PERSUASIONS ON-LINE V.28, NO.2 (Spring 2008)

Jane Austen in Turkey



Rana Tekcan

Rana Tekcan (email: is Assistant Professor of English at Istanbul Bilgi University,Turkey.  In addition to her book, The Biographer and the Subject: A Study on Biographical Distance (forthcoming), she has published articles on Boswell, Austen, and Shakespeare.  She has edited Turkish translations of Pride and Prejudice, Macbeth, Antony and Cleopatra, and Julius Caesar


Jane Austen’s novels made theIr way into the lives of the Turkish reading public through two separate paths:  the original publication of the texts in English, and their Turkish translations.  The way in which Austen was translated into Turkish often reflects the particular cultural moment in Turkish life and letters.  In particular, whether Austen was interpreted as serious and cerebral, romantic, or witty and ironical seems to shift from generation to generation among her Turkish translators.  Only very recently have translations of Austen begun to be able to combine these aspects of Austen’s approach rather than treat them as mutually exclusive.


İnanç or Persuasion (undated)


In the second half of the nineteenth century, France, Italy, Britain, Germany, Austria, and the United States established middle and highschools in the Ottoman Empire.  These institutions aimed to educate the children of European and American parents who lived and worked in the Empire in their own respective cultures and religions.  Turkish students were also allowed to enroll in these schools (Sakaoğlu 87).  Soon, primarily because of the thorough education they provided in languages, these so-called “foreign schools” became the preferred institutions for quite a number of Turkish families.  By 1900, ten to fifteen percent of the students were Turkish.  In 1926, the schools were integrated into the new secular educational system, which outlawed all religious education.  After that, the percentage of Turkish students shot up to seventy-five (88).  In the 1980s, these schools were included in the central examination system, consequently becoming less elitist and less exclusive.  Thousands of young men and women, many of whom became quite influential in the educational, social, or political life of the country, were educated in these institutions.


Literature became a crucial part of the curriculum in the “foreign schools,” especially after the 1930s.  The British and American schools—such as Robert College, Arnavutköy American College for Girls, Istanbul Üsküdar American College, and English Highschool—included Austen’s Pride and Prejudice or Emma and sometimes both novels in their literature reading lists.  The texts were read in their original, unsimplified, and unabridged form.  The discussion was centered on the marriage plot; the irony was pointed out but was not analyzed in detail.  In this way, Jane Austen’s novels became familiar to a more educated few with advanced knowledge of English. 


Austen’s readership in Turkey subsequently widened, thanks to the translation of her novels in the 1940s.  Following the founding of the Turkish Republic in 1923, a series of modernization projects were implemented by the state.  Among them was a comprehensive translation campaign by the Ministry of Education.  The Translation Bureau was established in 1939.  It operated between 1940 and 1967, publishing a total of 1247 translations (Berk 123).  Eighty of these were English classics.  They included Sağduyu ve Duyarlık (Sense and Sensibility) in two volumes, translated by Vecahat Güray and published in 1946 and 1948 respectively, and Gurur ve Aşk (Pride and Love, the title given by the translator to Pride and Prejudice) also in two volumes, translated by Beria Okan Özoran and published in 1950 and 1951 respectively. 


The Translation Bureau’s Sense and Sensibility (1946 and 1948) 


It was not these translations, however, but rather Nihal Yeğinobalı’s Aşk ve Gurur (Love and Pride) that made its mark on Turkish popular culture, with the inversion of the nouns in the title suggesting a new emphasis on romance.  After graduating from Arnavutköy American College for Girls, Nihal Yeğinobalı (b. 1927), a novelist herself, embarked on her long and prolific career as a translator.  She translated Pride and Prejudice (1968), Mansfield Park (1968), Sense and Sensibility (1969), and Emma (1972), along with numerous other classics of English literature.


When Aşk ve Gurur, Yeğinobalı’s translation of Pride and Prejudice, came out in 1968, the two most popular Turkish women writers of the time were Kerime Nadir (1917-1984) and Muazzez Tahsin (1899-1984).  They both were well established romance writers, and enjoyed a wide, female readership.  The protagonists of the Turkish romance novels written by Nadir and Tashin were idealized figures:  the heroes are handsome and successful; the heroines are, without exception, beautiful and virtuous.  Conflicts may arise from class differences, or from differences between the morals and manners of the country and the city.  Women attract the men by their beauty and virtue, which the rival women fortunately seem to lack.  The protagonists of these romances are not permitted to deviate from traditional gender roles, which are never questioned or approached ironically.  Nadir’s and Tahsin’s novels had a certain look that helped readers distinguish them on bookstore shelves.  The covers showed either a young woman, or a young woman and a young man in pastel colors; they all were very similar in style, with catchy and dramatic titles like Kalp Ağrısı (The Heartache), Son Hıçkırık (The Final Sob) or Dağların Esrarı (The Mystery of the Mountains). 


Kerime Nadir’s Son Hıçkırık
(The Final Sob)

Muazzez Tahsin’s Dağların Esrarı
(The Mystery of the Mountains)


As a marketing strategy—and in contrast to the serious, even austere, cover designs of the earlier volumes published by the Translation Bureau—Yeğinobalı’s Aşk ve Gurur was made to look very similar to a Nadir or a Tahsin novel.


Nihal Yeğinobalı’s Aşk ve Gurur or Love and Pride  
(2nd ed., 1971)


Yeğinobalı’s title reads Love and Pride in Turkish. Yeğinobalı takes the word “prejudice” out of the title and Austen’s irony out of the text.  At certain points, when she does want the irony to come across, she marks it with an exclamation point in a parenthesis—(!)—to make sure that the readers do not misread it, as in the following example:


Bu semte yeni taşınan böyle bir bekarın duygu ve görüşleri ne denli az bilinirse bilinsin, bu gerçek (!) çevredeki ailelerin kafasına öyle yerleşmiştir ki zengin bekarı kendi kızlarının birinden birinin tapulu malı sayarlar.  (9)

(However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighbourhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered as the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters.  [Austen 3])


The word “gerçek” which corresponds to the word “truth” in the original is followed by “(!)” signaling the narrator’s ironic approach to the communal opinion, and showing the translator’s distrust of the reader’s ability to recognize it on his or her own.  In the same sentence quoted above, “man” becomes “bekar” (bachelor), and the “he” that follows becomes “the rich bachelor.”  Yeğinobalı is not particular about the translations of adjectives and makes do with approximations.  For easier reading, long paragraphs are broken into shorter ones just as complex sentences are simplified.  Difficult sentences are often either poorly translated or left out all together.


Yeğinobalı does not refrain from adding a word, a phrase or a sentence of her own whenever she sees fit.  Hence, in the last sentence of the first chapter, she adds another “solace” to Mrs. Bennet’s life, that of “dostluk,” or friendship (11).  Consider, for example, the translation of the scene in chapter fifteen, where the Misses Bennet and Mr. Collins walk to Meryton.  There, Mr. Denny introduces Mr. Wickham to them: 


Mr. Denny addressed them directly, and entreated permission to introduce his friend, Mr. Wickham, who had returned with him the day before from town, and he was happy to say had accepted a commission in their corps.  This was exactly as it should be; for the young man wanted only regimentals to make him completely charming.  (72)


Yeğinobalı rewrites Austen’s free indirect discourse as simple reported speech, and replaces “This was exactly as it should be” with “Bu habere küçük kızlar da sevindiler” (The little girls were also happy about this news) (86).  Many similar choices create a watered-down, somewhat vulgarized text.  Thus, through Yeğinobalı’s translation, Pride and Prejudice takes its place in the Turkish readers’ imagination as a novel with a poor-girl-marries-rich-man plot geared towards the expectations of romance readers. 


