Müşahedat of Ahmet Mithat Efendi was first published in newspaper episode by episode and be printed as a book in 1891. It is not possible to disagree with Ahmet Mithat when he represents himself as a “yazıcı” rather than an “edebiyatçı”. (Actually, I have had a very hard time to translate these words into English. Meaning of “yazıcı” is in between the meanings of the words “typer” and “writer” but closer to the first one. “Recorder” maybe? I’m not sure. Long story short, he prefers to describe himself as a regular person who writes because he wants to write and record, and he doesn’t want to be regarded as a man of letters.)
When he built his story, as I understand, his main motivation was to entertain the readers while teaching them about the facts of the world. He often gives encyclopedic information about İstanbul without dissolving them into the plot. Moreover, it is important to note that Ahmet Mithat challenges Emile Zola and other Naturalists, saying that a true Naturalist novel should be like Müşahedat not like Zola’s. In this context, I will ask four questions (one of them is a rhetorical one) and try to answer first three of them.
Four Questions to Müşahedat
First of all, does being a Naturalist mean conveying exactly what happened or trying to be seen like that? My answer is negative. A Naturalist novelist also creates characters and stories. But he/she tries to keep the realities of the society in mind and avoids hesitating to disturb if it is necessary. Müşahedat narrates the author itself chasing the story of two women whom he met in a ferry. He tries to convince us that these all really happened. Although it made the novel intriguing, it is nothing to do with Naturalism.
My second question is whether Naturalism means trying to give as much information as it can or not. Ahmet Mithat gives detailed information about things related with the civic life without considering if it is really necessary. My answer is no again. It is obvious that no novel can give detailed information about everything it touches whether they are essentially connected to the plot or not. Author must be selective. Thus, it is acceptable for Ahmet Mithat to explain which chambers are dedicated for women in a ferry to clarify how the author met with these two ladies. It fills a gap in the story. However, explaining the grocery merchandise of İstanbul in details with a tone of an encyclopedia doesn’t make this novel Naturalist. It only prevents pleasurable reading.
The third thing that bothered me in the context of Naturalism was the challenging voice of Ahmet Mithat. He disparages Emile Zola and sees his works invaluable. He often compares himself with Zola and do not hesitate to express these in the novel. Does the attempt of Ahmet Mithat to pit his wits against Zola in the novel for more than one bore and annoy the reader? Yes, it does! It sounds like an adolescent trying to build his/her identity against a negative idol but secretly admires it. It sounds childish. Comparing himself with Zola is not the only case related with this issue. Ahmet Mithat recurrently glorifies himself for coming up with the idea to put himself into the plot as a character. He claims that he is the first novelist doing this. He is (probably) right but he doesn’t let us glorify him, he glorifies himself, in the text. I think he tries to prove himself. Why he is doing so? I don’t know.
So, is Müşahedat a Naturalist novel?
Featured Image: Ivan Aivazovsky [Public Domain]