Toru Dutt is certainly one of the most extraordinary women of literary history and of Hindu culture. Born on May 4, 1856 in Calcutta, Toru was the youngest of three children by Mr. and Mrs. Govin Chunder Dutt. In her brief like of 21 years, she generated an impressive body of work, the most notable of which are A Sheaf Gleaned in French Fields (1876), a translation of French verse into English, and the posthumously published Ancient Ballads and Legends of Hindustan (1882), a translation of Sanskrit verse into English. Dutt also wrote essays for The Bengal Magazine and had two novels published posthumously: "Bianca, or The Young Spanish Maiden" (1878) and Le Journal de Mademoiselle d'Arvers (1879), the former of which is incomplete and was published in The Bengal Magazine.
Toru Dutt was fluent in three languages outside of her native tongue and was prolific in English, French, and to a lesser extent, Sanskrit, because of her extraordinary family background as a daughter of a high caste Hindu. In November, 1869 when Toru was around thirteen years old, she and her sister, along with her father, went to Europe and visited France, Italy, and England.
In France they were sent to school for the only time in their lives, spending a few months at a French pension. It was during this period that Toru gained her marvelous intimacy with the French language. She has been admired for her graceful fluency of French language. The only novel that she left behind, was written in French; however, it was founded on Indian heroric legends, to which Mr. Goose has prefixed a short memoir. Dutt’s ability to combine her culture with French idiom illustrates her flexibility as remarkable writer. Her parents were devout Christians, and brought her up to share their faith. She was well acquainted, however, with all the ancient songs and legends of her own people, and always retained for them a tenderness of which sometimes resonates throughout her work.
On leaving France, Toru Dutt and her family went to England, where they attended the lectures for women at Cambridge. In 1873 they returned to their beloved home in Calcutta, where the four remaining years of Tort's life were passed. During those four years, Toru Dutt endured an enormous tragedy. In July, 1874, her sister Aru died at the age of twenty, and Toru lost not only her sister, but her best friend. It had been their cherished project to publish an anonymous novel, which Toru was to write and Aru, who possessed a striking talent for design, was to illustrate. Toru began the novel—Le Journal de Mademoiselle d'Arvers—before leaving Europe, but Aru died without having seen a page of it. Toru also died before it was published.
Toru's career as an author, however, dates from her return to India after her stay abroad. Equipped with a stock of knowledge, which as Mr. Gosse well says, " would have sufficed to make an English or French girl seem learned, but which in her case was simply miraculous," Dutt secluded herself for 45 months, in which time she produced her writings. Her first publication, which appeared in the Bengal Magazine when she was eighteen years old, was an essay upon the French poet Leconte de Lisle. This was soon followed by another upon Josephin Soulary, both being illustrated by translations into English verse.
As previously stated, A Sheaf Gleaned in French Fields appeared in 1876, and only had two reviewers in Europe. One of these was the French poet and novelist, Andre Thenriet, who was himself represented in its pages by one of her most successful translations, and the other was the gentleman who had so unwillingly received it in the office of the London Examiner.
Toru Dutt died with her work in the shadows of literary history. It is our hope that with this website her work will receive the critical attention that it deserves, and secure her place within the literary canon.
For more information about Dutt and her family history, see Harihar Das' Life and
Letters of Toru Dutt. London, Oxford University Press, 1921.