Najīb Mah&dotbelow;fūz&dotbelow; (henceforth Naguib Mahfouz, 1911-2006), who became the first Arab writer to win the Nobel Prize in literature in 1988, is best known for his fiction set in his native Egypt (mainly Cairo and Alexandria) in the 20th century. In a career spanning more than seven decades, he published approximately sixty books, encompassing a broad array of fictional styles and genres.
Entombed within this expansive oeuvre is a small—and, until recently, largely neglected—body of works set in, or using devices from, the age of the Pharaohs. His first published book was a translation of a young readers' guide to ancient Egypt, and his first three published novels were inspired by classic tales and events from the 4th, 6th, 17th and 18th Dynasties. Like the vengeful ghost in one of his early short stories, “ Yaqz&dotbelow;at al-mūmiyā'” (“The Mummy Awakens,” 1939), Mahfouz's use of Egypt's often-glamorized past to write about its more problematic present was briefly revived with two book-length works in the 1980s. The technique also recurs in Mahfouz's final series of extremely short works, Ah&dotbelow;lām fatrat al-naqāhah (Dreams of the Period of Recovery (2000-2006)), as well as in references to pharaonic themes and imagery scattered throughout his fiction.
This dissertation analyzes these stories in their literary, personal, and political dimensions, using a largely—though not exclusively—new historicist critique. This approach strongly emphasizes all the factors that influence the production and reception of the works at hand, including both his personal experiences, the sources he exploited, and the impact of the cultural, political and social environments on the author and his writings.
In the end, this research demonstrates that for Naguib Mahfouz, Egypt was not just a place, but an idea—even a racial myth, drawn from historical sources through the filter of personal experience. This didactic vision of Egypt—which he viewed as the cradle of civilization and wisdom, and a potential model for modern enlightenment—resulted in a number of highly effective (if often underrated) works of allegorical historical fiction.