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Old Saturday, December 17, 2011
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Doris Lessing

The broadening of opportunities for women paved way for some of the radical social changes in the later decades of the twentieth century. A “New Morality” emerged to challenge the established values and perceptions of gender, sexuality, marriage, etc. “New patterns of women employment, especially in the professional sector, made a rapid stride after the War was over in 1945. One of the most inspiring books in the feminist movement came from Germaine Creer (b. 1939), namely The Female Eunuch (1970), which is, in her own words, a part of the second wave in which “ungenteel middle-class women are calling for revolution.” One of the male characters in Doris Lessing’s novel The Golden Notebook (1962) echoes the phrase Creer has used here: “The Russian revolution, the Chinese Revolution - they’re nothing at all. The real revolution is women against men.” For both of these women writers that revolution was to be perceived in the female sensitivity to the unfair or highly limited roles of women, to their restricted representation in society and its literature.
Lessing’s career as writer had begun in East Africa with the novels she had written about the growth of political awareness among black people and the white settlers. She had experienced the colonial situation in that part of Africa. Her monumental work in five volumes, Children of Violence (1952-69), focuses on the growing political involvement, and the subsequent disillusion, of Martha Quest. This English woman in East Africa is shown growing from childhood to youth to age, experiencing the acute and complex problems of race and class. It is an epic sequence covering, in a sense, the entire history of the twentieth-century world. Lessing calls her fiction, and its type, “inner space fiction,” by which she means a fiction that has methodically moved in a different direction from conventional realism. The Four-Gated City (1969), the last of the sequence, is an illustration of the type. The significance of her central work, The Golden Notebook, lies in relating her concept of mental fragmentation to the disintegration of fictional form. Here woman’s creativity is to act as instrument of freedom for the fair sex. As the novel’s heroine, Anna Wulf, reflects, “women’s emotions are all still fitted for a kind of society that no longer exists.”

Angela Carter

Another notable woman novelist of the period was Angela Carter (1940-1992), whose unconventional essay on pornography, The Sadeian Woman: An Exercise in Cultural History (1979), pleads that even pornographic fantasy could be legitimized in literature if it could be pressed into the service of women and if women could cease to be considered as mere commodities. She is best known by her novel The Passion of New Eve (1977) and the two volumes of Gothic tales, Fireworks (1974) and The Bloody Chamber (1979). Her novel The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman (1972), as the title itself suggests, has a male protagonist. Her later work includes two major theatrical novels, Nights at the Circus (1984) and Wise Children (1991).

Margaret Drabble

Perhaps the most representative of the later twentieth century novelists in England is Margaret Drabble (b. 1939), whose very first novel, A Summer Bird-Cage (1963) registered a new presence. It deals with two sisters of the “new” consciousness, who are gossipy, sexually emancipated, university educated, fond of parties. Still better than her first novel is Jerusalem the Golden (1967), which, too, focuses on the same themes, but comes out more assured and less jerky. Her most artful novel of the 1970’s is, however, The Ice Age (1977), which brings out a sharper picture of contemporary English society. Her favourite themes include corruption, IRA bombs, broken marriages, alienations of upward social mobility, etc. The feminist crusade of these women writers is in tune with the theory of Postmodernism.


John Fowles

Perhaps the last of the well-known novelists of the twentieth century is John Fowles (1917-1993), who made a mark with his first novel, The Collector (1963), which is a sort of post-Freudian fantasy. The narrator, protagonist is a rather repressed, butterfly collecting clerk, an anti-hero. His kidnapping an art-student expresses his repression, making the release of sexual energy as a form of liberation. A similar theme of psychic and sexual liberation is also dealt with in his next novel, Mantissa (1982).
The Magus (1966, revised in 1977) is also on the same theme. His most popular novel, and most admired, has been The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1969), where again juxtaposition of repression and release is set up. The pair of central characters defy all taboos and conventions of social morality. We can see reflected in his work the influence of Lacanian psychology, which is post-Freudian.

Fraser And Farrell

There are some novelists whose work is of special interest to the Indian readers, because it relates the Indian situation during the British Raj. George Macdonald Fraser (b. 1925) and James Gordon Farrell (1935-1979) are among these writers. The Victorian India has been of great interest to many of these English novelists who had the opportunity to experience life on the Indian sub-continent. Fraser has to his credit ten volumes of the so-called “Flashman Paper,” dealing with the imagined career of the ex-villain of Tom Brown’s Schooldays. These volumes appeared between 1969 and 1994. The various themes in these volumes concern the Afgan war of 1842, the British acquisition of Punjab, and the Indian Mutiny of 1857. Less provocative than Fraser’s work is Farrell’s The Siege of Krishnapur (1973), which deals with the Indian Mutiny or Sepoy Rebellion, as the British named it from their side. On our side, the event is called the first War of Independence. The perspective brought upon the events is, of course, that of the colonial outfit. If does, however raise questions about the British imperial mission in the colonies. Fraser and Farrell do not compare, in terms of art, with E.M. Forster, whose novel on India is not impaired by any narrow outlook. Here, there is lack of depth of understanding of characters as well as the situation. FarreU’s unfinished novel about Shimla, The Hill Station (1981), is the poorest of his work.

Paul Scott

Of all the British novelists who wrote about India, Paul Scott’s “Raj Quartet” offers the most comprehensive treatment of the subject. Paul Scott (1920-1978) wrote his quartet (a sequence of four novels) between 1966 and 1975. Collectively called the Raj Quartet, the sequence consists of The Jewel in the Crown (1966), A Day of the Scorpion(1968), The Towers of Silence (1971), and A Division of the Spoils (1975). The period the quartet covers relates to World War II years and the subsequent phase leading to India’s Independence. Scott’s last novel, Staying On (1977), also deals with India, covering the post-Independence period. It shows how those who chose to stay on found themselves misfits in the changed scenario. Scott may not be as great as Forster, but he is decidedly superior to Fraser and Farrell. As a consequence of the Postcolonial critical theory, the work of these novelists, along with the work of similar writers, such as Forster and Kipling, has now been interpreted from the Postmodernist perspective.



Between the Auden group of poets of the 1930’s and the Movement poets of the 1950’s, there are some poets of the forties who do not constitute any group or movement. One thing common between them is that they do not continue with the experimental poetry of the 1920’s, nor the Poetry of Commitment of the 1930’s, the decade of Depression. In the later years of 1930’s there emerged the movement of Surrealism in Europe,—including England. Primarily related to painting, Surrealism influenced the art of poetry also. One way of defining Surrealism is to see it in relation to Romanticism. One can say that Romanticism intensified becomes Surrealism. Another way to define it is to relate it to Realism. In that case Surrealism is seen as Super-Realism. For, after all, dreams, nightmares, daydreams, emotionalism, irrationalism are also a part of “real” life that we live, and it is these very aspects of life that constitute the stuff of Surrealism. In England, it was introduced in poetry by David Gascoyne (b. 1916), who also wrote A Short Survey of Surrealism (1935).

Dylan Thomas

A prominent poet associated with Surrealism was the Anglo-Welsh Dylan Thoman (1914-1953), although some decline to do that. Andrew Sanders is one such critic. His contention is: “As his ambitious and uneven first volume, Poems (1934), suggests, Thoma had begun to mould an extravagant and pulsatingly rhetorical style before he became aware of the imported innovations of international Surrealist writing. He was, however, decidedly a poet who thought in images. If there is a kinship evident in Thomas’s verse it is with the ‘difficulty,’ the emotionalism, the lyric intensity, and the metaphysical speculation (though not the intellectual vigour) of the school of Donne.” One of the popularly known poems of Thomas is “The Force that through the Green Fuse drives the Flower,” considered an example of his pantheism and mysticism; also an example of Blakean symbolism, such as the following:
And I am dumb to tell the lover’s tomb
How at my sheet goes the same crooked worm.

