Subversive voices of daughters of the Nahda: Alice al-Bustani and Riwayat Saiba (1891)

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The novel, or more generally, narrative fiction-a new genre of Arabic literature-fuelled the imagination of middle-class youth during the nineteenth-century Arabic Nahda (awakening), and was thus revolutionary by definition. These narratives were implicit critiques of middle-class society. Although research on earlier novels of the Nahda authored by men has gradually increased over the last few decades, research on women writers and their novels is still in its infancy. This essay focuses mainly on Riwayat Saiba (1891), written by Alice Bustani (1870-1926), daughter of one of the prominent intellectuals of the nahda, Butrus al-Bustani (1819-1883). It discusses these novels as social and historical texts, and describes how writing narrative fiction allowed women to express their opinions without excluding themselves from society and its norms. Women challenged male discourse by modifying the plots and messages of their novels, thus proposing alternative discourses and criticizing the existing one. This exploration of women's writing thus aims to reveal the active voice of daughters of the nahda.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)332-357
Number of pages26
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2011


  • Arab Literature
  • Greater Syria
  • Nahda
  • Subversive voice
  • Women

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Gender Studies
  • Cultural Studies
  • Sociology and Political Science


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