Towards a definition of Indian literary feminism : an analysis of the novels of Kamala Markandaya, Nayantara Sahgal and Anita Desai
In my thesis I study the work of Kamala Markandaya, Nayantara Sahgal and Anita Desai. I study the the formal and ideological developments of each writer individually and place her work within its social, cultural and historical context. I focus on the following four areas: 1) the formal preoccupations of each writer and her political 'message'; 2) the representation of women in their novels; 3) the intersection between Hindu ideology and ideals of passivity and suffering; 4) the treatment of specific forms of female suffering and oppression such as subordination within the joint family, sati, dowry deaths and the social ostracism of widows. I analyse seventeen texts in all: Markandaya's Nectar in a Sieve, A Silence of Desire, A Handful of Rice, Two Virgins and The Golden Honeycomb; Sahgal's autobiographies (Prison and Chocolate Cake and From Fear Set Free) and five of her novels (A Time To Be Happy, The Day in Shadow, A Situation in New Delhi, Rich Like Us and Plans For Departure); Desai's Cry The Peacock, Voices in the City, Where Shall We Go This Summer?, Clear Light of Day and In Custody. I reveal that the work of these writers shares seven key elements: formal plurality and ideological diversity; a thematic preoccupation with conceptions of nationhood; an affirmation of cultural and sexual difference; a development towards a feminist protest; the use of debate for the revaluation of national ideals; a selective form of protest; and the depiction and interrogation of fatalism and passivity. I suggest that these elements constitute a broad frame of reference in which Indo- Anglian women's literature can be set, and argue that current feminist literary theory must draw from the specific cultural and historical background of women's texts if it is to be of relevance to women from different parts of the world.