In the tradition of travel accounts such as Richard Halliburton's The Royal Road to Romance (1925), Aldous Huxley's Along the Road (1925) and Robert Byron's The Road to Oxiana (1937), Americans tended to prefer Europe, particularly France and Spain whereas the British went eastward: ‘The places between the wars the British traveler took as his province: Kashmir, Japan, China, Egypt, Northern India, Palestina, Constantinople, the Bay of Naples, Sicily, Ceylon’(1).

When Paul Fussell studies British travellers in his Abroad: British Literary Traveling Between the Wars (1980) he suggests that travelling was a bourgeois obsession or cult in the first half of the twentieth century among the younger generation, especially Oxbridge graduates:

Subsequent to World War II the US has appeared as a new domineering power in terms of politics, economics and military might in the West. Mainly as a result of its imperial competition with the former USSR America has increased its interest and involvement in some geopolitically significant parts of the world such as the Middle East in general - because of its rich oil resources - and Turkey in particular since it is a de facto westernised country bordering on the USSR. As far as Turkey is concerned, after setting up new political, economic and military agreements with the USA there has been an influx of travellers into the country for different reasons, varying from intellectual and diplomatic to touristic ones in the second half of the twentieth century, and writing about Turkey in different forms has increased.

Apart from 'the national snobbery engendered by two centuries of wildly successful imperialism' (Abroad, 74), one significant motive for the common desire among western writers to travel abroad seems to be the quest for adventure, a motive which is usually inspired by the earlier adventurous fictions and accounts set in particular locations of the world such as Turkey. Deeply influenced by his childhood excitement over the witch Gagool in Rider Haggard's King Solomon's Mines (1886), his favourite book, Graham Greene, speaking on behalf of his fellow travellers such as Fleming, Waugh and himself, remarks that: 'We were a generation bought up on adventure stories who had missed the enormous disillusionment of the first war; so we went looking for adventure' (Abroad, 70).

According to Fussell the search for the unusual and exotic appears to be another motive for travel. Various travellers who were fascinated by the vision of the East generated in Western minds during the Age of Imperialism(2) were preoccupied by the quest for eccentricity and anomalies, which modern times have termed 'tourist attractions'. It was believed that:

When Paul Theroux discusses various evocations of the word, ‘exotic’ with regard to travel writing in Sunrise With Seamonsters (1985) he remarks that ‘it may be the plump odalisque squinting from her sofa with her hands behind her head, or else a glimpse of palm trees - the palm tree is very emblem of the exotic: or else power, or riches, fine weather, good health, safety. It is the immediately recognisable charm of the unfamiliar’(3). As he tends to point out, the word itself implies distance and it is the magic of travellers’ tales he draws as its geographical border:

And between Tahiti and Istanbul, the pretty island and the fabled city which are two of the exotic frontiers, there is a middle zone that combines palm trees and riches, the exotic of India and China - nautch girls, howdahs, the pink palace, the court, and the sahib’s pipe-dream of himself in stately repose. The frontiers are actual (Seamonsters, 147)
Although he takes into consideration the significant role of the earlier travel accounts, no matter whether they are based on fictional or actual travels or their use of the exotic, Theroux argues that ‘the exotic image is not implicitly erotic but often subtly sensual,.. and it goes almost without saying that the exotic notion is a Western dream, a hankering for the East’ (Seamonsters, 147). Since, however, most reflections of the exotic as a traditional romantic element in texts set either within the Oriental context in general or a Turkish one in particular, usually appear to be inspired by previous works, (especially nineteenth-century tales as we have already discussed) it is necessary to go back to the previous century’s use of the term in relation to eroticism.

