Rise of the Novel

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Published Date:05-07-2017
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Novels, Society and History In the previous chapter you read about the rise of print culture and how new forms of communication reshaped the way people thought about themselves or related to each other. You also saw how print culture created the possibility of new forms of literature. In this chapter we will study the history of one such form – the novel – a history that is closely connected to the making of modern ways of thinking. We will first look at the history of the novel in the West, and then see how this form developed in some of the regions of India. As you will see, despite their differences, there were many commonalites of focus between novels written in different parts of the world. 177 Novels, Society and History Chapter VIII Novels, Society and Historyissued in six volumes priced at three shillings each – which was more than what a labourer earned in a week. But soon, people had easier access to books with the introduction of circulating libraries in 1740. Technological improvements in printing brought down the price of books and innovations in marketing led to expanded sales. In France, publishers found that they could make super profits by hiring out novels by the hour. The novel was one of the first mass-produced items to be sold. There were several reasons for its popularity. The worlds created by novels were absorbing and believable, and seemingly real. While reading novels, the reader was transported to another person’s world, and began looking at life as it was experienced by the characters of the novel. Besides, novels allowed individuals the pleasure of reading in private, as well as the joy of publicly reading or discussing stories Fig. Fig. Fig. 1 1 1 – – – Cover page of Cover page of Cover page of Sketches by ‘Boz’. Sketches by ‘Boz’. Sketches by ‘Boz’. Fig. Fig. 1 1 – – Cover page of Cover page of Sketches by ‘Boz’. Sketches by ‘Boz’. with friends or relatives. In rural areas people would collect to hear Charles Dickens’s first publication was a collection of journalistic essays entitled Sketches by ‘Boz’ (1836). one of them reading a novel aloud, often becoming deeply involved in the lives of the characters. Apparently, a group at Slough in England were very pleased to hear that Pamela, the heroine of Richardson’s New words popular novel, had got married in their village. They rushed out to the parish church and began to ring the church bells Serialised – A format in which the story is published in instalments, each part in a new In 1836 a notable event took place when Charles Dickens’s Pickwick issue of a journal Papers was serialised in a magazine. Magazines were attractive since they were illustrated and cheap. Serialisation allowed readers to relish the suspense, discuss the characters of a novel and live for weeks with their stories – like viewers of television soaps today Fig. Fig. Fig. Fig. Fig. 3 3 3 3 3 – – – – – Cover page of Cover page of Cover page of Cover page of Cover page of All All All All All The The The The The Year Round. Year Round. Year Round. Year Round. Year Round. The most important feature of the magazine All the Year Round, edited by Charles Dickens, was his serialised novels. This Fig. 2 – Library notice. Fig. 2 – Library notice. Fig. 2 – Library notice. Fig. 2 – Library notice. Fig. 2 – Library notice. particular issue begins with one. Libraries were well publicised. 179 Novels, Society and HistoryFig. 4 – Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910). Fig. 4 – Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910). Fig. 4 – Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910). Fig. 4 – Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910). Fig. 4 – Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910). Tolstoy was a famous Russian novelist who wrote extensively on rural life and community. 1.2 The World of the Novel Discuss More than other forms of writing which came before, novels are Explain what is meant by the following types of about ordinary people. They do not focus on the lives of great novels: people or actions that change the destinies of states and empires. ¾ Epistolary novel Instead, they are about the everyday life of common people. ¾ Serialised novel For each type, name one writer who wrote in In the nineteenth century, Europe entered the industrial age. that style. Factories came up, business profits increased and the economy grew. But at the same time, workers faced problems. Cities expanded in an unregulated way and were filled with overworked and underpaid workers. The unemployed poor roamed the streets for jobs, and the homeless were forced to seek shelter in workhouses. The growth of industry was accompanied by an economic philosophy which celebrated the pursuit of profit and undervalued the lives of workers. Deeply critical of these developments, novelists such as Charles Dickens wrote about the terrible effects of industrialisation on people’s lives and characters. His novel Hard Times (1854) describes Coketown, a fictitious industrial town, as a grim place full of machinery, smoking chimneys, rivers polluted purple and buildings that all looked the same. Here workers are known as ‘hands’, as if they had no identity other than as operators of machines. Dickens criticised not just the greed for profits but also the ideas that reduced human beings into simple instruments Fig. 5 – Charles Dickens Fig. 5 – Charles Dickens Fig. 5 – Charles Dickens Fig. 5 – Charles Dickens Fig. 5 – Charles Dickens (1812-1870). (1812-1870). (1812-1870). (1812-1870). (1812-1870). of production. 