Mulk Raj Anand Anand, Mulk Raj (Vol. 93) - Essay


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Mulk Raj Anand 1905–

Indian novelist, short story writer, autobiographer, essayist, and nonfiction writer.

The following entry provides an overview of Anand's career through 1992. See also Mulk Raj Anand Criticism (Volume 23).

Along with R. K. Narayan and Raja Rao, Anand is credited with establishing the basic forms and themes of modern Indian literature written in English. At the core of his writing is a humanist philosophy that incorporates elements of socialist political and economic theory. Critics argue that his socially conscious works have shed keen insights on Indian affairs and enriched his country's literary heritage.

Biographical Information

Born in Peshawar, India, Anand began his formal education at a time when the Indian educational system emphasized proficiency in English. The author has since criticized the education he received in Indian primary and secondary schools and at the University of Punjab for neglecting Indian and European culture and leaving students ill-prepared for adult life. Anand attended University College and Cambridge University in England, where he studied English literature and forged friendships with members of the Bloomsbury Group, including E. M. Forster and Virginia Woolf. After receiving his doctorate in English in 1929, Anand spent several years in Europe before returning to India to join Mohandas K. Gandhi's crusade for national independence from British rule. Anand's first novel, Untouchable, was published in 1935 and included an introduction by Forster. Anand has held several teaching positions, including the first Tagore Professorship of Fine Arts at the University of Punjab from 1963 to 1966, and has served as editor of the Indian arts quarterly Marg since 1946. He has been recognized with a number of awards, including the Sahitya Academy Award in 1947, the World Peace Council Prize in 1952, and the Padma Bhushan Award in 1968.

Major Works

His personal experiences and the reform of India's political, social, and cultural institutions are major elements in Anand's writings. Such early fictional works as Untouchable, The Coolie (1936), and Two Leaves and a Bud (1937) dramatize the cruelties inherent in the caste system and the suffering induced by poverty. Untouchable, for example, was inspired by the author's childhood memory of a low-caste sweeper boy who carried him home after he'd been injured; the boy was, however, beaten by Anand's mother for touching her higher-caste son. The book was a revelation to readers unaware of the circumstances of life in a caste society and sparked extensive critical debate. Anand's interest in social themes continued in The Coolie and Two Leaves and a Bud, which relate the tribulations of working-class life in India. Critics assert that in his early work Anand employed a markedly polemical style when attributing India's social problems to the caste system, British rule, and capitalism. His style and thematic focus shifted to more psychological and humanistic interpretations in such later works as The Private Life of an Indian Prince (1953)—which explores the emotional and mental deterioration of a young royal who neglects his duties in pursuit of an affair with a peasant woman—and in the autobiographical novels comprising his "Seven Ages of Man" series, in which he relates the events of his life through the character Krishan Chander. The first volume in the series, Seven Summers (1951), spans the first seven years of the author's life and explores the interplay of reality and imagination unique to childhood. In Morning Face (1968), Anand recounts the inadequacy of his early education and the cruel treatment he and other students endured at the hands of their schoolmasters, memories that led the author in later years to campaign for educational reform in India. Confession of a Lover (1984) explores the pain of a lost love during the author's college years. The Bubble (1984), which covers his life as a student and young writer in London, includes much discussion of his involvement with the Bloomsbury Group writers.

Critical Reception

For his realistic portrayals of the social and economic problems suffered by Indians because of the caste system and British colonial rule, Anand is considered by many critics to be one of India's best writers. The value of his novels, according to Margaret Berry, "is the witness they offer of India's agonizing attempt to break out of massive stagnation and create a society in which men and women are free and equal." Although Anand's early works were faulted by some critics for stereotypical characterization, didacticism, and melodrama, critics have noted a restraint in later novels that enhances the persuasiveness of his appeals. Krishna Nandan Sinha has remarked: "While the later novels retain the passion for social justice, they sound greater emotional depths."

Principal Works

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Apology for Heroism: A Brief Autobiography of Ideas (autobiography) 1934
Untouchable (novel) 1935; revised edition, 1970
The Coolie (novel) 1936; revised edition, 1972
Two Leaves and a Bud (novel) 1937
The Village (novel) 1939
Across the Black Waters (novel) 1940
The Sword and the Sickle (novel) 1942
The Big Heart (novel) 1945
Seven Summers: The Story of an Indian Childhood (novel) 1951
The Private Life of an Indian Prince (novel) 1953; revised edition, 1970
The Road (novel) 1961
Morning Face (novel) 1968
Between Tears and Laughter (short stories) 1973
Conversations in Bloomsbury (essays) 1981
Confession of a Lover (novel) 1984
The Bubble (novel) 1984

∗These works comprise the first volumes in a projected seven-volume series known as the "Seven Ages of Man."

