The book entitled “Classes of Ladies of Cloistered Spaces: Writing Feminist History through Biography in Fin-de-siecle Egypt” explores the writing and influence of the first Arabic-language global biographical dictionary of women.
Zaynab Fawwaz (c.1860-1914) was as a forceful voice in support of women’s rights to education and work choices in colonial-era Egypt. Her volume of 453 women’s lives, al-Durr al-manthur fi tabaqat rabbat al-khudur (Pearls scattered in times and places: Classes of ladies of cloistered spaces, 1893-6) – featuring Boudicca, Catherine the Great, Zaynab (granddaughter of the Prophet Muhammad), Victoria Woodhull, the Turkish poet Sirri Hanim and many others – built on the Arabic-Islamic biographical tradition to produce a work for women in the modern era, grafting European, Turkish, Arab, and Indian life narratives, amongst others onto Arabic literary patterns.
In Classes of Ladies of Cloistered Spaces Marilyn Booth argues that Fawwaz’s work was less ‘exemplary biography’ than feminist history, in its exploration of achievement but also of patriarchal trauma in the lives of women across times and places. She traces Fawwaz’s creative use of her sources, her presentation of biographical narratives in the context of the political essays she wrote in the Arabic press, her publicised dialogue with the President of the Board of Lady Managers of the 1893 World Columbian Exposition – where she attempted to send the volume – and how her inscription of a feminine ancient history diverged from that of men writing history in 1890s Egypt.
About the Author
Marilyn Booth is Khalid bin Abdallah Al Saud Professor for the Study of the Contemporary Arab World, University of Oxford. Her most recent monograph, The Career and Communities of Zaynab Fawwaz: Feminist Thinking in Fin-de-siècle Egypt (2021), is amongst numerous publications on early feminism, translation, and Arabophone women’s writing in Egypt and Ottoman Syria. Initiator of the Ottoman Translation Studies Group, she edited Migrating Texts: Circulating Translations around the Ottoman Mediterranean (Edinburgh University Press, 2019). Translator of eighteen published works of fiction and memoir from the Arabic, she was co-winner of the 2019 Man Booker International Prize for her translation of Jokha Alharthi’s Celestial Bodies.
Table of Contents
1. Pearls Scattered: An introduction
2. A women’s world history, in the world of Arabic letters: A reader’s view
3. Founding mothers, speaking sisters: Lineaments of community in history
4. Writerly pursuits: A compiler’s archive
5. A beckoning Compass and circulating lives: The Bustani encyclopedia and other nineteenth-century sources
6. Interlocutors? Men authoring women’s history in the 1890s
7. Framing a history of the present: or, Did the Pearls scatter to the World’s Fair?
8. Violent romances: The bodily drama of patriarchal trauma
Conclusion: A world of women, feminist history and the importance of the feminine signature
Title: Writing Feminist History through Biography in Fin-de-siecle Egypt
Author(s): Marilyn Booth
Publisher: Edinburgh University Press
Length: 472 pages
Pub. Date: January 20, 2015