Maithil Women's Tales

Maithil Women's Tales : Storytelling on the Nepal-India Border

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Constrained by traditions restricting their movements and speech, the Maithil women of Nepal and India have long explored individual and collective life experiences by sharing stories with one another. Sometimes fantastical, sometimes including a kind of magical realism, these tales allow women to build community through a deeply personal and always evolving storytelling form.

In Maithil Women's Tales, Coralynn V. Davis examines how these storytellers weave together their own life experiences--the hardships and the pleasures--with age-old themes. In so doing, Davis demonstrates, they harness folk traditions to grapple personally as well as collectively with social values, behavioral mores, relationships, and cosmological questions.

Each chapter includes stories and excerpts that reveal Maithil women's gift for rich language, layered plots, and stunning allegory. In addition, Davis provides ethnographic and personal information that reveal the complexity of women's own lives, and includes works painted by Maithil storytellers to illustrate their tales. The result is a fascinating study of being and becoming that will resonate for readers in women's and Hindu studies, folklore, and anthropology.
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Product details

  • Hardback | 272 pages
  • 139.7 x 213.36 x 20.32mm | 317.51g
  • University of Illinois Press
  • Baltimore, United States
  • English
  • 0252038428
  • 9780252038426
  • 2,107,307

Review quote

"This well-grounded, thoroughly researched study should appeal to a wide audience interested in oral narrative performance and interpretation, not only in South Asia, but more generally in disciplines ranging from folklore and cultural anthropology to narrative theory and gender studies. It shows convincingly how traditional folktales told by Maithil women of Nepal can mount socially effective critiques as resistance to patriarchal social principles that otherwise marginalize these women. It offers much for readers with interest in the dynamics of gender, in oral narrative performance and strategies of its interpretation in social context." --Margaret Mills, co-editor of South Asian Folklore: An Encyclopedia "Davis's engagement with the tales related to Maithil women provides a counterpoint to the usual engagement with their Mithila paintings, the better known of Maithil women's expressive arts. Here we also learn not only the tales, but Maithil women's interpretations of them, not only in oral comments but in newly created paintings that highlight what they think are the key components of these tales. A must read for scholars of South Asian oral traditions and a major addition to women's expressive traditions more generally."--Susan S. Wadley, author of Wife, Mother, Widow: Exploring Women's Lives in Northern India "Clearly a labor of love, and so welcome a feast of tales... Maithil Women's Tales commendably forges an honest balance between pointing to oppressive gendered circumstances and celebrating women's diverse strategies to attain some kind of agency, not only in the story worlds, but in their everyday lives."--Western Folklore "Davis provides a useful contextual analysis of Maithil folktales as told by the women who live along a border zone between India and Nepal. In her reader-friendly analysis she demonstrates that stories often have lives of their own, illuminating not only the nature of the cosmos, but also the relationship between the self and the worlds in which we live. The study provides valuable data on a region and narrative tradition understudied in the scholarly literature on South Asia." --Frank J. Korom, author of South Asian Folklore: A Handbook "Davis creates a momentous conversation between herself, her storytellers, and her audience. The part of the brain that enjoys a good story looks forward to getting lost in the next episode, while the social scientist can still pause between stories to wrestle with Davis over the deeper meanings of the plot and characterization... This book is an incredibly creative combination of intriguing story and extensive ethnographic research that serves both as personal entertainment and as an addition to the social science of folkloric studies. In a world where primary orality and secondary orality are ever colliding, stories--and stories about stories--have become the common language."--Journal of Folklore Research
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About Coralynn V. Davis

Coralynn V. Davis is an associate professor of women's and gender studies and anthropology at Bucknell University.
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