Monday, March 12, 2007

History of Society and Literature March 12, 2007

History of Society and Literature
Compiled by Raymond Stopper

I completed this project in 2001. Thanks to blogging, I am able to make it available to others who might find the history of ideas interesting.

I wish I had had this book as I began my study of literature when I was an English major at Villanova University. One of the instructors told me that, ideally, students who majored in English should have read all of the works to be covered before taking the courses, leaving them with the opportunity to study in depth the critical works concerning the literature. However, I was then reading all of these works for the first time, leaving me with relatively little time to explore the critical studies. I had no concept of the chronology of literature and very little understanding of the flow of events in society. In my high school, history and English were isolated subjects, and the thought never occurred to me to relate the literature we studied to the events occurring at the time the literary works were produced.

While I have reduced most of the literary works to brief paragraphs or even sentences, the summaries should give the reader an understanding of the essential ideas of the works and therefore an overall understanding of the flow of literary history from 3500 B.C. to A.D. 1950. These descriptions of the literary works are not intended to substitute for reading the works in their entirety, but they should pique readers into reading the entire works and they give a background of the rich variety in ideas treated in the history of world literature.

My purpose in compiling this information is to give young students an overview of notable events in society and the literature produced at the time of these events. It helps to answer the question, “What was going on in society when literary works were produced?” And it raises a further question, “Is there a relationship between the literary works produced and the notable events occurring in society?” Although readers will have to draw their own conclusions to answer that question, my conclusion after completing this work is that the relationship between literary works and events in society is “slim to none.”

I have always felt that understanding the overview of a subject before concentrating on its parts is sound educational procedure. My own education emphasized the parts and I was either too inexperienced, too unimaginative or, perhaps, to unintelligent to relate the parts into a whole. I never developed a concept of the “flow” of literature or of notable events in society and I never thought to determine the relationship between them. Such is the reason for this book.

I hope this publication will be useful for other aspiring English majors and for anyone else who wants to try to understand how literature expands our perspective on life.

My source for the brief summaries of the literary works was Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia, edited by Seipmann, 1987; the source for summaries of events in society was The People’s Chronology, edited by Trager in 1992.

It is my hope that the brief summaries of both historical events and literary works will stimulate readers to gather more information about the events and to read the complete literary works.

Raymond Stopper
March 2007

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