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158 GJIKA, Elena (Elena Ghica, pen-name DORA D’ISTRIA) (1828?–1888?) Romanian writer of Albanian descent, known in Romania as Elena Ghica and throughout Europe under her pen-name of ‘Dora d’Istria.’ Campaigner for national minorities in the Habsburg Empire and for the cause of women’s equality. Elena Gjika was probably born on 28 February 1828. While some of her biographers give Bucharest or Constanta (a city on the Black Sea, currently in Romania ) as her birthplace, in the first volume of her book Les femmes en Orient, published in Zurich in 1859, Elena includes a letter to one of her friends in which she writes: “I was born on the shores of South Albania, not far from the Suli mountains, in the city of Parga, whose misfortunes, after the fall of Napoleon, concerned the whole of Europe. My dear Parga, which for centuries had not seen the half-moon [i.e. the Ottoman Empire] above her walls, Parga was surrendered to the merciless Vezir [?] of Janina, Ali Pasha, who had long been attacking this Christian city” (Vehbi Bala 1967, 18). The aristocratic Gjikas, like the Lupujt and Dukajt families, were of Albanian origin and had settled in Wallachia and Moldavia. From 1835 until 1842, Elena’s father, Mihail Gjika (1792–1850), was Minister of Interior Affairs for Wallachia in Bucharest, and during this period his brother, Aleksander Gjika, was ruler of Wallachia. Mihail was a well-known collector of antiques who left a considerable heritage to the Bucharest Museum of Antiquities. Elena’s mother, Katerina, was a knowledgeable woman who passed on her outstanding literary skills to her daughter. From childhood, Elena received instruction from the Macedonian philosopher and psychologist Grigor Papadhopulli and Elena became known for her intelligence (as well as for her beauty). Around 1841, she emigrated for political reasons to Vienna, Berlin and Dresden with her father and her uncle. A little later, she translated Homer’s Illiad from Greek into German. While abroad, she was instructed in the fine arts by Cikareli, Persiani, Ronkonin and Balfa, and took classes with Papadhopulli. Later, she studied painting with Felice Skavioni, who painted a beautiful portrait of her (as did Adolf Salmoni). According to the French Larousse Encyclopedia, “Princess Elena had excellent knowledge of Italian, French, English, 159 Romanian, Greek, Latin, Russian and Albanian” (Larousse 1870, 6: 1107). Some biographers have compared Elena Gjika with three well-known French authors: namely Madame de Staël, George Sand and the Countess Marie d’Agoult. By 1876, when the latter two passed away, Elena had reached the height of her fame. It was around this time that Prince Carl I of Romania awarded her the Bene merenti, an honor awarded exclusively to outstanding and learned individuals, which had never before been awarded to a woman. At the age of twenty, Elena married the Russian Prince Alexander Masalsky (also Massalsky and Koltzoff-Massalsky, d. around 1855). In St Petersburg, where she spent some of her married years, she participated in an exhibition of Fine Arts, winning a silver prize. Around 1855, she gave birth to a son. Not long thereafter, her husband died and she left St Petersburg for Belgium. After the death of her child (date unknown ), she went to Switzerland, where on 13 June 1855, she climbed the Monch/ Jungfrau mountain, later recording the experience in “La Suisse Allemande et l’ascension du Monch.” In 1857, she published a collection of Romanian oral literature, La literature roumaine–chants et recits populaires (Romanian literature, folk songs and poetry), establishing herself as one of the first researchers of Romanian folklore. She also published her travel impressions in various journals, including L’Illustration (Illustration) in Paris and Le Jour (The day) in Trieste. An “ardent champion of the rights of nationalities” (Davenport Adams 1906, 46), Dora d’Istria defended the independence of all nations and their democratic development . She was against absolute monarchy and supported intense collaboration between nations in the cultural field. Inspired by these philosophical ideas, she wrote on the different peoples of Southeastern Europe on the basis of their oral folklore, and promoted their right to national independence and free development. On 15 March 1859, she published a study called “La nationalité roumaine d’après les chants populaires ” (The Romanian nationality according to folk songs) in the well-known Paris magazine Revue des deux Mondes. It was the beginning of a series of seven articles written over a period of fourteen years on the different...


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