This introductory chapter outlines the main themes of the book—local Egyptian middle-class modernity articulated by and embodied in the category of the efendi—and sets them within existing historiographical traditions. A “history from the middle” is proposed to fill the gap in histories written from the perspective of political elites or the subaltern. “Representation,” while often a crucial site of historical evidence, is cast aside in favour of working with concepts of social experience and social context. The book’s key themes and arguments are outlined through a thick reading of a key text of modern Egyptian literature, Yahiya Haqqi’s The Saint’s Lamp. Read contextually along countless non-canonical texts, the content of this novel encapsulates the social experience of becoming an efendi. Read as literary act, it represents a cultural practice (one of many) through which a rising efendi social formation made and expressed itself.
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