Biography (Dictionary of World Biography: Twentieth Century)
Article abstract: Mahfouz is Egypt’s foremost writer and the premier man of letters for the entire Arabic-speaking world. He began publishing in 1939, and his literary output since then can only be described as astounding. In recognition of his contribution to world literature, Mahfouz was awarded the 1988 Nobel Prize in Literature, becoming the first Arab writer to be so honored.
Naguib Mahfouz was born in the traditional Cairene quarter of Jamaliyya, a densely populated neighborhood composed of mazelike alleys and cul-de-sacs that was home to the popular classes then as it is today. Many of his best works are set within the confines of this quarter, which has provided Mahfouz with a rich, variegated human landscape made up of petty artisans, tradesmen, street vendors, and social marginals. His family, however, enjoyed a more elevated social status than most of their neighbors, since Mahfouz’s father held a minor bureaucratic post within the British-dominated government. The period from the eve of World War I until the 1919 Paris Peace Conference, convened by the European victors to determine, among other things, the political fate of the Middle East, was a tumultuous era for Egypt. The country had suffered British occupation since 1882, and in 1914 Egypt was officially declared a British protectorate. The occupation had been opposed by Egyptian nationalists from its inception; after the war,...
(The entire section is 2628 words.)
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Until the 1960’s Naguib Mahfouz was considered a talented but uncontroversial author and public servant. He was a member of Egypt’s ruling elite whose initial enthusiasm for Gamal Abdel Nasser’s revolutionary government led to his 1954 appointment as director of censorship in the Egyptian government’s department of art. His reputation as a loyalist was enhanced by his publication of the “Cairo Trilogy”—Palace Walk (1956), Palace of Desire (1957), and Sugar Street (1957). These works (which later brought him a Nobel Prize in Literature) celebrated Egyptian modernization, winning Mahfouz widespread acclaim throughout the Arab world and further promotion in the civil service.
Meanwhile, however, Mahfouz was becoming disillusioned by the failure of Nasser’s government to improve the lives of the common people. In a series of sharply critical works that included The Thief and the Dogs (1961), Conversations on the Nile (1966), and Miramir (1967), he traced the demoralizing effects of authoritarian government and stressed the negative consequences of modernization. In 1967 he overstepped the boundaries of governmental tolerance with Children of Gebelawi, a pessimistic religious allegory satirizing self- proclaimed prophets—and, by...
(The entire section is 438 words.)
Biography (Critical Survey of Short Fiction, Second Revised Edition)
Though gregarious and accessible, Naguib Mahfouz has disclosed little about his personal life or background. His father was apparently a shopkeeper (or perhaps a minor civil servant), and Mahfouz was the youngest of seven children. At the time of his birth, the family resided in Gamaliya, an area named after a street traversing an ancient quarter of Cairo. It is this colorful, conservative environment that provides the locale for many of his works. In his preteens, the family moved to the wealthier and more European neighborhood of Abbasiya. His early education was in public schools, and he earned a B.A. in philosophy from Cairo University in 1934. He continued studies there for an M.A. in philosophy but withdrew for undisclosed reasons to take employment in the university’s administration; shortly thereafter, he joined the bureaucracy, first working in the ministry of religious endowments. In 1971, he retired and became director of the government-controlled board of film censorship, while continuing to devote himself to his writing. He married in his early forties and has two daughters.
Mahfouz was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1988. After this recognition, he became more widely translated and read outside the Arab world. Within the Arab world, he continues to be controversial, because he advocates peace with Israel. In 1994, he was stabbed in the neck outside his Cairo home, in an assassination attempt by Muslim ultraconservative...
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Biography (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
Naguib Mahfouz was the youngest of seven children born to his parents in the old Gamaliya quarter of Cairo, Egypt. When he was nine years old, his family moved to a suburban district called Abbasiya, where he had his first experience with love and where he began to write in imitation of Arabic fiction writers. The 1919 Revolution made a deep impression on the youth. The Revolution of 1952, which brought Colonel Gamal Abdel Nasser to power and ended the Egyptian monarchy, proved disillusioning to Mahfouz.
