Fiction as History

The Novel and the City in Modern North India

By Vasudha Dalmia

Subjects: India And South Asian Studies, Hindu Studies, History, Literature
Hardcover : 9781438476056, 458 pages, August 2019
Paperback : 9781438476063, 458 pages, July 2020

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Table of contents


Introduction: North Indian Cities and the Hindi Novel

Part I. Towards Modernity
1. Merchant Lives in Mughal Agra and British Delhi

2. Wife and Courtesan in Banaras

3. The Holy City as the Field of Action

4. Lahore, Delhi, and the Bitter Truth of Independence

Part II. Modernist Conundrums
5. City, Civilization, and Nature

6. Culture Wars and a Cult Novel

7. On the Rooftops of Agra

8. Culture, Claustrophobia, and the New Capital of the Nation


Explains the Hindi novel’s role in anticipating and creating the story of middle-class modernity and modernization in North India.


Vasudha Dalmia offers a panoramic view of the intellectual and cultural life of North India over a century, from the aftermath of the 1857 uprising to the end of the Nehruvian era. The North's historical cities, rooted in an Indo-Persianate culture, began changing more slowly than the Presidency towns founded by the British. Dalmia takes up eight canonical Hindi novels set in six of these cities—Agra, Allahabad, Banaras, Delhi, Lahore, and Lucknow—to trace a literary history of domestic and political cataclysms. Her exploration of the emerging Hindu middle classes, changing personal and professional ambitions, and new notions of married life provides a vivid sense of urban modernity. She argues that the radical social transformations associated with post-1857 urban restructuring, and the political flux resulting from social reform, Gandhian nationalism, communalism, Partition, and the Cold War shaped the realm of the intimate as much as the public sphere. Love and friendship, notions of privacy, attitudes to women's work, and relationships within households are among the book's major themes.

Vasudha Dalmia is Professor Emerita of Hindi and Modern South Asian Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. She has written, edited, and translated many books, including Hindu Pasts: Women, Religion, Histories, also published by SUNY Press; The Nationalization of Hindu Traditions: Bhāratendu Hariśchandra and Nineteenth-Century Banaras; and Poetics, Plays, and Performances: The Politics of Modern Indian Theatre.


"Fiction as History is a carefully crafted book, in which Vasudha Dalmia weaves together a social history of urban North India by bringing together strands of knowledge located in diverse disciplinary practices … Damlia's effort is unquestionably praiseworthy on another count, as the book introduces eight significant Hindi novels to the English-speaking world." — Pacific Affairs