Chapter 8: Novels, Society and History

The Rise of the Novel

Novel is a modern form of literature. It is born because of print which is a mechanical invention. Novels could reach a larger audience because of print.

Novels began to be written from the seventeenth century and flowered in the eighteenth century. New groups of lower-middle-class; along with the traditional aristocratic and gentlemanly classes in England and France formed the new readership of novels.

With the growing readership, the earnings of authors increased. This made them free from financial dependence on patronage of aristocrats. They became independent to experiment with different literary styles.

The Publishing Market

Initially, novels did not come cheap and were out of reach for the poor classes. With the introduction of circulating libraries in 1740; people could get easier access to books. Apart from various innovations in printing, innovations in marketing also helped in increasing the sales and bringing down the prices. For example; the publishers in France realized that they could make high profits by hiring out novels by the hour.

The worlds created by novels were more realistic and believable. While reading a novel, the reader was transported to another person’s world. Novels allowed individuals the pleasure of reading in private. It also allowed the joy of publicly reading and discussing stories. People often got deeply involved in the lives of characters.

In 1836, Charles Dicken’s Pickwick Papers was serialized in a magazine. Magazines were cheaper and illustrated. Moreover, serialization allowed readers to relish the suspense. They could live for weeks in anticipation of the next plot of the story.

The World of the Novel

Unlike earlier forms of writing, novels were not about kings or empires rather they were about ordinary people. In the nineteenth century, Europe entered the industrial age. While industrialization created new opportunities of growth and development, it also created new problems for the workers and the city life. It was the ordinary worker, who always suffered in the mad race for profits. Many novelists created stories around the problems of ordinary people in the new cities. Charles Dickens and Emile Zola were the notable authors of this period.

Community and Society

The novels reflected the contemporary developments in the society. Many novelists wrote about the problems of city life. Many others wrote about the various changes witnessed in the rural life because of advent of modern technology. People were becoming more professional and the personal values were eroding at a faster pace. Thomas Hardy’s Mayor of Casterbridge (1886) is novel written in the rural backdrop.

The novel by Hardy has use of vernacular language which is the language spoken by common people. Use of vernacular helped Hardy in correlating with the common people who lived in that period.

The New Woman

During the eighteenth century, the middle class became more prosperous. Women could get more spare time which they utilised to read and write novels. That is how the novels began to explore the world of women. Many novels were about domestic life. A woman writer could write about domestic life with more authority than a male writer. Many women novelists also began to raise questions about the established norms of society. Many novels began to ask questions about hypocrisy which was prevalent in the contemporary society.

Novels for the Young

Novels for the young boys were based on heroism. The hero of such novels used to be a powerful, assertive, independent and daring person. As this was the period of expansion of colonialism, most of the novels tried to glorify colonialism. Books; like R. L. Stevenson’s Treasure Island (1883) and Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book (1894) became great hits. G. A. Henry’s historical adventure novels for boys were very popular at the height of the British Empire. These novels were always about young boys who witness grand historical events and get involved in some military action. Love stories for adolescent girls also became popular during this period.

Colonialism and After

During the rise of colonialism, most of the novels glorified the conquests of the Europeans. Later, in the twentieth century, some novels showed the darker side of colonial occupation. Joseph Conrad (1857-1924) was one such author.

The Novel Comes to India

The modern novel form developed in India in the nineteenth century, once the Western novels were introduced in India. Many Indian authors initially tried to translate the English novels but they apparently did not enjoy doing that. Later many of them decided to write novels in their own language and on their own social background.

Some of the earliest novels in India were written in Bengali and Marathi. Baba Padmanji’s Yamuna Paryatan (1857) was the earliest Marathi novel. This was followed by Muktamala by Lakshman Moreshar Halbe (1861).

Leading novelists of the nineteenth century wrote to develop a modern literature of the country. They wanted to produce a sense of national belonging and cultural equality with their colonial masters.

Novel in South India

O. Chandu Menon wrote the first Malayalam novel Indulekhs in 1889. Kandukuri Viresalingam (1848-1919) wrote the Telugu novel Rajasekhara Caritamu in 1878.

