Sunday, December 20, 2015

The Arabian Nights - (translated by) Sir Richard F. Burton

This book was kind of a trial for me. I dove into it with high expectations, partly due to the reputation of the stories that make up what is commonly referred to as The Arabian Nights or The Thousand and One Nights, and partly due to my devotion to the translator. This particular volume is made up of 29 stories, including the most well known: Aladdin, Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves, and Sinbad the Sailor's adventures. I enjoyed those stories, as well as some others: The Ebony Horse, The Lady and Her Five Suitors, and Abu Kir the Dyer and Abu Sir the Barber. One of the stories is even a fart joke - ! I'm not a fan of bodily function-related humor, so I could have done without that one.

Many of the other stories were marred for me by the alarming misogyny on display therein. The first several stories all featured some variation on a wife who was cuckolding her husband by sleeping with anything that moved behind his back, and his subsequent revenge on her. The stories also either seemed to say outright or imply that all women are insatiable harlots and that men should be on their guard of getting mixed up with them. And this isn't even touching on the lack of agency most women had; if the woman's father wanted her to marry someone, she was married to him, end of story. These things bothered me not only because they're not something we like to see in early 21st century western culture, but because it seems like this attitude is still a part of everyday life in so many parts of the world today - and yes, I am including the western world here. I don't have to look too hard to see this nonsense and garbage attitude used against women on a daily basis. Seeing it reinforced in a work of classic literature is not a pleasant experience.

Don't get me started on the rampant slavery, either... that's another rant for another time!

To be fair, though, not all of the stories were steeped with these faults. Some actually featured women who displayed skill and cunning, and some were just straight up adventures. I can see why people like them (well, some of them): it's fun to think of being able to command a genie (a Jinn) and thereby becoming rich, etc., or of sailing around the world and having adventures. And I have to say that I enjoyed the translation. Evidently Burton tried to recreate for the English-language reader a sort of Middle Ages style of speaking that works well in that it reinforces the ancient origins of these stories; however, it got tiring for this modern English-language reader to read in large doses.

All in all, I am glad I read this book, but at the same time I didn't love it like I was hoping I might. I think I'll prioritize some more Burton writings next year as a palate cleanser.

No comments:

Post a Comment