Robinson Crusoe in Arabic, or the Strange and Surprising Adventures of a Genre


Location: DeBartolo Hall, Room 116

Rebecca Johnson, Northwestern University

This talk will look at Qissat Rubinsun Karuzi, an anonymous translation of Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, published in Arabic in Malta in 1835, making it the first appearance of a novel in Arabic. While most studies of the Arabic novel set the date of its rise as the early 20th century, situating it in the context of the rise of national independence movements and the formation of national educational programs and national canons of domestic realism, this talk will make the case for setting this clock back to situate the novel’s incorporation into Arabic within the context of the ambivalent textual and translation practices of the nahda, or the literary awakening of the 19th century.

Johnson teaches courses in Middle Eastern literary and cultural studies with a special focus on modern Arabic literature. Her research focuses on the history and theory of the novel in Arabic and English, the literature of the 19th century period known as the Nahda, and literary orientalism and occidentalism. Her wider interests include pre-modern Arabic prose genres, cosmopolitanism, and the poetics and politics of translation. Her current book project studies the intertwined early histories of the Arabic and English novels, using translation as a lens through which to understand the form and function of the genre. Johnson has been a fellow of the American Council of Learned Societies, the Social Science Research Council, the Council for Library and Information Resources, and the Fulbright Foundation.

Sponsored by the Ph.D. in Literature program