Dennis Wheatley: The Eunuch of Stamboul

Dennis Wheatley’s The Eunuch of Stamboul(25) is a typical example of the novel that relies on images of Turkish brutality as it introduces the reader to the transformation of Turks from Orientals to Westerners in terms of administration, education, social life, etc. through the transformation of the Ottoman Empire into Turkey in 1930s.

The plot of the novel involves an adventurous coup attempt by KAKA - an illegal pro-Ottoman organisation in Turkey which is aborted by the help of a highly skilful British intelligence officer Swithin Destime. It is based on a number of religious, political and cultural anti-Turkish clichés ranging from a misinterpretation of Islam and haunting stories about the exotic harem and other historical sites of Istanbul to distorted and abusive accounts of significant Turkish figures of history. Moreover, the villains chosen from history are also depicted as brutal and repulsive, while the Bosphorus is revealed as a setting for brutality and execution. The story set in the early 1930s initially starting in England, consists of a political conspiracy by a pro-Ottoman underground organisation which aims to restore the Caliphate and operates through various high-rank bureaucrats in Istanbul. The chivalrous hero Captain Destime pretends to resign when he interferes to stop the Turkish Prince Ali trying to seduce Diana, the daughter of a prominent British diplomat, Sir Charles Duncannon, during a formal party in London. Upon Sir Charles's request, Captain Destime agrees to resign in order to keep Turco-British diplomatic relations intact, and afterwards he is honoured with a top-secret mission when he is asked to go to Istanbul as a British spy by Sir Charles:

Assigned to be director of a tobacco company around Istanbul and staying in the Pera Palas, Swithin Destime tries to uncover the illegal organisation known as the KAKA which is planning to overthrow Ataturk in the hope of rebuilding the previous Ottoman state. One of the top figures of this organisation is Prince Ali, nephew of the late sultan and 'Emir of Konia and Grand Commander of the State and Crescent' (The Eunuch of Stamboul, 11); another is the chief police director of Istanbul named 'Eunuch Kazdim'.

Through making contact with a Turkish university student and a Russian woman working in the bookstall of the Pera Palas and reluctantly spying for the Eunuch since she and her mother are threatened with deportation, Swithin learns something about this illegal organisation. Subsequent to various adventures, the hero manages to obtain some important clues and finally uncovers the conspiracy of revolution and a detailed list of the leading committee members. He takes this valuable information to the British authorities first, and then to Ankara - to Kemal Ataturk. In return, apart from  official congratulations, most importantly, he gains Diana's love.

As an interwar thriller The Eunuch of Stamboul is a typical example of Turkish stereotyping in the first half of the twentieth century as it was written during the transition period of Turkish history and politics. The book builds up various Turkish stereotypes in reference to previous historical events, places and figures in a degenerated form supposedly representing early reactions to the modernisation process in Turkey (The Eunuch of Stamboul, 49). These stereotypes appear to reinforce the images of massacre, execution, brutality associated with some historical figures such as the Eunuch of Stamboul or Prince Ali as well as with the historical places such as the Bosphorus.

Since the plot is composed of a historical conspiracy, a brutal reflection of the Ottoman Empire and its corrupt state system, Dennis Wheatley, in order to justify the westernisation process in the country after the foundation of the Turkish Republic, chooses all the villains from the late Ottomans rounded up in the anti-Republic organisation, the so called KAKA. The Empire is depicted as exotic and brutal, through stereotypical figures like Eunuch Kazdim and Prince Ali. Wheatley portrays 'those strange half-Eastern and half-Western people-the Turks' (The Eunuch of Stamboul, 55) as a nation still identified with brutality and cruelty which, it is claimed, was mainly inflicted upon minorities such as Armenians, Greeks and Jews:

Elsewhere we are told that 'there were quiet periods and during them massacres of Bulgars, and Armenians were carried out on a greater scale than ever before' (The Eunuch of Stamboul, 90).

Moreover, these references to Turkish brutality are underlined in another way towards the end of the novel when the British hero has been helped by a little electrician named Murad, a Syrian living in Istanbul:

Apart from his biased and contemptuous attitude to the late Ottoman sultans through the utterances of different characters such as; 'Teh! The Old Red Fox-Abdul the Damned! (Abdulhamid II) (The Eunuch of Stamboul, 90), and 'the Emperor of all the Turks and Terror of the world, fat, flabby, and useless, escaping out of his rebellious capital under the protection of the British' (the last Ottoman sultan Vahideddin) (The Eunuch of Stamboul, 64). Wheatley shows a similar negative attitude towards Kemal Ataturk, who replaced the Ottoman system with the new western-oriented Turkish Republic, by accusing him of similar brutality, foolishness and betrayal. Cynical references to Kemal Ataturk are made through different characters with remarks such as; 'They gave him the title of 'Gazi', the Destroyer of Christians' (The Eunuch of Stamboul, 44) (Gazi simply means survivor of the war). Elsewhere Kemal is presented as the traitor whose admiration for western nations has brought about the sacrifice of the Nation (The Eunuch of Stamboul, 94).

