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Friday, 3 July 2020

Raja Rao's Kanthapura as a Gandhian Novel or Kanthapura as a Political Novel or Nationalism in Kanthapura


Raja Rao's Kanthapura as a Gandhian Novel or Kanthapura as a Political Novel or Nationalism in Kanthapura
Kanthapura as a Gandhian Novel

Perhaps Bengal is the first province which felt the need of nationality and Indian English writing was born and brought up here with its first novel in English Rajmohan’s Wife (1864) written by Bankim Chandra Chatterjee; this novel has the seedlings of nationality, though it appeared in the texts of other languages of Indian writing much earlier. Raja Rao's Kanthapura published in 1938, that is, pre-independence days can be taken primarily as a nationalistic discourse, with other dimensions too.

Kanthapura is a small traditional village with all primitive structure of an Indian society, divided, obsessed and loitering as a handicapped entity cocooned from the rest of the world and etherized as Eliot's modernity. At the same time, it is India in its miniature and, in its sweet slumber; awareness creeps in gradually as an alien element with the literacy of a few, frequent visit to the outer world and the spread of the Gandhian philosophy. The introduction of such element create upheavals of all sorts —social, political, religious and ideological, that ultimately subsides giving way to the urge for a free nation.

It has happened in every village of India, for that matter; it has happened in every colony of United Kingdom; it is a natural process of change, stagnancy cannot persist for long; resistance is the first sign of development; ignorance cannot rule for long; slavery cannot have its heydays for long; the dawn of freedom is imminent like Victorian's inevitability.

Moorthy is the jargon of Kanthapura, no one can understand him in the beginning; subsequently he is simplified and made acceptable. The first step towards freedom is nationalistic consciousness, that is to be generated by Raja Rao and he is aware of this necessity; religion is the earliest weapon, Siva is the three-eyed, and Sawaraj, too, is three-eyed: self purification, Hindu-Muslim unity and khaddar, thus the consciousness is injected through popular sentiments, as K.R. Srinivas Iyenger clarifies,
“Bhajans and Harikatha mix religion and politics freely and often purposefully, the reading of a newspaper became as serious a discipline as the reverent reading of the Gita and handspinning is elevated into a daily ritual like puja. The walls of orthodoxy are suddenly breached: revolution comes as a flood, and carries all before it.” 

It is not a political movement only, it includes social as well as religious waves too, as Paul Verghese puts it,
Kanthapura is not merely a political novel; for the three different strands of experience in it-the political, the religious and the social-are so dovetailed into one another as of present to the readers a realistic picture of the social, political and religious revival that took place in the twenties of this century in India. Since the action is set in a village, the novel is an easily recognizable village novel.”

Kanthapura is a village in South India, probably lost in obscurity and Raja Rao makes it alive again. And this village is afflicted now, assailed by Gandhian philosophy, the haunted party is aggrieved. Civil Disobedience Movement (Dandi March and Satyagraha), Non-Cooperation Movement (by non-payment of taxes and defiance of British Government), the grass root programme of Congress Committee (Nehru's social programme and Gandhi's message), campaign against ill practices (like untouchability, drinking, child marriage, widowhood, illiteracy, communal feeling, sexual exploitation, etc.) and finally the unification of the whole society for a singular nationalistic cause, all these things are anxiety towards freedom and nationhood.

Obviously, Kanthapura is the urge to be free from the demon of the foreign rule. Kanthapura as India in microcosm has religion as its backbone that influences its social and political activities. Talk of communal harmony, swaraj, khadi, Gandhi-bhajans replace Harikhata; temple becomes the platform for political interactions, Ram/ Krishna is replaced by Gandhi: in a sense, innocence and ignorance of villagers provide a congenial atmosphere for sowing the seeds of nationality. Unexpectedly, Moorthy proves to be ahead of Gandhi. For these religious villagers Gandhi is an incarnation like Lord Rama and Lord Krishna, who came to establish the righteousness and so the satyagraha became a religious ritual.

Moorthy exploits the Harikatha tradition to spread the message of freedom struggle of Gandhi. M.K. Naik is of the view that “Kanthapura probes the depths to which the nationalistic upspring penetrated, showing how, even in the remote village, the new patriotic upsurge fused completely with the traditional religious faith, thus rediscovering the traditional Indian soul”. Meenakshi Mukherjee in her book The Twice Born Fiction admits,

“The independence movement in India was not merely a political struggle but an all-pervasive emotional experience for all Indians in the nineteen twenties and thirties. No Indian writer, writing in those decades or writing about them, could avoid reflecting the upsurge in his work. Thus many of the English novels written in India in the twentieth century also deal with national experience, either directly as theme or indirectly as significant background to a personal narrative.”

Another significant factor that contributed to the development of nationalistic consequences was responsible for the unification of the educated mass irrespective of cast, creed, sex, religion, etc., and taught them the importance of freedom and law (constitutional). Certainly, the elite Indian brought this nationalistic movement and we have Raja Ram Mohan Roy and his followers Derozians, Tagore, Ramkrishna, Vivekananda, Mrs Annie Besant, etc. Indian literatures began to flourish in the modern Indian languages in the later part of the nineteenth century, with a definite shape.