He studied philosophy at Fuad I (now Cairo) University from 1930 to 1934, concentrating on the French philosopher Henri Bergson. After graduating in 1934, he found employment as a civil servant, which he continued until his retirement in 1971. He worked in several different locations, from Cairo University to the Ministry of Religious Endowments, where he was working when, in 1939, he published his first novel, Khufu’s Wisdom, a historical romance based on ancient Egyptian history. He returned to his old neighborhood in 1945, where he worked in the Ghuri library and read the works of Joseph Conrad, Herman Melville, Leo Tolstoy, Eugene O’Neill, Gustave Flaubert, and Marcel Proust. In 1950 he began work for the Ministry of National Guidance, held several positions, and at last became adviser to the minister of culture.
Mahfouz did not marry until 1954, when he was forty-three. Shortly after his marriage, he published the first...
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Early Life (Dictionary of World Biography: The 20th Century)
Naguib Mahfouz was born in the traditional Cairene quarter of Jamaliyya, a densely populated neighborhood composed of mazelike alleys and cul-de-sacs that was home to the popular classes then as it is today. Many of his best works are set within the confines of this quarter, which has provided Mahfouz with a rich, variegated human landscape made up of petty artisans, tradesmen, street vendors, and social marginals. His family, however, enjoyed a more elevated social status than most of their neighbors, since Mahfouz’s father held a minor bureaucratic post within the British-dominated government. The period from the eve of World War I until the 1919 Paris Peace Conference, convened by the European victors to determine, among other things, the political fate of the Middle East, was a tumultuous era for Egypt. The country had suffered British occupation since 1882, and in 1914 Egypt was officially declared a British protectorate. The occupation had been opposed by Egyptian nationalists from its inception; after the war, increasingly militant demands for independence were voiced by all strata of Egyptian society. Because his family resided in Jamaliyya, the center of political unrest, Mahfouz as a young boy witnessed bloody street clashes between the British police and protestors demonstrating against Egypt’s continued protectorate status. Moreover, Mahfouz’s father was himself a dedicated nationalist, and these experiences naturally had a profound impact upon...
(The entire section is 388 words.)
Life’s Work (Dictionary of World Biography: The 20th Century)
Graduating second in his class at the Faculty of Arts in 1934, Mahfouz began work on a master’s thesis in aesthetics only to renounce this enterprise two years later to devote his energies fully to literature. While studying at the University of Cairo, he had begun writing articles devoted to philosophical topics, publishing them in journals such as al-Majalla al-Jadīda (the new review). In order to support himself and pursue his beloved writing, he joined the civil service in 1939, accepting first a modest administrative position at the University of Cairo and later an appointment at the Ministry of Waqf (religious endowments). The experience of working for years in humble, often dismal, bureaucratic posts furnished Mahfouz with ample material about another dimension of Egyptian life—the daily servitude suffered by thousands of civil servants, most of them holding university degrees yet condemned to a stifling existence because suitable employment was lacking elsewhere. The dreary life of the lower-level Egyptian bureaucrat has been a theme of many of Mahfouz’s works.
The year that Mahfouz entered the labyrinth of the Egyptian bureaucracy saw the publication of his first novel, ‘Abath al-aqdār (1939; play of fate), which appeared in a special number of the monthly al-Majalla al-Jadīda; the year before, he published his first collection of short stories. ‘Abath al-aqdār and its two successor novels,...
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Biography (Dictionary of World Biography: The 20th Century)
More than any other single Arab writer of the present century, Naguib Mahfouz has profoundly influenced the field of Arabic literature in general and that of fiction in particular. While he belongs to the second generation of Egyptian novelists rather than to the pioneering school of the 1930’s, Mahfouz’s works, taken collectively, display the various stages in the evolution of the novel as a literary form in Egypt and the Arab world. An imported European genre, the novel in Mahfouz’s hands went through three identifiable “moments”: historical romanticism; social realism; and postrealism, with its multiplicity of forms and voices and emphasis upon the surreal or the psychological. During his half-century of literary production, Mahfouz has not only achieved a maturity and sophistication in the conventions of novel-writing comparable to the best European novelists but also transformed a borrowed genre into a new, yet characteristically indigenous, art form. His decisive impact upon intellectuals and writers in the Arab world can, in part, be measured by the large number of dissertations and literary studies devoted to Mahfouz’s oeuvre. Nevertheless, this impact reaches far beyond the educated, middle classes of Egyptian or Arab society. Because of film and televison productions of his novels and stories, many of Mahfouz’s memorable characters, whether heroes or antiheroes, have been introduced to all strata of society, becoming part of popular lore....
