Pre-Independence Fiction of India

The history of Indian novels does owe a lot to Bengali literature and the sheer brilliant and dazzling writers that had come up during pre-Independent India, in the middle 19th to late 20th centuries. The likes of Rabindranath Tagore, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, Bankim Chandra Chattopadhay, Sarat Chandra Chattopadhay, Tarashankar Bandopadhyay, Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay, Manik Bandopadhyay, Bimal Mitra and a little later, Satyajit Ray, have forever been included in the elite list of Bengali novel writers, superlatively bringing to surface the cultural, political and economical ethos of the then India. The idyllic mixture of fantasy, mystery, non-fiction, fairy tale, science fiction under these `Bangla` men, truly had elevated the status of Indian novels in Indian history forever.

As to the factual evolvement of Indian novels, it is now known that the historical scenario of novels in India is conventionally conceived to have come to view in the middle of the nineteenth century. The year of the Great Revolt of 1857 or the Sepoy Mutiny had witnessed the publication of Alaler Gharer Dulal by Peary Chand Mitra (Tekchand Thakur), upon which Bankim Chandra Chattopadhay, who himself maintains a soaring status in the historical development of the novel in India, lavishly had extolled as a “beautifully written” work. The contemporary estimation of the virtues of this work has been rather limited and moderate, but notwithstanding, Alaler Gharer Dulal is conceived to engage an exceptional position in the history of Indian, and most certainly Bengali literature as “the first work in Bengali which can be described as a novel.”

Just like its English counterpart in the 18th century, in India the novel`s beginnings are believed and imagined to be associated with the `diffusion` of the `market economy` into the countryside, the clandestine emergence of a bourgeoisie conception and, eventually, the advent of other forces of `modernisation` and `Westernisation`. With the consolidation of British rule and the changeover of authoritarian power from the East India Company with its fallible ways to the Crown – theoretically the very quintessence of the `rule of law`, both the rulers and the ruled could commit more concentration to the much touted moralities of `improvement`, and “life became more settled and conventional”. Due to the thus emergence of the bourgeoisie society in the British Indian scenario, history of novel writing in India began to take up pace, with various households solemnly making endeavours to make their outcry known to the worldwide populace.

In spite of such stellar accounts of the history of novels in India, there still exists great deal of room for debate in the `conventional account` of the emergence of the novel in pre- Independent Indian scenario. Life may indeed have become more “settled” with the passing of the Mutiny of 1857-58, to that extent that departures from stated policy were rendered less in the inconsistent manner and the administration had assumed a more even note. As is said, the post-Sepoy Mutiny period was characterised by the emergence of British ascendency and dominance over the most intimate aspects of the everyday lives of ordinary natives. However `civilised` or `well-mannered` the British Crown had called themselves, there was, in the long run, absolutely null use for the Indians in matters of privacy in both familial and commercial issues. And such governance was very much and integrally visible in the novels that came out in the dark, with British authorities trying every motion to curb such publications in the light of day. As such, with respect to the thesis that the history of the Indian novel owed a good deal to the development of a market economy, one can hardly question that new forms of commerce arose with the advent and fanning out of British dominion. Such shrewd modes of mixing art with commerce had significantly given rise – especially in the port cities of Bombay, Calcutta, and Madras – to a whole new class of shipping agents, customs functionaries, middlemen and merchants.

Whatever might have been that unseen force of the `sociological explanation` in helping one comprehend the historical growth of the novel in India, it has also been reasoned that by the mid-nineteenth century, English novels were widely available in India. And for this very fact there exists authenticated testimony of writers like Bankim Chandra himself. The novels of Walter Scott and Edward Bulwer Lytton may not have been as fervently anticipated in India as they were in the United Kingdom, but they were nevertheless to leave an indelible mark on the Indian novel and its historical perspective. To place rather concisely, the novel in India must, on the conventional opinion, be an `alien import`.

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