SOAS University of London

Department of the Languages and Cultures of the Near and Middle East

A Modern Arabic Literary Genre: Themes and Techniques

Module Code:
Module Not Running 2018/2019
Year of study:
Taught in:
Full Year

Prose genres in modern Arabic literature are distinct and varied, yet they share certain trajectories in their development. A structured survey of one of the three prose genres, the novel, the short story or drama, is of major relevance to the to the MA in Arabic Literature and MA Comparative Literature. It is also relevant to students reading for MA in Near and Middle Eastern Studies. The selection of the texts studied in this module is informed by four major aims: first, to span the various stages of development of genre; secondly, to familiarise the student with the work of major Arab writers from different countries and literary persuasions; thirdly, to introduce the students to different types of literary techniques, languages and themes in the genre studied; and fourthly, to survey the different instances of interaction between this genre in Arabic literature and its European counterparts.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

At the end of the module the student will have acquired a detailed knowledge of a selected number of representative texts covering the main themes and techniques of the genre studied, and will be able to comment on its development and its major writers and/or trends. An advanced level of understanding of the distinct linguistic register of these texts will have been acquired. Particular attention is given to the interface between text and performance strategies in the study of drama, or between texts and contexts in the study of narrative genres, and the student will be expected to situate selected texts in relation to prior or subsequent counterparts. Students are expected to be able to apply a range of critical theories to the literature in question and to demonstrate this in their course work essays.


This module is taught over 20 weeks with a 2 hour seminar per week.

Scope and syllabus

The module syllabus covers a combination of the following topics:

  • The socio-political and cultural change and the genesis of the genre under investigation, 
  • European literary influence and its impact on the early writers. 
  • The Romantic Imagination and its manifestation in the genre under study, 
  • Realism and social polarisation and their manifestation in the genre. 
  • The work of major writers in the genre. 
  • The rise of women writers and their role in the development of the genre.
  • The change of literary sensibility and rise of modernism. 
  • 1980-present: marginalisation, fragmentation and Post-Modernism. 

Students are also introduced to key concepts of either narrative or drama and to literary theory, and given training in applying a variety of critical paradigms to their material. module-work essays are based on supplementary texts which may be read in English translation, and are expected to take account of relevant critical literature. On completion of the module the student will be familiar in general terms with one of the modern literary genres of Arabic literature, such as the short story, the novel or modern drama. The genre may vary from year to year, but the module aims to offer the student a structured survey of the genre in question from the beginning to the present through a range of selected texts. 

It is both a module of practical criticism with some emphasis on the application of modern critical theory to literary texts, and a study in the literary history of a specific genre in modern Arabic literature. The texts will be studied as literary and artistic works but with some reference to the social and political contexts in which they were written and an elaboration of the careers of their writers and their approach to literature. Attention will be paid to the textual analysis of the chosen texts and the artistic and aesthetic aspects of literature with some interest in the typology of the development of the genre and its various trends and schools. 

Method of assessment

A 2,000 word essay to be submitted on day 1, week 1, term 2 (30%); a 3,000 word essay to be submitted on day 1, week 1, term 3 (45%); a 15 minute oral presentation (10%); a 1,000 word textual analysis (15%).

