This four-volume set covers world authors from many periods and genres, building a broad understanding of the various contexts -- from the biographical to the literary to the historical -- in which literature can be viewed. The Gale Contextual Encyclopedia of World Literature allows a reader to analyze an author's work as a reflection of the heritage, traditions and experiences of the author's personal life and the beliefs, events, and lifestyles of the world at the time, given such context as:
- While composing Requiem: A Cycle of Poems during the Stalinist reign of terror in Russia, Anna Akhmatova whispered the words line by line to her friends, who memorized them before she burned the paper on which they were written.
- With his father in debtors' prison, Anton Chekhov submitted his short, humorous pieces to popular magazines to earn money and became the breadwinner for his family.
- Marjane Satrapi grew up in Tehran during the time of the overthrow of the Shah and Iran's transition to fundamentalist Islamic state.
The nearly 500 entries also identify the significant literary devices and global themes that define a writer's style and place the author in a larger literary tradition as chronicled and evaluated by critics over time. For example:
- Samuel Beckett's work often tried to express the pure anguish of existence as exemplified in the work of French existentialist writers Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre.
- George Eliot chose a male pen name to distinguish herself from the large number of female authors of popular romances during her time.
Critical thinking and activity prompts, in addition to images, further enhance the reader's own personal response to global literature.
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