Glimpse of World Literature and Legacy of Literary Greats
Literary works literally are a mirror that keep showing us the fascinating facets of reality, from the simple to the complex workings of our society.
Is this picture a Paradox or a Parody?
The changing faces during different period of the societal evolution. Many times it may be euphemistically or metaphorically.
It ignites our imagination.
It enlivens us.
These inanimate pages show us a lively picture. Literature – encapsulates a wealthy body of written work by scholars to thinkers to philosophers. This embodies a stream of defining thoughts, redefining the way we work as a society in different times.
Every language has its set of literature. Every culture has its own flavour of literature. The fictional to non-fictional work reflects a broad spectrum of the thinking patterns, the formation of social norms to the revolving views on the religious beliefs to political doctrines.
The great writers belonging to each of these periods have subtly captured the nuanced aspects of culture to language to nature to civilization as the phenomena have risen and ebbed during different phases of the evolution of our society.
There are interesting characters and there are intriguing plots. The reality is bitter, facts are broken down and it gets the makeup of fictional manifestation. The stories get crafted. The art of storytelling livens on with the legacy of literature. The fascinating body of literary work encompasses different forms forming the short stories to the long novels, the epics to the scriptures, and the prose to the poetries.
Medieval (Geoffrey Chaucer)
Little information, old English style, difficult to understand, improper translations and unknown authors have characterized the literary development during the medieval period. The author of epic poem Beowulf is not known to Canterbury Tales written by Geoffrey Chaucer where the text in the book was rooted in the religious context of that period between (500-1600). The old style literature was crawling and trying to fathom its place in the space of fading Dark Age. Then the big thing patiently waiting for many centuries did happen that permanently defined the way we look at literature.
Renaissance (William Shakespeare)
Renaissance was all about rebirth and revival. It was late 15th century, the invention led to the introduction of printing press. It galvanized the multiplication of written work. It engineered a multiplier effect. This period was further divided into four sub period namely Elizabethan Age, Jacobean Age, Caroline Age and Commonwealth Period. The first sub period was defining phase, it was the golden age. It was the birth of one and only one who solely defined the world of literature, unleashed his world of wonderful body of work, eternally etched in the realms of literature; he was William Shakespeare…the dramatist and the playwright par excellence. His play was composed of metrical pattern known as blank verse unique to master craftsman in writing. Romeo and Juliet to Macbeth Othello to Julius Caesar to The Tempest to The merchant of Venice…the long list lives on our heart ever after. Each play is treasure trove of joy to comedy to tragedy to jealously. His works encompassed almost everything from life and death to love and hate to mystery and magic. He was the ultimate magician of literary work. Such was the magnitude of his work that works of two other great writers Christopher Marlowe (The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus) and Ben Jonson (Volpone) remained dwarfed in front of his colossal work and quite understandably.
Neoclassical Period (Samuel Butler, Jonathan Swift, Samuel Johnson, John Milton)
It was a period where the social order was undergoing a massive change. Neo means new, classical refers to Greek and Roman classics. It emulated the Roman and Greek style of writing. It was believed that excellence and perfection in literary art was attained by the Greek and Roman writers of antiquity. This was nestled between the Renaissance and the Romantic periods of literature. Writers predominantly believed that reason was primary basis of authority; social needs took precedence over the individual needs. Also, the concept of nature was dealt by the author and it was not about the nature surrounding us but the human nature itself. A period characterized by structure and order. It was time where there was formation of blend of formality and informality. This period was further sub-divided into Restoration, Augustan and Age of Johnson. Paradise Lost by John Milton and Gulliver’s Travel by Jonathan Swift. The literature during this period was mostly essay style with prose form dominating the scene and the flavour were that of comic and satire in nature.
Enlightenment (Voltaire, Rousseau, Diderot)
Enlightenment period by simple definition is a state of being enlighten. Intellectual curiosity and experimentation was the order of those times and was driven primarily on human reasoning. This period was marked with multiple historical, philosophical and cultural events which influenced the literature movement. Jean Jacques Rousseau political philosophy influenced the French Revolution of 1789. Samuel Johnson the lexicographer published the first English Dictionary in 1755. The part of 18th century in Europe when thinkers led emphasis on science and reason to improve human conditions…writers thought man was virtuous by nature, vice was due to ignorance. Poetry paved way to the work of prose. Primarily the literature during this period was non-fiction in nature and incisively depicted the socio-political reality. Candide by Voltaire in 1759 with his polemic satires and then The Social Contract by Jean Jacques Rousseau in 1762, who contested the monarch’s divine right to rule, together set the literature in a philosophical journey.
Romantic Period (William Wordsworth, John Keats, Jane Austen)
It was a period of spontaneity and quick wit. The publishing of William Wordsworth’s Lyrical Ballads in 1789 is considered as the beginning of the Romantic Period. Wordsworth profusely admired the countryside not because of its raw beauty but the richness of its simplicity that was there so powerful with the people it instantly connected the human soul with the heart of nature. He derived inspiration from everyday life and from little things that we do in life, he truly made ordinary extraordinary through his subtle style and series of poetry. He was master in purifying the common language that he used in his literature without diluting the character of simplicity. It was a manifestation of multiple revolutions that was taking place in and around this period, starting with the Agricultural to Industrial to French Revolution. The work of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein in 1818 to Jane Austen’s Sense & Sensibility to Pride & Prejudice in 1811 and 1813 respectively gave the period the magical touch of romantic thoughts.
