1. Learning Objectives
2. Introduction
3. Novel as a literary form
4. Characteristics of a novel
5. Some famous novelists
6. R.K.Narayan, The Novelist
1. His Life
2. His Works

8. Let us sum up
9. Further Readings
10. Possible questions


After going through this unit, you will be able to:
Get an idea about the novel as a literary form,
Know the characteristics of a novel,
Get acquainted with R.K.Narayan’s life and works,
Learn about some famous novelists,
Appreciate and value the novelist and his contribution in totality.


Most of you must have read a novel in your lifetime. I am sure that you can easily distinguish between novels and other literary works. So in this unit we will try to define a novel and its characteristics. We would also like to introduce to you some of the famous novelists including R.K.Narayan about whom we are going to study in depth. R.K.Narayan was one of the modern Indo Anglican writers of the world fame. The Indo Anglican writers are those Indian writers who write in English. Many of these writers are novelists. R.K. Narayan is one of the pioneers among them . This unit deals with novel as a literary form. The novel has various meanings at different times but in general it is understood as prose writing with a story in which characters interact with one another . We will attempt to give a detailed analysis of the growth and development of the novel as a literary form .This unit also will also take into account its different characteristics and finally we will deal with the life and works of R.K. Narayan in detail so that you will be acquainted with this great Indian novelist before you take up to read his famous novel” The Bachelor of Arts “.

So this unit will be a kind of prelude to the novel “The Bachelor of Arts”. which we will read and analyse in the next unit .



The Bachelor of Arts was first published in 1937 with a preface by Graham Greene. Greene has called Narayan “the novelist I most admire in the English language”. The publication of this novel firmly established Narayan’s success and reputation in the field of fiction. The story of the novel revolves round an undergraduate, H.V.Chandran, who is studying in the final year of B.A. at Albert College. The novelist describes in the novel that crucial state in which this young man passes his final year at the college. This novel is a more mature work than his previous novel Swami and Friends .


In the previous unit you have come to know what a short story is. In this unit we would like to give you an idea about the novel as a literary form and how it varies from a short story . According to M.H.Abrams, the term novel is applied to a great variety of writings that have in common only the attribute of being extended works of fiction written in prose. So you can see that a novel is an extended piece of prose fiction. Fiction is a prose work in literarture describing imaginary events and people. The novel is derived from Italian novella, which means ‘tale piece of news’. The actual term ‘novel’ has had a variety of meanings and implications at different stages. You can see that a novelist enjoys much more freedom than a poet or a dramatist. Infact the novel is the loosest and the latest form of literary art till date. The novelist is neither bound by the rules of versification nor by the limitations of the stage craft. He possesses an absolute freedom to tell his story and reveal his characters in any manner suitable to him, and to emphasize his outlook on life to any measure he prefers. The novel as an organic work of art is based on certain basic principles. So you see that the essential elements in a novel are mainly six. These are i) plot or fable, ii) character, iii) narrative or dialogue , iv) the time of action, v)the place of action and vi) the criticism of life. So let us move on to the next subtopic “Characteristics of a novel”. where we are going to deal with this topic at length.


1. What is a novel?
2. What does the word ‘novella’ mean? Say whether true or False :
3. The novelist enjoys more freedom that the poet and the dramatist.


You know that the novel is a form of literary art . The constituent elements in a novel are the following :

· Plot
· Character
· Dialogue
· Time of action
· Place of action
· Criticism of life –total unified effect

PLOT : The story element in the novel is a plot . It deals with certain events and situations and episodes. Something happens, or is done; some tragedy or comedy takes place; some one struggles , suffers , succeeds, survives, or dies . All such incidents and situations make the plot of a novel. These events, incidents ,or episodes are mostly different . For example in Walter Scott or Alexander Dumas , these are about some thrilling historical incidents . In Jane Austen or Balzac , these are again about the English or French social life of the early nineteenth century . You can see that Hardy’s novels are concerned with the rural life of Wessex whereas Thackeray deals with the life of the English society of the Victorian era . Flaubert or Lawrence is concerned much with the intricacy of human psychology . Again, the setting of Dicken’s novels is London and the city life but that of Emily Bronte is deep moors . In Arthur Conan Doyle , it is the wide sea. So you can see that incidents differ, situations vary and actions move on in different levels. Infact, you can say that there are always actions and incidents and situations in all novels . The plot forms the significant part of the novel . We cannot but mention what E.M. Forster says about a plot and a story in a novels. A story is a narrative of events arranged in their time sequence but in plot there is causality . So Forster gave an example – “The king died and the queen died” is a story ; but “The king died and the queen died of grief is a plot” .

