Reconsidering the Arabic Novel. Steps Toward an Inclusive Literary History

Stephan, Johannes (20 November 2016). Reconsidering the Arabic Novel. Steps Toward an Inclusive Literary History (Unpublished). In: Middle East Studies Association Annual Meeting. Boston, MA, USA. 17.-20. November 2016.

Full text not available from this repository. (Request a copy)

The historiography about the beginnings of modern Arabic literature is usually centered on developments in Lebanon and Egypt from the middle of the Nineteenth century onwards that among other things led to modern narrative prose (fiction), first of all the Arabic novel. Although textual production from the pre-print age, notably the early Eighteenth Century has been more and more included into comprehensive studies (see Roger Allen, Abdelrazzak Patel) a remarkable void around the turn to the Nineteenth century remains. While I do not deny the significant change that occurred in the Arab milieus in Ottoman society between the two centuries, I presume, however, that the novel in formal features was only able to grow on fertile ground. That is to say that many of its aesthetic features were not alien to its readership be it in forms of manuscripts or oral narratives. My paper aims to reconstruct the emergence of modern Arabic prose fiction from within. "From within" designates an approach that focusses on similarities in texts from different periods, foremost on the narratological and rhetorical constitution rather than on sociohistorical aspects. After briefly questioning early and recent scholarship on the emergence of Modern Arabic literature, I will take as a point of departure Khalil Khuri's "Alas, I'm not a European..." (1859/60) which is often considered the first novel in Arabic language. In my examination of its features my study suggest to distinguish between the author-narrator's claim of renewal and revival of literary heritage and the narrative's embeddedness into well known textual strategies. Finally I will argue that prominent features of his novel can be contextualized within three fields of narrative texts from the middle and late Ottoman period (mainly Eighteenth Century). These are first of all autobiographical writings (e.g. travelogues), second, shorter biographical entities (e.g. hagiographic anthologies), and third oral story telling (e.g. popular epic).

Item Type:

Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)


06 Faculty of Humanities > Department of Art and Cultural Studies > Institute for Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies

UniBE Contributor:

Stephan, Johannes


200 Religion > 290 Other religions
800 Literature, rhetoric & criticism > 890 Other literatures
900 History
900 History > 950 History of Asia




Johannes Stephan

Date Deposited:

24 Apr 2017 14:33

Last Modified:

24 Apr 2017 14:33

Uncontrolled Keywords:

Arabic Literary History, Arabic Novel, Narratology, Nahda, Hanna Dyab, Khalil al-Khuri, Gérard Genette


Actions (login required)

Edit item Edit item
Provide Feedback