World Literature

History of World Literature

Literature was born with the use of words. Our ancestors who told stories sitting by the fire were making literature without being aware of it.

But what was the first book ever written?

Origin of literature

Many of us would say the Christian Bible, the biggest best seller of all times. According to most experts and scholars, instead, we have to go back many centuries to find the first important example of the form of writing we currently define “literature”: it’s the “Epic of Gilgamesh”, the story of the Sumerian king Gilgamesh, a Mesopotamian odyssey written in the 21st century BC. The 16th century BC saw the birth of another milestone in the history of literature: the “Book of the Dead”, a volume made up of ancient Egyptian funerary texts.

Anyone who studied at school the epic stories of Homer, the Iliad and the Odyssey, will remember that even these are earlier works than the Bible: in fact they dated back to the 6th century B.C.


Well-defined Periods

The period which went from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance up to the 17th century was mainly associated with writers from Italy, France, Spain and England. Dante and his masterpiece the “Divine Comedy”, in Italy; Molière (The Misanthrope, The Imaginary Invalid) in France; the Don Quixote of Cervantes in Spain. In England we had one of the greatest authors of all times, Shakespeare with his Sonnets and Tragedies, timeless masterpieces, and Geoffrey Chaucer with The CanterburyTales. The 18th century saw the flourishing of The Enlightenment and literature was reflecting the spirit of those times. In France the main names were Montesquieu (Persian Letters), Rousseau (Confessions), Voltaire (Candide), Diderot (Rameau’sNephew); in England we had Pope (An Essay on Man), Gay (The Beggar’s Opera), Johnson (The Vanity of Human Wishes), Burns (Poems and Songs).


The Europe.

In those years a new word spread out all over Europe, a word bound to be one of the most used in the centuries that followed: romantic. The 18th century was the age of Romanticism. Writers such as Goethe with his Faust, Schiller with Love and Intrigue, Byron with his Don Juan express the restlessness of the human spirit and the new ideals of men. For some authors, the 1800 literature was a way of rising up against the oppressor, for example the Italian Manzoni with his The Betrothed. For others it was a reaction to utilitarianism, like in Charles Dickens’ works such as David Copperfield, Great Expectations and Hard Times.

The same period saw the blossoming of the so called Gothic literature, a disturbing genre which was aimed at causing to re-emerge man’s primordial fears. The most notable Gothic works were those of the great  Edgar Allan Poe.


The Work done

The 19th century was rich in giants of the world of literature. In England we had Austen with Pride and Prejudice, the previously quoted Dickens and Stevenson with Treasure Island. In France they had Hugo (The Miserable Ones), Balzac (Father Goriot), Flaubert (Madame Bovary), Zola (L’Assommoir). In the same years, in Russia, were published authors of the calibre of Tolstoy (War and Peace, Anna Karenina), Dostojevsky (Crime and Punishment, The Idiot, The Brothers Karamazov); in America we must remember Melville (Moby Dick), Mark Twain (Huckleberry Finn) and Poe (Tales).


Varied Interests

The 20th century was deeply influenced by major events such as the Second World War and the economic crisis which changed people and their values.

There was a new type of literature in which human interest stories made their appearance within the pages of books.

For some it was the literature of thoughts and introspections (Hemingway, The old man and the sea); for others it was the one of anti-heroism and mistrust (Beckett, Waiting for Godot); of the youth rebellion (Salinger, Catcher in the Rye), of the beat generation (Kerouac, On the Road);of the mystical eastern philosophies (Hesse, Siddharta)

As far as the 20th century is concerned, it’s impossible not to mention Kafka, the Bohemian, German-speaking writer with his “Metamorphosis”, a work of poetic imagination and perhaps the most famous short story of all times; Conrad with his novel Lord Jim, the first of his books, a combination of sea adventures and study of the depths of the human soul; the Irish Joyce with his literary experiment Ulysses ; Orwell’s works: Animal Factory and 1984 in which he denounced the horror of totalitarianism.

For many critics the best novel of this century was The Great Gatsby by the American writer Fitzgerald.

The history of literature is the history of man, therefore it’s unlimited and infinite.


P.S. We apologize to all the great authors who have been left out.