R. K. Narayan Biography

Start Your Free Trial


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Download R. K. Narayan Study Guide

Subscribe Now
ph_0111207101-Narayan.jpg R. K. Narayan Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Rasipuram Krishnaswami Narayan (nuh-RI-yuhn) was born into a prosperous middle-class family on October 10, 1906, in Madras, India. There he spent his early years with his grandmother and uncle. Later he joined his parents, brothers, and sisters in the family home in Mysore. Mysore is probably the basis of his fictional city Malgudi, an Indian city as complex and as real as William Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County. Although according to his memoirs he was never particularly enthusiastic about academic work, Narayan attended a Lutheran mission school and Christian College High School (both in Madras) and in 1930 received his B.A. from Maharaja’s College (later the University of Mysore). He married in 1933; his wife, Rajam, gave birth to their only child, a daughter named Hema, in 1938. Rajam died of typhoid in 1939. Narayan never remarried.

Narayan began reporting for the Madras newspaper The Justice in 1933. After brief stints in teaching and journalism, he decided that he would be a fiction writer. His first novel, Swami and Friends, the comic story of two young Indian boys, was set in the fictional city that would make him famous. Yet the friend in England to whom Narayan had entrusted his manuscript could not find a publisher for it. In despair Narayan told his friend to destroy it. Instead, the friend took the manuscript to the writer Graham Greene, who was so impressed that he placed it with a publisher.

In his second book, The Bachelor of Arts, published two years later, Narayan takes a young man into a marriage, arranged, like the writer’s own, with the help of a horoscope. The Dark Room also deals with a marriage, but one far less happy than that of Narayan. When his own beloved young wife died of typhoid, Narayan faced a spiritual crisis; out of that crisis came the spiritual growth, the intellectual maturity, and the acceptance of life which would bring to Narayan new status as a writer. After his father’s death in 1937, Narayan began selling articles to magazines. That year, British novelist W. Somerset Maugham visited Mysore and read Narayan’s work. In 1938, Narayan received a government grant to write a travel book about Karnataka state, and this experience provided information for many future works. In 1939 he began writing stories for the Madras newspaper The Hindu. He began publishing his own periodical, Indian Thought, in 1941.

The English Teacher, published in 1945, which tells the story of a teacher who loses his wife, is the first of Narayan’s major novels. Critics praised the work, which was both more unified and more profound than those which had preceded it. During the 1940’s, Narayan had also been developing his skill as a short-story writer. By 1943, he had published his first two books of short fiction, with another volume the next year. In the years that followed, Narayan’s name was to be seen increasingly in prestigious periodicals, and from time to time, his brief stories, most of which were set in Malgudi, were collected in volumes with intriguing names, such as An Astrologer’s Day, and Other Stories and A Horse and Two Goats, and Other Stories.

With Mr. Sampath, Narayan began the exploration of various Malgudi characters which was to be typical of his later novels. The printer in that book and the banyan-tree financial adviser-turned-moneylender in The Financial Expert alternate between success and disaster; finally, they discover that the only solution to life’s problems seems to be the pursuit of tranquillity. As a Rockefeller Foundation grant recipient in 1956, Narayan made his first visit to the United States, and the result was a revealing book of travel sketches, My Dateless Diary. Meanwhile, the novel which many critics consider his best appeared. Although The Guide is experimental in form, it resembles the other later novels in following the development of a single character, in this case, that of a trickster who comes out of prison to become a saint....

(The entire section is 2,665 words.)