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Reading Arab Women's Autobiographies

Shahrazad Tells Her Story

By Nawar Al-Hassan Golley

Publication Year: 2003

Authors of autobiographies are always engaged in creating a “self” to present to their readers. This process of self-creation raises a number of intriguing questions: why and how does anyone choose to present herself or himself in an autobiography? Do women and men represent themselves in different ways and, if so, why? How do differences in culture affect the writing of autobiography in various parts of the world? This book tackles these questions through a close examination of Arab women’s autobiographical writings. Nawar Al-Hassan Golley applies a variety of western critical theories, including Marxism, colonial discourse, feminism, and narrative theory, to the autobiographies of Huda Shaarawi, Fadwa Tuqan, Nawal el-Saadawi, and others to demonstrate what these critical methodologies can reveal about Arab women’s writing. At the same time, she also interrogates these theories against the chosen texts to see how adequate or appropriate these models are for analyzing texts from other cultures. This two-fold investigation sheds important new light on how the writers or editors of Arab women’s autobiographies have written, documented, presented, and organized their texts.

Published by: University of Texas Press


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Title Page, Copyright Page

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p. ix

This book would have been impossible without the constant support of my family. I am especially grateful to them for looking after my children while I was working on the last stages of it. My friend Dr. Pauline Homsi Vinson has been very generous with her time in commenting and making valuable suggestions. I owe her a debt of gratitude. Thanks are also due to my professors, Dr. Elizabeth Boa and Dave Murray of the ...

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pp. xi-xv

The idea for this book began as an attempt to investigate the common belief among many, both in the academic world and outside it, that women write differently and about different things than men. This investigation led to examining such questions as: Why is it taken for granted that a woman writes in a different way, and about different things, than a man? When writing about the self, is it true that a woman writes ...


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CHAPTER ONE: Why Colonial Discourse?

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pp. 3-14

Orientalism, Edward W. Said’s (1978) critique of western attitudes toward the east, has instigated a great deal of criticism and feedback, forming a major body of writings termed “colonial discourse,” which has proved to be one of the most productive and fruitful recent areas of study.1 Said was by no means the first to engage in colonial discourse analysis. Soon after the end of World ...

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CHAPTER TWO: Feminism, Nationalism, and Colonialism in the Arab World

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pp. 15-34

Plurality, multiplicity, and multiculturalism characterize our world today. Neo-colonialism is part of this reality, although it functions in complex ways. It has become more difficult simply to divide the world today into separate entities: colonial and colonized. It is not easy to decide who is colonized or liberated, nor to define the process by which domination takes place. Still, colonial discourse ...

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CHAPTER THREE: Huda Shaarawi’s Harem Years:The Memoirs of an Egyptian Feminist

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pp. 35-52

In this chapter, I look at a text by Huda Shaarawi (1879–1947) entitled Harem Years: The Memoirs of an Egyptian Feminist.1 Huda Shaarawi must have been known throughout the urban upper and middle classes of her day for her leading role in establishing the first Egyptian women’s union and for her participation in the nationalist uprising against the British. Nowadays she is ...


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CHAPTER FOUR: Autobiography and Sexual Difference

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pp. 55-74

Traditionally, autobiography has been studied and criticized from within a politics of genre that tends to be not only gender-blind but also class-biased and racially biased. Hierarchical values have always been implicit in gender distinctions, and class and race distinctions too, since Aristotle’s Poetics. Western genre theory, according to Celeste Schenck, remains largely prescriptive, legislative, even ..

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CHAPTER FIVE: Arab Autobiography

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pp. 75-83

In the previous chapter, I traced the history and the major characteristics of autobiography in western literary traditions. In this chapter, I want to offer a similar sketch of autobiography within Arabic literary history in order, first,to challenge Gusdorf ’s belief that autobiography does not exist outside western cultures and, second, to explore the traditions and conventions within...


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CHAPTER SIX: Anthologies

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pp. 87-113

In this chapter I examine three books published in the 1980s: Khul-Khaal: Five Egyptian Women Tell Their Stories, by Nayra Atiya;1 Doing Daily Battle: Interviews with Moroccan Women, by Fatima Mernissi;2 and Both Right and Left Handed: Arab Women Talk about Their Lives, by Bouthaina Shaaban.3 As their subtitles indicate, all three books contain life stories of women from Arab countries. ...

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CHAPTER SEVEN: Fadwa Tuqan’s Mountainous Journey, Difficult Journey

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pp. 114-130

Fadwa Tuqan, almost a contemporary of Huda Shaarawi (whose memoirs, Harem Years, are examined in Chapter 3), is known to Arab pupils through their poetry textbooks. Her name is associated with Palestine and therefore with the Arab nationalist cause. Arab schoolchildren grow up with an almost mythological image of Tuqan as a resilient woman who fought against ...

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CHAPTER EIGHT: Nawal el-Saadawi

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pp. 131-180

Chapter 6 looked at three anthologies of interviews with Arab women whose stories and voices were heavily determined by the textualization of their spoken words carried out by the editors, who were themselves the interviewers. Chapter 7 discussed a written autobiographical text by an Arab woman and an extract from ...

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CONCLUSION: The Literary and the Political

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pp. 181-184

I have stressed the issue of change in Chapters 1 and 2 of this book. Change in the Arab world regarding women has been accelerating over the last decade. One could write books on women in modern Arab countries in the 1990s alone. I can only refer here to evidence of such change in what I see on the shelves of bookstores. In the 1980s the number of books by Arab women ...


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pp. 185-188


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pp. 189-210


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pp. 211-223


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pp. 225-236

E-ISBN-13: 9780292798861
E-ISBN-10: 0292798865
Print-ISBN-13: 9780292705449
Print-ISBN-10: 0292705441

Page Count: 254
Publication Year: 2003

OCLC Number: 568018157
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Reading Arab Women's Autobiographies

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Women -- Arab countries -- Biography.
  • Autobiography -- Women authors.
  • Feminists -- Arab countries -- Biography.
  • Feminists -- Egypt -- Biography.
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