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Worlds Within Words
A Literature Exhibit

Worlds Within Words
  • The Simple Way (by )
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  • Sketches New and Old (by )
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  • The Letters of Mark Twain (by )
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  • The Complete Works of William Shakespear... (by )
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  • The Sacred Books of China: The Texts of ... (by )
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  • Tao Te Ching Volume Vol. 39 (by )
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  • William Shakespeare and Robert Greene; T... (by )
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  • Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (by )
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  • Outlaws of the Marsh (Water Margin) (by )
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  • Shakespeare's Theater (by )
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  • 1984 (by )
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  • The Grapes of Wrath (by )
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  • The Writings of Mark Twain : Volume 30 (by )
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  • Pride and Prejudice (by )
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Worlds Within Words:  A Literature Exhibit

Literature comes from the Greek word litaritura, or "writing formed with letters."

Literature pertains to the nature of books and writings that are culturally or historically significant.  This virtual exhibit, "Worlds Within Words," presents the development of literature from the oral histories to the invention of writing by the Babylonians to the most influential authors of our time.  Reading books and writing letters were once a significant part of daily existence, and was treated as entertainment and recreational experiences. It is hoped, with all the Collections contained within our many Classic and Children's Literature Collections, people will again turn to the wonderful discovery and the broadening of horizons that reading provides.  Great authors such as:  Charles Dickens, Emily Brontë, John Steinbeck, George Orwell, Shakespeare, Mark Twain and thousands of others represented in our many Literature Collections.
Early Literature
Early Literature
Early literature was based on oral stories of past cultural orders that were written by hand in order to preserve customs for future generations. The Epic of Gilgamesh is one of the earliest surviving examples of such writings originally recorded in Cuneiform but translated into English (The Epic of Gilgamesh, R.C. Thompson).  This Epic was written about in Steven D. J. Sills' book, Academic Essays on Miscellaneous Authors Representing the Classics of the Western Canon:  From the Epic of Gilgamesh to Nietzsche and the Very Canon Itself,  In the story, the Gilgamesh reaches the island of Utnaptishtim (the human immortal) he asks, “Why are your cheeks starved and your face drawn? Why is despair in your heart?”   Utnaptishtim responds, “Because of my brother I am aware of death…he is dust and I shall die also and be laid in the Earth forever.”   Utnaptishtim teaches Gilgamesh that even for immortals, there is no permanence. For servants or masters (alike), all things are temporary (Academic Essays on Miscellaneous Authors Representing the Classics of the Western Canon:  From the Epic of Gilgamesh to Nietzsche and the Very Canon Itself, Steven David Justin Sills)..

Taoists believe that the unseen is just as important as the seen.  Laozi was a monk who lived during the Warring States Period in China.  Growing tired of the court’s corruption, Laozi decided to leave and live as a hermit in the western frontier lands.  Upon leaving, a guard named Yinxi stopped him to write down his wisdom (“Laozi,” World Heritage Encyclopedia).  These writings became known as the Tao Te Ching.  Laozi's teachings have also been documented in Sacred Books of China: The Text of Taoism, which says to be aware of the “ghosts” of the mountains, the furnaces, the dust-heaps, in low-lying places, the north-west, and the rivers, the hills, and marshes. These are ‘sprites’ which are ‘fruits of the disordered mind;’ the one who can notice them is “likely to be the leader of all other princes” (Sacred Books of China: The Text of Taoism, Laozi). 

Written knowledge can influence the thought and action of future generations. The Code of Hammurabi by L.W. King reflects the judicial reasoning of Old Babylonia.  The Code did not simply embody a fixed ancient set of laws.  Rather, centuries of time-tested debates and just enforcement became “ancient deeds and records of juridical decisions” preserved in temple archives which shaped Babylonian behavior and customs.  These negotiations became official when drawn up by a notary public and confirmed by oath of “god and king” (The Code of Hammurabi, L. W. King).  Thus, orally exchanged customs and public opinions influenced what were passed as law.
European and Asian Literature
European and Asian Literature
Well known literature gained fame because they were culturally groundbreaking during their time.  Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales highlighted the use of vernacular English among a group of pilgrims who journeyed from Southwark, London to Canterbury Cathedral, popularizing the thoughts and values of a non-dominant social class ("The Canterbury Tales," World Heritage Encyclopedia).  Dante Alighieri’s The Divine Comedy reflects Christian belief system regarding the afterlife, while giving considerable debt to Islamic philosophy and the Sufis.  This was controversial during a time of religious wars that polarized Christian and Islamic religions ("Divine Comedy," World Heritage Encyclopedia).  The chivalrous adventures of Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes challenged the Catholic Church, at a time when Jews and Muslims were being converted into, or purged from, Catholic-controlled Spain ("Don Quixote," World Heritage Encyclopedia).  

