Girlhood translated: Fénelon’s De l’éducation des filles (1687) as a text of Egyptian modernity (1901, 1909)
21 March 2017, 3:15 pm - 5:00 pm
François Salignac de la Mothe-Fénelon (1651-1715) is remembered among other things for his critique of monarchic absolutism in his novel Les aventures de Télemaque, fils d’Ulysse (1699), which was translated into Arabic and into Turkish in the 1860s as it was into a wide array of world languages. Some years earlier, Fénelon had penned his first work, De l’éducation des filles (1687, written c1678). It would know a long life in France and elsewhere, becoming a widely circulated pedagogic text. De l’éducation appeared in Arabic translation twice within a single decade (1901, 1909), at a time when the schooling of (middle-stratum) Egyptian girls was becoming normalized but its content and aims remained sensitive topics in public debate.
In an era of intense cultural translation in Egypt, and as a market and constituency for gendered conduct-oriented school texts was emerging, what was the valence of Fénelon’s work? How did it operate as an Egyptian and Arabic text? Why was it useful? What kinds of editing did its intercultural travel require or encourage? Shot through with the Catholic Christianity of 17th-century France, in 20th-century Egypt De l’éducation des filles becomes first an Arab/ic secular work of masculine-reformist nahda rhetoric, and second, a primer for (some) Egyptian parents that attempts to model a modernist Islamic pedagogy within the context of Islam as a structure for an indigenous modernity. The gendered politics of nation-building in a late colonial setting yielded two Arabic texts where divergent aspects of collective and personal identity were brought to the fore, creating in each case something entirely new.