Indian English Literature in the 19th century, The Indian culture and language were impacted by various events like the colonial intervention by the British, the establishment of the printing press, and the introduction of a new education system in the country. People slowly become aware of the imperial tyranny and started to voice their words on paper and thus a new sort of nationalistic feeling became prominent and many writers influenced the thought of the nascent nation.
Table of Contents
- Introduction: Indian English Literature
- Introduction of the printing press
- The situation of the Language
- Prose and Journalism
- Indian English Literature till 1857
- The Birth of the Novel
- The Birth of the Poetry
- The Birth of the Drama
- Indian English Literature Read more
Introduction: Indian English Literature
We have already seen that the only way to read Indian literature is to go through the ideas and philosophical movements which influenced various languages across the Indian subcontinent. We have also realized the fact that the various languages of India were not alien to each other, rather they were in continuous communication with each other. So the best way to read Indian literature is to look at the common historical moment and the influence that it had on the various Indian languages and their literature on each other. This does not at all means that we are trying to ignore the differences here and our justifiably famed plurality, rather what we are trying to concentrate on is the unity and the factor which makes us feel that it is one expression and emotion which is being expressed in so many different languages. It would be interesting to note that during the time of the 19th century many of the Indian languages established themselves in their respective territory and along with that they also developed this idea of modern Indian which helped in the creation of political consciousness. The reason this happened is that during the colonial time, all the territory and their respective language gradually became aware of the tyrannical colonial power and held together, in a way, to oppose it in order to fight against it in the Indian struggle for independence. Therefore in order to look at modern Indian literary history, it becomes customary for us to start with the time in history when the colonization of India really began.
Introduction of the printing press
Printing Press started in India with the increasing of British missionaries, which indeed standardized our languages, and also helped in the development of supple prose and entirely changed how the text here in India was transmitted and circulated. This also, in a way, signaled that this is the end of the era of the written manuscript. It is important for us to remember that the first printing press which was established in India was not by the British, but by the Portuguese in the 16th century. And by the end 18th century we had several printing Presses in various parts of South India, of course, the most famous out of those was Tranquebar Press, which was established in 1713. But not until 1800, when in Bengal, the Serampore printing press was established the printing came on its own, as now the publication of Indian languages was also possible. And it was William Carey who set up the printing press along with a paper-making factory. And within the next fifty years after that most places in India from Assam to Gujarat saw a sort of revolution in terms of the printing press. There is no doubt that these printing presses were established to publish Bible, and church prayers in the local languages so as to make Christianity popular among the natives, but in course to this they also aimed to standardize the grammar, vocabulary, and spelling of all these languages. The rise of the printing press gave rise to the newspapers and the rise of newspapers gave to modern prose. There is no doubt that newspapers were as easy to publish and circulate then as are today and they made a great impact on the Indians, both socially and politically. Though the impact was immense and great at the same time the circulation of newspapers also created a gulf between the elite and the common masses and the reason was simply that earlier all kinds of literature were circulated by the means of oral communication but now the elite and literary class can easily differentiate them from the illiterate masses who could not read. Another radical thing that also happened in these fifty years was the introduction of English as the medium of education and also the three major universities were established in the same year of the first Indian war of independence. And these universities were Madras, Calcutta, and Bombay, which are now called Chennai University, Kolkata University, and Mumbai University. Thus, we can see now that the 19th century was pretty important in regards to the changes in the nation, some of them were quite radical and indeed these changes helped in the shaping of the country as it grew in the coming century.
