"Made in heaven": Premchand and his predecessors on spiritual union and love
Hindi novels of the 1880s-1910s highlight romantic or matrimonial union as an important, even pivotal part of each story: indeed, in formula-based novels, a wedding and/or a reunification of a couple are typically shown as the ultimate celebration of personal or social harmony (as in Parīkṣāguru by Srinivasdas or the legendary Chandrakāntā by Devakinandan Khatri). Successful and prolific Hindi writers typically employed, in their novels, a time-tested formula, which can schematically be described, after T. Todorov, as the departure from some initial harmonious state followed by a journey through chaos, towards the restoration of harmony. Premchand, known in India as “the emperor of the novel” (upanyās-samraṭ), in his early prose did not introduce any significant changes to the time-tested scheme: his Hindi novels Premā (1907), Vardān (1912), and even Sevāsadan (1918), on deep structural level, remain quite similar to the stories of his predecessors. And yet, already in his first experiments in prose, Premchand managed to introduce a major ideological and social shift, engaging the traditional narrative structures in a new way. This article looks at Premchand's first (and, many would argue, less than successful) novels, in an attempt to trace how the writer, but challenging the concept of social norm, reinvented the love-based union.