On the Proper Respect to Widows: A Rare Nineteenth Century Chapbook
- Article by: Sarbajaya Bhattacharya
Published from Calcutta in 1863, the author of this chapbook claims that he had no desire to write the book but has done so on the insistence of his friends. The advertisement at the beginning of the work in which he makes this claim also states the purpose of the book - to advise young men on how to treat their mothers. Why was it necessary to publish such a work?
Oth Ch(n)uri Tor Biye (Get Up Girl, It’s Your Wedding)
(14131.a.9 (9))View images from this item (16)
Usage terms: Public Domain
The work, in most part, is a conversation between two women - the wife of a merchant who remains unnamed and her neighbour whose name is Rangili. It was not unusual for a male author to assume the voice of a woman to propagate their ideas about issues pertaining to domestic life.
The world of the home was considered the world of the woman. Writing in the voice of the woman allowed the male author access to a kind of authenticity and authority regarding the domestic issues that the text dealt with. In fact, many of the advice manuals written by men were under female pseudonyms. In this particular work, the presence of a third person narrator means that the male author does not literally occupy the voice of the woman. Rather, the conversational tone of the work makes it seem as if the narrator, and through him the reader, is eavesdropping on a conversation. What is the conversation about?
It is a familiar argument in many ways, invoking the biological claim of the mother over her child, the pure nature of motherly love that will go to any lengths to protect the child. It is the mother who carries the child in her womb for ten months, it is she who spends sleepless nights when the child falls ill. It she who feeds him and nourishes him. She is the image of sacrifice and selflessness.
In Rangili's speech, the young, married man is constructed in opposition to this image of selfless love. As soon as he finds a wife for himself, he forgets all about the mother. The young wife wins him over with her youth. She spends her days in front of the mirror tending to herself. She does not lift a finger to help in the kitchen. The description of the young woman was also a familiar one at the time of the publication of this work. The new generation of educated women, often referred to, quite literally as the 'New Woman' was mainly criticised for being lazy, and one of her primary symptoms was the hours she spent in front of the mirror. Rangili's description of the young wife fits into this body of criticism.
The last section of the text reveals that a match has finally been found. The man has been described in a deliberately amusing manner. His nose will put any owl to shame, the narrator says, and if he stands in the dark, he may be mistaken for a ghost. He has also lost two wives. But in the absence of time, he will have to do. So the next morning, the girl is asked to prepare herself for her wedding. Social prestige and peer pressure wins over the future of a young girl.