Another well-known poem of his is “Light Breaks Where No Sun Shines,” which is typical of his “obscurity” because his symbolism tends to be personal and private, such as the following:
Light breakes on secret lots,
On time of thought where thoughts smell in the rain;
When logics die,
The secret of the soil grows through the eye,
And blood jumps in the sun;
Above the waste allotments the dawn halts.

Thomas and other poets of the forties are called neo-romantics, having greater affinity with Blake, Yeats, Lawrence, etc., than with Eliot or Auden. Some other poems of Thomas to remember are “The Hunchback in the Park,” “After the Funeral,” “Over Sir John’s Hill,” “Fern Hill,” and “Do not go gentle into that good night.”
As Karl Shapiro has said, “Thomas is in somewhat the same relation to modern poetry that Hopkins was to Tennyson and the Victorians; this is a relation of anti-magnetism. Thomas resisted the literary traditionalism of the Eliot school; he wanted no part of it. Poetry to him was not a civilizing manoeuvre, a replanting of the gardens; it was a holocaust, a sowing of the wind.” Thomas is also known for his catchy, parodic, title Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog (1940), his book of autobiographical short stories. Unfortunately, he had died of drinking, just as Marlowe died in a drunken brawl. His best known volume of poems remains Deaths and Entrances (1946). In its Surrealistic revolt against all restraints on free creativity, including logical reason, standard morality, social norms, Thomas’s work reflects one facet of Postmodernism which finds more mature expression later in the literature of the 1960’s.

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The Movement Poets

A parallel crusade in poetry to the effort of Angry Young Men in fiction during the decade of the 1950’s was that of the Movement Poets. This, too, was conscious and deliberate just as its counterpart movement was in fiction. In 1955, a number of verse manifestoes found publication from the members of the group known as the Movement. These manifestoes were published in D.J. Enright’s anthology, Poets of the 1950’s, which included Kingsley Amis, Philip Larkin, Robert Conquest, etc. Amis made the following announcement:
Nobody wants any more poems about philosophers or paintings or novelists or art galleries or mythology or foreign cities or other poems. At least I hope nobody wants them. Larkin’s reaction to “Modernism” is no less violent: I have no belief in “tradition” or a common myth-kitty or casual allusions in poems to other poems or poets.... To me the whole of the ancient world, the whole of classical and biblical mythology meant very little, and I think that using them today not only fills poems full of dead spots but dodges the writer’s duty to be original.
As Robert Conquest contended, the Movement was “empirical in its attitude to all the cosmos.” On the one hand, it was a reaction against the mythical new classicism of the 1920’s, on the other, it was opposed to the neo-romanticism of the 1940’s. It was, one could surmise, a sort of realism, which aimed at consciously narrow concerns of here and now, addressing the world of everyday engagements, closing all windows on the outside world both in time and space. The Movement poets shut their eyes to whatever lurked beyond the tangible present and the mundane multitude. The very dull and drab, morbid and monotonous life of the uneventful men and matters were chosen as the subject-matter of poetry. After the War, which was between the European nations primarily, the reaction to Continentalism of the Modernists sounded perhaps unpatriotic. So, there is, for sure, this nationalist aspect also to the Movement philosophy of new aesthetics. As Calvin Bedient puts it, “The English poetic ‘Movement’ of the Fifties (the very name suggesting an excess of dull plainness) did much to fix the image of contemporary British poetry as deliberately deficient, moderate with a will. This image is gradually frayed and will probably give way altogether, for the truth is that, however deliberate — and after a faltering start — postwar poetry in Britain and Ireland has proved increasingly robust, varied, responsive to the times, felicitous, enjoyable.” Thus, the anti-modernism of Larkin and his fellow poets reflected the Postmodernist spirit of problematising Modernism. Their postmodernism involves a going beyond modernism.

Philip Larkin

The poet chosen by common consent as the most significant of the Movement poets is Philip Larkin (1922-1985). He still remains the best known of the group. His poetic works include The North Ship (1945), The Less Deceived (1955), The Whitsun Weddings (1964), and High Windows (1974). It has been rightly remarked that “English poetry has never been so persistently out of the cold as it is with Philip Larkin.” The following extract from his “Wild Oats” will illustrate the remark at once:
About twenty years ago
Two girls came in where I worked -
A bosomy English rose
And her friend in specs I could talk to.
Faces in those days sparked
The whole shooting-match off, and 1 doubt
If ever one had like her:
But it was the friend I took out,

This shows a good deal of Larkin—plain and bare as wood, matter-of-fact, not entirely a mind of winter, with a slight sense of homour. Larkin represents the post-War mood of depression. As he says in his novel Jill (1946), “events cut us ruthlessly down to size.” His other novel is A Girl in Winter (1947).
Larkin has something of both Frost and Hardy in him, writing small poems on small affairs of life, sharing their scepticism, even nihilism at times, but always reassuring in his love for the very ordinary things of life. Note, for instance, the following:
‘This was Mr. Bleaney’s room. He stayed
The whole time he was at the Bodies, till
They moved him.’ Flowered curtains, thin and frayed,
Fall to within five inches of the sill,

Such small things, studded with care on the small canvas, came out with a certain care for the small and the underdog. His lyricism and lucidity are never lost in the dense detail of his little descriptions. These two qualities always come out:
I was sleeping, and you woke me
To walk on the chilled shore
Of a night with no memory
Till your voice forsook my ear
Till your two hands withdrew
And I was empty of tears,
On the edge of a bricked and streeted sea
And a cold bill of stars.

Thus, Larkin served his generation of the post-War with the soothing balm of little concerns, focusing on the immediate so that the disturbing outside world could be kept subsided at the back of one’s mind. His poetry, no wonder, became the truly representative of the post-War outlook on life and cosmos. Larkin’s tirade against the metanarratives of modernism is one form of Postmodernism that emerged in the 1950’s.

Donald Davie

Another “Movement” poet, Donald Davie (b. 1922), came out with his own brand of “commonality” (if realism has historically an old ring), quite different from Larkin’s. He lays a good deal of emphasis on “unbanity,” which Larkin rather repudiated. Davie wants reality to appear in his work, not “in some new form,” but in its most familiar form, its morally guaranteed form—in fact, as “moral commonplace.” However, as Calvin Bendient has observed, “But the truth is that reality does not appear in his work at all. Seen from ‘the center,’ reality falls into the blind spot in the middle of the eye. No longer Appearance, it becomes a storehouse of signs, of which the meanings are moral abstractions.” Davie has a very pronounced, as well as announced, polemical “urbane” poetic programme, very much like (his most admired) the Augustans. As he argues, linguistic urbanity lies in “the perfection of a common language.” Using Arnold’s phrase, Davie insists, that the object of urbanity is to voice “the tone and spirit of the center.” No wonder that he wrote his critical book Purity of Diction in English Verse (1952).
Davie’s attempt, therefore, is to have a style as transparent as water, but also as pure. Decidedly, to achieve that goal a lot of “ore” of reality will have to be removed from the pure metal, and so Davie does. Note, for instance, the following, from “Tunstall Forest”:
...the tense
Stillness did not come,
The deer did not, although they fed
Perhaps nearby that day,
The liquid eye and elegant head
No more than a mile away.

Some other notable poems of Davie include “The Cypress Avenue,” “After an Accident.” A critical book, Articulate Energy, pleads for a “story sense” in poetry, which again is an Arnoldian emphasis. An interesting poem of Davie (recalling Joyce and Thomas) is “Portrait of the Artist as a Farmyard Fowl,” where the monologue proceeds on such a pace as the following:
A conscious carriage must become a strut;
Fastidiousness can only stalk
And seem at last not even tasteful but
A ruffled hen too apt to squawk.

Davie’s notable works include Six Epistles to Eva Hesse (1970), The Forests of Lithuania (1959), A Winter Talent (1957) and Events and Wisdoms (1964): while some more notable poems include “Creon Mouse,” “North Dublin,” “Cherry Ripe,” “A Meeting of Cultures,” “New York in August,” “In California,” “The Prolific Spell,” “Viper Man,” etc. His attempt always remained to sing and to keep his song lean, devoid of all history and mythology because that was the “character” of the post-War era. But there is, for sure, an integrity in his leanness which, the more one reads his poetry, the more one learns to admire. His work finally, slowly and steadily, that is, has become broader, but without sacrificing its innate purity.

