Novel is a modern form of literature. It is born because of print which is a mechanical invention. Novels could reach a larger audience because of print.
Novels began to be written from the seventeenth century and flowered in the eighteenth century. New groups of lower-middle-class; along with the traditional aristocratic and gentlemanly classes in England and France formed the new readership of novels.
With the growing readership, the earnings of authors increased. This made them free from financial dependence on patronage of aristocrats. They became independent to experiment with different literary styles.
The Publishing Market
Initially, novels did not come cheap and were out of reach for the poor classes. With the introduction of circulating libraries in 1740; people could get easier access to books. Apart from various innovations in printing, innovations in marketing also helped in increasing the sales and bringing down the prices. For example; the publishers in France realized that they could make high profits by hiring out novels by the hour.
The worlds created by novels were more realistic and believable. While reading a novel, the reader was transported to another person’s world. Novels allowed individuals the pleasure of reading in private. It also allowed the joy of publicly reading and discussing stories. People often got deeply involved in the lives of characters.
In 1836, Charles Dicken’s Pickwick Papers was serialized in a magazine. Magazines were cheaper and illustrated. Moreover, serialization allowed readers to relish the suspense. They could live for weeks in anticipation of the next plot of the story.
The World of the Novel
Unlike earlier forms of writing, novels were not about kings or empires rather they were about ordinary people. In the nineteenth century, Europe entered the industrial age. While industrialization created new opportunities of growth and development, it also created new problems for the workers and the city life. It was the ordinary worker, who always suffered in the mad race for profits. Many novelists created stories around the problems of ordinary people in the new cities. Charles Dickens and Emile Zola were the notable authors of this period.
Community and Society
The novels reflected the contemporary developments in the society. Many novelists wrote about the problems of city life. Many others wrote about the various changes witnessed in the rural life because of advent of modern technology. People were becoming more professional and the personal values were eroding at a faster pace. Thomas Hardy’s Mayor of Casterbridge (1886) is novel written in the rural backdrop.
The novel by Hardy has use of vernacular language which is the language spoken by common people. Use of vernacular helped Hardy in correlating with the common people who lived in that period.
The New Woman
During the eighteenth century, the middle class became more prosperous. Women could get more spare time which they utilised to read and write novels. That is how the novels began to explore the world of women. Many novels were about domestic life. A woman writer could write about domestic life with more authority than a male writer. Many women novelists also began to raise questions about the established norms of society. Many novels began to ask questions about hypocrisy which was prevalent in the contemporary society.
Novels for the Young
Novels for the young boys were based on heroism. The hero of such novels used to be a powerful, assertive, independent and daring person. As this was the period of expansion of colonialism, most of the novels tried to glorify colonialism. Books; like R. L. Stevenson’s Treasure Island (1883) and Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book (1894) became great hits. G. A. Henry’s historical adventure novels for boys were very popular at the height of the British Empire. These novels were always about young boys who witness grand historical events and get involved in some military action. Love stories for adolescent girls also became popular during this period.
Colonialism and After
During the rise of colonialism, most of the novels glorified the conquests of the Europeans. Later, in the twentieth century, some novels showed the darker side of colonial occupation. Joseph Conrad (1857-1924) was one such author.
The Novel Comes to India
The modern novel form developed in India in the nineteenth century, once the Western novels were introduced in India. Many Indian authors initially tried to translate the English novels but they apparently did not enjoy doing that. Later many of them decided to write novels in their own language and on their own social background.
Some of the earliest novels in India were written in Bengali and Marathi. Baba Padmanji’s Yamuna Paryatan (1857) was the earliest Marathi novel. This was followed by Muktamala by Lakshman Moreshar Halbe (1861).
Leading novelists of the nineteenth century wrote to develop a modern literature of the country. They wanted to produce a sense of national belonging and cultural equality with their colonial masters.