The Novel in Hindi

Bharatendu Harishchandra was the pioneer of modern Hindi literature. He encouraged many members of his circle of poets and writers to recreate and translate novels from other languages. The first proper novel in Hindi was written by Srinivas Das of Delhi. It was titled Pariksha Guru and was published in 1882. This novel highlights the pitfalls of blind copying of the western culture and advocates preserving the traditional Indian culture. The characters in this novel attempt to bridge the western and the eastern world and try to make a balance between the two cultures.

The writings of Devaki Nandan Khatri created a novel-reading public in Hindi. Chandralekha was his best-seller. This novel is believed to have immensely contributed in popularizing the Hindi language and the Nagari script among the educated classes of that time.

The Hindi novel achieved excellence with the writing of Premchand. He began to write in Urdu and later shifted to Hindi. He took a leaf from the traditional art of kissa-goi (storytelling). Simple language was the hallmark of his writings. Moreover, he portrayed people from all sections of the society. In many of his writings, the main character belonged to oppressed classes.

Novels in Bengal

Many Bengali writers excelled in writing on historical topics, while many other writers focused on contemporary themes. The new bhadralok enjoyed the private world of reading novels. Durgeshnandini (1865) was written by Bankim and this novel was much appreciated for its literary excellence.

The initial Bengali novels used a colloquial style associated with urban life. Meyeli, the language associated with women’s lingo was also used in those novels. But Bankim’s prose was Sanskritised and contained a more vernacular style.

Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay (1876-1938) became the most popular novelist in Bengal and probably in the rest of India because of his expertise in storytelling in simple language.

Novels in the Colonial World

Uses of Novel: For the colonial administrators, novels provided a good source to understand about the life and social hierarchy in India. They could understand different aspects of the Indian society through novels. Some of the novels were translated into English; by British administrators or Christian missionaries.

Many novels highlighted the social ills and suggested remedies. Many novels told stories about the past so that people could establish a relationship with the past.

People from all walks of life could read novels. This helped in creating a sense of collective identity on the basis of one’s language. Novels also helped people to understand about the culture of other parts of the country.

Pleasures of Reading

Novels became a popular medium of entertainment among the middle class. Detective and mystery novels often had be sent for reprints to meet the demand of readers. Many novels were printed as many as twenty two times.

The novel also helped in spreading the silent reading. As late as the nineteenth century and probably in the early twentieth century, people often read out a text for several people to hear. But gradually, people adapted to read in silence.

Women and the Novel

Novels were viewed as having negative impact on people’s mind. Women and children were often prohibited from reading novels. Some parents kept novels at secret places so that children could not lay their hands on novels. Young people had to read them in secret. Older women took the services of their grandchildren to enjoy listening to a novel.

However, many women turned into writers and wrote poetry, essays and autobiographies. In the early decades of the twentieth century, women in India also began to write novels and short stories. Many women writers had to write the novel in secret because the society did not permit it.

Caste Practices

Many authors began to highlight the plight of lower caste people in their novel. In some of the novels, conflicts arising out of marriage between a lower caste and an upper caste were highlighted. Some people from the lower caste also became authors; like Potheri Kunjambu from Kerala. Many communities got space in the literary scene through novels.

Nation and Its History

In Bengal, many historical novels were about Marathas and Rajputs. These novels portrayed the nation to be full of adventure, heroism romance and sacrifice. The novel thus allowed the colonized subjects to give shape to their desires. Bhudeb Mukhopadhyat’s Anguriya Binimoy (1857) is about Shivaji’s adventures against Aurangzeb.

Bankim’s Anandamath (1882) is a novel about secret Hindu militia which fights Muslims to establish a Hindu kingdom. This novel inspired many kinds of freedom fighters.

Many of these novels also reveal the problems associated with thinking about the nation. We know that India cannot be a nation of only a single religious community.

Very Short Type Questions

Q.1: - What is an Epistolary novel‘?

