THE POLITICAL NOVEL
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,
Solzhenitsyn, it is not similarity of form
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.
(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
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
(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'.
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
de force also signifies his loss of faith in human nature.
repression in the Soviet Union
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
was executed on 24th August, 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
arrested for reciting his famous anti-Stalin poem Stalin Epigram
to his circle of friends in 1934. After intervention by Nikolai
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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,
Kharms’ writing for children
anti-Soviet because of its absurd logic and
its refusal to instill materialist and
social Soviet values.
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
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 (Ëж), 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.
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.
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.
The relationship between the writer and the state is the - hidden -
Mikhail Bulgakov's masterpiece
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
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
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.
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 (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.
NORTH AMERICAN FICTION
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'
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.
AFTER THE WAR
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
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
Salinger's Catcher in The Rye (1951), with its 16-year-old narrator, Holden
Caulfield, seeming in retrospect a herald of 1960s youth culture.
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
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.
of the finest masters of style was the wonderfully imaginative, bilingual,
Vladimir Nabokov (1899-1977), who achieved fame with Lolita
(1955) but wrote many perhaps better books.
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.
THE SPY NOVEL
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,
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
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).
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
(1890-1938), who coined the term 'robot'.
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.
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
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
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
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
There was a new spirit abroad in the 1950s, the era of the Angry Young
Men (a meaningless nickname) typified by
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,
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
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.
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
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
(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 (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).
interestingly mix autobiography, history and science,
(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
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
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 -
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.
LUIS BORGES AND
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
(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
Lhosa (born 1936)
painted a merciless picture of
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
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
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
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.