Raja Rao is not a politically committed writer like Anand and Narayan, rather he is different, as William Walsh observes,
“...is poetic, metaphysical, Lawrentian. Kanthapura focuses on the intensity of Indian life, its physical immediacy, its traditional swaddling and its religious murmuration.”

It is remarkable to note that culmination of Kanthapura has an element of doubt while shifting from Gandhism to Nehruism and it is here that some critics raise question and also on the integrity of Rao as a Gandhian. Though both Gandhi and Nehru have the same destination, there is difference in their approach; Nehru is anglicised in his 'borrowing and difference', Gandhi is a bit nostalgic and his principle unscientific and so unwelcomed.

Right from the beginning a reader feels a change in the small remote orthodox village, the agent is completely transformed Moorthy, the motivation is complete and experience a sort of nationalism. Transformation continues; Moorthy continues to develop, though he does not get support from all quarters and imperialism seems to be crumbling. Achakka's thinking and behavior reflects her understanding of the dynamics between the village and the Indian nation as the blending of tradition and modernity. Kanthapura undergoes the process of nationalization, as an intricate and dynamic process and the process is an internal one. Achakka is 'a perpetrator of Hindu revivalist propaganda' and Rao stands as a Hindu reformer to encourage self-exploration.

Such nationalistic discourse allows us to re-examine traditional ideas about caste (that is the social structure), the role of women (that is, the restriction imposed on her), the relation between the elite and the masses (that is, the democratic pattern), the communal difference (that is between Hindu and Muslim), child marriage and early widowhood, sexual exploitation of poor and pseudo-supremacy of the literate upper class; it is the native Indian response to the British colonial design and that too in ancient Indian puranic mode of narration.
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Sunday, 28 June 2020

Pride and Prejudice as a Domestic Novel

Pride and Prejudice as a Domestic Novel

Of all the truisms about Jane Austen, the favourite for the past centuries is that a little interest is taken by her in the broad concerns of national life. It is a proposition which seems quite obvious to the readers of Pride and Prejudice or any other of Austen’s works. Winston Churchill exclaims, “What calm lives they had, those people! No worries about the French Revolution or the Napoleonic Wars!” Chesterton writes “a story as domestic as a diary in the intervals of pies and puddings.”

Criticism of this kind indicates the essentially narrow focus of an Austen novel in which the novelist seems to pen activities about her neighbours while the dynasts were fearing the world to pieces and consigning millions to their paves.

Admittedly Jane Austen stands aside from the ideological convulsions that accompanied and followed the French Revolution. But detachment is not the quality that evidently strikes the critic cited above. Her detachment from the larger world guarantees a brilliant narrowness of focus upon a domestic world which in Pride and Prejudice centres on marriage and money.

But the marriage and money theme operates on many levels. It is even more baffling when Austen’s heroine comes to marry. The fact remains that Elizabeth does make of what from the materialistic point of view is a glorious match the most glorious of any Austen’s heroines and that its material splendour is pointedly put forward. The question that naturally arises is: what is the connection between the heroine’s personal progress and the minor characters’ husband – hunting this novel as a conservative novel and marriage should be and is the fulfilment of personal moral quest. This applies to Elizabeth more than to any other characters. Personals matters and personal attitudes are made the themes of social interaction in the novel on the most important plane, they involve moral implication and often assume religious overtone.

In fact the subject of Pride and Prejudice is what the little indicates: the sin of pride obnoxious to the Christian, which takes the form of complacency about the self and correspondingly borrow a lower opinion or prejudice about others. Darcy’s pride is humbled midway through the novel when he proposes to Elizabeth and to his astonishment is rejected the lesson he has to learn is that he has to earn his right to consideration by respect for others.  

Elizabeth’s corresponding sin is more subtle and her enlightenment requires the space for the whole book. She seems unconscious that she suffers from pride at all. Quick of observation encouraged by her father’s example to take delight in the follies and vanities of others, she sees everyone’s mistakes but her own. The false assurance of friendship from Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst do not deceive her. She already has too low an opinion of them. She sees and enjoys the follies of Mr. Collins. But she also quite unreasonably persists in thinking ill of Darcy, and just as perversely, in thinking well of Wickham, even when the evidence that he is a fortune-hunter is placed before her.

In Jane Austen's novels the maneuvering by which a man presents himself to a woman and her parents as a possible husband often comes before any signs of love. Charlotte Lucas in Pride and Prejudice offers the most tough-minded and unsentimental analysis, counseling that Jane Bennet should secure her rich husband first and think about love only after they are married. 'Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance'.

The marriage of a young woman is the protocol of Jane Austen’s time. Lydia Bennet marries at 16 and her mother talks of her sister Jane attracting the attentions of a well-qualified suitor at the age of 15. At a certain age, somewhere between 15 and 19, a young woman was said to be 'out'. That meant that she could be courted. . In 1802, aged almost 27, Jane Austen herself accepted a proposal of marriage from Harris Bigg-Wither, the brother of family friends, only to change her mind by the next morning.

The marriage choices that Jane Austen's characters make are absolute. Mr. Bennet, Austen tells us, married Mrs. Bennet because he was captivated by youth and beauty, but then discovers her true nature. 'Respect, esteem, and confidence had vanished for ever; and all his views of domestic happiness were overthrown.'

Questions of status and class are a major preoccupation of Jane Austen's characters, and of the novels themselves. Professor John Mullan considers both the importance of social status and its satirical potential. There is certainly no association in her novels between high rank and any great virtue or ability. Aristocrats are at best buffoons, at worst paragons of arrogance.

There has been a curious tendencies to take ‘pride’ and ‘prejudice’ to be polar qualities, like ‘sense’ and ‘sensibility’ where as in the course of the novel we generally see them associated within the same character. The proud lady Catherine is certainly prejudiced and the prejudiced Elizabeth can be accused of pride. Caroline Bingley declared that her manners are “a mixture of pride and impertinence.”

Austen’s domestic world is thus not quite simple in which characters are personified abstractions – like ‘pride’ and ‘prejudice’, ‘insolence’ and ‘folly’, ‘irresponsibility’ and ‘jealousy’. Narrow and domestic though the world is, it is nevertheless quite rich in suggestion and implication. To apply such term as ‘narrow’ or ‘domestic’ is to ignore the richness and complexity of Pride and Prejudice.
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Saturday, 27 June 2020

Shooting an Elephant : Critical Analysis or Orwell's View on Imperialism

Shooting an Elephant : Critical Analysis or Orwell's View on Imperialism
Shooting an Elephant as a Postcolonial Essay

Louis Cazamian in A History of English Literature declares George Orwell's work as a whole to be "the citizen's manifesto against the powers that be". Even from his youth, Orwell rejected many of the accepted social and political conventions, and his novels and essays clearly reveal him as a non-conformist. In all his novels and in many of his essays, his strongly dissenting voice can be clearly heard. And though Shooting an Elephant is a narrative essay, it gives us a fairly clear idea of Orwell's view of British imperialist domination in the East.

Even from the start of his career as a police officer in British occupied Burma, Orwell was not favourably disposed to the British imperialist policy. He had a genuine sympathy for the oppressed native people, and he hated himself for being a tool of imperialist domination. But even so, he did not quite realise how utterly futile was the white man's domination in the East. This he came to realise through an experience which has been described in his essay Shooting an Elephant.

The author was then a sub-divisional police officer in Moulmein. a township in Lower Burma. One morning, he received the news that an elephant, under the attack of 'must' had broken its chained was ravaging the bazaar area. So he started out with his light rifle to see what the matter was. On his way, he received a lot of conflicting reports on the behaviour of the elephant. Finally he reached the locality where the animal had been last seen. Then the veils of a woman attracted his attention. As he went forward the dead body of a black Dravidian coolie came into his view. He had been trampled to death by the elephant. At once the author sent an orderly who fetched an elephant rifle for him. At the sight of this weapon, the people who had gathered there became greatly excited because they now took it for granted that the sahib was surely going to shoot the elephant. But, till that moment, the author did not have the slightest intention of killing the elephant.

As he went a little farther, he saw the elephant in a paddy field. It looked peaceful enough, and the author felt there was no reason for killing it unless it turned savage again. At this moment, he turned round and saw that a huge crowd of natives had followed at his heels. Looking at their eager, expectant faces, he suddenly realised the absolute helplessness of his position. He felt that, in spite of all his reluctance, he would have to shoot the elephant, after all. For, in that critical situation, he was expected to live up to the image of the white men in the colonies-a man of extra-ordinary strength, courage and determination, who must remain unmoved in the face of every crisis. Thus, he was not free to act according to the dictates of his own conscience. He was a mere puppet driven by the will and expectation of the thousands of natives surrounding him. At the moment of crisis, he realised the bitter truth : "when the white man turns tyrant it is his own freedom that he destroys." Thus, from his own experience, he realised that the white man's superiority over the natives was but a hollow myth with no substance at all.

The essay starts with a reference to the strained relations between the ruler and the ruled in Moulmein, a township in Lower Burma. Anti-European feelings ran high among the native people though they did not have the courage to rise in open rebellion against British domination. So their hatred of the white man found expression through devious ways. They never missed an opportunity of baiting white men or jeering at them. They would even try to inflict injuries on white men whenever they could do it with impunity, As a police officer, the author was an obvious target of such petty attacks and insults. Sometimes the author felt tempted to have his revenge on these jeering "devils', but his better reason always prevailed. He rightly recognized such feelings as the 'normal by-products' of imperialism and he rather hated himself for serving a power that oppressed people and held them in subjection.

But there are, in this essay, far more overt references to the evils of imperialism. As a police officer in Burma he had seen ‘the dirty work of Empire at close quarters’. He refers to the lock-ups as 'stinking cages’ in which native prisoners were huddled like cattle, He has a vivid memory of the ‘cowed faces’ of long-term convicts and the 'scarred buttocks’ of men who had been flogged with bamboos.

But his greatest accusation against imperialism is of a radically different nature. In this essay he asserts that the shooting of the elephant gave him a better glimpse of the real nature of imperialism than he ever had before. It is this incident that opened his eyes to the 'hollowness, the futility of the white man's domination in the East'. In order to make its domination safe and secure, imperialism has to build up a highly inflated image of the white man. Thus he loses his freedom of action. He must not act according to the dictates of his conscience; he must act in strict conformity with the codes of conduct established by imperialism. The author had shot the elephant much against his will. While, apparently, the author was the leading actor of the piece in reality he was 'an absurd puppet' driven by the will of the crowd that surrounded him. Thus, imperialism harms and oppresses not only the subjugated people; it also harms its own servants by subjecting them to a process of moral and psychological degeneration.

Even the advocates of imperialism would find it difficult not to agree with Orwell's view of its harmful effects. History has confirmed his views even to the last detail.

And the history of our country under the British rule bears ample evidence to the evils of imperialist domination. As to the evil effects of imperialism, Orwell's views have been confirmed by many white men who have served in the colonies.

But it would be going rather too far to describe Shooting an Elephant as 'a critique of imperialism'. Orwell's primary aim in this essay was to describe an incident which had made deep and lasting impression on his mind. The views on imperialism expressed here are but incidental to the main theme of the essay. So it would be more pertinent to describe Shooting an Elephant as a narrative essay incorporating certain relevant criticism of imperialist domination in the East.
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Tuesday, 23 June 2020

Keats' La Belle Dame Sans Merci as Medieval Romantic Poem or Critical Appreciation of La Belle Dame Sans Merci

La Belle Dame Sans Merci as Medieval Romantic Poem or Critical Appreciation of La Belle Dame Sans Merci

La Belle Dame Sans Merci is the glory of romantic poetry. In it the medieval revival which constitutes one of the most significant aspects of romanticism reaches its culmination. Keats was ever enamoured of the Middle Ages. But it was the external glitter and glamour of the Middle Ages that captivated him. Their weird spirit - the elements of their magic and marvel hardly stirred his imagination.

In La Belle Dame Sans Merci Keats not only reproduces the medieval pomp and chivalry, but also creates the typical medieval atmosphere of enchantment and marvel. The picture of the knight-at-arms with which the poem opens at once transports us into the medieval days of knight-errantry. The beautiful fairy lady who bewitched the knight and ultimately led him to his spiritual doom recalls the medieval vampire woman who sucked men's blood with cold. The reference to elfin grot, "honey wild and manna dew", dream-vision of the skeletons of kings, princes and warriors diffuse over the whole poem the mood of awe and wonder that is associated with the medieval mind.

Again in the treatment of medievalism Keats, like Coleridge relies more on subtle suggestion than on description. Nothing is said definitely and in detail. Everything is left to the imagination of the reader. Nothing is said about the nature of the "fairy's child" or about the fate that awaits the knight. The poem is truly a masterpiece of horror-stricken reticence. George Saintsbury rightly says:

"He (Keats) could have known extremely little of medieval literature; yet there is nothing anywhere which catches up the whole of the true medieval romantic spirit as does the short piece of La Belle Dame Sans Merci."

Like a romantic poem La Belle Dame Sans Merci gives a faithful description of nature. It portrays the winter landscape with its barrenness and desolation:
"The sedge has wither'd from the lake
And no birds sing."

La Belle Dame Sans Merci is a superb example of the ballad. The story of a mortal creature being bewitched by an enchantress and carried to an elfin world is a fairly recurrent theme in ballad literature. The poem has all the simplicity and directness, the weird beauty and imaginative intensity of the best ballads. L. Hearn rightly says:

"The theme, the phantom woman whose love is death, is almost as old as the world; thousands of poems have been produced upon it. But in simple weird beauty I do not know of anything in all English literature exactly like this."

Though the poem is a ballad, it is intensely lyrical like a romantic poem. It is in a sense a cry from the poet's heart, a tale of disillusionment told by a man whose dream of love has faded, leaving behind a taste of dust and ashes in the mouth. Consumed as he was by an intense passion of love, the knight at arms seems to be a reflex of Keats's own self. Fanny Brawne who played with the poet's love is the lady without mercy. But the subjective note seems to be utterly impersonal because of the narrative and dramatic form of the poem.

Like other poems of Keats La Belle Dame Sans Merci turns on the contrast or conflict between the ideal and the real - between reality and imagination. The elfin grot represents the ideal world and the fairy's child its denizens. The knight belongs to the real world. The adequate communication between these two worlds is impossible as is evident in the lines:
"And sure in language strange she said
"I love thee true'."

The contrast between the two worlds is also implicit in the kind of food that the fairy offered—"roots of relish sweet/ and honey wild and manna dew". The sad moan and sigh of the Fairy's child imply a recognition of the unbridgeable gulf that exists between the two worlds. The conflict between these two worlds is so great that one who has an access into the immortal sphere withers away and dies like the knight-at-arms.

The poem illustrates Keats's use of concrete images. It opens with the description of the barren landscape which images the knight’s desolation. The rich autumnal harvest conveys the sense of fulfilment and a promise of sustenance. The twin images of lily and rose call forth the memory of the transient bliss the knight had in the elfin grot. The "fading rose" also indicates that the knight is progressing towards death. The food that the fairy offered "roots of relish sweet", "honey wild, and manna dew" is the image for the unbridgeable distance that exists between the ideal and real worlds. The image of death - pale kings, princes and warriors suggest the tragic fate of those who leave the mortal sphere in search of an impossible ideal.

The beauty of the poem lies in its marvelous suggestiveness. Words, expressions and images are so used as to call up vivid pictures before our vision. As we read the lines
"The sedge has wither'd from the Lake
And no birds sing."
the picture of the sedge withering in a lake and the dreary winter desolation starts floating before our mental eyes. The expression "fragrant zone" is rich in suggestion. It conjures up the picture of the girdle made of sweet-smelling flowers.

John Keats follows the example of Coleridge in his use of the ballad metre. But his use of a short fourth line, heavily accentuated, and admirably expressing the weird tragedy is his own development.

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Sunday, 21 June 2020

What is Modernism? Easy Way to Understand Modernism in Literature

What is Modernism? Easy way to Understand Modernism in Literature

What is Modernism?

Modernism is variously argued to be a period, style, genre, or combination of the above; but it is first of all a word; one which exists alongside cognate words. It’s stem, ‘Modern', is a term that, from the Latin ‘modo’, means 'current’, and so has a far wider currency and range of meanings than ‘Modernism'. In the late 5th century, for example, the Latin ‘modernus’ referred to the Christian present in opposition to the Roman past, modern English is distinguished from Middle English, and the modern period in literature is considered to be from the sixteenth century on, although it is sometimes used to describe twentieth-century writing.

More generally, 'modern' has been frequently used to refer to the avant-garde, though since World War II this sense has been embraced by the term ‘contemporary’ while 'modern' has shifted from meaning 'now' to 'just now'. It is this sense of the avant-garde, radical, progressive or even revolutionary side to the modern which was the catalyst for the coinage 'Modernism', and it is to this meaning that Rimbaud appealed when insisting "Il faut etre absolument moderne"

The Modern movement in the arts, although seen as being almost synonymous with the advent of the twentieth century, actually goes back to the last decades of the nineteenth century when the foundations of high Victorian culture were facing serious threats from various agencies. As a cultural phenomenon, Modernism saw the departure from preexisting modes of aesthetic engagement to the sphere of art.

Modernism applies to literature, music, painting, film, and architecture and to some works before and after this period). In poetry, Modernism is associated with moves to break from the iambic pentameter as the basic unit of verse, to introduce vers libre, (free verse) symbolism, and other new forms of writing. In prose, Modernism is associated with attempts to render human subjectivity in more authentic ways than realism: to represent consciousness, perception, emotion, meaning and the individual's relation to society through interior monologue, stream of consciousness, tunneling, defamiliarisation, rhythm, irresolution and other techniques. The Modernist writers therefore strove, in Ezra Pound's brief phrase, to make it new"

With regard to literature, Modernism is best understood through the work of the Modernist authors who wrote in the decades before and after the turn of the twentieth century. One of the first aspects of Modernist writing to strike readers is the way in which such novels, stories, plays and poems immerse them in an unfamiliar world. Modernist writing frequently immerses the reader in a confusing and difficult mental landscape which cannot be immediately understood but which must be moved through and mapped by the reader in order to understand its limits and meanings.

History of Modernism

By contrast ‘Modernism’ was first used in the early 18th century simply to denote trends characteristics of modern times, while in the 19th century its meaning encompassed a sympathy with modern opinions, styles or expressions. In the later part of the 19th century modernism referred to progressive trends in the Catholic Church. In literature it surfaced in Thomas Hardy’s Tess of D'Urbervilles (1891), to denote what he called a general and unwelcome creeping industrial "ache of Modernism". In criticism, the context with which this article is concerned, the expression was used, but failed to gain currency by Robert Graves and Laura Riding in their 1927 A Survey of Modernist Poetry. It was only in the 1960s that the term became widely used as a description of a literary phase that was both identifiable and in some sense over. Its literary roots have been said to be in the work of the French poet and essayist Charles Baudelaire and the novelist Gustave Flaubert, in the Romantics, or in the 1890s fin de siècle writers, while its culmination or apogee arguably occurred before World War I, by which point radical experimentation had impacted on all the arts, or in 1922, the annus mirabilis of James Joyce's Ulysses, T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land, Katherine Mansfield's The Garden Party, and Virginia Woolf's Jacob Room.

Post-war dates for Modernism's high-point make sense in terms of British literature but not European. Its end is variously defined in terms of chronology, as 1930, 1950, or yet to happen, and, in terms of genre, as the rise of neo-realism or postmodernism. As an international art term it covers the many avant-garde styles and movements that proliferated under the names of Expressionism, Imagism, Surrealism, Futurism, Dadaism, Vorticism, Formalism and (in writing if not painting) Impressionism. Its forebears were Darwin, Marx and Nietzsche; its intellectual guru was Freud. Modernist writing is most particularly noted for its experimentation, its complexity, its formalism, and for its attempt to create a “tradition of the new".

Its historical and social background includes the emergence of the New Woman, the peak and downturn of the British Empire, unprecedented technological change, the rise of the Labour party, the appearance of factory-line mass production, war in Africa, Europe and elsewhere. Modernism has therefore almost universally been considered a literature of not just change but crisis.

Social context of modernism

Technology contributed to the erosion of many cherished values. It broke up the systems of social integration - the concepts of the happy family. Not that simply one credo was replaced by another but there was change in the pace in which life moved it became faster, freer, and grossly materialistic. The twentieth century saw a host of material benefits available to man-luxury items, popular entertainments like cinema, an unprecedented comfort in basic living conditions. Materialism also enhanced the class divide, but that was not an unknown experience for the industrial West.

The foundations of faith were also battered by the onslaught of Darwinism. The challenge to faith is one of the key characteristics in modern literature. In the early poetry of T.S. Eliot, for instance, the anxiety of modern living the experience of chaos capture this loss of centre Eliot's Prufrock Joyce's Dedalus are questers without direction.

The modern experience was not confined England alone. The twentieth century saw the internationalisation literature - the literary horizons of English were inhabited by writers who used the language but not necessarily the territorial condition. Writers like James Joyce, T.S. Eliot, Joseph Conrad, Henry James, a Hemingway found in the modern experience the resource through engaged their creative impulses.

Modern literature is characterised by a process of cross-fertilisation of ideas, images, experiences. When Joseph Conrad writes about Marlow he is a modern man, but not simply an Englishman. In the world of Charles Dickens in the 19th century, Micawber belongs to a tradition that traces its sources to a robust English optimism.

What are the characteristics of Modernism?

Another approach is to attempt to construct a description of the representative features of Modernist writing. Norman Cantor, in Twentieth Century Culture, Modernism to Deconstruction (1988), has offered what he calls a Model of Modernism, with the following characteristics. Modernism favoured anti-historicism because truth is not evolutionary and progressive but something requiring analysis. It focussed on the micro- rather than the macrocosm, and hence the individual more than the social. It leant towards the disjointed, disintegrating, and discordant in opposition to Victorian harmony.

Modernism also advocated that an object exists in terms of its function, a house is therefore seen as a machine for living in (Le Corbusier) and a poem "a machine made for words" (William Carlos Williams). In terms of sexuality and the family, Modernism introduced a new openness, with candid descriptions often sympathetic to feminism, homosexuality, androgyny and bisexuality, besides a questioning of the constraints of the nuclear family which seemed to hamper the individual's search for personal values, Modernists did not view ethics as superior to art, seeing the latter instead as the highest form of human achievement. If Victorian literature was concerned with morality, Modernist writing was concerned with aesthetics.

Lastly, Cantor notes tendency towards feelings of apocalypse and despair following decades creeping Victorian doubt. In this spirit, Modernist texts often focus on social, spiritual, or personal collapse and subsume history under mythology and symbolism.

Other characteristics are a focus on the city and a championing as a fear of technology, technical experimentation allied with radical stylistic innovation, a suspicion of language as a medium for comprehending or explaining the world, and an attack on nineteenth-century stalwarts such as empiricism and rationalism. Above all, however, what has come to be called Modernism appears retrospectively to have been a wide-ranging and far reaching series of vigorous and persistent attempts to multiply and disturb modes of representation. Its artistic expansion seemed to follow on from other kinds of growth: scientific, imperial, and social. These lucrative material changes were accompanied by individual and collective crises, especially spiritual, which issued in a new literature that was rebellious, questioning, doubtful, and introspective, but confident and even aggressive in its aesthetic conviction.

Modernism in Literature

Modern Fiction

The novel was the dominant literary form in the Victorian period and while engagement with the reading public of the early twentieth century continued. The high Victorian fascination for social drama was somewhat pushed to the margins in the attempts of the modern to accommodate new situations and attitudes. It may be argued that the modern moment in English diction was brought about by the writings of Joseph Conrad, especially his Lord Jim (1900) and Heart of Darkness (1902).

The possibilities suggested by Conrad were taken further by other modern novelists such as Virginia Woolf and James Joyce. In novel Mrs. Dalloway (1925) and To the Lighthouse (1927), Virginia Woolf readdressed the issue of the genre itself by suggesting that external structuring of events through the frame of the novel was not adequate justify the complexities of modern experience.

Among other members, the novelist E.M. Forster was associated with the Bloomsbury group. Like Woolf's stream of consciousness technique, Forster's best known work is A Passage to India (1924) where he wave through the thread of cultural differences with dexterity. His views regarding India have been controversial to say the least.

James Joyce’s novel has become a cult text of modern literature. In Ulysses, ahead with his quest figure, Stephen Dedalus (whom he had introduced in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, 1913), in a narrative that to present the modern day Dublin as the archetype of the civilized city, and these characters are epitome of modern man.

D. H. Lawrence relied more on the thematic evocation of the modern experience than narrative jugglery to further his thesis on modernity. The logic of autobiographical association was used initially to read his first novel Sons Lovers (1913). Lawrence did not want to impress upon his audience, or it could be argued that his visualisation of obscenity and vulgarity operated through a completely different matrix than the one that normally did. The Rainbow (1915), Women in Love (1920). Aaron's Rod (1922), and Lady Chatterley's Lover (1928/1960) are some of Lawrence's other novels.

