Literature is a term used to describe written or spoken material. Broadly speaking, “literature” is used to describe anything from creative writing to more technical or scientific works, but the term is most commonly used to refer to works of the creative imagination, including works of poetry, drama, fiction, and nonfiction.
Literature represents a language or a people: culture and tradition. But, literature is more important than just a historical or cultural artefact. Literature introduces us to new worlds of experience. We learn about books and literature; we enjoy the comedies and the tragedies of poems, stories, and plays and we may even grow and evolve through our literary journey with books.
Ultimately, we may discover meaning in literature by looking at what the author says and how he/she says it. We may interpret the author’s message. In academic circles, this decoding of the text is often carried out through the use of literary theory, using mythological, sociological, psychological, historical, or other approaches.
Whatever critical paradigm we use to discuss and analyze literature, there is still an artistic quality to the works. Literature is important to us because it speaks to us, it is universal, and it affects us. Even when it is ugly, literature is beautiful and here are the ten most commonly used types of literature from around the world…
10. African Literature
African literature consists of a body of work in different languages and various genres, ranging from oral literature to literature written in colonial languages (French, Portuguese, and English).
Oral literature, including stories, dramas, riddles, histories, myths, songs, proverbs, and other expressions, is frequently employed to educate and entertain children. Oral histories, myths, and proverbs additionally serve to remind whole communities of their ancestors’ heroic deeds, their past, and the precedents for their customs and traditions. Essential to oral literature is a concern for presentation and oratory. Folktale tellers use call-response techniques. A griot (praise singer) will accompany a narrative with music.
Some of the first African writings to gain attention in the West were the poignant slave narratives, such as The Interesting Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Olaudah Equiano or Gustavus Vassa, the African (1789), which described vividly the horrors of slavery and the slave trade. As Africans became literate in their own languages, they often reacted against colonial repression in their writings. Others looked to their own past for subjects. Thomas Mofolo, for example, wrote Chaka (tr. 1931), about the famous Zulu military leader, in Susuto.
Since the early 19th cent. writers from western Africa have used newspapers to air their views. Several founded newspapers that served as vehicles for expressing nascent nationalist feelings. French-speaking Africans in France, led by Léopold Senghor, were active in the négritude movement from the 1930s, along with Léon Damas and Aimé Césaire, French speakers from French Guiana and Martinique. Their poetry not only denounced colonialism, it proudly asserted the validity of the cultures that the colonials had tried to crush.
After World War II, as Africans began demanding their independence, more African writers were published. Such writers as, in western Africa, Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, Ousmane Sembene, Kofi Awooner, Agostinho Neto, Tchicaya u tam’si, Camera Laye, Mongo Beti, Ben Okri, and Ferdinand Oyono and, in eastern Africa, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Okot p’Bitek, and Jacques Rabémananjara produced poetry, short stories, novels, essays, and plays. All were writing in European languages, and often they shared the same themes: the clash between indigenous and colonial cultures, condemnation of European subjugation, pride in the African past, and hope for the continent’s independent future.
In South Africa, the horrors of apartheid have, until the present, dominated the literature. Es’kia Mphahlele, Nadine Gordimer, Bessie Head, Dennis Brutus, J. M. Coetzee, and Miriam Tlali all reflect in varying degrees in their writings the experience of living in a racially segregated society.
Much of contemporary African literature reveals disillusionment and dissent with current events. For example, V. Y. Mudimbe in Before the Birth of the Moon (1989) explores a doomed love affair played out within a society riddled by deceit and corruption. In Kenya Ngugi wa Thiong’o was jailed shortly after he produced a play, in Kikuyu, which was perceived as highly critical of the country’s government. Apparently, what seemed most offensive about the drama was the use of songs to emphasize its messages.
The weaving of music into the Kenyan’s play points out another characteristic of African literature. Many writers incorporate other arts into their work and often weave oral conventions into their writing. p’Bitek structured Song of Iowino (1966) as an Acholi poem; Achebe’s characters pepper their speech with proverbs in Things Fall Apart (1958). Others, such as Senegalese novelist Ousmane Sembene, have moved into films to take their message to people who cannot read.
9. Arabic Literature
The great body of Arabic literature includes works by Arabic speaking Turks, Persians, Syrians, Egyptians, Indians, Jews, and other Africans and Asians, as well as the Arabs themselves. The first significant Arabic literature was produced during the medieval golden age of lyric poetry, from the 4th to the 7th cent. The poems are strongly personal qasida, or odes, often very short, with some longer than 100 lines. They treat the life of the tribe and themes of love, fighting, courage, and the chase. The poet speaks directly, not romantically, of nature and the power of God. The qasida survives only through collections, chiefly the Muallaqat, Hamasa, Mufaddaliyat, and Kitab al-Aghani. The most esteemed of these poets are Amru al-Kais, Antarah Ibn Shaddād al-’Absī, and Zuhair.
The structure of the Arabic language is well-suited to harmonious word patterns, with elaborate rhymes and rhythms. The earliest known literature emerged in northern Arabia around 500 AD and took the form of poetry which was recited aloud, memorised and handed down from one generation to another. It began to be written down towards the end of the seventh century. The most celebrated poems of the pre-Islamic period were known as the mu’allaqat (“the suspended”), reputedly because they were considered sufficiently outstanding to be hung on the walls of the ka’ba in Makkah.
During the 19th century, printing in Arabic began in earnest, centred in Cairo, Beirut, and Damascus. Newspapers, encyclopedias, and books were published in which Arab writers tried to express, in Arabic, their sense of themselves and their place in the modern world. Simultaneously with a reaction against Western models in Arabic literature, the novel and the drama, forms never before used, developed. Notable 20th-century–early 21st-century writers in Arabic include the novelists Naguib Mahfouz, winner of the 1988 Nobel Prize in Literature, Abdelrahman Munif, Sonallah Ibrahim, and Yahya Hakki; the playwrights Ahmad Shawqi and Tawfiq al-Hakim; the poets Hafiz Ibrahim, Badr Shakir as-Sayyab, Nazik al-Malaika, Abdul Wahab al-Bayati, Mahmoud Darwish, and Adonis; and the short-story writers Mahmud Tymur and Yusuf Idris.