The situation of the Language
The introduction of English as the language of education made the two languages Persian and Arabic, which were the two popular languages of the preceding century, completely go away. It must be noticed that Persian was even the court language of Maharaja Ranjeet Singh, the famous Sikh Ruler. Though the role of Sanskrit as the language of prestige was not challenged the 19th century actually was the language of modern Indian languages. We already know that Tamil already had a rich and long literary tradition, but languages like Assamese, Bengali, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Marathi, Malayalam, Punjabi, Oriya, Telugu, and Sindhi also established their literary culture by the beginning of the 19th century. There are no two views that Urdu as a language was considered the crowning jewel of India. Many of the languages started their literary tradition and there were many languages that had strong oral literary traditions. Let us what Sisir Kumar Das has to say on this. He says, “the situation was very complex indeed, and yet in terms of hierarchy between the languages among different groups there was a stable pattern…” And it was this hierarchy that manifested itself in terms of the prestige of the languages. Both Sanskrit and Persian acted as link languages among the people of the elite class. Both of these languages were held in very high esteem and conferred prestige on writers and other languages. There were other languages too which were popular and dominant locally though, it was considered for a bilingual writer to write in such a literary language no matter what other languages he would write in. It was the time when Hindi became popular and came into the reach of the common people and was later strengthened by its association with the Indian struggle for independence. But it was kind of sure that very soon the position of the language of power, prestige, and aspiration is going to be enjoyed by none other than English. Now if we say that the situation at the beginning of the 19th century in India was kind of similar to the situation that we had during the beginning of the 21st century then it would not be an exaggeration. English was considered during both times as the language which can help people to gain material affluence. In Kolkata, there were lots of shops that would claim to impart the knowledge of English, and this could be taken as a reference to show how eager people were to learn this language. It must be noted that at first British government did not pass on any sort of regulation for the locals to learn English but for the administrators to learn the local language. It was not that the people of India were against the introduction of this new language, there were many Indians who demanded knowledge of English and the most prominent figure among them was Raja Rammohan Roy. While some like Roy demanded the language for the new knowledge system, others demanded it for simple commercial purposes. Among the British, the debate over the language policy went on for too long and also was a kind of heated debate, but finally, Lord T.B. Macaulay won the day for English with his justly famous Minute on Education in 1835. It is interesting to note that even before 1835, many schools were established which would teach English. In the second decade of the 19th century the famous Presidency college, then Hindu college, of Kolkata was established which famously produced the first English. poet of India in the name of Henry Louis Vivian Derozio. The emergence of English completely made the Persian language disappear and became the most important language of the country, and not only this it also became the lingua franca and started to gain literary expression by various Indian writers. One must realize that the break away from the literary power of Sanskrit and Persian and the influence of English over the languages of India made the various Indian kinds of literature come on their own in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Prose and Journalism
Impact of prose and Journalism in Indian English Literature: Many Indian scholars have pointed out that the prose tradition of India was already there before the colonial invasion but there is no doubt that prose tradition came into its own and became popular only after the establishment of the printing press. The prose started to be used in an abundant manner for both literary and non-literary purposes in the 19th century. British East India Company established many colleges like the College of Fort William at Kolkata, and the College of Fort St. George at Chennai in order to produce grammar and readers in Indian languages so that it can serve the interests of British civil servants.
So how exactly do these colleges help in the production of grammar and readers in the various Indian languages? These colleges employed various scholars both British and Indians, to research and compile tales and other prose which can be used as a reference and source materials for language teaching. They also conducted research on the structures of various languages and also wrote grammar and textbooks till the first three or four decades of the nineteenth century. It should be noted that such a work was not done for the first time, rather Christian missionaries had already embarked on such an activity in the sixteenth century and languages like Tamil and Malayalam had already their prose works, grammars, and dictionaries published by Portuguese, German, and Italian missionaries. But one cannot negate the kind of influence imparted by the British on the prose style of India.
The demand for textbooks across the country strengthened the roots of the prose as the prose became the chief instructive tool for language education and education in general. Another reason for the strength-ning of prose writings was to defend the native religions against the Christian argument as the prose was much easier to produce and circulate. The need for social reform also demanded prose writings. All these factors helped in the development of print journalism and the immense demand for prose so that everyday matters can be addressed effectively. In the first half of the nineteenth century, the nation saw a rapid growth of newspapers and journals. These became the platform for the experiments of the new forms of prose style. Many of the writers who wrote in journals and newspapers later became established writers. According to Sisir Kumar Das, many changes were introduced in the languages. during the time. He says: There was a sudden influx of loan words, direct from Sanskrit and Persian, borrowings from English, and neologism. This helped the growth of technical words as well, thus complementing the efforts of textbook writers… There were also many innovations in syntax, the most conspicuous of which is the increasing frequency of reported speech, a feature borrowed from English…
Thus one of the first steps which were taken as far as the modernization of Indian literature and language is concerned was the emergence and development of the prose style of writing. There is no doubt that this modernization was actually the result of the colonial intervention but at the same time, it also served the purpose of the idea of nationalism.
