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The Broken Spell: The Romance Genre in Late Mughal India

Khan, Mohamad

This study is concerned with the Indian "romance" (qissah) genre, as it was understood from the seventeenth to the early twentieth century. Particularly during the Mughal era, oral and written romances represented an enchanted world populated by sorcerers, jinns, and other marvellous beings, underpinned by worldviews in which divine power was illimitable, and "occult" sciences were not treated dismissively. The promulgation of a British-derived rationalist-empiricist worldview among Indian élites led to the rise of the novel, accompanied by élite scorn for the romance as an unpalatably fantastic and frivolous genre. This view was developed by the great twentieth-century romance critics into a teleological account of the romance as a primitive and inadequate precursor of the novel, a genre with no social purpose but to amuse the ignorant and credulous. Using recent genre theory, this study examines the romance genre in Persian, Urdu, Punjabi, and Braj Bhasha. It locates the romance genre within a system of related and opposed genres, and considers the operation of multiple genres within texts marked as "romances," via communal memory and intertextuality. The worldviews that underpinned romances, and the purposes that romances were meant to fulfill, are thereby inspected. Chapters are devoted to the opposition and interpenetration of the "fantastic" romance and "factual" historiography (tarikh), to romances' function in client-patron relationships via panegyrics (madh), and to romances' restagings of moral arguments rehearsed in ethical manuals (akhlaq).

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies
Thesis Advisors
Pritchett, Frances
Degree
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
February 1, 2013