History of Literature





The Beginnings of Literature. Myths and Legends

Classical Myth

Myth and Mystery


Hebrew literature

Ancient Greek literature

Ancient Greek literature. Greek theatre

Ancient Greek literature. Philosophical prose

Latin (Roman) literature

Latin (Roman) Literature. The Silver Age

Latin (Roman) Literature. Renaissance

Modern Italian Literature

The Middle Ages Literature

The Middle Ages. Elizabethan England

The Restoration

The Rise of the Novel

Cervantes and Spanish literature

The Enlightenment


Classicism and Naturalism

The 19th century - Prose

The 20th century - Modernism

The 20th century - The Political Novel

The 20th century - The Political Novel


The 20th century - The Political Novel

Franz Kafka "The Trial"
George Orwell  "Nineteen Eighty-Four"

Mikhail Bulgakov
"Master i Margarita" ("The Master and Margarita")

Boris Pasternak "Poems"

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn  
"One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich"

Andrei Sinyavsky
Yuli Daniel

Joseph Brodsky "Poems"
Nobel Lecture  December 8, 1987

Norman Mailer
J. D. Salinger
Bernard Malamud
Saul Bellow
Vladimir Nabokov
James Baldwin
Graham Greene
Ian Fleming
H.G. Wells  "The War of the Worlds"   PART I, PART II   
"The Invisible Man"
"A Short History of the World"  PART I, II, III, IV, V
Karel Capek
Aldous Huxley
Isaac Asimov
Arthur C. Clarke
Kingsley Amis
Kurt Vonnegut
Evelyn Waugh
John Osborne
William Gerald Golding
Iris Murdoch
Malcolm Bradbury
David Lodge
Doris Lessing
Anthony Powell
Margaret Drabble
Angela Carter
Martin Amis
James Baldwin
Alain Robbe-Grillet
Nathalie Sarraute
Marguerite Duras
Michel Foucault
Alberto Moravia
Umberto Eco
Primo Levi
ltalo Calvino
Leonardo Sciascia
Giuseppe Iomasi di Lampedusa
Anna Seghers
Arnold Zweig
Heinrich Boll
Gunther Grass
Uwe Johnson
Jorge Luis Borges
Alejo Carpentier
Jorge Armado
Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Mario Vargas Lhosa

Jose Clemente Orozco. The Epic of American Civilization



Some engagement with political concerns marks most novelists, at least indirectly. The more direct engagement with current events of recent times is basically political, and in some countries, such as Russia under Stalinism, virtually all serious literature is political; there is no escaping it, even in a book of nursery rhymes. The Hungarian-born Arthur Koestler's Darkness at Noon (1940) is a classic anti-Stalinist novel. But there is really no identifiable category of 'the Political Novel', and whatever links Kafka, Orwell and Solzhenitsyn, it is not similarity of form or style.


Franz Kafka "The Trial"

The novels of
Franz Kafka (1883-1924) are 'political' largely in retrospect. The real subject of his unsettling tales is the alienation of the individual in a hostile, uncomprehending, inexplicable world. A German-speaking Jew from Prague, tubercular and mentally troubled, he was hardly known in his lifetime, his three novels and most of his short stones being published posthumously through his friend and executor, Max Brod, who disregarded Kafka's suggestion that they should be burned.

Kafka's novels, "The Trial" (1925), The Castle (1926) and Amerika (1927), are fragmentary, and the last is unfinished. The first sentence of the I mil suggests the flavour: 'Someone must have slandered Joseph K. because, one morning, without his having done anything wrong, he was arrested." The central character, whose surname is never elucidated, is persecuted and eventually executed by various incomprehensible agencies working on behalf of a mysterious judicial body. In The Castle, the central character strives heroically and fruitlessly to secure recognition of his existence from the authorities m the castle. I liese novels predated the Stalinist terror and came to acquire greater resonance as a result of it. But the labyrithine complexities, the sinister absurdities, the oppressive atmosphere of intense anxiety that characterize Kafka's decidedly unsettling world are described, astonishingly, in pearl-like language, lucid and concise.

Few novelists have inspired more interpreters, but no interpreter satisfactorily explains
Kafka's vision.


George Orwell  "Nineteen Eighty-Four"

Old Etonian and veteran of the Burma Police,
George Orwell (1903-50) acknowledged that he was not a true novelist. A gifted journalist and essayist, he was inspired by hatred of political injustice, and the novel sometimes proved the most suitable means to express it. Among his best books are his factual account of unemployment in the north of England, The Road to Wigan Pier (1937), and his account of his experiences as a Republican volunteer in the Spanish Civil War, Homage to Catalonia (1938), but he is chiefly remembered for two works of fiction.

