World literature can be defined as the works of literature that have been created, distributed, and circulated beyond their country of origin. It is studied all over the world. It usually introduces us to the works of authors of various origins and hence give the readers a taste of their culture, their lifestyle through stories.
The term world Literature was first coined by Goethe in 1827.
“I am more and more convinced that poetry is the universal possession of mankind, revealing itself everywhere and at all times in hundreds and hundreds of men. … I therefore like to look about me in foreign nations, and advise everyone to do the same. National literature is now a rather unmeaning term; the epoch of world literature is at hand, and everyone must strive to hasten its approach.”
– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Tagore in 1907, delivered a lecture on World Literature where he mentioned,
We generally see literature in this limited, provincial manner. To free oneself of that regional narrowness and resolve to see the universal being in world literature, to apprehend such totality in every writer’s work, and to see its interconnectedness with every man’s attempt to at self- expression – that is the objective we need to pledge ourselves to”.
– Rabindranath Ta
“I take world literature to encompass all literary works that circulate beyond their culture of origin, either in translation or in their original language”
– Damrosch, (What is World Literature?)
Chair of the Department of Comparative Literature at Harvard University.
“The prose writing–both fiction and nonfiction–created in this period [the fifty years of independence] by Indian writers working in English is proving to be a stronger and more important body of work than most of what has been produced in the eighteen “recognized” languages of India, the so-called “vernacular languages,” during the same time; and, indeed, this new, and still burgeoning, “Indo-Anglian” literature represents perhaps the most valuable contribution India has yet made to the world of books. ”
– Salman Rushdie
In a Free State (1971)
The plot consists of a framing narrative and three short stories, converging towards a common theme; the price of freedom.The novel begins with a narrator on a ferry to Egypt, and concludes many years later when he returns to Egypt as a tourist.
The novella, In a Free State, describes the 400-mile road journey of two British expatriates, Linda and Bobby, across a newly independent African country in the throes of a tribal civil war, their growing alienation from both Africa and each other, and their powerlessness to withstand the senseless violence and brutality raging around them. These three pieces are connected together by a Prologue and an Epilogue in which an almost identical motif unfolds: a traveler (a narrator, then Naipaul himself) looks on in painful detachment while scapegoat figures (an old English tramp, a group of Egyptian boys) are cruelly tormented by groups of tourists in neutral territory (a Greek passenger steamer, a hotel resort).
In South Africa under apartheid, Mehring is a rich white businessman who is not satisfied with his life. His ex-wife has gone to America, his liberal son, Terry (who is probably gay) criticizes his conservative/capitalist ways, and his lovers and colleagues do not actually seem interested in him. On a whim he buys a 400-acre farm outside the city, afterwards trying to explain this purchase to himself as the search for a higher meaning in life. But it is clear that he knows next to nothing about farming, and that black workers run it – Mehring is simply an outsider, an intruder on the daily life of “his” farm. His objective in buying the farm is to make a tax deductible expense. One day the black foreman, Jacobus, finds an unidentified dead body on the farm. Since the dead man is black, the police find no urgency to look into the case and simply bury the body on the spot where it was found. The idea of an unknown black man buried on his land begins to “haunt” Mehring. A flood brings the body back to the surface; although the farm workers do not know the stranger, they now give him a proper burial as if he were a family member. There are hints that Mehring’s own burial will be less emotional than this burial of a stranger.
Midnight’s Children (1981)
It is an allegory of events in 1947 British Raj India and after the partition of India. Born at the exact moment when India became an independent country, Saleem Sinai is born with telepathic powers. Saleem, using his telepathic powers, assembles a Midnight Children’s Conference, reflective of the issues India faced in its early statehood concerning the cultural, linguistic, religious, and political differences. Saleem acts as a telepathic conduit, bringing hundreds of geographically disparate children into contact while also attempting to discover the meaning of their gifts. Shiva “of the Knees”, Saleem’s rival, and Parvati, called “Parvati-the-witch,” are two of these children with notable gifts and roles in Saleem’s story. Saleem represents modern India.
