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5ABA0010 Socialism and Literature in India in the Twentieth Century

Credit value: 15
Module convenor: Professor Javed Majeed
Assessment: 1 x 4000 word essay (100%); coursework reassessment in exam period 3
Students are reassessed in the failed elements of assessment and by the same methods as the first attempt.
Teaching pattern: 1 hour lecture and 1 hour seminar, weekly
Pre-requisites: None

Module aims

The literary practices associated with the socialist vision of modern community provide a unique angle from which to investigate some of the major questions animating twentieth-century aesthetic theories, especially those arising from traditions of realism: namely the relationship between art and society, or social action and politics; the representation of the “Real”; and the role of literature as a repository of symbolic fictions through which writers and readers can imagine themselves differently.  Socialist literary theories address such questions by positing a direct relationship between real social/political domination (read as classed domination) and literary representation, and by giving literature a key role in overturning forms of domination to project and even produce socialist society and subjectivity (through the ascendency of proletarian consciousness leading toward a classless society). What particular political and aesthetic problems did this formulation of the role of literature generate? How did these play out in different socialist movements? In this course, we address such themes by looking at socialist and radical writing and genres in India from the 1930s to the 1950s.

Module description

This module introduces participants to the study of socialism and literature in India during the 20th century. The primary texts range from short stories and novels, to poetry and literary manifestoes.

This module thinks about the diverse ways in which Indian artists on the left in the twentieth century have confronted questions of how to represent and reach out to “the people” and how to create support for radical political projects. We will look at key debates amongst artists and writers around questions such as the literary forms and content that would be most appropriate for a radical literature, and both Marx’s engagement with India and Indian writers’ engagement with Marxism. The course considers the complex relationship between socialism and literature in India as one that is locally generated, globally informed, and nationalistically invested.

Learning outcomes

By the end of this course, students will be able to demonstrate intellectual, transferable and practicable skills appropriate to a Level 5 (or 6) module and in particular will be able to:

  • Develop the knowledge and critical skills to analyse the relationship between politics and literature.
  • Develop critical analytical skills for understanding the modes and techniques of representation and the politics of radical literary texts.
  • Understand the way traditional, popular forms were integral to the making of radical literature.
  • Comprehend the different artistic genres that went into the making of a radical literature in India
  • Have an understanding of the institutions, networks, tensions, and key debates within progressive literary movements in India.

Core reading

  • Ahmed Ali, ‘The progressive writers’ movement in historical perspective,’ Journal of South Asian Literature 13, 1977-78, pp. 91-97.
  • Sugata Bose and Kris Manjapra, eds., Cosmopolitan Thought Zones. South Asia and the Global Circulation of Ideas (New York, 2010).
  • C. Coppola, ed., Marxist Influences and South Asian Literature (Michigan, 1974).
  • C. Coppola, ‘The angare group: the enfants terribles of Urdu literature,’ Annual of Urdu Studies, 1, 1981, pp. 57-69.
  • Priyamada Gopal, Literary Radicalism in India: Gender, Nation and the Transition to Independence (New York, 2005).
  • Javed Majeed, ‘Literary modernity in South Asia’, in Douglas M. Peers and Nandini Gooptu, eds., India and the British Empire (Oxford, 2012), pp. 262-83.
  • Hafeez Malik, ‘Marxist literary movements in India and Pakistan’, Journal of Asian Studies, 26, 1967,pp. 649-664.
  • Sumit Sarkar, Modern India 1885-1947 (Delhi, 1983).

Additional Course Costs

Students may want to purchase key texts, where possible material will be put up on KEATS.


The modules run in each academic year are subject to change in line with staff availability and student demand so there is no guarantee every module will run. Module descriptions and information may vary depending between years.


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