The statistics paint a grim picture. In 1936, there were more than three lakh Hindu widows below the age of 15. They faced a bleak future, although voices were heard in support of widow remarriage. One of them was the voice of Mu. Maragathavalli, editor of the journal, Maadar Marumanam. It was started in 1936 and was dedicated to the cause of widow remarriage.
Maragathavalli is one of five women editors whose works are examined in this monograph, which is a study of women’s writings from 1901 to 1950. Interestingly, of the five, Maragathavalli was the only non-Brahmin. The others also took up for consideration women’s issues, but they stopped short of advocating anything as revolutionary as widow remarriage. Maragathavalli was herself a widow, who had remarried and had started her journal with help from her husband.
Pandita Visalakshi Ammal, who established the journal Hitakarini in 1909, was also a widow, who, however, had no such support. Her first novel ‘Lalithangi,’ published in 1902, sold 2000 copies. She graduated after the death of her husband, and turned down the secure job of a lecturer, for the more uncertain career of a journalist. She soldiered on, although she lost her parents too, and had no siblings either.
The other three women editors whose contributions are discussed here are Sister V. Balammal (editor of Chintamani), Vai. Mu. Kodainayaki (editor of Jaganmohini and Nandavanam) and Guhapriyai (editor of Mangai). Between 1901-1950, there were around 575 women writers who wrote in 58 magazines!
Many of the women’s magazines carried reviews of books by women authors. But the reviews seem to have been uniformly laudatory, with no element of criticism.
The women editors cleverly used the medium at their disposal, to promote their novels. Subscribers were offered discounts on novels written by the editors.
From the writing samples produced in the monograph, it is clear that the women wrote in a ponderous style, and most of the stories were formulaic.
It was perhaps too early for the evolution of an artistic style or textured writing, for the women were just emerging from the chrysalis of hide bound tradition.
This book is a valuable addition to the history of Tamil literature. A fiction writer of today may even find material for a short story or novel in the lives and writings of these women.