Influences and Passageways: Arabic Prose Narrative and the Western Novel
The literary genre of novel is universally considered as a European invention and construct. Which it certainly is, particularly in the form it developed from the seventeenth century to the twenty-first century. However, it should be emphasized that the genre appeared in its earliest form as picaresque novelâ€”where the Spanish word picaro (rogue) defined its distinctive characteristics. These comprised adventures of a scheming person making a living by conning others, essentially through glib mastery of language. The Spanish novelist Cervantes and the English novelist Daniel Defoe employed and then varied this form to pioneer a literary genre that eventually developed into literature’s most versatile formâ€”the modern novel. What has been gradually forgottenâ€”both because of historical as well as political reasonsâ€”is that the prose narratives from India and the Middle East played a central role in the emergence of the novel as a literary genre in the West. The present paper endeavours to show the influences of the Arabic literary forms of maqama, adab, and the Alf Laylah genre on the European novel, in the light of recent scholarship and archival research in the West, particularly in Spain. A beginning is being made by scholars, whose efforts point towards passageways of connections that remain unexplored. The paper is a modest step in that direction.
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