180 India and the Contemporary WorldIn other novels too, Dickens focused on the terrible conditions of urban life under industrial capitalism. His Oliver Twist (1838) is the tale of a poor orphan who lived in a world of petty criminals and beggars. Brought up in a cruel workhouse (see Fig. 6), Oliver was finally adopted by a wealthy man and lived happily ever after. But not all novels about the lives of the poor gave readers the comfort of a happy ending. Emile Zola’s Germinal (1885) on the life of a young miner in France explores in harsh detail the grim conditions of miners’ lives. It ends on a note of despair: the strike the hero leads fails, his co-workers turn against him, and hopes are shattered. Fig. Fig. Fig. Fig. Fig. 6 6 6 – 6 6 A hungry Oliver asks for more A hungry Oliver asks for more A hungry Oliver asks for more A hungry Oliver asks for more A hungry Oliver asks for more food while other children at the workhouse food while other children at the workhouse food while other children at the workhouse food while other children at the workhouse food while other children at the workhouse look look look look look on on on on on with fear with fear with fear with fear with fear, illustration in , illustration in , illustration in , illustration in , illustration in Oliver Oliver Oliver Oliver Oliver Twist Twist Twist Twist Twist..... Fig. 7 – Emile Zola Fig. 7 – Emile Zola Fig. 7 – Emile Zola Fig. 7 – Emile Zola Fig. 7 – Emile Zola,,,,, painting by Edward Manet, painting by Edward Manet, painting by Edward Manet, painting by Edward Manet, painting by Edward Manet, 1868. 1868. 1868. 1868. 1868. Manet’s portrait of the French author Zola, showing the novelist at his worktable in an intimate and thoughtful relationship with books. 1.3 Community and Society The vast majority of readers of the novel lived in the city. The novel created in them a feeling of connection with the fate of rural communities. The nineteenth-century British novelist Thomas Hardy, for instance, wrote about traditional rural communities of England 181 Novels, Society and Historythat were fast vanishing. This was actually a time when large farmers fenced off land, bought machines and employed labourers to produce for the market. The old rural culture with its independent farmers was dying out. We get a sense of this change in Hardy’s Mayor of Casterbridge (1886). It is about Michael Henchard, a successful grain merchant, who becomes the mayor of the farming town of Casterbridge. He is an independent-minded man who follows his own style in conducting business. He can also be both unpredictably generous and cruel with his employees. Consequently, he is no match for his manager and rival Donald Farfrae who runs his business on efficient managerial lines and is well regarded for he is smooth and even-tempered with everyone. We can see that Hardy mourns the loss of the more personalised world that is Fig. Fig. 8 8 – Thomas Hardy (1840-1928). – Thomas Hardy (1840-1928). Fig. Fig. Fig. 8 8 8 – Thomas Hardy (1840-1928). – Thomas Hardy (1840-1928). – Thomas Hardy (1840-1928). disappearing, even as he is aware of its problems and the advantages of the new order. The novel uses the vernacular, the language that is spoken by common people. By coming closer to the different spoken languages of the people, the novel produces the sense of a shared world between diverse people in a nation. Novels also draw from different styles of language. A novel may take a classical language and combine it with the language of the streets and make them all a part of the vernacular that it uses. Like the nation, the novel brings together many cultures. 1.4 The New Woman The most exciting element of the novel was the involvement of women. The eighteenth century saw the middle classes become more prosperous. Women got more leisure to read as well as write novels. And novels began exploring the world of women – their emotions and identities, their experiences and problems. Many novels were about domestic life – a theme about which women were allowed to speak with authority. They drew upon their experience, wrote about family life and earned public recognition. New words Vernacular – The normal, spoken form of a language rather than the formal, literary form 182 India and the Contemporary WorldFig. Fig. Fig. Fig. Fig. 9 9 9 9 9 – A girl reading, a painting by Jean Renoir (1841-1919). – A girl reading, a painting by Jean Renoir (1841-1919). – A girl reading, a painting by Jean Renoir (1841-1919). – A girl reading, a painting by Jean Renoir (1841-1919). – A girl reading, a painting by Jean Renoir (1841-1919). By the nineteenth century, images of women reading silently, in the privacy of the room, became common in European paintings. Fig. 1 Fig. 10 0 – The home of a woman author – The home of a woman author, by George Cruikshank , by George Cruikshank.. Fig. 1 Fig. 1 Fig. 10 0 0 – The home of a woman author – The home of a woman author – The home of a woman author, by George Cruikshank , by George Cruikshank , by George Cruikshank... When women began writing novels many people feared that they would now neglect their traditional role as wives and mothers and homes would be in disorder. 183 Novels, Society and HistoryThe novels of Jane Austen give us a glimpse of the world of women in genteel rural society in early-nineteenth-century Britain. They make us think about a society which encouraged women to look for ‘good’ marriages and find wealthy or propertied husbands. The first sentence of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice states: ‘It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.’ This observation allows us to see the behaviour of the main characters, who are preoccupied with marriage and money, as typifying Austen’s society. But women novelists did not simply popularise the domestic role of women. Often their novels dealt with women who broke Fig. 11 – Jane Austen Fig. 11 – Jane Austen Fig. 11 – Jane Austen Fig. 11 – Jane Austen Fig. 11 – Jane Austen (1775-1817). (1775-1817). (1775-1817). (1775-1817). (1775-1817). established norms of society before adjusting to them. Such stories allowed women readers to sympathise with rebellious actions. In Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, published in 1847, young Jane is shown as independent and assertive. While girls of her time were expected to be quiet and well behaved, Jane at the age of ten protests against the hypocrisy of her elders with startling bluntness. She tells her Fig. 12 – The marriage contract, William Hogarth (1697-1764). Fig. 12 – The marriage contract, William Hogarth (1697-1764). Fig. 12 – The marriage contract, William Hogarth (1697-1764). Fig. 12 – The marriage contract, William Hogarth (1697-1764). Fig. 12 – The marriage contract, William Hogarth (1697-1764). As you can see, the two men in the foreground are busy with the signing of the marriage contract while the woman stays in the background. 