CHARACTER : These events and incidents that happen in a novel take place in the life of certain men and women , who are essential to form the plot of the novel . Without these men and women , action cannot proceed and remains unimportant , rather meaningless. Somebody struggles , somebody succeeds, somebody suffers , some persons become joyous and some others sad . These are the matters relevant to the story of the novel . All such men and women form the characters of the novel . The main concern of the novelist is to create characters , although a novel is a totality and must be assessed accordingly . Characterization is a part of this totality. So, here again, men and women belong to different status , ranks and stations . For instance, Thackeray’s men and women belong to a status different from that of Dickens and Austen . Sometimes characters are strongly presented in a novel and they dominate it .

DIALOGUE : Dialogue forms the third important constituent of a novel after plot and character . So here the necessity of narrative or dialogue i.e. the method of narration or of conversation is an imperative for fiction as an component . So narrative or dialogue serves the purposes of both taking forward the plot as well as developing the characters of the novel . Different characters communicate and this communication among them moves forward the action and forms the dialogue of the novel . Again , the narrative is also used in a novel to trace the development of the plot and reveal the different characters .You can see that a novelist over a period of time develops a large variety of modes or strategies to present the story. Generally, a novelist uses only one specific type of narrative mode. Sometimes, several modes can be used simultaneously in a single work of novel . You can see that the following types of narrative modes are more popular.

1. Third Person Narrative : In this type of narrative mode , the narrator is someone outside the story who refers to all the characters by name or as ‘he’ ,’she ‘, ‘they ‘. For example, if you read Chinua Achebe’s novel “Things Fall Apart “ you will find an example of the third person narrative.

2. First Person Narrative : When a novelist creates a character / persona in first person and when he / she attempts to view other characters / situations through his/her eyes then this mode of narration is called first person narrative mode. Charles Dickens’ ‘David Copperfield ‘ is an example of the First Person Narrative. Here the entire story is developed through the narration of the hero, David .

TIME OF ACTION : The plot of the novel takes place at a certain time . You can see that a novel can hardly grow without a time of action . For example in Walter Scott , the action of his novels generally belongs to the Scottish history or to the Elizabethan Age or to the seventeenth or eighteenth century . In Thomas Hardy , the plot is about the later half of the Victorian era . So what is important is the way in which the age is represented , and not the age itself .

PLACE OF ACTION : The incidents of a novel take place in a certain place – in serene villages , as in Hardy , in comfortable living rooms , as in Jane Austen . So you can see that it is not at all necessary that the action of the novel is to be confined to a particular place . Scenes change , and the place of action in a novel , too , moves .

CRITICISM OF LIFE : Let me tell you that this is an important component in the novel even though this element is a bit difficult to define . It is something which expresses the author’s perspective or his philosophy of life . This is more or less the criticism of life by the author and it colours the novel with a particular aspect . This is the criticism of life in the novel . You can see that no novelist can remain absolutely passive in his pictures of the world around him . Those pictures must be coloured , somehow or the other , by his own views and ideas , visions and ideals . The novelist either directly or indirectly presents certain views through different events, characters and dialogue and such views form his criticism of life . You can see that basically a novel deals with certain situations of life and these are often viewed from the author’s own point of view mainly through his presentation of different characters and events.

We can mention here that Dickens’s profound sympathy for the underdogs in a capitalist society is the criticism of life in his novels . Similarly, Hardy’s tragic vision and D.H. Lawrence ‘s views about sex constitute the criticism of life of the respective novelist .

So you can see that a novel depends on all these elements It is not merely a story but it is something more than a story.


1. What are the constituent elements in a novel?
2. What are the different narrative modes?


1. If you write a novel which mode will you prefer and why ?



Till now, we have discussed what a novel is and what its constituent elements are which also tell us about the main characteristics of a novel . Let us now have a look at some of the famous novelists of the world who have enthralled the readers with their brilliant depiction of various facets of life . If you look at the history of the novel you will find its origin in such old stories as the Arabian Nights or the Japanese stories Taketori Monogatory, or the Indian Panchatantra stories.

