Negotiating History, (Re-)imagining the Nation: The Indian Historical Novel in English, 1900-2000

Author: Md Rezaul Haque

Haque, Md Rezaul, 2013 Negotiating History, (Re-)imagining the Nation: The Indian Historical Novel in English, 1900-2000, Flinders University, School of Humanities

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Abstract

As the title of my project suggests, this thesis deals with Indian historical fiction in English. While the time frame in the title may lead one to expect that the present study will attempt a historical overview of the Indian historical novel written in English, that is not a primary concern. Rather, I pose two broad questions: the first asks, to what uses does Indian English fiction put the Indian past as it is remembered in both formal history and communal memory? The second question is perhaps a more important one so far as this project is concerned: why does the Indian English novel use the Indian past in the ways that it does? There is as a consequence an intention to move from the inner world of Indian historical fiction to the outer space of the socio-political reality from which the novel under consideration has been produced. In other words, I read the literary text in the light of the social text. Like several other sub-genres of Indian fiction in English, the Indian historical novel emerged first during the colonial period. Both its formal and thematic concerns are thus to a large extent shaped in the pre-independence period by the long shadows of the British colonisation of India. The two types of historical fiction written under an oppressive colonial regime - revivalist and nationalist - are geared to regenerating and constructing cultural/national identity/self. That is to say, the pre-independence Indian historical novel uses Indian history/past to imagine the nation. Many of the inequalities that the political birth of the Indian nation-state was expected to remove have remained. Even more than half a century after the British had left India, minorities are still ill-treated; casteism is still rampant; discrimination against women is still commonplace. Post-independence Indian historical fiction engages with Indian history/past to retrieve the voices of these subalterns. In challenging the bourgeois-patriarchal hegemony of the nation, the historical novel of the post-independence period sets out to re-imagine the nation in two notable ways, generating in the process the two most remarkable varieties of post-independence historical fiction: feminist and interventionist. A third type is revisionist which focuses on the politics of colonial representation rather than the re-imagining of the nation. From a contextual reading of seven historical novels in this study, I conclude that Indian historical fiction in English uses Indian history/past both to construct and deconstruct the Indian cultural/national self.

Keywords: history,historical fiction,(re-)imagining the nation,Indian fiction in English
Subject: English thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2013
School: School of Humanities and Creative Arts
Supervisor: A/Prof. Rick Hosking