184 India and the Contemporary WorldAunt who is always unkind to her: ‘People think you a good woman, but you are bad ... You are deceitful I will never call you aunt as long as I live.’ Box 1 Women novelists George Eliot (1819-1880) was the pen-name of Mary Ann Evans. A very popular novelist, she believed that novels gave women a special opportunity to express themselves freely. Every woman could see herself as capable of writing fiction: Fig. 13 – Charlotte Bronte (1816-1855). Fig. 13 – Charlotte Bronte (1816-1855). Fig. 13 – Charlotte Bronte (1816-1855). Fig. 13 – Charlotte Bronte (1816-1855). Fig. 13 – Charlotte Bronte (1816-1855). ‘Fiction is a department of literature in which women can, after their kind, fully equal men … No educational restrictions can shut women from the materials of fiction, and there is no species of art that is so free from rigid requirements.’ George Eliot, ‘Silly novels by lady novelists’, 1856. 1.5 Novels for the Young Novels for young boys idealised a new type of man: someone who was powerful, assertive, independent and daring. Most of these novels were full of adventure set in places remote from Europe. The colonisers appear heroic and honourable – confronting ‘native’ peoples and strange surroundings, adapting to native life as well as changing it, colonising territories and then developing nations there. Books like R.L. Stevenson’s Treasure Island (1883) or Rudyard Kipling’s Box 2 Jungle Book (1894) became great hits. G.A. Henty’s historical adventure novels for boys were also wildly G.A. Henty (1832-1902): popular during the height of the British empire. They aroused the In Under Drake’s Flag (1883) two young excitement and adventure of conquering strange lands. They were Elizabethan adventurers face their apparently set in Mexico, Alexandria, Siberia and many other countries. They approaching death, but still remember to assert their Englishness: were always about young boys who witness grand historical events, ‘Well, Ned, we have had more good fortune than get involved in some military action and show what they called we could have expected. We might have been ‘English’ courage. killed on the day when we landed, and we have spent six jolly months in wandering together as Love stories written for adolescent girls also first became popular hunters on the plain. If we must die, let us in this period, especially in the US, notably Ramona (1884) by Helen behave like Englishmen and Christians.’ Hunt Jackson and a series entitled What Katy Did (1872) by Sarah Chauncey Woolsey, who wrote under the pen-name Susan Coolidge. 185 Novels, Society and History1.6 Colonialism and After The novel originated in Europe at a time when it was colonising the rest of the world. The early novel contributed to colonialism by making the readers feel they were part of a superior community of fellow colonialists. The hero of Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe (1719) is an adventurer and slave trader. Shipwrecked on an island, Crusoe treats coloured people not as human beings equal to him, but as inferior creatures. He rescues a ‘native’ and makes him his slave. He does not ask for his name but arrogantly gives him the name Friday. But at the time, Crusoe’s behaviour was not seen as unacceptable or odd, for most writers of the time saw colonialism as natural. Colonised people were seen as primitive and barbaric, less than human; and colonial rule was considered necessary to civilise them, to make them fully human. It was only later, in the twentieth century, that writers like Joseph Conrad (1857-1924) wrote novels that showed the darker side of colonial occupation. The colonised, however, believed that the novel allowed them to explore their own identities and problems, their own national concerns. Let us see how the novel became popular in India and what significance it had for society. 186 India and the Contemporary World2 The Novel Comes to India Stories in prose were not new to India. Banabhatta’s Kadambari, written in Sanskrit in the seventh century, is an early example. The Panchatantra is another. There was also a long tradition of prose tales of adventure and heroism in Persian and Urdu, known as dastan. However, these works were not novels as we know them today. The modern novel form developed in India in the nineteenth century, as Indians became familiar with the Western novel. The development of the vernaculars, print and a reading public helped in this process. Some of the earliest Indian novels were written in Bengali and Marathi. The earliest novel in Marathi was Baba Padmanji’s Yamuna Box 3 Paryatan (1857), which used a simple style of storytelling to speak about the plight of widows. This was followed by Lakshman Not all Marathi novels were realistic. Naro Sadashiv Moreshwar Halbe’s Muktamala (1861). This was not a realistic novel; Risbud used a highly ornamental style in his Marathi it presented an imaginary ‘romance’ narrative with a moral purpose. novel Manjughosha (1868). This novel was filled with amazing events. Risbud had a reason behind Leading novelists of the nineteenth century wrote for a cause. his choice of style. He said: Colonial rulers regarded the contemporary culture of India as inferior. ‘Because of our attitude to marriage and for several other reasons one finds in the lives of the On the other hand, Indian novelists wrote to develop a modern Hindus neither interesting views nor virtues … If literature of the country that could produce a sense of national we write about things that we experience belonging and cultural equality with their colonial masters. daily there would be nothing enthralling about them, so that if we set out to write an Translations of novels into different regional languages helped to entertaining book we are forced to take up with spread the popularity of the novel and stimulated the growth of the marvellous.’ the novel in new areas. 2.1 The Novel in South India Novels began appearing in south Indian languages during the period of colonial rule. Quite a few early novels came out of attempts to translate English novels into Indian languages. For example, O. Chandu Menon, a subjudge from Malabar, tried to translate an English novel called Henrietta Temple written by Benjamin Disraeli into Malayalam. But he quickly realised that his readers in Kerala were not familiar with the way in which the characters in English novels lived: their clothes, ways of speaking, and manners were unknown to them. They would find a direct translation of an English novel dreadfully boring. So, he gave up this idea and wrote instead a story in Malayalam in the ‘manner of English novel books’. This delightful novel called Indulekha, published in 1889, was the first Fig. 14 – Chandu Menon Fig. 14 – Chandu Menon Fig. 14 – Chandu Menon Fig. 14 – Chandu Menon Fig. 14 – Chandu Menon (1847-1899). (1847-1899). (1847-1899). (1847-1899). (1847-1899). modern novel in Malayalam. 187 Novels, Society and HistoryThe case of Andhra Pradesh was strikingly similar. Kandukuri Viresalingam (1848-1919) began translating Oliver Goldsmith’s Vicar of Wakefield into Telugu. He abandoned this plan for similar reasons and instead wrote an original Telugu novel called Rajasekhara Caritamu in 1878. Fig. 15 – Image from Fig. 15 – Image from Fig. 15 – Image from Fig. 15 – Image from Fig. 15 – Image from Pickwick Abroad. Pickwick Abroad. Pickwick Abroad. Pickwick Abroad. Pickwick Abroad. A drawing from the book Pickwick Abroad written by G.W.M. Reynolds. Minor nineteenth-century English novelists like Reynolds, F. Marion Crawford and Marie Corelli were hugely popular in colonial India. Their novels – which were historical romances, adventure stories and sensation novels – were easily available and were translated and ‘adapted’ into several Indian languages. Reynolds’s Pickwick Abroad (1839) was more popular in India than Dickens’s original Pickwick Papers (1837). 2.2 The Novel in Hindi In the north, Bharatendu Harishchandra, the pioneer of modern Hindi literature, encouraged many members of his circle of poets and writers to recreate and translate novels from other languages. Many novels were actually translated and adapted from English and Bengali under his influence, but the first proper modern novel was written by Srinivas Das of Delhi. Srinivas Das’s novel, published in 1882, was titled Pariksha-Guru (The Master Examiner). It cautioned young men of well-to-do families against the dangerous influences of bad company and consequent loose morals. Pariksha-Guru reflects the inner and outer world of the newly emerging middle classes. The characters in the novel are caught in the difficulty of adapting to colonised society and at the same time preserving 188 India and the Contemporary Worldtheir own cultural identity. The world of colonial modernity seems to be both frightening and irresistible to the characters. The novel tries to teach the reader the ‘right way’ to live and expects all ‘sensible men’ to be worldly-wise and practical, to remain rooted in the values of their own tradition and culture, and to live with dignity and honour. In the novel we see the characters attempting to bridge two different worlds through their actions: they take to new agricultural technology, modernise trading practices, change the use of Indian languages, making them capable of transmitting both Western sciences and Indian wisdom. The young are urged to cultivate the ‘healthy habit’ of reading the newspapers. But the novel emphasises that all this must be achieved without sacrificing the traditional values of the middle-class household. With all its good intentions, Pariksha- Guru could not win many readers, as it was perhaps too moralising in its style. The writings of Devaki Nandan Khatri created a novel-reading public in Hindi. His best-seller, Chandrakanta – a romance with dazzling elements of fantasy – is believed to have contributed immensely in popularising the Hindi language and the Nagari script among the educated classes of those times. Although it was Discuss apparently written purely for the ‘pleasure of reading’, this novel Write about two important characteristics of the also gives some interesting insights into the fears and desires of its early Hindi novel. reading public. It was with the writing of Premchand that the Hindi novel achieved excellence. He began writing in Urdu and then shifted to Hindi, remaining an immensely influential writer in both languages. He drew Box 4 on the traditional art of kissa-goi (storytelling). Many critics think The novel in Assam that his novel Sewasadan (The Abode of Service), published in 1916, The first novels in Assam were written by lifted the Hindi novel from the realm of fantasy, moralising and missionaries. Two of them were translations of simple entertainment to a serious reflection on the lives of ordinary Bengali including Phulmoni and Karuna. In 1888, Assamese students in Kolkata formed the Asamya people and social issues. Sewasadan deals mainly with the poor Bhasar Unnatisadhan that brought out a journal condition of women in society. Issues like child marriage and dowry called Jonaki. This journal opened up the are woven into the story of the novel. It also tells us about the ways opportunities for new authors to develop the novel. Rajanikanta Bardoloi wrote the first major in which the Indian upper classes used whatever little opportunities historical novel in Assam called Manomati (1900). they got from colonial authorities to govern themselves. It is set in the Burmese invasion, stories of which the author had probably heard from old soldiers who had fought in the 1819 campaign. It is a 2.3 Novels in Bengal tale of two lovers belonging to two hostile families who are separated by the war and finally In the nineteenth century, the early Bengali novels lived in two