From there it is a long journey to the 18th century when the novel assumed the specific form. Among the English novelists Daniel Defoe may be mentioned as the pioneer. His two novels are Robinson Crusoe - a story of adventure and Moll Flanders – a sociological novel. After him in the early years of 19th century two figures dominated the English Fiction. Sir Walter Scott and Jane Austen. Scott was the greatest single influence on fiction in the 19th century and he was in his time infinitely more famous than Jane Austen. Some of his works are The Antiquary, Guy Mannering ,Waverly etc .Jane Austen was not less prolific. Her famous works include Pride and Prejudice, Emma, Sense and Sensibility and Persuasion. Charles Dickens and Thackeray were the well known novelists of the Victorian period.

Among the famous American novelists we can mention Mark Twain and Henry James, Hemingway besides many others. Among the Carribean novelists V.S.Naipaul and Doris Lessing are famous. Two Austrian novelists with international repute are Robert Musil and Max Brod whose trilogy Ein Kampph Um Die Wahrhiet is a great piece of work. Patrick White is another Australian novelist to attract world wide attention.

There are many Indian English novelists who have achieved international recognition. Among them are Mulk Raj Anand, R.K Narayan, Raja Rao, Salman Rushdie Vikram Seth and others. Here in this unit we will deal with R.K. Narayan and his novel The Bachelor of Arts.

Our own Assamese novelists Syed Abdul Malik, Mamoni Raisom Goswami, Lakhinandan Bora, Chandra Prasad Saikia, Homen Borgohain, Birendra Kumar Bhattacharyya etc have written many great novels in Assamesee. Many of their novels have been translated into English. Mamoni Raisom Goswami and Birendra Kumar Bhattacharye were awarded the prestigious Gyanpith award for their works .

We have, therefore, seen that the novel has evolved as a special literary art like any other form of art. It has its own characteristics and its own laws .


The novel ‘Pride and Prejudice’ by Jane Austen is made into a beautiful Hindi movie “Bride And Prejudice”


So far we have discussed the novel as a literary form and mentioned its mportant constituents. We have also mentioned some famous novelists. R.K.Narayan is one of the most important figures in Indian Writing in English. He is one of the celebrated Indian writers who mainly focused on the social and cultural life of India in a realistic way. Let us now discuss the life of this admirable novelist and also the numerous works written by him.


Rasipuram Shnaswami Ayyar Narayan populaly known as R.K Narayanan was born in Madras (Chennai), India on October 10, 1906. His father, Rasipuram Venkatarama Krishnaswami Iyer, was a provincial head-master. You will find it is interesting to know that he was the third of eight surviving children and an elder brother to popular Indian cartoonist R.K. Laxman. Narayan spent his childhood with his maternal grandmother and one of his uncles , T.N.Seshachalam , until he was a teenager because his mother remained quite ill after his birth .He could only spend a few weeks each summer visiting his parents and siblings . Narayan grew up speaking Tamil and learned English at school.His mother tongue was Tamil .

Narayan was not a brilliant student during his academic career . After completing eight years of education at the Lutheran Mission School near his grandmother’s house in Madras, he studied for a short time at the CRC High School. When his father was appointed headmaster of the Maharaja’s High School in Mysore, Narayan moved back with his parents. After graduating from high school, he failed in the college entrance exam in English because he found the textbooks to be too boring to read. He failed several times in his intermediate and degree examinations. And finally he obtained his bachelor’s degree from the University of Mysore in 1930 at the age of 24 from Maharaja ‘s College ,Mysore . Narayan worked in the Mysore Secretariat and then in a village school . But all this could not give him the career he was destined for . He was pressed to take up a teaching or government job. But R.K. had already made up his mind that he was going to be a writer. He managed to get several contributions accepted by The Merry Magazine (a short-lived offshoot of Ananda Vikatan in English), and by The Hindu, where he eventually obtained a weekly slot in the Sunday edition. As a bachelor, his wants were few and could be met with an income of a rupee a day.

