‘Sultana’s Dream’ in new Penguin Classics edition and audiobook
"Sultana's Dream" (1905), Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain's iconic novella and one of the first pieces of English fiction writing produced by a Bengali Muslim woman, was recently published in a new a Penguin Classics edition, on August 9, 2022. Sultana's Dream and Padmarag's previous edition came out in 2005.
"Her novella Padmarag is similarly utopian in its depiction of a women-run school and welfare center, and is both feminist and anti-colonial in its outlook", the edition states.
The first successful Penguin Classics edition published The Odyssey in 1946. Since then, the series' definition of "classics" has evolved, ranging from works of antiquity to modern classics and more contemporary works that have left a significant impact on readers and on literary history.
A particularly significant aspect of this journey has been Penguin's use of the black and white cover designs—while making the covers very simple and reducing the space for individualized artwork, the design also makes the series easy to distinguish. Penguin's orange paperbacks, therefore, are instantly recognised as works of fiction. Green paperbacks are travel accounts. Pink paperbacks comprise adventure stories, dark blue paperbacks comprise biographies, red volumes contain drama, and the purple books consist of essays.
"Sultana's Dream" first appeared in The Indian Ladies Magazine in 1905 and was first published in book form by SK Lahiri, Kolkata in 1908. Penguin India's 2005 edition of Sultana's Dream and Padmarag offered readers the first English translation of Padmarag (1924), done by Indian historian Barnita Bagchi, Associate Professor in Comparative Literature at the Department of Languages, Literature, and Communication at Utrecht University.
With Penguin's vast market reach as the biggest publishing conglomerate in the world, a text appearing in their Classics list signifies its inclusion in a canon of literature considered to be worth preserving, iconocizing, and circulating beyond its original readership. And given the visual template of the black cover, "Sultana's Dream" will be instantly recognisable as a classic work of world literature, one that familiarizes western readers with an iconic figure and work of South Asian literature and history.
"At a time when British colonialism was using the treatment of women in India as justification for colonial intervention there (a rhetorical strategy still in use by the West today), Hossain's story imagines a world in which men rather than rather women are kept inside, thus framing her protest against Islamic patriarchy within a larger feminist vision that takes on Western as well as Islamic forms of gender hierarchy", Tanya Agathocleous, Associate Professor of English, Hunter College and the Graduate Center, CUNY, writes in her Introduction to the new edition.
The Introduction includes an extensive overview of Begum Rokeya's activism for women's rights and education, and its reflection in her literary work. "Padmarag seems to be set in contemporary India, and the depiction of the school and ancillary institutions that make up Tarini Bhavan clearly draw on Hossain's experiences running both her own school and the Bengali Muslim Women's Association", Agathocleous writes.
The Introduction was also published as an essay on Electric Literature, one of the leading digital literary magazines in the United States, further widening the reach of Begum Rokeya's work to an international readership.
The Penguin Classics edition of Sultana's Dream and Padmarag comes in a paperback, ebook, and as an audiobook narrated by Priya Ayyar, a television and film actor and award-winning audiobook narrator with a BFA and MFA from NYU's Tisch School of the Arts, who has worked on TV shows such as Arrested Development, Law & Order: Criminal Intent and more.