DEBAJYOTI BISWAS -----------------------------------Realism and Reality THE NOVEL AND SOCIETY IN INDIA. Meenakshi Mukherjee OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS, Rs 195

-------------------------------Realism and Reality gives a glimpse on the rise of novel in India during mid-nineteenth century till twentieth century. Apart from the novels written in English language, she takes into consideration the novels written in regional languages. She includes the minor literary figures like Nazir Ahmed, Catherine Hannah Mullens to most prominent writers like Bankimchandra Chatterjee, Saratchandra Chatterjee, Rabindranath Tagore, and Premchand and Anantha Murthy and analyses them from socio-literary point of view and their contribution to shape the genre. The book had been published by Oxford University Press in 1985, and had received acclaim during that time. Hitherto, it is a very seminal text in the analysis of the influencing factors in the making of Novel as a genre in India. The book is divided into two parts. The first part has five chapters; namely, “From Purana to Natuna”, “Pilgrim prose and the Novel of Purpose”, “Recreating a Past: Fiction and Fantasy”, “Women in a new Genre”, and “The Novelists for all Seasons”. The Second part of the book has three chapters and deals with texts of individual writers, “Pather Panchali”, “Godan”, and “Samskara”. The chapters are followed by Appendices, Notes, Bibliography and Index. This paperback edition comes with a preface from the writer and is available at Rupees 195. The total number of pages is 218. The first chapter is named “From Purana to Natuna”. The writer acknowledges at the outset that the study of emergence of novel in India cannot be a purely literary exercise. It has to

irrespective of those factors. She holds that the literature that evolved during that time is the byproduct of the social. In works like Kadambari. The Tales of Genji. as distinct from other genres. She states the prevalent thoughts among the philosophers and critics who forwarded several factors like time and space. With this thesis. that has emerged in Europe in the eighteenth century. Lukacs. political and indigenous narrative traditions of an ancient culture. Clearly not. She begins the analysis by examining the form of rather coupled with the political and social study of the times. Watt and Todorov who commonly assign the rise of novel to factors pertaining to economic. the emphasis on individualism owing to the economic factors and industrialization. Panchatantra. She cites the instances of Hegel. which had in the past. Legends of King Arthur. It would be erroneous to consider the rise of novel in India during the mid-nineteenth century as the legacy of British rule. Steiner. political and metaphysical assumption about man’s relationship with time. Next she moves on to analyze the pre-novel narratives that existed worldwide in various forms. Decameron or Canterbury Tales. Arabian Nights. which will be like brushing aside the complex cultural determinants that might have influenced the rise of novel. or in a country like Japan which had a long prose narrative like The Tales of Ganji in the tenth century. Then one has to find out some defining factors for novel which will be valid across cultures. produced work like Kadambari by Banabhatta in the seventh century. Thus she says that novel as a genre and its evolution defies any strict definition. she moves on to explain the several influencing factors along with the tradition that already existed. does it hold true in the case of India. nature and other human beings. She raises the question that if these factors are determinant of the rise of the novel in the west. one may find a circular structure consisting of Debajyoti Biswas Page 2 .

the characters in a fable or an allegory are representatives of classes or moral values.several stories connected to the central narrative. which is less applicable in Indian context where even marriage is not a matter of personal choice. she observes that the suspension of time and space in pre-novel narratives. The usual way of telling a story was “Once upon a Time”. Early instances of such novels are Naro Sadashiv Risbud’s Manjughosha (1868) and O. So there emerged more fantastic forms since the Indian society could not be conflated with the European models. the characters in a novel are individuals. the story is locked by its historical and geographical setting along with its description of time. This new form is called “Upanyas” as a synonym for novel. Other problems that encountered the Indian writers were placing the story within a historic time and space as opposed to mythic time. Whereas. free from social bondage. Next. It became extremely difficult for the novelists to synchronize the familial and social structure with the literary form. This term was first used in 1862 by Bhudeb Mukhopadhyay. to adept the life and the alien literature to the Indian setting. Another difference which Meenakshi Mukherjee points out that differentiates a Novel from other forms is the art of characterization. Actually India was bringing out a new literary form which could be palatable to the Indian readers. However. A novel therefore cannot cross the frontiers of cultures less flexibly than a fable or an allegory. in the novel. the sense of realism does not fit into the Indian context. Similarly. Chandu Menon’s Indulekha (1888). The difficulty that the Indian early writers faced with these European models before them were that. which gave the writer a freedom to borrow and change the crux of the story as well as he pleases. the novelists faced two challenges. Secondly. Meenakshi Mukherjee analyses the epistemological meaning Debajyoti Biswas Page 3 . The difference that she notices between these forms and novel is that the novel is more unified. the hero in European novels were individuals.

