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Forster in Alexandria: Gender and Genre in Narrating Colonial Cosmopolitanism

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Long associated with a cosmopolitanism that this article demonstrates was equally colonial, Alexandria's space also attests to variously gendered Orientalist constructions, as feminized and/or homoerotic. The article analyzes two texts that resulted from E. M. Forster's World War I Alexandrian sojourn—Alexandria: A History and a Guide, and a contribution to a Labour pamphlet, Notes on Egypt—to argue that whereas the former articulates a Eurocentric cosmopolitanism, the latter speaks up against British colonialism. Drawing on archival material relating to Mohammed El-Adl, the Egyptian tram conductor with whom Forster shared a homoerotic relationship, read as metonymic of subalternity, these paradoxes are explored in terms of gender and genre. The relationship between the guidebook genre and colonialism is pushed further in Forster's Alexandria where the subjectivity is a decidedly male imperial one. Simultaneously, El-Adl's dehumanization by the British informs Forster's condemnation in Notes on Egypt of the colonial conditions that underwrote an elite, Eurocentric cosmopolitanism.


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