Fictions of Revolution: Empire and Nation in Lawrence Durrell, Naguib Mahfouz, John Wilcox, and Bahaa Taher

Mahmoud, Rania. Fictions of Revolution: Empire and Nation in Lawrence Durrell, Naguib Mahfouz, John Wilcox, and Bahaa Taher. 2014. University of Washington, PhD dissertation.

This dissertation engages postcolonial theory and historiography in order to illuminate our understanding of the ways in which literary works re-create and interrogate history and, to evoke Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, "world" worlds. This study provides a comparative analysis of narrations of the 1881-1882 Urabi Revolution and the 1919 Revolution in British and Egyptian fiction from 1957 to 2007. In engaging the Bildungsroman, these works construct competing histories of Egypt's revolutions. Confirming colonial accounts of these revolutions, the British novels view Egyptian subjectivity as frozen and unchanging. In contrast, the Egyptian fictions present these events as ongoing and always open to re-definition. Ultimately, these narratives reflect different perceptions of Egyptian identity and, in more general terms, varying views of history.

Chapter One reads Lawrence Durrell's Mountolive, the third volume of his famous The Alexandria Quartet, as a reaffirmation of the orientalist Enlightenment values of the Bildungsroman, which upholds Western values as the standard to which society must conform. In its portrayal of the legacy of the 1919 Revolution, the novel marks the British protagonist's disillusionment with grotesque Egypt and his acknowledgement of the English social order as his moment of maturity. Identifying Egyptians as forever different, it establishes the European standard as the only route towards modernity. Chapter Two reads Sugar Street, the last volume of Naguib Mahfouz's landmark The Cairo Trilogy, as a subversion of the Bildungsroman. In depicting the decades following the 1919 Revolution, a period where Egyptian attempts at political autonomy are constantly thwarted by Egyptian government corruption and British interference in domestic affairs, Mahfouz interrogates the genre's imperialist project as well as Egyptian calls to cling to native traditions. I argue that Sugar Street introduces an alternative, culturally specific Bildungsroman that advocates for eternal revolution as the condition of Egyptian subjectivity. The third chapter reads John Wilcox's The Guns of El Kebir, arguing that by fusing the imperial romance with the Bildungsroman in addressing the Urabi Revolution, the novel harkens back to British rule over Egypt as a glorious time signifying British heroism and altruism. Despite brief questioning of Empire, the novel affirms imperialist discourse when its protagonists - an unorthodox ex-army officer and a feminist anti-imperialist - both recognize the necessity of the British occupation. Reviving the Bildungsroman as the narrative of modernity, Guns denies Egyptian nationalism and revolution by redefining it as a class conflict or by qualifying it, and ties the protagonists' maturity to identification with the occupation. Chapter Four reads Bahaa Taher's Sunset Oasis. In addressing the Urabi Revolution, the novel subverts, the imperial romance, the Bildungsroman and the national romance. Unforgiving in its exposure of Egypt's own role in its own subjugation and as a colonial power in the Egyptian western region of Siwa, Sunset Oasis rejects all forms of national belonging - Pharaonism and Ottomanism - as limiting and exclusionary, advocating for an Egyptian subjectivity that transcends ideologies to include all Egyptians.

Status of Research or Work: 
Completed/published
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