Novel as a branch of Bangla literature evolved in the early 19th century under the influence of English literature. While the term ‘novel’ generally means an extended work of prose fiction, the Bangla word for novel, upanyas, which derives from the words upanay and upanyasta, suggests a greater sense of responsibility on the part of the novelist. It is generally agreed that an awareness of the individual and of society is indispensable in a novel. Through their plots, incidents, characters, description, dialogue, and language, writers tell stories as well as express their philosophy of life.
Early Bangla novels include bhabanicharan bandyopadhyay’s (1787-1848) satire, Nabababubilash (1825), which may be called the first Bangla novel, bhudev mukhopadhyay’s (1824-1898) Safal Svapna and Anguriya Binimay, which have several elements of the historical novel, and alaler gharer dulal (1858), a satire written by peary chand mitra (1814-1883) under the pseudonym of Tekchand Thakur. Alaler Gharer Dulal, with its interest in character and its portrait of society, has two important ingredients of the novel.
The first true novelist, however, was bankimchandra chattopadhyay (1838-1894), who is recognized as the ‘father of the modern Bangla novel’. The first of his 14 novels is Durgeshnandini (1865). Based on the Mughal past, Durgeshnandini is reminiscent of Sir Walter Scott’s historical novels. In addition to historical novels, Bankimchandra also wrote novels on social issues and psychological themes. Bankimchandra’s historical and romantic novels include Kapalkundala (1866), Mrnalini (1869), Yugalabguriya (1874), Chandrashekhar (1875), Rajsingha (1882) and Sitaram. Among his novels about social and family life are Bisbrksa (1873), Rajani and Krsvakanter Will (1878). Other novels include Indira (1873), Anandamath (1884), Devi Chaudhurani (1884) and Radharani (1886). Anandamath, which contains the song ‘Bande Mataram’, has been severely criticized for its communal attitude towards Bengali Muslims.
Apart from telling a story, Bankimchandra was also interested in analysing human behaviour, as for example, in Bisbrksa and Krsnakanter Will where he depicts ambitious women and morally degraded men. He was also the first writer to give a widow a major role in the novel. Among his later contemporaries were Taraknath Gangopadhyay (1843-1891), who wrote Svarnalata, and romesh chunder dutt (1848-1909) who wrote Babgabijeta (1874), Madhabikabkan (1877), Jibanprabhat (1878), Jibansandhya, Sangsar (1886) and Samaj (1893).
The first Bengali Muslim novelist was mir mosharraf hossain (1847-1912), whose first novel, Ratnabati, was published in 1869. His most famous novel is the three-volume Bisad Sindhu, which deals with the tragic story of Karbala. His other novels include Udasin Pathiker Maner Katha, Islamer Jay, Razia Khatun etc. swarna kumari devi was the first Bengali woman novelist (1855-1932). Her genre was the historical novel which she attempted to base on facts. Her novels include Mibar Raj (1877), Chhinnamukul (1879), Malati (1879), Hughlir Imam Badi (1887), Bidroha (1890), Snehalata (1892), Kahake (1898), Bichitra (1920), Svapnabani (1921) and Milanrati (1925).
More famous as a poet, rabindranath tagore (1861-1941) was also a novelist whose works explore human relationships and the psychological workings of the human mind as well as analyze social issues and describe the impact of contemporary politics on individuals. He wrote twelve novels. Bauthakuranir Hat (1883) and Rajarsi (1887) are based on historical events, but nevertheless delineate the dilemmas and conflicts within the human heart. Always concerned with human problems, he wrote Chokher Bali (1903) and Naukadubi (1906). Chokher Bali, which concerns the taboo subject of illicit love, is especially notable.
One of Rabindranath’s most remarkable novels is Gora (1910). The eponymous hero is a European child brought up by a Hindu family. Proud of his pure blood, Gora is shattered when he learns that he is a foster child. In the novel, Rabindranath suggests that the prejudices of blood and religion are made by human beings, but can have disastrous effects. Another remarkable novel is Ghare-Baire (1916). Although written in the context of the swadeshi movement, it also analyzes the psychology of a woman torn between her duty towards her home and her attraction towards the revolutionary world outside. Char Adhyay also draws upon the Swadeshi movement. Among his other writings are Yogayog, Sheser Kavita (1930), Malavcha (1934), and Duibon (1933). Yogayog (1929) is particularly noteworthy for its poetic dialogue and analysis of characters and events.