The Western centre of Arab culture was Spain, especially Córdoba under the Umayyads. The Spanish Arabs produced fine poets and scholars, but they are less important than the great Spanish philosophers—Avempace, Averroës, and Ibn Tufayl. Since 1200 in Spain and 1300 in the East, there has been little Arabic literature of wide interest. The most outstanding Arabic writer of the 20th century was Naguib Mahfouz, a prolific Egyptian novelist, playwright, and screenwriter who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1988.
8. European Literature
We want to find out which typical topics and cross-currents we can find in European literature from the Middle ages till today. We want to find out how a text is produced and then re-produced through translation, adaption or by being transferred to a different medium in a different culture. Our objective is two-fold: we want to work together in exploring the idea of cross-currents in national European literature and then as a result of the project construct some ideas for a module in each school for the teaching of literature classes.
We chose literature as we think it can mirror the grandeur of the European project and make it possible to understand what the idea of “feeling European” is all about. By tracing connections between national cultures we hope to show that no country can think of her culture as independent or self-sufficient.
To achieve these objectives the following activities shall be carried out. As a first step, each school will draw an interactive timeline starting from the Middle Ages and will then add crucial points of its national as well as European history. As a next step, each nation will choose a selection of famous national writers and present them to the other nations (biography, works, famous quotes in original and translation). During the two years, we will thus create an overview of national literature through different ages, paying also attention to those not so well known Europeans who contributed to built our present identity.
7. Persian Literature
The Old Persian of the Achaemenian Empire, preserved in a number of cuneiform inscriptions, was an Indo-European tongue with close affinities with Sanskrit and Avestan (the language of the Zoroastrian sacred texts). After the fall of the Achaemenians, the ancient tongue developed, in the province of Pars, into Middle Persian or Pahlavi (a name derived from Parthavi – that is, Parthian). Pahlavi was used throughout the Sassanian period, though little now remains of what must once have been a considerable literature amount. About a hundred Pahlavi texts survive, mostly on religion and all in prose. Pahlavi collections of romances, however, provided much of the material for Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh.
After the Arab conquest, knowledge of Arabic became necessary, for it was not only the language of the new rulers and their state, but of the religion, they brought with them and – later – of the new learning. Though Pahlavi continued to be spoken in private life, Arabic was dominant in official circles for a century and a half. With the weakening of the central power, a modified form of Pahlavi emerged, with its Indo-European grammatical structure intact but simplified, and with a large infusion of Arabic words. This was the Modem Persian in use today.
Arabic continued to be employed in Iran, though on a decreasing scale, as Latin was used in Europe -that is, as a language of the learned. As such it was employed by Avicenna, al-Biruni, Rhazes, Al Ghazali and others; indeed, many of the most famous names in Arabic literature are those of men of Persian birth. But in general, the use of Arabic declined; Persian developed rapidly to become the vehicle of great literature, and before, long spread its influence to neighbouring lands. In India, Persian language and poetry became the vogue with the ruling classes, and at the court of the Moghul emperor Akbar Persian was adopted as the official language; spreading thence and fusing later with Hindi, it gave rise to the Urdu tongue. To the west of Iran, Persian heavily influenced the language and literature of Turkey; Turkish verse was based on Persian models as regards form and style and borrowed an extensive vocabulary.
A notable feature of Persian is the small extent to which it has changed over the thousand years or more of its existence as a literary language. Thus the poems of Rudaki, the first Persian poet of note, who died in the year 940 A.D., are perfectly intelligible to the modem reader. Persian literature to has a number of noteworthy characteristics, the most striking of which is the exceptional prominence of poetry. Until quite recently there was practically no drama, and no novels were written; prose works were mostly confined to history, geography, philosophy, religion, ethics and politics, and it was poetry that formed the chief outlet for artistic expression. Classical Persian literature was produced almost entirely under royal patronage whence the frequency of panegyric verse. An influence of at least equal strength was religion and in particular, Sufism, which inspired the remarkably high proportion of mystical poetry.
6. Indian Literature
portrait Top Ten LiteratureIt is difficult to put a definition to Indian literature because of its sheer vastness. It is difficult to give a certain date as the beginning of Indian literature, as parallel to or maybe even older to the Vedas (the oldest religious-literary manuscript), was the oral tradition. Its longevity and the various influences due to an eventful past have enriched it. In the recent past, it has branched out into the other regional languages and English.
Before moving to Indian English literature we will briefly look at the literary heritage we have. Following is the history and the high points of ancient Indian literature.
The Vedas, Upanishads and the eighteen Puranas Sanskrit, the Indo-Aryan language, is perhaps the oldest recorded language of the world, Rigveda being the first Sanskrit work. Early/Vedic Sanskrit was prevalent during 500 BC – 1000 AD and later modern Sanskrit. The Vedas are considered the oldest extant literature. The Vedas composed between 1400-1200 BC comprise the Rig, Sama, Yajur and the Atharva Vedas. The Vedic period is the pinnacle point of Sanskrit literature with most of the intellectual and literary writings being written in Sanskrit.
The Vedas, collectively refer to a corpus of ancient Indo-Aryan religious literature that is considered by adherents of Hinduism to be revealed knowledge. The word Veda means Knowledge is cognate with the word “vision” through Latin. Mythically speaking, it is believed the Vedas existed since the beginning of creation.
The newest parts of the Vedas are estimated to date back to around 500 BC. The oldest text (Rigveda) found is now dated to around 1,500 BC. But most Indologists agree that a long oral tradition possibly existed before it was written down. They represent the oldest stratum of Indian Literature and according to modern scholars are written in forms of a language that evolved into Sanskrit.
The Vedas consist of several kinds of texts, all of which date back to early times. The core is formed by the Mantras which represent hymns, prayers, incantations, magic and ritual formulas, charms. The hymns and prayers are addressed to a pantheon of gods (and a few goddesses), important ones being Shiva, Varuna, Indra, Agni. The mantras are supplemented by texts regarding the sacrificial rituals in which these mantras are used as well as texts exploring the philosophical aspects of the ritual tradition, narratives.