J M Coetzee
Life & Times of Michael K (1983)
Set against the background of the South African police state as it attempted to maintain apartheid by any means, the plot unfolds as a relentless dissection of the logic of oppression. Michael K, a withdrawn and inarticulate gardener, sets out to take his dying mother back to their village in the country. He becomes ensnared in the incomprehensible and undeclared civil war, struggles to scratch out a refuge with his limited resources, and dares to want his share of ground.
The story follows David Lurie, a South African English professor who loses his job after sleeping with a vulnerable student, Melanie Isaacs, and later, when stops attending his classes, falsifying her grades. After being dismissed, Lurie takes refuge on his lesbian daughter Lucy’s farm in the Eastern Cape. While there, the farm is attacked. Three men force their way into the farmhouse, rape Lucy, and shoot the dogs she is boarding. Lucy becomes pregnant after the rape and refuses an abortion, and any attempts by her father at retribution. After Lurie returns home to Cape Town, he discovers his house in shambles, either ransacked by looters or by students protesting his affair with Melanie. Disgrace tackles themes of political and social violence in a deeply divided country.
The English Patient (1992)
The English Patient” begins in 1945, in a bomb-damaged Italian villa near Florence, recently used as a war hospital. It now shelters one last casualty, an Englishman slowly dying of burns received in an air crash over Libya. “A man with no face”. All identification consumed in a fire. Parts of his burned body and face had been sprayed with tannic acid that hardened into a protective shell over his raw skin.” Hana, a young Canadian nurse, stays on devotedly, supplying him with morphine and foraged food. They are joined by David Caravaggio, a friend of Hana’s family from Toronto who is a professional thief turned military spy, and by Kirpal Singh, a Sikh soldier, charged with defusing bombs and mines in the area. For this group of characters, the villa becomes a sanctuary in which identities damaged or erased by the war can be remade.
The God of Small Things (1997)
Set in Kerala, the novel shifts back and forth between 1969, when fraternal twins Rahel, a girl, and Esthappen, a boy, are seven years old, and 1993, when the twins are reunited.
To escape from a stifling atmosphere at home, Ammu marries Baba gives birth to Estha and Rahel. On discovering his dark side she gets back to her parent’s home. An unlikely bond develops when Estha and Rahel develop a fondness for Velutha;a servant who works for the family’s pickle factory that results in a forbidden love affair between Ammu and the Dalit Velutha.Soon the relationship is exposed and Ammu curses her children for her misfortune. The distraught chidren along with Sophie their cousin decide to escape to the History House across the river when their boat capsizes and drowns Sophie. Falling prey to Baby Kochamma’s evil plan Velutha is charged for Sophie’s murder that results in eventually his losing his life. Afraid of being exposed, Baby Kochamma convinces Chacko- Sophie’s father and the children’s maternal uncle that Ammu and the twins were responsible for his daughter’s death. Chacko kicks Ammu out of the house and forces her to send Estha to live with his father. Estha never sees Ammu again. Ammu dies alone in a motel a few years later at the age of 31.After a turbulent childhood and adolescence in India Estha and Rahel, now 31, are reunited for the first time since they were children.
Two old friends meet at the cremation of the woman they once loved, restaurant critic and photographer Molly Lane. Clive Linley, a celebrated composer, and Vernon Halliday, the editor of a financially troubled London tabloid, could never understand Molly’s third liaison–with conservative Foreign Secretary Julian Garmony, who is angling to be prime minister. Mourning the manner of Molly’s agonizing death, which left her helpless at the end, each man pledges to dispatch the other by euthanasia should he be similarly afflicted. Both Clive and Vernon are enmeshed in a crisis: Clive must finish his commissioned Symphony so it can premiere and Vernon must grapple with the moral issue of publishing photos of Julian Garmony in drag. Clive travels to Lake District where he chooses to not report a rape he witnessed leading to his estrangement with Vernom. With Their Careers and life destroyed they soon turn into bitter enemies and seek revenge by successfully carrying out each other’s murder.