Indian English Literature till 1857
An interesting thing to note about the Indian English literature is that it was actually an outcome of the dominating influence of the English language and developed because of the aspiration of Indians to write and communicate in the language of power, but was filled with the expression of patriotism and new nationalism which was surfacing rapidly. Saying that the notion of independent India was actually born in this literature would be an exaggeration. Henry Derozio, the first Indian English poet along with the other poets who followed him, expressed the view and the idea about captive India and asserted the need for a national resurgence. There is no doubt that these poets also spoke about contemporary issues but the thing which marks their importance is their poems like Derozio’s sonnet on India or Kylas Chunder’s short story, “A Journal of Forty-Eight Hours of the Year 1945”. These works speak of an uprising that was certainly against British tyranny. But the problem of captive India and the need for the national struggle which were the basic theme of the literature at that time yet to be completely absorbed by the Indian masses’ psyche and also yet to be expressed in the Indian literature of other languages. In the starting decades of the 19th century, most of the Indian literature was caught up in their own tradition. During this period the dominating poetry was Urdu poetry. Mirza Ghalib was the greatest of all Urdu poets of the era. Some of the other writers like Ibrahim, Momin, Anis, and Dabir were the exponent of their tradition. As the pull of Sanskrit can be witnessed in the poetry of other languages, the pull of Persian and Arabic can be sensed in the Urdu poetry of the age. It seems that the poetry of Indian languages of this period was caught in the time wrap as it would only talk about the other times, places, and movements. If the poetry of one language in India expressed the ferment that India’s polity and culturing all life was going through, it was Indian English poetry.
The Birth of the Novel
Birth of Novel in Indian English Literature: There is no doubt regarding the time by which the Indian literary culture saw the birth of Indian novels. Almost all the literary history confirms that the novel in India emerged during the middle half of the 19th century. The first notable novel of India was published during the first Indian war of independence in the year 1857. It was Peari Chand Mitra, who wrote the novel Alaler Gjarer Dulal under the pseudonym of Techand Thakur. Before its publication as a proper novel, it was serialized in a monthly magazine. The novel came into notice because of both the colloquial theme it had and also because it’s being vibrant prose. This novel had a great impact and its influence can be imagined from the fact that the language used in the novel was soon known as the ‘Alali language’. Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, who is popularly considered to be one of the first Indian novelists, was really impressed by the work of Mitra. The main thing about the work of Mitra which impressed Chatterjee was the colloquial Bengali and the subject matter which was very much Bengali at the core. Bankim Chandra Chatterjee wrote his first novel Rajmohan’s Wife in 1864 which was soon, followed up by another work called Durgeshnandani in 1865. His second text was a great success, and also played a huge role in establishing him as a successful writer in Bengali. Bankim also played an important role in the shaping of history as it was imagined by the Indians of that time. He made an attempt to chart the history of masculine valor, by looking up to great Maratha and Rajput warriors and establishing them as Hindu heroes. Bankim really did not express his contempt for the British invaders and criticized their colonial expedition, but in his most famous work Anandamath he strongly expresses his hope that British rule would bring peace and order to the nation. He also went ahead and popularized historical romances, Walter Scott, who along with Lytton was a much-admired novelist of the era. The greatness of Bankim as a writer is unquestioned, still, the most famous and perhaps the greatest Bengali writer is Rabindra Nath Tagore (1861-1941). Tagore’s influence on novels was as his influence was on other genres of literature. To say, he not only influenced novels but almost all genres of Literature. Tagore just like Bankim, started with a historical novel, though his novels were very different from that of Bankim. Some of his early works are Bauthakuranir Hat and Rajarishi. The great thing about the writing of Tagore was that he moved into the inner realm of mind even in his historical novels. However, the greatest of Tagore’s novels came in the 20th century. After the first Indian war of independence, most of the languages of India accepted novels as a literary genre. And by the end of the 19th century, novels were well established literary genre in India. Just like the Bengali, the first novel in Marathi, Yamuna Paryatam written by Baba Padmanji, was published during the year 1857, the first battle of Indian independence. The novel spoke about the practices concerning the conversion to Christianity and attacked, quite severely, Hindu customers, especially in regards to the widows. It was R.B. Gunjikar who wrote the first historical novel in Marathi named Mochangad. Another writer Hari Narayan Apte began his career as a writer in the year 1885. He was a well-established writer by the time he published Ganpatrao, which gives us an insight into the problems of daughters-in-law in that era. His later novels give us a very true and accurate picture of the middle-class life of the age. In Gujarati, the title of the first novelist is taken by Nandashankar Mehta, who published Karan Ghelo in 1866, which was modelled on the writings of Scott and narrates the tale of the last Hindu King of Gujarat. Nazir Ahmed published the first Urdu Novel in 1869 named Miratul Urus. The novel talks about the life of a middle-class girl and the differences and partiality done to education and reform, which arose because of the advances of colonialism.
