The Quiet Genius of Toru Dutt

Toru, Dutt, Young, Illustration
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Toru Dutt was the first female Indian poet to write in English and French. She died young, at only 21, but left behind a volume of work.

Toru Dutt wrote her final letters at 21, wracked by the same cough that had taken her brother and sister. She wrote in French, to her closest friend in Europe, Mary E.R. Martin; one of the few people outside her family who knew of her work. It’s a pained letter, and yet she had accepted her fate, invoking the image of Sita wandering alone in the forest. She died on August 30, 1877.

Her life was a series of lonely achievements. She was the first female Indian poet to compose both in English and in French. The first Indian woman to study at Cambridge (at a time when the university was only beginning to open its doors to women). The first Indian to write a novel in French. Perhaps she was also the first example of an emigrant returning to India and pining for another land, knowing not fully which is home. And for all her achievements, the latter part of her works was published and received only posthumously – her biography written 43 years after her death.

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  • I’d had it in the back of my mind to look her up, having read out some of her work for my audio book work. And here you’ve dropped it right into my lap! Thanks! Perhaps you should highlight more women like her, whose achievements are so out of the ordinary. maybe Noor Inayat Khan, for example?

    There are so many extraordinary women who have left forgotten legacies…..

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