Toru Dutt

Other names: 

Torulata Dutt


9 Sydney Place
London, SW7 3NL
United Kingdom
51° 29' 32.3628" N, 0° 10' 19.7724" W
Regent Street
Cambridge, CB2 1AQ
United Kingdom
52° 11' 58.362" N, 0° 7' 37.5636" E
St Leonards on Sea TN38 0PJ
United Kingdom
50° 52' 22.9332" N, 0° 31' 59.556" E
Date of birth: 
04 Mar 1856
City of birth: 
Country of birth: 
Current name city of birth: 
Date of death: 
30 Aug 1877
Location of death: 
Calcutta, India
Date of 1st arrival in Britain: 
01 Jan 1870
Precise 1st arrival date unknown: 
Dates of time spent in Britain: 



9 Sydney Place, Brompton, London (1870)

Regent Street, Cambridge (1871-2)

St Leonards-On-Sea (1873)

Toru Dutt was born into the well known Dutt family of Rambagan. Many of her uncles and cousins as well as her father, Govin Chunder Dutt, published poetry and prose. Her education and upbringing were rather unusual for even progressive mid-nineteenth century Bengal. Toru Dutt’s family had converted to Christianity, which in some ways led to a feeling of social alienation for the Dutt family in India. In 1869, a few years after the death of their elder brother Abju, Govin Chunder Dutt took his wife and two young daughters Aru and Toru to travel in Europe. They spent a few months in Nice where both sisters attended a French Pension and learnt French. In 1870 the family travelled to Brompton, England via Boulogne.  It was unusual for Indian women of the time to travel abroad and also to gain an education abroad. 

In England both sisters continued their French Studies. While living in Cambridge between 1871-3 they attended the Higher Lectures for Women at the University. Toru Dutt met and befriended Mary Martin, the daughter of Reverend John Martin of Sidney Sussex College. The friendship that developed between the two girls at this time continued in their correspondence after Toru’s return to India, until the time of Toru’s death.  Toru Dutt seemed to have acquired a good set of acquaintances whilst attending the lectures at Cambridge as she mentions quite a few names in her correspondence with Mary Martin after her return to India.  Amongst these names are Mr and Mrs Baker, the proprietors of Regent House where the Dutt family lodged in Cambridge; the son, Reginald, and daughters of Rev H. Hall of St Paul’s Church, Cambridge; Mr Clifford who later comes to officiate at the church near the Dutt’s Garden House outside Calcutta, and Sir Richard Claverhouse Jebb who was then Professor of Greek at Trinity.  

A collection of Toru Dutt’s correspondence includes her letters written from England to her cousins in India. Toru Dutt was a natural linguist and in her short life became proficient in Bengali, English, French and, later on, Sanskrit.  Although she died at an exceptionally early age she left behind an impressive collection of prose and poetry.  Her two novels, the unfinished  Bianca or The Young Spanish Maiden written in English and Le Journal de Mademoiselle d’Arvers, written in French, were interestingly based outside India with non-Indian protagonists.  Her poetry comprises of A Sheaf Gleaned in French Fields consisting of her translations into English of French poetry, and Ancient Ballads and Legends of Hindustan which compiles her translations and adaptations from Sanskrit literature.

A Sheaf Gleaned in French Fields was published in 1876 by the Saptahik Sambad Press, Bhowanipore without any preface or introduction.  At first this collection attracted little attention but later it famously fell into the hands of Edmund Gosse who gave it a splendid review in The Examiner of August 1876.  When her collection of Sanskrit translations Ancient Ballads and Legends of Hindustan was published posthumously in 1882 Edmund Gosse wrote an introductory memoir for it.  In this he wrote of Toru: ‘She brought with her from Europe a store of knowledge that would have sufficed to make an English or French girl seem learned, but which in her case was simply miraculous’ (Gosse, p xiii).


Clarisse Bader (Toru Dutt corresponded briefly with the French writer Clarisse Bader after reading her book Le Femme dans L'Inde Antique (Women in Ancient India). Dutt offered to translated Bader's book into English), Edmund Gosse, Mary E. R. Martin.

