Accepted Paper:

A woman at the crossroads: reformist ideals and narrative strategies in A. Madhaviah's biographical novel "Clarinda"  


Matthias Frenz (Studienstiftung des deutschen Volkes / University of Edinburgh)

Paper short abstract:

Madhaviah’s biographical novel “Clarinda” narrates the life story of a women on the threshold between Hindu and Christian traditions, torn between Indian and European worldviews. The paper analyses the authors vision for society and individual and how his ideals are woven into the literary fabric.

Paper long abstract:

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries authors in the Tamil speaking area of India shaped the awareness for a peculiar Tamil identity and simultaneously grappled with the encroaching ambivalent European 'modernity'. A. Madhaviah (1872-1925) is one of the important writers, who adopted European literary forms like the the biographical novel to voice their critique of Indian society and project their ideals. Madhaviah's English novel "Clarinda" (1915) narrates the life story of a historical figure, a Brahmin widow who converted to Protestant Christianity in the late 18th century. Madhaviah juxtaposes the traditional Brahmin society of Tanjavur with colonial circles of European soldiers and Christian missionaries. Clarinda overcomes problematic ideas and practices of both Hindus and Christians and thus becomes a model for a humane and enlightened woman. Beginning with a short exploration of the historical and literary context of author and novel, the paper will pinpoint the ideal Madhaviah propagates for the individual and for society at the crossroads of the colonial and religious encounter. The focus of the paper will be on the analysis of literary means and strategies the author employs in "Clarinda" to construct a persuasive biography-centered narrative in which the significance and value of gender, caste, and religion is redefined. Of particular interest will be the question what role Christianity and conversion play for the Hindu writer. Arguably, Madhaviah's ideal is neither tied to Christianity nor to Hinduism, but he propagates to get orientation from the most noble ideas of both traditions.

Panel P47
Of saints, converts, and heroes: hagiographies and conversion auto/biographies across religions in South Asia