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Gender, Nation, and the Arabic Novel

Egypt, 1892-2008

Hoda Elsadda

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A nuanced understanding of literary imaginings of masculinity and femininity in the Egyptian novel

Gender studies in Arabic literature have become equated with women's writing, leaving aside the possibility of a radical rethinking of the Arabic literary canon and Arab cultural history. While the 'woman question' in the Arabic novel has received considerable attention, the 'male question' has gone largely unnoticed. Now, Hoda Elsadda bucks that trend.

Foregrounding voices that have been marginalised alongside canonical works, she engages with new directions in the novel tradition.

Sheds new light on key debates, including:

  • The project of nation-building in the modern period
  • The process of inclusion and exclusion in canon formation
  • The geopolitics of definitions of national or cultural identity in the global world
  • The conceptual discourses on gender and nation
  • The meaning of national identity in a global context


Note on Transliteration and translation
Introduction: Gender, nation and the canon of the Arabic novel
Part One: Chapter 1: Beginnings: Discourses on Ideal Manhood and Ideal Womanhood
Chapter 2: The New Man: Conflicting Masculinities in the Fiction of Haikal, al-Mazini and a-Rafi'I
Chapter 3: Tawfiq al-Hakim and the Civilizational Novel
Part Two: Chapter 4: Naguib Mahfouz's Trilogy: A National Allegory
Chapter 5: Latifa al-Zayyat: Gender and Nationalist Politics
Chapter 6: Defeated Masculinities in Sonallah Ibrahim
Part Three: Chapter 7: The Personal is Political: Debating the New Writing in the 1990s
Chapter 8: The Postcolonial Nomadic Novel
Chapter 9: Liminal Spaces/ Liminal Identities: Hamdi Abu Golayyel, Ahmed Alaidy and Muhammad 'Ala' al-Din
Arabic References
English References

About the Author

Hoda Elsadda is Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Cairo University, and co-founder and Chair of the Board of the Women and Memory Forum. Previously, she held a Chair in the Study of the Contemporary Arab World at the University of Manchester. She is a widely published scholar and activist and her work has focused on Arab and Muslim women’s history and narratives, comparative literature and feminist issues.


Elsadda brilliantly upends standing understandings of the Arabic novel. Nuanced and incisive, she dissects over a century of Egyptian Arabic novels, demonstrating that the liberal national elite’s gendered imaginations of the nation shaped the literary canon. She convincingly argues that national political projects must imagine themselves through cultural production and that both are systematically shot through with gendered constructions of power.

- Suad Joseph, Professor of Anthropology and Women and Gender Studies, University of California, Davis

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