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Definitions of literature

There have been various attempts to define literature. Literature, in a broad

sense, is any written work about any subject. The word literature comes from Latin
littera which means letter. Literature can be written and oral and is divided into
three categories: epic, lyric, and drama.
There are several criteria in defining literature. First is aesthetic criterion. It is
about the way work is put together, structure, style, language, figures of speech
used. Work must be enjoyable in a way that is not practically useful, but it still
catches readers attention. Next is intellectual distinction, which refers to impact of
the work on the world, history, society; for example some history works, scientific,
theological, or philosophical.
Another important feature is language used in the work. Non-literary
language must be clear, transparent referent, while in literary language sign is not
arbitrary, it draws attention to itself, has an emotional impact on the reader. It also
has lot ambiguities, associations and figures of speech. Emotional impact means
that the work leaves at least some kind of impression on a reader, appeals to
emotions and makes the reader sympathize with characters. Reader feels
everything that characters feel: happiness, sorrow, pain, anger etc.
In Western Europe prior to the eighteenth century, literature as a term
indicated all books and writing. A more restricted sense of the term emerged
during the Romantic period, in which it began to mark imaginative literature. The
value judgment definition of literature considers it to exclusively include writing
that possesses a literary quality or distinction.
Literature can be classified according to whether it is fiction or non-fiction,
and whether it is poetry or prose; it can be further distinguished according to major
forms such as the novel, short story or drama; and works are often categorized
according to historical periods, or according to their genre.

Fictional nature of the literary work

Fiction is the form of any work that deals, with information or events
that are not real, but rather, imaginary and theoretical, invented by the author.
Although the term fiction refers in particular to novels and short stories, it may also
refer to the theatre, film, television, poetry and song. Fiction contrasts with nonfiction, which deals exclusively with factual events, descriptions, observations, etc.
Word fiction comes from Latin fictus which means to invent, to create.

There are several kinds of imagination, about past, future, things that do not
really exist. Author invents things, even in works with historical figures or events,
when author adds information that are not factual, the work becomes fictional. All
types of literary works include fictionality.
In these types of works space and time of work are not the same as in reality.

The literary work as a structure

Every work consists of materials that form its structure. Materials, by
themselves, do not have aesthetic value. Only when they are combined in a certain
way, they give pleasure to the reader.
Structure refers to internal organization of literary work, its form and content,
and how it is divided into different parts. For example, novel is organized into
chapters, and poem into stanzas. Structure is also about how parts of the work
relate to each other, how ideas are combined and developed in different parts. A
works structure defines not only the works form and content, but also the general
features characteristic of genre, style, a specific literary trend, literature as an art
form, and, finally, art as a whole.
Material, examined independently, is a text which is generally written in a
certain style. The text as such, however, does not have literary meaning. A works
outer layers become artistically meaningful only to the extent that they are
symbolic, that is, to the extent that they express their own inner meaning.
The structure of a literary work embraces the works characters, theme, plot,
composition, etc. Each structural element is of greater or lesser relative
importance within a given work. In poetry, for example, the outer form is of
considerably greater importance than in prose; in the detective novel, the plot is
more important than in other genres.

Intrinsic approach to literature

In intrinsic approach, words on the page are of utmost importance. Intrinsic
approach is also called formalism as the critics basic interest is in the form of the
Intrinsic approach includes textual elements like language, style, tone,
themes, symbols, genre, characters, narration etc. It is also concerned with

analysis of figures of speech and their interpretation. While using intrinsic

approach, some texts are given importance because of their artistic and moral
values. The concept of canon is generated by using intrinsic approach and it
concentrates on the study of canon as it has such moral and artistic values as no
other text can.
In intrinsic approach, interpretation and understanding of text is based only
on the elements in the text. Context, external factors like history, life of the writer
or his experiences are not important. Most interpretations combine these two
approaches. In their work Theory of Literature, Wellek and Warren suggest taking a
look at the sequence of image, metaphor, symbol, and myth to understand the
To analyze a poem or story, the intrinsic critic, focuses on the words of the
text rather than facts about the authors life or the historical milieu in which it was
written. The critic would pay special attention to the formal features of the text
the style, imagery, symbols, figure of speech, tone, and genre. These features,
however, are usually not examined in isolation, because intrinsic critics believe
that what gives a literary text its special status as art is how all of its elements
work together to create the readers total experience.
Studying literature: history of literature
History of literature studies development of literature through time. It can be
development during certain time period or development of literature of one nation,
or can combine both.
History of literature gives chronological overview of important movements,
works and authors. It also looks into socio-historical context, climate of that time,
important events and how they influenced literature. For example, how Industrial
Revolution influenced Romantic Poets and their work, etc.
There are several geographical principles for studying history of literature.
First is history of national literature, which looks into development of literature of
one nation, problem here is that there are certain gray areas like colonies which
can be sorted under several countries, or their complete literature is not available
American-Indian literature.
Another is comparative history, which points out differences, similarities, and
features of literature. It explains what is unique and what is universal in literary
works. For example, what is unique for British literature which cant be found in
literature of any other nation. General history looks outside borders of one
community, finds things that spread out through the whole world.

