Novels, Society and History

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02 Novels, Society and History

The Rise of the Novel:

  • The novel is a modern form of literature which is born from print, a mechanical invention.
  • England and France were the places where the novel was first accepted.
  • With the increasing readership, the market for books expanded and the earnings of authors increased.


The Publishing Market:

  • For a long time the poor were not included in the publishing market for novels were not cheap.
  • With improvements in technology and printing the price of books lowered and innovations in marketing led to expanded sales.
  • Being the first mass-produced items to be sold, several reasons led to the popularity of the novel.
  • The authors created absorbing and believable, and seemingly real worlds in the novels.
  • Magazines were attractive, illustrated and cheap.
  • Breaking the novels into serials allowed readers to relish the suspense, discuss the characters of a novel and live for weeks with their stories.


The World of the Novel:

  • Many forms of writing came before novels.
  • But, they only focussed on the lives of great people or actions that change the destinies of states and empires.


Community and Society:

  • A majority of readers of the novel were city dwellers.
  • The novel created in them a feeling of connection with the fate of rural communities.
  • The novel uses the language that is spoken by common people.
  • Novels also draw from different styles of language.


The New Woman:

  • With the middle classes growing more prosperous, women got more leisure to read as well as write novels.
  • Novels about domestic life were written.
  • They drew upon their experience, wrote about family life and earned public recognition.
  • It was not only the domestic role of women that the novelists popularised. They also focussed on women who broke established norms of society before adjusting to them.
  • Woman also wrote under pen names.


Novels for the Young:

  • Novels for young boys idealised a new type of man who was powerful, assertive, independent and daring.


Colonialism and After:

  • The early novel made the readers feel they were part of a superior community of fellow colonialists.
  • 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.

The Novel Comes to India:

  • In the nineteenth century, when Indians became familiar with the Western novel, the modern novel form developed in India.
  • The development of the vernaculars, print and a reading public helped in this process.
  • Translations of novels into different regional languages helped to spread the popularity of the novel and stimulated the growth of the novel in new areas.


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.


The Novel in Hindi:

  • Bharatendu Harishchandra was the pioneer of modern Hindi literature in North India.
  • He encouraged many poets and writers to recreate and translate novels from other languages.
  • The first proper modern novel was written by Srinivas Das of Delhi.
  • Devaki Nandan Khatri wrote novels in Hindi.
  • It was with the writing of Premchand that the Hindi novel achieved excellence.


The novel in Assam:

  • The first novels in Assam were written by missionaries.
  • In 1888, Assamese students in Kolkata formed the ‘Asamya Bhasar Unnatisadhan’ and brought out a journal called ‘Jonaki’.
  • Rajanikanta Bardoloi wrote the first major historical novel in Assam called ‘Manomati’.


Novels in Bengal:

  • In the nineteenth century, one group of the early Bengali novels were set in the past.
  • Domestic novels frequently dealt with the social problems and romantic relationships between men and women.
  • Novels were read individually or in select groups.
  • The novel was relished for the ingenious twists and turns of the plot, the suspense and for its language.
  • Initially the Bengali novel used a colloquial style associated with urban life or meyeli, the language associated with women’s speech.

Novels in the Colonial World:

Uses of the Novel:

  • Colonial administrators found ‘vernacular’ novels a valuable source of information on native life and customs.
  • The new novels in Indian languages often had descriptions of domestic life.
  • Indians used the novel as a powerful medium to criticise defects in their society and to suggest remedies.
  • Through glorified accounts of the past, these novels helped in creating a sense of national pride among their readers.
  • As the novels shared a common language, people from all walks of life could read them.


The message of reform:

  • Many early novels carried a clear message of social reform.
  • Women’s education, the plight of widows, and problems created by the early marriage of girls – all these were important issues for social reformers in Karnataka at that time.


The Problem of Being Modern:

  • In many novels written during the colonial period, the ideal person successfully deals with one of the central dilemmas faced by colonial subjects:
  • 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.


Pleasures of Reading:

  • In India and in the rest of the world the novel became a popular medium of entertainment among the middle class.

Women and the Novel:

  • Women soon began to write novels.
  • A reason for the popularity of novels among women was that it allowed for a new conception of womanhood.
  • Women and girls were often discouraged from reading novels.

Caste Practices, ‘Lower-Castes’ and Minorities:

  • Indulekha, a love story, was hotly debated at the time when the novel was written.
  • Unlike novels of this kind, ‘Indirabai’ and ‘Indulekha’ were written by members of the upper castes, and were primarily about upper-caste characters.
  • From the 1920s, in Bengal a new kind of novel emerged that depicted the lives of peasants and ‘low’ castes.
  • 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.

Many novels were made into films.

The Nation and its History

  • The novel provided a solution in which the nation could be imagined in a past that also featured historical characters, places, events and dates.
  • They imagined the nation to be full of adventure, heroism, romance and sacrifice – qualities that could not be found in the offices and streets of the nineteenth-century world.



The Novel and Nation Making:

  • The novel helped in popularising the sense of belonging to a common nation by imagining a heroic past.
  • Another way was to include various classes in the novel so that they could be seen to belong to a shared world.
  • Rabindranath Tagore developed the Bengali novel after Bankim’s death.

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