Blind Assassin (2000)
It is the story of two motherless sisters Iris Chase, and her sister Laura. As an old woman, Iris recalls the events of her life, including her unhappy marriage to Toronto businessman Richard Griffen. The book includes a novel within a novel, called Blind Assassin, a roman à clef attributed to Laura but published by Iris. It is about Alex Thomas, a politically radical author of pulp science fiction who has an ambiguous relationship with the sisters. The embedded story too contains a third tale.
The novel takes the form of a gradual revelation illuminating both Iris’s youth and her old age before coming to the pivotal events of her and Laura’s lives around the time of the Second World War. As the novel unfolds, and the novel-within-a-novel becomes ever more obviously inspired by real events, Iris, not Laura, is revealed to be the novel-within-a-novel’s true author and protagonist. Though the novel-within-a-novel had long been believed to be inspired by Laura’s romance with Alex, it is revealed that The Blind Assassin was written by Iris based on her extramarital affair with Alex. Iris later published the work in Laura’s name after Laura committed suicide upon learning of Alex’s death in the war. Following the suicide, Iris realizes through her sister’s journals that Richard had been raping Laura for much of their marriage, blackmailing her to comply with him by threatening to turn Alex in to the authorities. Iris in turn deceives Richard into believing that Laura was the one having an affair with Alex Thomas, which drives him to commit suicide. The novel ends as Iris dies, leaving the truth to be discovered in her unpublished autobiography that she leaves to her sole surviving granddaughter
The Testament (2019)
The novel is set 15 years after the events of The Handmaid’s Tale. It is narrated by Aunt Lydia, a character from the previous novel; Agnes, a young woman living in Gilead; and Daisy, a young woman living in Canada. It chronicles resistance efforts against the ultra-religious authoritarian nation, Gilead.
The Inheritance of Loss (2006)
Revolving around the poignant themes of migration, cultural and national identity and the immigrant experience, the story introduces us to the lives of Biju and Sai. Biju is an Indian living in the United States illegally, son of a cook who works for Sai’s grandfather. Sai is an orphan living in mountainous Kalimpong with her maternal grandfather Jemubhai Patel, the cook, and a dog named Mutt. With the Gorkhaland movement used as the historic backdrop of the novel it shows both; the internal conflicts within India and tensions between the past and present. It portrays simultaneously a sense of rejection and awe for the English way of life, opportunities to gain money in America, and the squalor of living in India.
The White Tiger (2008)
His debut novel, The White Tiger takes the form of a series of unsent letters to the Chinese premier from Balram Halwai, a murderer who left his village to work as a chauffeur in Delhi. Born in a village in the dark heart of India, the son of a rickshaw puller Balram nurses a dream for escape from servitude and dreams to become a successful entrepreneur. Implicated in a crime committed by the wife of his wealthy employer- Pinky Madam Balaram decides on Killing Ashok. By stabbing him he is finally able to break free from the “Rooster Coop”- his metaphor for describing the oppression of India’s poor. He then moves to Bangalore, where he bribes the police in order to help start his own taxi business. Exposed to extensive corruption we see at the end of the novel, how Balram rationalizes his actions and considers that his freedom is worth the lives of his family and of Ashok.
Hilary Mary Mantel:
Wolf Hall (2009)
Wolf Hall is a historical novel set in the period from 1500 to 1535. It is a sympathetic fictionalised biography documenting the rapid rise to power of Thomas Cromwell in the court of Henry VIII through to the death of Sir Thomas More. The book is the first in a trilogy; the sequel Bring up the Bodies was published in 2012. The last book in the trilogy is The Mirror and the Light (2020), which covers the last four years of Cromwell’s life. The title alludes to the old Latin saying “Man is wolf” to man that serves as constant reminder of the dangerously opportunistic nature of the world through which Cromwell navigates.