A socialist but a democrat,
Orwell's target in both Animal Farm (1945) and "Nineteen Eighty-Fou" (1949) is Soviet totalitarianism. Animal Farm belongs to that select group of parables that can be read as a children's story. The farm animals rebel against the exploitative farmer and set up a republic in which 'All animals are equal'. The popular revolution is taken over by the pigs, led by Napoleon, the other animals are subjected to still worse suppression, and to their democratic slogan is added '. . . but some animals are more equal than others'. "Nineteen Eighty-Fou" is a dystopia of a futuristic totalitarian state. owing something to Koestler, in which the Party rewrites history and the dictionary in its efforts to control the very thoughts of the people, who are watched over by the ubiquitous image of Big Brother. The Cold War made it seen: all the more topical, but Orwell's tour de force also signifies his loss of faith in human nature.

Political repression in the Soviet Union


Great Purge

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


In the 1920s and 1930s, two thousand writers, intellectuals, and artists were imprisoned and 1,500 died in prisons and concentration camps.

Russian poet Nikolai Gumilev was executed on 24th August, 1921.

Hikolai Gumilyov. Foto Petrograd Cheka, August 24, 1921

After sunspot development research was judged un-Marxist, twenty-seven astronomers disappeared between 1936 and 1938. The Meteorological Office was violently purged as early as 1933 for failing to predict weather harmful to the crops.  But the toll was especially high among writers. Those who perished during the Great Purge include:

The great poet Osip Mandelshtam  was arrested for reciting his famous anti-Stalin poem Stalin Epigram to his circle of friends in 1934. After intervention by Nikolai Bukharin and Boris Pasternak (Stalin jotted down in Bukharin's letter with feigned indignation: “Who gave them the right to arrest Mandelstam?”), Stalin instructed NKVD to "isolate but preserve" him, and Mandelshtam was "merely" exiled to Cherdyn for three years. But this proved to be a temporary reprieve. In May 1938, he was promptly arrested again for "counter-revolutionary activities". On August 2, 1938, Mandelshtam was sentenced to five years in correction camps and died on December 27, 1938 at a transit camp near Vladivostok.  Boris Pasternak himself was nearly purged, but Stalin is said to have crossed Pasternak's name off the list, saying "Don't touch this cloud dweller."

Osip Mandelshtam
NKVD photo after the second arrest, 1938

Writer Isaac Babel was arrested in May 1939, and according to his confession paper (which contained a blood stain) he "confessed" to being a member of Trotskyist organization and being recruited by French writer Andre Malraux to spy for France. In the final interrogation, he retracted his confession and wrote letters to prosecutor's office stating that he had implicated innocent people, but to no avail. Babel was tried before an NKVD troika and convicted of simultaneously spying for the French, Austrians, and Leon Trotsky, as well as "membership in a terrorist organization." On January 27, 1940, he was shot in Butyrka prison.

Isaac Babel
The NKVD photo of Babel made after his arres

Writer Boris Pilnyak was arrested on October 28, 1937 for counter-revolutionary activities, spying and terrorism. One report alleged that "he held secret meetings with (Andre) Gide, and supplied him with information about the situation in the USSR. There is no doubt that Gide used this information in his book attacking the USSR." Pilnyak was tried on April 21, 1938. In the proceeding that lasted 15 minutes, he was condemned to death and executed shortly afterward.

Boris Pilnyak

Theater director Vsevolod Meyerhold was arrested in 1939 and shot in February 1940 for "spying" for Japanese and British intelligence. In a letter to Vyacheslav Molotov dated January 13, 1940, he wrote: "The investigators began to use force on me, a sick 65-year-old man. I was made to lie face down and beaten on the soles of my feet and my spine with a rubber strap... For the next few days, when those parts of my legs were covered with extensive internal hemorrhaging, they again beat the red-blue-and-yellow bruises with the strap and the pain was so intense that it felt as if boiling water was being poured on these sensitive areas. I howled and wept from the pain. I incriminated myself in the hope that by telling them lies I could end the ordeal. When I lay down on the cot and fell asleep, after 18 hours of interrogation, in order to go back in an hour's time for more, I was woken up by my own groaning and because I was jerking about like a patient in the last stages of typhoid fever."  His wife, the actress Zinaida Raikh, was murdered in her apartment by NKVD agents She was stabbed 17 times, two of them through the eyes.

