A Tale of Books 

A Tale of Books 

21st century

All is well….

It was not ‘THE END’. It was a new beginning. There could never be an end to its life. 

‘Men may come and men may go, but I go on forever Tennyson’s lines reverberated in its ears. It had won a battle. A cause worth fighting for, a tussle worth rooting for, a challenge worth defying. It was an ‘on cloud nine’ moment. It has reiterated its grand presence! It has re-established itself! 

The new beginning has commenced. A new dawn has made a graceful appearance on the limitless sky; the ray of hope that was hiding behind the dark clouds is peeping through the hazy sky. 

Happy days are here again! It has once again found its place in the hearts of the readers. Trust resurfaced and faith was validated. It is once again revelling in its pristine glory. 

The turbulent shelves, the shuddering walls, the vibrating roof and the quivering floor were returning to normalcy. Peace and harmony were being restored. 

The library once again started pulsating with renewed spirit. 

The battle of the books called for a ceasefire; literary art and literary criticism vying with each other for supremacy were hushed into silence. The war within the four walls of the library bowed down to the spirit of literature. 

Was it a defeat or a victory? It was neither. 

The purpose of literary art and criticism could never be diverse, it could be manifold but not conflicting. 

Empathy effaced ill feelings, finer sensibilities reinstated themselves, perceptions transcended the material world, and profound insights surfaced. 

It has stood the test of time and nothing can ever topple it. The physical structure of the ‘book nook’ could disappear but the spirit is eternal. The thought of battle retreated into oblivion.

The pen is mightier than the sword. Hence proven. 

20th century 

The renowned literary artists of the modern era assembled in the auditorium to assert their points of view. They were the silent observers of the tussle between the earlier generations of literary artists and critics. 

The arguments put forward by the critics and the self-justifying debate by the writers sounded farfetched and unreal. 

The serious bone of contention between the old school of writers and critics had given a clue to modernists not to argue about the content but to focus on the impact of a work of art.

The purpose being clear, T.S. Eliot raised relevant questions about modern literature post-colonialism and post-world wars. It made sense.

“Does literary criticism evaluate the moral values of a work of art? Is literature meant for entertainment only or does it touch upon social and economic issues that affect social order? If the objective of literary works is to educate and create awareness on issues about society, does the reader relate to it and appreciate the essence of the text? How does a literary critic review texts in the context of modernism and post-modernism?” 

“Identifying themselves with human society, responding to the environment, empathising with human frailty, understanding human struggle, conflicts and dilemmas …. to be precise content in the modern era has a humanitarian angle. Form and matter, diction and tone, together call for our attention. Sociological and psychological criticism delve deep into the text to explore the human psyche and how social issues make or mar human life. Literature has surpassed the material world; it depicts life from a larger perspective. The parochial overview is replaced with the larger-than-life concept.”

 I.A Richards ‘Practical Criticism’ spoke volumes about the pathbreaking literary philosophy that combined literary work and literary criticism.

Neither could exist in isolation. 

Paradise regained.

19th Century: 

Nature of Things

Wordsworth and Coleridge’s review of their literary works gave them shudders. 

“Why are my lines fading into nothingness? The fervour and the conviction with which I penned my thoughts and feelings in Intimations of Immortality, Tintern Abbey and Daffodils seem to have dissolved as I progressed in my journey through the French revolution. Emotions once so profound and sublime have become faint and started waning! Am I drained of feelings or my belief in the ideals of the revolution have weakened?”

Wordsworth murmured. There was regret, disbelief and concealed anger in his words. 

“Disillusioned! The bitter truth of the revolution has struck us emotionally and it has wreaked havoc in our lives. Our literary expressions were genuine and heartfelt. The unethical aspects of the French revolution have struck a fatal blow on our living souls. Were we naive and gullible? Oh, how we trusted our emotions! We identified ourselves with the ideals and our writings reflected our conviction….” he choked on his words.

Coleridge was as shaky as his co- poet, “A return to nature influenced by French revolution gave rise to freedom of thought and expression in prose and poetry. Liberty, fraternity and equality resounded and pierced through the sky. Human compassion was a predominant trait and the literary work that ensued was of the highest order. Our poems resonated with imagery. The serenity of nature caught our imagination and our works were resplendent with the striking beauty of nature and its ennobling effect on the human soul. We defied the neoclassical stringent adherence to form and style. Sadly, the vigour was ephemeral. And the sudden shift from belief to disillusionment is apparent in our later works….” he broke off with a sigh.

Keats and Shelley were as disturbed and disheartened as the stalwarts of the Romantic era.

Optimism gradually yielded to despondency, hope receded, and despair intensified. 


18th century: 

From anarchy to order

Chaos reigned supreme in the amphitheatre. The tense atmosphere was unbearably oppressive. The literary artists agreed to disagree on every count. 

“I beg to differ….” Arnold’s voice cut through the chaotic rumblings.  

“Art for art’s sake’ vs ‘Art for morality’s sake’ has always been a debate through the centuries. Form and content have gone through monumental changes and each era has propounded theories of creative writing; some have had a philosophical element while others harped on methodology. But all art is aesthetic and noble.” 

“Divergence in thought and opinion make literary art distinct from other forms of art. Each artist approaches the world around him with a new perspective. There is a novelty in receptivity and response to the external world. Let us not denigrate the approach and perspective of our fellow writers. A fair and just debate could address the dissimilarities and allow us to arrive at a consensus. A harmonious discussion could give us solutions. Heated arguments will only disrupt this meeting,” Dryden’s appeal seemed to go well with the assembled literary artists. 

The muddled voices gradually faded. The stormy atmosphere melted away. 

Dr Johnson walked towards the podium with an inimitable vigour and waved to the gathering.

There was murmuring among the 16th and 17th-century writers. Shakespeare yawned he had no opinion of the critic. Edmund Spencer, Sir Philip Sydney, and Marlow looked sceptical. Their literary works left an indelible mark on world literature. Indisputably they were accomplished writers. They had every reason to voice their opinion. Would defend their stance and works. 

“What is the debate all about? Each literary period is marked by the prevailing socio-political and religious conditions, either they were eulogized or criticised. While Elizabethans captured human nature, Puritans accentuated religious fervour….”  The Faerie Queene poet Edmund Spencer observed. 

“Isn’t the purpose of literature sublime? ‘Twice removed from reality, theory of mimesis… Plato’s ‘Republic’ banishes all art and literature. Whereas in ‘Defence of Poesie (An Apologie for Poetry) Spencer defends poetry for its ‘ennobling effect on the degenerating human soul,’ Milton sounded offended. 

He had every right to feel let down. His Puritan philosophy and convictions were being grilled by the propounders of the Restoration period who believed in excessive allegiance to order and form. The Neo-Classical era believed in perfecting literary art through strict adherence to ancient classical principles and norms. The content was modified to suit the changing trends in the society but the form was a straight lift from the Greeks and Romans. 

Satire, wit and humour, which did not find an expression in the Elizabethan and Puritan ages, dominated the Restoration and Victorian eras. The traditional outlook was revered and followed. It was a cause of concern for the Elizabethans and the Puritans.  

“A work of art ought to have the language of the ordinary, I mean, contemporary language which is relatable and understandable. The use of decorative language makes the content look artificial and may not touch the heart nor evoke the intended emotions. Our learned nature poet Wordsworth has defined poetry as a spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings recollected in tranquillity. Isn’t poetry all about unrestrained expression of emotions and as such where can we accommodate ornate words? It would make the lines superfluous; art should be faithful to life; it should mirror life as it is.”  Dr Johnson’s pungent words triggered seething rage among the Puritan and Elizabethan writers. 

Pope was not to be left behind, “The purpose of literary criticism is to delve deep into the literary work with the same principles that govern literature itself. Hence literary critics need to explore not only the content and how it has been written but also the social, political and religious contexts that have been depicted or have influenced the thought and ideas of the author. It is an exploration of life in its variety. Milton’s epic poem explores the religious context of the Puritan age bringing forth the moral and ethical aspects of The Fall, the original sin, Satan’s vicious nature, the temptation and the punishment for disobedience. It conforms to the Puritan scruples and morals. Judging the poem based on Milton’s style or only the content would be demeaning and dishonouring the poet’s intention.”

Milton beamed with joy. 

“It gives me immense pleasure to know that literary criticism is not as biased as I was given to understand. Puritanic values encompass not only literary art but take into its fold the social and political trends of the era. Maybe I am disillusioned just as Wordsworth and Coleridge with the French revolutionary ideals of liberty and fraternity.”

For Neoclassical critics and writers, reason and judgement are superior to imagination and imitation. The period saw the emergence of scientific temperament which did not allow anyone to accept a theory – scientific or literary, without questioning the purpose and origin. The world has far too many theories and philosophies and unless tested nothing is acceptable, the world is characterised by two concepts- it is knowable and it is testable. Hence theories are to be tested and to be proven. 

The assemblage of a galaxy of writers and critics in the amphitheatre was a celestial spectrum. It reverberated with the scholarly doctrines of literary art and criticism. 


16th and 17th century: 

Paradise Lost 

Eve, in all her feminine charm looked at the serpent coiled around the tree. A sense of wonder mingled with curiosity made her look keenly at the creature. The glistening animal was caught by Eve’s pristine beauty. 

“Adam is blessed to have such a desirable companion. No wonder he is bewitched by her. God has created Adam in his image and Eve from Adam’s rib! Isn’t it unfair? The ONE who claims to be just and impartial has, in truth, discriminated between his loved ones and other creatures. The first man and woman have unrestrained liberty to explore the beauty of the Garden of Eden but the ‘lower beings’ have to put up with the clutter around?”

