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  • The Haunting Legacy of Edgar Allan Poe in Ottoman-Turkish Literature
  • Hande Tekdemir (bio)

Edgar Allan Poe's rich and diverse oeuvre has been pioneering for literatures across the world, inspiring committed devotees such as Baudelaire, Dostoyevsky, Borges, Pessoa, and Yu Geng-yu, to name a few. This is not the case, however, among Ottoman-Turkish writers. Why is there no literary movement in Turkey that has been influenced by Poe's aesthetic principles and writing style, such as La Jeune Belgique (Young Belgium) in the 1880s, the Young Estonian movement in the early twentieth century, or the Modernistas in Spanish America?1 In searching for Poe's influence on Ottoman-Turkish writers, this article will also explore key aspects of the Ottoman-Turkish literary tradition to help explain why Poe's "translatability" or "adaptability" has challenged Turkish literature until recently. Unlike other instances, where Poe's influence was more self-evident, widespread, and intense, there are less self-acknowledged affinities between Ottoman-Turkish writers and Poe. I argue that even though Poe never appears as a major influence for Ottoman writers and literary movements, his legacy assumes a haunting quality in Ottoman literary culture during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries through a variety of means.

In what follows, I first discuss early encounters with Poe in translation activity, conducted mainly through French translations of his work. Poe's obliqueness in Ottoman literary culture appears through his undeniable influence on French literature, which was a main source of inspiration for Ottoman writers at the time. His pioneering legacy in detective fiction is also detectable in the popularity of pseudotranslations of Sherlock Homes and other dime heroes during this period. In the second section, I read Poe's influence as an uncanny shadow on late-nineteenth-century "decadent" Ottoman writers whose work echoes Poe's literary style and aesthetic theory, usually without any clear connection. The works of two "decadent" writers, Halit Ziya Uşaklıgil (1866–1945) and Tevfik Fikret (1867–1915), also demonstrate this suggestive, though as-of-yet undocumented link. In the third section, I turn to the first half [End Page 66] of the twentieth century as a transition from Poe's absence and obscurity to his popularity and even admiration among late-twentieth-century Turkish writers. Nezihe Muhiddin (1889–1958), Suat Derviş (1903–1972), and Sabahattin Ali (1907–1948) have been suggested by more than one literary critic to have recognized Poe's work. Indeed, this threshold seems to partly explain the stark change at the turn of the twentieth century, with which I conclude the article.

Poe's influence on contemporary Turkish literature and culture has already been a developing concern in the burgeoning body of criticism on Poe's reception in Turkey. Hivren Demir-Atay's 2012 article, "In Search of a 'Global Love Poem': Poe in Turkish Literature," explores how a number of twentieth-century and contemporary Turkish writers have been inspired by Poe's literary heritage. Translation issues have been another concern in recent scholarship. Esra Birkan-Baydan's "The Factor of Author Reputation in Retranslations: Edgar Allan Poe on the Turkish Literary Scene," together with two chapters in Translated Poe—Demir-Atay's "Edgar Allan Poe in Turkish: Translations in Three Alphabets" and Ayşe Nihal Akbulut's "The Reception of Poe's Poetry in the Turkish Cultural and Literary System"—delve into the historical and ideological implications (Demir-Atay) or question stylistic and textual choices of Poe translations using current translation theories (Birkan-Baydan and Akbulut). My contribution to this small body of work brings to light earlier texts that have not been discussed at length and contextualizes contemporary interest by examining past literary developments, including translation activity as a predecessor to the increasing contemporary interest in Poe.

Francophone Culture in Nineteenth-Century Ottoman Literatures and Early Encounters with Poe

To talk about Poe's influence, if at all, in nineteenth-century Ottoman literature, one must explore the inextricable bond between local literatures and French culture. Several critics underline the importance of French literature in the formation of modern Turkish literatures.2 More than a literary interest, the French language was imposed on this remarkably multi-lingual imperial...


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