Bring Up the Bodies (2012)
It follows closely upon the events of Wolf Hall. The King and Cromwell are guests of the Seymour family at Wolf Hall. The King spends time with Jane Seymour and begins to fall in love; his marriage to the new queen, Anne Boleyn, is sometimes all love but often descends into angry quarrels. He has tired of Anne, who brings him neither peace nor a son, and wants his marriage ended. Cromwell vows to make this happen. Cromwell tries to negotiate a separation. Cromwell talks to those close to Anne. With proof enough to have her tried for treason, the King is willing to see Anne destroyed to serve his ends. In the end, Anne and several of her circle , including her brother, are tried and put to death. The King moves to wed Jane Seymour and rewards Cromwell with a barony. Having engineered the King’s new marriage his position as Henry’s chief adviser is now assured.
The Remains of the Day (1989)
At the start of the book, Lord Darlington has been dead for several years, and the hall now belongs to an American who wants a more informal relationship with his butler, in keeping with the times. The main protagonist is Stevens, a traditional English butler—all reserve, discretion, and decorum. The story is set in the 1950s towards the end of Stevens’ career, when he is looking back on his years of service and forward to what is left of his life. Stevens reveals his unquestioning loyalty and devotion to Lord Darlington, his long-term employer, who came under suspicion as a Nazi sympathizer during World War II and suffered social ostracism. He also realizes his love for Miss Kenton, a love that is in conflict with his idea of life in service and which he struggles to acknowledge. In the end Stephen is convinced to embrace his present and to perfect the art of pleasing his new employer.
A historical psychological fiction; Milkman is set in Northern Ireland during the 1970s, at the height of The Troubles. The narrator an unnamed 18-year-old girl is sympathetic to the republican cause. Milkman, a high-ranking paramilitary officer begins to stalk her and offer her unwanted car rides. Rumors spread that the girl is having an affair with the married Milkman, straining her relationship with her mother and the wider community. As Milkman’s stalking becomes more intense, he makes veiled threats of killing maybe-boyfriend if she does not break up with him. Resigning herself to her fate post her traumatic breakup, the girl finally accepts a ride from Milkman back to her house. Milkman promises to take her on a date the next evening. However, that morning, Milkman is shot and killed by British security forces. While the girl is at a club, she is ambushed in the bathroom by another intermittent stalker, Somebody McSomebody, who threatens to kill her. The girl is saved by the other women in the bathroom beating him up. With her stalkers no longer troubling her, the girl’s life returns to a state of normalcy.
The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida (2022)
An account of wartime Sri Lanka by the ghost of a photojournalist. Set in Sri Lanka in the 1980s, the central character, Maali Almeida, is a dead photographer who sets out to solve the mystery of his own death and is given one week (“seven moons”) during which he can travel between the afterlife and the real world. In this time, he hopes to retrieve a set of photographs, stored under a bed, and to persuade his friends to share them widely to expose the brutalities of the Sri Lankan Civil War.
Tomb of Sand (2022)
Set in contemporary northern India, the book traces the transformative journey of an eighty-year-old woman(Chandraprabha) who slips into a deep depression after the death of her husband, and then resurfaces to gain a new lease on life. She then decides to travel to Pakistan, confronting trauma that had remained unresolved since she was a teenager who survived the Partition riots. It re-evaluates what it means to be a mother, a daughter, a woman, a feminist.
Pearl S. Buck
The Good Earth (1931)
It is a historical fiction novel that dramatizes family life in a Chinese village in the early 20th century. It is the first book in her House of Earth trilogy, continued in Sons (1932) and A House Divided (1935).It follows the life of Wang Lung from his beginnings as an impoverished peasant to his eventual position as a prosperous landowner. He is aided immeasurably by his equally humble wife, O-Lan, with whom he shares a devotion to the land, to duty, and to survival. Buck combines descriptions of marriage, parenthood, and complex human emotions with depictions of Chinese reverence for the land and for a specific way of life. It also examines issues of traditional Chinese culture, feminism and slavery through the life of Wang Lung.