probhat kumar mukhopadhyay (1873-1932) was one of Rabindranath’s contemporaries. His interest lay in storytelling, rather than psychological analysis. His novels include Ramasundari (1908), Nabin Sannyasi (1912), Ratnadvip (1915) and Sindur Kauta (1911). Another contemporary of Rabindranath was sharat chandra chattopadhyay (1876-1938). Unlike the versatile Rabindranath, Sharat Chandra concentrated on the novel, writing about human relationships in Bengali society in lucid and moving language. His stories of the love between men and women, licit or illicit, and his sympathetic treatments of women made Sharat Chandra the most popular novelist of his time. Unlike Bankimchandra, Sharat Chandra’s language is simple and easy flowing, and his themes concern ordinary, middle-class society. A sympathetic feeling for women adumbrates all his writings. Of the large number of novels he has written, the most popular are Badadidi (1913), Bindur Chhele (1914), Ramer Sumati (1914), Pandit Mashai (1914), Biraj Bau (1914), Charitrahin (1914), Chandranath (1916), Pallisamaj (1916), Devdas (1917), Datta (1918), Grhadaha (1920), Dena-Paona (1923), Baikunther Will (1934). Shrikanta, an autobiographical novel, is especially remarkable for the portrait of Indranath.
roquiah sakhawat hossain (1880-1932) was perhaps the first Bengali Muslim woman novelist. A novelist with a purpose, she was motivated by the desire to correct follies and superstitions that suppressed Muslim women. Padmarag (1927), her only novel, is strikingly feminist. The heroine, Ayesha Siddika- also known as Padmarag and Zainab-rejects her polygamous husband for independence. Among other novelists with a purpose was the realist kazi imdadul huq (1882-1926), whose novel, Abdullah (1933), shows how religious dogma and social ignorance were destroying Muslim society.
bibhutibhushan bandyopadhyay (1894-1950) was the most popular novelist to succeed Sharat Chandra. His writings concern ordinary people whose lives are spent in humble circumstances. His most famous novels include the trilogy consisting of Pather Panchali (1929), Apur Sangsar, and Aparajita. The protagonist of this trilogy is Apu. Among his other novels are Aranyak (1938), Debayan (1944), Drstipradip (19350, Adarsha Hindu Hotel (1940), and Ichhamati (1949). tarashankar bandyopadhyay (1898-1971) believed that the novelist must have a social purpose. His novels are influenced by socialistic ideas and often depict the conflict between socialism and capitalism. His two popular novels, Raikamal and Kavi, describe the lives of a Vaishnava and a Kaviyal, a singer of kavigan, while Hasuli Banker Upakatha (1947) paints a realistic picture of the lives of lower class Hindus. His other novels include Ganadevata (1942), Pavchagram (1943), Kalindi (1940), Arogya Niketan (1953), Dhatri Devata (1939), Chaitali Ghurni (1931), and Jalsaghar (1942).
Although primarily a poet, kazi nazrul islam (1899-1976) also wrote three novels- Bandhanhara (1927), Mrityuksudha (1930) and Kuhelika (1931)- all written against the backdrop of the freedom struggle. The characters of common people have been drawn realistically in them. Like Tarashankar, manik bandyopadhyay (1908-1956) was also influenced by socialistic ideals. However, in addition to Marxist theories of materialistic realism, his novels also reveal the influence of Freudian theories of human sexuality as in Padma Nadir Majhi (1936) and in Putul Nacher Itikatha. Chatuskon too is based on sexual relations between men and women. Other notable novels by him are Diba-ratrir Kavya (1935). Janani (1935), Shahartali (1940), Ahimsa (1941), Shaharbaser Itikatha (1946), and Chihna (1947).
Other novelists of the forties include mohammad mozammel huq, mohammad najibar rahman, shailajananda mukhopadhyaY, Manoj Basu, Syed Mujtaba Ali, prabodh kumar sanyal, buddhadev bose, Samaresh Basu. Among the women novelists of the time are indira devi, Anurupa Devi, Nirupama Devi, Sita Devi, and Ashapurna Devi.
-Md. Masud Parvez
The Bangla novel written in East Bengal after 1947 focused primarily on the contemporary social scene and the realities of social life. Novels written immediately after Partition had as their background the Second World War, the famine of 1943, the pakistan movement, political instability, communal riots and the Partition which divided the subcontinent into India and Pakistan.
