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Defining the Rupkatha: Tracing the Generic Tradition of the Bengali Fairy Tale


The aim of this article is to trace the literary historiography of the Bengali rupkatha or the fairy tale. It is a conscious decision to use the two terms—rupkatha and fairy tale interchangeably in the paper because it has been argued that the genre of the Bengali rupkatha received its shape and form in negotiation with the Western fairy tale in the nineteenth century. This article argues that the rupkatha, despite being claimed as an indigenous generic mode, counters the basic premises of Indian narrative tradition and instead, shows alliance to the European fairy tale tradition. The dominant features of the European fairy tales and also the Indian upakatha, the closest possible allies of the Bengali rupkatha, will be discussed, with important departures made from the received generic conventions of the fairy tale. Because the rupkatha has traditionally been considered a naïve, children’s genre, it has consistently received less scholarly attention than any other literary genre. The casual treatment of the rupkatha has mostly expressed itself in the form of a vague romanticization. This romanticism has either used the rhetoric of universality or the rhetoric of cultural nationalism, or both at the same time. There has been little effort in locating the historical roots of the Bengali fairy tale; instead, the ahistoricity of the genre has been celebrated time and again because that is what has lent ‘charm’, ‘mystery’ and ‘antiquity’ to the tales. This article will be questioning these much-coveted ideas of timelessness and universality associated with the idea of the rupkatha as well as historically contextualizing the genre.

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I, Sarani Roy, declare that all data and materials used in the paper are collected by me through textual analysis method only. No interview, no computational analytical method, no reprint/reproduction of already published materials have been used in the paper.


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I, Sarani Roy, declare that the present research paper is neither funded nor supported by any individual or institute. It is completely self-funded.

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Sarani Roy is an Assistant Professor in English at SFS College, affiliated to the University of Burdwan, West Bengal, India. She was awarded her Doctorate Degree by the Department of English, Visva-Bharati University, Santiniketan, West Bengal in 2020. She has worked on the fairy tale collections of Colonial Bengal as part of her doctoral thesis. Her research interests include feminist literary theory, subaltern studies, folk literature, colonial history and historiography.

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Roy, S. Defining the Rupkatha: Tracing the Generic Tradition of the Bengali Fairy Tale. Child Lit Educ (2021).

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  • Fairy tale
  • rupkatha
  • upakatha
  • Orality
  • Print
  • Generic hybridity
  • Literary history and historiography