Ashokan Nambiar Cheveri: Historicising Newness – The Emergence of a Modern Literary Space within Malayalam, c. 1880-1920

My current project involves writing a history of the new literary space that emerged within Malayalam, the major language of the south Indian state of Kerala, in the final decades of nineteenth century following the spread of a print culture under colonialism. Contemporary writers of the time, such as C.P. Achuthamenon, were self-conscious about the rather late entry and hence minor status of Malayalam literature vis-à-vis that of Tamil and Sanskrit. Editorials in early literary periodicals, such as Vidyavinodini, established in 1889, and Bhashaposhini, established in 1882,appealed to the writers of the time to take concerted efforts to nourish Malayalam literature and encouraged them to write prose; early novels in Malayalam emerged during this period. However, it needs to be noted that Malayalam prose emerged at a time when the domain of writing was yet not divided into that of prose and verse. We know that this division was established from the coming of the modern – prose is now mainly used to express non-literary, scientific ideas, and a specific division in the realm of literature happens when literary forms like the short story and the novel are written in prose and poetry in verse. A specific characteristic of the new Malayalam prose that emerged in the final decades of the nineteenth century is evident in its auditory character and in the numerous verse forms like sloka that punctuate prose forms like the essay, the short story and the novel. This verse was also used to write newspaper editorials, news reports, letters, and literary reviews. This research attempts to write a history of this specific “modern” (in the sense of it being new) literary space that began to disappear as twentieth century advanced.

Ashokan Nambiar Cheveri has a Ph.D. in English from Delhi University on a thesis titled “Print, Communities and the Novel in Nineteenth-century Kerala.” His areas of interest include literary history, print culture, and the historical interface between the realms of the social, the literary and the political in late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century Kerala, a south Indian state. He is currently engaged in work that aims to think about the constitution of modernity in nineteenth-century Kerala in newer ways. He has taught in Delhi University and was a Charles Wallace Visiting Fellow at King’s India Institute, King’s College London.


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