It should also be noted that it is not only the Turks who are despised and insulted, but also other ethnic groups such as Russians, Arabs and Kurds. The Russian woman Tania is treated as a mistress and forced to work for the KAKA by the Eunuch in order to obtain a residence permit from the Turkish authorities for herself and her mother; the Kurds living in the southeast of Turkey are designated as weird and lecherous as the Eunuch threatens Tania:

On another occasion, he repeats a similar threat to her: ‘You shall be sent to the Kurd, and I will kill your lover. Once more, with that air of terrible finality that Tania knew so well’ (The Eunuch of Stamboul, 267).

Wheatley seems to make an implicit comparison between the Turks and the Arabs in terms of brutality through Eunuch Kazdim when he orders Tania to bring the documents as soon as possible: ‘I shall be waiting outside the hotel and if I find that you have lied to me you know well that a Wahabi would have less mercy for an unbeliever than I for you’ (The Eunuch of Stamboul, 286).

Wheatley depicts the Turkish character as the embodiment of all vices and cruelties, together with repulsive physical features since ‘the villains are an imperious scion of the last sultan and the chief of the secret police, a eunuch whose former job was guarding the sultan's harem, ensuring that none of the ladies indulged in any hanky-panky’(26).

When Prince Ali is introduced to the reader for the first time in a formal party in London he is described as vulgar and repulsive through Diana Duncannon:

The title figure of The Eunuch of Stamboul, is Eunuch Kazdim Hari Bekar, the formidable chief of the secret police in Istanbul. Kazdim has also a strange record since he used to be the chief eunuch of the last sultan's harem, and now he is an active member of the KAKA. Besides the repulsive physical description of him such as his great, egg-shaped face creased into a frown, he also has a brutal and sadistic side as Jeanette suggests: ‘'But Kazdim!' breathed the girl. 'That man is a monster of sadistic cruelty; 'e 'as never missed an execution an' delights in carrying them out i'self'‘ (The Eunuch of Stamboul, 116). His brutality and relentlessness are made explicit when he threatens his victims during an interrogation that; 'All my life I have preferred to experiment on others, and I am too old to change my habits now' (The Eunuch of Stamboul, 221).

Reinforcing the cruelty and repulsiveness of Eunuch Kazdim, Wheatley depicts his guards in more appalling terms:

Another image which can repeatedly be seen in other thrillers concerning Turkey like Black Amber, When I Grow Rich and Journey Into Fear is created in particular reference to Istanbul and its different historical sites like the Bosphorus and Topkapi Palace. The city in The Eunuch of Stamboul is represented through various intrigues, mysteries, and sadistic tales, for 'despite its surface modernity, still held all..., cruelty, romance, and intrigue of timeless East' (The Middle East, 71). As Wheatley sets the story on 'returning the political situation to the status quo ante' (The Middle East, 66), and chooses the villains - members of the KAKA - mainly from historical figures, Istanbul, being an Imperial capital once, is still depicted as the cruel city of the sultans (The Eunuch of Stamboul, 59).

Linking the Bosphorus with exotic harem intrigues (like other thriller writers such as Joan Fleming and Phyllis Whitney) Wheatley designates it as a place of suicide and execution; an image of punishment which can be traced back to Ottoman times. When Sir Charles asks Swithin Destime to be careful in Turkey, he also mentions that Turkish punishment in case of capture is 'ten years in a fortress, or worse, he would be knocked on the head one dark night and flung into the Bosphorus' (The Eunuch of Stamboul, 70). When the Russian girl is threatened with being sent to the Kurds by the Eunuch, her answer is: ‘No! Rather than face that she would kill herself-throw herself into the Bosphorus-that was the way out’ (The Eunuch of Stamboul, 278).

The Bosphorus is portrayed in connection with the harem and its wives that:

As far as Istanbul with its popular sites is concerned in The Eunuch of Stamboul Wheatley creates a mosaic of images of romance, intrigue, cruelty, lust and exoticism: As we have seen, in the long tradition of depicting Turks and Turkey in a negative light within a number of western genres examined so far in this thesis, the most prevalent stereotype has emphasised hostility and savagery, which have taken diverse forms. This stereotype is usually displayed - explicitly or implicitly - through the evil often injected into the characters of these novels involved, or attributed as an innate element of some of the more well-known parts of the country. These have had the effect of reminding the reader of unusual stories or reminiscences from the past. Although the image has at times been reinterpreted with relation to a few contemporary political and military issues relevant to twentieth-century Turkey, nevertheless the historical process of repeating past images has never been explicitly countered or brought to an end.

25-As the son and grandson of Mayfair wine merchants, Dennis Yeats Wheatley was born in London on 8 January, 1897. At the age of seventeen he was commissioned in the army at the beginning of World War I; then he turned to work in the family wine business from 1919 until 1931. In his mid-thirties he had to leave his wine business because of the financial difficulties during the Depression, and it was at this point he started writing and published The Forbidden Territory in 1933. Although he has been well-known for his occult novels, he has also written various thrillers such as The Eunuch of Stamboul (1935).

26-Reeva S. Simon, The Middle East in Crime Fiction (New York:Lilian Barber Press, 1989), p.71. Further reference to this work will be given after quotations in the texts, by mentioning its shortened title, 'The Middle East'.