Envy and jealousy, two predominant fatalistic emotions, engulfed him. He was torn between his admiration for Eve’s beauty and repugnance for the Creator’s bias. 

Eve’s fascination for the Serpent grew as he inched towards her. 

Her purity was at stake, but she was unsuspecting of his intentions. Adam and Eve were God’s manifestation. How could they even know of vice and deception? They had betrayed their creator and the culprit escaped unscathed! Their banishment is the outcome of falling prey to temptation. 

Satan’s vicious thoughts and his envy had played havoc with the first man and woman. The prelapsarian era of pure and chaste thoughts ended abruptly with Adam and Eve’s sin. Disobedience being the unforgivable sin, the act of eating the forbidden apple being the disgraceful drift, the journey of humans from the Garden of Eden to earth was a colossal deviation. Were the serpent and Satan two different manifestations of evil and vice? Did Satan entice the serpent to lure Eve to ‘unfollow’ the command of God?  

The Fall resulted from unrestrained emotions – the urge to taste the forbidden fruit. 

The Serpent evoked two incompatible emotions in Eve- the urge to defy and the uncurbed impulse to trust its slayer. 

And what a fall it was! 

John Milton’s epic Paradise Lost brought in a new perspective towards life and its origin as a ‘Punishment’ for the original sin. 


Shakespeare’s eyes widened in disbelief as he completed reading the epic poem. 

‘The conflict between virtue and vice, good and evil has found a remarkable expression in literary works of all ages, irrespective of the socio-political and religious conditions. 

What makes this epic poem unparalleled across all the literary works? The stature of my dramas and poems is dwarfed compared to Milton’s colossal work. Oh, shall I compare thee……’ there was a trace of envy in his outburst.

“How is my perception different from Milton’s overview of human nature? I have expounded human idiosyncrasies through a delineation of two important traits – hubris and hamartia that bring in conflict and the downfall of the protagonist. But Milton’s epic poem has won accolades through the ages establishing itself as a masterpiece.” He accepted the truth, reluctantly. 


The dilemma and the conflict:

Marlow could relate to Shakespeare’s dilemma. His face contorted with envy. Words that spilt from his throat were proof of his jealousy.  

“The art of storytelling is ingrained in civil society from time immemorial. Language is a tool to express emotions and the ultimate end is gratification. 

It’s all in the design of nature. The inescapable emotions that flow through the written word either lift humans to the skies or hurl them down into the nether world. The storyteller uses techniques to enhance the emotions and evoke catharsis. Either human beings adapt themselves to the flow or drown in the unstoppable flow. 

Milton has used the ignominious emotions of envy, and the temptation to create a situation that ends in the fall of human beings from Paradise, the abode of God. 

Life offers choices; what we choose depends on what our priorities are; our preferences decide our strength to hold on, combat and win, or lose our ground. It is not always intellect that paves the path for a meaningful life; though it plays a significant role in establishing our aspirations, it is a balanced combination of mind and heart, thoughts and feelings that elevate life.

 Unrestrained, immoderate feelings may cause turmoil in our lives but a fair expression of the same could strengthen our emotional ties……”

Shakespeare could hardly withstand the incessant flow of words. Each word made a dent in his inflated ego. 

The end had begun. 


The ruffling sound was unnerving. Was it the wild wind that caused the intimidating sound? Or was it the inner turmoil that pushed itself out through the pages creating havoc in the outside environment?

The intensity with which emotions flowed out looked like there would be a deluge. 

The books on the shelves resonated with the gushing outflow. The pages turned rapidly making a weird sound as though someone was flipping through the book fiercely. The textured walls, the coffered wooden ceiling and the resilient floor…. all seemed to tremble at the outburst. The aesthetics of the spaces seemed to suffer a setback. 

Hordes of letters and words were spilling out, chunks of paragraphs and passages were rushing out, and the room was filling up with irrepressible chaos. The nerve-racking noise took a toll on the tranquil atmosphere. Wearied, exhausted and at tether’s end, it shuddered.  

Was it the end of a glorious era? Was it heading towards a closure? 

What a pity! 

Oh, oh, oh! Will it ever recover from this blow?

Author’s Note:
I have taken poetic liberty to mix and match the writers of different eras in the history of English Literature. Though not contemporary, I have juxtaposed Milton, Shakespeare, Marlow, Dryden, and Pope in the same frame.
This is done purely for the effect. 
I would like to acknowledge the following writers for including lines from their writings/ poems
Plato: Republic
Shakespeare: Shall I compare thee
Milton: Paradise Lost; Paradise Regained
Wordsworth’s: definition of poetry
l’art pour l’art, a French slogan from the latter part of the 19th century (Art for art’s sake)
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