This book explores harems all over the world, focusing on the celebrated Seraglio of Turkey's Topkapi Palace as a paradigm for all. We are shown the slave market and boudoirs of sultans, the daily routines of the odalisques - their baths, clothes ...
and appetites - and the peculiar lives of the eunuchs who guarded and controlled them; all this alongside the splendour and depravity of the sultans, masters of the harem, whose rule was absolute. The author also looks at the polygamous households of ordinary Middle Eastern families. She looks at their marital customs, child-rearing, medical practices, superstitions and the expression of desire and jealousy. Finally, the book portrays how this Eastern institution invaded the Victorian imagination in the form of decoration, costume and art, and how Western ideas, in turn, came to erode a system that seemed all-powerful. The text is illustrated with Orientalist paintings, Turkish woodcuts and miniatures.