Vsevolod Meyerhold and Zinaida Raikh

Vsevolod Meyerhold's mugshot, taken at the time of his arrest

Georgian poet Titsian Tabidze was arrested on October 10, 1937 on a charge of treason and was tortured in prison. In a bitter humor, he named only the 18th-century Georgian poet Besiki as his accomplice in anti-Soviet activities. He was executed on December 16, 1937. His friend and poet Paolo Iashvili, having earlier been forced to denounce several of his associates as the enemies of the people, shot himself with a hunting gun in the building of the Writers' Union.  (He witnessed and even had to participate in public trials that ousted many of his associates from the Writers' Union, effectively condemning them to death. When Lavrenty Beria further pressured him with alternative of denouncing his life-long friend Tabidze or being arrested and tortured by the NKVD, he killed himself.)

In early 1937, poet Pavel Vasiliev is said to have defended Bukharin as "a man of the highest nobility and the conscience of peasant Russia" at the time of his denunciation at the Pyatakov Trial (Second Moscow Trial) and damned other writers then signing the routine condemnations as "pornographic scrawls on the margins of Russian literature." He was promptly shot on July 16, 1937.


Titsian Tabidze

Paolo Iashvili

Pavel Vasiliev


Jan Sten, philosopher and deputy head of the Marx-Engels Institute was Stalin's private tutor when Stalin was trying hard to study Hegel's dialectic. (Stalin received lessons twice a week from 1925 to 1928, but he found it difficult to master even some of the basic ideas. Stalin developed enduring hostility toward German idealistic philosophy, which he called "the aristocratic reaction to the French Revolution".) In 1937, Sten was seized on the direct order of Stalin, who declared him one of the chiefs of Menshevizing idealists. On June 19, 1937, Sten was put to death in Lefortovo prison.

Daniil Kharms was arrested in 1931 together with Vvedensky, Tufanov and some other writers, and was in exile from his hometown (forced to live in the city of Kursk) for most of a year. He was arrested as a member of "a group of anti-Soviet children's writers", and some of his works were used as an evidence. Soviet authorities, having become increasingly hostile toward the avant-garde in general, deemed Kharms’ writing for children anti-Soviet because of its absurd logic and its refusal to instill materialist and social Soviet values.

Daniil Kharms

He continued to write for children's magazines when he returned from exile, though his name would appear in the credits less often. His plans for more performances and plays were curtailed, the OBERIU disbanded, and Kharms receded into a very private writing life. He wrote for the desk drawer, for his wife, Marina Malich, and for a small group of friends, the “Chinari”, who met privately to discuss matters of philosophy, music, mathematics, and literature.

In the 1930s, as the mainstream Soviet literature was becoming more and more conservative under the guidelines of Socialist Realism, Kharms found refuge in children's literature. (He had worked under Marshak at DetGiz, the state-owned children's publishing house since the mid-1920s, writing new material and translating children literature from the west, including Wilhelm Busch's Max and Moritz). Many of his poems and short stories for children, published in the Chizh (Чиж), Yozh (ж), Sverchok (Сверчок) and Oktyabryata (Октябрята) magazines, are considered classics of the genre and his roughly twenty children's books are well known and loved by kids to this day, - despite his personal deep disgust for children, unknown to the public - whereas his "adult" writing was not published during his lifetime with the sole exceptions of two early poems. Still, these were lean times and his honorariums didn't quite pay the bills, plus the editors in the children's publishing sector were suffering under extreme pressure and censorship and some were disposed of during Stalin's purges.

Thus, Kharms lived in debt and hunger for several years until his final arrest on suspicion of treason in the summer of 1941 (most people with a previous arrest were being picked up by the NKVD in those times). He was imprisoned in the psychiatric ward at Leningrad Prison No. 1. and died in his cell in February, 1942—most likely, from starvation, as the Nazi blockade of Leningrad had already begun.


Nikolai Alekseevich Klyuev (occasionally transliterated from the Cyrillic alphabet as Kliuev, Kluev, Klyuyev, or Kluyev) (October 10, 1884 - between October 23 and 25, 1937), was a notable Russian poet. He was influenced by the symbolist movement, intense nationalism, and a love of Russian folklore.

Nikolai Klyuev

Born in a small village near the town of Vytegra, Kluyev rose to prominence in the early twentieth century as the leader of the so-called "peasant poets". Kluyev was a close friend and mentor of Sergei Yesenin. Arrested in 1933 for contradicting Soviet ideology, he was shot in 1937 and rehabilitated posthumously in 1957.




Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn  
"One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich"

The relationship between the writer and the state is the - hidden - subject of Mikhail Bulgakov's masterpiece "The Master and Margarita", written in the 1930s, published in 1966. Stalin and his colleagues drew no distinction between literature and propaganda. The sign of literary worth was expulsion from, not admission to, the Writers' Union. After Stalin's death, the Party's attitude see-sawed. Boris Pasternak thought he could get away with Doctor Zhivago (published abroad in 1957, written earlier). It earned him a Nobel Prize, but the outraged authorities refused to allow him out of the country to receive it.

Under Khrushchev, it was possible to publish One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovieh (1962), which exposed the horror of the Stalinist prison camps. The author was the then-unknown
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (born 1918), who became a thorn in the side of the more repressive Brezhnev regime. In 1965 the writers
Andrei Sinyavsky and Yuli Daniel were sentenced to hard labour for publishing abroad, but the days of the terror were over: people were less easily intimidated, protests grew, and a stream of writers moved to the West, including, much against his will, the heroically Russian Solzhenitsyn in 1974.

Some sort of a literary nadir was reached with the award of the top literary prize to Brezhnev himself, for his memoirs. The long-overdue collapse of the system in the late 1980s, in Russia and in the other countries that had languished under the Stalinist yoke since the 1940s, brought artistic freedom, but also the problem, similar to that faced by armies after the end of a war, of motivation. Returning to his beloved homeland from alien exile, rumbling now against Western materialism,
Solzhenitsyn seemed a figure from a completely different age.

Mikhail Bulgakov
"Master i Margarita" ("The Master and Margarita")

Soviet Dissident Writers

Soviet dissidents were citizens of the Soviet Union who disagreed with the policies and actions of their government and actively protested against these actions through non-violent means. Through such protests, Soviet dissidents would incur harassment, persecution and ultimate imprisonment by the KGB, or some other Soviet state policing arm.

From the mid-1970s, the term was first used in the Western media and subsequently, with derision, by the Soviet propaganda: human rights activists in the USSR came to use the term for self-designation as a joke.

While dissent with Soviet policies and persecution for this dissent existed since the times of the October Revolution and the establishment of the Soviet power, the term is most commonly to the dissidents of the post-Stalin era.

Joseph Brodsky

Joseph Brodsky "Poems"
Nobel Lecture  December 8, 1987

Joseph Brodsky (May 24, 1940—January 28, 1996), born Iosif Aleksandrovich Brodsky (Russian: Ио́сиф Алекса́ндрович Бро́дский) was a Russian poet and essayist who won the Nobel Prize in Literature (1987) and was chosen Poet Laureate of the United States (1991-1992). He had an honorary degree from Yale and University of Silesia and was an honorary member of the International Academy of Science.


In the 1930s U.S. writers shared the concerns of Europeans: perhaps the best novel spawned by the Spanish Civil War, was Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940). Others chronicled American society, among them Steinbeck; Sinclair Lewis, most notably in Main Street (1920) and Babbitt (1922); John Dos Passos in his trilogy U.S.A. (1930-36), and James T. Farrell in his Studs Lonigan trilogy (1932-35). F. Scott Fitgerald too, though moving in different social circles, was essentially a chronicler of 20s high life. The acerbic critic H. L. Mencken (1880-1956), savaged European cultural predominance and upheld the colloquial American language, while condemning 'literary standards derived from the Ladies' Home Journal'.

In more recent times, North American literature has been divided among special-interest social groups (blacks, women, homosexuals, etc.) and with often contradictory theories. Older traditions still survive, especially the identification of the writer with the cause of reform.





Expectations of a literary revival after the Second World War comparable with that of the First, were largely disappointed. Big changes in outlook and interesting developments in many spheres were occurring, but by and large, the writers who held centre stage were those of the previous generation, such as Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Faulkner, and on a lesser plane, James Gould Cozzens. However, James Jones (From Here to Eternity, 1951) and Norman Mailer (The Naked and the Dead, 1948), made their names as war novelists. Jones, arguably, never quite repeated his early success, but Mailer became increasingly famous, through his not-so-private life as well as his varied and uneven writings. The most successful war novel, eight years in the writing and a bestseller of huge dimensions, was Joseph Heller's surreal black comedy, Catch-22 (1961). The title is now a familiar term for an absurd and insoluble dilemma.