Ans:- Novel written in the series of letters

Q.2: - It is universally acknowledged truth that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife. The above lines have been illustrated from the novel –

Ans:- Pride and Prejudice

Q.3: - Who wrote Hard Times‘?

Ans:- Charles Dickens

Q.4: - What did Kissa Goil means ?

Ans:- The art of story telling

Q.5: - The first novel to be serialized was—

Ans:- Pickwick papers

Q.6:-The first Indian novel was written in___________.

Ans:- Marathi

Q.7: - The first modern novel in Malayalam is ?

Ans:- Indulekha

Q.8: - Who is the author of Pamela‘?

Ans:- Samuel Richardson

Q.9: - In which year was Emile Zola‘s Germinal‘ published?

Ans:- 1885

Q.10:-Who wrote the famous novel Jungle Book‘?

Ans:- Rudyard Kipling

Short Answers Type Questions

Q.1: - ―Novels were useful for both the colonial administrators and Indians in colonial India.‖ Support the statement with example.

Ans.:- To colonial administration –

  1. A source to understand native life and customs.
  2. It helped to govern Indian society with various communities and castes.
  3. Novels helped to know the domestic life dresses religious worships etc.
  4. Some of the books were translated into English by British administrators or Christian missioners.

To Indians –

  1. Indians used the novels as a powerful medium to criticize defects what they considered in the society and to suggest remedies.
  2. To established relationship to its past.
  3. To propagate their ideas about society.
  4. It glorified the accounts of the past and helped in creating sense of National Pride among the readers.
  5. Novels helped in creating a sense of collective belongingness on the basis of one‘s language.

Any other relevant point.

Q.2: - Explain how did novels became a popular medium of entertainment among the middle class during late 19th century.


  1. The world created by novels were absorbing, believable and seemingly real.
  2. While reading novels, The readers was transported to another person‘s world and began looking at life as it was experienced by the characters of the novel.
  3. Novels allowed individuals the pleasure of reading in private as well as publicity.
  4. The storied of novels were discussed in homes meetings or even in offices.

Q.3: - What were the advantages of serialized novels—


  1. A story is published in installments, keeping the suspense for the next issue.
  2. Serialization allowed readers to relish the suspense discuss the characters of a novel and live for weeks with their stories.
  3. This was possible science the magazines were illustrated and cheap and affordable.


Q.4: - What were the advantages of vernacular novels?


  1. They were written in the language of common people.
  2. Vernacular novels produced a sense of shared world between diverse people of a nation.
  3. Novels also draw from different styles of languages. A novel may tale a classical language and combine it with the language of street to make them all a part of vernacular that it uses.
  4. Novels were read individually. Sometimes in groups also.

Long Answers Type Questions

Q.1:- Explain the contribution of Premchand in Hindi novels.


  1. Munshi Premchand was one of the greatest literary figures of modern Hindi and Urdu literature.
  2. He began writing in Urdu and then shifted to Hindi.
  3. His novels lifted the Hindi novels from the realm of fantasy.
  4. Premchand wrote on the realistic issues of the day i.e. communalism, corruption, zamidari dept, poverty and colonialism etc.
  5. He wrote in traditional art of Kissa - Goi‖.

Q.2: - How Industrial Revolution‘ was reflected in the novels?

Ans.: -

  1. When Industrial Revolution began factories came up, business profits increased but workers faced problems.
  2. Cities expanded in an unregulated way and were filled with over worked and unpaid workers.
  3. Deeply critical of these developments, novelists such as Charles Dickens wrote about terrible effects of industrialization on people‘s lives and characters.
  4. His novel Hard Times‘ depicts a fictions industrial town as a grim full of machinery, smoking chimneys and rivers polluted.
  5. Dickens criticized not just the greed for profit but also the ideas that reduced human beings into simple instruments of production.
  6. Dickens‘ Oliver Twist is the tale of poor orphan who lived in a world of petty criminals and beggars. Oliver was finally adopted by a wealthy man and lived happy ever after.
  7. Emili Zola‘s Germinal‘ was written on the left of a young miner but it ends up in desire. It didn‘t have happened like Oliver Twist of Dickens