From the Jacket
Clarinda written in English is a novel set in the mid-18th century. The story is based on a historical figure, a real Clarinda, the widow of a Maratha Brahmin, who had been one of the King's servants in Tanjore, and after her husband's death became the concubine of an English officer of the name of Lyttleton. She asked Rev. Schwartz to baptize her when he visited Palayamkottai. He refused however, because of her irregular union. Some years later, after her husband's death, she was accepted into the church.
From these bare facts, Madhaviah creates a fictionalized early life of Clarinda as she grows up in the principality of Tanjore. The imagined story of this unusual woman, who gradually takes control of her life, gives Madhaviah the opportunity to work out some of his favourite themes: women's education, the questions of sati and widow re-marriage, and the encounter between Hinduism and Christianity. The cross-cultural, inter-religious relationship which is at the heart of the novel is unusual and profoundly interesting.
Series Editor's Preface
Clarinda: A Historical Novel (1915) by A. Madhaviah is the second title in the series of reprints of rare or out of print Indian English books published by the Sahitya Akademi. The series was mooted by the English Advisory Board (1998-2003) of the Akademi with Meenakshi Mukherjee as its Chair. The project was inspired by the idea to make available such Indian English books of value as are not only out of print today but are hard to acquire or have been forgotten. These books may or may not be of great literary or historic importance but their study, for a variety of reasons, is likely not just to be desirable, but also crucial to the understanding of recent Indian literary and cultural history.
From the early part of the 19th century up to the independence of Indian in 1947, several such books were published. An analysis and interpretation of these titles illuminates not only what might be called the indo-British encounter, helping us understand the complexities of colonialism, nationalism, gender relations, caste, class, language, identity or what in a nutshell might be termed the evolution of modern Indian itself. Many of these book, naturally, might have little commercial value and therefore, mainstream trade publishers would be unlikely to reissue them. That is why it was felt that the Sahitya Akademi India's national academy of letters would be the best agency to being these books back in circulation. Rather than simply reprinting them, it was thought that a detailed scholarly introduction, with the requisite apparatus of textual and explanatory note, plus a list of suggested readings ought to be provided so as to help the contemporary reader better situate and appreciate the text. Clarinda is thus an important addition to the series.
Madhaviah, the author of Clarinda, was a pioneering novelist in both Tamil and English. His early writings began appearing in the Madras Christian College Magazine in the early 1891s. It was in this very journal that Krupabai Satthianadhan's two novels, Saguna and Kamala were also serialized the same time. Like these tow novels, Clarinda is drawn from a real person, a high caste and well born Maratha Brahmin of the late 18th century Tanjore, who lived with an English officer and became a Christian. Like Saguna, Kamala and Ratanbai, Clarinda's progress bears the burden of ht emultiple discourses. It belongs with a clutch similar book published in the late 19th and the early 20th centuries. All the three presidencies, Calcutta, Madras and Bombay, were witnessing a similar trend of works by or about women in English or the other Indian languages. What makes these books so remarkable is that they map overlapping and contentious domains: they are not only about the emergence of a new kind of subjectivity of a certain section of Indian women, but also about caste, class, conversion, colonialism, and national consciousness.
Many of these books were published with the active support and encouragement of British colonial authorities or of Indian social reformers. From the British side, such literature was useful in the whole discourse of Improvement which both the Liberals and Utilitarians employed to justify empire. The native elites, on the other hand, championed various kinds of social reforms to try to modernize Indian society, hoping eventually to make it fit for self-rule. Of course, the two colonial power and its intentions and the Indian response in the form of social reform were neither exactly the same nor comfortably compatible with one other. The Indian reform project often ranaful with imperial authority, increasingly so as the national struggle for liberation gathered force.
Women, however, occupied a curious pride of place in both these discourses. The signifier woman not only encompassed real people who by all accounts were an oppressed group, but also a highly politicized space which was sought to be appropriated by the various competing forces of the time. Indian woman were at once doubly oppressed, but also singularly privileged as constituting the favored site for various contending social and cultural forces. The woman's question was thus at the heart of the very self-constitution of modern India. It is no wonder then that all major male writers of that time made women the central figures of their narratives. Clarinda is a good example of this trend.
As a historical novel which is based on meticulous research, Madhaviah helps not only to excavate and resurrect the life of woman remarkably by any standards for her independence and spirit, but also some one whose life story illustrates the actualities of a unique instance of the Indo-British encounter. The decay of the native states and civil society, the dysfuntionality of the Indian family and of traditional mores, the oppression of a caste-ridden patriarchal system, and the eventual triumph and superiority of the modern Western influence-or to sum up, decadent Hindu versus a progressive western social order are some of the key themes of the book
If read as a national allegory, we find the good but defeated Hindu by Pandit Rao, who becomes in retreat as opposed to an advancing western Christian political and cultural formation, Clarinda's English husband not only rescues her from a forced sati, but also gives her a kind of happiness and selfhood that few Indian husbands of that period could afford to their wives. Their relationship thus represents a different form of conjugal sharing, one based on equality and reciprocity, than was available to most Indian couples of that period. The missionary records of the real Clarinda willy-nilly also reveal the prudishness and theological prejudices of those who baptized her, but this is nt an aspect that interests Madhaviah much. As Lakshmi Holstorm points out in her Introduction for Madhaviah, Clarinda is a personification of courage, passion and even of women's emancipation. It is Clarinda's agency in her seizure of control over her own life and destiny that fascinate Madhaviah.
The backdrop of the novel, painstakingly recreated by Madhaviah, shows the struggle for supremacy between the English and the French in South India. The eclipse of native states and the triumph of British paramountcy, which were already historical facts by the time the novel was written, are explained even justified, through a sort of rationalizing of history through back-projection. Against the larger historical and political canvas, is the more contrived and melodramatic sub-plot of family intrigues and a doomed love story. Thus, romance and realism intermingly in interesting and meaningful ways in the novel. If anything in the novel does seem forbidding to the contemporary reader, it is, arguably, the somewhat dated and stilted style. But the efflorescence of Indian English fiction of the 1930s is still two decades away, so Madhiviah's earlier efforts need to be put in a proper perspective.
Most of Madhaviah's other book in both Tamil and English were written before Clarinda. Of his English works, the semi-autobiographical Thillai Govindan (1903) is more famous. In fact, Clarinda has been so much out of circulation that it has been rarely cited and never studies seriously. It is hoped that this reprint, edited so ably by Holmstrom, will put an end to the neglect of what is clearly an important early text of Indian English fiction.
New Delhi, April 2004
About the Author
A. Madhaviah a pioneering novelist in both Tami and English has written three novels in Tamil and three in English, besides several plays, poems, articles and short stories in both languages. He was also instrumental in setting up two journals Tamizh Nesan and Panchamirtam.
Lakshmi Holmstrom is a writer and translator, who studied at Madras and oxford, she is the author of Indian fiction in English: the Novels of R. K. Narayan, editor of the Inner Courtyard: short Stories by Indian Women, and co-editor of Writing from India a collection of stories from India for readers aged 14-16. her retelling of the fifth Century Tamil narrative poems silappadikaram and Manimedalai was published in 1996. Her main work has been translating the short stories and novels of the major contemporary writers in Tamil: Mauni, Pudumaippitan, Ashokamitran, Sundara Ramaswami, Ambai, Baama and Imayam. In 2000 she received the Crossword Book Award in India, for her translation of Karukku by Bama. Founder Trustee of SALIDAA (South Asian Diaspora Literature and Arts Archive). Royal Literary Fund writing fellow, University of East Anglia, 2003-5.
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