The novel of the 1950s most widely admired by younger readers was
J. D. Salinger's Catcher in The Rye (1951), with its 16-year-old narrator, Holden Caulfield, seeming in retrospect a herald of 1960s youth culture. Salinger's later works were less impressive and Robert Penn Warren, a respected poet and critic, is also remembered primarily for a single novel on similar lines, All the King's Men (1946), about a corrupt, power-hungry Southern politician. Ralph Ellison's memorable, Kafkaesque story of a Southern black in New York, Invisible Man (1952) will similarly ensure his niche in literary history.


Philip Roth

Although a doubtful category, the fact is that many of the most distinguished modern American novelists are Jewish and write — though not exclusively — about American-Jewish experience. Among the most admired are:
Bernard Malamud (1914-86), famous especially for The Fixer (1967), set in Tsarist Russia; Nobel prizewinner Saul Bellow (born 1915), whose Herzog (1964) describes the inner torments of a Jewish intellectual ('The soul requires intensity' - Bellow's watchword); and Philip Roth (born 1933), best known for the controversial Portnoy's Complaint (1969) and his sequence featuring Nathan Zuckerman, a Jewish novelist.

Not all first or second-generation immigrants, of course, were Jewish.

One of the finest masters of style was the wonderfully imaginative, bilingual, Russian-born
Vladimir Nabokov (1899-1977), who achieved fame with Lolita (1955) but wrote many perhaps better books.


James Baldwin

There was little black American fiction (meaning not only by blacks but about blacks) before the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s. Richard Wright is best known for Native Son (1940), a bitter attack on race prejudice. The leading figure in the next generation was
James Baldwin, whose non-fiction The Fire Next Time (1963) was a powerful blow in the movement for civil rights. More recently, outstanding black women writers making artistic use of autobiographical experience have emerged.


Graham Greene

The spy novel has roots in the adventure stories of John Buchan (1875-1940), and Erskine Childers's The Riddle of the Sands (1903) is an early classic. Its golden age coincided with the Cold War, and its most adept practitioners were often former officers in intelligence services, such as
Graham Greene (1904—91). Greene was one of the most distinguished British novelists of the century who, incidentally, divided his fiction into novels and 'entertainments', his spy stories (e.g. The Confidential Agent, The Human Factor) falling into the latter category.

The most popular spy stories of the period were those of
Ian Fleming's (1908—64) hero James Bond, the inspiration for a seemingly endless series of  blockbusting films. The supreme exponent of the Cold War spy novel, however, is John Le Carre, whose The Spy Who Came In From the Cold (1963) was described by Greene as "the best spy story I have ever read'. Le Carre's thorough research, subtle plots and vivid characterization were displayed in a series of gripping, often bleak novels.


Like its ancestor, the 19th-century 'Gothic' novel, the horror novel exploits human fear of the unknown, and has been praised for offering 'insights we might prefer not to admit we have'. Modern horror fiction more often specializes in violent sensationalism offering no discernible insights beyond the most obvious. The most successful modern exponent has been Stephen King, whose first novel, Carrie (1974), built on the extraordinary popularity of William Peter Blatty's The Exorcist (1971). A perhaps more thoughtful writer in this genre, and a fine stylist, is another American, Peter Straub (born 1943).


H.G. Wells  "The War of the Worlds"   
"The Invisible Man"
"A Short History of the World"  PART I, II, III, IV, V

American writers were also prominent in the 'golden age' of science fiction, after the Second World War. Science fiction, variously defined, describes stories set in an imaginary, usually future world where more or less feasible scientific advances have created a different society. Although much earlier prototypes could be cited, modern science fiction is generally held to have begun with
Jules Verne (1928-1905), author of numerous 'scientific' adventures (e.g. Journey to the Centre of the Earth, Twenty Thousand Eeagnes Under the Sea), H. G. Wells (1866-1946), whose SF novels (The Time Machine, The War of the Worlds, etc.) represented but one of the interests of an extraordinary polymath and social reformer, and Karel Capek (1890-1938), who coined the term 'robot'.

Karel Capek, Aldous Huxley, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke

Aldous Huxley's dystopia, Brave New World (1932) helped to make SF more respectable, but in the postwar era it varied greatly in literary quality, much of it not aspiring to a level above pulp fiction. The legendary editor of Astounding Science Fiction, John W. Campbell, was a powerful influence in extending the genre and raising standards. Among the most popular American SF writers in that era were Isaac Asimov, Frederick Pohl, C. W. Kornbluth, Walter M. Miller, Philip K. Dick and Ursula Le Guin (women SF writers were comparatively rare), and among the British, (Sir) Arthur C. Clarke (who forecast communications satellites), John Wyndham, Brian Aldiss and Michael Moorcock. The latter's novels straddled the nebulous boundary between SF and 'Fantasy' fiction, another modern variant of the Gothic.