Gone with the Wind (1936)
It is a sweeping romantic story about the American Civil War and Reconstruction Era. In particular it is the story of Scarlett O’Hara, a headstrong Southern belle who survives the hardships of the war and afterward manages to establish a successful business by capitalizing on the struggle to rebuild the South. Throughout the book she is motivated by her unfulfilled love for Ashley Wilkes, an honourable man who is happily married. After a series of marriages and failed relationships with other men, notably the dashing Rhett Butler, she has a change of heart and determines to win Rhett back.
The Grapes of Wrath (1939)
Set during the Great Depression, the novel focuses on the Joads, a poor family of tenant farmers driven from their Oklahoma home by drought, economic hardship, agricultural industry changes, and bank foreclosures forcing tenant farmers out of work. Due to their nearly hopeless situation, and in part because they are trapped in the Dust Bowl, the Joads set out for California along with thousands of other “Okies” seeking jobs, land, dignity, and a future.
The Old Man and the Sea (1952)
The central character is an old Cuban fisherman named Santiago, who has not caught a fish for 84 days. The family of his apprentice, Manolin, has forced the boy to leave the old fisherman, though Manolin continues to support him with food and bait. Santiago is a mentor to the boy, who cherishes the old man and the life lessons he imparts. Convinced that his luck must change, Santiago takes his skiff far out into the deep waters of the Gulf Stream, where he soon hooks a giant marlin. With all his great experience and strength, he struggles with the fish for three days, admiring its strength, dignity, and faithfulness to its identity; its destiny is as true as Santiago’s as a fisherman. He finally reels the marlin in and lashes it to his boat. However, Santiago’s exhausting effort goes for bad. Sharks are drawn to the tethered marlin, and, although Santiago manages to kill a few, the sharks eat the fish, leaving behind only its skeleton. After returning to the harbour, the discouraged Santiago goes to his home to sleep. In the meantime, others see the skeleton tied to his boat and are amazed. A concerned Manolin is relieved to find Santiago alive, and the two agree to go fishing together.
To Kill a Mockingbird (1960)
The story is told by an intelligent six year old Jean Louise (“Scout”) Finch. She is raised with her brother, Jeremy Atticus- Jem, by their widowed father, Atticus Finch. He is a prominent lawyer who encourages his children to be empathetic and just. When Tom Robinson, one of the town’s Black residents, is falsely accused of raping Mayella Ewell, a white woman, Atticus agrees to defend him despite threats from the community. Although Atticus presents a defence that gives a more plausible interpretation of the evidence—that Mayella was attacked by her father, Bob Ewell—Tom is convicted, and is killed while trying to escape custody. Meanwhile the children are terrified, yet fascinated by their neighbour, the reclusive Arthur “Boo” Radley and cannot resist the allure of trespassing on the Radley property. Atticus, however, reprimands them and tries to encourage a more sensitive attitude. Boo makes his presence felt indirectly through a series of benevolent acts, finally intervening when Bob Ewell attacks Jem and Scout. Boo kills Ewell, but Heck Tate,the sheriff, believes it is better to say that Ewell’s death occurred when he fell on his own knife, sparing the shy Boo from unwanted attention. Scout agrees, noting that to do otherwise would be “sort of like shootin’ a mockingbird.”
A Fable (1954)
The book takes place in France during World War I.Corporal Stefan, who represents the reincarnation of Jesus, orders 3,000 troops to disobey orders to attack in the brutally repetitive trench warfare. In return, the Germans do not attack, and the war stops when soldiers realize that it takes two sides to fight a war. The Generalissimo, who represents leaders who use war to gain power, invites his German counterpart to discuss how to restart the war. He then arrests and executes Stefan. Before Stefan’s execution, the Generalissimo tries to convince the corporal that war can never be stopped because it is the essence of human nature. Post the execution orders the conflict resumes and the Corporal’s grave is destroyed in a barrage of artillery. The spirit of the Corporal gets transferred to a British message runner, who eventually confronts the old Generalissimo.
