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Scheherazade's Children

Scheherazade's Children: Global Encounters with the Arabian Nights

Philip F. Kennedy
Marina Warner
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 466
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  • Book Info
    Scheherazade's Children
    Book Description:

    Scheherazade's Children gathers together leading scholars to explore the reverberations of the tales of the Arabian Nights across a startlingly wide and transnational range of cultural endeavors. The contributors, drawn from a wide array of disciplines, extend their inquiries into the book's metamorphoses on stage and screen as well as in literature - from India to Japan, from Sanskrit mythology to British pantomime, from Baroque opera to puppet shows. Their highly original research illuminates little-known manifestations of the Nights, and provides unexpected contexts for understanding the book's complex history. Polemical issues are thereby given unprecedented and enlightening interpretations. Organized under the rubrics of Translating, Engaging, and Staging, these essays view the Nights corpus as a uniquely accretive cultural bundle that absorbs the works upon which it has exerted influence. In this view, the Arabian Nights is a dynamic, living and breathing cross-cultural phenomenon that has left its mark on fields as disparate as the European novel and early Indian cinema. While scholarly, the writers' approach is also lively and entertaining, and the book is richly illustrated with unusual materials to deliver a sparkling and highly original exploration of the Arabian Nights' radiating influence on world literature, performance, and culture. Philip F. Kennedy is Associate Professor of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies and Comparative Literature at New York University, and General Editor of the Library of Arabic Literature series at NYU Press. Marina Warner is Professor of Literature, Film, and Theatre Studies at the University of Essex and Fellow of the British Academy. Her most recent book,Stranger Magic: Charmed States and the Arabian Nights, has won several awards, including the 2012 National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism and the Shaykh Zayed Book Award.

    eISBN: 978-1-4798-3792-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-xiv)
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-24)

    The year 2009 in Paris wasl’année de la Turquie, the Year of Turkey, and many events were held to explore the history and culture of the country. Among them, an exhibition at the Grand Palais, called “De Byzance à Istanbul—Un port pour deux continents” (From Byzantium to Istanbul: A port for two continents), brought many artifacts from the city’s multilayered past and displayed them on two floors. Christianity—Roman and Byzantine Orthodox—occupied the ground floor, Islam the first floor. The imposing staircase symbolized the fateful year of 1453, when the city was taken by the Ottoman Sultan...


    • 1 The Sea-Born Tale: Eighteenth-Century English Translations of The Thousand and One Nights and the Lure of Elemental Difference
      (pp. 27-52)

      When British readers first encountered the tale sequence of theNightsin the early eighteenth century, what species of writing did they take it to be? And what kind of expectations and contexts for successful reading of the tales were promoted by its first English “translators”? The first two volumes of theArabian Nights’ Entertainmentsin English were published in London in December 1705, as we know from notices appearing in theFlying Post or the Post Master(December 8–December 11, 1705, issue 1635) and thePost Man and the Historical Account(December 4–December 6 1705, issue 1635)...

    • 2 Re-Orienting William Beckford: Transmission, Translation, and Continuation of The Thousand and One Nights
      (pp. 53-69)

      The name of William Beckford of Fonthill (1760–1844; fig. 4) is well known to Orientalists, owing to the fame ofVathek, which is cited each time a reference is made to Orientalism in eighteenth-century Britain, theArabian Nights, or Samuel Johnson’sRasselas. But the Orientalist connection is undermined by the “gothic” label which has often been tacked onto him: such a univocal gothicizing of Beckford does not do justice to his Orientalism. Moreover, the troubled edition and publication both ofVathekand, posthumously, ofThe Episodes of Vathekhas puzzled generations of eighteenth-century scholars and damaged or even annihilated...

    • 3 The Collector of Worlds: Richard Burton, Cosmopolitan Translator of the Nights
      (pp. 70-86)

      In Iliya Troyanov’s fictionalized life of Richard Burton,The Collector of Worlds, the author presents Burton’s experience of exploration and travel as an unraveling of certainties and a journey from clarity into confusion. He imagines Burton in his 1853 pilgrimage to Mecca longing to gather his experiences in writing yet doubting his ability to convey the cognitive dissonance produced by travel and cultural immersion to a lay reader who has experienced neither:

      He will decipher his notes, stick the torn pieces of paper together, write up his observations. If there is something he is looking forward to, it is this...


    • 4 The Porter and Portability: Figure and Narrative in the Nights
      (pp. 89-107)

      For good reason,The Thousand and One Nightsconjures travel. Not only do many of the stories of the Arabic text tell of journeys across the territories of Islamdom and beyond, but the history of the text’s reception and circulation is also one of extraordinary voyages between continents, languages, cultures, and historical periods. In this sense, the text invites us to consider portability as a problem of literature. But which elements of a literary text are most likely to travel?

      The modern literary reception of theNights—the many translations, adaptations, and rewritings of the text—provides some answers to...