Kurt Vonnegut

With the nuclear age, SF entered the literary mainstream. The British novelist and poet
Kingsley Amis was the first to write a serious study of SF (New Maps of Hell, 1961), and writers such as J. G. Ballard (born 1930) and the inimitable Kurt Vonnegut (born 1922) could not be placed in what was traditionally regarded as an inferior category; in fact, much of their work was not strictly science fiction.


Some critics have seen a decline in the British novel since the poweful impulse of modernism was absorbed - a post-imperial, insular tendency to match the national decline - and it has been compared unfavourably with the vigour of the American novel. The truth may have more to do with its very disparate character, its sheer variety, and the corresponding absence of some great central theme relevant to the times. British writers have not universally abandoned experiment (nor political commitment for that matter), but on the whole they have been less affected by modern literary theories inspired, largely, by
French thinkers.



Evelyn Waugh

Novelists of the 1930s continued to dominate the immediate post-war period.
Greene was perhaps the most notable, his best novels, such as The Power and the Glory (1940) and The Heart of the Matter (1948), dominated by his powerful sense of evil and moral decay. He was a Catholic, and although there was no such thing as a 'Catholic school' in British fiction, a striking number of good novelists were Catholics. Of at least equal distinction was Evelyn Waugh (1903—66), best known now for his satirical comedies of the 1920s and 1930s and the nostalgic Bridehsead Revisited (1945), though his best work was his war trilogy Sword of Honour (1952—61). Malcolm Lowry (1909-57), not a Catholic, is known chiefly for a single, highly regarded novel, Under the Volcano (1947), which belongs essentially to modernism in the tradition of Joyce.

THE 1950S


John Osborne

William Gerald Golding

Iris Murdoch

Salman Rushdie

There was a new spirit abroad in the 1950s, the era of the Angry Young Men (a meaningless nickname) typified by John Osborne's Jimmy Porter. William Gerald Golding, a future Nobel prizewinner, began his literary career at 43 with the arresting Lord of the Flies (1954), a parable about a school choir marooned on a tropical island. Another memorable anti-Utopian novel was Anthony Burgess's A Clockwork Orange (1962). Notable first novels of 1954, besides Golding's, were Under the Net, an existential comedy by the Oxford philosopher Iris Murdoch, and Lucky Jim, an uproarious, rebellious comedy set in a provincial, 'red-brick' university, by Kingsley Amis. It was the first British 'campus novel', a comedic genre richly exploited later by Malcolm Bradbury (born 1932) and David Lodge (born 1935). Lodge was another Catholic, and so, by conversion, was Muriel Spark, the first of whose wry comedies, The Comforters, was published in 1957. Doris Lessing arrived from Rhodesia to begin the first of her ambitious novel sequences with The Grass is Singing (1950).

The first of
Anthony Powell's twelve-volume sequence A Dance to the Music of Time, a Proustian pageant of English life in literary and upper-class society, was published in 1951. It would head many lists of the best English fiction of the century, but risks being underrated because so much of it is extremely funny Among a later generation of novelists, many of them, like V. S. Naipaul, Salman Rushdie, Timothy Mo and Hanif Kureishi, from different cultural backgrounds, the most eminent included Margaret Drabble and her sister A. S. Byatt, Angela Carter, Fay Weldon and John Fowles. The writer who most successfully combined commercial success and critical approval was Martin Amis, son of Kingsley, and similarly eclectic, though best known for blackish satire.

There is no doubt that it is easier for writers to gain fame and popularity if their native language is English. In any other language, even French, it is more difficult, and in, for example, Armenian, it is exceedingly difficult. Style is another consideration. The writer from any culture who is best known internationally may or may not be the best writer. Much depends on ease of translation. Some books are almost impossible to translate (though it's amazing what can be done, even with Finnegan's Wake). It is sometimes suggested that the immense popularity of certain writers, for example the Italian Italo Svevo, author of The Confessions of Zeno (1923), is partly due to his translatability.


