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Title: Sleuthing to redeem : in pursuit of historical change in the late Ottoman Empire through contemporary historical novels
Author: Sahin, Yasemin
ISNI:       0000 0004 7659 5637
Awarding Body: University of Kent
Current Institution: University of Kent
Date of Award: 2018
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This thesis examines fictional and scholarly representations of historical changes in the Ottoman Empire during its final century, with an eye to understanding the dynamics that divided and united the empire across communities. In order better to understand the interplay between history and fiction, as well as the historical changes themselves, I have analysed, in the light of Ottoman history and historiography, a selection of contemporary Anglophone historical novels which have a strong component of social engagement and could be said to attempt to intervene in the representation of Ottoman history. These novels are The Janissary Tree (2006) and The Snake Stone (2007) by Jason Goodwin, The Abyssinian Proof (2008) and The Winter Thief (2010) by Jenny White, and Birds without Wings (2004) by Louis de Bernières. The nineteenth century in the Ottoman Empire has been marked by technological, structural and social reforms, increased engagement with the European Powers, yet despite all such efforts, also by deteriorating economic status and increased divisions in the society. In their attempt to explore a past that best suits their vision of Ottoman society and the social conditions of the Ottoman Empire in its final century, these three authors have focused on three different moments of pronounced change, the Tanzimat, Sultan Abdülhamid II's reign, and the First World War. All three novelists are interested in uncovering the dynamics and management strategies regarding cultural diversity within the empire. The concept of Ottoman 'decline' and the millet system emerge as crucial in Jason Goodwin's work; Ottomanism and the heterogeneity of religious and national identifications and ideologies provide the critical focus in Jenny White's novels. Through the analysis of Goodwin's and White's novels, I show that crime fiction, with the genre's powerful ability to showcase social constituents and conditions, can present historical change as a matter of internal Ottoman dynamism, and project complex and sympathetic characters who help the authors produce a redemptive image of the Empire. De Bernières's historical novel, by contrast, foregrounds the question of civilisation, and possible Ottoman difference from the West, while also exploring the challenges presented by intercultural coexistence in a small community that acts as a microcosm of the Ottoman Empire. Here the possibility of a common Ottoman identity, once perhaps a tacit condition, emerges as newly difficult to achieve because of the lack of any common definition of history, nationhood or patriotism as these concepts have emerged or been altered by the violent coming of modernity. Through close reading of both texts and contexts in this thesis, I have aimed to determine the projections of each author regarding the efficacy of historical novels as a point of entry to the past, and of Ottoman institutions and ideals as a model for promoting and managing the mutual coexistence of multifaith, multi-ethnic, and indeed multicultural identities. The parameters of each author's investigation of Ottoman history are very much dependent on the kinds of past the writers envisage and are attempting to redeem. This vision in turn is informed by the authors' subject positions vis-à -vis our contemporary existence in a modern multicultural world. That is to say, the authors do not only participate in, but attempt to intervene in, Ottoman history writing, both to redeem a past which they judge to have been most likely misunderstood by western readers, but also to project some alternative futures based upon a new understanding. This thesis argues that more balanced and nuanced representations of the Ottoman past, produced both as a result of the continuous efforts of writers of fiction as well as historians, can help us as readers redefine our contemporary political landscape.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: PE English ; PN Literature (General)