To this day Yeğinobalı’s Aşk ve Gurur remains the most well-known Turkish translation of an Austen novel.  It has been reprinted several times, most recently in October 2007 with exclamation marks and additions still intact. 


Yeğinobalı’s Aşk ve Gurur  
(October 2007)

Another translation of Pride and Prejudice  
(March 2007)


Yeğinobalı’s translation is so much identified with the original that six out of the seven subsequent translations use Yeğinobalı’s title (although the new covers are quite neutral, and often display European paintings).  Even the Turkish poster for the 2005 film adaptation of the novel reads Aşk ve Gurur—though by now Love and Pride is known to be an inaccurate title that consciously tried to popularize the novel.


Poster for Pride & Prejudice (2005) or
 Aşk ve Gurur (Love and Pride)


Yeğinobalı continued in the same vein in her other Austen translations.  She sentimentalized the titles, translating Mansfield Park as Umut Parkı (The Park of Hope), Sense and Sensibility as Kül ve Ateş (Ashes and Fire), and Emma as Kalbimdeki Kadın (The Woman in My Heart).  These titles were also aimed to attract the largest number of readers possible.  Although the translations themselves do not particularly follow through the image or image patterns suggested in the titles, they, like Aşk ve Gurur, popularize through simplification and avoidance of irony.


By singling out Yeğinobalı’s translations, I do not mean to suggest that other translations do not have their own problems. The structure of the Turkish language, where the predicate in a phrase always comes at the end, makes an elaborate Austen sentence difficult to carry.  In the Turkish translation of a long sentence in English, therefore, whatever the author says first in the original needs to be put at the end of the Turkish sentence.  There are also cultural differences that make the rendering of irony a difficult task for the translators.  The reader needs to be familiar with the target of the irony, or the material that is parodied or burlesqued.  Probably because of this cultural hindrance, neither Austen’s juvenilia nor Northanger Abbey have been translated into Turkish.


In 2006, one of the major Turkish publishing houses commissioned new translations of world classics for a new series.  They decided to inaugurate the series with a translation of Pride and Prejudice and commissioned it to Hamdi Koç, a novelist and translator known for his highly acclaimed translation of Shakespeare’s Pericles.  This time the novel was not called Aşk ve Gurur, but Gurur ve Önyargı, which means what Austen wanted it to mean:  Pride and Prejudice.  Exceeding all expectations, the first edition was sold out in less than a year, and a second edition immediately followed.


Koç’s Gurur ve Önyargı or Pride and Prejudice 
(March 2006)


Although Koç’s translation does not read as smoothly and effortlessly as Yeğinobalı’s “easy” version, it is certainly truer to the original.  The difference in character comes through in a comparison of various translations of the famous opening sentence of Pride and Prejudice.  Yeğinobalı translates it as follows:


Parası pulu olan her bekar erkeğin kendine bir yaşam arkadaşı seçmesinin kaçınılmaz olduğu, herkesçe benimsenmiş bir gerçektir.  (9)

(That it is inevitable for every bachelor of means to choose a life partner is an acknowledged truth.)


In a 2004 translation Ali Ateşoğlu had translated it thus:


Zengin ve bekar bir adamın mutlaka bir eşe ihtiyacı olduğu herkesçe kabul edilen bir gerçektir.  (3)

(That a rich and single man surely needs a wife is an acknowledged truth.)


But Koç translates it as follows:


Dünyaca kabul edilmiş bir gerçektir, hali vakti yerinde olan her bekar erkeğin bir eşe ihtiyacı vardır.  (3)

(It is a truth acknowledged by everyone that each single man with a fortune is in need of a wife.)


Koç tries to keep as close to the structure and punctuation as possible.  He seems to be in good control especially in the difficult long sentences.  Koç is now working on the translation of Sense and Sensibility.  The publishers are planning to publish all of Austen’s works including Northanger Abbey, the juvenilia, and other writings.  When this project is completed, we will have Jane Austen’s complete works in the Turkish language for the first time.