Each Veda differs in contents but together they can be considered as the guide to what modern Vedic scholars call as “the way of living.” The Rigveda consists of verses composed in praise of the different forces in nature worshipped as deities. These are poetic compositions where each couplet is called as a ‘Richa’. Yajurveda contains information on the rituals like mantra recitation, sacrifices. Samveda is said to be the guide singing the Rigvedic hymns. It is believed to be the premier work in Indian music. Atharvaveda comprises philosophical discussion, medicine, diet and solutions to domestic problems.
Upanishads and Puranas: The Upanishads were the products of the intellectual discussions from the “Gurukul system”. The discussions were mainly metaphysical and spiritual in nature. This meditation and the knowledge acquired from the guru is included in the Upanishads.
The tradition of writing Puranas began in the Mauryan era till 300 AD – 800 AD. They were composed in Sanskrit. They deal with several subjects such as history, philosophy, religion and art.
During the Mauryan era, Panini’s Ashtadhyayi in Sanskrit composed around 500 BC is considered to be the earliest grammar texts. It contains around 4,000 ‘rules’ of grammar in as many sutras, covering subjects like syntax, root derivatives, moods and so on.
In the Dravidian culture, which can be said to be the oldest of the native culture of the subcontinent, Tolkappiyam (old composition) from the Sangam period in Tamil literature (1-4 AD), codifies the literary conventions of the age, dealing with subjects like phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax, poetics and prosody.
5. Russian Literature
dead souls from the series Russia literature 300×211 Top Ten LiteratureIn the course of Russia’s thousand-year history, Russian literature has come to occupy a unique place in the culture, politics, and linguistic evolution of the Russian people. In the modern era, literature has been the arena for heated discussion of virtually all aspects of Russian life, including the place that literature itself should occupy in that life. In the process, it has produced a rich and varied fund of artistic achievement.
Literature first appeared among the East Slavs after the Christianization of Kievan Rus’ in the tenth century (see The Golden Age of Kiev, ch. 1). Seminal events in that process were the development of the Cyrillic (see Glossary) alphabet around A.D. 863 and the development of Old Church Slavonic as a liturgical language for use by the Slavs. The availability of liturgical works in the vernacular language–an advantage not enjoyed in Western Europe–caused Russian literature to develop rapidly. Through the sixteenth century, most literary works had religious themes or were created by religious figures. Among the noteworthy works of the eleventh through fourteenth centuries are the Primary Chronicle, a compilation of historical and legendary events, The Lay of Igor’s Campaign, a secular epic poem about battles against the Turkic Pechenegs, and Zadonshchina, an epic poem about the defeat of the Mongols in 1380. Works in secular genres such as the satirical tale began to appear in the sixteenth century, and Byzantine literary traditions began to fade as the Russian vernacular came into greater use and Western influences were felt.
Written in 1670, the Life of the Archpriest Avvakum is a pioneering realistic autobiography that avoids the flowery church style in favour of vernacular Russian. Several novellas and satires of the seventeenth century also used vernacular Russian freely. The first Russian poetic verse was written early in the seventeenth century.
The Nineteenth Century
By 1800 Russian literature had an established tradition of representing real-life problems, and its eighteenth-century practitioners had enriched its language with new elements. On this basis, a brilliant century of literary endeavour followed.
Russian literature of the nineteenth century provided a congenial medium for the discussion of political and social issues whose direct presentation was censored. The prose writers of this period shared important qualities: attention to realistic, detailed descriptions of everyday Russian life; the lifting of the taboo on describing the vulgar, unsightly side of life; and a satirical attitude toward mediocrity and routine. All of those elements were articulated primarily in the novel and short story forms borrowed from Western Europe, but the poets of the nineteenth century also produced works of lasting value.
The Age of Realism, generally considered the culmination of the literary synthesis of earlier generations, began around 1850. The writers of that period owed a great debt to four men of the previous generation: the writers Aleksandr Pushkin, Mikhail Lermontov, and Nikolay Gogol’, and the critic Vissarion Belinskiy, each of whom contributed to new standards for language, subject matter, form, and narrative techniques. Pushkin is recognized as the greatest Russian poet, and the critic Belinskiy was the “patron saint” of the influential “social message” writers and critics who followed. Lermontov contributed innovations in both poetic and prose genres. Gogol’ is accepted as the originator of modern realistic Russian prose, although much of his work contains strong elements of fantasy. The rich language of Gogol’ was much different from the direct, sparse lexicon of Pushkin; each of the two approaches to the language of literary prose was adopted by significant writers of later generations.
By mid-century, a heated debate was underway on the appropriateness of social questions in literature. The debate filled the pages of the “thick journals” of the time, which remained the most fertile site for literary discussion and innovation into the 1990s; traces of the debate appeared in the pages of much of Russia’s best literature as well. The foremost advocates of social commentary were Nikolay Chernyshevskiy and Nikolay Dobrolyubov, critics who wrote for the thick journal Sovremennik (The Contemporary) in the late 1850s and early 1860s.
The best prose writers of the Age of Realism were Ivan Turgenev, Fedor Dostoyevskiy, and Lev Tolstoy. Because of the enduring quality of their combination of pure literature with eternal philosophical questions, the last two are accepted as Russia’s premier prose artists; Dostoyevskiy’s novels Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov, like Tolstoy’s novels War and Peace and Anna Karenina, are classics of world literature.
Other outstanding writers of the Age of Realism were the playwright Aleksandr Ostrovskiy, the novelist Ivan Goncharov, and the prose innovator Nikolay Leskov, all of whom were closely involved in some way with the debate over social commentary. The most notable poets of the mid-century were Afanasiy Fet and Fedor Tyutchev.
An important tool for writers of social commentary under strict tsarist censorship was a device called Aesopic language–a variety of linguistic tricks, allusions, and distortions comprehensible to an attuned reader but baffling to censors. The best practitioner of this style was Mikhail Saltykov-Shchedrin, a prose satirist who, along with the poet Nikolay Nekrasov, was considered a leader of the literary left-wing in the second half of the century.