The Reivers: Reminiscence (1962)
It is a picaresque that tells of three unlikely car thieves from rural Mississippi. Eleven-year-old Lucius Priest is persuaded by Boon Hogganbeck, one of his family’s retainers, to steal his grandfather’s car and make a trip to Memphis. The Priests’ black coachman, Ned McCaslin, joins them secretly, and the three of them are off on a adventure, for which they are all ill-equipped, that ends at Miss Reba’s brothel in Memphis. From there a series of wild misadventures begins—involving horse smuggling, trainmen, sheriffs’ deputies, and jail.
The Color Purple (1982)
It is foremost the story of Celie, a poor, barely literate Southern black woman who struggles to escape the brutality and degradation of her treatment by men. The tale is told primarily through her own letters, which, out of isolation and despair, she initially addresses to God. As a teen-ager she is repeatedly raped and beaten by her stepfather, then forced by him into loveless marriage to Albert, a widower with four children. To Albert, who is in love with vivacious and determinedly independent blues singer named Shug Avery, Celie is merely a servant and an occasional sexual convenience. But during the course of the novel, which begins in the early 1900’s and ends in the mid-1940’s, she frees herself from her husband’s repressive control. Bolstered by her contacts with other women and by her affection for her yonger sister, Netti – who with Celie’s help has fled to Africa with a missionary group – Celie eventually leaves Albert and moves to Memphis, where she starts a business designing and making clothes. Ironically, it is Ablert’s real love and sometime mistress, Shug Avery, and his rebellious daughter-in-law, Sofia, who provide the emotional support for Celie’s personal evolution. As the book ends, Albert and Shug sit with Celie on Celie’s front porch, “rocking and fanning flies,” waiting for the arrival of Netti and her family.
Based on the true story of a Black slave woman, Margaret Garner, the protagonist Sethe is also a passionately devoted mother, who flees with her children from an abusive owner known as “schoolteacher.” They are caught, and, in an act of supreme love and sacrifice, she too tries to kill her children to keep them from slavery. As a result her two-year-old daughter dies. These events are revealed in flashbacks, as the novel opens in 1873, with Sethe and her teenage daughter, Denver, living in Ohio, where their house is haunted by the angry ghost of the child Sethe killed. The hauntings are alleviated by the arrival of Paul D, a fellow plantation worker of Sethe, and the two soon begin a relationship. A brief period of relative calm ends with the appearance of a young woman who says that her name is Beloved. She is believed to be a reincarnation of Sethe’s lost daughter. Sethe tries to pacify Beloved. The situation worsens, as Sethe loses her job and becomes completely fixated on Beloved, who is soon revealed to be pregnant. Denver finally ask the community for help and the women attempt to stage an exorcism, when Denver’s employer arrives to take her to work, and Sethe mistakes him for “schoolteacher” and tries to attack him with an ice pick. During the commotion Beloved disappears. Paul D later returns to the grieving Sethe, promising to care for her, and Denver continues to thrive in the outside world.
Interpreter of Maladies (1999)
“Interpreter of Maladies” is the story of a tour guide, Mr Kapasi, taking the Das family, who are Americanized Indian immigrants, on a tour of a temple in East India. Mr Das views the family as strange and undisciplined, but he takes a liking to Mrs. Das when she shows an interest in his other job as an interpreter at a doctor’s office. He tries to prolong the tour by offering to take them to another site, and when they arrive, Mrs. Das stays in the car with him and confesses that one of her children is not her husband’s. Mr Kapasi’s image of her fades, and when that child is attacked by monkeys, Mr Kapasi saves him, knowing that he has a secret that has ruined the illusion of this family.
The Netanyahus (2021)
The Netanyahus :An Account of a Minor and Ultimately Even Negligible Episode in the History of a Very Famous Family centers on a fictionalized account of Harold Bloom‘s encounter with Benzion Netanyahu and his family, including his son, Benjamin Netanyahu, at an upstate New York college in the late 1950s, blending history, fiction, and humor. The narrator of the story is Ruben Blum, a taxation Historian who narrates the story long after his retirement from the fictional Corbin University.
2 JRF,8 NET, and 17 SET
(Ex Asst. Professor of the University of Delhi)
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