Embarking upon a New Era through an Old Genre: Biographical Essays in Journals of the Nahḍah Period — Ǧurǧī Zaydān and al-Hilāl’s Early Years as Example

In: Oriente Moderno
Barbara Winckler Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster

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Biography is a genre with a long history in Arabic literature. This paper aims at demonstrating how Ǧurǧī Zaydān (1861–1914), one of the most prominent figures of the Nahḍah, adapted biographical writing to the needs of his time. The new medium of the periodical press seemed to be the most adequate means for him to realize his endeavors. The paper points to the central position accorded to biographical essays in al-Hilāl, the journal founded by Zaydān in 1892. Zaydān who saw himself in the role of the ‘educator of society’ pursued a twofold aim: the dissemination of historical knowledge and the presentation of role models. Through an exemplary reading of selected biographical essays published in the early years of al-Hilāl, the paper analyzes the style and structure of the essays and demonstrates how Zaydān selected and grouped the portrayed persons, building up a body of texts to be read as a series of exemplary lives. Focusing on the specifics related to the publishing medium, it examines various forms used by Zaydān to interact with the reader. Whereas, in previous research, much emphasis has been laid on the contents debated in the periodical press, I argue that it is particularly revealing to examine the effects and impact of form and style, of textual strategies and medial practices.

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