worlds. reunited. Many of these novels were located in the past, their characters, events 189 Novels, Society and Historyand love stories based on historical events. Another group of novels depicted the inner world of domestic life in contemporary settings. Domestic novels frequently dealt with the social problems and romantic relationships between men and women. The old merchant elite of Calcutta patronised public forms of entertainment such as kabirlarai (poetry contests), musical soirees and dance performances. In contrast, the new bhadralok found himself at home in the more private world of reading novels. Novels were read individually. They could also be read in select groups. Sometimes the household of the great Bangla novelist Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay would host a jatra in the courtyard where members of the family would be gathered. In Bankim’s room, however, a group of literary friends would collect to read, discuss and judge literary works. Bankim read out Durgeshnandini (1865), his first novel, to such a gathering of people who were stunned to Fig. 16 Fig. 16 Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay Fig. 16 Fig. 16 – Fig. 16 Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay (1838-1894). (1838-1894). (1838-1894). (1838-1894). (1838-1894). realise that the Bengali novel had achieved excellence so quickly. Bankim’s hands on the book indicates how writing was the basis of his social position Besides the ingenious twists and turns of the plot and the suspense, and authority. the novel was also relished for its language. The prose style became Box 5 a new object of enjoyment. Initially the Bengali novel used a colloquial The Oriya novel style associated with urban life. It also used meyeli, the language In 1877-78, Ramashankar Ray, a dramatist, began associated with women’s speech. This style was quickly replaced serialising the first Oriya novel, Saudamani. But by Bankim’s prose which was Sanskritised but also contained a he could not complete it. Within thirty years, more vernacular style. however, Orissa produced a major novelist in Fakir Mohon Senapati (1843-1918). The title of his The novel rapidly acquired popularity in Bengal. By the twentieth novel Chaa Mana Atha Guntha (1902) translates as six acres and thirty-two decimals of land. It century, the power of telling stories in simple language made Sarat announces a new kind of novel that will deal with Chandra Chattopadhyay (1876-1938) the most popular novelist in the question of land and its possession. It is the Bengal and probably in the rest of India. story of Ramchandra Mangaraj, a landlord’s manager who cheats his idle and drunken master and then eyes the plot of fertile land owned by Bhagia and Shariya, a childless weaver couple. Mangaraj fools this couple and puts them into his debt so that he can take over their land. This pathbreaking work showed that the novel could make rural issues an important part of urban preoccupations. In writing this novel, Fakir Mohon anticipated a host of writers in Bengal and elsewhere. Fig. 1 Fig. 1 Fig. 1 Fig. 1 Fig. 17 7 7 7 7 – The temple and the drawing room. The temple and the drawing room. The temple and the drawing room. The temple and the drawing room. The temple and the drawing room. On the right is the temple where the family and others would gather and on the left is the drawing room where Bankim would entertain select friends to discuss new literary works. Note that the two spaces – the traditional and the modern – are next to each other, indicating the split lifestyle of most intellectuals in colonial India. 190 India and the Contemporary World3 Novels in the Colonial World If we follow the history of the novel in different parts of India we can see many regional peculiarities. But there were also recurring patterns and common concerns. What inspired the authors to write novels? Who read the novels? How did the culture of reading develop? How did the novels grapple with the problems of societal change within a colonial society? What kind of a world did novels open up for the readers? Let us explore some of these questions by focusing primarily on the writings of three authors from different regions: Chandu Menon, Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay and Premchand. 3.1 Uses of the Novel Colonial administrators found ‘vernacular’ novels a valuable source of information on native life and customs. Such information was useful for them in governing Indian society, with its large variety of communities and castes. As outsiders, the British knew little about life inside Indian households. The new novels in Indian languages Fig. 18 – Cover page of the novel Fig. 18 – Cover page of the novel Fig. 18 – Cover page of the novel Fig. 18 – Cover page of the novel Fig. 18 – Cover page of the novel often had descriptions of domestic life. They showed how people Indirabai. Indirabai. Indirabai. Indirabai. Indirabai. Written at the end of the nineteenth dressed, their forms of religious worship, their beliefs and practices, century, Indirabai continues to be and so on. Some of these books were translated into English, often popular and is regularly reprinted. This is the cover of a recent reprint. by British administrators or Christian missionaries. Indians used the novel as a powerful medium to criticise what they considered defects in their society and to suggest remedies. Writers like Viresalingam used the novel mainly to propagate their ideas Box 6 about society among a wider readership. The message of reform Novels also helped in establishing a relationship with the past. Many Many early novels carried a clear message of of them told thrilling stories of adventures and intrigues set in the social reform. For example, in Indirabai, a past. Through glorified accounts of the past, these novels helped in Kannada novel written by Gulavadi Venkata Rao in 1899, the heroine is given away in marriage creating a sense of national pride among their readers. at a very young age to an elderly man. Her husband dies soon after, and she is forced to At the same time, people from all walks