Turks in Travel Writings and Prose Fiction

Taking into account that 'the Turks, the Chinese, in fact almost every nationality, was dissected either directly or indirectly by a long line of travel writers' (61), a great part of the early stereotypes and images of Turkey was created through travel accounts with specific religious positions and value judgements on the Islamic world, which had been in conflict with Christian Europe, often violently, since the Crusades between the eleventh and thirteenth centuries. The travel accounts of mainly pilgrims and priests who travelled to the Holy Land are marked by a representation of the Turks in Europe which reflected the Christian view of the Muslim as the child of the devil or the follower of the imposter prophet.
As Adams points out, 'slaves and pirates were popular in travel literature long before Robinson Crusoe, however even before Don Quixote' (Travel Literature, 125), some motifs reflecting the Turkish threat to European sea trade, especially in the Mediterranean began to appear. For example, Rabelais's Pantagruel (1532) tells the story of a captive girl in Turkey and notes customs such as the injunction against wine and the great number of dogs, while Gomberville's Polexandre (1629) presents various Turkish local traditions such as the Turkish system of military promotion based only on merit; a royal wedding; the fiery passion of the Turks (Travel Literature, 113).

 So far as the image of the Turk is concerned one of the prominent works is The Letters Writ by A Turkish Spy, which is a collection of letters supposedly written by a Turkish agent. It has been generally assumed that the author was Giovanni Paolo Marana (1642-93), a Genoese journalist and political refugee residing in Paris. He was accepted in the Court of Louis XIV on April 15, 1683 with a prospectus for his work, including more than 500 letters to be entitled 'L'esploratore turco e le di lui pratiche segrete con la Porta Ottomana' (62). The first volume of the book (Espion turc) appeared in 1684 published in Paris including 30 letters. The final version - having suffered the exigencies of various translators and publishers in Paris, London, Amsterdam, and Cologne - reached its ultimate size of 744 letters in a nine volume set published in Amsterdam in 1756, although the work consisted of 631 letters arranged into 30 separate books published in an eight volume set by 1694. The collection survived longest in England, and the last complete edition was published in London and Edinburgh in 1801. The first edition (1687-94) was published in London by C. Rhodes with William Bradshaw's assistance as a  translation from Italian into English.

 The book won popularity by thrilling and satisfying the new bourgeois reading public with its pseudo-secret revelations of the intrigues of a foreign observer (a Turk) who lived 45 years in the capital of one of the most powerful Christian monarchies of western Europe. On the one hand, many literary histories mention it as the ancestor of a long line of spy works and travel journals, of which the best known are Montesquieu's Persian Letters (1722) (63) and Goldsmith's Citizen of the World (1762). On the other hand, it presents the social, philosophical, and religious environment of the age as pointed out by Joseph Tucker:

The Espion turc [Turkish spy] is remembered today as a vigorous chapter in the history of late seventeenth century liberalism, as a model in its themes and techniques of exposition for the philosophers. Nowhere, I suppose, outside the great corpus of Voltaire's work is there to be found a discussion of such wide range of the major themes of the Enlightenment (64).
Moreover, as his book has been presumed to be a narrative of travel with an exotically-coloured language, Marana was most likely aware of some of the previous works on this topic. Italian nobleman and traveller Pietro Della Valle's narrative voyages written in letter form and divided into three parts (travels in Turkey, in Persia, and in India) provided a stimulating paradigm (65). Another important literary figure who contributed to Marana's satiric method in his book is Traiano Boccalini. His Ragguagli di Parnaso (Reports from Parnasus) (1612) (66) is written in the form of a gazette rather than letters and the reports in the book are satirical in tone. Making use of such previous works, Marana creates his work as a journey into a world of unfamiliar sights and experiences exposing reader and foreign observer alike to repeated shocks. Accustomed judgements and values, assumed to be universal, are questioned; since the spy was also a philosopher, he began to seek the truth of his situation by initially comprehending opposites, polarities, antitheses, and ambiguities everywhere.
While Mahmut, the first person narrator, makes a logical arrangement with little emotional appeal in one letter written to Venerable Mufti concerning Catholicism’s hierarchy and the best approach to weakening its power in Europe, he tries to show a graceful manner of style as much as possible in the letter without confusing any of its ideas or without delaying the deliberate revelation of its thinking:

Weigh this thought well, and thou wilt find that the Order of Bishops is essential and necessary to the good estate of Christendom; and, that the only way for the Musselmans to undermine all Europe, will be to supplant this Order, and introduce an ecclesiastic independency among the priests; by which means everyone shall assume to himself, not only his proper fragment of the torn dignity but the whole fundamental power of a Bishop... In time, will follow innumerable inconveniences, distastes, and broils; and perhaps as many schisms, as there are particular priests to head them: since everyone will be apt to think himself capable of dictating to all the rest,... Thus will there be a clear stage for ambition, avarice, and lust to act their parts on: when... the greatest part shall be so divided, that... it will then be easy either by thy intelligible reasons in the Koran, or the more cogent arguments of the sword, to plant the true and undefiled Faith in these countries (67).

In another letter which is addressed to his young naive cousin, who is asking how to conduct himself towards his wife he tries a logical, reasoned approach to the problem but reveals more dependence on the subtle, emotive devices of momentum and simple association:

Thou wilt, in my opinion, find it difficult to be happy, with or without this woman. She is given thee by Fate, to poise the balance of thy life... Should’st thou deal unkindly by her, thy generous soul would regret it the next moment... And yet, I must confess, ‘tis hard to be confined to a fierce woman’s tongue, to bear reproaches and contumelies... who, that’s a man can brook such slavery? Who, that has but a spark of fire within this softness?...I would counsel thee to take successively five-hundred wives, rather than make thy life miserable, by too much love...to one that knows not how to use thy favors (‘To the Reader’, II.i.2).
Marana's The Letters Writ by a Turkish Spy inspired several eighteenth century writers such as those of The Spectator (April, 1711) (68) not only with its unusual material about the East but also its usefulness for earlier satiric and philosophic subjects. Addison and Steele used various Eastern elements from The Turkish Spy Letters (69) for social satire in a number of their narratives. In July 1717, Daniel Defoe contributed to the satirical pseudo-letter genre with material that is similar in form, tone and attitude to Marana's (70). Adopting the Oriental mask of a Turkish merchant living in Amsterdam who corresponds with the Grand Mufti (chief Minister of State) at Constantinople, a merchant - Kara Selim Oglan - satirises the manner by which Christians conduct themselves toward one another.
In the course of the eighteenth century, the fact that the Ottoman Empire, which was once a threat to the world, began to decline, made it possible for European powers to treat the Ottoman government as an instrument in order to acquire some political advantages. In the past, Europe had had cause to fear the Ottoman potential since they had for centuries directed their militant aggressive energy westward, but by the early eighteenth century the Empire was in decline, and ridden with decadence (The Present State). As a consequence of western concern, by the mid-eighteenth century the interest in the Levant in England matured in at least three unusual respects. Horses and other domestic animals were often named 'sultan' or 'sultana'; decorations in the drawing room and fanciful structures in gardens or parks were built in the Oriental manner. Literary attention was also increasingly focused onto this particular region. As it became easier for travellers to go to Ottoman regions, particularly to Istanbul, there was a surge of curiosity to explore the mysterious East.
Since a great part of the Middle East was still under the rule of the Ottomans and the Caliphate of the Muslim world was represented by the Ottoman sultan, most of the tales of Persian, Indian and Arabic origin with their themes of jealousy, love, intrigue, revenge, adultery, incest, laws of the harem, and conversion to Islam for the ultimate salvation of the soul were associated with the existing themes about the Turks. For example, Aubin's Strange Adventures of the Court de Vinevil (1721) relates how Adelissa, the captive, escapes the Lustful Turk Osmin with the help of fire and an assassination (Travel Literature, 238).