The major literary figure in the last decade of the nineteenth century was Anton Chekhov, who wrote in two genres: short stories and drama. Chekhov was a realist who examined the foibles of individuals rather than society as a whole. His plays The Cherry Orchard, The Seagull and The Three Sisters continue to be performed worldwide.
In the 1890s, Russian poetry was revived and thoroughly reshaped by a new group, the symbolists, whose most prominent representative was Aleksandr Blok. Two more groups, the futurists and the acmeists, added new poetic principles at the start of the twentieth century. The leading figure of the former was Vladimir Mayakovskiy and of the latter, Anna Akhmatova. The premier prose writers of the period were the realist writers Leonid Andreyev, Ivan Bunin, Maksim Gor’kiy, Vladimir Korolenko, and Aleksandr Kuprin. Gor’kiy became the literary figurehead of the Bolsheviks and of the Soviet regimes of the 1920s and 1930s; shortly after the Bolshevik Revolution, Bunin and Kuprin emigrated to Paris. In 1933 Bunin became the first Russian to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature.
The Soviet Period and After
The period immediately following the Bolshevik Revolution was one of literary experimentation and the emergence of numerous literary groups. Much of the fiction of the 1920s described the Civil War or the struggle between the old and new Russia. The best prose writers of the 1920s were Isaak Babel’, Mikhail Bulgakov, Veniamin Kaverin, Leonid Leonov, Yuriy Olesha, Boris Pil’nyak, Yevgeniy Zamyatin, and Mikhail Zoshchenko. The dominant poets were Akhmatova, Osip Mandel’shtam, Mayakovskiy, Pasternak, Marina Tsvetayeva, and Sergey Yesenin. But under Stalin, literature felt the same restrictions as the rest of Russia’s society. After a group of “proletarian writers” had gained ascendancy in the early 1930s, the communist party Central Committee forced all fiction writers into the Union of Soviet Writers in 1934. The union then established the standard of “socialist realism” for Soviet literature, and many of the writers in Russia fell silent or emigrated (see Mobilization of Society, ch. 2). A few prose writers adapted by describing moral problems in the new Soviet state, but the stage was dominated by formulaic works of minimal literary value such as Nikolay Ostrovskiy’s How the Steel Was Tempered and Yuriy Krymov’s Tanker Derbent. A unique work of the 1930s was the Civil War novel The Quiet Don , which won its author, Mikhail Sholokhov, the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1965, although Sholokhov’s authorship is disputed by some experts. The strict controls of the 1930s continued until the “thaw” following Stalin’s death in 1953, although some innovation was allowed in prose works of the World War II period.
Between 1953 and 1991, Russian literature produced a number of first-rate artists, all still working under the pressure of state censorship and often distributing their work through a sophisticated underground system called samizdat (literally, self-publishing). The poet Pasternak’s Civil War novel, Doctor Zhivago, created a sensation when published in the West in 1957. The book won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1958, but the Soviet government forced Pasternak to decline the award. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, whose One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (1962) also was a watershed work, was the greatest Russian philosophical novelist of the era; he was exiled from the Soviet Union in 1974 and eventually settled in the United States. In the 1960s and 1970s, a new generation of satirical and prose writers, such as Fazil’ Iskander, Vladimir Voinovich, Yuriy Kazakov, and Vladimir Aksyonov, battled against state restrictions on artistic expression, as did the noted poets Yevgeniy Yevtushenko, Andrey Voznesenskiy, and Joseph Brodsky. Aksyonov and Brodsky emigrated to the United States, where they remained productive. Brodsky won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1987. The most celebrated case of literary repression in the 1960s was that of Andrey Sinyavskiy and Yuliy Daniel, iconoclastic writers of the Soviet “underground” whose 1966 sentence to hard labour for having written anti-Soviet propaganda brought international protest.
Another generation of writers responded to the liberalized atmosphere of Gorbachev’s glasnost in the second half of the 1980s, openly discussing previously taboo themes: the excesses of the Stalin era, a wide range of previously unrecognized social ills such as corruption, random violence, anti-Semitism, and prostitution, and even the unassailably positive image of Vladimir I. Lenin himself. Among the best of this generation were Andrey Bykov, Mikhail Kurayev, Valeriy Popov, Tat’yana Tolstaya, and Viktor Yerofeyev–writers not necessarily as talented as their predecessors but expressing a new kind of “alternative fiction.” The glasnost period also saw the publication of formerly prohibited works by writers such as Bulgakov, Solzhenitsyn, and Zamyatin.
Beginning in 1992, Russian writers experienced complete creative freedom for the first time in many decades. The change was not entirely for the better, however. The urgent mission of the Russian writers, to provide the public with a kind of truth they could not find elsewhere in a censored society, had already begun to disappear in the 1980s when glasnost opened Russia to a deluge of information and entertainment flowing from the West and elsewhere. Samizdat was tacitly accepted by the Gorbachev regime, then it disappeared entirely as private publishers appeared in the early 1990s. Writers’ traditional special place in society no longer is recognized by most Russians, who now read literature much less avidly than they did in Soviet times. For the first time since their appearance in the early 1800s, the “thick journals” are disregarded by large portions of the intelligentsia, and in the mid-1990s several major journals went bankrupt. Under these circumstances, many Russian writers have expressed a sense of deep loss and frustration.
4. Latin American Literature
El Tres de Mayo Top Ten LiteratureThe Latin American Literature usually refers to the span from the 1950s to the 1970s in which Latin American Literature attained publicity that it had not known before. Important authors in the “boom” included Julio Cortazar, Manuel Puig, Carlos Fuentes, Mario Vargas Llosa, Jose Donoso, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. These Latin American authors were greatly influenced by European and American authors of the generations preceding them, especially those who experimented with novelistic structure and chronology. Such authors include William Faulkner, James Joyce, Henry James and Virginia Woolf. The “boom” brought about a new genre of writing coined “magic realism” or “magical realism,” because these Latin American novels tended to blend magic and dream-like features with attentiveness to everyday reality.
Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude is often considered one of the most prominent works of the “boom” period. While Chronicle of a Death Foretold was published in 1981, which many considered to be after the “boom” period had ended, it clearly includes many of the aspects of that literary time. For instance, not only does Chronicle of a Death Foretold incorporate features of magic realism constantly through novel-including characters who practice the occult as well as several evil omens-but also Garcia Marquez experiments with structure and the fragmentation of time, two main characteristics of a “boom” novel.
Garcia Marquez was also ahead of his time when he wrote Chronicle of a Death Foretold in that he anticipated the recent Latin American trend of writing about the working classes. Authors of the recent “post-boom” period often incorporate young lower-class characters in their novels. Marquez deals with the class struggles in Columbia, using Santiago Nasar to represent the upper middle-class, and characters such as Angela Vicario and her brothers to represent the lower working-class. Chronicle of a Death Foretold was written before the themes of class struggle became popular in Latin American novels, and is therefore a harbinger of the most recent Latin American literature.
3. Urdu Literature
Allama Iqbal by Shakir15 241×300 Top Ten LiteratureUrdu writing in its various primitive forms can be traced to Muhammad Urfi (Tadhkirah -1228 AD), Amir Khusro (1259-1325 AD) and Kwaja Muhammad Husaini (1318-1422 AD). As Urdu started flourishing in the kingdoms of Golconda and Bijapur, the earliest writings in Urdu are in the Dakhni (Deccani) dialect. The Sufi saints were the earliest promoters of the Dakhni Urdu. The Sufi-saint Hazrat Khwaja Banda Nawaz Gesudaraz is considered to be the first prose writer of Dakhni Urdu and some treatises like Merajul Ashiqin and Tilawatul Wajud are attributed to him but his authorship is open to doubt. The first literary work in Urdu is that of Bidar poet Fakhruddin Nizami’s mathnavi ‘Kadam Rao Padam Rao’ written between 1421 and 1434 A.D. Kamal Khan Rustami (Khawar Nama) and Nusrati (Gulshan-e-Ishq, Ali Nama and Tarikh-e-Iskandari) were two great poets of Bijapur. Muhammed Quli Qutb Shah, the greatest of Golconda Kings who was a distinguished poet, is credited with introducing a secular content to otherwise predominantly religious Urdu poetry. His poetry focused on love, nature and social life of the day.
Among the other important writers of Dakhni Urdu were Shah Miranji Shamsul Ushaq (Khush Nama and Khush Naghz), Shah Burhanuddin Janam, Mullah Wajhi (Qutb Mushtari and Sabras), Ghawasi (Saiful Mulook-O- Badi-Ul-Jamal and Tuti Nama), Ibn-e-Nishati (Phul Ban) and Tabai (Bhahram-O-Guldandam). Wajhi’s Sabras is considered to be a masterpiece of great literary and philosophical merit. Vali Mohammed or Vali Dakhni (Diwan) was one of the most prolific Dakhni poets of the medieval period. He developed the form of the ghazal. When his Diwan (Collection of Ghazals and other poetic genres) reached philosophical, the poets of Delhi who were engaged in composing poetry in Persian language, were much impressed and they also started writing poetry in Urdu, which they named Rekhta.
The medieval Urdu poetry grew under the shadow of Persian poetry. Unlike the Hindi poetry, which grew out of the Indian soil, Urdu poetry was initially fed with Persian words and imagery. Sirajuddin Ali Khan Arzu and Shaikh Sadullah Gulshan were the earliest promoters of Urdu language in North India. By the beginning of the 18th century, a more sophisticated North Indian variation of the Urdu language began to evolve through the writings of Shaikh Zahooruddin Hatim (1699-1781 AD), Mirza Mazhar Jan-e-Janan (1699-1781 AD) Khwaja Mir Dard (1719- 1785 AD), Mir Taqi Mir (1722-1810 AD), Mir Hasan (1727- 1786 AD) and Mohammed Rafi Sauda (1713-1780 AD). Sauda has been described as the foremost satirist of Urdu literature during the 18th Century. His Shahr Ashob and Qasida Tazheek-e-Rozgar are considered as masterpieces of Urdu literature. Mir Hassan’s mathnavi Sihr-ul- Bayan and Mir Taqi Mir’s mathnavies provided a distinct Indian touch to the language. Mir’s works, apart from his six Diwans, include Nikat-ush-Shora (Tazkira) and Zikr-se-Mir (Autobiography).
Shaik Ghulam Hamdani Mushafi (1750-1824), Insha Allah Khan (Darya-e- Latafat and Rani Ketaki), Khwaja Haider Ali Atish, Daya Shankar Naseem (mathnavi: Gulzare-e-Naseem), Nawab Mirza Shauq (Bahr-e-Ishq, Zahr-e-Ishq and Lazzat-e-Ishq) and Shaik Imam Bakhsh Nasikh were the early poets of Lucknow. Mir Babar Ali Anees (1802-1874) excelled in the art of writing marsiyas.
The last Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar was a poet with a unique style, typified by difficult rhymes, excessive wordplay and use of idiomatic language. He has authored four voluminous Diwans. Before the national uprising of 1857, the reign of Bahadur Shah Zafar witnessed the luxurious spring of Urdu poetry immediately followed by the chilly winds of autumn. Shaik Ibrahim Zauq was the Shah’s mentor in poetry. Next to Sauda he is considered to be the most outstanding composer of qasidas (panegyrics). Hakim Momin Khan Momin wrote ghazals in a style peculiar to him. He used ghazal exclusively for expressing emotions of love. Any description of Urdu literature can never be complete without the mention of Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib (1797-1869), who is considered as the greatest of all the Urdu poets. With his passion for originality, Ghalib brought in a renaissance in Urdu poetry. In the post – Ghalib period, Dagh (b. 1831) emerged as a distinct poet, whose poetry was distinguished by its purity of idiom and simplicity of language and thought.