    • 5 The Rings of Budur and Qamar al-Zaman
      (pp. 108-126)

      One of the best loved stories in theNightsis the tale usually referred to in terms of the men involved in it: Sir Richard Burton called it the “Tale of Kamar Al-Zaman,”¹ and Husain Haddawy expanded it to “The Story of Qamar al-Zaman and His Two Sons, Amjad and A’sad”² (three men, no women). But the true protagonist of the tale is, I think, not a man at all but a woman, who does make it into the title of the first translation into English: “The Story of the Amours of Camaralzaman, Prince of the Isles of the Children...

    • 6 White Magic: Voltaire and Galland’s Mille et une nuits
      (pp. 127-142)

      “Her stories are white magic,” says Sultan Shahriyar delightedly of Shahrzad in the opening chapter of Naguib Mahfouz’s 1982 novelArabian Nights and Days: “Her stories are white magic. They open up worlds that invite reflection.”¹ As we know, the “white magic” ofAlf layla wa-laylafirst entered the bloodstream of European culture through Antoine Galland’s translations-cum-adaptations published in French asLes mille et une nuitbetween 1704 and 1717.² Initially, as we also know, this bloodstream was aristocratically blue, from the marquise d’O …³—to whom the work is dedicated—to the various duchesses, marquises, and baronnes who borrowed...

    • 7 The Arabian Nights and the Origins of the Western Novel
      (pp. 143-153)

      The embarrassments of fiction! It is after all a specialized form of lying. In the medieval Arab world, doubts about the value of fiction lay behind the frequent attempts in prefaces to justify the stories that followed. To take one of the most famous works of medieval Arabic prose fiction,Kalila wa-Dimna, Ibn al-Muqaffa‘’s eighth-century adaptation of what were originally Indian animal fables, this was presented by him as teaching wisdom and providing guidance for a virtuous life. Ibn al-Muqaffa‘ was explicit that the book was “not for entertainment only.” (Interestingly, he was also explicit in stating that young people...

    • 8 “A Covenant for Reconciliation”: Lane’s Thousand and One Nights and Eliot’s Daniel Deronda
      (pp. 154-171)

      InDaniel Deronda(1876) the shift from realism to romance—an “Oriental Romance” with the title character’s discovery of his Jewish identity in the novel’s second half—has frustrated critics in George Eliot’s time and since. Critics (notably F. R. Leavis)¹ would contend that Eliot never successfully integrated her two narratives and narrative modes: the realist English novel of Gwendolen Harleth and the Oriental romance of Deronda. Yet attention to the overlooked shaping intertext of the novel—theThousand and One Nightstale of “Qamar al-Zaman” in Edward Lane’s version—illuminates Eliot’s foreshadowing in the English and realist half of...

    • 9 Translating Destiny: Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s “Tale of the 672nd Night”
      (pp. 172-194)

      Echoing Borges’s laconic description of theArabian Nights(“Chance has played at symmetries”),² Pasolini stresses the overwhelming presence of destiny in the tales: “the protagonist of the stories is in fact destiny itself.”³ What I propose here is a kind of cross-reading—intersecting, as it were, several texts that deal with destiny, primarily seen through the prism of the late nineteenth-century pseudo-Arabian Nightstale by Hugo von Hofmannsthal, “The Tale of the 672nd Night” (1895).⁴ In this early story, a wealthy merchant’s son lives in luxurious isolation in a mansion, from where he sets out one day to the city,...

    • The illustrations
      (pp. None)
    • 10 Borges and the Missing Pages of the Nights
      (pp. 195-217)

      The biographer Edwin Williamson’s grim account of a near fatal episode in the early adult life of Jorge Luis Borges will seem uncannily familiar to amateurs of the latter’s short fiction:

      By one of those strange ironies that seemed to manifest themselves periodically in Borges’s life, [his] reflections on the death of the author were interrupted by a sudden brush with the reality of his own physical death in a strange accident that occurred on Christmas Eve, 1938. Borges had gone to fetch a girl at her apartment, some five blocks from where he lived …, in order to accompany...

    • 11 The Politics of Conversation: Denis Diderot, Elio Vittorini, Manuel Puig, Masaki Kobayashi, Vasily Grossman
      (pp. 218-242)

      TheArabian Nightsimplicitly counterpoises the power of the word against the power of the despot. Given its famous frame story—in which a resourceful narrator tames a dictator—theNightsoffers an obvious point of departure for people writing (or filming) in the face of modern authoritarian, despotic, or dictatorial regimes. Indeed it has remained a shaping force for the modern political novel.

      This essay analyses four widely influential political novels (while touching more briefly on two political films). Denis Diderot’sJacques le fataliste et son maître(Jacques the Fatalist and His Master), written around 1765 – 80 inside...

