The Thousand and One Nights and Twentieth-Century Fiction

Intertextual Readings


It is gradually being acknowledged that the Arabic story-collection Thousand and One Nights has had a major influence on European and world literature. This study analyses the influence of Thousand and One Nights, as an intertextual model, on 20th-century prose from all over the world. Works of approximately forty authors are examined: those who were crucial to the development of the main currents in 20th-century fiction, such as modernism, magical realism and post-modernism. The book contains six thematic sections divided into chapters discussing two or three authors/works, each from a narratological perspective and supplemented by references to the cultural and literary context. It is shown how Thousand and One Nights became deeply rooted in modern world literature especially in phases of renewal and experiment.

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Richard van Leeuwen, Ph.D. (1992) University of Amsterdam, is senior lecturer in Islamic Studies at that university. He has published widely on the history of the Middle East, Arabic literature, and Islam, and is also a translator of Arabic literature. His publications include Notables and Clergy in Mount Lebanon (Brill 1994); Waqfs and Urban Structures (Brill 1999); (2004; The Arabian Nights Encyclopedia, 2 vols. (Santa Barbara 2004; with U. Marzolph); The Thousand and One Nights: space, travel and transformation (2007) and Narratives of Kingship in Eurasian Empires, 1300-1800 (Brill 2017).
Winner of the 2020 Sheikh Zayed Book Award (category: Arabic Culture in Other Languages)

"...this big, notable, stimulating work is a very helpful source of reference indeed not only for students and researchers of literature but also for scholars mastering fields like the philosophy of language, or the philosophy of history." - Stavros Nikolaidis, in: Journal of Oriental and African Studies 28 (2019)

"Van Leeuwen’s Thousand and One Nights and Twentieth-Century Fiction is a smart collection of forty-six different authors of different nationalities from the 19th to the 21st century whose works have one intertextual aspect in common with the Nights. They are major contributors who have shaped the literary backdrop of the twentieth century." - Azra Ghandeharion, Ferdowsi University of Mashhad

"Wir können aber doch an der genauen Betrachtung dieser vier deutschsprachigen Fallbeispiele gut erkennen, wie der Autor gearbeitet hat und wie erhellend seine Ergebnisse sind.[…] Vor allem aber scharft van Leeuwen unseren Blick dafur, wie Tausendundeine Nacht eben nicht einfach von der „westlichen“ Literatur vereinnahmt wurde, sondern allmahlich und auf sehr vielen Wegen in sie eingedrungen und so zu einem Kultbuch der Weltliteratur geworden ist.“ Claudia Ott in Orientalistische Literaturzeitung 115/4–5 (2020), Islam,

 The Thousand and One Nights
 Incorporation into World Literature
This Study

Part 1 Enclosures, Journeys, and Texts

1 Enclosures, Letters, and Destiny: Hugo von Hofmannsthal and André Gide
 Hugo von Hofmannsthal, the Kunstmärchen, and Orientalism
 The Contingency of Fate: André Gide’s Les faux-monnayeurs

2 Going Home: Al-Tayyib Salih and Ibrahim al-Faqih
 Season of Migration to the North and the Thousand and One Nights
 The Forbidden Room: The Thousand and One Nights and Ibrahim al-Faqih’s Gardens of the Night

3 Writing and Enclosures: Michel Butor and Abilio Estévez
 The Portrait of an Author: Michel Butor’s Portrait de l’artiste comme jeune singe
 Imprisoned Imagination: Abilio Estévez
 Conclusions to Part 1

Part 2 Capturing the Volatility of Time

4 The Return of Time: Marcel Proust and Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar
 Proust and the Thousand and One Nights
 Times of Life and Society: Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar

5 Narration and Survival: Vladimir Nabokov and Margaret Atwood
 Nabokov, the Thousand and One Nights, and Life After Death
 Narrating Against Death: Margaret Atwood