This novel was influenced by a little novel called. Sandford and Merton by an English novelist Thomas Day. Another famous novelist of the last quarter of the 19th century in India was Pandit Rattan Nath Sarshar. He was made famous by his very first work named Farsana-i-Azad, which was published in four volumes, and spoke about the Lucknowi culture of the Nawabi era. The most famous of the Urdu novels Umrao Jan Ada, written by Mohammad Hadi Ruswa was published in 1899, towards the end of the century. In the Telugu language, the first published novel was Ranga Raja Charitra, which was published in the year 1972 by Gopal Krishnamma Chetty. This novel aimed at the Telugu students to make them aware of the Telugu society and culture and the conventions which were part of Telugu culture. In this novel, Chetty takes a severe criticizing stance toward the caste system and other Hindu conventions. But many consider K.V. Pantulu’s Rajsekhara Chritra as the first genuine novel written in Telugu, which was published in 1880. Another great writer in Telugu was C.L. Narshimhan Pantulu, who started writing in the 1890s. One of his most famous works is Ramchandra Vijayam, published in 1896 and is considered to be a major realistic novel that talks about life and the problems of people living in the Konasima region. The story is about a young orphan boy who struggles against various obstacles in his life. A number of novels were published at the end of the century which spoke regarding the issues of the dowry system and other social evils. In the Tamil language, the first published novel was Pratapa Mudaliyar Charitam, published in 1879 by Samuel Vendanayakam Pillai. The novel is a first-person narrative that makes an attempt to educate the reader and at the same time also shows some sense of humor. The heroine of the novel is Gnanambal, who is chosen as a king by an elephant while she is dressed as a male. While the story goes on we see that she is an able ruler. The narrator similarly takes us into various other stories and anecdotes in this rambling novel. In the last decade of the 19th century, two major Tamil writers, B.R. Rajamlyer and Madhavaya made their debut. They published Kamalambal Charitam in 1893 and Padmavathi Charitam in 1898 respectively. Both novels talk about the life of common people. The former is a bit philosophical and the later is more into the true picture of the society as it shows us the impact of English education, the movement toward the city, and the plight of widows. During this time when the literary history of the country saw the first publication of a detective novel in Tamil written by T.M. Natesa Sastri. In Hindi, the first novel named Parikash Guru was published by Shrinivas Das in 1882. The novel draws a real nature of the middle-class trade community and the generation gap, which also was the subject of the novel. The first novel in Kannada was published in the year 1892.
It was a historical novel written by Lakshaman Rao Gadagkar. The first novel in Malayalam was Kudalata, which appeared in 1887 and was written by Appu Nedungadi. This novel was also influenced by Walter Scott. But usually, the credit for the first Malayalam novel goes to Indulekha, published in 1889 and written by Chandu Menon. The novel was a sharp critique of the evil customs of society. In Assamese, the first published novel was written by Padmanath Gohian Barua in 1890. The name of the novel was Bhanumati. After Bhanumati came Lahari in 1891. Both novels are set in the historical settings of the 18th and 19th centuries respectively. The credit for the first Oriya novel goes to Bibasini, written by Ramashankar Roy and published in 1891. This novel also was historical romance and adventure. It was Bhai Vir Singh who first wrote a Punjabi novel named Sundari, which was published in the year of 1897. The novel is historical as it talks about the Sikh’s resistance against the Mughals. The first Sindhi novel was written by Miraza Qalich Beg and came out in the year 1890. The name of the novel was Zinat, and it talks about the requirement of education for women. The novel almost depicts a true picture of the prevailing society. It is clear now that almost all the major languages of the country saw the rise of novels in the 19th century. And in many terms, the novel became an established genre by that time.