The Complete Works of Shakespeare holds many of William Shakespeare’s works, such as Hamlet, King Lear, Othello, and Macbeth are well known examples of European literature.  However, his rise to fame challenged university-educated contemporaries.   In William Shakespeare and Robert Greene; The Evidence, ahuthor William Hall Chapman relays the story about a poet named Robert Greene, who was also a Cambridge and Oxford scholar, had written a pamphlet attacking Shakespeare as an “upstart crow" (William Shakespeare and Robert Greene; The Evidence, William Hall Chapman).  In essence, the poet had accused Shakespeare of stealing the works of university-educated writers such as Christopher Marlowe, Thomas Nashe and Sir Walter Raleigh, then boasting about them and pawning these works off as his own.  However, in the book, Shakespeare’s Theater, the author argues that whatever the history of the plays, Shakespeare’s fame is still well deserved because his theatrical renditions made literature available to non-literate people (Shakespeare's Theater, Ashley Horace Thorndike). 

Innovative literature was also being written on the other side of the world, in China during, and whilst that country was experiencing great political turmoil.  For example, The Dream of the Red Chamber:  Hung Lou Meng: A Chinese Novel of the Early Ching Period by Hseh-Chin Tsao, reflected his idea the romantic rivalry and friendships of aristocratic families, at that time, as their fortunes declined ("Dream of the Red Chamber:  Hung Lou Meng: A Chinese Novel of the Early Ching Period," World Heritage Encyclopedia).  Luo Guanzhong's Romance of the Three Kingdoms narrated the scheming plots, personal intrigues and army battles of states striving for dominance at the end of the Han Dynasty (Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Luo Guanzhong). In Water Margin: Outlaws of the Marsh, Shi Naian retells the adventures of 108 outlaws who formed an army to resist foreign invaders and rebel forces ("Water Margin," World Heritage Encyclopedia).   Journey to the West, by Wu Cheng'en, follows one monk’s travels to the Western Regions to obtain sacred texts. During the monk's journeys, he learns about myths and values from Taoist immortals and Buddhist Bodhisattvas - gaining his enlightenment, thusly ("Journey to the West," World Heritage Encyclopedia).



Modern Literature
Modern Literature
However, enlightened and thoughtful writing is not limited to ancient scholars, for Modern Literature features writers who contemplated the psychological effects of society during war.  For instance, Leo Tolstoy was a Russian novelist who wrote War and Peace about the life of aristocrats during the French invasion of Russia ("War and Peace," World Heritage Encyclopedia).  Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote Crime and Punishment, a story about the tribulations of a murderer as he attempts to escape poverty ("Crime and Punishment," World Heritage Encyclopedia).  These, and many other books reflected the psyche of the Russian populations during transitional moments in their history.

Another aspect of Modern Literature is worldly exploration.  A Journey to the Center of the Earth, by Jules Verne, narrates the experiences and observations of Professor Lidenbrock as he descends into the depths of earth through a passage in Iceland.  This science fiction novel created fantastic stories that inspired people to explore the Earth’s geology ("A Journey to the Center of the Earth," World Heritage Encyclopedia).

Famous authors of American Literature explored similar themes, yet also expressed hope through risk taking.  For example, Mark Twain wrote about his experiences traveling throughout the Americas.  His famous novel, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, is about a young boy named Huck Finn who helps a young runaway slave named Jim. This story was, for Twain, a metaphor for human ethics, and foreshadowed his future work in taking a stand against intolerance ("Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," World Heritage Encyclopedia). 
Works Cited
"Adventures of Huckleberry Finn."  World Heritage Encyclopedia.   WorldLibrary.org.  Web.  2014.  

"A Journey to the Center of the Earth."  World Heritage Encyclopedia.  WorldLibrary.org.  Web.  2014.  

Alighieri, Dante.  (n.d.)  The Divine Comedy.  Trans. H.F. Cary.  (n.p.)  Reproduced:  Blackmask Online Collection, 2002.

Chapman, William Hall.  William Shakespeare and Robert Greene; The Evidence.  Oakland:  Tribune Publishing Co., 1912. 4 August 2015.

Chaucer, Geoffrey.  (n.d.)  The Canterbury Tales.  (n.p.)  Reproduced:  Blackmask Online Collection, 1999. 

Cheng'en, Wu.  Journey to the WestVolume 1.  Trans. and Ed. Anthony C. Yu.  Author's Community.    Reproduced:  Self.Gutenberg.org, 2013. 

"Crime and Punishment."  World Heritage Encyclopedia.  WorldLibrary.org.  Web.  2014.  

De Cervantes, Miguel.   Don Quixote.  Trans. James Ormsby.  College Township:  The Pennsylvania State University, 2002. 

Divine Comedy.”  World Heritage Encyclopedia.  WorldLibrary.org.  Web.  2014.  

"Don Quixote."  World Heritage Encyclopedia.  WorldLibrary.org.  Web.  2014.  

Dostoevsky, Fyodor.  (n.d.)  Crime and Punishment.  Trans. Constance Garnett.  New York:  Modern Library.  Reproduced:  World eBook Library, October 1, 2007.

Guanzhong, Luo.  (n.d.)  Romance of the Three Kingdoms.  Trans. C.H. Brewitt Taylor.  Author's Community.  Self.Gutenberg.org.

Journey to the West.”  World Heritage Encyclopedia. 2014. WorldLibrary.org.  Web.  2014.  

King, L.W.  The Code of Hammurabi.  Internet Sacred Text Archive, 1915.  

Laozi.  The Sacred Books of China: The Texts of Taoism.  Oxford:  The Clarendon Press, 1891. 

"Laozi."  World Heritage Encyclopedia. WorldLibrary.org.  Web.  2014.  

Naian, Shi.  Outlaws of the Marsh (Water Margin).  Trans. Sidney Shapiro.  World Public Library, 2013. 

"Qin Zhong Dream of the Red Chamber."  World Heritage Encyclopedia.  WorldLibrary.org.  Web.  2014.  

Shakespeare, William.  (n.d.)  The Complete Works of Shakespeare.  New York:  P.F. Collier.

Sills, Steven David Justin.  Academic Essays on Miscellaneous Authors Representing the Classics of the Wester:  From the Epic of Gilgamesh t Nietzsche and the Very Canon Itself. 
  (n.p.)  Author Community.  Self.Gutenberg.org, 2012. 

"The Dream of the Red Chamber."  World Heritage Encyclopedia.  WorldLibrary.org.  Web.  2014.    

Thorndike, Ashley Horace.   Shakespeare's Theater.   New York:  The Macmillian Company, 1916. 

Thompson, R. C.  The Epic of Gilgamesh.  London:  
Luzac & Company, 1928. 

Tsao, Hseh-Chin. (n.d.)  The Dream of the Red Chamber:  Hung Lou Meng:  A Chinese Novel of the Early Ching Period.
  (n.p.)  Reproduced:  World Public Library Association.

Twain, Mark.  (n.d.)  Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.  New York: Harper and Brothers, 1912.   Reproduced:  World Public Library Association.

Water Margin.”  World Heritage Encyclopedia.  WorldLibrary.org.  Web.  2014.  

War and Peace.”  World Heritage Encyclopedia. WorldLibrary.org.  Web.  2014.  
Literature Collections
To express the world through words helps us to remember and define significant historical and cultural moments of the past and present. The "Worlds Within Words: A Literature Exhibit" explores the enduring themes of Early Literature, the trailblazing content of European and Asian Literature and the resilient expressions of Modern Literature. 

Experience other worlds articulated by other literary writers in these collections:

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European Libraries Collection


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Project Gutenberg Consortia Center


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Women Writers Collection


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