Dear Reader, Good Sir: Birth of the Novel in Nineteenth-Century Bengal
MetadataShow full item record
My dissertation traces the formation and growth of the reader of the Bengali novel in nineteenth century Bengal through a close study of the writings by Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay that comment on—and respond to—both the reader and the newly emergent genre of the Bengali novel. In particular, I focus on the following texts: two novels written by Bankim, Durgeśnandinī (The Lady of the Castle) (1865) and Bishabṛksha (The Poison Tree) (1872), literary essays published in nineteenth century Bengali periodicals, personal letters written by Bankim and his contemporaries, and reviews of the novels, often written and published anonymously. I suggest that by examining the reader of the Bengali novel it becomes possible to understand how the individual Bengali negotiates the changes occurring in nineteenth century Bengal—an era in which traditional beliefs collide with the intellectual and technological innovations brought on by colonial modernity. As my dissertation shows colonialism is far from being a disembodied institution operating at the level of governments and ideologies. Instead, it becomes evident that with the novel, colonial modernity enters the Bengali home in the form of changing moral paradigms. What the Bengali reader chooses to read, and how she performs her reading come to have a real import in her quotidian life. The three sites of reading I examine—the reader as a textual event in the novels, the reader as imagined in the literary essays, and the anthropological reader writing and responding to the reviews of the novels—revitalises the overdetermined field of the postcolonial novel by shifting the focus from the novel as a stable literary object being consumed by a relatively passive reader, to an active reader whose reading practice shapes both the genre and the subject reading it.