Published:  12:31 AM, 06 October 2018 Last Update: 12:33 AM, 06 October 2018

Authors in the role of social reformists


History and social reconstruction have been intertwined with literary works through ages. During the Victorian era, Charles Dickens illustrated the impact of historic upheavals on the ordinary masses of England in his novels such as A Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations.

Status of women in Victorian England was depicted with moving compassion by Emily Bronte, Charlotte Bronte and Jane Austen in phenomenal books like Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre and Emma.

Social issues have been highlighted in Victor Hugo's novels too underlining the malpractices prevailing among the priests of France who held lofty ranks in theological institutions during 19th century, in churches to be more precise.

Some vital aspects of Russian society of 19th century are found in the monumental works of fiction by Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Leo Tolstoy. Both these Russian authors touched upon some anomalies and lack of social justice that existed in Russia during their time in their fictional classics Crime and Punishment and Anna Karenina.

A Tale of Two Cities is one of the greatest novels by Charles Dickens (1812-1870). It tells the story of the French Revolution that had a profound influence on France and England and their capitals Paris and London respectively during 1789 to 1799.

The French Revolution was carried out by the peasants and workers of France who had been suffering years after years from extreme poverty and exploitations imposed on them by the ruling authority of France. Louis XVI was the king of France during that time.

The king and his associates had no compassion for the poverty-stricken masses of their country. Most of the people were hungry and penniless while the royal family and the aristocrats lived in a lot of luxuries and comfort. Class discrimination prevailed acutely all over France during that time. Finally, common French people lost their patience and revolted against the king.

The revolutionaries invaded the Bastille fort on 14th July 1789, released all the prisoners and detained the king and the queen who were later on executed. They also killed many aristocratic people who were close to the king. Violence and bloodshed spread all over France which led to a reign of terror.

A Tale of Two Cities illustrates the message how general people can overthrow a government if they are tormented continuously. At the same time, this novel tells a love story too with special emphasis on the sacrificial attribute of Sydney Carton's character.

 In Great Expectations, Charles Dickens showed the impact of Industrial Revolution on the people of England during 19th century. The radical shifting of people from English countryside to towns and cities and the massive change in their vision of life as a result of industrial onslaught are the focal thematic points of this novel. Pip, the protagonist of this novel came to London from his village home in quest of a better fortune.

As he became well-off in London, he turned into a snobbish young man hardly showing respect to old friends and relatives who lived in rural areas.

However, he understood the value of love and friendship after facing some pathetic events in his own life. Class conflict, social inequity and the decline of moral values in Victorian England are the most prominent features of this novel.

Moreover, this novel conveys the message that snobbery and wealth are not everything in life. Rather retaining good relations, understanding the significance of love and loyalty are far more essential than money and pomp if someone looks for true happiness.

Influence of Industrial Revolution on English society, particularly on children is found in Oliver Twist as well, another classical work by Charles Dickens. Oliver Twist, a poor English boy leading a miserable life in London is picked up by a gang of thieves who used to abduct homeless children and forced them to steal money and precious belongings from people.

This novel shows how destitute and innocent children of England were exploited by gangsters during 19th century. Charles Dickens urges the readers through this novel to rebuild the society with more safety and special privileges for children so that they don't get victimized by adverse social circumstances.

Victor Hugo (1802-1885), one of the finest ever French authors, also described the vicissitudes French people were going through during the French Revolution in his masterpiece Les Miserables. Class discrimination, social injustice and the tormented plight of common French people are part of the principal thematic streams of this novel.

Victor Hugo portrayed the abuse of power and other sorts of corruption done by the higher officials of churches in another striking novel Hunchback of Notre Dame.

In Hunchback of Notre Dame readers come across a physically deformed man called Quasimodo who is the protagonist of the novel and who retains the attention of the readers in most part of the story.

The hunchback Quasimodo is found saving a girl named Esmeralda from execution. The unavoidable contrast between the physical deformities of Quasimodo and the beauty of Esmeralda underlines the focal theme of the novel that denies the differences between humans in terms of physical merits and demerits.

In Fyodor Dostoyevsky's (1821-1881) most celebrated novel Crime and Punishment we find Raskolnikov, a Russian young man who is the focal figure of the book, suffering from an extreme feeling of guilt after committing a couple of murders.

It is found in the novel that Raskolnikov used to have an unfriendly approach to society and used to be an intensely self-absorbed man which isolates him from the rest of the society.

The reason behind him being self-cornered was the massive variations between rich and poor people and the absurd social phenomena he witnessed around him and other sorts of social anomalies that engulfed his hometown St. Petersburg. However, he came to realize the true meaning of life as he became deeply repentant for his crime and as he discovered that he was in love with a girl called Sonia.

Crime and Punishment represents lack of social fairness in Russia during 19th century and it further depicts how adversely social aberrations can impact the mindset of people like Raskolnikov. The fire of penitence in a lawbreaker's mind is much bigger a penalty than institutional sentences-that's another substantial message of Crime and Punishment.

We read novels for amusement, for enhancement of our knowledge on fictional works and sometimes for academic objectives too. However, the didactic dimension of fictional works lies in the messages found in them and their lifelike representation of events and characters and this is how novels can be regarded as strong literary instruments to bring about social reforms.


The writer is a literary analyst for The Asian Age

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