In 1857, Baba Padamji wrote a novel YamunaParyatan, meaning Voyage over Yamuna. This was not only the first novel in Marathi but it was also the first Indian novel. A novel is supposed to deal with the manifold problems in the relationship between the life of an individual and the society. The author of a novel wants to take definite moralistic view about such problems and deliver a message. The novel YamunaParyatan is a good example of this. This novel brings the life of the then Hindu widows under spotlight. The Hindu widows had to live a tough life. This has been amply and powerfully depicted by the author through the viewpoint of the heroin Yamuna. This tradition laid by Baba Padamji was ably followed by many authors later. Hari Narayan Apte, Vaman Malhar Joshi, Sane Guruji, Vibhawari Shirurkar, Bhau Padhye, Anant Kadam, Deenanath Manohar and many other authors enriched this tradition.
The next prominent author to carry forward the tradition of the novel was Lakshmanshastri Moreshwarshastri Halbe. His Muktamala (1861) is one of his outstanding works. To quote critique Bhalchandra Nemade: “This novel creates a tradition to depict through an entertaining story, reality as it exists through imaginary storyline”. This style of writing fiction was taken further by authors – Phadake, Kahandekar, Madkholkar, Bhave, Purushottam Shivram Rege, Khanolakar, Ranganath Deshpande, Madhav Kanitkar, Chandrakant Kakodakar, Yogini Jogalekar, Kusum Abhyankar and many others.
Trend of fictional novels
R. B. Gunjikar published his novel Mochangadh in 1871. It was the beginning of the fictional genre of novels based on non-existing virtual creations of situations and characters. Gunjikar, Chintaman V Vaidya, Nathmadhav, V. V. Hadap, Ranajit Desai, V. S. Khandekar, Manamohan Natu, N. S. Inamdar, Shivaji Savant, G. N. Dandekar, Baburao Arnalkar, Narayan Dharap, and Shrikant Sinkar followed this trend.
There were about 700 novels published during 1874 – 1920. Before Hari Narayan Apte (i.e. before 1850), the novels were based on romantic stories and out-of-world phenomenon. This can be gleaned from some titles, - Prembandhan, Suvarnmalini, Shrungarmanjiri, Manoranjak Rajahans and Vijaya, Mauktikmala and Madanvilas, Piyushbhashini and Madiramanjiri to quote some.
At the same time those who learned English were influenced by the English literature. Fiction written by the popular English novelist Reynolds were converted and translated in Marathi. To name some – Seamstress was translated as Vajreshwari and Soldier’s Wife was translated as VeerPatni.
Before Hari Narayan Apte (1879) a novel written by Mahadeo Vitthal Rahalkar is particularly worth mentioning. Its title was Narayanrao and Godawari. It was skillfully structured, woven with interesting characters, appropriate events and true to life realistic atmosphere.
Genre of social and historical novels
The Indian National Congress was established in 1885. Nationalistic thoughts became prevalent in the country. Writings of Agarkar, Gokhale and Ranade threw a spotlight on social reforms prominently in the minds of the people. This was a proper atmosphere for novels based on the social and historical themes of Haribhau Apate. His four novels – Ganapatrao, Pan Lakshat Kon Gheto, Mee, and Yashwantrao Khare were based on social problems. Ushahkal, Suryoday and Gad Ala Pan Sinha Gela - were based on historical stories. These were very popular and the author became very renowned. His contribution to literature is indeed noteworthy.
Growing popularity of novels
Due to the novels of Haribhau Apte novel as literature became very popular. To satiate the hunger of the readers for the novels many new serial publications of books like Manoranjak ani Neetipar Pustakmala (1889), Manoranjak Granthprasarak Mandalichi Pustakmala (1902), BharatGauraw Granthmala (1910) started.
These made a splendid job of making novels very popular.
Narayan Hari Apte was another author who wrote many novels based on social and historical themes. Some are - Waibhavachya Kondanat, Bhagyashri, Yala Karan Shikshana, and Pahatepurvicha Kalokh. These show his honesty to the purpose and the passion he had for awakening the society.