Meanwhile there is an ever-growing number of students studying English Literature at Turkish universities.  Nearly all major universities in Turkey have English Departments, and their students encounter Austen at least once during their four years in college.  She is also a research interest for graduate students.  The Dissertation Center of the Council for Higher Education (YÖK) shows that between 2000-2007, nearly twenty percent of all theses and dissertations on English literature are written on topics related to Jane Austen.  Some of the titles include “Cultural materialism: Text and Context in Jane Austen’s works,” “A Source Text Analysis and Translator Decisions Through Three Different Turkish Translations of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice,” “A Bakhtinian Analysis of the Author-Heroine Relationship in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Kate Chopin’s The Awakening  


Austen’s current popular reception in Turkey can be traced on an interesting Turkish website:  Ekşisözlük (The Sourtimes Dictionary), a web dictionary in which any popular or academic word, expression, phrase, concept, or person can and does become an entry.  Anonymous writers (all using pseudonyms) determine the entries and contribute their personal definitions and/or elaborations for each entry.  Ekşisözlük is like a living barometer of Turkish daily life and popular culture.  Typing “Jane Austen” in the little white search box on the site brings up two pages of definitions on the author as well as separate links to all her novels.  There are some entries with biographical information, some with detailed analysis of a particular aspect of a novel, some quite amusing and some highly serious entries.  There are also entries like the following:  “Jane Austen is for those who are ashamed to read romance novels,” or “The characters that Jane Austen created still live in the likes of a neighbor who is dying to get her daughters married to rich men.”  Some entries discuss old translations, and demand that new, more accurate ones be published.  Some young men or women say that they are lucky to read her in the original and that her genius is yet to be revealed in Turkish.  The entries in this highly creative “dictionary” offer a cross-section of Jane Austen’s present appeal in Turkey, an appeal that has produced brand new translations of Pride and Prejudice (stubbornly called Aşk ve Gurur) and Persuasion (İkna, which does mean “persuasion”) as recent as November 2007.  Yet, it is this same appeal that turned the film title Becoming Jane into Aşkın Kitabı (The Book of Love)—demonstrating that Jane Austen “products” can never completely avoid being romanticized in the marketing.


Most recent publication of Persuasion
(October 2007)

Poster for 2007’s Becoming Jane or
 Aşkın Kitabı (The Book of Love)


For Turkish readers, Austen seems to be appealing on quite different levels.  Some read Austen for the love story, some for the masterful plots, some for the inimitable style, and some for the characters one finds oneself speculating about long after the last page of a novel has been turned.  Her novels answer diverse expectations on many levels—the mark of a great artist in any country, any culture, and any language. 



Works Cited

Ateşoğlu, Ali.  Aşk ve GururPride and Prejudice.  Istanbul: Bordo Siyah, 2004.

Austen, Jane.  Pride and Prejudice.  Ed. R.W. Chapman.  3rd ed.  Oxford: OUP, 1988.

Berk, Özlem.  Translation and Westernization in Turkey: From The 1840s to The 1980s.  Istanbul: Ege Yay, 2004.

Ekşisözlük [The Sourtimes Dictionary].  2007.  27 Nov. 2007

Koç, Hamdi, trans.  Gurur ve ÖnyargıPride and Prejudice.  Istanbul: İş Kültür, 2006.

Sakaoğlu, Necdet.  Osmanlı’dan Günümüze Eğitim Tarihi [A History of Education from the Ottomans to Today].  Istanbul: Istanbul Bilgi Üniv. Yay, 2003.

T.C. Yükseköğretim Kurulu: Yayın ve Dökümantasyon Dairesi Tez Merkezi [Publication and Documentation Department Dissertation Center].  2007.  27 Nov. 2007

Yeğinobalı, Nihal, trans.  Aşk ve GururPride and Prejudice.  Istanbul: Engin Yay, 1999.


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