Prose literature: the period of maturity
This chapter continues the account begun in the previous chapter, describing the development of the novel and short story from the 1930s to around 1967, when a major change occurred in the prevailing mood of the Arab world that is reflected in much Arabic fiction. Like all such divisions, the cut-off point between what I have called the 'period of development' and the 'period of maturity' is a slightly arbitrary one – probably even more arbitrary than in the case of modern Arabic poetry, which falls fairly easily into three distinct styles, if not distinct periods. What is clear, however, is that from time to time individual works or authors appear that mark a shift in contemporary attitudes or usher in a new phase of development. Muḥammad Ḥusayn Haykal's Zaynab, discussed in the previous chapter, has been almost universally acknowledged as one such work, and though less agreement might perhaps be found among the critics for a corresponding work from the early 1930s, there can be little doubt that a major advance in Egyptian and Arabic novelistic technique occurred during that period. As this advance, to my mind, is well exemplified by the publication of the two parts of Tawfīq al-Ḥakīm's major novel ‛Awdat al-Rūḥ in 1933, it is with this work that I shall begin.
Although Tawfīq al-Ḥakīm's continuing reputation undoubtedly owes more to his plays than to his novels, his novels, beginning with ‛Awdat al-Rūḥ itself, in fact seem to me to hold a position of an almost equivalent importance for the development of modern Arabic literature generally. Begun in French during his period of study in Paris from 1925 to 1928,1‛Awdat al-Rūḥ was closely modelled on the author's experiences in Cairo during the First World War and as such, continues an autobiographical trend prominent during the early development of modern Arabic fiction, as already noted in the previous chapter. Essentially, the work depicts the life and often frustrated loves of a middle-class Egyptian family of the period, culminating in the 1919 Egyptian popular revolt led by Sa‛d Zaghlūl that for al-Ḥakīm represented the 'Return of the Spirit' of the work's title. Structurally, the work suffers from numerous faults, most notably the tendency to rambling digression that mars many of al-Ḥakīm's works: long sections in the second part are devoted to a debate about the nature of the