The Birth of the Poetry
Birth of Poetry in Indian English Literature: Against the popular belief, that the first poetic reaction to the influence of the West came from the Bengali poets, one must look towards the Gujarati poets for the first reaction to the influence of western poetic tradition. It was Kavi Dalpatram Dahyabhai, who first took the subject of modernity and wrote about the new urban world, the printing press, the railways, fire brigades, education of women, tobacco, foreign travels, etc. Bapani Pipar, is his first poem and is still considered a milestone in Gujarati poetry and the first genuine modern poem. It is usually said that he wrote an English kind of poetry in Gujarati. One of the Dalpatram’s contemporary Narmadashankar Lalshankar Dave, who is also known as Narmad is known for his attempt to bring the tradition of nature poetry and love poetry to India, a sort of love that was not devotional at all. Another such attempt was made by Narshinrao Bholanat Divatia, a poet heavily influenced by English poetry. One of his famous works is a volume of poetry published in 1887 called Kusum Mala. Usually, it is believed that it was in Bengal where English poetry first reacted to the western approach to poetry. But what people generally miss here is that even in Bengali the tradition continued to rule the poetry. One of the first major English poets of Bengal is Michael Madhusudan Dutt. His contribution to the Bengali poetry tradition is immense. Though he started writing poetry in English later he continued writing in Bengali itself after publishing Tilottamasambhav Kavya. The publication of this work marked a new literary era in Bengali poetry. After this work, he went on to write his most famous epic, Meghnadbadh Kavya, which was published in 1861 and was followed by his love lyric Vrajanaganakavya. He also wrote some famous heroic epistles and sonnets. In six years of time, he introduced a whole range of styles in Bengali poetry. All the poets who after Dutt followed him were to some full extent influenced by English poetry. We had a poet like Akshaychandra Choudhary, whose poems echo the work of Thomas Parnell and Alexander Pope. One who is said to have written modern lyrics and did not know any of the English poetry and in fact wrote in reaction to the imitation of English poetry is Biharilal Chakrabarty. His works are completed within the Bengali tradition. The mysticism and romantic quality of his poems influenced the literary giant like Rabindra Nath Tagore, who in the next century changed the literary shape of the nation and also influenced writers across the country. Their first work of his was Sandhyasangit which was published in 1882. At the start of his career, he actually was a romantic poet but soon in 1890 after the publication of Manasi, his poetry came of the age and in the next decade, he was said to have written some of his best poetry which would express his thirst for God. Bholanath Das and Kamalakanta Bhattacharya are the two poets in the Assamese language who are seen as the poets of transition, and there is no doubt that they herald a new spirit in the language. Bholanath Das was the first poet to have introduced blank verses in Assamese poetry with his greatly successful work Sitaharan Kavya, published in 1884. On the other hand, his contemporary poet Bhattacharya was more into the writing of patriotic and social poetry. He was of the view that the poets must write social poetry rather than a religious one, a view which he said to have taken to some extent. In Hindi the writing of poetry was kind of difficult because of the displacement of Brajbhasha and the coming up of Khariboli as a literary language: It is interesting to know that Bharatendu Harishchandra, one poet who ushered in Hindi poetry advocated the use of Khariboli in Hindi literary culture but himself made use of Brajbhasha for writing his own poetry. The major theme of his poetry is the rising nationalism of the time. Not until the end of the century did the Hindi poets somehow manage to write in Khariboli. Some of the famous names in the history of Hindi poetry are Maithili Sharan Gupt, Ayodhya Simha Upadhyaya, and Ram Naresh Tripathi. But all of these poets started writing after 1895. The poetry they wrote was didactic in intention and was seen as a sort of message. In Marathi, the first modern poem was published by Keshavsut. The new spirit that Marathi poetry saw rising was again the result of the influence of the western education system and English. Keshavsut was greatly influenced by the Romantic poets especially those represented in The Golden Treasury. His