Meenakshi Mukherjee also makes a brief survey of the Indian prose form that existed prior to the emergence of novel in India. However. Further issues like widow remarriage which was till then considered gingerly by the novelists also found space in work like Yamuna Partayan.S. The Christians also wrote several fictions with religious undertone like Phulmoni-o-Karunar Bibaran by Hannah Catherine Mullens. Thus she brings out the fact that non-literary aspects can shape the literary forms. Collins. These novels emphasized the benefits of coversion to Christianity and are an early example of the colonial homogenization process that started working under the garb of religion. Prose works also supplemented the reading texts for the newly founded colleges. and the characters are lifeless who Debajyoti Biswas Page 4 . naval-katha and novel. conversion to Christianity was another purpose for which the religious texts were made available in local languages. Apart from this. In the next chapter “Pilgrim Prose and the Novel of purpose”. Gurney. Kamini Kanta by G. Despite of these terminologies. Meenakshi Mukherjee analyses the effect of the missionary work on the prose medium in India. The first effort could be seen on the part of the Christian missionaries who hired writers from different regional languages to translate the Bible. Meenakshi Mukherjee analyses these novels and devotes a small section to each of them to show the purpose for which these books were written. the thematic aspiration for the novels was the English novels which the writers read. Meenakshi Mukherjee is of the opinion that it lacks the realistic mode of description. Prathapa Mudaliar Charitram by Samuel Vedanayakam Pillai and Sukumari by Joseph Muliyil. Apart from educating the Indians. Secular texts as well as religious texts were written and translated simultaneously thereby providing a spurt of literary activity in the first half of 19th century. religion too had an influence on the novel in India.of the term upanyas. The Slayer Slain by Mrs. Several kinds of novels in many languages were written in India and were termed differently like naval.

But it is also true that passing references to Christianity could be found sporadically and alongside didactic works centering round Hindu and Islam also existed in the novels. but also takes into account the cross references of other writers like Rabindranath Tagore who has mentioned about the availability of the pre-novel forms in Indian literary tradition. The novels of that period included history and historical personages owing to at least four factors: exchange of cultures through English. There was seen a rendering of historical figures with non-historical figures through imaginary characters. Meenakshi Mukherjee uses not only the texts to anlyse the influence and growth of novel. the differences between the british and the Indians. and the last one which is most important is to rewrite the history from the indigenous point of view. Simultaneously. Romesh Chandra Dutt’s “Maharashtra Jiban Prabhat” written in Bengali in 1778 deals with the Maratha power under Shivaji. Debajyoti Biswas Page 5 .record incidents like a picaresque structure. love and romance which captured the popular imagination of the nineteenth century. the writer explores noveabout heroism and adventure. In the next chapter titled “Recreating a Past: Fiction and Fantasy”. present and remote to recreate a collective historical consciousness. reading history through British perspective. The writer beautifully presents how the European trends were trying to come into terms with the Indian past. Between the poles of fiction and fantasy there existed novel like Bankimchandra Chattarjee’s “Rajsingha” written in 1882. It is pertinent to note here that Christianity had little effect in the mainstream Indian culture and very few writers and poets had reflected the traces of Christianity in literature in India. Mostly. Another important novel is Devikanandan Khatri’s “Chandrakanta”. India was also going through a cultural crisis due to the percolation of European culture in India. fantasy and history were mixed to give a new form to novel in India.

Debajyoti Biswas Page 6 . But at the same time. writers like Bankimchandra. Meenakshi Mukherjee deals at length with Anandamath to show the use of history by Bakim in his work. she also acknowledges the role played by Bangadarshan which gave literature a wider platform for public consumption.The writer also credits the Sanskrit literary tradition which she believes has prepared the ground by the mingling of “kavya” and ‘natya’. and that Scott only served as a catalyst to invigorate the nationalist feelings. In the next chapter “Women in a New Genre” she deals with the tussle of the novelists to homogenize and localize the realistic mode of characterization and description in the Indian context. However. thus obviously the distinction between history and fiction became blurred. she does not cite sufficient instances to substantiate this argument. Harinarayan Apte. and Mirza Mohammed Hadi Ruswa dug out realistic characters from the society to be portrayed in a realistic manner. Chandu Menon. Although. Another significant finding of Meenakshi Mukherjee is that the influence of Sir Walter Scott on the historical novel in Indian tradition is much exaggerated than it really is. Stories involving historical figures and mythical figures were used to teach language and not the history. She also analyses the epistemological meaning of the words “kavya” and “ithasa” to figure out the significance of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. Next. it was extremely difficult to accommodate such realisitic description of individuals over social boundaries. She states that the influence of historical narrative from other regional languages cannot be ruled out. and relate in the similar manner the forms of the other novel and pre-novel forms that existed in India. In this relation. These terms were loosely used since there was no clear terminology to demarcate the differences. which emerged out of the social changes in Europe. western concept of Individualism. O.

