SOAS University of London

Department of the Languages and Cultures of the Near and Middle East

Twentieth Century Turkish Literature

Module Code:
Module Not Running 2022/2023
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Year 4
Taught in:
Full Year

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

On successful completion of this module a student will be able to demonstrate:

  1. an ability to evaluate and analyse socially and politically significant currents in late Ottoman and Turkish intellectual history.
  2. an engagement with prominent theoretical and critical debates regarding the relationship between text and historico-political contexts
  3. analytic and interpretive skills with regards to the reading of individual works of Turkish literature while engaging with ideas of literary genre, stylistic nuance and formal as well as narratological features
  4. skills to make coherent and meaningful (written and oral) arguments about specific texts and its relationship to social and historical movements in Turkey
  5. critical and analytic skills fundamental to the discipline of literary studies


Total of 22 weeks teaching with 2 hours classroom contact per week consisting of a 1 hour lecture and a 1 hour seminar.

Scope and syllabus

Readings and discussion are guided by, but not exclusive to, a selection of works from major writers of the late-Ottoman and Republican periods of the 20th century.  In addition, major critical readings on these works and their relationship to the historico-social context are studied.  The module material is organised in chronological order for the purpose of following thematic and formal developments of the major genres of the 20th century.

Beginning in the late-Ottoman, post-Tanzimat period, the first lessons survey some of the most famous works of a variety of genres which were published at that time, such as Şair Evlenmesi, Felatun Bey ve Rakim Efendi, Vatan Yahut Silistre and Araba Sevdası.  In exploring these works, students will engage with dominant themes of social and literary concern that have had a significant impact on the form and content of the canon of 20th century literature and, in particular, republican literature.  Within the study of such important thematics, students will be asked to read analytic works alongside literary texts for the purpose of illucidating the most influential and critical problematics surrounding 20th century Turkish literature.  Among these intellectual trends, we will begin to outline how local influences informed these early, modern works; how the prominence of didacticism and the impetus of social reform mobilized literary form; how new representations of gender and family relations began to constitute burgeoning nationalist sentiments; and how the influence of westernization in the political and social spheres and the adoption of western literary forms helped to promote a new a sense of self—both at the individual and collective levels.

From these introductory lessons, the module then turns to the period of National(ist) Literature, Milli Edebiyatı, which begins in the early 20th century  and continues through the first decades of the Republic.  From the context of nation-building, students will see how national and republican thought were celebrated, contextualized and problematized in novels such as Vurun Kapheye andYaban.  Students will also read a selection of short stories by prominent authors such as Sabahattin Ali, Refik Halit Karay and Sait Faik.  At the same time, students will begin to consider how the context of the new republic demanded changes to existing narrative forms and genres.  

Following the Milli Edebiyatı period, students will then read works of poetry and novels from the 1950s and 1960s.  These are generally considered to come under the rubrik of realism and modernism.  In particular, students will read  the novels Ince Memed, Baba Evi, Saatleri Ayarlama Enstitusu; they will also survey poetry written by authors of the Garip Hareketi and the lyric poetry of Nazım Hikmet.  Students will study these works in a two-fold way.  Firstly, they will study the relationship between form and context, making connections between the overtly critical –if not anti-state- content of these works and the use of realism and modernism, in the case of novels and absurdism and lyricism in the case of poetry.  Secondly, students will be asked to draw on preceding literary movements for the purpose of evaluating how this period re-thinks questions of nationalism, gender, westernization and the role of literature in social reform.

Term two begins with literature from the 1970s and 1980s and introduces texts of this period as a move away from the directive of social reform towards the detailing of a changing social fabric and burgeoning identity politics.  Students will read the novels of Adalet Ağaoğlu and Latife Tekin, who are influential in helping to establish a literary discourse capable of representing the disparate and often disharmonious social, cultural, gendered, religious, regional, ethnic and class-based identities at play within the urban and rural spaces. Students will also be introduced, in light of the devastation of the 1980s coup,  to the relationship between power and literature and the possibility of various literary forms to assimilate absolute power, such as dictatorship, within its story lines.