Robert Conquest and D.J. Enright

Still another of the group of poets covered under the term “Movement” is Robert Conquest (b. 1917), whose poetry is largely devoted to the depiction of landscape; of course, with man, as in Wordsworth, as an integral part of nature. The subject-matter, in the true spirit of the “Movement,” remains reality, that is, the commonplace, but his approach is rather intellectual. Some of his notable verse appears in his volumes entitled Poems (1955), Between Mars and Venus (1962), and Arias for a Love Opera (1969). One more of the core group, so to say, of the “Movement,” is J.D. Enright (b. 1920), who is known, not so much by his own poems as by his edited work, Poets of the 50‘s (1955). His own poems are included in his Language Hyena (1953), Some Men are Brothers (1960), and The Old Adam (1965). His poetry has for its subject the individual man, just as in Larkin, in all his conditions, treating his suffering with sympathy, also with indignation. But he always upholds individual dignity, reiterates strong faith in it. His language, also like Larkin’s, is derived from colloquial speech, stripped of all elaborations. His is a style marked by ironical disgust of hypocrisy and cruelty.

Charles Tomlinson

A notable poet of the post-War period, perhaps the most considerable British poet, is Charles Tomlinson (b. 1927). Like the other poets of the period he, too, is committed to some sort of realism, the world of empirical realities. However, each of these poets have their individual versions of reality. In Tomlinson’s case, he can be called a poet of exteriority and its human correspondences. His outwardness, however, need not be confused with superficiality. His principal theme, in his own words, is “the fineness of relationships.” One can see something of Wordsworth in him, his wise passivity, his reflections within the bounds of reality. The power of message and healing of his poetry remains central in most of his compositions. Note, for instance, the following from “The Gossamers”:
Autumn. A haze is gold
By definition. This one lit
The thread of gossamers
That webbed across it
Out of shadow and again
Through rocking spaces which the sun
Claimed in the leafage. Now
I saw for what they were
These glitterings in grass, on air,
Of certainties that ride and plot
The currents in their tenuous stride
And, as they flow, must touch
Each blade and, touching, know
Its green resistance. Undefined
The haze of autumn in the mind
Is gold, is glaze.

Clearly, mind is light, and like the light it is a wealth, but also like the wealth, it makes wealth of objects that it reflects upon. His poetry consists of several volumes that came out at different dates, namely, Relations and Contraries (1951), The Necklace (1955), Seeing is Believing (1958), A Peopled Landscape (1962), American Scenes (1966), The Way of the World (1969), Written on Water (1972), The Way In and Other Poems (1974), The Flood (1981), The Return (1987), The Door m the Wall (1992) and Jubilation (1995). In Tomlinson’s case, contemplation seems to be the fulfilment of being, just as it does in the case of Wallace Stevens. Like the other poets of the Movement Group, he, too, recalls us to the life of the moment conceived as an end in itself. Here, the Movement gains the meaning of flux, reality that is marked by movement, by change.

R.S. Thomas

A notable Welsh poet after Dylan Thomas is Ronald Stuart Thomas (b. 1913), although not as well-known and established as his senior compatriot. His poetry is both sensual as well as sensitive, which quickly engages both eye and emotion equally intensely. Note, for instance, the following from “Ninetieth Birthday”:
And there at the top that old woman,
Born almost a century back
In that stone farm, awaits your coming;
Waits for the news of the lost village.
She thinks she knows, a place that exists
In her memory only.

One feels tempted to cite Calvin Bendient’s comment on the poem, which has a charm of its own: “How direct, naked, human, and sociable this is. Has Thomas not heard of ‘modern’ poetry and its difficulty? Has he no embarrassment before the primary emotions? Never mind; nothing vital is missing from such a poem. Reading Thomas one learns to endure the glare of emotion; one learns again a kind of innocence.” Thomas, evidently, shares with the poets of the 1950’s their key emphases on simple, clean, and clear diction; direct and straight syntax; no use of mythology or tradition; no reliance on ambiguity or paradox.
Thomas has to his credit several volumes of poems, including The Stones of the Field (1946), Not That He Brought Flowers (1969), Song at the Year’s Turning (1955), The Bread of Truth, and Pieta (1966), Laboratories of the Spirit (1975), The Echoes Return Show (1988), Counterpoint (1990) and Mass for Hard Times (1992). His poetry is strongly marked as much by moral quality as by aesthetic. The theme may be love or anger, his poem is invariably directed at an entire people. There is, in that sense, something of Whitman in Thomas, without, of course, the former’s bombastic optimism. He is rather hardened and narrowed Whitman, although not without broad sympathy, especially for the peasants. Note, for instance, the following:
I am the farmer, stripped of love
And thought and grace by the land’s hardness;
But what I am saying over the fields’
Desolate acres, rough with dew,
Is, Listen, listen, I am a man like you...

Some of the memorable poems of Thomas include “Green Categories,” “The Gap in the Hedge,” “A Peasant,” “The Airy Tomb,” “Death of a Peasant,” “Portrait,” “Absolution,” and “Walter Llywarch.” Writing about the repressed and marginalized (peasants have been one such class) is in keeping with the philosophy of Postmodernism.


Ted Hughes

Famous for his animal poetry, Ted Hughes (1930-1998) earned the reputation of being the first English poet of the “will to live.” His choice of animals as the themes of his poems is, of course, not without the reverse side of his choice. The reverse side is as much of a disenchantment with the world of mankind as there is an enchantment with the world of animal kind. He was highly influenced by the German philosopher, Schopenhauer, the only one, he says, he “ever really read.” The philosopher in question believed, “the whole and every individual bears the stamp of a forced condition.”
Ted Hughes can be appropriately said to be the poet of that condition, and in that role, he is rather a hangman than a priest. Hughes once revealed, “My interest in animals began when I began. My memory goes back pretty clearly to my third year, and by then I had so many of the toy lead animals you could buy in shops that they went right round our flat-topped fireplace fender, nose to tail....” Later, he had live experience with them in the fields, feeling them crawling under the lining of his coat.
In his poetry, animals are presented, not as playthings, but as lords of life and death. They assume the status of mythical gods. They are presented superior to men, with their lack of self-consciousness, and sickness of the mind. They are found free from inhibitions, hesitations, fears; and full of courage and concentration. With their focused life, with all the innocence of man’s corruptions, they emerge, like Adam and Eve in Paradise, in a state before the Fall. His very first volume of poems, The Hawk in the Rain (1957), illustrated all these ideas, and made him famous as a poet. Note, how man is placed below the animal in the hierarchy Hughes builds up in his poems:
I drown in the drumming ploughland. I drag up Heel after heel from the swallowing of the earth’s mouth, From clay that clutches my each step to the ankle With the habit of the dogged grave, but the hawk Effortlessly at height hangs his still eye...
His other volumes of poems include Wodwo (1967), Crow (1970), Crow Wakes (1971), Eat Crow (1972), Cave Birds (1975), Season Songs (1976), Moortowm (1979), Wolf-watching (1989), Shakespeare and the Goddess of Being (1992) - a prose work, Tales from Ovid (1997), and Birthday Letters(1998). The last, published just a short while before his death, is a sequence of poems about his bitter-sweet relations with his wife, Sylvia Plath, who committed suicide in 1963. Although composed much earlier, he chose to make them public near his own end.

