The French school was the early entrant into the field of Comparative Literature.  According to the French Comparatists, the French literary history forms the basis of the universal literary system.  So, the French school was interesting in analysing the external sources.  Under the French school, the comparative study was undertaken to relating the French literary experience to the world literary response.  The cause and effect oriented study of influence is the main area of interest for comparative study in the French school.  That is why influence studies caught the attention of the French Comparatists.

After the French school, the American school entered into the field of Comparative Literature.  From then on, influence studies have been the subject of debate between the French and the American Comparatists.  Under the influence studies, the French school emphasized the casual connection between writers of different countries.  American Comparatists questioned the nature of influence studies by pointing out the French failure to make distinction between influence and imitation, influence and receptions.


            Influence is an important natural occurance in life especially in creative writing.  Influence is a live link between any two books and any two writers.  Internally, the personality of the writer and externally, the circumstances in which a book is written are the factors of influence.  Since the book of a writer belongs to a literary tradition, the tradition influences the writer.  For example, a writer writing a drama in English cannot escape the influence of the English dramatic tradition.  Milton, the writer of the epic Paradise Lost belongs to the western epic tradition in the larger sense and to the British epic tradition in the narrow sense.  His Paradise Lost is sure to reflect the influence of these epic traditions.  Bharathiyar, a famous poet in Tamil belongs to Indian poetic tradition in the larger sense and to the Tamil poetic tradition in the narrow sense and his poems reflect the influence of the poetic traditions.

Influence and Analogy:

            Influence study traces the impact of one writer on another of one book or another.  On the other hand analogy encourages the comparison between two books without any absolute link.  They are separated by time and place without any literary connection between them.  For example, a fruitful comparison can be made between Ilangovadigal and Milton or between Silapathikaram and Paradise Lost.

It is clear that Milton could not have read Ilango.  An analogy study of Ilango and Milton will lead to a comparative study between Tamil and English cultures or to a study between Tamil and English epic traditions.  But analogy studies should not be mistaken for influence studies.


Influence and Reception:

The American Comparatists improved upon the French methodology of influence studies.  The American accused the French by neglecting the initial stage of influence called reception.  For example, when a native writer reads foreign writer, he may initially be exited.  Out of his excitement he may quote the foreign writer profusely.  But the quotation may not penetrate into the writing of the native writers.  This initial stage of influence is called reception of superficial influence.

Reception and literary fortune are inter-changeable terms used by the comparatist to refer to the initial reaction of readers and the writers of their native country to the foreign work.  The reception of a foreign author like Shelley, may prepare the next stage of influence or the reception may be a short lived triumph or as mere reception.   There is a classic example of comparative study in reception.  Dr. V. Kailasapathy, a great Srilankan scholar has done a comparative study between Tagore and Bharathi.  The Tamil poet Bharathi has translated six essays of Tagore on his visits of Japan.  There are many traces of Tagore in Bharathiyar’s Vacana Kavitai.  Yet, reading of Tagore has not influenced the basic nature of Bharathiyar’s poetry.  So, Dr. V. Kailasapathy’s comparative study of Bharathiyar and Tagore is a classic example of comparative study in reception.

The popularity of a foreign writer.

  • The time of reception.
  • Literary tastes of the native audiences are the usual factors for reception studies.

Influence and Imitation:

            The American comparatist Ulrich Weisstein has expressed elaborate views on influence studies in Comparative Literature.   He explains that there are two distinct entities in Comparative Literature.  The work from which influence proceeds (Emitter) and the work at which it is directed (Receiver). Ulrich Weisstein wants the comparatist not to make hasty impulsive conclusion about influence between the two because influence is the deeper level of inter-relationship between the emitter and the receiver.  And the process is creative not mechanical.  According to Ulrich Weisstein, “Influence is unconscious imitation and imitation is directed influence”.

The literary terms relating to influence:

            The literary terms related to influence studies in Comparative Literature are

  • Adaptation
  • Burlesque
  • Pastiche
  • Parody
  • Stylization
  • Creative Treason
  • Negative Influence.


Adaptation refers to the reworkings of a model to the commercial attempts to make the work easily readable to the foreign audience.  Pammal Sambanda Mudaliar’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s play to the Tamil audience is a good example.


Burlesque is a comic distortion of a particular style.  It is comic imitation and its purpose is to ridicule a particular style through comic distortion.  The Operas of Gilbert and Sullivan in the 19th century is a good example.


The literary intention behind pastiche is not humourous. In a pastiche the traits extracted from different works but closely related to the subject matter or loosely mixed up with the literary piece.  Its intention is serious.  T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land is a good example.


Parody is poking fun at a specific literary model for a comic purpose.  Sometimes the parody excels original and becomes the original product itself.

Negative Influence:

Negative Influence is a protest against the existing artistic theories and practice.  Inspired by foreign models, new trends and beliefs emerged in the frame work of national literatures.  Genres like “Parody” give way for negative influence.  Anna Balakian is of the view that the younger writers reject the works of their elders, because they are considered to be past connections.  This is possible when native writers imitate one another.

There are some objections raised against influence studies.  It is said that this approach is a mechanical one.   Any technique can be mechanical in the hands of unimaginative person.  One more objection is that influence studies is concerned with the personality of the author where as his work must be evaluated in terms of literary tradition.  Influence studies is descriptive rather than evaluative.  But inspite of all this objections the concept of influence is central in Comparative Literature.


Creative Treason:

Creative Treason is a phenomenon common in the history of relationship between a foreign and a native literature with reference to reception, influence and translations.  Weisstein cites the examples of Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travels” and Defoe’s “Robinson Crusoe” which are popular children’s novel.  On the other hand, Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland” attracts adult readers.  Thus the intentions of the authors and the readers have no coincidence but result in a totally different product.

Anna Balakian points to a chain of creative treasons, seen in the 19th century tradition.  While speaking about influence of German Romanticism on French Literature, she views that the earliest sings of Romanticism brought about in the fiction of Victor Hugo and Stendhal were due to the impact of Madame de Stael’s book on Germany.  Fascinated by German romantic writing, she finds fault with her fellow-writers, for not paying attention to the qualities, which happens to be a case of reception and not influence.  The influence manifested itself much later in the poetry of the leader of the French Symbolist movement, Charles Baudelaire, who had been attracted by the poems and short stories of Edgar Allan Poe, the American writer.  Baudelaire found out Poe’s emphasis on the exceptional in nature.  Poe himself was affected by German Romanticism through his reading of the English poet and critic, S.T. Coleridge who had an original acquaintance with German philosophy and literature.  So, the literary reception of German romanticism into French literature had to cross and re-cross the Atlantic Ocean inorder to become a real influence in the poetry of Baudelaire.