Ronald Dewsbury (review date Autumn 1936)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of The Coolie, in Life and Letters To-Day, London, Vol. 15, No. 4, Autumn, 1936, pp. 208, 210.

[In the following review, Dewsbury praises The Coolie as a realistic depiction of India.]

Mr. Anand, in a series of novels, is presenting the panorama of the real contemporary India. The Coolie is a frightening picture, and the author has achieved his purpose by making us wonder what on earth can be done to "save" his country. It is obvious that present evils must be corrected—evils of exploitation and graft. But the book goes much further by showing the inhumanity of man to man, proletarian to proletarian, bourgeois to bourgeois. When class meets class, why should we expect them to love one another who cannot love themselves? Remove existing evils—and the problem of human nature remains. And here the author offers no help.

He might retort that he has shown how the Indian working man is devitalised by improper feeding, by a handful of rice and chapatis. But the bourgeois has been eating for years and years, and look what it has done for him! Indeed it would have been pleasant if the East could have shown us that eating is just another bourgeois dope, like religion. Only the other day there was a story in the newspapers of an invalid who had consulted a Yogi and had been advised to live entirely on salt and water. For sixty-seven years the salt-and-water drinker had lived a splendidly healthy life! But it must be recorded that the author writes with admirable ease, although he is occasionally defeated by his own excellence. The smirking hysteria about small matters, which he has so cleverly depicted, tends to nullify climaxes. Because of its theme—the life of an ordinary domestic servant and factory-hand—the book does not present the opportunities for drama offered by the author's previous work, The Untouchable. Yet it should be read by everyone who is interested in "the social scene," because only this skilful Indian author could have made accessible this real material, and because Mulk Raj Anand does show that under the present system India is at its worst.

Kate O'Brien (review date 28 April 1939)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of The Village, in The Spectator, Vol. 162, No. 5783, April 28, 1939, p. 730.

[O'Brien was an Irish novelist and playwright. In the following excerpt, she extols the universality of the theme of The Village.]

The Village is a slow and informative narrative of peasant life in a remote community of the Punjab in the years just before the War of 1914–1918. Accumulatively and without sensationalism, it gives a vivid picture of a life that is poor and terrible, but in many aspects extremely dignified, and which is made complicated and alarming by ritualistic fears, regulations and traditions which, though novel, can of course be paralleled...

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G. L. Anderson (review date October-December 1951)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of The Indian Theatre, in Journal of American Folklore, Vol. 64, No. 254, October-December, 1951, p. 439.

[In the following review, Anderson asserts that "Anand sees the theatre as a potent instrument for social reform."]

This attractively printed and illustrated volume [The Indian Theatre] is at once a somewhat partisan history of the theatre in India today and an essay on the persistence and value of the folk tradition in the theatre. The author sketches first the origin of folk drama—a subject which does not readily admit of such compression as it receives here—and then surveys the theatre in each of the great provinces of India....

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Suresht Renjen Bald (essay date October 1974)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Politics of a Revolutionary Elite: A Study of Mulk Raj Anand's Novels," in Modern Asian Studies, Vol. 8, No. 4, October, 1974, pp. 473-89.

[In the following excerpt, Bald identifies traits common to all of Anand's novels, including a protagonist who highlights social injustice and a hero who espouses revolution.]

Mulk Raj's novels follow an identical pattern: each describes a principal figure who brings into focus the injustices of society; his abortive and misdirected attempts for a better life in the existing unjust state; and the appearance of the revolutionary hero, who shows him that realization of a good life is only possible after the destruction...

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Kate Kellaway (review date 1 January 1982)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Conversations in Bloomsbury, in New Statesman, Vol. 103, No. 2650, January 1, 1982, p. 21.

[In the review below, Kellaway comments on Anand's recollections of the Bloomsbury Group.]

When T.S. Eliot, Leonard and Virginia Woolf, Arthur Waley, E.M. Forster, Clive Bell and others met Mulk Raj Anand, they little realised they were being committed to memory. Memory seems to have been a quirky editor: these conversations, recalled from the Thirties, are spare and stilted. Sometimes only the small-talk seems to have survived; sometimes a conversation about Hindu philosophy or modern art is embarked upon with unnerving speed almost before the tea has...

