Literature is the artistic form and creation of the human mind. It aspires to make a man free from his narrow boundaries. Thus it serves a great deal in our individual and social life. But the judgement of literature is not easy. It may vary from person to person and age to age. The procedure of judgement may be of different types too.
In broad categories of criticism, we can say that judgement of literature may be either amateurish or definitive. We should not give any place to amateurish judgement in our discussion. A definitive judgement may also be tentative when its basis is unstable, like one’s personal mood or bias. For example, a romantic novel may appeal to us when we are in a relaxed or pleasant mood. On the other hand, a book of religious poems gains upon us when we are faced with emotional tension or personal calamity. And we lose that appeal when the melancholy mood passes away. We can say that these evaluations under passion do not bear any enduring value. Apart from this personal judgement, there may be periodical judgement, historical judgement, social judgement, etc. The periodical judgement lasts for a period; the historical judgement relates to historical times and factors, and social justice is made from the contemporary social point of view.
Literature, in its broad sense, comprises of many branches—novels, short stories, dramas, poems, songs, etc., and their judgement may vary from one to another. We shall discuss here the general norms only.
The real estimate of any work of literature tends to be definitive in points of its form, content, and purpose. It should aim at gaining a durable value, irrespective of time or person.
It is a fact that a book of literature that appealed to one age may not appeal to another age. For example, ‘Metaphysical Poetry’ in England had extensive literary value in the early 17th century, but later on, it lost its popularity and fell into disfavour. But there are some classics. Age cannot wither its charm, nor custom stales its infinite variety. We come back to it again and again and always discover something new to enjoy or to ponder over it.
And the judgement of such literature constitutes the appreciation of both its from and substance—the two basic qualities inherent in an ideal work of literature.
Classical art lays stress equally on its theme and on formal perfection or structural cohesion. More things are told through suggestion than spelling out in details, as over-ornamentation and wilderness of details may mar the desired effect. An artistic achievement has to create a unity of impression and a totality of effect. Each episode or item of the literary work must be integrated with the whole and with each other. This is obvious in classical art, though romantic art admits of some looseness. Anyway, a fragment of experience from the blowing current of life should be treated with perfection. No artist should care to express himself unless he has something to communicate in a complex of contradictory forces of life. It must be an irresistible urge for an artist.
The great writer selects his work out of the facts of life to be pregnated with the significant elements in the universal pattern. That is why a great work of literature is tinged with the rainbow colours of pleasure and pain, hope and despair, suspicion and faith.