Prose literature: early developments
We have already noted in Chapter 2 above the important role played by the rise of the press and growth of a wider reading public during the second half of the nineteenth century in laying the foundations for the development of modern Arabic prose literature. The period covered by the present chapter, roughly 1880–1933, represents a crucial one in the emergence of modern Arabic narrative in the form of the novel and short story as usually understood in the West. Perhaps more than any other chapter, it will be dominated by developments in Egypt–though, as with the early development of the modern Arab theatre, Syrian émigrés also played a crucial, contributory role.
As noted in Chapter 2, the short essay and article had, partly for economic reasons, begun to emerge as the dominant prose forms in Egypt and much of the rest of the Arab world during the second half of the nineteenth century. Despite, or perhaps because of, the British occupation of Egypt in 1882, translations into Arabic from European languages at this stage continued to be dominated by French novels and short stories; these were often heavily adapted, and were frequently no more than worthless tales of romantic love. At the same time, however, and despite the influx of new forms of expression from the West, traditional narrative structures were still being used to considerable effect by some writers, albeit in decreasing numbers. Muḥammad al-Muwayliḥī's Ḥadīth ‛Īsā ibn Hishām, published in serial form between 1898 and 1902 and in book form in 1907, is usually held to be the last major literary work to use the Maqāma form,1 though the changing times are already apparent in his use of the form as a vehicle for contemporary social criticism: the book relates the story of a pasha from Muḥammad ‛Alī's time who is resurrected to find himself in a new, Europeanised Cairo; by this means, the author is enabled to compare present-day Egypt with that of the past, and to comment on the influence of Europe on Egyptian society. Some idea of the topics covered may be gleaned from the titles of the various chapters, which include, for example, 'The Police', 'The Parquet', 'The