Literature Should Reflect the Spirit of the Times Essay


  • An ideal piece of literature is like a mirror
  • The views of different critics
  • Literary spirit is the greatest symbol of an age
  • Shakespeare, Chaucer and Milton’s writings
  • Russian writers capturing the spirit of time
  • Modern literature, a manifestation of the spirit of our modern age
  • The examples of great literary figures
  • Literature’s two fold bearing on life

A great and ideal literature is the mirror, on which the naked realities of our life are reflected, blended with sparks of truth and sincere interpretation of human quest for the perfection of the highest form of knowledge. “Literature”, says Swinburne, “is not only a criticism of life, it is the very dynamo of man’s basic inspirations, that exalt him higher.” “Literature” according to Carlyle“ is the highest expression of the spirit of the age, it is born in”, though, according to Rossetti, “an ideal of literature is that which does not deny the Past to make always new beginnings. It lives in the Past as well as in the Present; it is universal; it is ever, one and the

Arthur Anicimor, the famous Russian critic and poet, says, “Literature should not live in an ‘Ivory Tower’. It should participate in the people’s movements and play its creative and constructive role.” The new realistic spirit in modern literature, which interprets the spirit of our modern Sputnik Age, is the trumpet call of our inspiring urges. This new spirit in literature, which has given a fresh stimulus to our vigour and created new hopes, is born of people’s movements, their struggles and sacrifices; and the hero or heroin of this literature is the hero and heroin of the masses, embodying their aspirations. The first and foremost function of our modern literature. are to invigorate and inspire great heroic movement of the time.

According to T.S. Eliot, “the soul of a nation the true ideals of its civilization, the real message of the people’s inner self, are expressed in its literature; that the author are the legislators, through unacknowledged of mankind the men of literature, the poets, dramatists and novelists – form a spiritual community, binding together – living and the dead; the good, the brave and the wise of all ages.”[the_ad id=”17141”]

The greatest symbol of an age is its literary spirit; it is the heritage of the age; nay its ever-living representation. Shakespearean literature is the greatest and most inspiring representation of Elizabethan age. Through his plays Shakespeare depicted the social, political and economic aspects of the Elizabethan Age. For example, through his famous tragedy Julius Caesar’ he depicted the tendency of common people of England of that age – how they liked ‘despotism and preferred it to any form of republicanism. Brutus killed Caesar to establish a republican form of Government different from Caesar’s absolutism. But in the end the masses began to endeavor for the revival of Caesarism or Rule of one Man.

“Shakespeare lived close to the earth and he imbibed his age so thoroughly that it. automatically steeped into the fabric of his soul and bloomed forth into his writings. In fact, he has proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that a literature, which does not reflect the spirit of the time cannot be true and great.”

Chaucer, the first great English poet, was truly the social chronicler of his country at the end of the Fourteenth century. What he has given, through his literary works, is a direct transcription of daily life, taken in the very act, as it were, and in its most familiar aspects. His Prologue to the ‘Canterbury Tales’ is a mirror reflecting the social life of the people of his age from top most to the bottom most categories. “Chaucer’s work”, says Keats, “is the most precious document for whoever wishes to evoke a picture of life as it then was, precisely because he had no regard for the conventional hierarchy of men and events, and purpose he went straight to the most commonplace among them and purposely selected these as being more comprehensively representative.”

Milton’s poetic works embrace the entire range of the religious spirit of his age. His Paradise Lost which is considered as a piece of ‘timeless’ and ‘space less’ literature, is also a record of the moral controversies of Protestants and the Catholics, which plagued the times and which had sent a British King to the gallows. Tennyson is the greatest representative poet of England of his times. His poetic art enshrines the very spirit – social, cultural, political of the 19th century. Through his ‘Princess’ he depicted social status of the women of his age. He championed the cause of feminine emancipation. Through his various poems he recorded the democratic spirit that had dawned in after the Industrial Revolution. He tells us how the spirit of Democracy was slowly and steadily gaining ground in the last phase of the Victorian age in Europe.[the_ad id=”17142″]

The victorian novel incorporates the spirit of the age. The novels of Charles Dickens and Thackeray are the best illustration of the life, manner and attitude of the English people of that age – their social, economic, cultural and religious views, activities and aspirations. “Even when the novel is a mere storm in a tea cup,” says Powell Price, “it cannot afford to divorce itself from its age. “Madame Bovary.”, the greatest French novel of the last century, revealed the hidden character of the age, and even though it raised a moral typhoon, it won a well-reputed and well – merited recognition – rather immortality.

Russian writers of eminence, like Maxim Gorky, Dostoievsky, Razika Joe etc., through their various literary endeavors, succeeded in capturing the spirit, temper and tendency of the age, when the masses were completely dissatisfied with the tyrannies of Czarist imperialism and had determined to challenge it boldly and vigorously. Books like ‘Mother’, Hunger and ‘Destruction embodied this spirit of the masses. Leo Tolstoy, the prophet-literary hero of Russian himself, was the dynamo of the intellectual fervour that was inspiring the people of Russia, in particular and in the entire continent, in general. His immortal literary piece ‘War and Peace’ may be called an intellectual epitome of his age.

Modern literature is, undoubtedly, the most sincere manifestation of the spirit of our modern age. It reflects the true temper and nature of our modern civilization. It portrays the : conflict between various political and economic ideologies, which are responsible for contributing to frequent armed clashes. Reginald Gould’s poem “if War Shatters Three”, Havana Greeve’s ‘Gold of the Rich’, Pinta Warbie’s ‘Labour Dine’ and many other modern pieces of poetry, faithfully manifest the revolting spirit of the poor, starving, semi-naked ‘Have Nots’, who are out to shatter, the huge castles and forts of capitalism. Bread is the only demand of the starving laborers:

“All life moving to one measure,

Daily bread and daily butter

Life of toil, life of sorrow,

Hand to mouth and nothing tomorrow.”

[the_ad id=”17150″]Bernard Shaw, whom age cannot wither away, was the greatest interpreter of the spirit of his time. He had one and only one aim behind all his literary endeavors – to put before the world some of the gross abuses and artificialities of the time. For example, in his ‘Arms and the Man’ he has tried to ridicule two most common and noteworthy aspects of the social life of the people of England before the First World War – Romantic conception of War (on the part of men) and marriage (on the part of women). Too much dreamy living virtually, in a Fool’s Paradise, of dream and utopia. Shaw, who was a practical realist endeavored, through his works, to take them out of the chasm of dreamy idealism.

H.G. Wells and John Galsworthy, the two great.’pyramids of modern literatúre, always attempted to reflect on the mind of the people of the modern age some of the basic problems, which they through logical and scientific spectacle, the problem of spiritual and moral: lethargy, etc, T. S. Eliot, in his masterpiece, “The Waste Land”, summed up the stagnant and timid temper of the period, which followed World War I.

Literature, like all the great and enduring art, has always a two fold bearing on life. It is both a mirror and means of escape. Like the Lady of Shallot, we sit before the mirror; we see the shadows of life’s lovely pageantry roll by; we grow “half + sick of the shadows’, we turn our eyes from the shadows to that which cast them; the mirror splits, the phantom views drop and fade away, one by one; truth sees herself in the fairy – mirror before it cracks; the spell-breaks and the heart discovers its unfathomed spirit. This spirit is the spirit of literature, which manifests the urge of our age. In the modern age, with its dynamic reality, we need a creative and inspiring literature to embody its spirit, and reflect, it on the posterity, as a heritage of intellectual and moral emancipation, for it is the literature, which, alone, can interpret the voice of an age and set it echoing for ages to come.

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