Ottoman Literature

Ottoman Literature

Ottoman Literature, the lack of faith in traditional literary models that had emerged in the late 18th century took a drastic new turn for the generation that experienced the Tanzimat reforms, which began in 1839 and aimed to modernise the Ottoman state under the influence of European ideas.

The most radical new voice was that of Ibrahim Şinasi, who studied in France and then returned to Constantinople for several years, during which time he founded the newspaper Tasvir-i Efkar (‘Description of Ideas’). He continued to work as a journalist and translator, and also became the first modern Ottoman playwright with Şair evlenmesi (1859; The Wedding of a Poet). At mid-century, the central literary conflict was between Şinasi and Leskofçali Galib Bey, and Şinasi succeeded in winning over both Ziya Paşa and Namık Kemal to the cause of modernisation.

Ziya Paşa had a successful career as a provincial governor, but in 1867 he fled to France, England and Switzerland, where he collaborated with Şinasi. In Geneva in 1870, Ziya Paşa wrote Zafername as a satire on the Grand Vizier Mehmed Emin Âli Paşa and as a general attack on the state of the empire. Written in classical language, it represents a significant modern development of the type of satire used by Vasif Enderunî in the previous generation. Ziya Paşa’s poetic anthology Harabat (1874; ‘Mystical Taverns’) is a thoughtful attempt to evaluate the Ottoman literary heritage and create a classical canon.

Namık Kemal took over the Tasvir-i Efkar newspaper when Şinasi fled to Paris in 1865, but in the late 1860s he left Turkey for London, where he edited the newspaper Hürriyet (‘Freedom’). He eventually turned to poetry and drama, usually with a strong nationalist and modernising message. His most famous play was Vatan; yahut, Silistre. Following the accession of Abdülhamid II as Sultan in 1876, Kemal spent most of the rest of his life in exile. The increasingly strict censorship during the reign of this sultan, which lasted until the Young Turk Revolution of 1908, limited the possibilities for the development of new Ottoman literature.

The novel appeared in Turkish in the late 19th century, most notably with the works of Ahmet Mithat, who published prolifically between 1875 and 1910. During Mithat’s lifetime, both fiction and poetry took on a strongly public, didactic orientation that would remain highly influential for many writers well into the 20th century.

Tevfik Fikret became an important literary voice of the late Ottoman era through his editorship of the literary journal Servet-i fünun and his leadership of the literary circle of the same name. His poetry shows a shift from the romanticism of his early works to social and political criticism after 1901. Abdülhak Hâmid’s career spanned the late Ottoman, Young Turk and early Republican periods. While maintaining a successful life as a civil servant and diplomat, he wrote poetry and plays in a style that mixed classical and journalistic effects.