After Narayan Hari Apte many authors wrote fiction dealing with social problems like women’s education, widow remarriage, adult-child marriage etc. Few prominent amongst them can be listed here – Dwarkanath Madhav Chitale alias NathMadhav, V. C. Gurjar, W. G. Apte. Through his novels - Sawlya Tandel, Wihangwrunda, Doctor Kadambari, Wimalechi GruhaDasha, Nathmadhav deals with women’s education, widow remarriage, adult and child marriage and similar issues which were being debated then. However he is known more amongst the Marathi readers for his historical novels than these social novels. Swarajyacha ShriGanesha, Swarajyachi Ghatana are famous novels. Devata, Shashanka, Jeevansandhya, Asar Sansar are famous novels translated from Bengali by V. C. Gurjar. V. G. Apte also has transformed Bengali novels into Marathi. He has translated complete works of Bankimchandra into Marathi.
The then womenfolk in Maharashtra were educated enough for writing creative literature. Contemporary of Haribhau Apate was Kashitai Kanitkar. RangaRao was the novel published by her.
Many novels in those days were written using technical skills to gain popularity. Waman Malhar Joshi however wrote Ragini a novel perhaps technically faulty but he included thought provoking and philosophical discussions amongst the characters in the novel. It appeared in a serial format in the monthly magazine Manoranjan from 1914. This novel gave a boost to similar novels with philosophical discussions. After this novel Waman Malhar Joshi wrote Ashramharini (1916), and Nalini (1920). His heroines were bright, learned and promoted women’s emancipation fearlessly. His novels critically brought forward many undesirable social practices and traditions then existing in the society. He brought technical aesthetics to the novels through - Sushilecha Deo and Indu Kale and Sarala Bhole. His novels have an important place because he discusses and promotes progressive social philosophy. Credit goes to him for putting forward sympathetically problems regarding women’s suffering in their life. He depicted a woman in dilemma struggling to live honourably in the traditional framework laid by the society. Particularly in Sushilecha Deo he has imagined a modern sophisticated woman with an impressive personality.
Professor Narayan Seetaram Phadake was a very popular Marathi novelist with a strong opinion that a novel should have a definite purpose and structure. His first novel Kulabyachi Dandi was published in 1925. After that he wrote near about seventy novels. His novels were artfully designed and full of mild surprises, constantly keeping the reader riveted with curiosity and suspense. The stories were skilfully woven and full of romance. The dialogues were true to life using cajoling and endearing language. These qualities in his writing made him a very popular fiction writer. Many of his novels- Atakepar, Daulat, Jadugar, Uddhar, Niranjan etc became very popular and many editions were published later.
Contemporary to Prof. Phadake was V. S. Khandekar was another Marathi novelist. His first novel Hrudayachi Hak was first published in 1930. After that Kanchanmrug, Don Dhruwa, Ulka, Hirwa Chapha, Don Mane, Krounchywadha, Amrut Wel, Yayati and other novels were published. His heroes were brave and dedicated to a goal and the heroines were beautiful, and selfless. It was evident from his novels that he was very sympathetic to the downtrodden and oppressed. His novel Yayati received Dnyanpeeth award instituted by the government of India.
Along with Phadake and Khandekar G. T. Madkholkar was also a successful novelist. His novels - Muktatma, Nave Sansar, Swapnantarita, Nagkanya, Bhangalele Deul, etc were quite well known. Successful playwright B. V. Vrerkar wrote very popular novels Widhavakumari and Dhavata Dhota. Through his plays he dramatized the social problems. He described hard life of mill workers in Marathi novels.
V. V. Hadap and P. L. Deshpande also wrote novels in those days. Women novelists- Kamalabai Bambewale, Indirabai Sahsrbuddhe, Janakibai Desai, Shantabai Nashikkar, Anandibai Jayawant and Kumudini Ranganekar touched the sorrows of women and the injustice they were subjected to. It was natural that women authors gave vent to women’s emotions and sorrows through their novels.
All the above named novelists made the reader aware of progressive and modern thinking about social problems and age-old traditions. They used the entertaining medium of novel for social education and upliftment of the society appropriately.
