The Novel Comes To India

Novel, Society And History of Class 10

The Novel Comes To India

(i) Stories in prose were not new to India. Banabhatta's Kadambari and Vishnudatta's Panchatantra are good examples. There was also a long tradition of prose tales of adventure and heroism in Persian and Urdu, known as Dastan.

(ii) The modern novel form developed in India in the nineteenth century. The development of the vernaculars, print and a reading public helped in this process. Some of the earliest Indian novels were written in Bengali and Marathi. The earliest novel in Marathi was Baba Padmanji's Yamuna Paryatan (1857), was followed by Lakshman Moreshwar Halbe's Muktamala (1861).

(iii) Leading novelist of the nineteenth century wrote for a cause. Indian novelist wrote to develop a modern literature of the country that could produce a sense of national belonging and cultural equality with their colonial masters.

(iv) 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.


  • O. Chandu Menon, a subjudge from Malabar, tried to translate an English novel called Henrietta Temple written by Benjamin Disraeli into Malayalam.
  • But he quickly realized that his readers in Kerala were not familiar with the way in which the characters in English novels lives: their clothes, ways of speaking, and manners were unknown to them.
  • His delightful novel called Indulekha, published in 1889, was the first modern novel in Malayalam.
  • The case of Andhra Pradesh was strikingly similar. Kandukuri, Veeresalingam (1848-1919) began translating Oliver Goldsmith’s Vicar of Wakefield into Telugu.


Early Hindi novels were actually translated and adapted from English and Bengali under the influence of Bhartendu Harishchandra, the pioneer of modern Hindi literature.

(i) The first proper modern novel was written by Srinivas Das of Delhi, Srinivas Das' novel, published in 18821: was titled Pariksha-Guru. The characters in the novel are caught in the difficulty of adapting to colonised society and at the same time preserving their own cultural identity. The novel tries to teach the reader to remain rooted in the values of their own tradition and culture, and to live with dignity and honour. In the novel the characters take to new agricultural technology, modernise trading practices, change the use of Indian languages, transmitting both western sciences and Indian wisdom. The young are urged to cultivate the healthy habit of reading the newspapers. But the novel emphasises that all this must be achieved without sacrificing the traditional values of the middle-class household. With all its good intentions, Pariksha Guru could not win many readers.

(ii) Devaki Nandan Khatri’s chandrakanta is believed to have contributed immensely in popularising the Hindi language and the nagari script among the educated classes of those times.

(iii) It was with the writing of Premachand that the Hindi novel achieved excellence. He drew on the traditional art of Kissa−goi (storytelling) many critics think that his novel Sevasadan published in 1916, lifted the hindi novel from the realm of fantasy, moralising and simple entertainment to a serious reflection on the lives of ordinary people and social issues. Sevasadan deals mainly with the poor condition of women in society. Issues like child marriage and dowry are woven into the story of the novel.

Novels in Bengal

In the nineteenth century, the early Bengali novels lived in two worlds. Many of these novels were located in the past, their characters, events Write about two important characteristics of the early Hindi novel. One group was about historical characters and love stories based on historical events. Another group of novels depicted the inner world of domestic life in contemporary settings. Domestic novels frequently dealt with the social problems and romantic relationships between men and women.

The old merchant elite of Calcutta patronised public forms of entertainment such as kabirlarai (poetry contests), musical soirees and dance performances. In contrast, the new bhadralok found himself at home in the more private world of reading novels. Novels were read individually. They could also be read in select groups. Sometimes the household of the great Bangla novelist Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay would host a jatra in the courtyard where members of the family would be gathered. In Bankim’s room, however, a group of literary friends would collect to read, discuss and judge literary works. Bankim read out Durgeshnandini (1865), his first novel, to such a gathering of people who were stunned to realise that the Bengali novel had achieved excellence so quickly.

Besides the ingenious twists and turns of the plot and the suspense, the novel was also relished for its language. The prose style became a new object of enjoyment. Initially the Bengali novel used a colloquial style associated with urban life. It also used meyeli, the language associated with women’s speech. This style was quickly replaced by Bankim’s prose which was Sanskritised but also contained a more vernacular style.


Many early novels carried a clear message of social reform. For example, in Indirabai, a Kannada novel written by Gulavadi Venkata Rao in 1899, the heroine is given away in marriage at a very young age to an elderly man. Her husband dies soon after, and she is forced to lead the life of a widow. In spite of opposition from her family and society, Indirabai succeeds in continuing her education. Eventually she marries again, this time a progressive, English educated man. 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.

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