History of literature combines both criticism and theory in order to explain

development of literature through examples of specific works and authors, finding
principles from theory in those works.

Directions in literary criticism

Literary criticism started developing in days of Ancient Greece, with
Aristotles Poetics and Horaces Poetica. It became popular again in middle ages
when mostly biblical, religious works were analyzed. Hermeneutics interpreted
Bible, their legacy is reader-response theory emphasis is on the reader, how he
sees it, not everyone sees the same work in the same way.
During renaissance, criticism was influenced by classical modules neoclassicism. In XIX century developed romanticism, and they guided themselves
with Art for Arts sake meaning that art should exist regardless of everything else.
Important works of that time are Preface to Lyrical Ballads (Wordsworth),
Biographia Literaria (S.T.C), Defense of Poetry(Shelley), The Poetic Principle(Edgar
Allan Poe).
In XX and XXI century several schools have been formed. Russian formalism
says that crucial features of a work are in its form. New criticism formed in England
and USA and its similar to Russian formalism. Another two important schools are
structuralism and post-structuralism and they deconstruct the work to show that
not every work has a deeper meaning.
Newest criticisms are: Marxist which is about themes of class conflict
(Pamela); Feminist which is concerned with gender conflicts, the way women are
seen in different times; Postcolonial is about colonization and exploitation, any
works written as response to others (Emma, Jane Eyre); Psycho-Analysis which
looks into subconscious of a writer, characters and reader.
Studying literature: theory of literature, literary criticism
Theory of literature started fully developing in XIX century, with exception of
Aristotles Poetics. It was popularized in the first half of XX century. Most important
work of that time is Theory of literature by Weller and Warren, published in 1949.
They defined many concepts and principles in literature, and divided approaches to
literature into extrinsic and intrinsic.
Another important theorist is Dragan ivkovi, who wrote Teorija knjievnosti
in 1958. He talks about general features of a work as art, process of creation,

influence of literature on people. He also looks into language used in works and
how it contributes to works nature. Other important thing in his theory is how
literature and genres change through time, how peoples taste in literature
changes depending on social standards of certain times.
Theory forms system of concepts. It is hard to give completely universal
definition of concepts because literature changes every day, there are new works
published all the time which influence development. Also, there are terms from
ancient times which are still used, like ode, or hymn; and there are relatively new
terms like pulp fiction, or science fiction.
Literary criticism concentrates on specific work and author. It deals with
comparison and analysis of literary work and is closely related to literary theory.
Literary criticism has probably existed for as long as literature. In the 4th century
BC Aristotle wrote the Poetics, a typology and description of literary forms with
many specific criticisms of contemporary works of art. The value of literary
criticism has been questioned by some prominent artists.

Literary genres and conventions: epic, lyric, dramatic

Genre is a group of certain aesthetic characteristics that form a work. These

conventions make it recognizable, easy to see which genre the work is. These
characteristics are tone, style, motifs, form etc.
Classical genre theory comes from Aristotle, Plato and Horace; they formed
mimesis which is an idea that governed the creation of works of art, in particular,
with correspondence to the physical world understood as a model for beauty, truth,
and the good. According to them lyric is written in first person, in epics poet speaks
about events that happened to someone else, and in drama the poet shouldnt be
present. They also prescribed the rules which writers had to follow, mixing of the
genres was forbidden, and some forms of literature were more important than
others. In contrast to that, modern genre theory is descriptive. It does not limit the
writer to certain convention, but allows him to experiment with them. It
encourages mixing and richness of forms and different genres in one work instead
of their purity.
Lyric literature is subjective, full of feelings and emotions. It is short, focused
and intense, written in first person and in present. Nowadays it can be
incorporated into works in different genres. Poetic language is not everyday
language; poet speaks in rhymes, verse and figures of speech. Epic literature can
be either in verse or prose. Epics are usually objective; writer observes and tells a
story but does not participate. Earlier, it was written in third person, but recently it
can be in first person, too. Drama is based on antagonism, inner and outer conflicts
and it has double existence in theatre and in written form. Before, it was written
in verse, but now it is usually in prose; mostly dialogues and monologues. The
characters are separated from writer; they have life on their own.