R.K.Narayan married Rajam in 1934 and their only daughter Hemavati was born in March 1936 . But the greatest personal tragedy of R.K.’s life came in May-June 1939, when Rajam passed away following an attack of typhoid. She died around midnight on Tuesday June 6, 1939. Perhaps she could have been saved with earlier diagnosis and proper treatment. In any case, it was before the days of the antibiotics or chloramphenicol. The next few months were gloomy days for him. How he survived this tribulation , and was eventually able to resume his writing, is a saga of courage and determination. Little Hema was such a source of love and affection for him. Rajam was R.K.’s one and only love. “Narayan’s loyalty to his wife was such that it would outlive her and prove lifelong”.You can get a complete picture of his suffering and eventual recovery by reading his highly autobiographical novel, “The English Teacher”

It may be noted in passing that, during his dark days, music was a source of solace to him. R.K. was a self-taught veena player, but good enough to earn the commendation of the veena maestro of Mysore Palace, Vidwan Doreswamy Iyengar. Eventually R.K. became Doreswamy Iyengar’s English teacher, and helped him to obtain his B.A. degree.

R.K. Narayan in his later life settled in Chennai so that he could very often see his great grand children. Hema and Chandru had a daughter and a son - Minnie and Chinni (Srinivasan, who pursued his higher studies in the USA). Minnie married Srinivasamurthi, a grandson of veteran freedom fighter and one of the great orators of his time, S. Satyamurti. They have a son and a daughter and R.K. enjoyed his seasonal visits to his great grandchildren at the home of their grandparents, Lakshmi and K. Krishna Moorthy, in T. Nagar.
In 1994, tragedy struck R.K. Narayan a second time. His beloved daughter Hema passed away. He endured this misfortune with great courage . Hema’s husband, Chandru, stayed on with R.K. and looked after him with the utmost devotion till the end of his days. Ram was a daily visitor, usually late at night. R.K. used to name these meetings as, “Our Night Club”.

R. K. Narayan passed away on May 13, 2001. He was 94. Until his very last days, he remained an ardent critic of the changes occurring around his Alwarpet apartment in Chennai, and was also a avid reader.


R. K. Narayan’s complete name is Rasipuram Krishnaswami Ayyar Naranayanaswami. In his early years he signed his name as R. K. Narayanaswami, but at the time of the publication of ‘Swami and Friends,’ he shortened it to R. K. Narayan on the advice of the friend Graham Greene, the English novelist.


1. When and where R.K.Narayan was born?
2. Who was Rajam?
3. From where did R K.Narayan graduate?


R.K.Narayan ‘s literary output in his long career as a novelist was quite prolific . . Narayan’s first published work was the review of a book titled Development of Maritime Laws of 17th-Century England. He began his literary career with short stories which appeared in The Hindu. He also worked for some time as the Mysore correspondent of Justice, a Madras-based newspaper. It is however time to get back to R.K.’s writing career. He had completed a full length novel, Swami and Friends, in the latter half of 1932. A young friend of his, Kittu Purna, was an undergraduate at Oxford at that time. R.K. sent the manuscript to him, and Kittu was eventually able to get the already well-known author, Graham Greene, to take an interest in getting this novel published. Surely I think that this was destiny at work. Greene became R.K.’s guardian angel, and eventually Swami and Friends was published by Hamish Hamilton on October 24, 1935.

From then on, Greene took upon himself the responsibility of getting R.K.’s next novel, The Bachelor of Arts, published. It was eventually published on March 15, 1937. Like Swami and Friends, the second novel was a critical success, although by no means a best-seller. His next novel, The Dark Room, was not autobiographical as his two previous books were, but it expressed a feminist view of the middle-class family life in South India. It was published on October 11, 1938, and received good reviews from Western writers. One reviewer referred to “the Chekhovian simplicity of the plot” in the novel

We now come to 1939, the year of R.K. Narayan’s suffering , when Rajam died. The poignancy of his suffering, and his ultimate return to ordinary world, are beautifully described in The English Teacher, which was finally published in late September 1945. By then R.K. had “fully emerging from the period of darkness”. The end of 1945 found Narayan fully emerged from the period of darkness and some of his best work belong to this period. Some of his short stories, collected under such titles as An Astrologer’s Day and Other Stories (1947), Lawley Road (1956), A Horse and Two Goats (1970), Malgudi Days (1982) and Under The Banyan Tree and Other Stories (1985), were published. But it was his novels that took the readers by storm. The Financial Expert came out in 1952 and Waiting for Mahatma in 1955. The Guide, probably his greatest novel came in 1958. He wrote My Dateless Diary in 1960. The Man-eater of Malgudi was written in 1961, while the Vendor of Sweets in 1967 and The Painter of Signs in 1976. Thus during these years his literary genius was in full bloom and he wrote two other fine books, Gods, Demons and others, and a popular version of The Mahabharata. During the period 1985-1991, R.K. was a nominated as a Member of the Rajya Sabha. Even in his ninth decade “his creativity remained undiminished”. Then came A Writer’s Nightmare in 1988 . After that two novels, Talkative Man (1986) and The World of Nagaraj (1990) came out during this period. In fact, just hours before he went on a ventilator in hospital, he outlined to N. Ram and Mariam Ram his plot for a new novel. He wanted Ram to bring him a 2000 (last year’s) diary, to enable him to start writing.

Narayan’s honours included the Sahitya Akademi Award, the Royal Society of Literature’s Christopher Benson Award, and the Padma Bhushan in 1964, elevated to the Padma Vibhushan, India’s second highest civilian award, in 2000. Thus you can see that R.K. Narayan’s career as a writer spans a long period . His work is considered to be of a very high standard, comparable to that of a writer of international repute . He is one of the three great Anglo Indian novelists, the other two being Mulk Raj Anand and Raja Rao. He is however, considered to be the greatest among the three.


1. Mention R.K.Narayan’s autobiographical novel?
2. In which year wasThe Vendor of Sweets published?
3. In which year, was R.K.Narayan awarded Padma Bhushan?

Let us know

Graham Greene (1904-1991) :The British novelist famous for the novel Brighton Rock (1938). His other significant novels are :The Power and the Glory (1940), The Heart of the Matter (1948), The Quiet American (1955). He also published several volumes of short stories besides a number of stories for children.


In this unit we have discussed the novel and its characteristics at length . We have also given a bird’s eye view on the life and works of R.K. Narayan. You have learnt that the novel is an extended piece of prose. The main constituent elements in a novel are Plot , Character, Dialogue, Time of action, Place of action, Criticism of life. The total unified effect of these elements decides a novel’s greatness and success because these elements are necessary to make a novel complete. We have briefly mentioned a few important novelists which include the English novelists Walter Scot, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Thackeray, Hardy etc. Among the Indian novelists writing in English we have mentioned Mulk Raj Anand , Raja Rao, R.K.Narayan who made significant contribution to the form . In this unit we have also dealt with the life and works of R.K. Narayan. who is known to be one of the most celebrated novelists among the Indian writers in English . He occupies a remarkable position among the top –ranking Indian novelists in English for his great portrayal of the Indian life. Narayan chose the mundane concerns of the middle class Indians. You will learn from this unit how prolific his literary output had been and how his subjects inevitably veer around the familiar Indian life. While doing this he never adopted a critical, satirical or negative attitude but cast his glance on the characters and situations in a sympathetic, even indulgent, manner.


1) J.A.Cuddon .Dictionary of Literary terms & Literary Theory. 1977: Penguin Books : London
2) R.A.Singh. Critical Essays on R.K.Narayan’s Novels.2002.Book Enclave :Jaipur
3) Krishna Kant Singh . Social Perspectives In R.K.Narayan’s Novels. 2002. Book Enclave :Jaipur
4) Baldick, Chris. Edited; The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms, Oxford, 1990
5) M.H.Abrams . A glossary of literary terms. 2007. Thomson Wadsworth : Delhi


1) Name some of R.K.Narayan’s major novels and account for his popularly as a novelist.
2) Discuss Rk.Narayan’s life and works.
3) Comment on the life of R.K.Narayan.
4) What is a novel and explain its characteristics?
5) What are the constituent elements in a novel?
6) Name the English author who had been instrumental in getting R.K.Narayan ‘s The Bachelor of Arts published.

Say true or false :
7) R.K.Narayan was a brilliant student.
8) R.K.Narayan was a self taught veena player.