CBSE NCERT Class X (10th) | Social Studies | History
Chapter – 8 Novels, Society and History
Rise of the Novel
Novel is a narrative form, which captivates readers and carries them into an imaginary world of fictitious characters. The wide circulation of printed copies made the novel a popular genre with people across different strata of society. Novels allowed the reader a private reading experience as well as the joy of public reading.
The first novels were written in the 17th century, but they blossomed in the 18th century. The aristocrats, gentlemanly class and the upcoming lower middle class became the first readers of novels in England and France.
Novel writers experimented with different writing styles like the epistolary novel, written in the form of a series of letters to tell the story. In 1836 serialised novel writing came up in a magazine where suspense was built up as the story unfolded slowly.
Novels were about everyday lives of ordinary people. 19th century England was grappling with the consequences of industrialization and Charles Dickens’ talked about the same in his novels. Crowded cities, underpaid workers, homeless children and industrial capitalism became common themes in his novels.
Novels also talked about the fast vanishing rural world like in the novel by Thomas Hardy, The Mayor of Casterbridge. The novel blended the spoken language and the classical language, and brought different people on a common platform.
The rise of novels witnessed the active involvement of women as writers and readers. Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte famous for Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre depicted the world of women and dealt with the themes of courtship, marriage and money.
Writing was not considered an ideal profession for women so many women writers used false names or pseudonyms. Novels for young boys aroused the adventure of visiting and conquering new lands like R. L. Stevenson’s Treasure Island and Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book.
Rise of the Novel in India
Historically, Indian stories in prose had been written in Sanskrit like Kadambari by Banabhatta and Panchatantra. Urdu and Persian also had a tradition of prose adventure stories known as dastan but none of these texts were like the modern novel.
The growth of the reading public, print and vernaculars proved favourable for the growth of the novel in India in the 19th century.
The earliest novels were written in Marathi and Bengali. Yamuna Paryatan, by Baba Padmanji was one of the first Marathi novels about the miserable life of widows. The first novel in Bengali Karuna O Phulmonir Bibaran was written by Hannah Mullens in 1852.
In northern India, famous Hindi writer Bhartendu Harishchandra motivated many poets and writers in his circle to translate and recreate novels from other languages. The first Hindi novel was Pariksha Guru written by Srinivas Das. A best seller in Hindi novels came around with Devaki Nandan Khatri’s fantasy saga Chandrakanta which popularised the use of Hindi and the Devanagri script.
PremChand took the Hindi novel to new heights weaving interesting stories in lucid Hindi around the lives of ordinary people. Sewasadan, Rangbhoomi and Godan are some of his famous novels. In southern India, writers like Chandu Menon and Kandukuri Viresinlingam tried to translate English novels into regional Indian languages.
In 1889, Induleka the first Malayalam novel by Chandu Menon was published. Viresalingam wrote a Telugu novel called Rajasekhara Karitamu. In Bengal the novels were based on historical events or the inner world of domestic life. The Indian novel brought together people from different backgrounds and infused a sense of shared community in them.
Novels in the Colonial World
Novels developed during the 17th and the 18th century in Europe when it was colonising the world. Early English novels like Robinson Crusoe projected the western world as superior and colonised nations as primitive.
Writers in India felt that the novel allowed them to explore their identities and problems. Many Indian novels criticised the defects in society and suggested reforms. Indian novels were used by British administrators and missionaries as a source of information on the social and religious life of Indians.
Colonial historians showed Indians as weak and dependent on the British. Indian writers wrote novels to glorify Indian history and create a sense of national pride in people. Several novels were written about the Rajputs and the Marathas, and celebrated their adventure, heroism and sacrifice. Premchand depicted collective belonging in his novels by showing characters from all strata of society.
Novels created a sense of collective belonging as they were read by people from all walks of life who shared the same language.
Novels began to depict various dialects and variations in a language making the readers familiar with the different ways in which the same language was spoken by different people. Chandu Menon’s novel InduLeka showed how Indian readers could successfully blend western and Indian lifestyles. The novel favoured the growth of silent reading.
New Voices in the Indian Novel
As the printing and circulation of novels increased several new sections of Indian society got introduced to reading and writing. Many people thought that reading a novel could have adverse effects on impressionable readers like women and children.
Women liked novels as it told them stories about women who made choices in relationships and gained some control over their lives. The earliest writings by women consisted of poems, essays and autobiographical pieces.
In the 20th century, women in South India began to write novels and short stories. In 1905, Rokeya Hossein, a reformer from Bengal wrote a feminist short story called ‘Sultana’s Dream’ about a female utopia. Indian novels clearly depicted the changing social realities of those times.
The Malayalam novel Indulekha highlighted the marriage debate between the Nambuthiri Brahmins and the Nayars. Many people from the suppressed groups like Dalits and peasants began writing as well like Potheri Kunjambu and Advaita Malla Burman. Vaikkom Mohammad Bashir, an early Muslim Malayalam writer, dwelt on personal experience and wrote short stories and novels in a lucid language.
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