ABOUT PROFESSOR RASHAD RUSHDY

By Prof.  M.S. Farid

(Published in Cairo Studies in English: Essays in Honour of Rashad Rushdy, 2004)

 

Rashad Rushdy, Professor of English at Cairo University, passed away on February 22, 1983. The present issue of Cairo Studies in English is dedicated to his memory, a tribute that is, if anything, long overdue. Yet it is, in a sense, appropriate to take such a long time before attempting a fresh evaluation of his achievement, one that is lasting and permanent, his presencein the lecture rooms and corridors of the Department of English, which he chaired for two decades, being as much felt today as it used to be in the late 1950s, the 1960s and the early 1970s.

     Born on February 26, 1912, Rashad Rushdy got a  BA in English from Cairo University (1935), a diploma in education from the same university (1937), a diploma (Exeter 1939) and a Ph D (Leeds 1950). He taught English at Heliopolis Secondary School, became headmaster of another high school, then moved to the Department of English, Faculty of Arts, Cairo University 1952-1972. He acted as director of Al-Hakim Theatre in Cairo, editor –in- chief of a number of Arabic and English literary magazines then became dean of the Academy of Dramatic Arts 1969-1975. For the last seven years of his life he acted as President Sadat’s cultural counselor but kept his ties with the Department of English, of which he was at once something of founding father and a patron saint, as Emeritus Professor and supervisor of a large number of MA and PhD candidates. Married thrice (his second wife was novelist and feminist activist Dr. Latifa El-Zayyat), he had two daughters.

Much of Rushdy’s academic work was concerned with Egypt under Western eyes. Under this rubric fall his The Lure of Egypt for English Writers in the 19th Century (1951), English Travellers in Egypt, 1805-1850 (1952), The English Travel Book as a Literary Form, 1780-1850 (1952), and The Literary Interpretation of Egypt (1955). He later discovered the Anglo-Saxon New Criticism, emanating from T.S. Eliot and I.A. Richards, which gave rise to a number of distinguished essays on “Structure and Texture in Narration”, “The Objective Correlative of T.S. Eliot”, “The Aestheticism of Walter Pater”, “The Impersonal Theory of Poetry of E.A. Poe”, “D.H. Lawrence’s Conception of Pattern in the Novel” and “Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet”. These original contributions, viewing the past from new angles, were complemented by anthologies of short story masterpieces, a little treasury of English poetry, a book of criticism from Matthew Arnold to the present day and an influential Reading and Appreciation, a manual of practical criticism that ran into many editions since its first edition came out in 1953.

As a playwright, Rushdy produced a number of full-length plays all remarkable for their consummate craftsmanship, psychological depth and symbolic overtones: The Butterfly, Love’s Game, A Journey outside the Wall, Shadow Play, O, My Homeland!; Sweets of Yesterday, Come to the Peepshow, Light of Darkness, Schehezade, Shamina, My Love  as well as five one-act plays (originally written in English, Anglo-Egyptian Bookshop, n.d.). He is also author of a collection of short stories (Ladies Compartment, 1955) and three novellas, Love in my life, A Train Journey and The Man and the Mount. In Search of Time, an autobiography, was posthumously published in 1990.

Rushdy’s literary criticism in Arabic includes The Art of the Short Story, What is Literature? (a controversial little book, advocating the tenets of the New Criticism, that made much sensation on its first appearance in 1960), On English Poetry : Studies and Readings and Essays in Literary Criticism. Collections of essays include Reflections on Egypt and On Art, Love and Life. A posthumous collection of essays on the Art of Drama came out in 1998 with an introduction by Mohamed Salmawi.

Rashad Rushdy rendered a number of English critical essays (by Eliot, Spingarn, Spender and others) into Arabic. He also translated (or adapted) Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus, Gogol’s Inspector General and Steinbeck’s The Moon is Down.

A good introduction to his work is Selected Stories and Essays (1964; six short stories and essays on the Impact of the 23 July 1952 Revolution on Egyptian Literature, Tawfiq Al-Hakim, Mohamed el-Moelhi, Yussef Idris and the Egyptian short story).

As a teacher, Rashad Rushdy had a charismatic character that could influence men as different in temperament and thought as M.M.Enani, Samir Sarhan, Abdel Aziz Hamouda, Farouq Abdel Wahab, Mohamed Salmawi, Nabil Raghib and M.S. Farid. Most (virtually all) of these have left testimonies to the lasting impression made upon their sensibility and minds, in their formative years, by his teaching and example (Hamouda and Raghib are authors of full-length monographs on Rushdy). It would not be an exaggeration to say that (with the possible exception of Lewis Awad) he is the most important literary critic this Department has ever produced. Twenty years after his death, he remains- to quote Ezra Pound on T.S. Eliot (Rushdy’s lifelong hero and mentor)- “a flame tended, a presence felt”.