The Encyclopedia of Twentieth-Century Fiction - Vol. 3

By John Clement Ball | Go to book overview

R

Rao, Raja
MAKARAND PARANJAPE

Raja Rao, one of the most important contributors to the development of the English novel in India, writes in an English that is uniquely Indian in style, tone, mood, and rhythm. Relying heavily on translation, quotation, and the use of Indian proverbs, idioms, and colloquial patterns, Rao manipulates vocabulary and syntax to enhance the Indian flavoring of his English and achieve a style that is nonetheless evocative and intelligible to non-Indian readers. Rao’s preeminence stems from the significance of his first novel, Kanthapura (1938). Published at a time when Indian English fiction was first gaining recognition – through novels such as Mulk Raj Anand’s Untouchable (1935) and R. K. Narayan’s Swami and Friends (1935) – Rao’s coming-of-age tale was heralded as adventurous and provocative, and is now seen as a classic.

Rao was born on November 8, 1908, the eldest son in a large and respected Brahmin family in Hassan, south India. His mother died when he was 4, and the absence of a mother figure and the sense of being an orphan influence his fiction. An early influence was his grandfather, from whom he imbibed his spiritual orientation. Although Rao lived abroad mostly (in France and the United States), his temperament and sensibility remained Indian, and he became a compulsive visitor of his native homeland, returning to India repeatedly for spiritual and cultural nourishment. In 1933, he visited an ashram in a quest for selfrealization, and in 1939, as his first marriage disintegrated, he found himself back in India, his spiritual search renewed. Appearing to have given up writing, Rao visited a number of ashrams and religious teachers over the next few years, including Mahatma Gandhi. Around this time Rao became a public figure in India, active in several social and political causes. Along with Iqbal Singh he edited Changing India (1939), an anthology of modern Indian thought. He participated in the underground “Quit India” movement of 1942, boldly associating with a group of radical socialists.

Rao has been considered a metaphysical novelist with primarily religious and philosophical concerns; his writing comprises an ongoing discussion of major systems of thought, chiefly Indian but also from other cultures. Formally, his novels are based on Indian models such as the Purana, the sthalakatha, and the beast fable. Yet Kanthapura shows a strong social engagement as it documents the progress of a non-violent Gandhian agitation against the British Empire in a remote south Indian village. The Serpent and the Rope (1960) and The Cat and Shakespeare (1965) are expositions of the ancient Indian philosophical outlook known as Advaita Vedanta, and Comrade Kirillov (1976) evaluates the efficacy of communism. The Chessmaster and His Moves (1988), the first novel in a trilogy, surpasses his earlier work in its attempt to probe the entirety of the modern human condition. Its highlight is an intense and revelatory dialogue between the Brahmin and the Rabbi as representatives of two ancient and contrasting perspectives on civilization.

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The Encyclopedia of Twentieth-Century Fiction - Vol. 3
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Editors i
  • The Wiley-Blackwell Encyclopedia of Literature WWW.Literatureencyclopedia.Com ii
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • List of Entries vii
  • Acknowledgments xiii
  • Notes on Contributors to Volume III xv
  • Introduction to Volume III 937
  • A 942
  • B 980
  • C 995
  • D 1034
  • E 1052
  • F 1066
  • G 1094
  • H 1121
  • I 1145
  • J 1154
  • K 1167
  • L 1180
  • M 1198
  • N 1252
  • O 1270
  • P 1277
  • Q 1296
  • R 1300
  • S 1325
  • T 1365
  • U 1370
  • V 1373
  • W 1378
  • Z 1398
  • Index 1400
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