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Biography (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
No authoritative biography has been written about Naguib Mahfouz (MAHK-fewz). Egyptian culture respects privacy. The celebrated writer, though accessible, assumed an impersonal role. After accepting the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1988, Mahfouz offered only glimpses of his experiences.
Mahfouz was born on December 11, 1911, in Gamaliya, a middle-class quarter of Cairo. His grandparents were merchants; his father was a government clerk. When he was six years old, his father became business manager for a copper merchant, and the family moved to a fashionable suburb of Cairo.
The youngest of seven children (four girls and three boys), who was born ten years after the next-youngest child, he developed a close relationship with his mother. He lived with her until his marriage in 1954. She cultivated his love for history and literature, teaching him folk songs and stories and taking him to museums and the pyramids. She also instilled in him an appreciation for music; he studied at the Institute of Arabic Music, where he learned to play the qanun, a stringed instrument.
As a teenager, he played soccer, went to the cinema, and explored the streets and cafés in old Cairo neighborhoods. There he gleaned materials for stories, which he began writing at age seventeen. In secondary school, he liked philosophy, English, and French....
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Biography (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Naguib Mahfouz was a masterful storyteller. He used his literature to comment on social injustices and current events. His fiction projected a human dimension to history by showing how government decisions affect the people. In depicting alienated people confronted with existential problems, the Nobel laureate transcended the boundaries of his country and expressed issues of universal concern.
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Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
Naguib Mahfouz (mahkh-FEWS) was the perfecter of the novel in Arabic literature and was its first Nobel laureate. The youngest of seven children, Mahfouz was born in the Gamaliya district of Cairo, the hub of Islamic activism. His father was a minor civil servant; his mother, a homemaker. As a boy, Mahfouz was interested in science; he even considered studying to become a doctor or an engineer. However, during his senior year, science gave way to philosophy, the only subject he thought would help him “unravel the mysteries of existence.” After getting his B.A. in philosophy in 1934 from King Fuad I (now Cairo) University, Mahfouz immediately entered an M.A. program. Two years into the program, however, his interest shifted to writing. He wrote mostly at night, for by day he had to work. He worked as a clerk, secretary, and librarian, and then, after the 1952 revolution (which he briefly supported), as adviser on the arts and official film censor. He did not become a full-time writer until his retirement at the age of sixty. Still, his output has been tremendous: thirty-five novels, fourteen collections of short stories and plays, screenplays for some twenty-five films—among the finest in Egyptian cinema—and, beginning in 1975, a weekly column for the influential daily Al-Ahram newspaper. He married at forty-three and has two daughters.
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In 1911 Mahfouz was born in Cairo, Egypt, the youngest of seven children in a lower middle-class family. His father was a strict Muslim and he was raised in a strong religious atmosphere. He earned an undergraduate degree in philosophy from the University of Fuad (now Cairo University) in 1934.
Although his first short story was published in 1932, Mahfouz did not decide to become a writer until two years after graduating from college. He also maintained a career as an Egyptian bureaucrat. His first position was in the Ministry of Waqfs, the body overseeing pious Muslim foundations.
He held many bureaucratic positions—primarily in relation to the national film industry, as director of the Censorship Office, director and chairman of the Cinema Support Organization, and counselor for Cinema Affairs to the Minister of Culture. He retired from bureaucratic work in 1971, after which he has continued to publish novels, short stories, and memoirs.
Mahfouz has traveled abroad only twice in his life: once to Yugoslavia, and once to Yemen, both on government assignment. For many years, he has been part of a close social group of men who congregate in coffeehouses in Cairo, calling themselves ‘‘al Harafish" ("common people’’).
He has published more than thirty novels and fourteen collections of short stories. His first three novels, written between 1943 and 1945, are historical novels set in ancient Egypt. His next three...
(The entire section is 432 words.)