of life could read novels so lead the life of a widow. In spite of opposition long as they shared a common language. This helped in creating a from her family and society, Indirabai succeeds sense of collective belonging on the basis of one’s language. in continuing her education. Eventually she marries again, this time a progressive, English- You would have noticed that people living in different regions speak educated man. Women’s education, the plight of widows, and problems created by the early the same language in different ways – sometimes they use different marriage of girls – all these were important issues words for the same thing; sometimes the same word is pronounced for social reformers in Karnataka at that time. differently. With the coming of novels, such variations entered the 191 Novels, Society and HistoryBox 7 The most popular historical novelist in Tamil was R. Krishnamurthy who wrote under the pen- name ‘Kalki’. He was an active participant in the freedom movement and the editor of the widely read Tamil magazines Anandavikatan and Kalki. Written in simple language and full of heroism, adventure and suspense, Kalki’s novels captivated the Tamil-reading public of an entire generation. Fig. 19 – A page from the Fig. 19 – A page from the Fig. 19 – A page from the Fig. 19 – A page from the Fig. 19 – A page from the novel novel novel novel novel Ponniyin Selvan Ponniyin Selvan Ponniyin Selvan Ponniyin Selvan Ponniyin Selvan, written , written , written , written , written by Kalki and serialised in the by Kalki and serialised in the by Kalki and serialised in the by Kalki and serialised in the by Kalki and serialised in the magazine magazine magazine magazine magazine Kalki Kalki Kalki Kalki Kalki, 1951. , 1951. , 1951. , 1951. , 1951. world of print for the first time. The way characters spoke in a novel began to indicate their region, class or caste. Thus novels made their readers familiar with the ways in which people in other parts of their land spoke their language. 3.2 The Problem of Being Modern Although they were about imaginary stories, novels often spoke to their readers about the real world. But novels did not always show things exactly as they were in reality. Sometimes, they presented a vision of how things ought to be. Social novelists often created heroes and heroines with ideal qualities, who their readers could admire and imitate. How were these ideal qualities defined? In many novels written during the colonial period, the ideal person successfully deals with one of the central dilemmas faced by colonial subjects: how to be modern without rejecting tradition, how to accept ideas coming from the West without losing one’s identity. Chandu Menon portrayed Indulekha as a woman of breathtaking beauty, high intellectual abilities, artistic talent, and with an education in English and Sanskrit. Madhavan, the hero of the novel, was also presented in ideal colours. He was a member of the newly English-educated class of Nayars from the University of Madras. 192 India and the Contemporary WorldHe was also a ‘first-rate Sanskrit scholar’. He dressed in Western clothes. But, at the same time, he kept a long tuft of hair, according to the Nayar custom. The heroes and heroines in most of the novels were people who lived in the modern world. Thus they were different from the ideal or mythological characters of the earlier poetic literature of India. Under colonial rule, many of the English-educated class found new Western ways of living and thinking attractive. But they also feared that a wholesale adoption of Western values would destroy their traditional ways of living. Characters like Indulekha and Madhavan showed readers how Indian and foreign lifestyles could be brought together in an ideal combination. 3.3 Pleasures of Reading As elsewhere in the world, in India too, the novel became a popular medium of entertainment among the middle class. The circulation of printed books allowed people to amuse themselves in new ways. Picture books, translations from other languages, popular songs sometimes composed on contemporary events, stories in newspapers and magazines – all these offered new forms of entertainment. Within this new culture of print, novels soon became immensely popular. In Tamil, for example, there was a flood of popular novels in the early decades of the twentieth century. Detective and mystery novels often had to be printed again and again to meet the demand of readers: some of them were reprinted as many as twenty-two times The novel also assisted in the spread of silent reading. We are so used to reading in silence that it is difficult for us to think that this practice was not very common in the past. As late as the nineteenth century and perhaps even in the early twentieth century, written texts were often read aloud for several people to hear. Sometimes novels were also read in this way, but in general novels encouraged reading Fig. 20 – Cover page of Fig. 20 – Cover page of Fig. 20 – Cover page of Fig. 20 – Cover page of Fig. 20 – Cover page of Kathanjali Kathanjali Kathanjali Kathanjali Kathanjali,,, ,, a Kannada a Kannada a Kannada a Kannada a Kannada magazine. magazine. magazine. magazine. magazine. alone and in silence. Individuals sitting at home or travelling in trains Kathanjali started publication in 1929 and enjoyed them. Even in a crowded room, the novel offered a special published short stories regularly. The picture world of imagination into which the reader could slip, and be all shows a mother reading out stories from a book to her children. alone. In this, reading a novel was like daydreaming. 