Epic in prose
Epic in prose existed even in Ancient Greece. It differed from epic poetry in
characters, themes and importance; it didnt deal with heroes but ordinary people,
it didnt celebrate national success but everyday life and was meant for
Every work needs to have plot, characters, setting, and them. Plot is defined
as the events that make up a story, particularly as they relate to one another in a
pattern, in a sequence, through cause and effect. Characters are all persons in a
story, sometimes even animals or supernatural being can be characters. Setting of
the story refers to time and place when the story is happening. Theme is main
message of the work. Subject matter is anything that can be topic for a story; its
flexible with endless variety of topics and themes.
Novel comes from Italian novella meaning tale, piece of news. Its extended
piece of prose, longer than short story and novella, but with same elements. It also
has a lot of characters, more than one subject matter, plot and setting. Short story
has 2000-7500 words, no elaborate plot or none at all, deals with small number of
characters. Conflict of the story is either inner or outer. Most famous writer of short
stories is E. A. Poe who said that short story has unified effect, is compact, with
condensed time and space. It became popular in 2 nd part of 18thC with gothic
novels. Nowadays, short stories deal with ethnic and social issues, race and gender
equality, family conflicts
Novella is prose fictional narrative with limited number of characters focused
on one event. Its similar to short story but longer (17000-50000 words). It always
contains the element of suspense, unexpected turning point and ends abruptly. It
always has a symbol in its middle, something that has to be solved at the end.

Forms of fiction
Non-fiction is one of the two main divisions in prose writing, the other form
being fiction. Non-fiction is a story based on real facts and information. Non-fiction
is a narrative, account, or other communicative work whose assertions and
descriptions are believed by the author to be factual. The usual non-fiction works
are biographies, essays, interviews, newspaper articles, documentaries etc.
Simplicity, clarity and directness are some of the most important considerations
when producing non-fiction because the purpose of non-fictional work is to inform,
not entertain. Non-fiction can also be written about fiction, giving information
about these other works. Some of the facts the work is based upon might not be
really true, but the writer represents them like they are true. Biographies are
especially dubious, as not all the facts in them can be proven true or false.
Fiction is the form of any work that deals, in part or in whole, with
information or events that are not real, but rather, imaginary and theoretical,
invented by the author with intention to entertain the reader. Fictional works can
be placed in reality, but always have some imaginary content. It is divided into
three categories. First is realistic fiction which although untrue, could actually
happen, e.g. crime stories like Arthur Conan Doyles Sherlock Holmes, or some scifi works like Jules Vernes From the Earth to the Moon. Second type is non-realistic
fiction in which the story's events could not happen in real life, like J.K. Rowlings
Harry Potter or G.R.R. Martins Game of Thrones. Semi-fiction is fiction
implementing a great deal of non-fiction, for example: a fictional depiction "based
on a true story", or a fictionalized account, or a reconstructed biography.
Traditionally, fiction includes novels, short stories, fables, fairy tales, plays, poetry,
but it now also encompasses films, comic books, and video games.
Language also differs as fiction and non-fiction are written with different
purpose and audience in mind. Non-fiction is there to inform and persuade the
reader that something is real and therefore language must be simple, without too

much figures of speech and decorations. In contrast to that, language of fiction is

colorful, rich and full of figures of speech. A fiction writer may manipulate diction,
sentence structure, phrasing, dialogue, and other aspects of language to create
style or mood.