 Another typical travel book is Montesquieu's Lettres Persanes (Persian Letters). The work (first published in 1721 in Holland) was translated into English by John Ozell in 1722, and it had over ten printings within the first year of its appearance. It characterises the Turkish myth with more or less the similar evocations intermingled with some exotic elements such as seraglio and harem customs through designating Turkish women in cages or hampers on the back of the camels.

 This tradition of writing emerges in works such as Beckford's History of the Caliph Vathek. It was originally composed in French and published in London in 1786. It was written by William Beckford, who did not pay a single visit to the region he was writing about, and used his family establishment at Fonthill as the primary setting for his Eastern tale, colouring and transforming it with the resources of a highly vivid imagination. He is reported to have said; 'I had to elevate, exaggerate, and orientalise everything' (71). The novel takes up the themes of ambition, the quest for power, sadistic sensualism, sexual perversity, and so forth which were developed in a number of pictures and episodes taken from an imaginary world. It also inspired a number of imitative works, as well as numerous references and editions. For example, as a result of such an inspiration, Byron chose a Turkish setting for a tale of horror during the famous contest between Shelley, Mary Shelley and himself and started to write a story about a vampire, taking Izmir as the setting, which revealed his association of Turkey as a land of cruelty and terror (72). Turkish Tales (1813) and Hadji Baba of Ispahan (1824) can be included as they both reproduced similar images embellished by their imagination without first hand observation of the Turks and their culture. However, The letters of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, from the mid eighteenth century, appear to be relatively more objective and tolerant, and stand in contrast to other accounts focusing on religion, sensuality and sexual perversions.

 Owing to 'the fact that travellers could embellish real accounts or that they and non-travellers did invent some or all of what seemed to be authentic' (Travel Literature, 74), it will be useful to note that various travel accounts, particularly those written between 1600 and 1800, are believed to have been about imaginary or false voyages rather than on actual ones. As regards fabrication and embellishment in travel-writing the admission of this comes from the travellers themselves. The practice indeed goes back to the second century AD and the work of Lucian, who, far from reproaching the practice, regarded it as lying within the tradition of the genre: 'I will say one thing that is true, and that is that I am a liar' (73). However, he emphasises his main discontent with the way in which travellers pretended to be so naive as to think no one would find them out.

 Moreover, on the basis of her personal experience and observation of the people of Istanbul during her two-year stay, Lady Mary, in her letter dated Ist April, 1717, made the same complaint about those travellers who stayed too short a time to be able to report anything accurately and 'who can only pick up some confused information which is generally false, and they can give no better an account of the ways here than a French refugee, lodging in a Garret in Greek street could write of the Court of England' (74).

 Similar accusations have been made against various eighteenth century travellers such as Daniel Defoe; for he is believed to have written his fictitious book, New Voyage Round the World (1724) and against Montesquieu's Lettres persanes (1721), as he apparently made use of various real or fictional travel books of his predecessors such as J. B. Tavernier (1676) and John Chardin (1686): 'Thus in a hundred ways Montesquieu took what he found in the travellers to the Orient, worked it over imaginatively, and incorporated it in a book' (Travel Literature, 115).

 While some twentieth century scholars such as Jeffroy Atkinson (1920;1922), Marjorie Nicolson (1936) and Philip Gove (1941) have discussed this question Adams remarks that: 'some books are partly or wholly fabricated by real travellers, by their editors, or by writers who needed only a good library and an imagination' (Travel Literature, 72). Investigating this kind of travel fabrication in his Travellers and Travel Liars:1660-1800 (1962), as well as revising it in a separate chapter of Travel Literature and the Evolution of the Novel (1983), Adams takes the beginning of the tradition back to earlier centuries since 'the tradition of traveller as liar is, in fact, as old as that for belletristic writers in general and for authors of long prose fiction in particular' (Travel Literature, 82). According to this investigation, Marco Polo and the author of Travels of Sir John Mandeville (1356) are indicated as the early performers of fabrication and embellishment and Adams notes they probably borrowed from comtemporaneous encyclopaedias and from travellers such as William of Boldensele (1336) and Oderic of Pordenore (1330) (Travel Literature, 73). He makes a similar accusation about the pilgrims, who often returned home and lied about their journeys.

