Novels, Society and History

NCERT Questions

Question 1.
Explain the following:

(a) Social changes in Britain which led to an increase in women readers.
(b) What actions of Robinson Crusoe make us see him as a typical coloniser.
(c)After 1740, the readership of novels began to include poorer people.
(d) Novelists in colonial India wrote for a political cause.


(a) In the 18th century, the middle classes became more prosperous. Women got more leisure to read as well as write novels. Novels began exploring the world of women, their emotions and identities, their experiences and problems.

Many novels were about domestic life—a theme about which women were allowed to speak with authority. They drew upon their experience, wrote about family life and earned public recognition. Novels of Jane Austen encouraged women to look for ‘good’ marriages and find wealthy husbands.

Novelists like Jane Eyre inspired women to be independent and assertive through their writings. All this led an increase in women readers.

(b) Robinson Crusoe is the hero of Daniel Defoe’s novel Robinson Crusoe. In the novel, he gives an impression of superiority. He is an adventurer and slave trader. Shipwrecked on an island, he treats coloured people not as human beings equal to him, but as inferior creature.

He rescues a ‘native’ and makes him his slave. He does not ask for his name but arrogantly gives him the name Friday. All these actions of Crusoe make us see him as a typical coloniser and represent the period to which he belonged.

(c) After 1740, the readership of novels began to include poorer people because circulating libraries set up in 1740, encouraged them to have an easier and greater access to books. Besides it, technological improvement in printing brought down the price of books and innovations in marketing led to expanded sales. In France, publishers lent books to poor people on hourly payment.

(d) In colonial India, novelists wrote to ’ criticise what they considered defects in their society and to suggest remedies. As the novelists were aware of the ill- treatment of the British towards Indians, they used their novels to expose the nature of the British rule and wished to produce a pan-Indian identity. The imagined nation of the novel was so powerful that it could inspire actual political movements.

Question 2.
Outline the changes in technology and society which led to an increase in readers of the novel in eighteenth-century Europe.

After 1740, the readership of novels began to include poorer people because circulating libraries set up in 1740, encouraged them to have an easier and greater access to books. Besides it, technological improvement in printing brought down the price of books and innovations in marketing led to expanded sales. In France, publishers lent books to poor people on hourly payment.

Question 3.
Write a note on:

(a) The Oriya novel
(b) Jane Austen’s portrayal of women
(c) The picture of the new middle class which the novel Pariksha-Guru portrays.


(a) Ramashankar Ray, a dramatist, began serialising the first Oriya novel, ‘Saudutnani’, in 1877—78. But he could not complete it. Within thirty years, however, Orissa produced a major novelist in Fakir Mohan Senapati (1843—1918).

The title of his novel ‘Chaa Mana Atha Guntha’ (1902) translates as six acres and thirty-two decimals of land. It announces a new kind of novel that will deal with the question of land and its possession. It is the story of Ramachancjra Mangaraj, a landlord’s manager.

He cheats his idle and drunken master and then eyes the plot of fertile land owned by Bhagia and Shariya, a childless weaver couple. Mangaraj fools this couple and puts them into his debt so that he can take over their land. This pathbreaking work showed that the novel could make rural issues an important part of urban preoccupations.

In writing this novel, Fakir Mohan anticipated a host of writers in Bengal and elsewhere.

(b) Jane Austen was an English novelist. Her novels give us a glimpse of the world of women in genteel rural society which encouraged women to look for ‘good’ marriages and find wealthy or propertied husbands.

The first sentence of Jane Austen’s famous novel Pride and Prejudice states: ‘It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.’ This observation allows us to see the behaviour of the main characters, who are preoccupied with marriage and money, as typifying Austen’s society.

(c) In 1882, the first proper modern novel ‘Pariksha-Guru’—The Master Examiner was written by Srinivas Das of Delhi. This novel cautioned young men of well-to-do families against the dangerous influences of bad company and consequent loose morals.

The book reflects the inner and outer world of the middle classes. The characters find it difficult to adapt to the colonised society and at the same time to preserve their own cultural identity.

The novel tries to teach the reader the ‘correct way’ to live and expects all ‘sensible men’ to be worldly-wise, practical and to remain rooted in the values of their own tradition and culture, and to live with dignity and honour.

Question 4.
Discuss some ofthe social changes in nineteenth- century Britain which Thomas Hardy and Charles Dickens wrote about.

