Memory of Light
Author: Ruth Vanita
Preparations for King George the Third's fiftieth birthday gala are in full swing in Lucknow. As poets and performers vie to be part of the show, Chapla Bai, a dazzling courtesan from Kashi, briefly enters this competitive world, and sweeps the poet Nafis Bai off her feet. An irresistible passion takes root, expanding and contracting like a wave of light. Over two summers, aided by Nafis's friends, the poets Insha and Rangin, and Sharad-himself in love with a man-exchange letters and verses, feeding each other the heady fruit of desire.
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Co-director, South & South-East Asian Studies
SSEA202X Introduction to India
LIT520 Oscar Wilde: Life and Work
LIT319E Talking to God: the Bhagavad Gita. Fulfills the Gen Ed Ethics requirement
LIT326 Stories East and West
SSEA202X Introduction to India
LIT 327L Gender and Sexuality in Twentieth-Century English Fiction
LIT329 Fathers and Daughters in Western Literary Traditions
WLC328L Gender and Sexuality in Indian Cinema
LIT246L . Intro to Literature
LIT 327. Shakespeare
Educated entirely in India, Prof Vanita lived and taught there for many years. She is married, with one son. Her first novel, Memory of Light, appeared in 2020 from Penguin. She divides her time between Missoula, Montana, and Gurgaon, India.
Ph.D. Delhi University, India
Field of Study
History of Ideas; Gender and Sexuality Studies; Hindi and Urdu literatures; Hindu philosophy; British literature (Shakespeare; the long nineteenth century)
- Dancing with the Nation: Courtesans in Bombay Cinema (Bloomsbury, New York; Speaking Tiger, New Delhi, 2018)
- Edited with an Introduction, India and the World: Postcolonialism, Translation and Indian Literature (New Delhi: Pencraft, 2014).
- Gender, Sex and the City: Urdu Rekhti Poetry in India, 1780-1870 (New York: Palgrave-Macmillan; New Delhi: Orient Blackswan, 2012).
- Love’s Rite: Same-Sex Marriage in India and the West (New York: Palgrave-Macmillan, 2005; New Delhi: Penguin India, 2005, reprinted 2008).
- Gandhi’s Tiger and Sita’s Smile: Essays on Gender, Sexuality and Culture (New Delhi: Yoda Press, 2005, reissued as an e-book 2015).
- With Saleem Kidwai, Same-Sex Love in India: Readings from Literature and History (New York: Palgrave-St Martin’s, 2000). British Edition, Macmillan, 2000. Indian Edition, Macmillan 2001. Lambda Literary Award Finalist. Updated edition Penguin India, 2008.
- Edited, Queering India: Same-Sex Love and Eroticism in Indian Culture and Society (New York: Routledge, 2002). Lambda Literary Award finalist.
- Sappho and the Virgin Mary: Same-Sex Love and the English Literary Imagination (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996). Indian edition Pearson, New Delhi, 2007.
- Co-edited with Madhu Kishwar, In Search of Answers: Indian Women’s Voices from Manushi (London: Zed Books, 1984, revised edition Horizon Books, Delhi, 1991).
- A Play of Light: Selected Poems (New Delhi: Penguin India, Viking Books, 1994)
- Translated and edited with an introduction, Alone Together: Selected Stories of Mannu Bhandari, Rajee Seth and Archana Varma (New Delhi: Women Unlimited Press, 2013).
- Edited and translated with an introduction, The Co-Wife and Other Stories by Premchand (New Delhi: Penguin, 2008). Some stories from this book also appeared in a low-priced edition in the Penguin Evergreen Classics series, under the title The Shroud (2011).
- Edited and translated with an introduction, Chocolate and other Writings on Male Homeroticism by Pandey Bechan Sharma Ugra (North Carolina: Duke University Press, 2009; with a somewhat different title and introduction, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2006).
- About Me (autobiography of Pandey Bechan Sharma Ugra), with an introduction (New Delhi: Penguin, 2007).
Selected Articles in Journals;
- “Self-Delighting Soul: A Reading of Yeats’s “Prayer for My Daughter” in the Light of Indian Philosophy,” Connotations, 24: 2 (2014/15): 239-57. http://www.connotations.uni-tuebingen.de/vanita0242.htm
- “Wilde’s Will: Shakespeare as Model in In Carcere et Vinculis” in The Wildean: A Journal of Oscar Wilde Studies, No. 47 (July 2015), 90-100.
