Chapter : 5. Novels, Society & History

Women and the Novel

Women and the Novel
(i) Many people got worried about the effects of the novel on readers who were taken away from their real surroundings into an imaginary world where anything could happen. They advised people to stay away from the immoral influence of novels. Some parents kept novels in the lofts in their houses, out of their children's reach. Young people often read them in secret.
(ii) Women did not remain mere readers of stories written by men; soon they also began to write novels. In some languages, the early creation of women were poems, essays or autobiographical pieces. In the early decades of the twentieth century, women in south India also began writing novels and short stories. A reason for the popularity of novels among women was that it allowed for a new conception of womanhood. Stories of love – which was a staple theme of many novels – showed women who could choose or refuse their partners and relationship. Some women authors also wrote about women who changed the world of both men and women.
(iii) Rokeya Hossein (1880-1932), a reformer wrote a satiric fantasy in English called Sultana's Dream (1905) which shows a topsy-turvy world in which women take the place of men. Her novel also showed the need for women to reform their condition by their own actions.
(iv) It is not surprising that many men were suspicious of women writing novels or reading them. This suspicion cut across communities Hannah Mullens, a Christian missionary and the author of Karuna of Phulmonir Bibaran (1852), reputedly the first novel in Bengali, tells her readers that she wrote in secret. In the twentieth century, Sailabala Ghosh Jaya, a popular novelist, could only write because her husband protected her.

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