Towards the beginning of this period almost all the well-known novelists were village-oriented. It was only gradually that urban life and the psychology of the individual found a place in the novel. Lalsalu (1948) by syed waliullah (1922-1971) depicts the hunger, superstitions, religious bigotry and exploitation of East Bengali villagers. Many others also wrote novels based on village life. Some other well-known novels of the time based on village life include Jiban Pather Yatri (1948) by abul fazal (1903-1983), Surya-Dighal Badi (1955) by Abu Ishaq (b 1926), Kashbaner Kanya (1957) by shamsuddin abul kalam (1926-1997), Jiban Ksudha (1957) by abul mansur ahmed (1898-1979) and Janani (1958) by shawkat osman (1917-1998). The wants, deprivation and exploitation of village life are the themes of these novels.
From the sixties urban life started being depicted in Bangla novels, with dhaka, the newly created provincial capital, and the rising middle class forming their focus. The rural poor who were migrating to the cities in search of livelihood also formed part of this scenario. Many novels were written on the complexities of life of the educated urban middle class and the tenuous relationship between men and women. The first successful novel based totally on urban life was Samne Natun Din (1951) by Abu Rushd (b 1919). Some other well-known novels written during this time include Battalar Upanyas (1959) by Razia Khan (b 1936), Deyaler Desh (1959) by Syed Shamsul Huq (b 1935), Uttam Purus (1961) by Rashid Karim (b 1925), Teish Nambar Tailachitra (1960) by Alauddin Al Azad (b 1932), Nobar (1963) by Abu Rushd, Baraph Gala Nadi (1969) by zahir raihan (1933-1972) and Rajabag Shalimarbag (1967) by Rabeya Khatun (b 1935). Abu Rushd, Rashid Karim and Rabeya Khatun successfully depicted urban social life, while Razia Khan, Syed Shamsul Huq and Alauddin Al Azad depicted the psychology of individuals. Some other well-known novelists of the time were Bulbul Chowdhury, ahsan habib, Nilima Ibrahim, Amzad Hossein, Abdul Gaffar Chowdhury, Maliha Khatun, Sardar Jainuddin and Arup Talukdar. Their novels reflected rural and urban life caught in the whirlwind of change.
Nevertheless, with about 90% of the people of East Bengal living in villages and depending on an agricultural economy, novels based on village life continued to dominate the scene. Mention may be made of Karnafuli (1962) by Alauddin Al Azad, Sareng Bau (1962) and Sangshaptak (1965) by shahidullah kaiser, Kando Nadi Kando (1968) by Syed Waliullah, Hajar Bachhar Dhare (1964) by Zahir Raihan, Kavchanmala (1965) by Shamsuddin Abul Kalam, Kisan Bau (1968) by Indu Saha and Abe Hayat (1968) by Abul Mansur Ahmed. Shahidullah Kaisar’s novels truly reflected the changing rural life while Syed Waliullah’s novel showed the use of modern western techniques.
A number of political and historical novels were written prior to 1971, among them Kritadaser Hasi (1962) by Shawkat Osman, Simana Chhadiye (1964) by Syed Shamsul Huq, Arek Phalgun (1964) by Zahir Raihan, Raktakta Adhyay (1966) by Khalekdad Chowdhury, Abhishapta Nagari (1967) by Satyen Sen, Nisuti Rater Gatha by anwar pasha and Padadhvani (1969) by Ajay Roy. These novels written between 1947 and 1971 reflect the West Pakistani and international exploitation of East Bengal. Although Shawkat Osman’s Kritadaser Hasi is set in the Middle East during the Middle Ages, it reflects the contemporary exploitation of East Bengal. Syed Shamsul Huq’s Simana Chhadiye, based on urban life, reflects the political consciousness of the writer. Zahir Raihan’s novel is the story of the language movement, the sacrifice of the Bengalis and their political rise. The development of the characters of Anwar Pasha’s novel takes place amidst the narrative of contemporary political events.
The emergence of independent Bangladesh in 1971 brought about fundamental changes in the economic, social and political arena, as well as in the fields of art, literature and culture. The liberation war became a predominant theme. This was true even in the case of writers who had been writing before 1971. Some well-known novels of the seventies, which describe the liberation war and the coming of independence as well as analyze its aftermath, include Nandita Narake (1972) and Shabkhanil Karagar (1973) by Humayun Ahmad, Paripreksiter Dasdasi (1974) by Abdul Mannan Syed, Obkar (1975) by Ahmad Safa, Jiban Amar Bon (1976) by Mahmudul Haque, Habgar Nadi Grenade (1976) by Selina Hossain, and Kalo Ilish (1979) by Bashir Al Helal. Other well-known novelists of this decade include Razia Khan, Rashid Karim, Rizia Rahman, Abu Rushd, Shawkat Ali, Hasnat Abdul Hye, Amzad Hossein, Dilara Hashem, Bipradash Barua, Mahbub Talukdar, Mahmudul Haque, Mizanur Rahman Shelley, Rashid Haider and Rabeya Khatun.