Nathalie Sarraute


Literarry Paris after the war was dominated by the circle of the Existentialists who revolved around Camus. Although it never quite regained the spirit of the 1930s, Paris became again a preeminent centre for ideas and an attraction to immigre writers, notably black Americans such as
James Baldwin and Richard Wright. And the bars still hummed with literary feuds. Another American, Peter Matthiessen, founded the Paris Review, a literary magazine that became an institution. The Olympia Press of Maurice Girodias, notable mainly for pornography, published William Burroughs's The Naked Lunch (1959), as well as Nabokov's Lolita and the first novel of the American, later Irish-based, J. P. Donleavy, The Ginger Man (1955), books that more orthodox publishers shied away from. Another publisher, Les Editions de Minuit, patronized the experimental group of exponents of the nouveau roman ('new novel'), a term applied to a variety of writers who found the traditional form of the novel inadequate, broadly for the reasons outlined by Alain Robbe-Grillet (born 1922): that the presence of an omniscient narrator imposes order and significance on life where, in fact, they do not exist. Other proponents of the noiweau roman included Nathalie Sarraute (born 1902), who bombarded her readers with tropisms, i.e. the vague sensations and indefinable influences that are responsible for a person's actual words and actions, and Marguerite Duras (born 1914), author of the screenplay Hiroshima Моn Amour ( 1959) and of an autobiographical work which she claimed to have no memory of writing. Eventually, theorists such as Roland Barthes, Jacques Dernda and Michel Foucault became more famous than any mere practitioner of fiction. Their theories, which belong to the academy and mean little to the ordinary reader, served to keep France m her traditional place as leader of the avant-garde.


Neo-realism, so powerful a force in Italian post-war cinema, also affected literature, the most notable exponent being Alberto Moravia (1907—90), a fierce critic of the moral apathy of bourgeois society, which he regarded as responsible for Fascism. Perhaps his best novel. Two Women (1956), is set in Italy at the time of the Allied occupation towards the end of the Second World War. His exploration of sex and psychology in human affairs was partly and incidentally responsible for the great popularity of his novels and short stories.

Umberto Eco

Umberto Eco (born 1932), a professor of semiotics and more of a cultural hero than a novelist, posed sophisticated intellectual puzzles in books such as The Name of the Rose (1981), a historical thriller and international bestseller that operates on many levels, and the equally complex Foucault's Pendulum (1988). The inspirational Primo Levi (1919—87), a chemical engineer and (like Moravia) a Jew, survived Auschwitz (because his ability as a chemist made him useful) and made something extraordinary from the experience in his three-volume autobiography (1946-75).

Other works interestingly mix autobiography, history and science,
ltalo Calvino (1923-85:, though he began as, more or less, a neo-realist (e.g. The Path of the Nest of Spiders, 1947, an outstanding novel of the Italian Resistance), developed into a great exponent of myth, fable and fantasy, especially in his trilogy Our Ancestors (1952—62), and is often compared with Jorge Luis Borges. Calvino is said to have selected his titles with an eye to their effect in translation, though his reputation as perhaps the most influential of all late 20th-century Italian writers rests on more solid foundations. Sicily's problems inspired Leonardo Sciascia (1921-89) and produced one of the great novels of the age in The Leopard (1958) by Giuseppe Iomasi di Lampedusa.


Nobel Prize-winning author writer Heinrich Boll, right,
 welcomes Russian writer and thinker Alexander Solzhenitsyn
to his German country home after the Russian's expulsion from Russia.

The Nazis virtually killed off all forms of German literature: writers who survived were exiles. Some later returned, a few, like Anna Seghers and Arnold Zweig to the communist East. The leading literary movement in the West was Croup 47, founded and miraculously sustained by Hans Werner Richter, and attracting both German and Austrian writers. Leading German novelists who gained international reputations - Heinrich Boll ( 1907-85), Gunther Grass (born 1927) and Uwe Johnson (1954-84) - received early encouragement from the Group. Boll explored the moral and social problems of Germany' in the post-Nazi era in a series of novels, besides dealing sensitively with contemporary issues. Grass, a more humorous, and more determinedly experimental novelist, won immediate international acclaim for The Tin Drum (1959). Johnson also made his name with his first novel,. Speculations about Jacob (1959), moving from Last Germany to the West in order to get it published.




Latin America encompasses many different cultures, making all generalizations dubious. The continent has, however, had great influence on world literature in modern times, largely through the genre known as 'magic realism', implying a realistic story invaded by elements of fantasy and the supernatural. It can be traced to the great Argentinian
Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986), one of the greatest -and strangest - short-story writers of the century. Other early exponents were the Cuban Alejo Carpentier (1904-79), notably in The  Kingdom of This World (1949), the Brazilian Jorge Armado (born 1912) and the Colombian Gabriel Garcia Marquez (born 1928), especially in One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967), a classic of the genre. Carlos Fuentes (born 1928), intensely influenced by the Mexican Revolution, combined myth and history in novels such as The Death of Artemio Cruz (1962).