Lyric forms: hymn, ode, elegy

A hymn is a type of song, usually religious, specifically written for the
purpose of praise, adoration or prayer, and typically addressed to a deity or
deities, or to a hero. The word hymn derives from Greek hymnos, which means "a
song of praise". Ancient Greek hymns were written in hexameter, incorporated in
larger works, usually epics; the oldest hymn is from 7 thC. Language, style and tone
are elevated, spoke about heroes and their battles and achievements; some
focused on local tales and myths.
Christian literary hymns were first based on pagan poetry, but later became
more Christian closer to sermons, philosophical and rhetorical. In middle Ages
they were still written for church. During Renaissance revival of Ancient Greek
reflected in hymns, and ode and hymn became similar, but hymn was more
religious. In Romanticism hymns were composed to celebrate poets personal
feelings: J. Donnes Hymn to God (My God in my Sickness) and Shelleys Hymn to
intellectual beauty.
Word ode comes from Greek word for song. It has elaborate structure, very
formal and dignified tone and style. 2 basic kinds are public and private ode. Public
ode is composed and performed for public occasions, like Ode to the death of Duke
of Wellington. Private ode is not meant for public, as it specifically expresses poets
feelings, like Keats Ode to Nightingale. In Ancient Greece, used was Pindaric ode in

which thoughts of a poet were not finished. It had three parts: strophe, antistrophe
and epode. In English literature, famous were Miltons Nativity Ode, Shelleys Ode
to the West Wind and all Keats Great Odes.
Elegy at first used to refer to song written in elegiac couplet (6+5), and in
5 C it began to refer to lamentation songs. First elegies were Greek, and they were
about passing of all things, love, misfortunes and suffering, they were also more
objective and focused on myths and legends. Subjectivity in elegies started in 1 stC
with Latin poets. Famous modern elegies are Night Thoughts by E. Young, Miltons
Lycidas and in honor of Keats, Shelleys Adonais.

Dramatic unities
The classical unities are rules for drama derived from a passage in Aristotle's
Poetics. Those unities are unity of action which is necessary concentration and
development, and unity of time meaning that only 24 most crucial hours must be
represented in dramatic work. J. C. Scaliger expanded these ideas to create the
three unities in 1561. Sometimes, works lack one of the unities, like
Shakespeares King Lear. Most important unity today is one of action.
The Unity of Action limits the supposed action to a single set of incidents
which are related as cause and effect, "having a beginning, middle, and an end."
No scene is to be included that does not advance the plot directly. No subplots, no
characters who do not advance the action. Events must be realistic and following a
single plotline, without unnecessary characters, only those important for the plot.

The Unity of Time limits the supposed action to the duration, roughly, of a
single day. Scaliger shortened this time into 2-3h as much as it takes to view the
play, at most one day compressed into a couple of hours. Skipping ahead in time
over the course of several days or years was considered undesirable, because the
audience was thought to be incapable of suspending disbelief regarding the
passage of time.
The third is unity of space, meaning the play must take place in a single
setting or location. It was usual for the whole play to be set into one room, castle
or woods; scenery rarely changed only characters circulated through the same
place. In later years, this unity was not as important as unity of action.

Dramatic structure
Dramatic works follow five-part structure: exposition or introduction,
complication, climax or crisis, resolution or peripeteia, and catastrophe or epilogue.
First is introduction which sets the background for the later action. Here
audience also meets central characters, heroes and heroines of the play. During
this part happens the incentive moment, start of the cause and effect and all later

In the rising action, a series of related incidents build toward the point of
greatest interest. The rising action of a story is the series of events that begin
immediately after the exposition (introduction) of the story and builds up to the
climax. These events are generally the most important parts of the story since the
entire plot depends on them to set up the climax, and ultimately the satisfactory
resolution of the story itself.
The climax is the turning point, which changes the protagonists fate. If the
story is a comedy, things will have gone badly for the protagonist up to this point;
now, the plot will begin to unfold in his or her favor, often requiring the protagonist
to draw on hidden inner strengths. If the story is a tragedy, the opposite state of
affairs will ensue, with things going from good to bad for the protagonist, often
revealing the protagonist's hidden weaknesses.
During the falling action, the conflict between the protagonist and the
antagonist unravels, with the protagonist winning or losing against the antagonist.
The falling action may contain a moment of final suspense, in which the final
outcome of the conflict is in doubt.
The comedy ends with a dnouement (a conclusion), in which the
protagonist is better off than at the story's outset. The tragedy ends with a
catastrophe, in which the protagonist is worse off than at the beginning of the
narrative. The dnouement /denum/ comprises events from the end of the
falling action to the actual ending scene of the drama or narrative.