After 1930 a wave of modern thinking was very prominently being spread in Maharashtra. At that time Hindolyawar a novel written by Vibhawari Shirurkar was published (1934). This event started a critical debate through public meetings, newspaper articles and other media giving favourable opinion or strongly criticizing the novel. She had written the novel under a pen name guarding her identity and people were curious to know who the author was, whether a man or a woman. Earlier collection of her short stories Kalyanche Nihshawas also received adverse criticism. In Hindolyawar, Vibhawari Shirurkar has handled the sensitive problems in the life of the hero and the heroin with sympathy and wisdom. She has dealt with them rationally. In 1950 she wrote Bali, a social novel.
While reviewing this novel famous critique Kusumavati Deshpande says “This novel will induce change in the Marathi novels and will bring to it power hitherto not seen”.
Geeta Sane, Maltibai Dandekar, Krushnabai More, Sarojini Babar and others were also writing novels at that time. All their writing was mainly oriented towards women’s life and problems. It reflected changed environments in the society due to wide spread education.
The influence of western way of life was being widely accepted and was evident in the writings, especially about the man-woman relationship. However the old values like selflessness, sacrifice. brotherhood, equality etc. were stressed in the writings of Saneguruji (Pandurang Sadashiv Sane). In his Shyamchi Aai, Dhadpadnari Mule, Jeevankalah, Aastik, God Shevat, Sati etc he described pensive but goal oriented characters.
R. V Dighe in his novels Pankala, Sarai, and Nisargkanyan Ranjai, describes nature and characters in rural areas of Maharashtra. Vishram Bedekar in his novel Ranangan demonstrates a different style and creativity. B. S. Mardhekar who developed a new style of poetry (neo poetry) wrote Pani, Tambadi Mati and Ratricha Divas in which he has experimented with bringing in stream of consciousness technique in Marathi literature.
G. N. Dandekar and S. N. Pendse in the later years gave a different direction to Marathi novel. Novels – Shitu, Padhghavali, Mogara Phulala, Elgar, Poornamayachi Lekare, Machivaracha Budha, Mrunmayi Haddapar and Garambicha bapu written by Dandekar became very popular with the readers. S. N. Pendse became known for his novels as a regional novelist. His novels – Elgar, Haddapar, Garambicha Bapu were given a place of honour in Marathi literature. His views that relationship between individuals should be broad based and liberal in the interest of the society and the individuals themselves are evident in his novels.
After1960 Marathi novel depicts reality and modern values in life today. The matter in it is worldly and factual and writing style is given subordinate place to the purport and intent. So the novels after 1960 naturally depict factual representation and are of good quality. These include- Dhag by Uddhav Shelake (1960), Manus by Manohar Talhar (1963), Dombaryacha Khel by Bhau Padhye (1960), Karanta (1961), Vaitagwadi (1964), Vasunaka (1965) by Barister Anirudha Dhopeshwarkar (1967), Homesick Brigade (1974), Rada (1975), Vanava (1978) by A. V. Joshi, Kalokhache Anga (1966) by Prabhakar Pendharkar, Are Sansar (1971) by Kiran Nagarkar, Sat Sakkam Bechalis (1974), Kide (1971), Srot (1977), Pakharu (1979), Robot (1976) by Deenanath Manohar. Ratrandin Amha by Kamal Desai and Rita Welankar by Shanta Gokhale also present powerfully new contemporary themes. Jayawant Dalawi, T. V. Deshmukh also convey the same. The broad based factual representation in their novels has added progressive dimension to the Marathi literature. Common people like a rickshaw driver (in Manus), ordinary labourer (in Dombaryacha Khel, Karanta), a clerk (in Waitagwadi), hoodlums and unemployed youth (in Wasunaka), a soldier (in Robot), rural women (in Dhag, Manus), have been presented for the first time in these novels. Novels like - Kosala, Bidar, Zool, Jaril written by Bhalchandra Nemade depicts existentialist heroes. They factually describe the individual and the society encompassing him. The sense of futility and alienation in these characters were seen for the first time in Marathi novels.
After 1980, man-woman relationship and women’s changing life style are dealt with by Gauri Deshpande, Saniya and Asha Bage. This new awareness is also seen in the writings of new generation women writers like Meghana Pethe and Kavita Mahajan. Bra and Bhinna by Kavita Mahajan and Naticharami by Meghana Pethe have given new hopes.