Modern Urdu literature covers the time from the last quarter of the 19th century to the present day and can be divided into two periods: the period of the Aligarh Movement started by Sir Sayyid Ahmed Khan and the period influenced by Sir Mohammed Iqbal followed by the Progressive Movement and movements of Halqa-e-Arbab-e-Zouq, Modernism and Post modernism. However, Altaf Hussain Hali (1837-1914) is the actual innovator of the modern spirit in Urdu poetry. Hali’s works include Diwan-e-Hali, Madd-o-Jazr-e-Islam or Musaddas-e-Hali (1879), Shakwa-e-Hind (1887), Munajat-e-Beva (1886) and Chup ki Dad (1905). Hali showered the art of writing biographies with a critical approach in his biographies Hayat-e-Sadi and Hayat-e-Jaweed. Hali was the pioneer of modern criticism.
His Muqaddama-e-Sher-o-Shaeri is the foundation stone of Urdu criticism. Shibli Nomani (b.1857) is considered as the father of modern history in Urdu. He has produced several works based on historical research, especially on Islamic history, like Seerat-un- Noman (1892) and Al Faruq (1899). Shibli also produced important works like Swanih Umari Moulana Rum, Ilmul Kalam (1903), Muvazina-e- Anis-o-Dabir (1907) and Sher-ul-Ajam (1899). Mohammed Hussain Azad was an important writer and poet of this period. He laid the foundation of the modern poem in Urdu. Ab-e-Hayat, Sukhandan-e-Pars, Darbar-e-Akbari and Nazm-e-Azad are some of his outstanding literary works.
Other leading poets of modern period include Syyid Akbar Husain Akbar Allahabadi (1846-1921), who had a flair for the extempore composition of satiric and comic verses, Khushi Mohammed Nazir (1872-1944), who composed Jogi and Pani Mein,
Allama Mohammed Iqbal,the poet of east, (1873-1938),
Durga Sahai Suroor (d.1910), Mohammed Ali Jauhar (d.1931) and Hasrat Mohani (d.1951). Iqbal’s poetry underwent several phases of evolution from Romanticism (‘Nala-e-Yateem’ and ‘Abr-e-Guhar Bar’) to Indian Nationalism (‘Tasvir-e-Dard’, ‘Naya Shivala’ and ‘Tarana-e-Hindi’) and finally to Pan-Islamism (‘Shakva’, ‘Sham-o-Shair’, ‘Jawab-e-Shakva’, ‘Khizr- e-Rah’ and ‘Tulu-e-Islam’).
Fani Badayuni (1879-1941), Shad Azimabadi (1846-1927), Yagana Changezi (1884-1956), Asghar Gondavi (1884-1936), Jigar Moradabadi (1896-1982), Akhtar Shirani, Faiz Ahmed Faiz (1912- 1985), Miraji (1912-1950), N.M.Rashid (1910-1976), Akhtarul-Iman (b.1915), Ali Sardar Jafri (b.1913), Makhdoom Mohiuddin (1908 -1969), Kaifi Azmi (b.1918), Jan Nisar Akhtar (1914-1979), Sahir Ludhianvi (1922-1980), Majrooh Sultanpuri (1919-2000), Asrarul Haq Majaz (1911- 1955), Nasir Kazmi, Ibn-e-Insha and Dr Kalim Ajiz have taken the Urdu poetry to new heights.
A new generation of poets emerged around the sixth decade of twentieth century. The leading poets of this generation include Khaleelur Rahman Aazmi, Himyat Ali Shair, Balraj Komal, Ameeq Hanafi, Kumar Pashi, Makhmoor Saidi, Mazhar Imam, Dr Mughni Tabassum, Bani, Munir Niyazi, Suleman Areeb, Aziz Qaisi, Saqi Faruqi, Iftekhar Arif, Saleem Ahmed, Qazi Saleem, Shafiq Fatima Shera, Bashar Nawaz, Akbar Hyderabadi, Waheed Akhter, Shaz Tamkanat, Zubair Razvi, Muztar Majaz, Mushaf Iqbal Tausifi, Zohra Nigah, Kishwar Naheed, Zahida Zaidi, Siddiqua Shabnam and others.
The short story in Urdu began with Munshi Premchand’s Soz-e-Vatan (1908). Premchand’s short stories cover nearly a dozen volumes including Prem Pachisi, Prem Battisi, Prem Chalisi, Zad-e-Rah, Vardaat, Akhri Tuhfa and Khak-e-Parvana. Mohammed Hussan Askari and Khwaja Ahmed Abbas are counted among the leading lights of the Urdu Short story. The Progressive Movement in Urdu fiction gained momentum under Sajjad Zaheer (1905-1976), Ahmed Ali (1912-1994), Mahmood-uz- Zafar (1908-1994) and Rasheed Jahan (1905-1952). Urdu writers like Rajender Singh Bedi and Krishn Chander (1914-1977) showed commitment to the Marxist philosophy in their writings. Krishn Chander’s ‘Adhe Ghante Ka Khuda’ is one of the most memorable stories in Urdu literature. His other renowned short stories include ‘Zindagi Ke Mor Par’, ‘Kalu Bhangi’ and ‘Mahalaxmi Ka Pul’. Bedi’s Garm ‘Kot’ and ‘Lajvanti’ are among the masterpieces of Urdu short story. Bedi’s important works include collections of short stories, Dana-o-Daam Girhen, Kokh Jali and Apne Dukh Mujhe Dedo etc., collection of plays ‘Saat Khel’ and a novel Ek Chadar Maili Si (1972). Manto, Ismat Chughtai and Mumtaz Mufti form a different brand of Urdu writers who concentrated on the “psychological story” in contrast to the “sociological story” of Bedi and Krishn Chander. Some of Ismat Chughtai’s leading short stories are ‘Chauthi Ka Jora’, ‘Do Hath’, ‘Lehren’ and ‘Lihaf’. Manto dealt in an artistic way with many unconventional subjects, like sex, which were considered taboo by the Middle-class. His ‘Thanda Gosht’, which dealt with the subject of necrophilia, shocked the readers. Another of Manto’s praise-worthy works was ‘Khol Do’, which tackled the horrors of partition. Ahmad Nadeem Qasmi (b.1915) is another leading name in Urdu short story. His important short stories include ‘Alhamd-o- Lillah’, ‘Savab’, ‘Nasib’ and others. In the post-1936 period, the writers belonging to the Halqa-e-Arbab-e-Zauq produced several good stories in Urdu. Upender Nath Ashk (Dachi), Ghulam Abbas (Anandi). Intezar Hussain, Anwar Sajjad, Balraj Mainra, Surender Parkash and Qurratul- ain Haider (Sitaroun Se Aage, Mere Sanam Khane) are the other leading lights of Urdu short story. Several leading fiction writers emerged from the city of Hyderabad in contemporary times, which include Jeelani Bano, Iqbal Mateen, Awaz Sayeed, Kadeer Zaman, Mazhr-uz-Zaman and others.