The novels of the eighties continued to draw upon the war of liberation and its aftermath. However, contemporary rural and urban life, the complex relationships between men and women, and psychological disorders, also formed significant themes. Some well-known novels of this phase are Patabga Pivjar by Shaukat Osman, Amal Dhabal Chakri by Rahat Khan, Nil Mayurer Jauban by Selina Hossain, Nisiddha Loban by Syed Shamsul Huq, Kolkata by Abdul Mannan Syed, Bhumiputra by Imdadul Haque Milan, Timi by Hasnat Abdul Hye and Chilekothar Sepai by akhtEruzzaman elias. Chilekothar Sepai, which depicts the pre-1971 mass movement, is unique in style, theme and treatment of character. Some other established novelists of the period were Rashid Haider, Murtaza Bashir, Rashid Karim, Manju Sarkar, Mahbub Talukdar, Razia Khan, Rabeya Khatun, Dilara Hashem, Bashir Al Helal, Amzad Hossein, Abu Ishaq, Arefin Badal, Alauddin Al Azad, Abdush Shakur, Anwara Syed Haque, Abul Khayer Muslehuddin, Shahid Akhand, Sucharita Chowdhury, Shamsur Rahman, Bipradash Barua, Shawkat Ali and Abubakar Siddik.
The nineties saw the emergence of some talented young novelists including Manju Sarkar and Nasreen Jahan. Nasreen Jahan’s Udukku, a feminist novel, won the Philips Literary Award. Manju Sarkar’s Pratima Upakhyan is another significant novel of this period. Along with emerging novelists, established novelists continued to write novels, among them Mainul Ahsan Saber (Kabej Lethel, Prem O Pratishodh, Svajan), Bhaskar Chowdhury (Lal Mati Kalo Manus, Svapnapurus, Mimamsaparba), Hasnat Abdul Hye (Sultan, Novera, Interview) and Selina Hossain (Khun O Bhalobasa, Kalketu O Phullara, Bhalobasa Pritilata, Yuddha). A kind of anti-novel was written by Humayun Azad (Chhappanno Hajar Bargamail and Rajnitibidgan). Realities and surrealities are reflected in Imtiar Shamim’s Danakata Himer Bhitar and Shahidul Zahir’s Se Rate Purnima Chhila. But Akhtaruzzaman Elias’s Khoyabnama is perhaps the most remarkable Bangla novel of the latter half of the twentieth century. In inimitable language and style, it depicted the anti-British fakir rebellion, and the social consciousness of Bengalis.
Other important novels of this period include Chhayabandi by Arun Chowdhury, Rajakartantra by Imdadul Haque Milan, Eisab Dinratri and Aguner Parashmani by Humayun Ahmad, Brsti O Bidrohigan by Syed Shamsul Huq, Ksudha Prem Agun by Abdul Mannan Syed, and Anudita Andhakar by Alauddin Al Azad. Some other well-known novelists who continue to produce novels are Ishaq Khan, Zulfiqar Matin, Dilara Hashem, Wahid Reza, Anisul Haque, Afsan Chowdhury, Anwara Syed Haque, Nasreen Jahan, Nishat Chowdhury, Hasnat Abdul Hye, Bulbul Chowdhury, Razia Khan, Shawkat Ali, Shams Rashid, Rezanur Rahman, Rezwan Siddiqi, Razia Majid, Rafiqur Rashid, Mizanur Rahman Shelley, Mohsin Shastrapani, Mafruha Chowdhury and Maliha Khatun.
AK Dey, Bangla Upanyaser Utsa Sandhane, Jijvasa, Calcutta, 1974; Azhar Islam, Bangla Sahityer Itihas Prasabga, Ideal Library, Dhaka, 1969; SK Bandyopadhyay, Banga Sahitye Upanyaser Dhara, Modern Book Agency, Calcutta, 1945; Sukumar Sen, Bangla Sahityer Itihas (vol 1-4), Eastern Publishers, Calcutta, 1970.