Tom Gunn

Although he had been included in the Movement authologies along with Larkin, Tom Gunn (b. 1929) sharply departed from the group and took his individual course. He had resolved rather early in his career to seek out the heroic in the experience of nihilism. He writes about various forms of driving power which characterize our cities, as also about self-destructive violence. No doubt, he views human existence as full of pain and suffering, lovelessness and meaninglessness, but he still finds solace in the tenderness of man’s essentially animal nature. His very first volume of poems, Fighting Terms (1954), startled the readers. One notices in these poems his love and admiration for a certain masculinity, a type of manly energy, which is rather aggressive. His situations measure up to the existentialist or Sartrean dimensions. His other volumes of poetry include The Sense of Movement (1957), My Sad Captains (1961), Touch (1967), Moly (1971), Jack Straw’s Castle (1976), The Passages of Joy (1982) and The Man With Night Sweats(1992). Those more sympathetic to him have compared him, because of his logical and economical style, studded with startling imagery, with John Donne. But there are others less sympathetic who find him often committed to a kind of nihilistic glamour for which, it is alleged, he is not able to convincingly apologise. The most unsympathetic of the better known critics is Vyor Winters who observes that “as a rule, he has a dead ear, and the fact makes much of his work either mechanical or lax in its movement.” Both Ted Hughes and Tom Gunn, by glorifying animals or animal-energy in man, with sardonic humour spared for mankind, reflect the Postmodernist inglorious conception of human nature.

Seamus Heaney

An Irish by birth, and acutely conscious of his country’s long history of hostility towards England, Seamus Heaney (1939-2000) counted himself among the “colonials.” But he was fully conscious of his divided inheritance: “I speak and write in English,” he writes in an article (dated 1972), “but do no altogether share the preoccupations and perspectives of an Englishman...and the English tradition is not ultimately home. I live off another hump as well.” That other “hump,” we know, is no other but Ireland, or more precisely the rural Ulster, which, like the Wessex of Thomas Hardy, occupies a central place in his poetry. Heaney’s poetic volumes include Death of a Naturalist (1966), Door into the Dark (1969), Wintering Out (1972), North (1975), Field Work (1979), Preoccupations (1980), Station Island (I984), The Haw Lantern (1987), Seeing Things (1991), Sweeney’s Flight (1992) and The Spirit Level (1996). Heaney has been known as a peasant as well as a patriotic poet of Ireland. He depicts both farm activities as well as the colonial imperial effects on his countrymen. In a poem called “At a Potato Digging,” for instance, he writes:
Flint-white, purple, they lie scattered
like inflated pebbles. Native
to the black hutch of clay
where the halved seed hot and clothed
these knobbled and slit-eyed tubers seem
the petrified hearts of drills. Split
by the spade, they show white as cream.

Similarly, in “North,” he depicts, with a backward glance, the buried sorrows and treasures of the Irish people as well as of their language, concluding with an advice:
‘Lie down
in the word-board, burrow
in the coil and gleam
of your furrowed brain.
Compose in darkness.
Expect aurora borealis
in the long foray
but no cascade of light.
Keep your eye clear
As the bleb of the icicle,
Trust the feel of what nubbed treasure
your hands have known.

Thus, poetry of the post-War, post-modern, or contemporary period, born out of the aftermath of the war devastation caused to cities and psychies alike, remained rather tame, compared to the highbrow modernist poetry. It deliberately chose to remain level, everyday, matter of fact, narrow, and, like the poetry of Hardy and Frost, solid and specific, serious and cynical. It contented itself with the micro rather than macro narratives, minute rather than meta concerns, national rather than international scenes, simple rather than difficult style, direct rather than indirect address.

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Postmodern Drama (The New Theatre)

Drama of the post-war period shares, in some ways, the dominant spirit of the age we have witnessed in novel and poetry from the 1950’s onward. One thing that seems common to all the three is their concern with life at the elemental level—with life bare and bony, wholly demystified and demythologized, and with questions raised at the existential plane, and without any attempt to seek soothing escape or magic solution to the problems of existence.
The central stance in all the literary forms seems to be to face the stark realities of life, to take suffering as it comes, and to learn to accept the unheroic status man seems to have been assigned in the absurd universe in which he is condemned to live. Drama of the post-modern period brings a still sharper focus on all these aspects than do its counterpart forms of poetry and novel. And to do that, drama of this period has been more daring than the other two; it has been more innovative in technique, more shocking in defying social and moral conventions.

John Osborne

When John Osborne’s (1929-94) Look Back in Angerwas opened at the Royal Court Theatre on May 8, 1956, it at once made an impression that a dramatic revolution was afoot in England. The play was published in 1957. The early audiences did, however, feel shocked, as well as its more sensitive critics, into deeper response. The play shook the middle-class values of the “well-made play” founded by Ibsen and practiced in England by Shaw and Galsworthy. The audiences saw in Osborne’s play a new kind of drama which addressed “the issues of the day.” What was new about this drama was neither its politics, nor its technique so much as its alarm in rancour, language, and setting. The New Theatre ended the reign of country drawing-room setting with its moral cant and its sherry. It introduced instead the provincial bed-sitter with its abusive noises and its ironing-board. The conventional theatrical illusion of neat and stratified society was replaced by dramatic scenes of untidy and antagonistic social groups, grating upon one another’s nerves. There may not have been any change in the social class of these characters, but there had, decidedly, come about a change in their assumptions and conversations. Other plays by Osborne include Epitaph for George Dillon (1957; pub. 1958), The Entertainer (1957), Luther (1961), Inadmissible Evidence (1964), A Party for Me (1965), West of Suez (1971), A Sense of Detachment (1972) and Watch It Come Down (1976). His autobiographies A Better Class of Person (1981) and Almost a Gentleman (1991), and a miscellany of reviews and letters, Damn You, England (1994), too, make interesting reading.

Samuel Beckett

Although considered a foreign influence (because Waiting for Godotreached England via France), Samuel Beckett (1906-1989) was, in fact, the real pioneer of the New Theatre in Europe, including England. His much more radical drama than Osborne’s had been launched quite a few years earlier than Osborne’s. His Waiting for Godot was staged in Paris in 1953, and then in London (at the small Arts Theatre) in 1955, and had created sensations all over Europe, which must have influenced the composition of Osborne’s play as weli. Beckett was an Irish by birth, but from 1937 onward permanently resided in Paris, wrote his drama as well as fiction in French, only later to be translated in English. Earlier, he had worked with his fellow Irish writer James Joyce and his Parisian circle, becoming a part of the polyglot and polyphonic world of literary innovation. Beckett’s plays include, besides Waiting for Godot (1955), Endgame (1957), Krapp’s Last Tape (1960), and Happy days (1962). His Come and Go (1967) is a stark ‘dramaticale’ with three female characters and a text of 121 words. Then there is the even more minimal Breath (1969), a 30 second play consisting only of a pile of rubbish, a breath, and a cry. There is also a play called Not I (1973), a brief, fragmented, disembodied monologue by an actor of indeterminate sex of whom only the ‘Mouth’ is illuminated. All these plays are revolutionary in different ways.
Beckett’s interest in the functioning and malfunctioning of the human mind, reflected by gaps, jumps, and lurches, remains at the centre of his fiction as well as drama. We see in his plays an overlapping of minds, ideas, images and phrases. We see voices both interrupting and inheriting trains of thought begun elsewhere or nowhere. We also see separated consciousnesses both impeding and impressing themselves on one another. Beckett’s dialogue, for which his Waiting for Godot is especially remarkable, remains the most energetic. It is densely woven but equally supple. His settings are bare, just as his language is bald. In Waiting for Godot, for instance, there is only a country road and a tree, both, in fact, incomplete even as road and tree. The tree gets only four leaves in the second act. In the first, it remains without leaves. As for characters, there are only two pairs who occupy the stage by turns all through the play. The dialogue also runs into repetitive phrases and sentences and subjects leading to no conclusions or results. Beckett uses blindness and other disadvantages, as he does in both Endgame and Waiting for Godot, suggesting that one kind of deprivation may sharpen the other organs of perception in a character.
Beckett’s concept of time in his plays is the most radical of his innovations. He presents the time present as broken, inconsistent and inconsequential. He also allows within that time present the intrusion of time past. It is, of course, never a flashback. Rather, it is oppressively enriching in the private histories of characters as well as in the general perception of life. He also shares with his mentor, Proust, an antipathy to literature that describes. Hence there are no descriptions in his plays. As Beckett affirms, again echoing the mentor, “there is no escape from yesterday because yesterday has deformed us, or been deformed by us.” As Sanders remarks, Beckett’s “dramatic repetitions and iterations, his persistent echoes and footfalls, emerge not from a negative view of human existence, but from an acceptance of ’dull inviolability’ as a positive, if minimally progressive, force. As his inviolable and unsentimental Krapp also seems to have discovered, a path forward lay in exploring the resonances of the circumambient darkness.” Thus, Beckett remains the most radical among the Postmodernist playwrights in England, in fact, in the entire Europe.
While Beckett remained in popular perception a ‘foreign’ influence, Osborne emerged as a rebel within Britain’s own established tradition. Also, while Beckett remained a representative of French symbolic and philosophically-based drama. Osborne responded to the native social and moral issues of his time, and without the burden of philosophy and symbolism. His Look Back in Anger came to be considered an epoch-making play. It became the launcher of the movement called “Angry Young Men.” The play, of course, presented the noisiest of the lot of “angries.” Jimmy Porter, the play’s hero, is a young man of 25, presented as “a disconcerting mixture of sincerity and cheerful malice, of tenderness and freebooting; restless, importunate, full of pride, a combination which alienates the sensitive and insensitive alike.” Porter is not an idealist. He is said to be “born out of his time.” He is described as a revolutionary without a revolution, or a rebel without a cause. He loudly and bitterly protests against the establishment values, against his wife’s middle-class ex-Indian army parents; against his Member of Parliament brother-in-law; against bishops and church bells; against Sunday newspapers, English music, and English literature including Shakespeare, Eliot, and “Auntie Wordsworth.” He is a new type of protagonist, classless, aimless, restless, although placed in a conventional social context.
Osborne’s Luther (1961), which too has for its title character an “angry young man,” who makes a strong assertion of his identity when he says, “Here I stand; God help me; I can do no more. Amen”; Inadmissible Evidence (1964), in which Osborne provides for a location “where a dream takes place, a site of helplessness, of oppression and polemic.” Osborne also wrote his autobiography, A Better Class of Person (1981), which is both pungently observant and spiteful. His characters and their anger and rebellion seem to have been an extension of his perception of himself. Thus, in a way, Beckett and Osborne complemented each other: while the former innovated new technique, the latter exploded conventional social norms.

