ABSTRACT

It is safe to say that until March 1866 Henry Sumner Maine and the Bengali novel had little to do with each other. How they met must remain a matter of speculation since it is not clear that Maine either read or spoke Bengali. As the pioneer of a new British school of “historical criticism,” however, the subject of narrative fiction proved somewhat unexpectedly to be of some interest to him. “The Natives of India,” he complained to his audience in the Senate of the University of Calcutta:

have caught from us Europeans our modern trick of constructing, by means of works of fiction, an imaginary past out of the Present, taking from the Past its externals, its outward furniture, but building in the sympathies, the susceptibilities and even (for it sometimes comes to that), the knowledge of the present time. Now this is all very well for us Europeans […] But, here, the effect of such fictions, and of theories built from such fictions, is unmixedly deleterious.1