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Govind N. Sharma (essay date Summer 1982)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Anand's Englishmen: The British Presence in the Novels of Mulk Raj Anand," in World Literature Written in English, Vol. 21, No. 2, Summer, 1982, pp. 336-41.

[Sharma is an Indian-born Canadian critic. In the following essay, he examines Anand's portrayal of British characters in his novels.]

The British presence in the novels of Anand is persistent, pronounced, and pervasive. It is there from the first novel, Untouchable (1935), to the most recent one, Confessions of a Lover (1977). The British are in the novels not simply as background, a part of the social tapestry, but rather as figures in the forefront, sometimes occupying the centre of the...

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S. C. Harrex (essay date 1982)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Western Ideology and Eastern Forms of Fiction: The Case of Mulk Raj Anand," in Asian and Western Writers in Dialogue: New Cultural Identities, edited by Guy Amirthanayagam, The Macmillan Press, 1982, pp. 142-58.

[In the following essay, Harrex focuses on theme and structure in Anand's fiction, noting a close relationship between form and moral-social ideology.]

Any discussion of the formal and technical aspects of Mulk Raj Anand's fiction necessitates consideration of Anand's intentions, attitudes and themes. Anand explores aspects of the human condition, mainly Indian, from the point of view of certain assumptions; his stories, characters and themes evolve...

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Shyam M. Asnani (review date Spring 1983)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Conversations in Bloomsbury, in World Literature Today, Vol. 57, No. 2, Spring, 1983, p. 348.

[Below, Asnani comments favorably on Conversations in Bloomsbury.]

Mulk Raj Anand is a multidimensional phenomenon on the contemporary Indian literary scene. Besides being a major Indian novelist, he is well known as a founder of Marg, a professor of art and literature, a maker of short films and the author of the pioneering book The Hindu View of Art (1933) as well as works on a wide variety of subjects such as art, painting, education, theatre, criticism, poetry, Indian cuisine, female beauty and Indian culture and civilization....

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Mulk Raj Anand (essay date 1983)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Sources of Protest in My Novels," in The Literary Criterion, Vol. XVIII, No. 4, 1983, pp. 1-12.

[In the following essay, Anand discusses the artistic principles that informed his novels and the relationship between his life and writings.]

Various studies of my novels by scholars have, in recent years, confirmed what I tried to show in the autobiography of my ideas, Apology for Heroism, as also in the autobiographical novels, that there has always been an emergent connection between my life and my writings, throughout my creative career.

Of course, some critics have interpreted my obsession with truthful presentation of the...

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Rajesh K. Pallan (essay date 1990)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Encounter with the Self: A Study of the Confessional Mode in Mulk Raj Anand's The Bubble," in The New Indian Novel in English: A Study of the 1980s, edited by Viney Kirpal, Allied Publishers Limited, 1990, pp. 11-23.

[In the following essay, Pallan discusses the quest of "being" and "becoming" as presented in The Bubble.]

Mulk Raj Anand believes that it is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but, it is their social existence that determines their consciousness. The life of an individual is undergoing various changes, transformations, metamorphoses through various struggles against the slavery of mind and body. And this...

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Marlene Fisher (review date Summer 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Between Tears and Laughter, in World Literature Today, Vol. 66, No. 3, Summer, 1992, pp. 580-81.

[In the following review, Fisher comments on the major themes of the stories collected in Between Tears and Laughter.]

The 1991 edition of Between Tears and Laughter is a reissue of the collection of short stories that was first published, under the same title, in 1973. Four stories have been added that were not part of the 1973 volume: "Savitri," "May the Ridge Rise," "Night Falls on Shiva's Hills," and "Sati Sapni." The twenty-one selections included in the current edition represent vintage Mulk Raj Anand.

Here, as in...

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Further Reading

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)


Pontes, Hilda, "The Education of a Rebel: Mulk Raj Anand." The Literary Half-Yearly XXVII, No. 2 (July 1986): 105-23.

Documents Anand's experiences as a student in India.


Cowasjee, Saros. "Mulk Raj Anand's Untouchable: An Appraisal." Literature East and West XVII, Nos. 2-4 (June-September-December 1973): 199-211.

In-depth discussion of Untouchable's plot, characters, and themes.

Mukherjee, Arun P. "The Exclusions of Postcolonial Theory and Mulk Raj Anand's 'Untouchable'; A Case...

(The entire section is 291 words.)