    • The illustrations
      (pp. None)
    • 12 Sindbad the Sailor: Textual, Visual, and Performative Interpretations
      (pp. 243-262)

      Sindbad, or Sinbad as often referred to in Western literatures, has become a synonym for the seafarer, the adventurous sailor who comes across excruciating dangers.¹ The figure of Sindbad has inspired modern imagination in diverse ways—from James Joyce’sUlyssesto Badr Shakir al-Sayyab’s poetry, from John Barth’sLast Voyage of Somebody the Sailorto Naguib Mahfouz’sArabian Nights and Days. This essay deals with three works: the first, by the Egyptian novelist Radwa Ashour, uses Sindbad’s third voyage as a political allegory; the second, by the Swiss German painter Paul Klee, translates Sindbad into another medium, into an image...


    • 13 The Arabian Nights in British Pantomime
      (pp. 265-273)

      The Christmas and New Year rituals of other countries can be a closed book to the rest of us. How many British (or American) people know that a short film calledDinner for Oneis mass viewing every New Year’s Eve in Germany? This eleven-minute comic sketch, filmed in English, gets 20–30 percent of Germans sitting round their TV sets to watch an English comedian no one has heard of perform as an increasingly drunk butler serving his employer dinner with four imaginary guests.

      Woody Allen it is not, and yet Germans watch it over and over again. The...

    • 14 The Arabian Nights in Traditional Japanese Performing Arts
      (pp. 274-281)

      Ever since the tales of theArabian Nightsappeared on the intellectual horizon of the Japanese in the Meiji period (1868–1912), they have continued to be the source of inspiration for writers, poets, playwrights, artists, and cartoonists. Adaptations of theArabian Nightscan even be found in traditional and clearly indigenous Japanese performing arts, such askyōgen, kabuki, rakugo, andkōdan. In these adaptations, the narrative structure of the Nights’ tales has been adapted to suit the highly stylized forms of the traditional Japanese stage.

      In order to provide context, let us first give a brief explanation of the...

    • 15 “Nectar If You Taste and Go, Poison If You Stay”: Struggling with the Orient in Eighteenth-Century British Musical Theater
      (pp. 282-321)

      Music and dance were vital to eighteenth-century British theater and contributed strongly to how it staged the Orient. Compositions and choreographies coalesced with many other elements—dialogue, action, décor, and costume—in phantasmagoric conceits whose associations were typically made to dovetail with a production’s generic demands. This Orient was a product, persistently reconfigured out of common biases toward the East and mapped onto existing practices of dance and music to attract audiences—and often to show a principal player to advantage. Early modern British writings had traditionally depicted the Orient as a theatricalized sphere where power was enacted, rather than...

    • 16 Scheherazade, Bluebeard, and Theatrical Curiosity
      (pp. 322-346)

      Theatrical Orientalism was only one branch of a widespread cultural interest, even obsession, with representing “the East” which flourished in all branches of literature and the arts during the long eighteenth century. Onstage, these representations took the form of plays both serious and comic, as well as pantomimes, romances, innovative scenographic displays of the type developed by Philippe de Loutherbourg, melodramas, burlesques, and burlettas.¹ InOrientalismEdward Said famously proposed that “the idea of representation is a theatrical one…. The Orient is the stage on which the whole East is confined,” and subsequent critics have echoed him, for example, Rana...

    • 17 The Takarazuka Revue and the Fantasy of “Arabia” in Japan
      (pp. 347-361)

      Figure 33 shows an illustration that appeared in a work of fiction that was translated into Japanese and published in 1887 (Meiji Era 20). At first glance, it seems to be an English novel, as might be expected from the figures dressed like Victorians. The illustration, however, shows a scene from a story of theArabian Nights, with the Japanese titlePerusia shinsetsu retsujo no homare, or “A New Story from Persia: A Courageous Lady’s Honor,” and the woman in the gorgeous dress is Marjana, the heroine of “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves.” From the last days of the...

    • 18 Thieves of the Orient: The Arabian Nights in Early Indian Cinema
      (pp. 362-394)

      In 1917 a fire broke out in a Calcutta warehouse, destroying a priceless haul of film history riches. Inside was the life’s work of Hiralal Sen, India’s unsung film pioneer. It is claimed the treasures included footage of a dance fromFlower of Persia, an 1898 “Arabian Nights opera” of the Calcutta stage, as well as a one-hour compilation of dance scenes from another big theater hit, K. P. Vidyavinode’sAli Baba, that had been screened alongside the play from Classic Theatres in 1901. But, even more astonishing if true, the warehouse is said to have contained a “full-length” film...

  9. Afterword: My Arabian Superheroine
    (pp. 395-400)

    When I was a child in White Bear Lake, the small town in Minnesota where we lived, I used to dress up like Scheherazade for Halloween. I didn’t feel American enough to think the neighbors would let me get away with dressing up as the Bionic Woman or a Charlie’s Angel. But I wanted to be glamorous and gutsy like those glorious women of TV and tabloids. And so I would put on a long dress some relative I had never met had sent me from Lebanon or Jordan or Palestine and wrap my head in a colorful scarf with...

    (pp. 401-408)
    (pp. 409-428)
    (pp. 429-434)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 435-450)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 451-451)