An Introduction to Literature

English fresher

💬 Hello, English Fresher! So, you have opted for English Major, right? But, have you ever wondered how you can define “Literature” or what Literature actually is? How many forms of Literature are there or what is the difference between “fiction” and a “non-fiction” or between “prose” or “verse”?

Well, in this article, we are going to learn about these basic terms or simply speaking, the foundational concepts in the study of English Literature. So, let’s first start with understanding what literature is!

Introduction to Literature

What is Literature?

• In its broadest sense “literature” refers to any written work.
• Etymologically, the term “literature” is derived from the Latin ‘litaritura/litteratura‘ meaning “writing formed by letters“.
• Some definitions also include spoken or sung text. 
• More restrictively, i.e. if we restrict its definition,  it is writing that possesses literary merit
• Literature can be classified according to whether it is:
A. Fiction or Non-Fiction; and
B. Poetry or Prose.
• literature can also be classified into three major forms:
A. Poetry
B. Fiction
C. Drama
• Besides, literary works can be further classified according to:
A. historical periods; or
B. adherence to certain aesthetic features or expectations (i.e. the genres, e.g. a sonnet or a comedy)


Origin of Literature

• written literature was first produced by some of the world’s earliest civilizations:
A. civilization of Ancient Egypt
B. civilization of Sumeria in the 4th millennium BC
• if we include the spoken and sung text, then the literature originated even earlier
• sum of the first written works may have been based on a pre-existing oral tradition.


Growth of Literature

• with the development of urban cultures and societies there was a proliferation (=rapid growth) in the forms of literature
• development of print technology, enabled literature to be distributed and experienced on an unprecedented scale, which has culminated in the 21st century in electronic literature.


Definitions of Literature

• definitions of literature have varied over time.
• in western Europe, before the 18th century, literature as a term referred to all books and writings.
• in the Romantic Period, a more restricted sense of the term emerged
• It began to refer to only the imaginative literature.
• contemporary scholars returned back to its more inclusive (=broad and comprehensive) definition and confirmed to the older meaning of literature.
• cultural studies, for instance, regard both popular and minority genres, as their subject of analysis, in addition to the Canonical works. 

Forms of Literature

1. Non-fiction Prose

• It refers to the literature that is written in an ordinary, non-metrical language and communicates;
I. facts, or
II. opinions about reality.
Example– science textbook, how-to articles, geometry, psychology, references, history philosophy, Geography, physics, biography autobiographies, dictionary, encyclopaedia, argumentative essays, self-help books, law volumes, newspapers, pamphlets etc.
FeaturesMeaning is straightforward because it aims to convey information or persuade readers.


2. Fiction Prose

• are literature written in ordinary, non-metrical language but are the products of the writer’s imagination.
Example– novels, short stories, novellas
Feature– meaning of fictional prose can stretch from obscure and difficult to clear and direct.


3. Poetry

• Uses metrical language with lots of Rhythm and rhyme to create word pictures.
• employs all kinds of wordplay
• uses figurative language and imagery to send its messages
Features– the meaning is rather obscure and needs to be dug out with some effort on the reader’s part.


4. Drama

• Combines elements of prose and poetry into plays that are usually intended to be performed on stage in front of an audience
• uses monologues and dialogues by characters; also combines them with stage directions, and;
• Occasionally narrative sections that explain the action
Features– can have hidden meanings and messages that take some work to decipher.


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