Aldous Huxley (1894-1963) wrote a futuristic novel about modern chaos in his Brave New World (1932). The combination of tragedy and satire was successfully packaged in the novels of Evelyn Waugh (1902 66) especially A Handful of Dust (1934) and Brideshead Revisited (1945). The plight of the personal occupied a very important place in Greene's fiction which was portrayed in The Power and the Glory (1940) and The Heart of the Matter (1948)

Modern Poetry

The advent of the twentieth century saw interesting explorations in the field of poetry, which were further quickened by developments in the contemporary world. The first major change came in the writing of the group known as the War poets (Modernist Poets). The First World War was a major political as well as a cultural event. The poetry of Rupert Brooke was often seen in conjunction with his image of the ‘young patriot' who died for the country.

The contemporaries of Brooke who provided responses protest and frustration included Siegfried Sassoon (1886-1967). Sassoon wrote anti-war poems with a quiet but very effective ironic thrust in the Old Huntsman (1917) and Counter-Attack (1918). Wilfred Owen (1893-1918). Ivor Gurney (1890-1937). Isaac Rosenberg (1890-1918), Edward Thomas (1878-1917), and Charles Sorley (1896-1916) were some of the other poets of the war period, who didn't survive it.

The First World War provides a very convenient marker to read the emergence of new trends in English poetry and figures like William Butler Yeats (1865-1939), who in fact had been writing from the last decades of the preceding century, and T.S. Eliot (1888-1965) moved to suggest interesting departures from the available poetic modes. The conflict between the romantic idyll and the potentially corrupt urban world is beautifully evoked in his "The Lake Isle of Innisfree”. Yeats' romanticism found another counter in the spirit of Irish nationalism.

Eliot, on the other hand, began his poetic career by reacting to the romantic assumptions of the nineteenth century brand practised by poets like William Wordsworth. One of his earliest poems, "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” is today as an example of trademark modernism for its constructed allusiveness and for subsisting in a parodic engagement that undercut many of the Victoria certainties, including love. In his classic The Waste Land (1922), where he presents the angst, corruption, and materialism of modernist society within the frame of a quest that draws on various cultural structures. The poem is characterised by a robust cosmopolitanism. The collection of four poems called “Four Quartets” (1943) dealt with the complexities of religious experience in the modern world.

Poets like W. H. Auden. Stephen Spender, and Cecil Day Lewis swerved towards the political ideologies and such alignments eventually compelled a confinement of some of their poems to purely topical contexts. The poetry of Stephen Spender (1909-1995) is organized to manifest his concern for the contemporary scene, and from his first collection Poems (1930) to Dolphins (1994), he exudes a sober sophistication. The poetry of Dylan Thomas (1914-1953) exhibits the marks of a genius that, according to many, wasn't completely fulfilled.

Modern Art

Like many other Modernist movements, the origins of modern art can be traced back to some late nineteenth century movements. Impressionism was one such influence. The impressionists stayed away from the established modes of European painting and sought to represent scene from daily life. The impressionists many species of popular culture and introduced new techniques such application of broken brushstrokes or the employment of intensely concentrated colours.

Vincent Van Gogh sought to relay on his emotion pressures through the can and used symbolic structures in his paintings including representations of the self. Edward Munch, on the other hand, recourse to exaggerate and colourful representations of modern man anguish in a mechanized society. Georges Seurat, who used the benefits of scientific knowledge by violating the norms of realism. Paul Cézanne combined a solid conception of objects with a remarkable reorientation of perspective altering the overall effect of the printing, Cleanne's radical perspectives were more apparent in his still-life paintings.

The late nineteenth century and early Modernist focus on a re-visualisation of art objects was also evident in developments that heralded a form of abstractionism. Henri Matisse's use of disparate shapes in his apparently simple' drawings suggests a fascination for abstraction that was unprecedented. Cubism, another radical revisualisation of perception am technique in the early twentieth century, is associated with Modernism in Pablo Picasso's Les Demoiselles D'Aviron (1907) a classic Cubist Art challenged the formal structure of conventional paintings. Many other artists like Albert Gleizes, Jean Metzinger Delaunay, Fernand Lager and Juan Gris followed Picasso in reinventing the form and idea of modern paintings.

Futurists like Umberto Boccioni used the idea of motion that came from the placement of sequential photographs, especially those by the photographer Eadweard Muybridge.  Boccioni’s “Dynamism of a Soccer Player" (1913) is a trademark futurist painting and modern sculptor.

Modern Drama

Henrik Ibsen is often regarded as the first modernist in the history of European theatre, which is conflated with his placement as a pioneer in terms of the development of realist theatre also. Even though the plays of Arthur Wing Pinero (1855-1934) and Henry Arthur Jones (1851-1929) preceded the innovative theatrics of modern drama, some of their plays do show the potential of a serious engagement with the problems of modernity. The Second Mrs Tanqueray (1893) by Pinero, for instance, combines the Ibsenite penchant for critical readings of contemporary malaises. A similar foray into the theatrics of Ibsen is seen in Henry Arthur Jones' Mrs Dane's Defence (1900) which enlarges the parameters of society drama to accommodate the sexual politics that also served as themes in novels of the period.

The only comic reinvention of the time came from the writings of Oscar Wilde, whose deliberately undercut the familiar by exposing oppositional facets with those very structures that characterised contemporary conditions. Outwardly, the four major plays (Lady Windermere's Fan, 1892: A Woman of No Importance, 1893: The Ideal Husband. 1895 And The Importance of Being Ernest, 1895) of Wilde exhibit striking similarities with the theatre of social convention as epitomised by Jones and Pinero.