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John Arden

Among the post-50’s playwrights, John Arden (b. 1930) emerged in the 60’s as a representative of the new generation of writers who were provocative, argumentative and Anglo-Brechtian. These dramatists, namely Arden, Wesker, Pinter, Orton, and Stoppard, were launched by the Royal Court theatre in London.
Arden’s first play, Live Like Pigs (1958), presents the plight of gypsies, explores their anti-social behaviour, and seems to suggest that “respectability” and its guardians, the police, ultimately prove far more damaging to a society’s health than the unconventional style of living of the gypsies. His most popular and punchy play, Serjeant Musgrave’s Dance (1959) deals with an anti-militaristic theme, using a dramatic combination of Brechtian exposition and music-hall routines of dance, song, and monologue. His other plays include Left-Handed Liberty (1965), The Hero Rises Up (1968), and The Island of the Mighty (1972). In his later plays, Arden’s rigorous scepticism seems to have mellowed.

Arnold Wesker

Another playwright of the period is Arnold Wesker (b. 1932), whose first play, Chips with Everything, was acted at the Royal Court in 1962. It is largely based on the playwright’s own experience in Royal Airforce Service. His other plays include The Kitchen (1959), in which both camp and kitchen are used as metaphors for an unfair and stratified society (class-based), in which the disadvantaged, like drop-outs, have to fend for themselves. And when it comes to doing that, they have nothing to fall back upon but their proletarian vigour and innate emotional richness; and his famous trilogy—Chicken Soup and Barley (1958), Roots (1959), I’m Talking About Jerusalem (1960), which brings to fore his sympathy for the working-class, his socialism, his inclination for the Jewish cause, etc. His effort to combine art with socialist agenda in setting up “Centre 42” did not succeed, leaving him rather disheartented.

Harold Pinter

A more popular dramatist who emerged during the period was Harold Pinter (b. 1930), who shared with Wesker his Jewish background, but who was an actor by profession rather than an activist like Wesker. Unlike Wesker, he does not directly address the political issues of the time in his plays. “They open up instead,” as Sanders remarks, “a world of seeming inconsequentiality, tangential communication, dislocated relationships, and undefined threats.” Pinter started as dramatist with a bang, producing three plays in the same year - The Room, The Dumb Waiter, The Birthday Party - in 1957. The last of these three has been a favourite of the readers. Then came out in 1959 his The Caretaker, which was performed the following year. His plays show an influence of Beckett as well as Kafka. They also show, in their dialogue, the influence of Eliot. The Birthday Party remains his most polyphonic, in which incongruous cliches intrude quite often.
One notices a definite change in Pinter’s art with the performance of his The Homecoming (1964) at the Royal Shakespeare company. It is generally taken as a turning point in his career. Rather indefinite and unspecific in situations and characters, it dramatizes several sides of social tensions woven in the lives of a large family (presumably Jewish). The play leaves behind an impression of sourness and negativity. It was followed by Old Times (1971), No Man’s Land (1975), and Betrayal (1978), all marking an extension in themes handled in The Homecoming. As John Russell Brown sums up, “the new playwright is then the portrayer of character, new in the shortness of his plays, their small casts and the replacement of conventional plot development by strange and often menacing events. His plays are half character studies and half fantasy or imitation of parts of an early Hitchcock film.”

Joe Orton

Another dramatist of the post-War era, less known in India than Pinter, or Osborne, or Beckett, was Joe Orton (1933-1967), whose dramatized protest against state oppression is more direct and powerful than in Pinter. A character in his play Loot (1966), named Inspector Truscott, underlines the dramatist’s attitude to the subject of state repression of common citizens: “If I ever hear you accuse the police of using violence on a prisoner in custody again, I’ll take you down to the station and beat the eyes out of your head.” Orton earned notoriety because of his active and promiscuous homosexuality (his predecessor, we know, was Oscar Wilde) at a time when it was still a criminal offence in England. Orton wrote four major comedies, besides Loot, namely, Entertaining Mr. Sloane (1964), The Ruffian on the Stair (1967), The Erpingham Camp (1967), and What the Butler Saw (1969), all calculated to outrage. His comedies attempted to expose the folly of the fool, the hypocrisy of the hypocrite, the incoherence of the incoherents. They also attempted beyond this task to upset the status-quo. As for the form of comedy, he does not just exploit the traditional forms, but also transforms them into something dangerously different.

Tom Stoppard

In comparison to Orton’s explosive and untidy comedy, the comedy of Tom Stoppard (b. 1937), a Czechoslovakian by birth, is implosive and tidy. His plays are meticulously designed, which logically find their endings in their beginnings. The play that has made him famous (partly because of the title derived from Shakespeare’s Hamlet) is Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead (1967). According to the play’s stage direction, the play opens with “two ELIZABETHANS passing the time in a place without any visible character.” The play, as a matter of fact, is a re-reading of Hamlet from the viewpoints of Einsteinian laws, Eliotic negatives, and Beckettian principles. Everything is presented relatively. Perspective changes, time is fragmented, the Prince is marginalized, or decentred. The two coin-spinning attendant lords are made to take on the weight of a tragedy which is both beyond their comprehension as well as above their status. Although on surface it is a farcical comedy, it carries beneath the surface a lurking sense of doom or death, which the audiences are never allowed to forget. The play’s contemporary relevance lies in the present-day consciousness of the two leading characters, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, who in their Elizabethan costumes, language, and setting, feel out of place, with their twentieth-century awareness of convergence, concurrence, and consequence: “Wheels have been set in motion, and they have their own pace, to which we are...condemned. Each move is dictated by the previous one - that is the meaning of order. If we start being arbitrary it’ll just be a shambles.” The message is that life may look arbitrary, there is logic in life which is inescapable, just as the pattern of Shakespeare’s play determines that Rosencrantz’s and Guildenstern’s strutting and fretting must come to an end with death, just as human life on earth does.
Stoppard’s other plays include The Real Inspector Hound (1968), which is a parody of an English detective story; Jumpers (1972), which ridicules intellectual gymnastics, in which intellectuals do jumping exercises, raising unstable philosophic structures; Travesties (1974), which is considered his most witty and inventive play, and includes the cast of historical figures such as Joyce, Lenin, Tristan, Tzara, etc.; Every Good Boy Deserves Favour (1977), which is on a direct political theme; and Arcadia (1994), in which locations alternate between Byron’s England and Stoppard’s England, attempting a fusion of complementary oppositions. This is considered Stoppard’s most allusive and subtle play.