Involved in events: 

Attended Higher Lectures for Women at Cambridge University, 1871-3

Published works: 

A Sheaf Gleaned in French Fields (Bhowanipore: Saptahik Sambad Press, 1876)

Bianca or the Young Spanish Maiden, serialized in the Bengal Magazine vi (January-April 1878)

Le Journal de Mademoiselle D’Arvers (Paris: Didier, 1879)

The Diary of Mademoiselle D’Arvers, trans. by N. Kamala (Penguin Books, India, 2005)

Ancient Ballads and Legends of Hindusthan (London: Kegan Paul, 1882)

Contributions to periodicals: 

‘An Eurasian Poet’,  The Bengal Magazine  iii (5 December 1874), p. 164

‘A Scene from Contemporary Life’,  The Bengal Magazine (June - July 1875)

‘Bianca ,or The Young Spanish Maiden’, The Bengal Magazine (August 1877 - July 1878)

Dutt contributed regularly to The Bengal Magazine and The Calcutta Review between March 1874 and March 1877 and her translations often appeared signed with the letters TD. The Late Rev Lal Behari Dey was then the editor and he reserved a place for her translations in what was known as the ‘Poets Corner’. Her final contribution to the magazine was the translation of Barbier’s ‘La Cavale’ which was found amongst her papers and sent in by her father Govin Chunder Dutt after her death.


The only work Toru Dutt saw published in her brief lifetime was her collection of translations of French Poetry A Sheaf Gleaned In French Fields in March 1876.  It received mixed reviews from India, England and France.

Bengal Magazine
The Englishman
Madras Standard
Indian Charivari
Friend of India
The Examiner
Courier de L’Europe
Revue des deux Mondes
London Quarterly Review
Secondary works: 

Lokuge, Chandani, Toru Dutt: Collected Prose and Poetry (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2006)

Das, Harihar, The Life and Letters of Toru Dutt (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1921)

Chaudhuri, Rosinka, Gentlemen Poets in Colonial Bengal- Emergent Nationalism and the Orientalist Project (Calcutta: Seagull Books, 2002)

De Souza, Eunice and Pereira, Lindsay (eds), Women’s Voices Sections from Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Century Indian Writing in English (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2002)

Dwivedi, A. N., Toru Dutt: A Literary Profile (New Delhi: B R Publishing Corporation, 1998)

Naik, M. K., A History of Indian English Literature (New Delhi: Sahitya Academi, 1982)

Ramachandran Nair, K. R., Three Indo-Anglian Poets: Henry Derozio, Toru Dutt and Sarojini Naidu (New Delhi: Sterling Publishers, 1987)

Sen Gupta, Padmini, Toru Dutt (New Delhi: Sahitya Academi, 1968)

Sharma, Alpana, ‘In-Between Modernity’, in Ann L. Ardis and Leslie W. Lewis (eds) Women’s Experience of Modernity, 1875-1945 (Baltimore: John Hopkins University press, 2003), pp. 97-110

Mukherjee, Meenakshi, ‘Hearing Her Own Voice: Defective Acoustics in Colonial India,’ in The Perishable Empire: Essays in Indian Writing In English (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2000)


From Harihar Das, Life and Letters of Toru Dutt (Oxford: OUP, 1921)
Letter Dated: 11th May 1874, Baugmaree Garden House


This was one of Toru Dutt’s early letters to her friend Mary Martin after her return to India.


We all want so much to return to England. We miss the free life we led there; here we can hardly go out of the limits of our own garden, but Baugmaree happily is a pretty big place, and we walk round our own park as much as we like. If we can fulfil our wishes and return to England, I think we shall most probably settle in some quiet country place. The English villages are so pretty. But before we go, we have to get quite well, and sell our property here, for it is very expensive keeping up two houses here, we being in England in another.


In Toru Dutt’s correspondence with her friend Mary Martin she not only gives a detailed picture of her life in Calcutta but also of her yearnings to return to England. In her letters she expresses a sense of confinement, not only because she was unwell but also because of the fact that the Dutt family were quite secluded from society as they had converted to Christianity. The sense of freedom she associated with Europe came from the brief education she received at Cambridge and the friends she made at the time.