Suggested reading

I. Primary Texts: 
  • Short Stories:
    • Hafez, Sabry, and Cobham, Catherine (ed.), A Reader of Modern Arabic Short Stories (London, Saqi Books, 1988). This will be supplemented with other works. 
    • Manzalaoui, Mahmoud (ed.), Arab Writing Today: The Short Story (Cairo, American Research Center in Egypt, 1970). A Selection of other texts by leading short story writers.
  • Or Dramatic Texts: 
    • Tawfiq al-Hakim, al-Sultan al-Ha'ir and/or Ughniyat al-Mawt Alfrid Faraj, al-Fakhkh/ al-'Aqrab Yusuf Idris, Al-Farafir Mahmud Diyab, al-Ghraba' la-Yashrabun al-Qahwah Salah 'Abd al-Sabur, al-Amirah Tantazir Sa'dallah Wannus, al-Fil Ya Malik al-Zaman Bishr Faris, Mafriq al-Turuq Yusuf al-'Ani, Ra's al-Shalilah Mustafa al-Farisi, Huda Ghassan Kanafani, Al-Bab 'Abd al-Karim Birshid, Imru' al-Qays Yazur Paris.
  • Or a selection of modern Arabic novels by leading writers such as:
    • Najib Mahfuz, Tawfiq al-Hakim, Al-Tayyib Salih, Hanan al-Shaykh, Muhammad Barrada, Latifa Zayyat, Ghassan Kanafani and Fu'ad al-Takarli.
II.Background readings: 
  1. For Narrative Genres:
    • S. Hafez, The Genesis of Arabic Narrative Discourse: A Study in the Sociology of Modern Arabic Literature (London, Saqi Books, 1993) 
    • M. M. Badawi (ed.), Modern Arabic Literature: Cambridge History of Arabic Literature (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1992)
    • Ostle, R. C. (ed.), Studies in Modern Arabic (1976)
      • Modern Literature of the Near and Middle East (1991) 
    • Al-Biheiry, Kawthar A, L'influence de la littérature française sur le roman arabe (Quebec, 1980) 
    • Allen, Roger, The Arabic Novel: An Historical Introduction (Manchester, MUP, 1995) 
    • Bakhtin, M. M., Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics, trans. Caryl Emerson (1984) 
      • The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays, trans. C. Emerson & M. Holquist (1981) 
    • Barthes, Roland, S/Z, trans. Richard Miller (New York, Hill & Wang, 1974) 
      • Image, Music, Text, trans. Stephen Heath (New York, Hill & Wang, 1977) 
    • Bates, H. E. The Modern Short Story (London, Rober Hale, 1988) 
    • Beyerl, Jan, The Style of the Modern Arabic Short Story (Prague, Charles University Press, 1971) 
    • Bonheim, Helmut, The Narrative Modes: Techniques of the Short Story (Cambridge, D. S. Brewer, 1982) 
    • Brugman, J., An Introduction to the History of Modern Arabic Literature (Lieden, Brill, 1984) 
    • Bullata, Isa (ed.), Critical Perspective on Modern Arabic Literature (New York, Three Continents Press, 1980) 
    • Chatman, Seymour, Story and Discourse (Ithaca, New York, Cornell University Press, 1978) 
    • Genette, Gerard, Figures, Vols. I, II and particularly III (Paris, Éditions du Seuil, 1966). Trans. as Narrative Discourse: Essay in Method (Ithaca & London, Cornell University Press, 1980) 
    • Genette, Gerard, Fiction and Diction (Ithaca & London, Cornell University Press, 1991) 
    • Jameson, Fredric, The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act (London, Methuen, 1981) 
    • Lodge, David, Language of Fiction (London, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1966) 
    • Lukács, Georg, Writer and Critic, trans. A. Khan (London, Merlin Press, 1970) 
      • The Theory of the Novel, trans. Anna Bostock (London, Merlin Press, 1971) 
    • Martin, Wallace, Recent Theories of Narrative (Ithaca, Cornell University Press, 1986).
    • May, Charles E. (ed.), Short Story Theories (Athens, Ohio University Press, 1976) 
    • May, Charles E. (ed.), The New Short Story Theories (Athens, Ohio University Press, 1994) 
    • Moosa, Matti, The Origins of Modern Arabic Fiction (Washington, Three Continents Press, 1983) 
    • Moretto, Franco, Atlas of the European Novel: 1800-1900 (London, Verso, 1998) 
    • O’Connor, Frank, The Lonely Voice: A Study of the Short Story (London, 1964) 
    • Read, Ian, The Short Story (London, Methuen, 1977) 
    • Tomiche, Nada, Histoire de la littérature romanesque de l’Egypte (Paris, 1981) 
    • Watt, Ian, The Rise of the Novel (Berkeley, University of California Press, 1957) 
  2. For Drama:
    • J. Calderwood & H. Toliver (eds.), Perspectives on Drama (Oxford, 1968) 
    • E. Aston & G. Savona, Theatre as Sign-System (London, Routledge, 1991) 
    • Susan Milrose, The Semiotics of the Dramatic Text (London, McMillan, 1994) 
    • Helen Gilbert & Joanne Tompikns, Post Colonial Drama (London, Routledge, 1996) 
    • Susan Bennett, Theatre Audience (London, Routledge, 1991) 
    • M. M. Badawi, Modern Arabic Drama in Egypt (Cambridge, 1988) 
      • Modern Arabic Literature (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1992) 
    • Mohamed A. al-Khozai, The Development of Early Arabic Drama (London, 1984) 
    • Farouq Abdel Wahab, ed., Modern Egyptian Drama (Minneapolis, 1974) 
    • Mahmoud Manzalaoui, ed., Arab Writing Today 2: Drama, (Cairo, 1977) 
    • Peter Chelkowski (ed.), Ta'ziyeh: Ritual and Drama (New York, 1979) 
    • Atia Abul-Naga, Les sources françaises du théâtre égyptien (Alger, 1972) 
    • Nada Tomiche, ed., Le théâtre arabe (Paris, 1969) 
    • M. Aziza, La théâtre et l'Islam (Algiers, n.d) 
    • Augusto Boal, The Theatre of the Oppressed (London, Plato, 1989) 
    • Eva Figes, Tragedy and Social Evolution (New York, Persea Books, 1976) 
    • Eric Bently, The Playwright as Thinker (New York, 1967) 
    • Keir Elam, The Semiotics of Theatre and Drama (London, Methuen, 1980) 
    • J. S. R. Goodlad, A Sociology of Popular Drama (London, Heinemann, 1971). 
    • R. Hogan & S. E. Molin, Drama: The Major Genres (New York, 1962) 
    • G. LLoyd Evans, The Language of Modern Drama (London, 1977) 
    • James Redmond, Drama and Society (Cambridge, 1979) 
    • Glynne Wickham, The Medieval Theatre (Cambridge, CUP, 1987)


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules