Posted in History, Literature

Literature and history

Recently I was part of a panel discussion at a literary festival, with the topic ‘Literature and history’. The topic generated a number of thoughts which we could not discuss because of the limited time available–Here are some random thoughts.

History and literature are closely connected, as most books are set in a time and place, which can provide a historical background. In addition there are categories of literature that are more closely related to history,  biography, memoir, historical fiction. Some books deal with a particular event. Fiction generated by a historical event is usually based on some disastrous occurrences–for instance in India, Partition or the Emergency. Such fiction provides an intensity and a desire to discover more about an event that may be not known to too many. Fiction resulting from the World Wars and the Cold War is well known. These are just one or two examples of this vast genre of literature.

Apart from this, there is a huge body of historical literature, literature of the past, that includes within it all categories, i.e., poetry, drama, stories, religion, myths and legends, and everything else. Literature of the past exists in every country in the world, and can be looked at in two ways. It can be read for pleasure, just as we would read today’s works, or it can be  used to analyse various aspects of earlier times. For India, I would include here not just very early works, but everything up to about 1945. This literature exists in numerous languages, beginning with early Sanskrit, classical Sanskrit, Prakrits, Pali, Apabhramsa, Tamil, and later all the regional languages and English.

I would like to post more on this theme, and perhaps we could have some guest posts too?

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Author:

A writer with nine published books and several articles, book reviews etc. I primarily write on history and religion, but would love to switch to fiction.

4 thoughts on “Literature and history

  1. I’m way behind with my responses to friends’ blogs, so here’s just a couple of random thoughts from me.

    This is a really interesting topic. When I was at university in the late 1960s, those of us who were studying English literature were discouraged from thinking about (or even knowing about) the times when the works we were studying were written. This led to what I thought of as some wildly misleading interpretations of what the writers were saying, or how the audience would have responded.

    At the same time, there was (and still may be) an aversion on the part of historians to take examples of the thinking of the times from contemporary works of fiction. Of course fiction is fiction, not fact, but surely popular topics and themes can give an indication of what people in past times found entertaining, or liked to think about? In the study of history, that could be illuminating.

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    1. Thanks for your thoughts–I didn’t know that was the view in the 60s–post-modernists today look at texts without their contexts–perhaps it provides a different view, but I do think the context is important. And yes, I think fiction of the past can tell us a lot about the times in which it was composed, the ways of life and the views of people.

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      1. That’s interesting – I don’t have a clue about post-modernism! Too modern for me.

        It’s many years since I’ve read E.M.Forster’s ‘Aspects of the Novel’, which I remember finding helpful in many ways, but I’m sure there’s something in there about not thinking about novelists in their historical context but instead imagining them all sitting in the same room together. He was very critical of Thackeray’s ‘Vanity Fair’ because he disliked Thackeray’s habit of stopping to chat to his readers. He called it ‘bar-parlour chattiness’ (I’m sure). But what he may have failed to take into account was that ‘Vanity Fair’ was first published as a serial, and Thackeray was getting letters from his readers as he was writing it. So of course he talked back to them. A bit like blogging, really.

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