Smriti Singh’s book Feminism and Postcolonialism in Krupabai Satthianadhan’ is an interpretation of Sattianadhan’s works, Kamala, Saguna and Miscellaneous Writings, in the context of gender and postcolonialism while negotiating with the dialogic tensions that mediated the historicity of reform and the rise of nationalism. Satthianadhan has two firsts to her credit. She is the first Indian woman to author an autobiographical novel as well as to fictionalize the life of an upper caste Hindu woman in English. Saguna was serialized in the Madras Christian College magazine in 1887-88 while Kamala appeared serially in the same magazine six years later. Kamala fictionalizes the experiences of an upper-caste Hindu woman in the nineteenth century while Saguna contextualizes Christianity and colonialism as liberationist agencies.
The book points to the influence of postmodernism in women’s studies and literature departments which have legitimized space for women’s writings and excavated diaries, autobiographies and essays that have constructed women’s histories as an important archival source within the domestic space. It describes the influences on Satthianadhan’s mind which include those of a mother and brother. Her literary influences comprised Wordsworth and George Eliot. Smriti further discusses how the novel was indigenized in the 19th century, the influence of the English language and literature and a comparison is made between Satthianadhan’s writings and her peers in regional languages.
Kamala’s subjectivity is given a consciousness that combines the liberationist Christianity discourse of the missionaries, the civilisational burden of colonialism and the Arnoldian system of education. Hence the representation of the helplessness of India combines with the degradation of its women that required being unshackled from repressive Hindu ideologies. Thus idolatry, superstition, child marriage and worship of the husband are strongly criticized.
Krupabai Satthianadhan’s writings are seen as the earliest feminist polemics in Indian Writing in English. In Kamala for instance there is the articulation of the deeply-felt anxieties of the Hindu woman whose life is defined by masculine generational links: father, husband and son. Categories of woman-woman relationships among child brides are explored and it has been seen how Satthianadhan balances the degenerative child bride-mother-in law relationships with the ‘blessed ones’ in Kamala. Satthianadhan’s articulation of feminist audibility is compared with select Victorian writers and also those of Virginia Woolf and Simone de Beauvoir. The woman’s threshold dilemma is also explored with critical sensitivity and comparisons are made with some contemporary writers.
Referring to Krupabai Satthianadhan’s contemporaries in Maharashtra: Pandita Ramabai, Ramabai Ranade, Tarabai Shinde and Shevantibai Nikambe, Smriti’s book views the emergence of the ‘New Woman’ from the ‘Perfect Wife’ in Britain with a radical redefinition of needs: to seek education, to work and demand and struggle for legal and political rights. She provides brief biographical sketches of the writers and discusses multiple relationships; ones that exist between women, among men and women in the context of domestic and public spaces and social reform. It also discusses the politics of woman’s glorification as a mother figure within the nationalist discourse. It is a fine attempt to research early feminist writings that are often victims of neglect in order to retrieve and articulate feminist subjectivities.