Heroes in the Making: Translated European Literature in the Tanzimat Era

By Burcu Karahan
Submitted to Session P4880 (Tanzimat as Translation, 2017 Annual Meeting
Ottoman Empire;
19th-21st Centuries;
LCD Projector without Audio;
Starting with the translation and serialization of François de Salignac de La Mothe-Fénelon’s Les aventures de Télémaque into the Ottoman by Yusuf Kâmil Pa?a in 1859, the Ottoman literary scene witnessed an intense translation activity that resulted in explorations with the novel form, experimentations with the language(s), multiple retranslations, republications, and emergence of a new literary system. Numerous heated debates between Ottoman intellectuals and translators on translation practices were carried out in the journals and newspapers of the day and in the prefaces of translated novels. Although the existence of these discussions reveals various translation strategies and the critical position of translation(s) in the creation of a new literary system, early translations in the late nineteenth century Ottoman literature are either thrust aside as irrelevant, unsystematic, and unimportant, or they are referred to as arbitrary group of works that have no meaningful relation to each other or to the original novels that followed them. However, identifying what the translators chose to convey from these Western prose texts into the Ottoman, rather than concentrating on the differences between source narratives, bares methodical selections and unexpected similarities between early translated texts. In this paper, I argue that early translations are not a group of random works, but they represent shared concerns and deliberate choices of their translators. The majority of the translations made between 1860 and 1890 exhibit seafaring protagonists who rise to their feet after enduring trials: the kind of man that the Tanzimat intellectuals longed for. I will frame my discussion around three novels by three different writers with dissimilar styles from three different literary backgrounds; and these Western novels were translated into Ottoman Turkish by three different translators who employed disparate translation styles. These translations are made from François de Salignac de La Mothe-Fénelon’s Les aventures de Télémaque (1699), Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe (1719), and Alexandre Dumas, père’s Le Comte de Monte Cristo (1845). Although these novels serve unrelated purposes, I claim as a group they all provide for the same goal: to create self-sufficient, a self-confident male character with which the Ottoman man can identify himself.