Halit Ziya Uşaklıgil: The Blue and the Black

HAKAN ARSLANBENZER
ISTANBUL
Published 01.04.2016 22:28
Updated 01.04.2016 23:42

Having become renowned through sensational TV series followed worldwide like ‘Aşk-ı Memnu' in recent years, Halid Ziya Uşaklıgil was an influencial writer who successfully infused a Western style into Turkish novels

Periods or movements as romanticism and realism are not included in Turkish literary history as both approaches were adopted from French literature of which Turkish writers have utilized some aspects. The poets and authors of the New Literature ("Edebiyat-ı Cedide") movement in particular found freedom through eclectic use of romantic and realistic patterns, which they had learned from 19th century French poets and authors.

Since the New Literature movement, the most eclectic genre has been long fiction or novels. The first generation of Turkish novelists consisted of poets, who were novices in the novel genre. The first novels appeared in the 1870s, which were nothing but long love stories, thus the popular name for novels in Turkish. By the 1890s, the Edebiyat-ı Cedide writers began to give much more convincing examples of the genre.

Apprenticeship of the Turkish authors as novelists ended when Halit Ziya Uşaklıgil published his first novel "Mai ve Siyah" (The Blue and the Black) in installments in the "Servet-i Fünun" periodical in 1896. The novel was published in a single volume in 1900, and can be seen as the true milestone of the modern long fiction in Turkish language.

Early life

Halit Ziya Uşaklıgil was born in the ancient Eyüp district of Istanbul in 1866. He published some of his works under the name "Mehmed Halid Ziyaeddin." He was one of the members of the notable "Uşakizade" family, who were carpet merchants from Uşak province. An alternative surname for the family was "Helvacızade." A branch of the Uşakızades lived in İzmir.

Halit Ziya's father Halil Uşakizade, a carpet merchant, moved from İzmir to İstanbul with his wife, Behiye Hanım and two children. Halit Ziya was their third child. Halit Ziya went to the neighborhood elementary school before briefly attending Military Secondary School in Fatih.

Halil Efendi's business failed due to the '93 War (Turkish-Russian War of 1877-1878); and he therefore decided to move his family back to İzmir. Halit Ziya was admitted to İzmir Secondary School. After graduating from İzmir Secondary School, he attended a boarding school established for the children of Catholic Armenian pastors, where he learnt French literature.

Student, office worker, writer

Halit Ziya began his literary career making translations from French literature, and writing columns and prose poems for periodicals published in İzmir and Istanbul, while he was still a student. He used to help his father in the Uşakizade merchant house as a clerk, yet he disliked the business. For a short while, he worked for a French attorney in İzmir, which gave an opportunity for the young Halit Ziya to speak with a native speaker of French.

He intended to make a career as a publisher, too, yet he failed. He established a literary journal named "Nevruz" (New Year) with two of his friends in 1884. He published his own prose poems and translations from French, including pieces by Victor Hugo and George Ohnet. He wrote and published a small volume of French literary history. This was the first French literary history produced in Turkish.

The young writer and entrepreneur applied for work at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Istanbul; however he was refused and returned to İzmir. He worked as a school teacher for a while. After that, he was given a job at the Ottoman Bank in İzmir.

Halit Ziya lost his mother in 1888. The following year, he visited Paris with his uncle and saw the International Paris Exhibition. In 1889, he married Memnune Hanım, the daughter of a notable Ottoman bureaucrat. Halit Ziya and Memnune had six children. Unfortunately, three of their children died in infancy, while one of their sons would commit suicide at 33. The novelist wrote "Kırık Hayatlar" (Broken Lives) to remember their loss.

In 1893, Halit Ziya's fate improved when he was appointed to managing position at the "Reji" Administration (a multinational corporation holding monopoly for Turkish tobacco and salt) in Istanbul. Halit Ziya had already published two early novels, namely "Nemide" and "Bir Ölünün Defteri" (Notebook of One Deceased). He soon published another, "Ferdi ve Şürekası" (Ferdi and Partners). "Ferdi ve Şürekası" is a love romance set in a business environment. İsmail Tayfur is in love with the orphan girl Seniha, but he has to marry Hacer, the only daughter and heir of his boss Ferdi. Unfortunately, Hacer dies in an accidental fire and all of her father's money is also burned by the fire. İsmail Tayfur loses his mind, et cetera.

The significant thing about "Ferdi ve Şürekası" is the frustrated love theme, which is a recurring theme in many of Halit Ziya's novels.

Blue of dreams v. black of reality

The "Edebiyat-ı Cedide" (New Literature) movement led by Recaizade Mahmud Ekrem began publishing "Servet-i Fünun" periodical and Halit Ziya was brought to the board of writers. His first masterpiece "Mai ve Siyah" was published in "Servet-i Fünun" in instalments in 1896-1897, before being published in a single volume in 1900. "Mavi ve Siyah" is another "dreams versus reality" novel by Halit Ziya. The style is more eloquent and the novel is much more realistic. Critics generally think that Halit Ziya was a realist, this idea is supported by his criticism of Ahmed Mithat Efendi.

Halit Ziya wrote his best novel, namely "Aşk-ı Memnu" (Forbidden Love) around this time. "Aşk-ı Memnu" would not be published in book form until 1925. The novel tells about the immoral life of a fortune hunter, Bihter, who marries Adnan Bey, a rich but naive man, for his money, yet she cannot help having a secret love affair with Behlül, the licentious niece of Adnan. On the other hand, Adnan's daughter Nihal is infatuated Behlül, and the two get engaged. Bihter commits suicide on Nihal and Behlül's wedding night, and Behlül runs away. Though addressing the dichotomy between natural love and the attraction of wealth, "Aşk-ı Memnu" is a moralist novel which judges the lust between Bihter and Behlül.

"Aşk-ı Memnu" was twice adapted for the screen. Halit Refiğ made a six-episode TV mini-series in 1975. A second adaptation was aired in 2008 and lasted 79 episodes. The novel has also been adapted to theater and opera.

Between 1909 and 1912, Halit Ziya worked for the Ottoman Palace and was a member of the Ottoman Senate. He visited Europe twice: Once in 1914 and then in 1918. After that, he lived a life in isolation and focused on writing stories, novels, memoirs and essays. He published more than 40 volumes of fiction and non-fiction.

Halit Ziya Uşaklıgil died on March 27, 1945 in Istanbul. He was buried in Bakırköy Cemetery beside his son Halil Vedat.

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