İntibah (literally means “the rebirth”) of Nâmık Kemal, starts with an unusual description of Çamlıca. While he continues the traditions of the old literature, he also changes and transforms them in his own way. To see these changes and transformations we must investigate two things: what he describes and how he does it.
This novel can be considered as a turning point in the history of Turkish literature in terms of realism and individualism, if it is examined in the conditions of its time. He mentions the tulips and roses blossoming in the spring, moonlight and sun shining upon Çamlıca, and the lightness of the clouds. However, these aren’t used as metaphorical statements (mazmun) whose meaning was predetermined. They were used to demonstrate what is observed in the nature and to reflect the atmosphere of the story. The tulips are mentioned because there were tulips in Çamlıca, without any intention to symbolize the singularity of Allah. Furthermore, Kemal gives a totally different meaning to the roses and the nightingales from what Divan tradition gave. If nightingales are truly in love, according to him, this love is only towards the freedom.
Although I said that Nâmık Kemal makes a difference between him and the tradition in the description of the environment, it is hard to say that the entire novel succeeds the same thing. We can hardly witness any complete character design in İntibah. Most of the persons of the novel are exaggerated typecasts. Ali Bey is an excellent example of a factitious product of literary didacticism as he loses his father and gradually moves to his doom by moving away from the publicly accepted lifestyle. His mother is a typical mother as well as his friends being typical persons. Maidservant Dilaşup who lay down her life for her love resembles the lovers of the tales from a thousand and one nights. The only person of the novel who can be defined as a character is Mehpeyker as she doesn’t react standard to the standard effects.
How they are described?
When it comes to “how” Nâmık Kemal describes rather than what is described, I lose my little optimism against this novel completely. Although the description of environment is different than what Divan literature had been doing, it still is fabulous, exaggerated and subjective. Çamlıca is seen as a part of the heaven. Tulips are enchanted with the wine of the spring. The moon in the sky is a living creature which is milked by sorcerers. Green is obviously the favorite color and no other color can compete with it.
Although Mehpeyker is considered as the only vibrant character by us, her bodily description is borrowed from the Divan literature. Her mouth is small, her lips are deep red like a flame. These descriptions had been used by Divan poets as predetermined metaphores to describe the beauty of a woman. Not only the beauty but also the ugliness is depicted with exaggeration and certainty. Abdullah Efendi, who sponsored Mehpeyker, is a mean, vulgar and hideous man. His inside world is reflected by his appearance. He is so ugly that even the prostitutes don’t accept money to kiss him once.
It is unfair to compare this novel of Nâmık Kemal with developed literary pieces. It would be anachronism. What I tried to do was only to put forth the throwbacks of this novel for us to see the changes in a time table from the beginning. Although I don’t recognize it as a realist or naturalist novel, it was a step towards a new mindset which has eventually led to a more modern, humanist and realist literature. For further readings, I recommend Güzin Dino’s the Birth of the Turkish Novel for all.
Featured Image: Ivan Aivazovsky [Public Domain]