In his textual analysis of diverse nineteenth-century English and French travel accounts about the Orient, John Dixon seems almost to identify exoticism with eroticism, in that the legitimisation of the illicit pleasure for eroticism is camouflaged as a taste for the exotic, largely expressed through fictitious tales of the Victorian male imagination: ’The travel writers know they were able to play into the readers’ fantasies of the East in which the exotic and erotic were in close proximity’(4). In another part of his thesis Dixon takes this proximity of the terms into the twentieth century with some nuances:

Besides historical Turkish brutality and savagery another well-known motif ascribed to Turks in travel accounts is to be the sensual and exotic representation of stories of the harem. As Frederic Raphael remarks: ‘The self indulgence symbolised by the Sublime Porte, inhabited by lolling despots and their pampered harem jades, turned exploiting the Grand Turk into doing him a kind of punitive favour’ (“Empire Building”, 6). A similar attitude can be perceived in works of fiction such as William Gibson’s Newromances (1984) and Joan Fleming’s When I Grow Rich (1962).

Although the end of the Ottoman Empire was signalled definitively by the proclamation of the Turkish Republic in 1923 it is still commonplace in twentieth-century travel accounts, particularly those written about Istanbul, to stumble upon so called romantic reminiscences from the past, such as exotic stories of the harem, eunuchs and concubines, and an emphasis on Turkish interest in sexual perversions such as sodomy, a dominant image of the cinema with special reference to Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and Midnight Express (1978).

It can be said that The Towers of Trebizond with its diverse oddities, ironies and miscellaneous themes is the outcome of a skilful combination of the setting, since Trebizond and the history of Turkey have certain qualities the author needed for her novel, and the creative employment of different images by her intellectual and personal experience:
Rose Macaulay triumphantly justifies the choice of her the tightness of her intellectual control over its every detail and by her courage and delicacy in handling every personal material drawn from the experience, years long, of happiness and fun, coupled with guilt and the bitter loss, for many years, of peace of mind(5).

The account of the journey starts with three English figures; the narrator, Laurie, an English girl under forty who is an artist and has been in love with her married cousin for ten years; her aunt Dot, a religious widow in her sixties, who gallops incessantly around the world on a white racing camel and fights for the rights of women; and Father Hugh Chantry-Pigg, a retired Anglican divine given to saying long graces in either Latin or Greek. Arriving in Istanbul they are joined by a Turkish woman, Dr. Halide Tanpinar, who had studied medicine in London and joined the Anglican Church. They set out on a missionary venture to the Black Sea, particularly to Trebizond, during which Aunt Dot and Father Chantry-Pigg vanish illegally into Russia to see what they can see. Then the focus shifts to the narrator as she wanders off on a camel by herself and grows steadily sadder until her lover is killed in an automobile accident at which point the book simply ends.

Although it is rare in comparison with other travel accounts, the recreation of nineteenth-century images of romance also occurs in association with Turkey in The Towers of Trebizond. While Laurie and Dr. Halide discuss the speculations of the reporters about the mysterious disappearance of Aunt Dot and Father Chantry-Pigg they agree that these stories may also be embellished with some elements of romance in an oriental context. Criticising the exaggeration of the reporters, Dr. Halide comments:

Afterwards, Laurie completes Halide's description by adding exotic evocations of the Bosphorus, slaves, harems and eunuchs: Endorsing Laurie's long description of romance, Halide discusses the connotative difference between versions of romance: It is also possible to encounter a similar interpretation of romance which has been identified with several elements of sensuality in works of fiction such as William Gibson’ Newromances (1984). Although the book does not directly deal with Turkey, Gibson introduces historical parts of Istanbul such as the Topkapi Palace with similar evocations through a dialogue between two characters:

“What is this thing?” he asked Molly, as the Mercedes parked itself on the fringes of the gardens that surround the Seraglio. He stared dully at the barogue conglomeration of styles that was Topkapi. It was sort of a private whorehouse for the ‘King’, she said, getting out stretching. ‘Kept a lotta women there.’ Now it is a museum(7).

Despite the fact that polygamy was officially abolished in Turkey after the establishment of the Republic by the Turkish Civil Code(8), some travellers, such as Frederic Prokosch, seem to be keen on harem fantasies. When he first meets Mr. Suleiman in Istanbul in The Asiatics, the latter is ironically depicted as having had a close connection with the sultan's harem before:

Upon the narrator’s further curiosity about such an eccentric subject in the course of their dialogue Suleiman gives some more details about the woman in relation to the harem: In the proceeding part of their conversation, Mr. Suleiman expresses his nostalgia for the past again in terms of harem life: In order to add some exotic taste to the issue of drug-smuggling which is mainly operated from a historical kiosk of Istanbul Joan Fleming introduces a similar sensual image referring to the harem and the chief eunuch through Hadji and Madame Miasme, the arch-villain who runs the smuggling in When I Grow Rich: Soon after the hero’s arrival in Istanbul on his first secret mission in The Eunuch of Stamboul he is initially reminded by an English merchant who is supposed to provide all detailed information about the illegal organisation planning a coup about Eunuch Kazdim, the Chief of the Secret Service and the most dangerous member of the organisation. While Kazdim is depicted not only through his brutal records but also through his previous occupation in the harem, Wheatley tries to make a comparison, through the merchant, between Kazdim’s sensual background and spying: Some travellers such as Paul Theroux, Mary Lee Settle and Eric Newby aim to satisfy the reader's expectation for titillatory material. For example, during his visit to Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, Theroux is particularly concerned with the harem: Visiting the historical places of Istanbul Settle decides to set out to find a clue to what life in the harem must have been like. Apart from depicting the harem as ‘a huge, ornate prison for women, and for many of the sultans, who hid there in fear of their lives, victims of the irony of absolute rule. There is, in all that rich imperial polyglot, no place to be alone’(13), she also recounts her disappointment at the present state of Turkish baths in the city compared to those historical ones she learnt from the previous stories:

I expected to be brought Turkish coffee, and to be wrapped in thick, warm Turkish towels. Instead I was shoved into a cold, dirty cubicle, given a thin towel, and told to undress. The attendant pointed to a door with her cigarette. At one of the basins an enormously fat naked old woman, with arms of iron, was sitting washing her underwear. She was the attendant, a eunuch figure, pendulous and mighty. They are an ancient guild, those masseuses, and for the first time I had a sense that I was in a room that might have been like the reality instead of the romance of the harem (Turkish Reflections, 48).

Eric Newby seems to be another typical example who treats similar anomalies mainly associated with the harem, Seraglio, Turkish baths, kiosks, etc. with detailed descriptions in separate chapters of On The Shores of the Mediterranean (1984) such as “Baths and Bazaars” and “The Harem at Topkapi”. Besides visiting all those exotic places in Istanbul and introducing their attraction among the westerners he initially focuses on the cultural significance of the traditional Turkish bath with reference to personal observations of the Reverend Robert Walsh, chaplain to the British Embassy at the Sublime Porte:

Although he has not been in one of those baths for women to which male access was strictly forbidden, in order to exoticise the bath image he introduces some unusual details about the inside of the ladies’ baths from a female writer’s reminiscences: In the following chapter, which diverts the exotic focus onto the harem itself, Newby, unlike other travellers, discusses in particular the definition and historical connotations of the words; ‘harem’ and ‘Seraglio’: Later on, he draws a promiscuous picture of the Topkapi Palace, and then contrasts this with an account of a parade of Circassian peasants, who arrived in the capital where they were taken to the palace to be identified during the early twentieth century: Newby reminds us of the impossibility of male access to the harem; ‘What a pity it is that some literate laundress or female dressmaker, the sort of people who were allowed inside, or even a black or white eunuch, left no record of what they saw’ (On The Shores, 209). But when it comes to the revelation of Oriental sensuality, he also speculates on sexual peculiarities: In addition he describes an image of sensuality juxtaposed with brutality as he refers to a particular nineteenth century episode of castration in the harem: In another example he paints pejorative picture of the Turks mainly indulging in lechery and sensuality from historical texts such as History of the Growth and Decay of the Ottoman Empire: In order to emphasise the combination of savagery and sensuality in the characters of Ottoman sultans and pashas Newby reveals Ali Pasha’s lechery as one crucial reason for his cruelty: Glazebrook emphasises the Victorian sense of the unusual associated with slavery and the harem: Another account is introduced in relation to nineteenth-century perceptions of Turkish palaces and kiosks through an incident recounted by Layard during his visit to those places: Describing Turkish passengers on the deck of the ferry from Trabzon to Istanbul he returns to the Victorian fascination for sensual or exotic evocations of the harem and eunuchs: In The Asiatics when Frederic Prokosch describes a group of Turkish women washing clothes at the waterside in an eastern city, the reflection of Turkish women, unlike that of nineteenth-century travel accounts portraying the Ottoman ladies as sexual chattels with exotic beauty, is a repulsive one: Another image of sexual fantasy attributed to Orientals or Muslims in general terms and to the Turks in particular focuses on sodomy or homosexuality, usually revealed by the non-Turkish characters in various travel accounts such as The Asiatics and In Xanadu: A Quest. The identification of sodomy with Muslims in a general sense initially appears in The Asiatics through the ironic speech of a Greek character as he converses with the narrator about the brothels in Beirut: A similar image of homosexuality with religious connotations is implied by Glazebrook: Krikor of In Xanadu: A Quest humorously delineates the indulgence of Turkish people in homosexuality through a funny anecdote about two homosexual Turkish gardeners: Dalrymple endorses what Krikor has already implied: In terms of sexuality Glazebrook questions the Victorian perceptions, and challenges the claims of travellers who embroidered their diaries with sensual stories: Besides introducing the promiscuous past of Madame Miasme and her French secretary Valance as they used to be good companions during their harem days in When I Grow Rich Fleming points out through Nuri Bey that it is probably their homosexual relationship which might explain Valance’s absolute loyalty to Miasme although she has always been bossy and capricious to her: Although it has attracted wider popularity as a film than as a book, Midnight Express (1977) is another crucial text which identifies (in addition to various negative representations of Turkey such as brutality, drug-smuggling and addiction, corruption and filthiness) homosexuality or sodomy with the Turks. The image is presented from the very beginning of the book through Billy Hayes, an American tourist who has been charged with drug-smuggling when he is searched by Turkish customs officers: Having been convicted and sent to prison Hayes, the narrator, witnesses a brutal scene in the next kogus (section) for kids as the guards are beating some of them badly, and he suddenly changes the subject to another sodomistic incident referring to another prisoner: ‘News travels fast on the prison grapevine. Ziat, the prisoner who ran the tea shop, relayed the information. They raped one of the new kids while the lights were out’(Midnight Express, 72). Later on, in an ironic description of the Sagmacilar prison, where everything which is unlawful in actual life seems to be lawful, he makes another reference to homosexuality as one of the ‘lawful things’ in the Turkish prison: In some works of fiction such as A Stench of Poppies the image of Turkish promiscuity and lechery is used to emphasise a political issue in terms of rape: ‘The Turks were given to rape. They loved it. Their invasion of Cyprus was notorious for the soldiers’ repeated and violent rape of Greek Cypriot women of all ages, old women and very young girls. It was natural male behaviour, earning no moral condemnation(18). Soon after, a similar attribution is made by Colly when he ironically warns his girl friend: ‘“You didn’t have a whole lot of choice, baby’, murmured Colly. “You did fine. Now cover yourself up, will you? before I start feeling like a Turk myself” (A Stench of Poppies, 100).

As we have seen in the case of themes developed in earlier chapters, the motif of sexual promiscuity, both heterosexual and homosexual which formed a definitive element in nineteenth century works, has continued to exert an influence on twentieth century literature about Turkey. We might in fact envisage a process by which the twentieth century author, inspired by the sights of modern Istanbul, has allowed his mind to revert to an earlier period, one no less imaginative, and has injected this into his present day account as if it were still valid. It goes without saying, of course, that in the context of the Turkish Republic such scenarios as those depicted are as representative of reality as if the surreality of Jane Austin were suddenly to materialise in the London of today.


1-Paul Fussell, Abroad: British Literary Traveling Between the Wars (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1980), p.60. Further reference to this work will be given after quotations in the texts, by mentioning its shortened title, 'Abroad'.

2-Frederic Raphael, “Empire Building” in The Sunday Times (5 December, 1993), p.6. Further reference to this review will be given after quotations in the texts, by mentioning its title, '“Empire Building”'.

3-Paul Theroux, Sunrise With Seamonsters, Ist pub. 1985 (London: Penguin, 1986), p.146. Further reference to this work will be given after quotations in the texts, by mentioning its shortened title, 'Seamonsters'

4-John Spencer Dixon, Representations of the East in English and French Travel Writing 1798-1882 with Particular Reference to Egypt, Unpub. Diss. (University of Warwick, 1992), p.25. Further reference to this work will be given after quotations in the texts, by mentioning its shortened title, 'Representations of the East’.

5-John Coates, “Metaphor and Meaning in The Towers of Trebizond”, 80 (1987) 111-121 (p.121). Further reference to this work will be given after quotations in the texts, by mentioning its shortened title, '“Metaphor and Meaning”'.

6-Rose Macaulay, The Towers of Trebizond (London: Fontana, 1990), p.20. Further reference to this work will be given after quotations in the texts, by mentioning its shortened title, 'Towers'.

7-William Gibson, Newromances (London: Harper Collins, 1993), p.116.

8-On September 1924, a commission of twenty-six lawyers set to work on the task of adapting the Swiss civil code to Turkish needs. The completed code was voted by the Assembly on 17 February 1926, and came into effect on 4 October...
 ‘Polygamy, repudiation and all the ancient bars to the freedom and dignity of women, were abolished. In their place came civil marriage and divorce, with equal rights for both parties. Most shocking of all, to Muslim opinion, the marriage of a Muslim woman to a non-Muslim man became legally possible, and all adults were given the legal right to change their religion at will’. See: Bernard Lewis, The Emergency of Modern Turkey (London: Oxford Univ. Press., 1961), p. 267. Also see Feroz Ahmad, The Turkish Experiment in Democracy 1950-1975 (London: C. Hurst and Loupay, 1977); Stanford J. Shaw & Ezel Kural Shaw, History of Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey, vol.II (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1977).

9-Frederic Prokosch, The Asiatics (London: Robin Clark, 1991), pp. 40-1. Further reference to this work will be given after quotations in the texts, by mentioning its title, 'The Asiatics'.

10-Joan Fleming, When I Grow Rich (London: Collins, 1962), pp. 35-6. Further reference to this work will be given after quotations in the texts, by mentioning its title, 'When I Grow Rich'.

11-Dennis Wheatley, The Eunuch of Stamboul (London: Arrow Books, 1960), pp. 64-5.

12-Paul Theroux, Great Railway Bazaar, first pub: New York: Ballantine, 1975, (London: Penguin, 1977), p.47.

13-Mary Lee Settle, Turkish Reflections (New York: Prentice Hall Press, 1991), p. 48. Further reference to this work will be given after quotations in the texts, by mentioning its title, 'Turkish Reflections'

14-Eric Newby, On the Shores of the Mediterranean, Ist pub. 1984 (London: Picador, 1985), p.193. Further reference to this work will be given after quotations in the texts, by mentioning its shortened title, 'On the Shores'.

15-Philip Glazebrook, Journey to Kars (London: Penguin Books, 1985), lst pub. by Viking, 1984, p. 187. Further reference to this work will be given after quotations in the texts, by mentioning its title, 'Journey to Kars'.

16-William Dalrymple, In Xanadu: A Quest (London: Flamingo, 1990), pp. 55-6. Further reference to this work will be given after quotations in the texts, by mentioning its shortened title, 'In Xanadu'.

17-Billy Hayes and William Hoffer, Midnight Express (London: Sphere Books, 1977), p. 16. Further reference to this work will be given after quotations in the texts, by mentioning its title, 'Midnight Express'.

18-Ivor Drummond, A Stench of Poppies (London: Michael Joseph, 1978), p.99. Further reference to this work will be given after quotations in the texts, by mentioning its title, 'A Stench of Poppies'.