Halit Ziya Uşaklıgil was born in 1865, in Istanbul, to a family of prominent Ottoman merchants. He received French, mathematics, and philosophy lessons from distinguished tutors of his time. When family business deteriorated due to the Ottoman - Russian War of 1877 - 1878, he moved from Istanbul to Izmir, where he met new faces and familiarized himself with the world of literature. After 1884, he started writing in the Envar-ı Zekâ journal, and he began to publish Nevruz, the first literature journal of the province of Izmir. In 1893, he accepted the head clerk position in the Istanbul Régie Cointéréssée des Tabacs de l'Empire Ottoman (the Tobacco Authority), and he came back to his native city as a little-known man of letters. This position as a state official mainly involved translation tasks, and this gave him abundant opportunity to read, and to further develop himself. He had the additional benefit of mingling with the members of elite literature circles of Istanbul. His break came in 1983, as his story Canbaz Kız was published in the Servet-i Fünun journal. This story made him a famous writer, and he was received into the Servet-i Fünun community associated with the publication. Just like other authors of the period, Uşaklıgil’s works dealt with historical processes. Upon the publication of the novel Mai ve Siyah and the subsequent Aşk-ı Memnu, Uşaklıgil became known by the masses. These novels are still often reprinted today, and they have been adapted to the silver screen and television many times. They are arguably the best-known classics of Turkish literature and they accurately depict the period in the context of love stories. Hence, Uşaklıgil’s work reflects both romantic and realistic characteristics.

The novel Mai ve Siyah recounts the decline of a young poet’s life from a romantic state (symbolized by the color blue) into a depressive and sinister one (symbolized by the color black). The work is characterized by a coherent narrative structure and plot, and it is a novel in the true sense of the word. Uşaklıgil displays admirable aptitude in language use, his characters are lifelike, and he succeeds in realistically capturing Istanbul life in the 1890s. This novel is not only Uşaklıgil’s most outstanding work, but it also marks one of the turning points in the history of the Turkish novel. Mai ve Siyah is an excellent period novel, and it has ushered in a modern sense of prose and syntax, properly tailored for Turkish Literature. Uşaklıgil achieves this through his style, and his skillful exercise of a system of symbols. Because it marks the first instance where the influence of the French novel was abandoned, Mai ve Siyah is indeed the first Turkish novel. It features an original plot not borrowed from its French counterparts.

Although the style is coherent, the novel uses diglossia; in other words, the language of the narrator is different than the language used for conveying the dreams of the novel. However, far from hurting the plot this emphasizes the stylistic coherence of the author, and the fact that the novel has become an established genre.

Uşaklıgil’s poetic ambition was influenced by the French tradition, especially by Balzac and Stendhal.

The pivot of Mai ve Siyah is the theme of the imaginary versus the real. Mai ve Siyah does not feature a linear sense of continuity, and the action is in media res. The author uses these atypical techniques to create dramatic suspense and tension. In order to accentuate these, he also cleverly moves back and forth in time, leaves gaps, and delays the satisfaction of the reader’s curiosity. Uşaklıgil was the first Turkish author to use these peculiar non-chronological narration techniques, and this is another indication of his skill.

Mai ve Siyah features pieces from Uşaklıgil’s own life as well as the life of the literary circles of Istanbul. The protagonist of the novel is a young poet who is under the impression that the book he is writing will revolutionize the world of literature, and he is also dreaming about marrying the girl that he loves. However, when his father dies, his dreams of becoming rich and famous come to an abrupt end, he has to earn a living for his family by doing translations. In the meantime, his pregnant sister dies as a result of her husband’s abuse, and the girl of his dreams marries an officer. He is defeated by life, and by his dreams, and along with her mother, he abandons Istanbul in the dark of night.

Aşk-ı Memnu is the story of the transition of Turkish society into modern life, but it can be also considered as another landmark for the Turkish novel because Uşaklıgil has made extensive use of the tools of Realism such as heredity and determinism, and because of the uniqueness of his natural observations and detailed descriptions.

He has combined the sensitivity of Romanticism with the scrutinizing stance of Realism, and hence he has portrayed extremely sensitive, introspective characters in a balanced manner.

Following the suicide of his son in 1937, the author went into a deeply depressive phase, and in 1942, he published Bir Acı Hikaye a collection of his reminiscences about his son. Following this, he stopped seeing people. In the last few months that preceded his death, he refused all medical treatment despite his ailment, and he died in 1945.

Novels: Sefile (The Miserable Woman 1885), Nemide (1889), Bir Ölünün Defteri (The Notebook of the Dead 1889), Ferdi ve Şürekası (Ferdi and his Entourage 1894), Mai ve Siyah (Blue and Black 1897), Aşk-ı Memnu (Forbidden Love 1900), Kırık Hayatlar (Broken Lives 1924), and Nesl-i Ahir (Next Generation 1990),

Stories: Bir İzdivacın Tarih-i Muaşakası (The Courtship Phase of a Marriage 1888), Bir Muhtıranın Son Yaprakları (The Last Leaves of a Memorandum 1888), Kük Fıkralar (Small Anecdotes 1896), Bu Muydu? (Was it this? 1896), Heyhat (Alas! 1896), Bir Yazın Tarihi (The History of a Summer 1900), Solgun Demet (Faded Bouquet 1901), Bir Şi’r-i Hayal (A Dream Poem 1914), Sepette Bulunmuş (Found in a Basket 1920), Bir Hikaye-i Sevda (A Story of Love 1922), Hepsinden Acı (Most Bitter 1934), Aşka Dair (About Love 1935), Onu Beklerken (Waiting for Her 1935), İhtiyar Dost (The Old Friend 1937), Kadın Pençesi (Woman’s Claw 1939), and İzmir Hikayeleri (Stories of Izmir 1950).

Plays: Kabus (Nightmare 1918), and Füruzan (1918).

Prose Poetry: Mensur Şiirler (Prose Poems 1889), and Mezardan Sesler (Voices from the Grave 1889).

Memoirs: Kırk Yıl (Forty Years 1936), Saray ÿtesi (Beyond the Palace 1940-1942), and Bir Acı Hikaye (A Bitter Story 1942).

Speech: Birkaç Yaprak (A Few Leaves 1898). 

Sources: Tekin, Mehmet. Roman Sanatı I Romanın Unsurları. ÿtüken Yayınları, 2001, Moran, Berna. Türk Romanına EleŞtirel Bir Bakış, İletiŞim Yayınevi, 2000, Bilkent University, Deparment of Turkish Literature, Class Notes.

* Biographical information concerning Kemal Tahir has been gathered from Tanzimat’tan Bugüne Edebiyatçılar Ansiklopedisi.

Reference: Yesim Gokce (Bilkent University)/Turkish Cultural Foundation.

Post this article to Facebook