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98 c h a p t e r 6 Toward a Feminist Modernity The Religious-­ Erotic Politics of the Modernesque Novel The specter of Charulata, the protagonist of Rabindranath Tagore’s Nashtanir (The Broken Nest), haunts this project. In chapter 1 I gestured to Charulata as a figure whose unrealized, inchoate desire for companionship and illicit yet never fully realized liaison with her brother-­ in-­ law disrupt nationalist and imperialist models of the asexual , pious woman as the proverbial “angel in the house.” Just as Charulata ’s sexual desires exceed the frame of wifehood set out for her by her society, the figures of the widow, the wife, and the courtesan in the social reform novel disrupt reformist attempts to recuperate “fallen” women, as their agentive practices refuse the narrative trajectory of victimhood so common to the reformist novel. The social reformers’ desire to remake women into bastions of virtue and spirituality was a response to colonial criticisms of Indian society . More problematically this attempt to shore up the Indian “angel in the house” was meant to overturn the colonial relation by creating the home as the site of Indian spirituality, the antithesis to the corrupt world of British politics. However, the ideological drama played out in the social reform novel is fraught with tension, since the protagonists’ articulations of agency refuse definitions of the political and the religious that construct the dichotomy of the home and the world. I suggest that this religiously inflected, specifically feminine mode of agency disrupts contemporaneous theorizations of nineteenth-­ century modernity , which are premised on patriarchal constructions of the political Toward a Feminist Modernity ❘ 99 and the religious. In its stead I offer a paradigm of feminist modernity that draws on my reading of the social reform novel. This modernity could not be encapsulated within extant literary forms. Thus the Bengali and Urdu novels became the site for an ideological battle about the “reformed” woman and also a site wherein reformer-­ novelists battled old and new ideas about literary form and, in the case of the Urdu novel, its relation to women’s morality. I redefine the reformist novel as modernesque because it innovates with literary form and genre to accommodate new theorizations of modernity. The continuing relevance of these social reform novels is evident in South Asia, where they have been made and remade into films in both the colonial and postcolonial nation. In each of these cinematic iterations we see the nation-­ state’s anxieties about the “women’s question” at the historical moment of the film’s production. R et hink ing Nationalist Discourse One of the most influential studies of Indian nationalism is Partha Chatterjee’s Nationalism: A Derivative Discourse, where he argues that nationalism in the subcontinent was not, as Benedict Anderson claims, a derivative discourse but rather was defined by its “difference with the ‘modular’ forms of the national society propagated by the modern West.”1 In the Indian context this was manifest in the decidedly spiritual nature of nationalist discourse, which was associated with women. Chatterjee’s theory is well known; less well known is that it is based on Bankimchandra’s colonial history of the nation, in which the (Hindu) Indian nation is essentially spiritual, while the Western world is material. In an essay on Bankimchandra, Chatterjee writes that this was a “cultural ideal which retained what was thought to be distinctively Indian, while subsuming what was valuable in the culture of the West.”2 Chatterjee reads Bankimchandra’s work as making a definitive dichotomy between India and the West, perhaps because Chatterjee reads Bankimchandra’s ideas through his role in the colonial state—­ he was a deputy magistrate by profession and a staunch Hindu Brahman by faith. I suggest, however, that far from being fixed and mutually exclusive, these identities were in constant flux. We see this in Bankimchandra’s 1879 essay “Samya” (Equality), on widow remarriage: “We shall say widow remarriage is neither good or bad; that every widow should 100 ❘ Toward a Feminist Modernity get married is never good, but it is good that all widows should have a right to marry if they so wish.”3 Through complex intellectual convolutions , Bankimchandra decides neither in favor of nor against widow remarriage, a stance that is also visible in the narrative dissolution and ideological incoherence of his widow remarriage novel. His views on colonialism and social reform were by no means ideologically coherent . However, in his formulation of the nation, Chatterjee solidifies Bankimchandra’s...


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