Edward Bond

Still another notable playwright of the period is Edward Bond (b. 1934), who has faithfully followed the didactic German tradition, although he later disclaimed that he was working as a sort of disciple of Brecht. His point of departure, in his view, was to necessarily “disturb an audience emotionally” through various means to make what he called the “aggro-effect” more complete. His early plays include The Pope’s Wedding (1962) and Saved (1965), both of which deal with the inherited lexical and emotional deficiencies of the working class life. This life, he believes, perforce finds expression in violence. His analysis is that violence is a logical consequence of the brutalization of the working class. And brutalization, in his view, results from the uncaring treatment meted out to them by the stratified, industrial society. In his subsequent plays, Narrow Road to the Deep North (1968), Lear (1971), Bingo (1974), and The Fool (1976), he presents anger and violence not merely as means of self-expression but also as instruments of social change. In his Lear, he drastically changes the story of Shakespeare’s play, making it a twentieth century tale of violence and repression, where love always remains something that might-have-been.

Caryl Churchill

Very much like Bond, Caryl Churchill (b. 1938) has been greatly opposed to a social system based on exploitation. She, however, relates exploitation and repression to the subjection of women. In her view, there is a direct correspondence between the traditional power of the capitalists and the subjection of women. She always presents her women characters as victims of a culture which regards them as mere commodities, or which has imposed conditions of inequality on them, brought up to subject to the masculine social conventions. Her plays include Owners (1972), which draws parallel between colonial and sexual oppression; Cloud Nine (1979), which creates farce through the shifts of gender and racial roles; Top Girls (1982), which exposes the superficial nature of women’s liberation (so-called) in the 1980’s. Her later work includes Serious Money (1987), which is topical and apocalyptic presenting the effects of stock-market deregulation in the city of London; Mad Forest: A Play from Romania (1990), which makes a searching study of competing truths and half truths; and the two inter-related short plays, Blue Heart (1997), the first of which carries the title of Heart’s Desire, the second of Blue Kettle, which focus on lexical problems and failure of communication. We need to include here, as a sort of late entry, Robert Oxton Bolt (b. 1924) whose A Man For All Seasons (1960), based on Thomas More’s life, deals with power politics and the clash of ambitions. His first play, Flowering Cherry (1957), deals with self-deception striving to disguise failure.


Until the time of the modernist period of English literature, literary criticism was a “literary” activity, with leading (call them policy) documents written by the leaders of the literary movements. We know how from Dryden and Pope and Johnson to Wordsworth and Coleridge and Keats to Arnold and Rossetti and Swinburne to Eliot and Auden and Spender, English poetics was theorised by the leading English poets.
But in the post-modern period there is no such thing as literary theory, nor any of the dominant theoretic documents of today’s activity of criticism has come from any man-of-letters. It is mostly the philosophers, sociologists, anthropologists, psychologists, linguists, etc., who have propounded all kinds of dismantling orders, which are being applied, by their followers, in the field of literature. Today, the activity called “theory,” is related to, not any particular subject, but to all subjects. No wonder the literary criticism today has become cultural studies, feminism, postcolonialism, etc., which use literary texts for making political, sociological, or psychological case studies. As Jonathan Culler has attempted to explain the nature of THEORY:

Theory in literary studies is not an account of the nature of literature or methods for its study.... It is a body of thinking and writing whose limits are exceedingly hard to define....a new kind of writing has developed which is neither the evaluation of the relative merits of literary productions, nor intellectual history, nor moral philosophy, nor social prophesy, but all of these mingled together in a new genre. The most convenient designation of this miscellaneous genre is simply the nickname theory, which has come to designate works that succeed in challenging and reorienting thinking in fields other than those to which they apparently belong. This is the simplest explanation of what makes something count as theory. Works regarded as theory have effects beyond their original field.
Thus, the main effect of theory is disputing all that we have been considering “common sense.” It questions all the concepts and beliefs we have held about literature, author, reader, text, meaning, etc. It questions as well the non-literary concepts of philosophy, sociology, linguistics, etc. Theory challenges the conception of the author’s intention, that the meaning of work or speaker is what he “had in mind.” It also challenges that literature is a representation of “life”, whose truth is outside of itself, in history, or biography, etc. It further challenges the very notion of reality as something present at a given moment. In this all-round critique of common sense, theory insists that all that passes in the name of natural or essential or universal is nothing but a construction of social practices, a production of a certain discourse. Broadly, Culler makes the following four points to sum up the activity called theory:
a. It is interdisciplinary, always deriving ideas or leaving effects outside an original discipline.
b. It is analytical and speculative, always working out what is involved or implied in a text, or language, or meaning, or subject, etc.
c. It is a critique of common sense, always questioning whatever is considered a given or natural or essential or universal.
d. It is thinking about thought, always enquiring into categories and concepts we use in making sense of things, such as what is woman or man or meaning or text, etc. (Culler, p. 15)
Critics like Terry Eagleton (a well known British Marxist critic) may find in theory an expression of democratic impulse, and a liberation “from the stranglehold of a civilized sensibility,” the fact of the matter is that it has seriously subverted the value of literature in various ways, such as the following:
1. It has made criticism a jargon-ridden writing, inaccessible to the common reader. As such, it is anti-democratic.
2. It has reduced literature to the status of a speech, any speech, political, pornographic, stray writing, etc. As such, it deprives art and literature of their humane and ennobling effect.
3. It has reduced literary criticism to dividing people into regions, races, tribes, cultures, colonizers, colonized, etc. As such, it is divisive, not unifying.
4. It has also made criticism a negative activity, which is meant to trace faultlines, lapses, absences, what the text does not say or has failed to say.
Thus, theory has given birth to a set of approaches in criticism, which transforms the activity of understanding, appreciating, and evaluating a literary work into (largely) an activity of self-reflection. It tends to marginalize artists and their art-works.

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Reading through the vast variety of contemporary critical theories and textual interpretations under the various brand names, such as structuralism and post-structuralism, deconstruction and new historicism, cultural studies and feminism, minority discourse and post-colonialism, one is left wondering where the discipline of literary criticism has arrived in our time. The alien idioms one encounters, the gigantic critical apparatuses one confronts, the mind-boggling systems one has to comprehend, all quickly combine to create a climate utterly discomforting, making one unstable even for a ‘temporary stay against confusion.’
Terrorized by the teasing games of the dreadful discourses, the common reader instinctively terminates his journey through the dense forestry and returns to his own common-sense reading of the literary works. Of course, after his abortive journey through the verbal forest he does not return the same man; he comes back sadder’ but not wiser. What leaves him completely nonplussed are the oracular declarations, such as the ‘death of God’, the ‘death of the author’, the ‘death of the subject’, etc. Mortally afraid of encountering more of such declarations, he decides never to seek any critical company for his future journeys into the ‘cities of words.’