The novels of
Mario Vargas Lhosa (born 1936) painted a merciless picture of Peruvian society.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez


Literature of the past is constantly revalued in each new generation. New ideas invite reassessment of past authors and movements. Intellectual fashions change, and present changes throw new light on past events. The popularity of authors rises or falls according to their relevance to contemporary beliefs and prejudices. Victorian authors could scarcely discuss sex except in highly indirect ways; the lively contem- porary field of 'gay literature' would have been unthinkable. Censorship, official or indirect, plays an important part in the process. Even in the most liberal society, there are some things that cannot be published without jeopardy.


So-called special-interest groups have in recent times led to serious questioning of the established literary tradition. Undeniably, Western literary traditions are founded predominantly on the work of, as denigrators put it, dead white males. If you belong to a non-Western culture, if you are neither dead, white nor male, it is not surprising that you should question the values of the traditional literary hierarchy.

A major influence in the last generation or so has been the rise of modern feminism. The idea of a distinction between 'masculine' and 'feminine' writing may be questionable (and even, from a feminist point of view, counterproductive), but there are certainly qualities of style and thinking that are commonly so described. Feminist criticism, however, has had two main effects. The first is in reassessing earlier literature, often in opposition to the prevailing culture of its time. This has led to interesting new views of, in particular, 19th-century novels. The second is in rediscovering or reassessing neglected female writers of earlier times. In this endeavour feminist publishers, such as Virago in Britain, have played a major role.


English, and to a lesser extent French and other European literature, has long been a worldwide phenomenon, but until recently it was largely confined to the British and their cultural descendants in North America and the old dominions. No longer. In recent years nominees, sometimes winners, of the chief annual British literary award, the Booker Prize, have included many Asian and African authors. However, the biggest impact has been made by Afro-American writers, who have blossomed since the civil-rights movement of the 1960s. Several of the best of them happen to be women and belong, more or less closely, to the feminist movement also. The outstanding figure is probably the novelist Toni Morrison (born 1931), who won the Nobel Prize in 1993. Alice Walker's (born 1944) The Color Purple was a huge international bestseller. A poem by Maya Angelou (born 1928) was read at President Clinton's inauguration. Another healthy sign is a growing tendency for black writers to extend their interests beyond the Afro-American experience.


Censorship of publications has existed in all societies and no doubt always will exist, though developments in information technology appear to be making the laws difficult to enforce. Historically, the invention of printing seemed to present similar threats. During the English Reformation, Henry VIII established a licensing system that, in principle, controlled all printed matter: 'popish' propaganda was then the chief concern. It was this opprobrious system that led to one of the earliest defences of the freedom of the press. Milton's Areopatigica (1644, published without licence) and the subsequent abolition of the system. (Nevertheless, all plays for public performance in Britain had to be approved by an official called the Lord Chamberlain until 1968.) In the 18th century the political press, with its often scurrilous attacks on public officials, was dealt with under laws against 'seditious libel'. In the 19th century obscenity, or just plain sex, became the main worry. Early ages being less pernickety, this raised a multitude of problems (as libertarians often pointed out, the Bible contains plenty of sex and violence). Dr Bowdler formed a Society for the Suppression of Vice in 1802 and himself produced a 'bowdlerized' edition of Shakespeare, removing all 'indecencies'. Parliament passed an Obscene Publications Act in 185"7, contributing to the thriving business of underground pornography. Famous victims of the act and its successor of 1959 included Joyce's Ulysses, the entire first edition of which was confiscated in 1923, and Lawrence's Lady Chatterleys Lover, subject of a famous case in 1960, when Penguin Books, win. had risked publishing the first unexpurgated edition in Britain, won acquittal.
The terms of all such legislation are necessarily vague and open to inerpretation. Writing, deemed blasphemous (in Britain, to Christians only) or seditious is also liable to prosecution. The modern equivalent of Dr Bowdler is 'political correctness', an insidious, informal kind of censorship which, if often understandable or even desirable, can lead to absurdities, such as the banning from public libraries books which contain words now seen as racial epithets.
An recent example of censorship was provoked by
Salman Rushdie's novel The Satanic Verses (1988), which many Muslims regarded as blasphemous. The extremist leader of Iran published a fatwa or religious decree demanding the author's death, and as a result Rushdie was forced to live in hiding under police protection.

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