Novel writing in Urdu can be traced to Nazir Ahmed (1836-1912) who composed several novels like Mirat-ul-Urus (1869), Banat-un-Nash (1873), Taubat-un-Nasuh (1877), Fasana-e-Mubtala (1885), Ibn-ul-Waqt (1888), Ayama (1891) and others. Pandit Ratan Nath Sarshar’s (1845-1903) Fasana-e-Azad, Abdul Halim Sharar (1860-1920)’s Badr-un- Nisa Ki Musibat and Agha Sadiq ki Shadi, Mirza Muhammed Hadi Ruswa’s Umrao Jan Ada (1899) are some of the great novels and novelettes written during the period. Niaz Fatehpuri (1887-1966) and Qazi Abdul Gaffar (1862-1956) were the other eminent early romantic novelists in the language. However, it was Premchand (1880-1936) who tried to introduce the trend of realism in Urdu novel. Premchand was a prolific writer who produced several books. His important novels include Bazare-e-Husn (1917), Gosha-e-Afiat, Chaugan-e-Hasti, Maidan- e-Amal and Godan. Premchand’s realism was further strengthened by the writers of the Indian Progressive Writers’ Association like Sajjad Zaheer, Krishn Chander and Ismat Chughtai. Krishn Chander’s Jab Khet Jage (1952), Ek Gadhe Ki Sarguzasht (1957) and Shikast are considered among the outstanding novels in Urdu literature. Ismat Chughtai’s novel Terhi Lakir (1947) and Qurratul-ain Haider’s novel Aag Ka Darya are considered as important works in the history of Urdu novel. Khwaja Ahmed Abbas, Aziz Ahmed, Balwant Singh, Khadija Mastur, Intezar Hussain are the other important writers in Urdu in contemporary times.
Urdu was not confined to only the Muslim writers. Several writers from other religions also wrote in Urdu. Prominent among them are Munshi Premchand, Firaq Gorakhpuri, Pandit Ratan Nath Sarshar (Fasana- e-Azad) and Brij Narain Chakbast (1882 – 1926), who composed Subh-e- Watan and Tilok Chand Mahrum (1887-1966), who composed Andhi and Utra Hua Darya, Krishn Chander, Rajindar Singh Bedi, Kanhaiyalal Kapur, Upendar Nath Ashk, Jagan Nath Azad, Jogender Pal, Balraj Komal and Kumar Pashi.
2. American Literature
HogarthMarriage Top Ten LiteratureThe birth and origins of American Literature can be traced back to the folk-lore of the indigenous Indian tribes. But, American Literature as we know it today has much to do with the history of colonization and the birth of America as a nation. Early European settlers, pirates, adventurers and explorers left behind journals, diaries, memoirs and other writings which collectively formed the very first archives of written literary material. Owing to its content, American Literature also came to be known as the “Literature of Exploration”. The contribution of American Literature in English Literature is second only to that of British Literature. It would not be incorrect to say that the former branched out of the latter but over time, evolved and bloomed into a separate and distinct entity- similar in some ways and different in others from its British counterpart.
The Puritan Genre
The Puritans were one of the earliest European settlers in “New England” (now America) and their writing made up what is perhaps the first well-defined genre in the history of American Literature. The Puritans denounced the sinful ways of the “old world” and extensively used prose to express piety, virtue and devotion to God. They, however, looked down upon poetry as vile and futile- anything that was embellished and not austere was considered a frivolity.
The variety and diversity of American poetry are evident in the works of the two greatest American poets- Walt Whitman and Emily Dickson. While Whitman’s poetry was pregnant with startling realism and built around the lives of common people, Dickson’s works were immersed in lofty thoughts and idealistic introspection. Modern age poets too have presented a rich panorama of colours in their works- Robert Frost’s “Mending Wall” and “Birches” depict his love for nature; Wallace Steven’s “Sunday Morning” and “The Emperor of Ice Cream” reflect his devotion towards art; Ezra Pounds poems deal with political, social and literary perspectives and Adrienne Rich struggles to make a strong feminist statement in “Aunt Jennifer’s Tiger’s” and “Snapshots of a Daughter-In-Law.
American novelists have also contributed in giving the world some of the best literary classics like “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”, “Tom Sawyer” by Mark Twain, and “Scarlet Letter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Mark Twain will always be remembered for his memorable characters and his unique employment of local and regional dialect. Twain’s satirical style and dark humour in his novel are reflective of his opposition of slavery and racism while Hawthorne responds in his own way to the conservative ideologies of the puritans. These classic novels are still enthusiastically read by readers and will never go “out of style”. The newest classical American novelist happens to be an African-American woman- Toni Morrison whose novel “The Bluest Eye” shot her to fame in the late twentieth century. African American writing is as integral to American Literature as African-American culture is to America. These works are poignant reflections of racism, poverty and gender discrimination in a society that is a part of America, yet is ages away from it.
Classic American Literature
Evergreen stories like “Moby Dick” by Herman Melville, “The Prince and the Pauper” by Mark Twain, “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott and “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” by L. Frank Baum are an important part of high school curriculum and have given us some of the most delightful Hollywood movies ever made.
American Literature Writers
Another tradition born out of American Literature is that of the Short story. Washington Irving, of the “Rip Van Winkle” and “The Legend of the Sleeping Hollow” fame was the first to regard the short-story as a separate genre in literature. It was however Edgar Allan Poe who later laid the “guidelines” and proposed theories for the development of the short-story. Modern age writers like O.Henry, Bret Hart and Stephen Crane contributed to the richness of the genre in their own unique style. Earnest Hemingway’s “A Clear Well Lighted Place” and William Faulkner’s “The Bear” present the freshness and novelty in the tradition of short-story telling. These two writers re-defined the concept of character development, economy of words, plot construction and narration- all of which are equally significant in today’s short-story arena.