Thomas Hardy, the nineteenth-century British novelist, focussed his attention on the problems and changes in rural community. This was actually a time when traditional rural communities of England were fast vanishing.

Large farmers fenced off land, bought machines and employed labourers to produce for the market. The old rural culture with its independent farmers was dying out. Hardy wrote about all these changes in his novel ‘Mayo r of Casterbridac

Charles Dickens, the foremost English novelist of the Victorian age, wrote mainly about the emergence of industrial age and its terrible effects on people’s lives and characters.

Growth of factories led an increase in the business profits and economy. But at the same time, workers faced problems. Cities expanded in an unregulated way and were filled with overworked and underpaid workers.

Use of machines resulted in unemployment of ordinary people and they began to roam the streets for jobs. Homeless were forced to seek shelters in workhouses. Pursuit of profit became the goal of industrialists. On the other hand, lives of the workers were undervalued.

Charles Dickens tried to describe all these changes in his novels ‘Hard Times! and ‘Oliver Twist,’.

Question 5.
Summarise the concern in both nineteenth century Europe and India about women reading novels. What does this suggest about how women were viewed?

When women began to read and write novels people got worried about the effect of the novels. The readers draws into the story and identify with the lives of fictitious characters and share the emotions of the characters as their own. They thought that now novels would lose beauty.

The concern about women suggests that they offently think by heart, so they could beeasily currupted by the influence of imaginary world of novels. Women should lead happy life with their family which is the divine purpose of their lives.

Question 6.
In what ways was the novel in colonial India useful for both the colonisers as well as the nationalists?


(a) In India vernacular novels gave valuable information on native life and customs to the colonial administrators.
(b) These information helped the British to carry on with the government in India.
(c) Indians used the novel as a powerful medium to criticise what they considered defects in the society and to suggest remedies.
(d) Novels helped in establishing a relationship with the past—creating a sense of national pride among the readers.
(e) People from all walks of life could read novels so long as they shared a common language. This helped in creating a sense of collective belonging on the basis of one’s language.
(f) With the coming of novels, variations in Indian languages entered the world of print for the first time. Novels made their readers familiar with the ways in which people in other parts of their land spoke their language.

Question 7.
Describe how the issue of caste was included in novels in India. By referring to any two novels, discuss the ways in which they tried to make readers think about existing social issues,

Novels like ‘Indirabai’ and ‘Indulekhcr were written by members of the upper castes, and were primarily about upper-caste characters. But not all novels were of this kind. Novels related to lower castes were also written in the late nineteenth and the twentieth century. Two of them are:

(a) Potheri Kunjambu, a lower-caste writer from north Kerala, wrote a novel called Sarasw ativijayam in 1892, mounting a strong attack on caste oppression. This novel shows a young man from an ‘untouchable’ caste, leaving his village to escape the cruelty of his Brahmin landlord.

He converts to Christianity, obtains modern education, and returns as the judge in the local court. Meanwhile, the villagers, thinking that the landlord’s men had killed him, file a case.

At the conclusion of the trial, the judge reveals his true identity, and the Nambuthri Brahmin repents and reforms his ways. Saraswativijayam, thus, stresses the importance of education for the – upliftment of the lower castes.

(b) Advaita Malla Burman’s ‘Titash Ekti Nadir Naam’ is an epic about the Mallas, a community of fisherfolk who live off fishing in the river Titash. The novel is about three generations of the Mallas, about their recurring tragedies and the story of Ananta, a child born of parents who were tragically separated after their wedding night.

The novel describes the community life of the Mallas in great detail. It also depicts the gradual breaking up of the community under new cultural influences from the city

While novelists before Burman had featured ‘low’ castes as their protagonists, Titash is special because the author is himself from a ‘low-caste’, fisherfolk community.

Question 8.
Describe the ways in which the novel in India attempted to create a sense of pan-Indian belonging.

Angttriya Bininwy’ written by Bhudeb Mukhopadhyay was the first historical novel written in Bengali. It depicts the battle of Shivaji against Aurangzeb, highlighting the courage and tenacity of Shivaji’s belief to be a nationalist fighting for the freedom of Hindus.

The imagined nation of Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay’s Anandmath’ was so powerful that it could inspire actual political movements. This novel inspired many kinds of freedom fighters.

Thus, such novels produced a sense of a pan- Indian belonging. They imagined the nation to be full of adventure, heroism, romance and sacrifice qualities that could not be found in the offices and streets of the nineteenth-century world. The novel allowed the colonised to give shape to their desires.

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