- “The Romance of Siblinghood in Bombay Cinema,” in South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies, 36:1 (2013), 25-36. Reprinted in Unfamiliar Ground: Security, Socialisation and Affect in Indian Families ed. Ira Raja (New York: Routledge, 2013).
- “Plato, Wilde and Woolf: The Poetics of Homoerotic ‘Intercourse’ in A Room of One’s Own,” Journal of Lesbian Studies 14: 4 (2010), 415-31.
- “Full of God: Ashtavakra and Ideas of Justice in Hindu Texts,” Research on South Asia (Cambridge University) 3: 2 (2009), 167-81.
- “ ‘Shakespeare’s Tragic Kates: Reframing the Taming in India,” Shakespeare Survey, No. 60 (September 2007), 84-101.
- “Mariological Memory in The Winter’s Tale and Henry VIII,” in Studies in English Literature 1500-1900 40: 2 (Spring 2000), 311-338.
- “ ‘Proper’ Men and ‘Fallen’ Women: The Unprotectedness of Wives in Othello,” Studies in English Literature 1500-1900, 34: 2 (1994), 341-356.Reprinted in Shakespearean Criticism: excerpts from the criticism of William Shakespeare's plays and poetry, from the first published appraisals to current evaluations. (Detroit, Mich.: Gale Research Co., 2002), Vol. 67.
- “Men Beware Men: Shakespeare’s Warnings for Unfair Husbands,” Comparative Drama, 28: 2 (1994), 201-220.
- “The Woman Hater as Beaumont and Fletcher’s Reading of Hamlet,” Hamlet Studies 17 (1995), 63-77.
Selected Chapters in Books
- “Male-Female Dialogues on Gender, Sexuality and Dharma in the Hindu Epics,” Chapter 13 in The Bloomsbury Research Handbook of Indian Philosophy and Gender ed. Veena Howard (New York: Bloomsbury Academic 2019), 299-323.
- “A Web of Intimacies: Marriage in India, Cross-Sex and Same-Sex” in Courtship, Marriage, and Marriage Breakdown: Perspectives from the History of Emotions ed. Katie Barclay (Routledge, 2019).
- “Sappho in India,” Chapter 32 in The Cambridge Companion to Sappho ed. Adrian Kelly and Patrick Finglass (forthcoming Cambridge University Press, 2019).
- “Still Flowing Rivers: Gender and Sexuality in Modern Hinduism,” in Hinduism and the Modern World ed. Brian Hatcher (Routledge, 2016), 275-89.
- “India,” in The Fin-de-Siecle World ed. Michael Saler (New York: Routledge, 2014), 283-99.
- “Goddess, Lesbian, Cow: Teaching Suniti Namjoshi in Montana,” in Teaching Anglophone South Asian Women’s Writing ed. Deepika Bahri and Filippo Menozzi (forthcoming New York: Modern Language Association of America).
- “Hinduism and Sexuality,” in Brill’s Encyclopedia of Hinduism (Brill, Leiden, The Netherlands, 2012), Vol. 4: 740-53.
- “More Lives than One: My Years in Manushi and the Women’s Movement,” in Making a Difference: Memoirs from a Movement ed. Ritu Menon (Women Unlimited, New Delhi, 2011).
- “Democratizing Marriage: Custom, Consent and the Law,” in Law like Love: Queer Perspectives on Law ed. Arvind Narrain (New Delhi: Yoda Press, 2011), 338-354.
- “Naming Love: The God Kama, the Goddess Ganga, and the Child of Two Women,” in The Lesbian Pre-Modern ed. Diane Watts, Noreen Giffney et al (New York: Palgrave-Macmillan, 2011), 119-30.
- “‘The Homoerotics of Travel: People, Ideas, Genres,” in The Cambridge Companion to Gay and Lesbian Writing (Cambridge Companions to Literature) ed. Hugh Stevens (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 99-115. Updated version appeared under the title, “Sexual Exiles or Citizens of the World?: The Homoerotics of Travel,” in Jindal Global Law Review 4: 2 (Nov 2013), 131-50.
- “‘At All Times Near’: Love between Women in Two Medieval Indian Devotional Texts,” in Same-Sex Love and Desire among Women in the Middle Ages ed. Francesca Canade Sautman and Pamela Sheingorn (New York: Palgrave, 2002). Reprinted in Signifying the Self: Women and Literature ed. Malashri Lal, et al (New Delhi: Macmillan 2004).