193 Novels, Society and History4 Women and the Novel Many people got worried about the effects of the novel on readers who were taken away from their real surroundings into an imaginary world where anything could happen. Some of them wrote in newspapers and magazines, advising people to stay away from the immoral influence of novels. Women and children were often singled out for such advice: they were seen as easily corruptible. Some parents kept novels in the lofts in their houses, out of their children’s reach. Young people often read them in secret. This passion was not limited only to the youth. Older women – some of whom could not read – listened with fascinated attention to popular Tamil novels read out to them by their grandchildren – a nice reversal of the familiar grandma’s tales But women did not remain mere readers of stories written by men; soon they also began to write novels. In some languages, the early creations of women were poems, essays or autobiographical pieces. In the early decades of the twentieth century, women in Fig. 21 – A woman reading, Fig. 21 – A woman reading, Fig. 21 – A woman reading, Fig. 21 – A woman reading, Fig. 21 – A woman reading, south India also began writing novels and short stories. A reason woodcut by Satyendranath Bishi. woodcut by Satyendranath Bishi. woodcut by Satyendranath Bishi. woodcut by Satyendranath Bishi. woodcut by Satyendranath Bishi. The woodcut shows how women for the popularity of novels among women was that it allowed were discovering the pleasure of for a new conception of womanhood. Stories of love – which reading. By the end of the nineteenth century, images of was a staple theme of many novels – showed women who could women reading became common in choose or refuse their partners and relationships. It showed popular magazines in India. women who could to some extent control their lives. Some women authors also wrote about women who changed the world of both Source A men and women. Rokeya Hossein (1880-1932) was a reformer who, after she was Why women should not read novels widowed, started a girl’s school in Calcutta. She wrote a satiric From a Tamil essay published in 1927: fantasy in English called Sultana’s Dream (1905) which shows a topsy- ‘Dear children, don’t read these novels, don’t even touch them. Your life will be ruined. You turvy world in which women take the place of men. Her novel will suffer disease and ailments. Why did the good Padmarag also showed the need for women to reform their condition Lord make you – to wither away at a tender by their own actions. age? To suffer in disease? To be despised by your brothers, relatives and those around you? No. No. You must become mothers; you must lead happy lives; this is the divine purpose. You who were born to fulfil this sublime goal, should New words you ruin your life by going crazy after despicable novels?’ Satire – A form of representation through writing, drawing, Essay by Thiru. Vi. Ka, Translated by A.R. painting, etc. that provides a criticism of society in a manner that Venkatachalapathy is witty and clever Source 194 India and the Contemporary WorldIt is not surprising that many men were suspicious of women writing Box 8 novels or reading them. This suspicion cut across communities. Women with books Hannah Mullens, a Christian missionary and the author of Karuna o ‘These days we can see women in black bordered Phulmonir Bibaran (1852), reputedly the first novel in Bengali, tells her sarees with massive books in their hands, walking readers that she wrote in secret. In the twentieth century, Sailabala inside their houses. Often seeing them with these books in hand, their brothers or husbands are Ghosh Jaya, a popular novelist, could only write because her husband seized with fear – in case they are asked for protected her. As we have seen in the case of the south, women and meanings.’ girls were often discouraged from reading novels. Sadharani, 1880. 4.1 Caste Practices, ‘Lower-Castes’ and Minorities As you have seen, Indulekha was a love story. But it was also about an issue that was hotly debated at the time when the novel was written. This concerned the marriage practices of upper-caste Hindus in Kerala, especially the Nambuthiri Brahmins and the Nayars. Nambuthiris were also major landlords in Kerala at that time; and a large section of the Nayars were their tenants. In late-nineteenth- century Kerala, a younger generation of English-educated Nayar men who had acquired property and wealth on their own, began arguing strongly against Nambuthiri alliances with Nayar women. They wanted new laws regarding marriage and property. The story of Indulekha is interesting in the light of these debates. Suri Nambuthiri, the foolish landlord who comes to marry Indulekha, is the focus of much satire in the novel. The intelligent heroine rejects him and chooses Madhavan, the educated and handsome Nayar as her husband, and the young couple move to Madras, where Madhavan joins the civil service. Suri Nambuthiri, desperate to find a partner for himself, finally marries a poorer relation from the same family and goes away pretending that he has married Indulekha Chandu Menon clearly wanted his readers to appreciate the new values of his hero and heroine and criticise the ignorance and immorality of Suri Nambuthiri. Novels like Indirabai and Indulekha were written by members of the Fig. 22 Fig. 22 – – Malabar Beauty, painting by Malabar Beauty, painting by Fig. 22 Fig. 22 Fig. 22 – – – Malabar Beauty, painting by Malabar Beauty, painting by Malabar Beauty, painting by upper castes, and were primarily about upper-caste characters. But Ravi Varma. Ravi Varma. Ravi Varma. Ravi Varma. Ravi Varma. not all novels were of this kind. Chandu Menon thought that the novel was similar to new trends in Indian Potheri Kunjambu, a ‘lower-caste’ writer from north Kerala, wrote painting. One of the foremost oil painters of this a novel called Saraswativijayam in 1892, mounting a strong attack on time was Raja Ravi Varma (1848- caste oppression. This novel shows a young man from an 1906). Chandu Menon’s description of his heroines may have been guided ‘untouchable’ caste, leaving his village to escape the cruelty of his by some of his paintings. Brahmin landlord. He converts to Christianity, obtains modern 195 Novels, Society and Historyeducation, and returns as the judge in the local court. Meanwhile, the villagers, thinking that the landlord’s men had killed him, file a case. At the conclusion of the trial, the judge reveals his true identity, and the Nambuthiri repents and reforms his ways. Saraswativijayam