Academic journal article ARIEL

"Things of Stylized Beauty": The Novels of Sudhin N. Ghose and the Fragments of an Indian Tradition

Academic journal article ARIEL

"Things of Stylized Beauty": The Novels of Sudhin N. Ghose and the Fragments of an Indian Tradition

Article excerpt

Abstract: Sudhin N. Ghose's tetralogy of novels, published between the late 1940s and 1950s, was once hailed by reviewers as among the best representations of Indian English literature. Now, however, Chose and his novels have been almost completely forgotten. The disappearance of a body of work praised so highly just five decades ago is a curious phenomenon. Even more curious is the strange and persistent mis-categorisation of Ghose's novels. From the moment of their publication, the novels have been (mis)read as autobiographies, and thus have never been explored as part of the otherwise thoroughly mapped terrain of twentieth-century Indian English fiction. This article brings renewed focus to Ghose's novels and probes the causes of their initial success and subsequent failure to achieve widespread circulation, attract a substantial amount of critical attention, or even find a place in the category of Indian English fiction. It is an attempt to read the novels as part of the canon of twentieth century Indian English fiction and the larger context of the metropolitan "alterity industry" through which the image of "traditional" India has been produced and consumed for the last two centuries. It is also an attempt to explain why Ghose's novels stand out as unique specimens that do not easily conform to any available category of Anglophone Indian literature.

Introduction: Addressing a Blind Spot

Sudhin N. Ghose (1899-1965) is a rare instance of a twentieth-century Indian English novelist who has been almost completely forgotten. Such oblivion is intriguing given that, since the 1930s, the novel has emerged as the defining genre of Indian English literature. It has received an enormous amount of critical attention; since the 1971 publication of Meenakshi Mukherjee's seminal study, The Twice Born Fiction, numerous monographs have mapped the history of the genre as it has unfolded over the past century and a half. Mukherjee's work makes brief mention of Ghose, but more contemporary studies, such as Priyamvada Gopal's recent survey of Anglophone Indian fiction and Makarand Paranjape's attempt to reconstruct the canon of twentieth-century Indian English novels, completely disregard his work. However, despite such neglect, he cannot be simply dismissed as an obscure figure. During the late 1940s and 1950s Ghose published four novels within a six year span, each of which was highly praised by contemporary reviewers both in Britain and America. Indeed his work formed an integral part of the first major wave of Indian English fiction that reached its apex during the mid-twentieth century. Novelists such as Mulk Raj Anand, R. K. Narayan, and Raja Rao began publishing in the 1930s, and over the next two decades novelists including Aubrey Menen, G. V. Desani, Bhabani Bhattacharya, Attia Hosain, and Kamala Markandaya joined the ranks. Ghose was one of the most prominent writers among this new group of novelists who either wrote from within or had spent a considerable part of their formative years in Britain. Recently at least two studies have focused exclusively on South Asian writers writing from Britain: Susheila Nasta's Home Truths and Ruvani Ranasinha's South Asian Writers in Twentieth-Century Britain. Yet, although Ghose lived and worked in London for the final twenty-five years of his life, neither text refers to him.

The only major publication of the last decade that mentions Ghose is a history of Indian literature in English edited by Arvind Mehrotra. Leela Gandhi, who authors a chapter in the text on novelists of the 1930s and 1940s, concludes her section on Ghose by noting that "[w]hile Ghose has been effectively forgotten within India, his work was well received in Europe and North America. However, few critics regarded his tetralogy as novels, preferring to praise them as memoirs or autobiographical sketches') (189). Gandhi's appraisal is both slightly misleading and suggestive of the enigma that surrounds Ghose's reputation (or rather the absence of it) as a novelist. …

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