- “Dosti to Tamanna: Male-Male Love and Normative Indianness in Hindi Cinema,” in Everyday Life in South Asia ed. Diane Mines and Sarah Lamb (Indiana University Press, 2002), 146-58.
“ ‘Bringing Buried Things to Light’: Homoerotic Alliances in To the Lighthouse,” in Virginia Woolf: Lesbian Readings, ed. Eileen Barrett and Patricia Cramer (New York: New York University Press, 1997). Reprinted in Illuminations: New Readings of Virginia Woolf ed. Carol Merli (New Delhi: Macmillan, 2004).
“‘Less Without and More Within’: The Rewriting of Male Remorse from Much Ado to Cymbeline,” in Shakespeare: Varied Perspectives, ed. Vikram Chopra, introd. Kenneth Muir (Delhi: B. R. Publications, 1996).
“Throwing Caution to the Winds: Homoerotic Patterns in The Waves,” in Re-Reading, Re-writing, Re-Teaching Virginia Woolf, ed. Eileen Barrett and Patricia Cramer (New York: Pace University Press, 1995)
“Love Unspeakable: The Uses of Allusion in Flush,” in Virginia Woolf: Themes and Variations, ed. Vara Neverow-Turk and Mark Hussey (New York: Pace University Press, 1993)
“Mansfield Park in Miranda House,” in The Lie of the Land: English Literary Studies in India, ed. Rajeswari Sunder Rajan (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1992, rep. 1993).
“Together in Life after Life: Same-Sex Marriage and Hindu Traditions,” in Defending Same-Sex Marriage ed. Mark Strasser, Vol. II, Our Family Values: Same-Sex Marriage and Religion ed. Traci West (Praeger, 2006), 3-18.
The first book to show how the figure of the courtesan shapes the modern Indian political, religious and erotic imagination.
On Gender, Sex and the City:
This book explores the urban, cosmopolitan sensibilities of Urdu poetry written in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries in Lucknow, which was the center of a flourishing Indo-Islamic culture. Ruth Vanita analyzes Rekhti, a type of Urdu poetry distinguished by a female speaker and a focus on women's lives, and shows how it became a catalyst for the transformation of the love poem.
"The book belongs to my favorite genre, where the translations, excellent as they are, push the reader toward tasting the 'original.'' - Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, series editor (with Hosam Aboul-Ela) of Theory in the WorldOn Love’s Rite:
This absorbing new book…offers a marvelously global perspective characterized by profound historical understanding, impeccable scholarship, and a rare and delightful precision of feeling.
- Terry Castle, Prof, Stanford University
On Sappho and the Virgin Mary:
The story of Mary is that she conceived her son immaculately, an autonomous creation without the intervention of a human male. This Marian ideal of feminine independence, suggests Ruth Vanita in her brilliant book, is one basis for the vast number of independent, unmarried female characters in British fiction. The poetry of Sappho, the direct antecedent of the confessional Romantic lyric, is the other. ... This well-researched, erudite survey shows how present lesbian dynamics have been throughout English literary history.
Ruth Vanita's Sappho & the Virgin Mary is an eloquent refutation of the conventional theoretical association of lesbianism with cultural invisibility. ...Vanita demonstrates that love between women has long constituted an enabling, enriching and ubiquitous component of the literary imagination for female and male authors alike. ... Intrepid, sophisticated, and worldly."
- Corinne Blackmer
Summer 2017 Franklin research grant to work on manuscripts in London Libraries
2015-16 Visiting Scholar, South Asia Centre & Centre for Film and Screen, Cambridge
2014 Featured in Vogue India (October 2014) “The Power of 50: 50 Women
2009 Delivered the Spalding Lecture on Indian Religions, Oxford University2007-08
2007-08 Fulbright Senior Research Fellowship
2003-04 ACLS-SSRC-NEH Senior Research Fellowship
2004 One of ten women worldwide interviewed on film for the Global
Feminisms Project at the University of Michigan
1997-present Ten Merit Awards at the University of Montana for teaching,
scholarship and service
1994-95 Fellow at the Society for Humanities, Cornell University
Visiting Professor, Center for Disciplinary Innovation & South Asian Languages & Civilizations, University of Chicago
Associate Professor in English, Graduate School, Delhi University India
Senior Lecturer and Associate Professor, Miranda House College for Women, Delhi University
Founder co-editor of Manushi, India's first nationwide feminist magazine, 1978-91
Lecturer in English, Miranda House College for Women, and Reader, Department of English, Delhi University, 1976-1997.
Department of English
World Literatures and Cultures
Reading, conversation, movies