Novel in South India
O. Chandu Menon wrote the first Malayalam novel Indulekhs in 1889.
Kandukuri Viresalingam (1848-1919) wrote the Telugu novel Rajasekhara Caritamu in 1878.
The Novel in Hindi
Bharatendu Harishchandra was the pioneer of modern Hindi literature. He encouraged many members of his circle of poets and writers to recreate and translate novels from other languages. The first proper novel in Hindi was written by Srinivas Das of Delhi. It was titled Pariksha Guru and was published in 1882. This novel highlights the pitfalls of blind copying of the western culture and advocates preserving the traditional Indian culture. The characters in this novel attempt to bridge the western and the eastern world and try to make a balance between the two cultures.
The writings of Devaki Nandan Khatri created a novel-reading public in Hindi. Chandralekha was his best-seller. This novel is believed to have immensely contributed in popularizing the Hindi language and the Nagari script among the educated classes of that time.
The Hindi novel achieved excellence with the writing of Premchand. He began to write in Urdu and later shifted to Hindi. He took a leaf from the traditional art of kissa-goi (storytelling). Simple language was the hallmark of his writings. Moreover, he portrayed people from all sections of the society. In many of his writings, the main character belonged to oppressed classes.
Novels in Bengal
Many Bengali writers excelled in writing on historical topics, while many other writers focused on contemporary themes. The new bhadralok enjoyed the private world of reading novels. Durgeshnandini (1865) was written by Bankim and this novel was much appreciated for its literary excellence.
The initial Bengali novels used a colloquial style associated with urban life. Meyeli, the language associated with women’s lingo was also used in those novels. But Bankim’s prose was Sanskritised and contained a more vernacular style.
Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay (1876-1938) became the most popular novelist in Bengal and probably in the rest of India because of his expertise in storytelling in simple language.
Novels in the Colonial World
Uses of Novel: For the colonial administrators, novels provided a good source to understand about the life and social hierarchy in India. They could understand different aspects of the Indian society through novels. Some of the novels were translated into English; by British administrators or Christian missionaries.
Many novels highlighted the social ills and suggested remedies. Many novels told stories about the past so that people could establish a relationship with the past.
People from all walks of life could read novels. This helped in creating a sense of collective identity on the basis of one’s language. Novels also helped people to understand about the culture of other parts of the country.
Pleasures of Reading
Novels became a popular medium of entertainment among the middle class. Detective and mystery novels often had be sent for reprints to meet the demand of readers. Many novels were printed as many as twenty two times.
The novel also helped in spreading the silent reading. As late as the nineteenth century and probably in the early twentieth century, people often read out a text for several people to hear. But gradually, people adapted to read in silence.
Women and the Novel
Novels were viewed as having negative impact on people’s mind. Women and children were often prohibited from reading novels. Some parents kept novels at secret places so that children could not lay their hands on novels. Young people had to read them in secret. Older women took the services of their grandchildren to enjoy listening to a novel.
However, many women turned into writers and wrote poetry, essays and autobiographies. In the early decades of the twentieth century, women in India also began to write novels and short stories. Many women writers had to write the novel in secret because the society did not permit it.
Many authors began to highlight the plight of lower caste people in their novel. In some of the novels, conflicts arising out of marriage between a lower caste and an upper caste were highlighted. Some people from the lower caste also became authors; like Potheri Kunjambu from Kerala. Many communities got space in the literary scene through novels.
Nation and Its History
In Bengal, many historical novels were about Marathas and Rajputs. These novels portrayed the nation to be full of adventure, heroism romance and sacrifice. The novel thus allowed the colonized subjects to give shape to their desires. Bhudeb Mukhopadhyat’s Anguriya Binimoy (1857) is about Shivaji’s adventures against Aurangzeb.
Bankim’s Anandamath (1882) is a novel about secret Hindu militia which fights Muslims to establish a Hindu kingdom. This novel inspired many kinds of freedom fighters.