In such a situation it has become imperative for all those who value literature and literary criticism as instruments of education, essential for preserving and promoting the humanity of human societies, to understand and analyse the factors responsible for effecting this unprecedented change in the nature of literary criticism in our time. Until the end of the nineteenth century literary criticism had remained committed to elucidating for the common reader the social and moral significance of literary works, and was always written in a literary style as readable as literature itself. Note, for example, the following from S.T. Coleridge:
The characters of the dramatis personae, like those in real life, are to be inferred by the reader—they are not told to him. And it is well worth remarking that Shakespeare’s characters, like those in real life, are very commonly misunderstood, and almost always understood by different persons in different ways. The causes are the same in either case. If you take only what the friends of the character say, you may be deceived, and still more so, if that which his enemies say; nay, even the character himself sees himself through the medium of his character, and not exactly as he is. Take all together, not omitting a shrewd hint from the clown or the fool, and perhaps your impression will be right; and you may know whether you have in fact discovered the poet’s own idea, by all the speeches receiving light from it, and attesting its reality by reflecting it.
The very first thing one notices here is the use of an idiom readily available to the common reader. One also notices that the analogy used for explaining the critical method is taken from everyday human dealings, which implies that literature is a representation of life. One notices, too, how in a very simple manner the issue of the author’s intention has been explained, which makes clear that it is available within the text itself, and that one does not need to look for it anywhere else, including the author as a historical personage.
A drastic change in the nature of criticism began to become noticeable in the early years of the twentieth century. Those who brought about this change include I.A. Richards, Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, and the New Critics. With them literary criticism changed from art to science. Perhaps it had to change with the increasing influence of science in the modern age. As W.T. Stace has observed, ‘The positive stage is the stage of science which, when fully attained, abolishes both metaphysics and theology. In the golden age of the future which the triumph of science is to usher in, nothing will be considered knowledge unless it is science.’ Read, for example, the following from Ezra Pound: ‘The Proper METHOD for studying poetry and good letters is the method of contemporary biologists, that is, careful first-hand examination of the matter, and continual COMPARISON of one “slide” or specimen with another.” Thus was adopted by Pound, as well as by those ‘new’ poets and critics who faithfully followed the dictates of this poet’s poet and the critic’s critic, the method of science in poetry and criticism. A similar thrust in the direction of science was given by I.A. Richards, who in his Science and Poetry pleaded, once again, for the scientific method of analyzing the working of the poem as well as the poet’s mind. Note, for example, the following:
To understand what an interest is we should picture the mind as a system of very delicately poised balances, a system which so long as we are in health is constantly growing. Every situation we come into disturbs some of these balances to some degree. The ways in which they swing back to a new equipoise are the impulses with which we respond to the situation. And the chief balances in the system are our chief interests. Suppose that we carry a magnetic compass about in the neighbourhood of power magnets.... Suppose that instead of a single compass we carry an arrangement of many magnetic needles, large and small, swing so that they influence one another...
The mind is not unlike such a system if we imagine it to be incredibly complex. The needles are our interests....
Thus, from Pound’s scientific ‘method’ we move to Richard’s scientific ‘system.’ In the convention of criticism from Aristotle to Arnold, there used to be approaches to literature based on the social and ethical goals of human society. They considered literature as an instrument of education. Now with the High Modernists it got reduced to the status of the material productions of science and industry. The most influential of these high priests of scientism, T.S. Eliot, carried this task with greater force than even Pound and Richards. Note, for instance, the following:
There remains to define this process of depersonalization and its relation to the sense of tradition. It is in this depersonalization that art may be said to approach the condition of science. I shall, therefore, invite you to consider, as a suggestive analogy, the action which takes place when a bit of finely filiated platinum is introduced into a chamber containing oxygen and sulphur dioxide.
Here the poet’s mind becomes the gas chamber in which various experiences combine like different chemicals to form a new compound. The chemical reaction is used to explain the process of composition of a poem or any other literary text. No doubt, this conversion of literary criticism into a study of systems and structures, principles and processes, involved in the making of literature, is effected under the express influence of science. In the same vein, the New Critics, namely John Crowe Ransom, Cleanth Brooks, W.K. Wimsatt, Monroe Beardsley, and William Emerson, viewed a poem as a structure of words, reducing the function of criticism to explicating the functioning of various verbal devices such as metaphor, ambiguity, paradox, irony, image, etc., in the working of the structure called poem. In this New Critical effort, while literature changed from being one of the beautiful arts into one of the functional sciences, literary criticism changed from being an educational source into a scientific method.
In its attempt to introduce scientism in literature and literary criticism, the modernist criticism in the early twentieth century also made the author invisible, for like the filament of platinum he does not go into the compound called poem; he just stays behind. It also made the business of criticism a specialist’s job. It became inaccessible to the common reader who would not have the benefit of knowing various sciences and their principles and processes, systems and structures. The very language of literary criticism acquired a special ring, becoming far removed from the language of everyday conversation. The macro commentaries of earlier criticism were replaced by the micro explications of verbal devices used in the making of a poem. The writing called criticism became arduous. W.B. Yeats, who called himself one ‘the last romantics’, soon realized this arduousness of modern poetry and of modern criticism. In a letter to Dorothy Wellesley, he separated himself from the high modernists:
The difficult work which is being written everywhere now has the substance of philosophy and is a delight to the poet with his professional pattern; but it is not your road or mine & ours is the main road, the road of naturalness and swiftness and we have thirty centuries upon our side. We alone can think like a wise man, yet express ourselves like the common people. These new men are goldsmiths working with a glass screwed into one eye, whereas we stride ahead of the crowd, its swordsmen, its jugglers, looking to right and left. ‘To right and left’ by which I mean what we need like Milton, Shakespeare, Shelley, vast sentiments, generalizations supported by tradition.
Yeats is obviously drawing a contrast between the popular literary writers and the writers as specialist. We know how the writings of Eliot and Pound, Joyce and Woolf, became special readings, based as they were on philosophies and theories drawn from extra-literary sources. We also know how the critical writings of the New Critics acquired the nature of scientific investigations, seeking relations between the parts and the whole, the components and the structure, modelled on the functioning of a chemical process or biological system. Thus, literary criticism became one of the specialities in the corporation of knowledge disciplines.
The New Critics also changed the nature of literary criticism from a moral source of life to an amoral tool of investigation. Wimsatt and Beardsley came out with their famous (or notorious?) articles on ‘intentional fallacy’ and ‘affective fallacy’, with explicit implication of disinfecting literary criticism of moral as well as social significance. Like any physical or biological phenomenon, like any chemical or industrial process, a literary work came to be viewed as only a product of words. Naturally, then, the nature of literary criticism also became amoral, like any discipline of science, having nothing to do beyond the functions of various parts, or the workings of various structures or systems. While the ‘intentional fallacy’ took away the living voice of the author, the ‘affective fallacy’ took away the living response of the reader. Both reiterated the scientific study of literature, restricting its activity to the explication of verbal devices, their interrelational functions, and their functions in relation to the working of the structure of which they are internal components.
The Modernists paved the way for the Post-Modernists, who carried further the activity of making literary criticism a super-speciality, subjecting it to scientific empiricism. While ‘invisibility’ of the author was pushed further to declare the ‘death of the author’, the ‘intentional fallacy’ gave way to the ‘reader-oriented theories’. The language of the super-speciality made literary criticism far, far removed from the access of the common reader. Even those in the business of teaching literature were forced to choose their micro areas of specialization, for it was impossible for any individual scholar to keep pace with the fast developing specialities in all the areas. In an era of mass production ushered in by multinationals, literary theories could not have remained otherwise. There came in the literary market numerous brand products of the Post-Modern multinationals. Read, for example, the following from Roland Barthes to have a feel of the special language evolved by one such brand:
In an author’s lexicon, will there not always be a word-as-mana, a word whose ardent, complex, ineffable, a somehow sacred signification gives the illusion that by this word one might answer for everything? Such a word is neither eccentric nor central; it is motionless and carried, floating, never pigeonholed, always atopic (escaping any topic), at once remainder and supplement, a signifier taking up the place of every signified. The word has gradually appeared in his work; at first it was masked by the instance of Truth (that of history), then by that of validity (that of systems and structures); now it blossoms, it flourishes, this word-as-mana is the work ‘body.’
One can add to this sample a small list of words to show how in­comprehensible the language of criticism has become in our time. We frequently come across today in the writings of the Post-Modernist critics words such as dialogic, discourse, enthymeme, exotopy, heteroglossia; agonaporia, difference, deconstruction, grammatology, logo-centrism, phallogocentrism; genotext, phenotext, multivalent, slippage, dispositif, episteme; androcentric, androgyny, biocriticism, biologism, gynocritic, pornoglossia, sexism; actualization, cratylism, idiolect, lang, parole, paradigm, diaspora; fetishism, flaneur, homology, ideologeme, etc., etc. Specialism forces the scholars to evolve their special languages known only to those who have acquired the required efficiency in the super speciality. The special voices cannot co-exist in any common space. They must perforce remain alien to each other, each becoming a code communication, leaving no scope for general conversation.
Another bane of scientific spirit, notwithstanding its various virtues, is that, ultimately, it leads to the dehumanization of the human material. One could trace the course of scientific spirit from its early demystification of the universe to later despiritualization of society to further mechanization of human life to, finally, dehumanization of mankind. Literature and literary criticism have always opposed science on this very ground, fighting all along the fast increasing forces of science and technology, industry and commerce. They have always stood for the preservation and promotion of humanism across national boundaries, racial reservations, or cultural constraints. It is a sad phenomenon today that the Post-Modernist critical approaches have adopted the scientific spirit of enquiry, making a casualty of the human concerns to which literature and literary criticism have always been closely related. The manner in which some of the brand products of Post-Modernism have chosen to champion the cultural, ethnic, or genderic causes, has in fact made the remedy worse than the disease. In the name of voicing the concerns of the hitherto repressed, colonized, marginalized, etc., discourses have been developed based solely on the differentiating features of ‘cultural’, ‘ethnic’ or ‘genderic’ life, promoting a new form of tribalism. In these discourses, mankind is viewed as an aggregation of cultural islands, suspicious of each other, clashing on the ‘darkling plain’, accusing each other of having encroached upon their special rights. One is reminded of Plato’s caves inhabited by tribes with horizons of the mind measuring the narrow holes of their respective caves, utterly unable to comprehend the open universe.
If literature and literary criticism are to perform their destined and true function, then they will have to return to the original path of the humanities, leaving the adopted path of sciences (including social sciences) which have deflected them from their prime duty to mankind. Today, what have become more important for criticism are, not the human concerns, but the purely non-human enquiries into the nature of things—a study of principles and processes, systems and structures. As for human concerns, they are conceived, if at all, only in terms of narrow, sectarian rights of groups divided by all sorts of ‘spaces.’ If we look at the titles of leading books and articles in the field of criticism today, the nature it has acquired, adopted, and imbibed becomes quite clear. The direction of its drift with the dominant current of science and technology becomes quite apparent. Here is a sample list of some of the titles from the vast verbal forest that has grown over the years. The Semiotic Challenge (Roland Barthes), Of Grammatology (Jacques Derrida), Writing and Difference (Derrida), The Theory of Semiotics (Umberto Eco), The Archaeology of Knowledge (Michael Foucault), What is an Author? (Foucault), Logic and Conversation (H.P. Grice), Closing Statement: Linguistics and Poetics (Roman Jakobson), A Theory of Literary Production (Pierre Macherey), The System and the Speaking Subject (Julia Kristeva), The Theory of Reading (David Morse), Objectivity, Relativism and Truth (Richard Rorty), The Theory of Reading (Frank Gloversmity), Meaning and Truth in the Arts (John Harpers), etc., etc. This list shows how criticism in our time has turned heavily theoretical and, finally, philosophical, focusing on either theorizing about how meaning is produced, or enquiring into the meaning of meaning, working of language, or the behaviour of words. In sum, the nature of criticism has acquired the character of science in all respects, turning away from the humanities, and has become a philosophico-scientific discipline called theory, which mixes literature with non-literary writings and the pseudo-literary films or journalism, and confines itself to the study of sociological behaviour of literary texts, their political overtones, their psychological suggestions, their anthropological patterns, their historical narrations, their linguistic structures, etc. The Post-Modernist criticism has done to literature what science had done to life; it has demystified its creation, despiritualized its contents, and dehumanized its interpretation.
Criticism today has been taken over by the disciplines of philosophy and psychology, sociology and anthropology, entirely changing the parameters of reading literary works. We no longer look for aesthetic or moral grounds for the appreciation of an art work. We look for the sub-texts and sub-structures, for faultlines and fictographs, using the apparatus borrowed from one of the disciplines just mentioned. The reason why this has happened is convincingly stated by Northrop Frye in the following:
It is clear that the absence of systematic criticism has created a power vacuum, and all the neighbouring disciplines have moved in hence the prominence of Archimedes fallacy...the notion that if we plant our feet solidly enough in Christian or democratic or Marxist values we shall be able to lift the whole of criticism at once with a dialectic crowbar. But if the varied interests of critics could be related to a central expanding pattern of systematic comprehension, this undertow would disappear, and they would be seen as converging on criticism instead of running away from it.
Since Frye made this observation in 1957 much water has flown through the Thames. The critical activity has changed beyond recognition. All aspects of a literary work are talked about in the name of criticism except the aspect of its humanity. What we have, in fact, is not literary criticism but only critical attitude drawn from various disciplines that have claimed the vacancy the failure of criticism has created.
No doubt, the discussion of art, particularly literature, cannot confine itself to the formal aspect of art considered in utter isolation. It must consider as well the participation of the literary work in the human vision of the goal of social effort, “the idea of complete and classless civilization. This idea of complete civilization is also the implicit moral standard to which ethical criticism always refers, something very different from any system of morals.’ Unfortunately, the current craze in criticism for the idea of ‘pluralism’ and ‘amoralism’ has left the critical effort devoid of all moral and humane concerns. Its ‘grand flourish of negativised rhetoric’, comprising such impressive keywords as ‘discontinuity, disruption, dislocation, decentring, indeterminacy, and antitotalization’, does hypnotise some intellectuals, but it leaves highly dissatisfied the steady explorer of ultimate meanings in literature as well as life. If pluralism means an assembly of mass individual or group opinions, if questioning means challenging one and all who have attained any respectability in society, then one might compare the Post-Modernist critical effort to a jungle of high-pitched voices raised in closed corridors. The goal of criticism must remain, as Frye insists: ‘...the ability to look at contemporary social values with the detachment of one who is able to compare them in some degree with the infinite vision of possibilities presented by culture. One who possesses such a standard of transvaluation is in a state of intellectual freedom.’’
The current critical effort refuses to decide upon any goal of literature or literary criticism beyond the contingent. It is high time that resistance was put up to the confusing critical cries of our time, paving the way for the restoration of the every-abiding goal of literature and literary criticism.


Source: Learn English, IELTS, EFL,ESL Public Speaking, Grammar, Literature, Linguistics by NEO: History of English Literature
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Old Sunday, December 18, 2011
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its a good one effort kindly would u like to suggest me any suitable book for english literature , i will appear in 2012 for css exams .
i hav done my b.a now i m doing m.a litereature now a days.
i hav complete my classical poetry now we are schooling the darama
in classical poetry i go through from, 1.THE PROLOGUE by CHAUCER
and in DARAMA i hav read OEDIPUS REX and now i m doing DR, faustus.

whats ur suggestion?
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Dear, If you wish to appear in CE-2012 with English Literature as an optional, you cannot rely on one or two books. You will have to study extensively. Graspe the texts, take help from the books of different publishers like Famous or NKM plus internet. Have discussions with teachers/senior students for variety of interpretations.
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I'm doing M.A English external from NUML. Let me know if a short history of English Literature by Ifor evans and the material given above is enough to prepare history portion?
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Any help regarding kppsc exams for english lecturership post
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Literature needs extensive study to get through the examination.
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