poems expressed the ideas of social reform. In many of his poems, he spoke about untouchability, the condition of women, and all the social evils and customs practiced in society. In his poetry, he usually avoided embellishment rather he employed the rhythm of spoken Marathi in his poetry. There were other Marathi poets who felt the impact of the new times like Narayan Vaman Tilak. In Oriya, the first modern poetry was written by Radhanath Ray. Ray was not only the product of the modern education system but also an inspector. He later got employed in an important position in Orissa’s education system. His early works include – Kedaranagari in 1886, Chandrabhaga in 1886, and Nandikeswari in 1887. Kedaranagaris the story of Pyramus and Thisbe, Chandrabhaga talks about the pursuit of Daphne by Apollo and Nandikeswari is a direct inspiration from Ovid and Byron. He also played his hand in writing an epic named Mahayatra, in 1896, which was the first Oriya poem written in Blank verse. He was greatly influenced by some of the western literary giants like Milton, Shakespeare, and Pope. Another Oriya writer Madhusudan Rao was initially a school teacher who later got a senior position in education service. Rao is responsible for the introduction of a mystical dimension to Oriya’s poetry. He also wrote lyrics and sonnets. In Malayalam, it was Rajaraja Verma who first experimented with new lyricism. But the major changes that were witnessed in Malayalam poetry took place in the first two decades of the 20th century, as was the case with the poetry of other languages,
The Birth of the Drama
Birth of Drama in Indian English Literature: With the introduction of Shakespeare and other English plays and the proscenium arch and auditorium in India, the Indian drama went through an interesting change. Shakespeare’s plays were translated in various different Indian languages but one must note that the changing situation in India led by early treatment of new social dynamics in drama. In 1857, Gunabhiram Barua wrote an Assamese play Ram-Navami, which talks about widow-remarriage and was a social tragedy. A number of plays that were light in mood and theme, along with farces were written soon after in Assamese. In 1861, a play name Kantyar Kirtan was published by Hemchandra Barua, which talks about the ill effect of opium. A play named Gaonbura came in 1897, which depicted the suffering of a village headman under British rule. The play was written by Padamnath Barua. In the last decade of the century, the mythological drama started to surface. An interesting fact to know is that the Bengali poet Michael Madhusudan Dutt was also a dramatist. Two of his farces are Ekeiki Bhale Sabyata and Buro Saliker Ghare Ro. Both of them were written in 1859 and talk about contemporary times and mores. Both the farces are influenced by the works of Moliere, the French playwright. He also has been credited for some of the more serious comedies, among which Mayakanan (1874) is considered to be the grimmest of his plays. Another playwright of the age Dinabandhu Mitra was as accomplished as Madhusudan Dutt, but still, he is famous for his play Nil Darpan, which came out in 1860. It was one of the first and most successful political protest play as it spoke about the exploitive indigo planters in Bengal. It was in Bengal, where the first public theater, the National Theater, was established in 1872. Soon the theater saw the act of various actresses and also the various plays attacking British rule and tyranny. In the early 1870s, patriotic plays of Jyotindranath Tagore and Upendranath Das were performed. This made the entry of other plays as well, which led to the promulgation of the Dramatic Performance act of 1875. After this, it was Girish Chandra Ghosh who dominated the Bengali Theater. Ghosh was an actor, manager, and playwright. Another theater that is worth mentioning is the Parsee theater, which emerged in the second half of the 19th century, But unfortunately, there is no play of significance that can be associated with it in the early times in spite of the fact that some of the well-known Gujarati writers like Dalpatram were associated with it. Gujarati writers like Dalpatram and Pandya continued to write plays of social awareness, but the Parsee theater became the source of entertaining plays and continued with it so status for a long time. The Parsee theater also gave rise to Urdu dramatic writing. This phase was ruled by playwrights like Aram. Parsee theater is also responsible for the emergence of dramatic writings in Hindi along with other languages like Telugu, Tamil, and Kannada.