Finally, students will look at several works from the 1990s and the millenium.  In this section, students will encounter theories related to post-modern fiction and examine how the value of literary and political representation as well as identity-politics and nationhood are questioned and disseminated.  Among these works, students will read Orhan Pamuk’s Benim Adım Kırmızı and Kar, Perihan Mağden’s  Iki Genç Kız and Haberi Çocuklar Cinayeti and Elif Şafak’s Bastard of İstanbul.  Students will explore how the deconstructed world of these works not only comment on the confinement of the socio-political context, political discourses and nationalist historiography but also, and in particular, how they ‘play’, evaluate and re-assign meaning within canon of 20th century Turkish literature.

Through this chronological survey of different eras of history and literature, students will be able to analyze the most relevant points regarding Turkish literary studies.  Designed as a survey module of 20th century Turkish literature, it will introduce students to influential authors, intellectual and artistics movements and, most importantly, the basics of literary studies in both the Turkish and international contexts.

Method of assessment

  • one three-hour written examination taken in May/June (60%)
  • one 2,000 word essay to be submitted in term 2 (20%)
  • one 2,000 word essay to be submitted in term 3 (20%)
  • The exact assessment deadline dates are published on the relevant module Moodle/BLE page

Suggested reading

Basic Bibliography
  • Akı, Niyazi. Yakup Kadri Karaosmanoğlu, Insan-Eser-Fikir-Üslup. İstanbul: İlettişim Yayınları, 2001.
  • Aykut, Ebru. "Constructing Divisions Between City and Countryside: On Fertile Lands and Distant". Journal of Historical Studies, 5 (2007) 69-82.
  • Dino, Güzine, 1986.  "The Turkish Peasant Novel, or the Anatolian Theme."  World Literature Today, 60: 266-75.
  • Finn, R. P., 1984.  The Early Turkish Novel: 1872-1900.  Istanbul: İsis.
  • Göksu, Saime and Edward Timms, eds., 2006.  Romantic Communist, The Life and Work of Nazım Hikmet. London: Hurst & Company.
  • Jacobson, J. S., 1971.   Occidental Elements in Yakup Kadri’s Novel, Yaban. University of Utah.
  • Jameson, Fredrik. 1986. “Third-World Literature in the Era of Mulitnational Capitalism” Social Text, 15: 65-88.
  • Halman, Talât Sait, 1982.  Contemporary Turkish Literature: Fiction and Poetry.  Edited by T. S. Halman.  Rutherford: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press.
  • Karaomerlioglu, Asim. "The Peasants in Early Turkish Literature", East European Quarterly XXXVI, No. 2 (June 2002)
  • Karpat, Kemal, 1960-1.  "Social Themes in Contemporary Turkish Literature."  The Middle East Journal, 14: 29-44 (1960); 14: 153-168 (1961).
  • Kemal, Orhan. Trnsl., Bengisu Rona (with an essay on Orhan Kemal's work) In Jail with Nazim Hikmet. London: Saqi, 2010.
  • Moran, Berna, 1983.  Türk Romanına Eleştirel bir Bakış. , Ahmet Mithat’tan A.H. Tanpınar’a.  Vol 1. Istanbul: İletişim Yayınları.
  • Moran, Berna, 1990.  Türk Romanına Eleştirel bir Bakış. Sabahattin Ali’den Yusuf Atilgan’a.  Vol 2.  Istanbul: İletişim Yayınları.
  • Mardin, Şerif, 1974.  “Super Westernization in Urban Life in the Ottoman Empire in the Last Quarter of the Nineteenth Century”, in Turkey: Geographic and Social Perspectives. Eds., Benedict Peter, Erol Tümertekin and Fatma Mansur. Leiden: Brill: 403- 446.
  • Parla, Jale, 2008. “Wounded Tongue: Turkey’s Language Reform and the Canonicity of the Novel”, PLMA 123, no 1: 27-40.
  • Sirman, Nükhet, 1999. “Gender Construction and Nationalist Discourse: Dethroning the Father in the Early Turkish Novel”, in Gender and Identity Construction: Women in Central Asia, the Caucasus and Turkey.  Eds., Feride Acar and Ayşe Güneş Ayata.   Leiden: Koninklijke Brill: 162-176.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules