The difficulty of a critical study of English literature, and for that matter of any living literature, is that it is constantly growing. In this process of growth, new dimensions are covered as the society grows and becomes more complicated. The Renaissance, the Industrial Revolution, the scientific and technological researches and in this nuclear age the landing of man on the moon, have affected the approach of thinking of every man and specially the poets and writers who are more sensitive than the common man. Literature is the mirror of the society in which it is produced and as such the student of literature must also be a student of society – its social, economic and political problems – otherwise it would be too difficult to understand any poet or writer. This is true not for the complex social structure of the day but it was true in all ages and in all countries.
The study of classical literature like the greek or sanskrit is a bit easier because one can have a detached and impersonal critical study of the writings of a particular age and country. This is not so for English literature because we have not only to cover from Yeats and Eliot to Beowulf but have to study even American Poets who have written in a different step-up with quite a different back-ground and purpose, if we are allowed to say that all literature is or should be purposeful. Despite the fact that shakespeare had no political views and his like Milton and Dyden, we find him “deeply interested in the nature of kingship and authority, in statecraft and in men’s relation’s with each other in the sphere of public life….”.
“It takes two to understand a word, “goes the saying and it is very true for us while studying the English literature. The use of ‘winter’, ‘spring’ and ‘summer’ in English poems may not give as a proper idea because in indian conditions we may not like to condemn winter or appreciate summer as the two seasons bring quite different feelings for us. While the flowers bloom at noon in England, they die out here at that time and one can easily jeer at a poet who writes about the blessings of noon. Sun-shine may be blessing for an Englishman but for most part of the year it is a curse for us. Thus, one has to be constantly at guard that he is studying the literature of a country which has different climatic and geographical conditions.
Again , we have to be alert all the time about the meaning of terms like culture, love, progress and politics. They may mean something to the poet writing in England but may appear to be quit another to us sitting in India having quit a different culture and hence different views and values regarding love, progress and politics. Thus, to be a student of English literature, one has to be a student of British ways of life and must have a knowledge of their interests and values of life not only of today but of the Victorian and Elizabethan days as well. He must also appreciate the change in interest and values with the changing times.