She inspects the language. discourse. yet some common parameters could be framed out belonging to literary culture of India. because love was not known for the women in India as contrasted to English society where love and marriage was a “matter of Individual choice than familial obligation”. namely Indira by Bankimchandra. and Umrao Jan Ada by Mirza Mohammed Hadi Ruswa. Debajyoti Biswas Page 7 . In chapter five entitled “The Novelist for all Seasons” Meenakshi Mukherjee starts with the influence of political and economic changes on the literary output. Although. Pan Lakshyant Kon Ghetto by Harinarayan Apte. in his novels. question of female identity and structure of these novels from the feminist point of view. Romantic love was only possible in historical setting with temporal remoteness since it did not fall into the contemporary social restriction. but also singles out the radical presentation of womenfolk. To analyse the problem Meenakshi Mukherjee takes into account four novels by four different writers. Chandu Menon. and raises a significant issue pertaining to the patriarchal identity ascribed to womenfolk. there were differences in the literary taste and trend in India. This chapter seems like a continuation from the previous chapter since it again deals with the presentation of women in fiction as opposed to the real position that women actually occupied in the society.The depiction of love and romance in Indian social system posed a complex problem. Love could only be conceived to be illicit and apt for a courtesan or a widow in the Indian social setup. It was a typical problem which the novelists encountered. Indulekha by O. depending on the region and the culture of that region. where these two people do not come under the domain of social structured society. She then deals at length with the novels of Saratcandra which were not only popular and best sellers during the contemporary and present times. especially widow.

form and structure. each chapter devoted to the analysis of a novel. Drawing historical references like the effort of Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar’s crusade for the remarriage of widow. the theoretical aspect of the emergence of realistic novel and presentation of realism in the context of Indian scenario. The second section of the book is divided into three sections. Apart from citing Saratchandra’s Srikanta. She at first briefly presents the taxonomy of the novel which existed in Europe. but never had he allowed them a happy ending. since the later was considered a radical in the society during his times. and Charitraheen. The structure and form of Pather Panchali is discussed at length in this chapter. due to the possibility that he knew widow may never get remarried due to the strict social structure. which defies traces of euro-centricism in matter of theme. She then cites Pather Panchali as a distinct novel. Saratchandra presented the way for women emancipation in his novels. eluding the eurocentric definition of genre. Meenakshi Mukherjee takes three novels. classic in itself. Munshi Premchand poses a problem in the novel. as Meenakshi Mukerjee considers. Though the Debajyoti Biswas Page 8 . quite close to New-Historicism. which forms a new form of novel.She speaks highly of Saratchandra. In the next chapter she deals with Godan written in the present century and is a study in the social system in itself. though on limited canvas. Meenakshi Mukherjee also points out to the caste system that prevailed in India and as depicted by the novelists. The writers that she deals with can be considered as classical writers in modern fiction. she cites other novelists to make a study of the cast system that prevailed in India. After discussing at length. which is culture and euro-centric. In analyzing the position of women in the family. Sesh Prashna. She concludes the section by eulogizing Saratchandra’s Pan-Indian outlook and terms him as a phenomenon. she creates a new way of looking at literature. rising out of the social embers that consume the individual. This he perhaps did.

by the European form or novel or sense of realism. but has also practically contextualized it with novels of those times. It can be a cue to a research work too. The book is printed well with just one error at page number 102. She has not only presented the theoretical aspect alone. perhaps. yet the book remains unique in itself. and other non-European tradition. Although Meenakshi Mukherjee have taken only a few texts and have ignored the description of Sanskrit. The book is a comprehensive study on the emergence of novel in India. she has critically reviewed the situation which has not been done by any other author hitherto. Debajyoti Biswas Page 9 . the novel poses a unique social problem whose remedy is not prescribed by Premchand. Meenakshi Mukherjee points out the realistic portrayal of the decaying brahminical society which subsumes the individual. culture and literature that might have influenced the literary forms.writer’s ideology is not let to get over the narrative. One may agree or disagree with her perspective. All these three novels are not inspired. named Samskara. line 1. Her knowledge of regional literature and holistic approach to analyse the situation can be traced in the book. rather emerged out of the requirement of presentation of realism to fill the void in literature. In the last Chapter. It is a seminal text to analyse the influencing factors that resulted in the early growth of fiction with the mix of indigenous flavor and ancient culture. where the hyphen is missing at the end of the line. however.

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