On The Politics of Love in Nineteenth Century Bengal, by Aparna Bandopadhyay

A deliberate attempt to socio-culturally place ‘love’ in 19 th century Bengali literature, mainly through
the fictional works by eminent literati Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay has been done by Dr Aparna
Banerjee in her paper "The Politics of Love in Nineteenth Century Bengal.”She discussed the
portrayal of women regarding pre-marital and extra-marital love and how major literary works of
Bankim Chandra transgresses from the traditional perception. She provided examples from Bankim’s
major works to support her claim. The contemporary intelligentsia, however, showed a distinct shift
in their collective ideology by terming past erotic works of Sanskrit as ‘vulgar’ and ‘obscene’ as well
as Bankim Chandra’s texts. The paper tried to find possible examples that transgresses the
traditional ideas of love and also provides a critical commentary on them.
The stereotype of women reading novel and how it degraded them morally, were major concerns of
the Bengali intelligentsia of 19 th century. On the other hand, the dominant tropes in literary works at
that time were pre-conjugal and non-conjugal love. This provoked a fear in bhadralok society that
apparent encouragement of such acts through novels will ultimately affect the women to deviate
from the traditional values of love which are often described as Shatitwa (chastity) and Patibratya
(fidelity). These literary works were thought to promote women’s own choice while selecting her life
partner, which was contrary to cultural norms of Bengali Hindu society. This patriarchal anxiety was
manifested through claiming the novels as “vulgar” which confirms their capability of questioning
the hegemonic structure. Durgeshnandini, Mrinalini, Radharani and Yugolangurio: in all these novels
female protagonists assert their love for men of their own choice. Tilottoma and Durgeshnandini in
Durgeshnandini, Mrinalini in Mrinalini, Manorama in Yugollangurio and Radharani in Radharani
remained steadfast of their decision despite of adversities. Dr. Bandopadhyay briefly commented on
how these characters subvert the dominant societal narratives and examined how these particular
portrayals pose questions to the patriarchal dominance. However, she made an interesting
observation that in these novels the idea of love is challenged but there is no transgression of caste
or class, thus preserving some normative concepts of 19 th century Bengal. Her paper also
demonstrated how educated Bengali Hindus criticised Bankim Chandra for inculcating European
paradigm of women into Bengali novels. As a whole, Dr. Bandopadhyay’s paper illustrated the
societal consequences of the depiction of transgressive love in 19 th century Bengal and brilliantly
articulated how the problematic patriarchal norms were channelized through educated Bhodrolok
circle.

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