Modernist Transitions: Cultural Encounters between British and Bangla Modernist Fiction from 1910s to 1950s

Subhadeep Ray's picture
Call for Papers
November 1, 2021 to December 20, 2021
Subject Fields: 
Cultural History / Studies, Humanities, Asian History / Studies, East Asian History / Studies, World History / Studies

Modernist Transitions: Cultural Encounters between British and Bangla Modernist Fiction from 1910s to 1950s

Edited Volume

Volume Editors: Dr Subhadeep Ray and Dr Goutam Karmakar


The proposed anthology of research articles intends to be a critical reader focusing on the continuities and discontinuities, confirmations and confrontations, crossovers and collisions, appropriations, adaptations, and assimilations in the cultural transitions between British and Bangla modernist fiction within the context of the imperial modernity of first half of the twentieth century, to which both of these aesthetic movements respond as cultural productions of probably the two most important centres of the British empire. The project aspires to illuminate those thematic and structural areas where these two kinds of modernism, each widely diverse and ideologically convoluted but conditioned in many ways by common socio-historical catastrophes and promises, interact each other to constitute an “aesthetics of motion and dissonance” – to use a phrase of Peter Kalliney’s Modernism in a Global Context (Bloomsbury, 2016).

The British modernist fiction of the early twentieth century can be assessed to be playing an instrumental role, mainly because of Britain’s privileged position as the possessor of the most expansive and organised global empire. But if the panoramic view of British fiction correlated to the fact that national, linguistic, and social borders were crossed in the concerned period more than in any previous phase in history, the ‘marginal’ identities of a host of modernist artists had never left their approaches to the middle-aged-white-male-imperial-British-culture unequivocal. For the Poland born early-modernist English novelist Joseph Conrad, every utterance floats in a sea of indeterminacies and ambiguities, and every sensation is deceptive and impressionistic,


as the author himself is torn between a calculated attempt to assimilate into his adoptive culture and an irresistible ‘other’ within. Undergoing different sorts of ‘othering’ in relation to the so-called mainstream English culture and possessing a characteristic inclination towards the inaccessible and incomprehensible, and a common “gaze of mutual antipathy” (to quote Richard Aldington’s poem “In the Tube”) towards bourgeois confinement, the novels and short stories of James, Conrad, Lawrence, Mansfield, Joyce, Woolf, and a host of their successors question European cultural supremacy, including colonial ethos, and simultaneously utilize the colonial other as a fundamental source to establish English authors’ aesthetic and ideological self-rehabilitation as part and parcel of a ‘master’ class.

The duality of empathy and reservation characterize the internally split perspective in British modernist fiction in respect of cultural others. Moreover, it should also be remembered, as noted by Sanjay Krishnan in Reading the Global (Columbia UP, 2007), that Britain’s perception of the ‘global’ as a mode of thematization and form developed in close connection with her hold on a new kind of territorial and commercial empire in South-Eastern Asia. Given the fact that the codes of the imperial global vision set the terms of modern aesthetic consciousness in the United Kingdom, this book project would like to develop a critical framework within which the problematic subjectivities of British writers could be studied along with one of the most culturally dynamic realizations of imperial modernity produced around arguably the ‘second capital’ of the British Empire located at its eastern end. As one of the Empire’s most prized possessions, Bengal in the inter-Wars and post-Second World War period offered a hugely complex cultural site, which while exhibiting a very intriguing sense of provinciality was underlined by a cosmopolitan perception of the world: bilet – that is, Britain/ England – as the only world beyond being gradually replaced by bidesh – the foreign in general. Though the instruments, institutions, and language of Bengali interrelationships/interactions with modernity were primarily English. This book is therefore an attempt to perceive the multiple consciousnesses of James Joyce or Graham Greene and that of Manik Bandyopadhyay or Satinath Bhaduri, all witnessing the dissolving away of a Grand Old Empire from their different national, racial, class and ideological positions, within a framework that may make sense of a globally operating field of modernism. A whole


range of issues and categories regarding narrative form and content and generic possibilities, like language, speech acts, narrative multiplicity, war, violence, migration, partition, ecology, corporeality, psyche, nation, race, class and gender within a global dialogue set by modernity comes alive if these two interconnected transnational varieties of modernism are studied in connection to each other.

Astonishingly, while Rebecca Walkowitcz’s study of 2006 has shown how the “critical cosmopolitanism” developed by English modernist novelists of the early twentieth century was revived and revised by post-1980s novelists like Kazuo Ishiguro, Salman Rusdie, and W.G. Sebald, there is no substantial comparative study of Joseph Conrad, Ford Madox Ford, D.H. Lawrence, E.M. Forster, Virginia Wolf, James Joyce, Evelyn Waugh, Graham Greene, and a cluster of other writers and the Bengali novelists of the period from late-nineteen-twenties to nineteen fifties, including Jagadish Gupta, three Bandyopadhyays – Bibhutibhusan, Tarashankar and Manik – closely followed by Balaichand Mukhopadhyay, Premendra Mitra, Adwaita Mallabarman, Sailajananda Mukhopadhyay, Satinath Bhaduri, Ashapurna Devi and many others. However, the fictional self-hood, marked by a fraught loneliness, evident in a series of English characters like Conrad’s Lord Jim, Joyce’s Stephen Daedalus, Lawrence’s Paul Morel and Woolf’s Clarissa Dalloway, finds a new dimension in the characters of Bengali modernist novels whose introduction to the colonial modernity is torn by provincial experience, like Apu in Bibhutibhusan’s Pather Panchali (The Song of the Road), Debu in Tarashankar’s Ganadevta (People’s God), Sashi in Manik’s Putul Nacher Itikatha (The Puppets’ Tale), Dhonrai in Satinath Bhaduri’s Dhonrai Charit Manas, and Subarnalata in Ashapurna Devi’s novel with the same name. These characters struggle through life’s labyrinth and are exposed to a world of mass destructions and mass revolts, as ideological crossovers between British and Bengali novelists are set by their dual consciousnesses of local and global shifts.

Therefore, the current project seeks to fill up a long-standing gap in scholarship by investigating inter- and intra-cultural differences, as well as how Bengali and English texts provide subtexts to each other, with the conviction that the radical expanse of modernism cannot be fully comprehended without a dialogic study of these two cultural phenomena, whose experiences of modernity are obviously overlapping. This is,


therefore, less a question of influence than that of what Jameson calls “awakening of new interests” (Late Marxism, 1990). We would like to keep time-frame between 1910s and 1950s: the choice of 1910 is a sort of tribute to Virginia Wolf’s abrupt marking of the modernist era, but this is also to remember the fact that in 1910 Rabindranath Tagore’s internationalist novel Gora was also published. However, Bengali fiction began to be recognisably ‘modernist’ around the period between 1928 and 1943 with the publications of Pather Panchali, Janani, Ashadhu Sidhartha, Putul Nacher Itikatha and Padma Nadir Majhi, Kalindi, Ganadevta; and different trends of fictional modernism in both British and Bengali contexts can be found to be working at least till the political transfer of power from the Raj and to the Republic and its immidiate aftermath. We are including such works as The End of the Affair and Hansuli Banker Upokatha.

Topics may include, but are not limited to, the ways Modernist Transitions intersect with the following subthemes:

  1. Canons and their fragments
  2. Nations and Empire
  3. Marginal identities and conflicting Modernities
  4. Rise of Genres and literary networks over thematic and formal crossovers
  5. Metropolis and countryside
  6. Interactions between two languages: English and Bangla