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Author: John Thieme

R. K. Narayan's reputation as one of the founding figures of Indian writing in English is re-examined in this comprehensive study of his fiction. Arguing against views that have seen Narayan as a chronicler of authentic ‘Indianness’, the book locates his fiction in terms of specific South Indian contexts, cultural geography and non-Indian intertexts. It draws on recent thinking about the ways places are constructed to demonstrate that Malgudi is always a fractured and transitional site – an interface between older conceptions and contemporary views which stress the inescapability of change in the face of modernity. Offering fresh insights into the influences that went into the making of Narayan's fiction, this is a wide-ranging guide to his novels to date.

John Thieme

1 Contexts and intertexts In a typically whimsical ‘Self-Obituary’, written in the middle of his life, R.K. Narayan imagines himself, ‘On a certain day (towards the close of the twentieth century)’ being interrogated by ‘four grim men’ from the ‘I.T.F.K.E.O.N’ (‘INTERNATIONAL TRIBUNAL FOR KEEPING an [sic] EYE ON NOVELISTS’) and charged with various offences.1 These include: writing too much (exceeding his allotted weight limit of 60 pounds of books); inventing an ‘imaginary town’, with ‘false geography’ that is bad for the tourist industry; and leaving his

in R.K. Narayan
The Guide to The Painter of Signs
John Thieme

was constructed by Western eyes, it is reductive to see Narayan as having seriously compromised his writing to accommodate Western tastes. From the beginning of his career, his novels bring Western and Hindu – specifically Tamil brahmin – elements together in a variety of ways, to produce fiction that locates itself in a very specific discursive environment and is minutely attentive to the implications of place, but also succeeds in speaking to an international readership. Although he has often 102 R.K. Narayan been misrepresented as an ‘authentic’ chronicler of

in R.K. Narayan
Abstract only
John Thieme

as a young brahmin experiencing various stages of the English-oriented colonial educational curriculum and gradually making the transition from the first to the second of the four asramas of the Manusmriti is a constant. The Dark Room (1938), a novel focused on the plight of a mistreated wife, is ostensibly the odd one out of the four. I hope, though, to show 24 R.K. Narayan that a commonality of concerns runs through the early novels, and that in some ways The Dark Room, though by no means the strongest of the four, is a pivot on which the others can be seen to

in R.K. Narayan
Mr Sampath to Waiting for the Mahatma
John Thieme

The Vendor of Sweets (1967), seem to pursue more obviously mercantile lines of work, but their occupations engage them in activities in which Saraswathi, the goddess of learning end enlightenment, vies with Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity. Margayya becomes involved in a publishing project; Jagan is a daily reader of the Gita and both men have scribal ambitions for their sons. Though their particular subjects and angles of focalization vary, the recurrent concern of the middle-period novels is an 68 R.K. Narayan exploration of the conflicts that occur when

in R.K. Narayan
John Thieme

approach. Talking about Narayan’s art’s lack of ‘precedent in English’, Walsh writes: […] It fascinates by reason of the authenticity and attractiveness of its Indian setting, and engages because of the substantial human nature which it implies and embodies. It carries along with it at every point a kind of humour strange in English writing which mixes the melancholy and the amusing. Perhaps it is in this humour that there 188 R.K. Narayan [sic] lies its deepest wisdom, which communicates a sense, crisp and unrebellious, of human limitation, and an appreciation

in R.K. Narayan
Abstract only
John Thieme

-century linking of ideas about evolution and ‘race’. At its worst this predicated a parallel between the human-animal binary and the colonizercolonized opposition. As Jopi Nyman puts it, in a discriminating study of animal tales that address issues of race, nation and gender, ‘By its mere existence, the animal trope, as it is used in the colonial context, poses a threat to the maintenance of order and hierarchy, challenging conventional ideas of the primacy of masculinized reason and culture’.6 However, all animals are not 152 R.K. Narayan equal and a writer such as Kipling

in R.K. Narayan
Abstract only
Ainslie T. Embree

charlatan, and whose inspiration is India. Vidal’s India is carelessly drawn: his description of the road from the airport, for example, is ludicrously inaccurate, but in the end a sense of the reality of India overcomes the factual errors, giving plausibility to the bizarre story. An obvious contrast is R. K. Narayan’s The Guide , where the reluctant – and self-made – holy man is placed in a wholly

in Asia in Western fiction
De-scribing Imperial identity from alien to migrant
Peter Childs

British colony (Lawrence 1982: 69–70). On the other hand, a second point which is not incompatible with the first is that R. K. Narayan recorded on his visit to the UK in the 1950s that ‘[most] people Norquay_04_Ch3 55 22/3/02, 9:48 am 56 Theorising identities in England, especially those living outside London, were unaware that India was no longer a colony’ (1990: 32) – and this at a time when Enoch Powell was planning India’s re-conquest in order to resurrect England’s greatness (Nairn 1981: 265). In the 1960s India acquired a significant role in Euroamerican

in Across the margins
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Literary criticism and the colonial public
Christopher Hilliard

novels or introduced novelists from a variety of language communities, and novelists, including R. K. Narayan and Raja Rao, spoke about their craft. Only a few contributors addressed Q. D. Leavis’s book. Though often apologetic about Indian fiction, especially in English, the seminar’s participants showed little inclination to treat their subject matter as documents of an Indian ‘environment’ rather than

in The cultural construction of the British world