By Hakan Arslanbenzer
Turkish literary history has had some very sharp turns on the aesthetic account since the Turks adopted Islam as both a religion and civilization. As the Oghuz tribes settled down in Anatolia for two centuries following the first Seljuk conquests, the Turkish language and literary tradition entered into a complete metamorphosis. Though the history of language and literature puts the zero line of the Turkish language to some 2,500 years back, actual Turkish, which is the official language of Turkey today, is the product of the aforementioned metamorphosis of the 11th to 13th centuries. After that process, the classical Turkish literature was formed based upon aesthetics shared with other Islamic languages such as Arabic and Persian.
However, the modernization of Turkey during the Tanzimat period was also reflected in the literary area in the mid-19th century. While imperial Turkish literary texts enjoyed classical Islamic aesthetics under Seljuk and Ottoman rule, the modern literary movements brought newer things from Europe. Thus, the study of literature now required a new understanding of the trio of epistemology, ethics and aesthetics. After Namık Kemal‘s initiatives to renew literary aesthetics by combining European influences with classic Ottoman artistic knowledge, his disciples also contributed to the new science of literature by writing numerous textbooks and critiques on rhetoric, aesthetics and linguistics.
When the rulers of the Turkish republic decided to throw away the old tradition and establish a new university on ground zero, the study of Turkish literature became a new task, as well. Yet, unlike such humanistic departments as philosophy, philology and archaeology, departments of Turkish language and literature were founded on the narrow tradition of late Ottoman literary understanding. The department has been active since 1865 and survived the 1933 University Reform, which destroyed many lecturing positions at the old Darülfünun (Istanbul University after 1933), thanks to the chairmanship of Mehmet Fuad Köprülü, who was close to the government.
On the other hand, Westernization of the literary criticism owes much to the studies done by the members of the philology discipline, which was another innovation of the 1933 University Reform. The first generation of graduates of the English and French philology departments of Istanbul University especially contributed to the process of Western literary theories and methods of criticism being introduced to the literary public in Turkey. Some philologists of that generation, including Mina Urgan, limited themselves to the study of the foreign language they excelled in, while some others such as Adnan Benk and Berna Moran wrote their masterpieces on Turkish fiction. Though Benk has been widely forgotten due to his fragmented studies, Moran is considered one of the top critics of Turkish novels.
Early life, education
Berna Moran was born on Jan. 23, 1922, in Istanbul to Vefa Bey, a wealthy merchant of Balkan descent, and Mesture Hanım, the daughter of Ali Kami Bey, an education administrator and member of Parliament. His maternal grandfather Ali Kami Akyüz’s siblings were Ismail Safa and Ahmet Vefa, who were minor poets. Prominent fiction writer Peyami Safa, the son of Ismail Safa, was the first cousin of his mother.
After elementary school, Moran attended several high schools including the English High School, Robert College, Darüşşafaka and Işık High School. He graduated from the English Philology Department of the Istanbul University in 1945. He immediately began to work as a research assistant at the same department. In 1950, Moran earned his doctorate with a thesis titled “John Donne and the development of his religious aspect” under the supervision of the legendary Halide Edip Adıvar, the prominent politician and author who also founded the English Philology Department. Meanwhile, Moran also translated the “Richard III” play of William Shakespeare into Turkish.
Moran visited Cambridge University thanks to a Ford scholarship in 1951 for post-doctoral studies. After that, he got married to Tatyana Hanım, who was a research assistant at the same department as Berna Moran. Tatyana was a member of the Russian community in Istanbul, who left Russia because of the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917. Tatyana Moran was a graduate of the English Philology Department of the Istanbul University and studied a variety of subjects including eighth-century British legends and Russian Turcologists. She was 12 years older than Berna and had a previous marriage with an exiled Russian, with whom she lived in Europe and Africa for years.
Switching subjects: From English to Turkish
Berna Moran published some articles about 17th century English literature during his studies at Cambridge before he returned to Turkey and received his teaching position at the same department he worked for as a research assistant. Moran became an assistant professor in 1957 with a thesis titled “Understandings of Nature in the 17th century English literature.” After that, he left Istanbul for eastern Erzurum province with his wife to establish the English Philology department of the Atatürk University.
Berna and Tatyana Moran taught at the Atatürk University in Erzurum for three semesters before they returned to Istanbul in 1960, which was the starting point of his publications on modern Turkish literature.
First, Moran wrote on modern poetry. He examined Turkish poet Orhan Veli’s “Yol Türküleri” (“Folk songs for the Road”), where he used a thematic approach, the essence of his future work. Second, Moran continued his study on the English literature with a special bibliography, namely the “Bibliography of Publications in English Concerning Turks, Fifteenth to Eighteenth Centuries,” which is still used by academics studying the Western approaches to Turks. Then, he changed his path toward thematic analysis of modern novels of prominent novelists such as Sabahattin Ali, Orhan Kemal, Kemal Tahir and more. He also produced a special volume for modern literary and critical theories, which has been among the reading list of many departments since its publication in 1972.
Moran retired from the English Philology department in 1981, after which he thickened his critical studies. He produced three volumes, namely “A Critical Look at the Turkish Novel,” though the third volume was published posthumously. Another posthumous work is a collection of his early essays with scattered subjects. Berna Moran died of liver cancer on Oct. 31, 1993, in Istanbul.