stresses the importance of education for the upliftment of the lower castes. From the 1920s, in Bengal too a new kind of novel emerged that depicted the lives of peasants and ‘low’ castes. Advaita Malla Burman’s (1914-51) Titash Ekti Nadir Naam (1956) is an epic about the Mallas, a community of fisherfolk who live off fishing in the river Titash. The novel is about three generations of the Mallas, about their recurring tragedies and the story of Ananta, a child born of parents who were tragically separated after their wedding night. Ananta leaves the community to get educated in the city. The novel describes the community life of the Mallas in great detail, their Holi and Kali Puja festivals, boat races, bhatiali songs, their relationships of friendship and animosity with the peasants and the oppression of the upper castes. Slowly the community breaks up and the Mallas start fighting amongst themselves as new cultural influences from the city start penetrating their lives. The life of the community and that of the river is intimately tied. Their end comes together: as the river dries up, the community dies too. While novelists before Burman had featured ‘low’ castes as their protagonists, Titash is special because the author is himself from a ‘low-caste’, fisherfolk community. Over time, the medium of the novel made room for the experiences of communities that had not received much space in the literary scene earlier. Vaikkom Muhammad Basheer (1908-94), for example, was one of the early Muslim writers to gain wide renown as a novelist in Malayalam. Basheer had little formal education. Most of his works were based on his own rich personal experience rather than on books from the past. When he was in class five at school, Basheer left home to take part in the Salt Satyagraha. Later he spent years wandering in different parts of India and travelling even to Arabia, working in a ship, living Fig. 23 – Basheer carrying books. Fig. 23 – Basheer carrying books. Fig. 23 – Basheer carrying books. Fig. 23 – Basheer carrying books. Fig. 23 – Basheer carrying books. In his early years as a writer, with Sufis and Hindu sanyasis, and training as a wrestler. Basheer had great difficulty earning a living from his books. Basheer’s short novels and stories were written in the ordinary He often sold them himself, language of conversation. With wonderful humour, Basheer’s novels carrying copies personally to houses and shops. In some of his spoke about details from the everyday life of Muslim households. stories, Basheer wrote about his He also brought into Malayalam writing themes which were days as a vendor of his own books. considered very unusual at that time – poverty, insanity and life in prisons. 196 India and the Contemporary World5 The Nation and its History The history written by colonial historians tended to depict Indians as weak, divided, and dependent on the British. These histories could not satisfy the tastes of the new Indian administrators and intellectuals. Nor did the traditional Puranic stories of the past – peopled by gods and demons, filled with the fantastic and the supernatural – seem convincing to those educated and working under the English system. Such minds wanted a new view of the past that would show that Indians could be independent minded and had been so in history. The novel provided a solution. In it, the nation could be imagined in a past that also featured historical characters, places, events and dates. In Bengal, many historical novels were about Marathas and Rajputs. These novels produced a sense of a pan-Indian belonging. They Fig. 24 – Image from the film Fig. 24 – Image from the film Fig. 24 – Image from the film Chemmeen Chemmeen Chemmeen... Fig. 24 – Image from the film Fig. 24 – Image from the film Chemmeen Chemmeen.. imagined the nation to be full of adventure, heroism, romance and Many novels were made into films. The novel sacrifice – qualities that could not be found in the offices and streets Chemmeen (Shrimp, 1956), written by Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai (1912-99), is set in the of the nineteenth-century world. The novel allowed the colonised fishing community in Kerala, and characters to give shape to their desires. Bhudeb Mukhopadhyay’s (1827-94) speak a variety of Malayalam used by fisherfolk in the region. The film Chemmeen, directed by Anguriya Binimoy (1857) was the first historical novel written in Bengal. Ramu Kariat, was made in 1965. Its hero Shivaji engages in many battles against a clever and treacherous Aurangzeb. Man Singh persuades Shivaji to make peace with Aurangzeb. Realising that Aurangzeb intended to confine him as a house prisoner, Shivaji escapes and returns to battle. What gives him courage and tenacity is his belief that he is a nationalist fighting for the freedom of Hindus. The imagined nation of the novel was so powerful that it could inspire actual political movements. Bankim’s Anandamath (1882) is a novel about a secret Hindu militia that fights Muslims to establish a Hindu kingdom. It was a novel that inspired many kinds of freedom fighters. Many of these novels also reveal the problems of thinking about the nation. Was India to be a nation of only a single religious Fig. 25 Fig. 25 Fig. 25 – – – A still from the A still from the A still from the Fig. 25 Fig. 25 – – A still from the A still from the community? Who had natural claims to belong to the nation? Kannada film Kannada film Kannada film Kannada film Kannada film Chomana Dudi Chomana Dudi Chomana Dudi Chomana Dudi Chomana Dudi (Choma’s Drum, directed by (Choma’s Drum, directed by (Choma’s Drum, directed by (Choma’s Drum, directed by (Choma’s Drum, directed by B.V. Karanth in 1975). B.V. Karanth in 1975). B.V. Karanth in 1975). B.V. Karanth in 1975). B.V. Karanth in 1975). 5.1 The Novel and Nation Making The film is based on a novel of the same title written in 1930 by Imagining a heroic past was one way in which the novel helped in the celebrated Kannada novelist Sivarama Karanth (1902-1997). popularising the sense of belonging to a common nation. Another 197 Novels, Society and History