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R. K. Narayan (Rasipuram Krishnaswami Narayan) Biography

(1906–2001), (Rasipuram Krishnaswami Narayan), Swami and Friends, The Bachelor of Arts, The English Teacher, Mr Sampat

Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Mr Polly to New France

Indian novelist and short-story writer, born in Madras, educated mostly in Mysore. He worked as a teacher and as a journalist before the publication of his first novel, Swami and Friends (1935). This evocation of a South Indian middle-class childhood attracted the attention of Graham Greene, who recommended it for publication in Britain. A number of novels followed, all set in the imaginary town of Malgudi, a microcosmic representation of India. Some of his early novels, including The Bachelor of Arts (1937), The English Teacher (1945), Mr Sampat (1949), and The Financial Expert (1952), draw heavily on his own life's experiences, including the tragic early death of his wife, on the struggle for independence with its Gandhian ideology and inspiration, and on Mysore where Narayan lived most of his life. These works signal the evolution of his distinctive vision, with its blend of comedy and tragedy, conservatism and irony, mythical analogies and social satire. Central to this vision is the unending struggle between the creative, self-willed, and iconoclastic Narayan heroine (or anti-heroine) and the forces of society, embodied in the phlegmatic or feckless males she encounters, and the patriarchs, who represent order, conservative tradition, and the unchanging values of a once-stable hierarchical India. In The Guide (1958), the passionate encounter of the eponymous narrator with the talented tormented dancer Rosie leads to prison, despair, and loss of love and roots. In The Vendor of Sweets (1967) and The Painter of Signs (1976) social changes are figured as encounters between men devoid of the certainties of tradition, and women committed to the destruction of ancient, repressive mores. These women, with their outlandish names, are all outsiders: family-planning experts, professionals who refuse to submit to socially determined roles and expectations, or simply foreigners who, while struggling to assimilate the rules of their husbands' milieu, similarly import new ways antithetical to the pious sensibilities of the preceding generation. Narayan is possibly the Indian novelist best known and loved abroad, though in his native country his influence has been largely disclaimed by his younger contemporaries, who accuse him of tailoring his fictions to suit the West's increasing appetite for exotic colours and quaintness. Critics in the West, while noting an attenuation of creative energy in his later fiction, Talkative Man (1985) and The World of Nagaraj (1990), continue to compare his work to that of Chekhov and Katherine Mansfield, and to praise his elevation of the local and particular to the universal in his portrayal of Malgudi and its archetypal inhabitants. His collection of short stories, Malgudi Days (1982), is set against the backdrop of a semi-imaginary city in South India and portrays characters from every walk of urban Indian life, usually in the throes of some crisis that will transform their destinies or lead to a moment of enhanced perception. This, and short stories, collected in volumes such as An Astrologer's Day and Other Stories (1947), Lawley Road (1956), and A Horse and Two Goats (1970), together with the novellas in The Grandmother's Tale (1993), display similarities of theme and characterization with his novels. My Days (1975) is an autobiography.

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