Vietnam Literature

By | September 22, 2021

Literature was born under the Chinese cultural influence and is nourished by that culture, it absorbs the Confucian and Buddhist ideological tendencies and manifests itself with the same ideographic signs throughout the millennium of direct Chinese domination (3rd century BC – 10th century d. C.) and still for some centuries after the end of the domination. In Chinese are written the first historical work, composed by Lê Vân-Hüu (1272), and the Collection of stories of spirits of the Viêt temple, a fairytale work composed in 1329 by Ly Tê-Xuyên. At the end of the century. XIII meanwhile, the first texts written in chu-nôm appear, the demotic language that started the process of independence of Vietnamese literature from Chinese. The very short poem in verse dates from 1282 nôm Ritual invocation addressed to the crocodile, written by Nguyên Thyên. Between the century A long fable in verse, The virtuous mouse by Hô Huyên Qui (late 14th century), and the poems by Nguyên Trai (1380-1442) are written in nôm in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. In the sec. XVI, dark period of Vietnamese history, literature found little space. The century is marked by a single great name, that of Nguyên Binh-Khiem (1492-1587), which expresses the torment of a man torn between the care of the problems of the state, typical of the Confucian scholar, and the Taoist tendency to renounce the world, fully representing the period in which he lived. During the sec. XVII and XVIII nôm literature progresses especially in poetic and sentimental compositions, particularly pleasing to popular taste. Two famous love novels, La carta a fiori by Nguyên Huy Tü (1743-1790) and Phan and Trân by anonymous, are written in nôm and illustrate the mutual influence between courtly and popular literature. A poem in verse, written in Chinese in the first half of the century. XVIII from Dâng Trân Côn (1710-1745), Lament of the warrior’s wife, was translated into nôm.

According to itypeauto, the sec. XVIII produces another masterpiece in nôm verse, The lamentation of a royal concubine by Nguyên Gia-Thiêu (1741-1798), while Lê Qui Dôn (1726-1784) still gives luster to literature written in Chinese with an encyclopedic work, consisting of the commentary on Chinese classics and in biographical, historical and religious research. The sec. XIX opens with the novel in verse nôm by Pham Thai (1777-1813) The comb and the mirror, immediately followed by the masterpiece of Vietnamese literature, the novel Kim Vân Kiêu written in nôm verse by Nguyên Du (1765-1820). The reasons for the extraordinary success of this work are several: the language, drawn from popular and refined speech to the point of making it an instrument rich in tones and expressive strength; the domain of the mênh, destiny, which dictates the affairs of those who love; the sense of revolt and the conflict with the Confucian duty of loyalty to the emperor. Of the literary production of the century. XIX, very rich, we remember the works of relief or of great popular diffusion, such as the Luc Vân Tiên by Nguyên Dinh Chiêu (1822-1888); a poet who remains shrouded in mystery (so much so that no personal data is known) is Hô Xuân Hüöng, in whose daring and rough poems the battle is fought for the liberation of women from subjection to the male and for her equal rights, through the fight against social and moral conventions: Hô Xuân Hüöng must be considered an ante litteram feminist, pugnacious and light-hearted. The last big nôm of the end of the century. XIX is Nguyên Ouyên (1835-1909), author of the poetic anthology Collection of poems by Tam-Nguyên Yêndô, rich in lyricism. But the sec. XIX is also marked by the struggle against the French invasion, which finds a powerful voice in the work of some authors. Among these, Nguyên Dinh Chieu (1822-1888), the blind poet of the South, who celebrates the heroes of the anti-French resistance in funeral orations of great lyrical force; Nguyên Khuyên (1835-1909), a Mandarin intact to the point of poverty, which attacks colonialists and profiteers; Phan Dinh Phung (1847-1895), in which, despite the texture of tradition, the signs of modern national consciousness are glimpsed. In the sec. XX sets the nôm and the quoc-ngu takes over, the Latin script. A frenetic literary activity begins that moves in three directions: one consisting in the translation into Latin script of classical Chinese and French works, to transfer to the people the cultural heritage that had previously belonged to the literate class; a romantic and apolitical one; the third of a nationalist and patriotic nature, with political contents. The great novelty was precisely the political debate, which questioned what remained of the structures of the traditional state, the monarchy and the mandarin, and dealt with the ways and forms of national rebirth. The development of journalism in quoc-ngu, promoted by the same colonial administration which thus sought to form its own cultural “base”, gave rise to some very important magazines also from a literary point of view, such as Nam Phong (1917).

The greatest literary expression of this period is due to Tan Da (1888-1939), an author who thoroughly possessed both Sino-Vietnamese and modern French culture. But it was another classical scholar, Pham Koi (1887-1959), who promoted that New Poetry movement which, breaking with the schemes of the past, contributed to making Vietnamese culture definitively modern. Nuova Poesia was a short but very incisive movement, romantic in nature with an existentialist component. In the narrative the psychological analysis of the individual predominates, in a social context marked by exploitation and misery. We must also remember the large group of militants, communists and non, who in clandestinity and in colonial prisons resorted to poetry to express ideas, feelings and especially the reasons for their struggle, drawing on the ways and language of popular literature. Above all we remember Hô Chi-Minh (1890-1969), author of a Diary from prison, written in Chinese from the Tang dynasty. Between the thirties and the beginning of the armed struggle (1941) that prepared the revolution of 1945, there was a turning point in literature, obviously influenced by the change of regime and the long wars for the independence and unity of the country. The evolution towards modernity was however marked by conflicts of ideas and trends.

In the 1950s a cultural split between North and South emerged: while Marxist writers were asserting themselves in the North, in the South, alongside the traditional currents, a new wave of writers sensitive to European and American experiences appeared. After unification (1975) the pro-Western culture of the South ceased to exist. Among the writers of the Marxist tendency we remember Ngo Tat Tô (1892-1954), author of the book When the lamp goes out (1939), which can be considered the father of the new Vietnamese novel, the writers Tô Hoai (b.1920), Nguyên Hong (b.1918), Nam Cao (1917-1951) and Nguyên Cong Hoan (1903-1977), as well as the poets Xuân Diêu (b.1917) and Tô Hüu (b.1920), author of collections in which themes related to the war against the Americans dominate. Among the most interesting voices of the Vietnamese literary scene of the second half of the twentieth century and later, in whose central works there remain the instances of war, the regime, the desire for social and political emancipation, doan Minh Phuong, who with Va Khi Tro Bui (And When the Ashes Crumble), he won the 2007 Viet Nam Writers’ Association Awards; Nguyên Huy Thiêp, playwright and author of short stories, whose novel The retired general, with its particular reading of the war, appeared in 1987 in the magazine Van Nghe causing a great sensation; Duong Thu Huong (b.1947) who, survived the Viet Nam war and in constant conflict with the communist authorities, in 1987 published her first novel, Beyond all illusion, Grinzane Cavour prize in 2005, but was then forced to publish the his later novels only abroad; Bao Ninh (b. 1952), author of Nôi buôn chiên tranh (1991; Le chagrin de la guerre); Phạm Thị Hoài (b. 1960), whose novel The Heavenly Messenger (1991), had no circulation in Viet Nam as a victim of political censorship.

Vietnam Literature