Biography 25.3 (2002) 526-531
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"We ask God to reward her well and to multiply her likes among women so the East will advance. For no country ascends except by means of its women" (109). This is the quotation from which Marilyn Booth derived the title of her book, May Her Likes Be Multiplied: Biography and Gender Politics in Egypt. The source quotation was published in the biography entitled Young Woman of the East (1912), and opens chapter four, "May Our Daughters Listen: Readers, Writers, Teachers." Booth has studied the Arabic tradition of biography writing from the late nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth century.
Chapter one, "Scattered Pearls and Mistresses of Seclusion," focuses on the local roots of the genre of biography, talks about the tradition of Arabic biographers, and discusses the history of an Arabic publication for the first time authored by a woman, Zaynab Fawwaz, who wrote on women's issues in an "Arabic male dominated" press. Booth argues that writing biographies [End Page 526] was a deliberate choice to demonstrate Arab female literary skill: "I see this [biographical writing] as a deliberate strategy that echoes and fills out the assertion . . . that the contemporary cultural and political scene is shaped by women's as well as men's pens" (5). Booth quotes Fawwaz's preface to her book, Scattered Pearls, concerning how history has not shown much interest in recording women of exceptional merit. Booth presents many other interesting topics in this chapter, including that of the male-dominated domain of biographical dictionaries and the compiler's personal choice over who and what to include, a process Booth calls very similar to the hadith (compiled traditions and sayings) of the prophet of Islam. Additionally, Booth discusses how women were viewed as an extension of men. In this engaging chapter, she also discusses male biographers of women as well as women's magazines of various kinds. Scattered Pearls seems to serve as a source of inspiration and information for editors of women's magazines of that time (28-30).
Chapter two, "Siting Biography," focuses on the emergence of women's magazines. Qadriyya Husayan, a Turkish princess, wrote about Egyptian queens and early Muslim women. Her work followed Fawwaz's role model, and they both wrote biographies that elevated some women and muted others. In 1892, the "Women's Press" emerged, in which famous women were featured, heavily borrowing from notable published texts of Husayan, Fawwaz, and numerous others. Booth familiarizes her readers with the history of women's magazines. She has identified more than twenty magazines for and/or about women up to 1914, and about thirty-five by the end of 1935. Booth's list of magazine publications is extensive and well researched. In addition to the history of women's magazines, she also examines some of the key publications that followed the political and social events of the time, which included women's increased political activity. She discusses journals' choices of biographical subjects to represent various interests, and their nationalistic emphasis with the target audience (49-50). Booth analyzes the press of the time in addition to exploring how Western European and American women's freedom compared to the limited freedom exercised by the Arab Egyptian women at that time. She uses various comparative examples, such as contrasting the behavior of "Western" women in travel, in publications, and in freedom of writing (60-61).
In chapter three, entitled "Exemplar and Exception," we read about biography as discussed in women's journals, and how gendered biography writing in North America and Europe provided common features of exemplary writing from which Egyptian writers may have benefited, and blended with Arabic biographical tradition (63-64). Booth advances the idea of the "rhetoric of exemplarity and generalization," and asserts that famous women [End Page 527] biographies comprised a "textual intervention in...