Transcendental Movement (Ralph Walden Emerson, Henry David Thoreau)
It was a philosophical movement in the early decades of nineteenth century, a protest against the general state of intellectualism and spiritualism. The innate force was the strong believe on the inherent goodness of people and nature. It was the famous essays in his First & Second Series and then the book of Self Reliance & Nature in which Ralph Emerson urges the readers to see the relationship with Nature and God…he was the pioneer of this movement. Henry David Thoreau was vocal in his thoughts and was a social reformer; Walden was his chronicles of the experiences staying near a pond close to the heart of nature and his book The Civil Disobedience where he dwelt on the theme of laws formulated by government and people need to fight for the fairness.
Victorian Period (Charles Dickens, Charlotte Bronte, Emily Bronte, George Elliot)
A period distinctively marked with melancholy and mourning. England was undergoing a massive cultural upheaval and there was changing pattern surfing the society, it was return of optimism to agnosticism, from lyricism to criticism and from spiritualism to pragmatism. The literature written during the reign of Queen Victoria referred to the Victorian literature. Charles Dickens was the prima donna of Victorian novelist. Charles Dickens Great Expectations his most famous work focused on the Victorian English society. Love defines the signature of life, it can signify the good of life but it has the potency to destroy almost everything in our life. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte revolves around passionate and destructive love story between two central characters Catherine and Heathcliff. Jane Eyre published by her sister Charlotte Bronte in the same year of 1847. George Elliot published her famed work of Mill in the Floss and Middlemarch during this period though got tucked into the little later part of this literary period.
Realism (Gustave Flaubert, Leo Tolstoy)
The period that had its beginning in France after the 1848 Revolution where the Realist summarily rejected the thoughts propagated by the Romanticism which had dominated the French art and literature. It then spread like wild fire across the continent of Europe…facing the reality. It was about portraying things as they are in our daily life and our routine activities, the experiences bereft of the romantic imagination. The real life in action, there is so much meaning in our ordinary life that was clouded with the contours of imaginative world. The realism literary techniques used the detailed descriptions of places and things to depict the attributes of characters. War and Peace in which provides a panoramic view of Russia, he depicts the story of various members of the Russian society during the Napoleonic invasion of Russia, Anna Karenna in which she married to man she doesn’t love and was in love with a man she cannot marry by Leo Tolstoy and Madam Bovary in which the bored housewife living in a provincial town of France wants to escape the routines of life Gustave Flaubert were at the forefront of the movement of Realism.
Magic Realism (Franz Kafka, Gabriel Garcia Marquez)
It was the artistic blend of realistic elements in the mythical elements, creating that magic in the reality. It has an inbuilt paradox in the phrase itself with the juxtaposition two contradictory words of Magic and Realism. Unlike the other period where European writers were at the driver seat, in this movement it was spearheaded by the Latin American writers. The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka in which protagonist transforms into a bug and reasons not known and The Trail by Franz Kafka protagonist is being prosecuted and reasons not known. One Hundred Year of Solitude where magical events happen in the fictional town called Macondo, beautifully depicting the multiple facets of the rise and fall to triumph and tragedy of the Buendia family. A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings by Gabriel Garcia Marquez where the character lands in someone backyards using his wings. They depicted an alternative to the reality of life, creatively infused the magical powers to lessen the powerful impact of the harsh reality confronting the society.
Modernism (James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, Virginia Wolf, T S Elliot)
The beginning is always questioned. But it definitely questioned the tradition and the realist way of looking at novels. Ernest Hemingway acknowledged the changing writing style of North American literature. He came from a dysfunctional family and he was a soldier during the Great War. It was the book “Old Man and the Sea”, short poetic novel about the old fisherman who heroically catches a big fish fighting with a shark. He purposely involved his characters in dangerous situations to reveal their strong character hidden within them. The period between during the late 19th century and the early 20th century, the middle part of this period was marked by history’s destructive time, the two world wars and those events squarely influenced the form, the tone and tenure of writing. The writer played with plots to point of views to perspectives…the very art of storytelling was getting subtly crafted. The later part was where industrialization and globalization was shaping it contour in our economy. The work of James Joyce for Ulysses and Virginia Wolf for Mrs. Dalloway and T S Elliot modernist poem The Wasteland stamp their authority on this period.
The various periods over the centuries encompassed the perfect weaving of the classics with the contemporary, it symbiotically blended the old with the new, and it seamlessly connected the past with the present. The great authors born and grown during each of these periods creatively left their indelible mark in the different chapters of diverse books that continues to influence us and inspire the literary form in this post modern era.
Literary movements over the centuries have marked by different traits, style and genre…the roots of the literary theme to thought provoking ideas were very much generated from the multiplicity things connected from the roots of society from the socio-economic changes to political upheavals to cultural undercurrents to deep religious movements.
The mirror remains fixed but the protagonist and antagonist seeing their faces keeps changing…everything is in the age and the stage of our life.
It is a fascinating world of words…
What really matters is how much mind makes up in its wordings and workings?
Nihar R Pradhan