1. English Literature
English literature begins with the arrival of the English (Angles) and Saxons and Jutes from Germany and Denmark (and maybe from Holland — Frisian is the closest relative to the English language. “Good bread and good cheese is good English and good Fries”).
The Germanic invaders set up many small kingdoms and fought among themselves for 250 years (600-850 A.D.)
Danes attacked in the late 9th century and took over all north and central England. (An area called the Danelaw). Alfred the Great (871-899) of the Kingdom of Wessex (=”West Saxons”) stopped them from taking all of it.
In the middle of the 11th Century, the country was united under an Anglo-Saxon king.
Just after that happened, in 1066, Normans (French-speakers from Normandy) conquered England at the Battle of Hastings (or Senlac Hill), ending the Anglo-Saxon period. King Harold got an arrow in his eye, and William, Duke of Normandy became William I, “the Conqueror,” King of England.
Question for Vancouverites: What Vancouver street commemorates a battle that took place in 1066?
The Anglo-Saxon or Old English language.
You wouldn’t recognize it as English, honest. First of all, it was a declined language, like Latin or Finnish, meaning that nouns and adjectives received special endings instead of prepositions. For another, the vocabulary is almost completely Germanic (with a little church Latin), so a lot of words that have been introduced to English in the last thousand years weren’t there. Next, there have been changes in the alphabet. They had two letters that we don’t (“eth” makes the sound of the “th” in “Gareth”, and “thorn” makes the sound at the beginning of … uh … thorn. It’s absolutely beautiful to listen to, though, even if you don’t understand a word. Try to get a recording of “Beowulf,” if you don’t believe me. The need for Anglo-Saxons to talk to Danes simplified English a bit. For example, making all plurals end in “s”.
The first prose writer was the Venerable Bede, a 7th century scholar who wrote the Ecclesiastical History in Latin.
The most influential prose writer was Alfred the Great (yes, THAT one) who translated Bede into Anglo-Saxon, encouraged the keeping of records of events (The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle) had the Bible translated into Anglo-Saxon and (I’m told) invented the time candle. Oh, and did I mention that I was born in his part of the country? He may be an ancestor of mine. Or of yours. Remind me to give you the proof that everyone is related.
THE MEDIEVAL PERIOD (1100-1500 A.D.)
The Middle English Language
For 300 years after 1066 (what happened then?), England had French-speaking kings. For a while, the same was true with lords and churchmen. Not surprisingly, the old Anglo-Saxon language merged with a lot of Norman French to create a non-declined language with a huge mixed vocabulary. Fancy words about the law, government, or luxuries entered the language from French (words like “royalty” “nobility” “mortgage” “perjury” and “parliament”). But the old words didn’t necessarily disappear, so English ended up with lots of synonyms and near-synonyms, like kingly/royal/regal/sovereign or ask/question/query/interrogate. The Hundred Years War (1337-1454) lessened the hold of the French for patriotic reasons. The Black Death (which arrived in England in 1348 and stayed for about 20 years) lessened the hold of French for reasons of high mortality in both French and English speaking populations — but there were many more speakers of English. By the time of Geoffrey Chaucer, English looked pretty recognizable.
Romances are stories of knights and their adventures. “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” is one example, contemporary with Chaucer. Sir Thomas Malory’s (1395-1471) Morte D’Arthur (about 100 years after Chaucer, during the Wars of the Roses) is the longest and most famous. It was one of the first printed books in English, thanks to William Caxton who set up a printing press in London in 1476. As everywhere else, this changed the nature of literature from a predominantly oral entertainment to a quiet one.
THE ENGLISH RENAISSANCE (1500-1650 A.D.)
The Renaissance started in Italy and spread through Europe. As one of the farthest fringes of Europe, it hit England almost last, at the times of the Tudor monarchs (Henry VII, who ended the Wars of the Roses in 1485, Henry VIII, who founded the Church of England, and Elizabeth I, who presided over the height of the English Renaissance). Since Elizabeth was known as “the Virgin Queen,” it isn’t surprising that a new royal family followed her. James VI of Scotland came down and became James I of the United Kingdom of England and Scotland. (That’s the same James who commissioned the writing of the King James version of the Bible, which is still used today).
Three important aspects of the changes during this period:
Renaissance means “re-birth” and refers to the renewed access to Classical scholarship and techniques. The proudest boast that Renaissance artists, scholars, architects, poets, and scientists could make was that they did things as well as the ancients. Others felt that they couldn’t possibly be doing work that good, and that it was impious and hubristic to claim that they were. You will read echoes of these debates.
The Roman Catholic (which means “universal”) church had a number of unpopular and even corrupt practices. A strong effort to reform the church, called the Reformation, is traditionally said to have started in Germany in 1517 when Martin Luther posted “Ninety-five Theses” on a door of the Wittemberg church. He ignited religious rebellion and started a new variety of Christianity: Lutheranism, the first Protestant religion. He also started the Hundred Years War, as Protestants and Catholics fought over northern Europe. Efforts to destroy Protestantism and restore the unity of the Roman Catholic Church failed. And that is why there are Protestant religions today: A Catholic could define a Protestant religion as a heresy that survived.
The English variety of the Reformation was sparked by Henry VIII’s difficulty in having an heir. He kept having to replace wives in the effort to have a male child, and the Pope refused to allow him to annul or divorce one after another. So Henry effectively made himself the Pope of England. (Still true, in a sense. Although the Archbishop of Canterbury is the senior cleric in the C. of E., the Queen is the head of the church). Henry also confiscated all of the Church’s wealth, destroyed monasteries, and killed people who would not renounce the Catholic faith. After 1.5 millennia of more-or-less unified Christianity in the West, this was a huge break with tradition.
While this post is far from covering all the elements of these ten common forms of literature it is still pretty in-depth. But if you have any information you would like to add simply leave a comment below and we will add it to this post at a later date.