Tuesday, November 11, 2008
fiction as social commentary, a mirror of reality
Fiction - including poetry - should be taken just as seriously as facts-based research, according to the team from Manchester University and the London School of Economics (LSE).
Novels should be required reading because fiction "does not compromise on complexity, politics or readability in the way that academic literature sometimes does," said Dr Dennis Rodgers from Manchester University's Brooks World Poverty Institute.
"While fiction may not always show a set of presentable research findings, it does not compromise on complexity, politics or readability in the way that academic literature sometimes does.
"And fiction often reaches a much larger and diverse audience than academic work and may therefore be more influential in shaping public knowledge and understanding of development issues."
Tom Clougherty, policy director of the Adam Smith Institute, said fiction was "a useful tool in aiding people's understanding, sparking their interest, and humanising issues".
But he warned: "There's a problem. Fiction works by appealing to people's emotions, not their intellect or rationality."
I am now reading Swarnakumari Debi Ghoshal's 'An Unfinished Song.'. Oxford University Press Classic re-issue.
Swarnakumari was Rabindranath Tagore's own sister. Born in 1856 in a progressive family of her times, she was educated in the 'zenana' by private teachers, and was married off at 11 years. She lived in purdah or semi purdah thruoghout her life.
Yet she wrote many books (begun well before her more famous brother appeared on the literary scene) and edited a popular intellectual magazine for decades. She also actively contributed to social work, and helped the cause of widows and female education.
The novel, translated by the author herself into English, portrays a remarkable young woman who wishes to choose her husband on the stregth of his moral character rather than social compulsions. It's a very readable book even today.
A radical idea for those times, when very few women in progressive uppr class families of Bengal had limited access to Western education. Child marriage was the norm, and Indian women had a social position far inferior to what they enjoy today. This heroine would have been a pathbreaker, a rebel. Yet she does this within the patriarchial framework.
Another work of fiction showing us how life would really have been in the past. Or perhaps this is also the athor's dream of how she would have wanted life to be.
No doubt the author's perspective is necessarily limited by her personal experiences and the strata of society in which she has been brought up.
But fiction such as this throws new light on the human side of history and sociology.