Tour Dutt (March 4, 1856-August 30, 1877), in the prime of her youth, at 21. She is often called the Keats of the Indo-English literature for more than one reason – her meteoric rise on and disappearance from the literary firmament, as also for the quality of her poetry. What Toru “might have been” had she had a longer life? Putting to creative use three languages – French, English and Sanskrit – Toru was indeed a pioneer of the Indo-Anglian literature, a harbinger of a new era in Indian writings in English. It is sad that this “fragile blossom” withered so fast.
Toru Dutt was born in Calcutta into an eminent, well-to-do family that converted to Christianity when she was a small child. The three children in the family were educated at home by a tutor, but also by their father, for whom culture, language and literary studies were of particular importance. Thus, from a very early age, Dutt became acquainted with music and literature – both eastern and western – including ancient Hindu myths, songs and legends. In November 1869 – Toru was only 13 years old at the time – the family sailed for Europe, staying for a short period in Nice, where Toru attended school for the first time and learnt French.After visiting Italy the Dutts ravelled to England. There Toru and her sister, still only young teenagers, spent two years attending special lectures for women at Cambridge University.
Toru Dutt was a natural linguist and in her short life became proficient in Bengali, English, French and, later on, Sanskrit. She also knew german. She left behind an impressive collection of prose and poetry. Her two novels, the unfinished Bianca or The Young Spanish Maiden written in English and Le Journal de Mademoiselle d’Arvers, written in French, were based outside India with non-Indian protagonists. Her poetry comprises A Sheaf Gleaned in French Fields consisting of her translations into English of French poetry, and Ancient Ballads and Legends of Hindustan which compiles her translations and adaptations from Sanskrit literature.
After publication of several translations and literary discussions, she published A Sheaf Gleaned in French Fields without preface or introduction, a volume of French poems she had translated into English, with Saptahiksambad Press of Bhowanipore, India in 1876. This volume came to the attention of Edmund Gosse in 1877, who reviewed it quite favorably in the Examiner that year. Sheaf would see a second Indian edition in 1878 and a third edition by Kegan Paul of London in 1880, but Dutt lived to see neither of these triumphs.
At the time of her death, she left behind two unpublished novels, Le Journal de Mademoiselle d’Arvers, (thought to be the first novel in French by an Indian writer,) and Bianca, or the Young Spanish Maiden, (thought to be the first novel in English by an Indian woman writer) in addition to an unfinished volume of original poems in English, Ancient Ballads and Legends of Hindustan. It was after Dutt’s death in 1877 that her father discovered the manuscripts of her writings, among which was Ancient Ballads. The ballads are essentially Indian in genre and outlook and are the poetical attempts to reveal her return to her land. In them are enshrined what she had learnt of her country from books and from her people. She did not anglicise her ideas but kept close to the ethical values of the original tales while her understanding of modern life and dedication to craft has helped her to make these ideas of yore relevant to posterity.
Though a British by up-bringing, she was a harsh critic of the behavior of the British towards Indians. As a diligent reader of newspapers, she was aware of all the cases of injustice reported daily, and they filled her with bitterness against the British. There was the case of a person who was sentenced to three weeks of hard labour because he had defended himself when attacked by some dogs owned by an Englishman. Enraged, Toru wrote: You see how cheap the life of an Indian is in the eyes of an English judge. Toru was against the extravagance of the people during the visit of the Prince of Wales, and critical of the grand fireworks displayed in his honor in the Calcutta Maidan. Remembering how 9000 was spent on fireworks when the Duke of Edinburgh came to India in 1869, she questioned, Was it not literally converting money to smoke? She disapproved pomp, extravagance, waste and feudal ways.
Time was running short for Toru Dutt and the same disease that had taken her brother and sister attacked Toru, and she knew that she too had to yield to pitiless tyrant. Though she died at a very young age, she had left a deep mark in English literature. She is called the Keats of the Indo-English literature as she died at a very young age of consumption like him and for both of them the end came slow and sad. Had she lived longer her contribution to literature would have been never ending. Critics describe her as the fragile blossom that withered so fast.
The well-known poet and novelist Andre Theuriet showered much praise on A Sheaf Gleaned in French Field. Her last poem AMon Pere is praised worldwide and is considered faultless . She was in a hurry to put in as much work as possible, to project and interpret India s past and glorious tradition to the English-speaking world. She was proud of her Indian tradition. She was proud of India s cultural heritage, folklores, myths and legends, and its rich classical literature. Though English by education, she was an Indian through and through. E.J. Thompson wrote about her, Toru Dutt remains one of the most astonishing woman that ever lived fiery and unconquerable of soul. These poems are sufficient to place Toru Dutt in the small class of women who have written English verse that can stand.