‘Sons of Bengal’ and the Absent Daughters: Gender, Performativity and Nationalism in Bengali Juvenile Literature



This article looks at the asymmetrical bifurcation of gender roles and performativity that is reflected palpably within Bengali juvenile literature of the twentieth century. These writings strove to venerate a cult of hypermasculinity through the portrayal of brave, assertive Bengali heroes who engaged in various escapades in distant lands or in the solving of mysteries and crimes, either alone or accompanied by male confidantes who remain completely devoted to them. This dominant cultural trope was consciously employed as a challenge to the imperial, racist stereotypes of the effeminate Bengali man who was imagined to be inferior to the virile, robust and intellectually superior Englishman. However, the role of women within such diegetic portrayals is liminal or conspicuously absent; female readers are conditioned to “wallow in the reflected glory of their heroes” (Mukherjee para. 13). This paper also looks into the politics of sexuality and nationalism involved within the celebration of male homosocial bonding over heteronormative relationships, thereby leading to the almost complete effacement of female agency.


Bengali juvenile literature, hypermasculinity, racist stereotypes, sexual politics, nationalism, male homosocial bonding, female agency


Bengali Children’s Periodicals (Archival Sources)

(1869-1873). Jyotiringan, Hiteshranjan Sanyal Memorial Archive, CSSSC Library, Kolkata.

DEVI, GNANADANANDINI, editor (1885). Balak, Rare Book Division, The National Library, Kolkata.

GHOSH, JOGENDRANATH, editor (1866-1869). Abodh-bandhu, Hiteshranjan Sanyal Memorial Archive, CSSSC Library, Kolkata.

RAY, BHUBANMOHAN, editor (1894). Sakha O Sathi, Rare Book Collections, Bangiya Sahitya Parishad Library, Kolkata.

SEN, BRAHMANANDA KESHAB CHANDRA, editor (1878-1891). Balak-bandhu, Rare Book Division, The National Library, Kolkata.

SEN, PRAMADCHARAN, editor (1883-1892). Sakha, Hiteshranjan Sanyal Memorial Archive, CSSSC Library, Kolkata.

SHASTRI, SHIBNATH AND HEMCHANDRA SARKAR, editors (1895-1899). Mukul, Rare Book Division, The National Library, Kolkata.

Print and Web Sources

BAGCHI, JASODHARA (1993). “Socialising the Girl Child in Colonial Bengal”, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 28, No. 41, 2214-2219. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/4400259> accessed 7 March 2019.

BANDOPADHYAY, SIBAJI (2007). Bangla Sishu Sahityer Choto Meyera, Kolkata: Gangchil.

BASU, BANI (comp) (1924). Bāmlā Śiśu Sāhitya Granthapaňjī (A Bibliography of Bengali Books for Children and Young Adults), Kolkata: Bangiya Granthagar Parishad.

BISWAS, STELLA CHITRALEKHA (2019). “A Gendered Space: A Critical Study of Juvenile Periodicals in Colonial Bengal”. National Conference on Feminist Research Approaches to Gender Studies, Chennai, India. Unpublished conference paper. University of Madras, Chennai, 2019.

CHATTOPADHYAY, SAAYAN (2011). “Bengali Masculinity and the National-Masculine: Some Conjectures for Interpretation”, South Asia Research, Vol. 31, No. 3, 265-279. https://doi.org/10.1177/026272801103100305 accessed 6 January 2021.

CHATTOPADHYAY, SUHRID SANKAR (2017). Frontline: India’s National Magazine. <https://frontline.thehindu.com/arts-and-culture/rays-alter-ego/article9711308.ece> accessed 6 January 2021.

CHOWDHURY, INDIRA (1998). The Frail Hero and Virile History: Gender and the Politics of Culture in Colonial Bengal, New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

CHOWDHURY, SAYANDEB (2015). “Ageless Hero, Sexless Man: A Possible Pre-History and Three Hypotheses on Satyajit Ray’s Feluda”, South Asian Review, Vol. 36, No. 1, 109-130. https://doi.org/10.1080/02759527.2015.11933006 accessed 6 January 2021.

“Culture: Bengal” (2019). SFE: The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. <http://www.sf-enclyclopedia.com/archives/bengal/179288> accessed 2 May 2019.

DEY, PROVASH RONJAN (1978). Children’s Literature of Bengal, Kolkata: Academy for Documentation and Research on Children’s Literature.

FERRALL, CHARLES AND ANNA JACKSON (2010). Juvenile Literature and British Society, 1850-1950: The Age of Adolescence, London: Routledge.

GANGOPADHYAY, GARGI (2012). Reading Leisure: A Print Culture for Children in Colonial Bengal, Jadavpur University, Doctoral thesis. <http://hdl.handle.net/10603/142702> accessed 7 March 2019.

GHOSH, CHILKA (2016). “Mythologies of Childhood: Bengali Juvenile Magazines of the Last Two Decades”, In: Züleyha Çetiner-Öktem (ed). Mythmaking Across Boundaries, London: Cambridge Scholars Publishing: 114-131.

KUTZER, DAPHNE M. (2000). Empire’s Children: Empire and Imperialism in Classic British Children’s Book, New York: Garland Publishing Inc.

MITRA, ROHINI (2010). “Bengali Adventure Stories”, Arcanum. <http://rohinimitra.blogspot.com/2010/08/bengali-adventure-stories.html?m=1> accessed 7 March 2019.

MUKHERJEE, ANUPARNA (2018). “Masculinity and ‘Mute’ Females in Bengali Children’s Fiction”, Ethos Literary Journal, Vol. 6, n.p. <https://www.ethosliterary.org/november-2018/nonfiction/masculinity-and-mute-females-in-bengali-childrens-fiction> accessed 7 Mar. 2019.

RAY, SATYAJIT (1979). Hatyapuri, Kolkata: Ananda Publishers, 1981.

--- (1974). Kailashey Kelengkari, Kolkata: Ananda Publishers.

ROY, GAUTAM CHANDO (2018). “Science for Children in a Colonial Context: Bengali Juvenile Magazines, 1883-1923”, BJHS: Themes, Vol. 3, 43-72. https://doi.org/10.1017/bjt.2018.6 accessed 7 March 2019.

ROY, HEMENDRA KUMAR (1933). Abar Jaker Dhan: Kumar-Bimaler Adventure, Kolkata: Dev Sahitya Kutir Pvt. Ltd., 2001.

--- (1924). Jaker Dhan: Hemendra Kumar Roy Rachanabali 1 (The Hemendra Kumar Roy Omnibus, 1), Kolkata: Asia Publishing Co., 1984.

SARKAR. HARENDRA K. (1923). Heroes of Bengal, Kolkata: Kamala Book Depot Ltd.

SINHA, MRINALINI (1995). Colonial Masculinities: The Manly Englishman and the Effeminate Bengali in the Late Nineteenth Century, Manchester: Manchester University Press.

SMITH. MICHELLE J. (2011). Empire in British Girls’ Literature and Culture: Imperial Girls, 1880-1915, London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Author Biography

Stella Chitralekha Biswas, Central University of Gujarat, India

PhD Scholar in Comparative Literature & Trnslation Studies, Central University of Gujarat. Research interests include gender studies, sexuality archives, colonial archives, juvenile literature, speculative fiction, pedagogical discourses, etc.




Download data is not yet available.