 Consequently, a general attribution to imaginary and fictitious accounts has been made by Irene L. Szyliowicz when she analyses travel accounts into groups with particular examples:

The interest in foreign lands and strange societies manifests itself in two literary genres: travel literature which was essentially 'objective' reportage, such as Tavernier's Voyage en Turquie, en Perse aux Indes (1676) and Bernier's Voyages (1699); and fantasy travel, for example, Rabelais's Pantagruel (1532), Motesquieu's Lettres persanes (1721) (75).

 As the Ottoman Empire gradually started to decline and European countries received positive responses to their demands to open political, cultural and commercial relations with Turkey, western interest in the Turks and their life, religion, culture and traditions increased. In the light of various cultural and commercial treaties many people of different occupations visited Turkey and produced a great number of works describing seraglio life, women in the Turkish harem, courtly life in general and other exotic aspects of non-European culture.

61-Percy G. Adams, Travel Literature and the Evolution of the Novel (Kentucky: The University Press of Kentucky, 1983),
62-The Turkish Spy and His Secret Pact with the Ottoman Court. Discovered in Paris in the Reign of the Great Louis, the Year 1683, First vol. trans. from the Italian. Noted in William H. McBurney, "the Authorship of the Turkish Spy," PMLA, 72, 1957, pp. 915-35.

63-Published in France as Lettres persanes in 1721, John Ozell's English translation, Persion Letters, was issued the following year. There were other English editions in 1730 and 1731, and an issue in 1736 heralded as "Third Edition, Carefully corrected". See Charles de Secondat Baron de Montesquieu, Persian Letters, translated by John Ozell in two volumes (London: Garland Publishing, 1972).

64-Joseph Tucker, “The Turkish Spy and its French Background” in Revue de Litterature Comparee, 32, 1958, (74-91), p. 79.

65-Pietro Della Valle, The Travels of Pietro Della Valle ed. Edward Gray (London: Hakluyt Society, 1892) p. viii.

66-Traiano Boccalini, Ragguagli di Parnaso trans. and ed. Henry, Earl of Manmouth (London: Thomas Guy, 1674).

67-Giovanni Marana, “To the Reader”, Letters Writ by a Turkish Spy (London: A. Wilde, 1748), I.V. All notes relating to these letters will be designated as ‘To the Reader’ followed by volume, book, and letter number.

68-Spectator, 50 (April 27, 1711), pp. 150-2.

69-Joseph Addison and Richard Steele, The Spectator (1715) ed. Gregory Smith (4 vols.), rpt. London: Dent and Sons, 1964).

70-Daniel Defoe, A Continuation of Letters Written by a Turkish Spy at Paris (London: W. Tylor, 1718).

71-William Beckford, The Episode of Vathek (London: Stephen Swift, [n.d.]) p.9.

72-Rowland Prothero, ed. Byron's Works: Letters and Journals (London: John Murray, 1902), Appendix. IX

73-Lucian, True Story (or True History), in Lucian Selected Works, trans. Bryon P. Reardon (New York: Bobbs-Merril, 1965), p. 220.

74-Robert Halsband, ed. The Complete Letters of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, 1708-1720 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1965), pp. 315-6.

75-Irene L. Szyliowicz, Pierre Loti and the Oriental Woman (London: Macmillan, 1988), p. 35. Further reference to this work will be given after quotations in the texts, by mentioning its shortened title, 'Pierre Loti'.