The conventions of classical Arabic literature outlined in the first chapter were fundamentally and irrevocably altered by the growing interrelationship between the Arab world and the West during the nineteenth and early twentieth century. In literary terms, the main effect of this process was the progressive substitution of Western literary forms (drama, novel, short story) for the traditional Arabic ones as the main (though not the only) means of literary expression in prose, with a corresponding (though rather later) loosening of the classical forms in poetry. Though it is impossible to give firm dates for the process, the resulting nahḍa (a term probably first used by Jirjī Zaydān,1 and usually translated as 'revival' or 'renewal' in English) may be said to have extended roughly from the middle of the nineteenth century to the end of the First World War. In describing this process, however, it is important to bear in mind that literary development did not proceed at the same pace in every part of the Arab world, and that many areas failed to feel the influence of developments in Egypt or Syria2 (the leaders in the nahḍa's early stages) for a considerable time. Moreover, as with most literary developments, stages of development overlapped–to the extent, indeed, that it is still possible to find poets, in particular, in some parts of the Arab world, still using forms of verse that would be regarded as 'classical' even today.
The conventional starting date usually given for the start of this process– 1798, the date of Napoleon's invasion of Egypt–prompts a number of questions, literary, political and economic. If some commentators are open to the charge of being over-eager to characterise the years following 1258 (or 1516–17) as a period of unremitting gloom (the 'Age of Depression', to use Haywood's term),3 others (or, more frequently, the same ones) may with some justification be accused of attaching undue significance to 1798. Broad generalisations abound, often accompanied by a touch of hyperbole, as a substitute for rigorous analysis. Badawi, for example, observes simply that 'Out of this complacency [i.e., the complacency induced by Ottoman rule] Arabic culture was rudely awakened when Bonaparte invaded Egypt in 1798',4 while Haywood takes it for granted that, left to its own devices, Arabic literature–and, by implication, the Arab