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Ghosh, Sutanuka (2007) Becoming a Bengali Woman: Exploring Identities in Bengali Women's Fiction 1930-1955. PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI:

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History seldom tells the story of ordinary men far less ordinary women. This thesis explores the tales of ordinary middle class Hindu Bengali women and their different experiences of the period 1930-1955 through fiction written by women. To undermine the logic of colonialism the Indian nationalist movement had sought to project an image of a modern, progressive, egalitarian society while also holding on to its distinctive cultural identity. The fulfilment of these twin objectives hinged on Indian women. Consequently Bengali women found themselves negotiating different objectives that required them to be 'modern' as well as patient, self-sacrificing, pure and faithful like Sita. They were engaging with varied powerful images as they tried to construct their identity since there was no general consensus as to what the Bengali woman ought to be. In the spheres of female education, nationalist politics, women's work and the family and community the dominant sections tried to fashion women according to their ideology. The novels convey the contradictory prescriptions women experienced. In many cases women had radically different aspirations and they manipulated these prescriptions to carve identities that were at odds with the prescriptive mould. They resisted attempts at feminising education, participated directly in revolutionary activities instead of merely sympathising and took to waged work instead of becoming dependants. Yet they continued to see themselves as familial entities even when it was possible for them to establish their identities as individuals with education, political and legal rights and economic independence. The perimeter of the Bengali woman's identity was extended but her emotional landscape continued to treasure her roles as daughter, wife and mother. The radical potential that middle class Bengali women exhibited in the 1930s, 40s and 50s, with their political activism, and in the wake of the Bengal famine and the freedom and partition of the country, thus became subsumed under the image of the 'complete' woman who packed into her life many things including the duties of a daughter, wife and mother. The novels demonstrate considerable change in the dynamics of gender relationships, yet for many women the 'brave new world' remained a distant dream.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses > Proquest
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 12 Oct 2020 17:19

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