6 Desire Unbound: The Marquis de Sade and Angela Carter
 Angela Carter: The Feminist-Narrative Complex

7 Temporal Dystopias: Botho Strauss and Haruki Murakami
 War and the Re-invention of Time: Botho Strauss’s Der junge Mann
 Haruki Murakami and the Constraints of Time
 Conclusions to Part 2

Part 3 The Textual Universe

8 The Celebration of Textuality: James Joyce and the Argentine (post-)Modernists
 The Thousand and One Nights and the Textuality of Ulysses and Finnegans Wake
 Textual Worlds: Fernández, Arlt, Borges, and Piglia

9 Stories Without End: Italo Calvino and Georges Perec
 Italo Calvino and Narration: If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller … and the Thousand and One Nights
 Georges Perec: The Imperative of Form

10 The Celebration of Hybridity: Abdelkébir Khatibi and Juan Goytisolo
 Abdelkébir Khatibi: Narration and the Body
 Juan Goytisolo: Hybridity as a Refuge
 Conclusions to Part 3

Part 4 Narrating History

11 The Traumas of History: William Faulkner, Toni Morrison, and André Brink
 Absalom, Absalom! and the Thousand and One Nights
 The Haunted House: Toni Morrison’s Beloved and André Brink’s Imaginings of Sand

12 The Enchantment of History: Gabriel García Márquez and Salman Rushdie
 Gabriel García Márquez and One Hundred Years of Solitude
 Salman Rushdie: History Gone Awry

13 Words Against Death: Roberto Calasso, David Grossman, and Elias Khoury
 Roberto Calasso: The Ruin of Kasch
 David Grossman: Fighting the Nazi Beast
 Violence and the Boundaries of Narrativity: Elias Khoury’s Yalo
 Conclusions to Part 4

Part 5 Identifications, Impersonations, Doubles: The Discontents of (post-)Modernity

14 Aladdin’s Nightmare: Henrik Pontoppidan and Ernst Jünger
 The Curse of Aladdin: Henrik Pontoppidan
 The City of Brass, Aladdin, and the Discontents of Modernity: Ernst Jünger

15 The Sindbad Syndrome: Gyula Krúdy and John Barth
 Gyula Krúdy: The Nostalgic Nomad
 The Intrepid Traveler: John Barth

16 The Mock Caliph: H. G. Wells, Arthur Schnitzler, and Orhan Pamuk
 A Modern Harun al-Rashid: H. G. Wells’s The Research Magnificent
 Arthur Schnitzler’s Der Traumnovelle
 The Writer and His Double: Orhan Pamuk’s The Black Book

17 The Multiple Faces of Shahrazad: Leïla Sebbar and Waçini Laredj
 Leïla Sebbar: Shérézade
 Waçini Laredj: Les ailes de la reine
 Conclusions to Part 5

Part 6 Aftermaths: The Delusions of Politics

18 The 1002nd Night: Tawfiq al-Hakim, Taha Husayn, and Naji Mahfuz
 Tawfiq al-Hakim: Shahrazad
 Taha Husayn: The Dreams of Shahrazad
 Najib Mahfuz: The Predicament of Shahriyar

19 Fabrications of Power: Hani al-Rahib and Rachid Boudjedra
 The Curse of Repression: al-Rahib’s Alf layla wa-laylatan
 A False Utopia: Rachid Boudjedra

20 The Secret Lives of Sindbad: Mostafa Nissaboury and Bahram Beyzaï
 Mostafa Nissaboury: Shahrazad’s Suffering
 Sindbad’s Return: Bahram Beyzaï
 Conclusions to Part 6

 The Narrative Universe of Paul Auster
 The Framework: The Invention of Solitude
 The Locked Room

All those interested in literary studies and literary history; students and scholars in the fields of literary history, narratology, comparative literature, world literature, on undergraduate and graduate levels; scholars and students in the fields of Arabic, German, Danish, Persian, French, English, Spanish, Turkish, Hungarian, Japanese, South-American, American and Italian literatures, both on graduate and undergraduate levels; scholars and students in the fields of orientalism, cultural exchange, literary transmission.