Georege Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) inherited, or rather consciously appropriated, the Ibsenite model and exploited the resources of such theatrical conditioning in his dramatic experiments. The adoption of themes of familiar understanding in plays like Androcles and the Lion (1913), Pygmalion (1914) and Saint Joan (1924), Arms and the Man suggests the potentialities of these stories that could be dramatically extended beyond the conventions that framed them.

The works of John Galsworthy, coming at around theme time, utilised the benefits of plotting to show how engaged the chosen subjects were: Strife is Galsworthy's best example of this condition. The success of The Silver Box (1905) was further emulated by some of his other plays like Justice and The Skin Game (1920).

Another Irishman who left a mark on the modern stage was John Millington Synge (1871-1909). In brief but exciting career Synge exploited the resources of his culture to experiment and engage the potential of Irish theatre in a way that wasn't attempted before him. The Shadow of the Glen (1903),  Riders to the Sea (1904), The Well of the Saints (1905) and The Playboy of the Western World (1907) are Synge’s plays that move through terrains of heightened pessimism and given their placement within a culture of Irish indomitableness.

Sean O’Casey occupies a position in the history of Irish theatre. His early adventure with Irish nationalism and contemporary life was manifested in three of his plays.  – The Shadow of a Gunman, Juno and the Paycock and The Plough and the Stars.

T. S. Eliot wrote innumerable plays which are worth mentioning – Murder in Cathedral, The Family Reunion, The Cocktail Party, The Confidential Clerk etc.

The 1920s and the 30s were fertile years for the English theatre. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) successfully demonstrated the possibilities of satire in his plays. They include Our Betters (1917), The Circle (1921), The Constant Wife (1927) and For Services Rendered (1932).

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Saturday, 20 June 2020

Sarojini Naidu as a Lyric Poet or Comment upon the lyrical vein in Naidu's poetry

Sarojini Naidu as a Lyric Poet or Comment upon the lyrical vein in Naidu's poetry
Sarojini Naidu as a Lyric Poet

Indian poet and political activist Sarojini Naidu, known as 'Bharatiya Kokila' (The Nightingale of India), was a prolific poet, whose work drew wide acclaim, and influenced generations of writers. Her brilliance is deeply observed in the sublime and lofty songs that she sang. Unparallel as she stands even today, for the variegated versatility and rapturourness of her lyrics, she is the unsurpassing great woman the staunch patriot the national singer.

Sarojini's poetry is a beautiful kaleidoscopic view of the image of Indian life culture and Indianess. The first thing that strikes us in reading Naidu’s poetry is her exquisite melody and fine delicacy of feeling, an expression blended with the freshness and exuberance of spirit. She has skillfully weaved a beautiful picture using various strands of emotions- love, separation, ecstasy, mellowness, seasons especially spring folklore, festivals, history, and mythology to present the vivid images of India and Indian womanhood. Whether it is Radha, Zubeidaa, a parda-nashin coy lady, a married woman, or a mother, Damayanti or a Rajput princess - all poems have a bird like rapturous, melodious, haunting, resonating and perpetual quality about them. They all sound like a sweet tintinnabulation to the reader's car. All her major themes are variegated and depict not only her love for her motherland but also her complete amalgamation in its culture.

"The Pardah Nashin”, taken from the last section of The Golden Threshold, is an exquisite lyric. Like any other lyric of Naidu this lyric is marked by music, melody, compactness of thought and superb analogy. As in the poem, "The Pardah Nashin', the poetess describes the life of the ‘pardah nashin' with a number of analogies:

" Her life is a revolving dream
Of languid and sequestered ease;
Her girdles and her fillets gleam
Like changing fires on sunset seas;
Her raiment is like morning mist,
Shot opal, gold and amethyst."

Besides the lyrical wealth, Naidu seems to be accomplished in her handling of diction and versification. The words, phrases and devices are used in perfect harmony with the intended meaning and movement of the poetic thought. The epithets are sensuous, impassioned and apt and they are an eloquent example of her phrase making genius as in "The Old Woman",
"A lonely old woman sits out in the street
‘Neath the boughs of a banyan tree
And hears the bright echo of hurrying feet
The pageant of life going blithely and fleet
To the feast of eternity.”

She has also made a successful attempt of her descriptive power in her poetry. She acts like a skillful artist throwing light on significant details, describing them with novelty, vividness and effectiveness to present a clear and pleasing picture. In the poem "Summer Wood" she has employed ancient myths to bring out fresh and new associations as: "Companions of the lustrous dawn, any comrades of the night, / Like Krishna and like Radha, encompassed with delight...” Her poems are also characterized by vivid, colorful and sensual imagery associated with Indian life and environment.

As a child Sarojini was of a very emotional and sentimental kind. She had a prominent romantic trait in her blood: "My ancestors for thousands of years have been lovers of the forest and the mountain caves, great dreamers, great scholars, great ascetics..." All these qualities manifest themselves in her romantic lyrics a world of fantasy and allegoric idealism. In her poetry, the lyrical appeal is wonderful and full of the magic of melody.
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