheat // “The Turk­ish ‘Co­sey’ Corner: The Amer­ican New Wo­man’s Exotic Ima­gin­ary”

“The Turkish ‘Cosey’ Corner: The American New Woman’s Exotic Imaginary”

This lecture will take an in depth look at the interior design fad known as the “Turkish cosey corner” that became popular in late nineteenth century America. Regularly termed “Turkish coseys” or “Turkish nooks,” these spaces were often marketed in interior design magazines and professional journals as a solitary space of relaxation for the woman who is unable to travel. It has been argued that the popularity of cosey corners “helped make exotic interiors seem specifically feminine.”[1] The lecture examines the fantastical, Orientalizing trend as a space that did work for late nineteenth century women to explore and construct a self through selective appropriation of the ‘Other.’ Through conceptualizing the Turkish cosey as the conscious insertion of the “not here” into the banal space of the everyday home, the nook fulfills and defies Foucault’s notion of “heterotopia.” That is a space that, through its normative design, reveals the illusory quality of real space and location, thus arriving at a break with societal norms. Just as the Turkish cosey reached peak popularity in the 1890s, a transitional moment between the stuffy and dark Victorian home and an interest in comfortable, modern interiors, it also corresponds with the emergence of the New Woman. As Carroll Smith-Rosenberg writes, the nineteenth century woman “fought in the name of a higher female virtue,” while the “New Woman'' of the twentieth century wanted to be “as successful, as political, as sexual as men.” I demonstrate how the cosey corner thus stages negotiations of identity, gender, and space within the bourgeois private home through an amalgamation of objects representing distant cultures in space and time.

 


[1] Kristin Hoganson, “Cosmopolitan Domesticity: Importing the American Dream, 1865-1920,” The American Historical Review 107, no. 1 (February 2002): 72.

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