English Literature Dictionary
Abbey Theatre: Is the National Theatre of Ireland and is located in Dublin. It was the world's first state-subsidised theatre (since 1925) and played an important role in the development of Irish drama and dramatists in the 20th century.
abolitionist literature: Texts such as Literature, poetry, pamphlets, or propaganda which had been written with the purpose of criticising those who owned slaves and encouraged slave owners to give freedom to their slaves. The main aim of this type of writing was to canvas support for the abolition of slavery. The writing may be in the form of autobiographical writings (in the case of many slave narratives) or fictional accounts such as Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin. These texts often rely heavily on pathos for rhetorica ltechnique.
abstract: A piece of writing summarized, sometimes at the beginning of an essay. Alternatively the word can refer to language that describes unusual imagery. See abstract diction and abstract language.
abstract language: Words that represent concepts rather than physical things.
absurd (Theatre and Literature): The notion that human existence is basically absurd and meaningless. Absurd theatre became particularly significant in the 1950s, where it combined both existentialism with farce. Noteworthy absurd dramas include Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead by Tom Stoppard.
Achebe, Chinua: The Nigerian novelist, poet and professor was born on 16 November 1930. He was raised by Christian parents in an Igbo town, and is renowned for his first novel Things Fall Apart (1958).
aestheticism: Stemming from France, this European movement countered materialism and utilitarianism during the late 19th century.
African-American English: Sometimes also known as African-American Vernacular or Black English. It is a dialect of American English, containing items of grammar, pronunciation and vocabulary particular to that language community.
Agrarians: An early 20th century movement of American writers who privileged the idea of 'back to nature' or 'back to grass roots'.
aleatory writing: Where words and punctuation have seemingly been constructed arbitrarily. There is, however, almost always some method behind such apparent randomness. In art Jackson Pollock (1912-56) is considered as having used aleatory techniques.
allegory: The word originates from the Greek allegoria, which means "speaking otherwise". An allegory is something which can be read with double or two meanings: with an obvious literal meaning, as well as a figurative, 'below the surface' meaning. Frequently there is a point-by-point parallel between the two meanings. Allegories are often a way of conveying comment upon people, moral or religious ideas, historical and/or political events and/ or theories.
alliteration: The use of repeated consonants in neighbouring words. It appears most often at the beginning of those words, e.g. wonderful wilderness. It can create a strong effect by introducing pattern into the language. See assonance.
allusion: A casual reference to any aspect of another piece of literature, art, music, person or life in general. Authors suppose that the reader will identify the original source and relate the meaning to the new context. An example of allusion is TS. Eliot's The Waste Land. See intertextuality.
alternative literature: Literatures that, during their time, seem to be outside the conventional. Such writing, if it has value, often becomes a part of the mainstream. An example of this is elements from the Beat movement. See subversion.
ambiguity: When words, sentences and texts have more than one meaning. This can be deliberate or unintentional. The idea of ambiguity has been considered by Empson in his SEVEN TYPES OF AMBIGUITY. Generally, ambiguity is a negative expression applied to a vague or equivocal expression when accuracy would be more practical. Occasionally, however, deliberate ambiguity in literature can be a commanding method. See pun.
American dream: An idea in American literature, film, and art that articulates positive imaginings for self-improvement, freedom, and self-sufficiency available in America. It has been suggested that the term can have no fixed meaning because the ideas desired are individual to each person according to that time. Generally, it has implications of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness". Examples of these would be Miller's De ath of A Salesman and Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath.
amplification: A rhetorical device where language is used to emphasise or extend. For example Charles Dickens used the technique in his opening passages to BLEAK HOUSE, creating an atmosphere of fog, literal and metaphorical. See repetition.
anachronism: Something which is too early or too late for the given time, ie Placing an event, person, item, or verbal expression in the wrong historical period. It may be a mistake, but more frequently it is an intentional device in literature or dramatic productions to stress the timelessness of the universe. For example the setting of HENRY V within the context of the Falklands War, by the English Shakespeare Company in 1987, gives a sense of the play having a contemporary meaning.
analysis: The process of examining something meticulously. This often involves the separation of elements (structure, form, literary devices) into different parts, to facilitate understanding of a whole text.
ancillary characters: From the Latin ancilla, which means "helper" or "maid", the phrase refers to less significant characters who are not the primary protagonist or antagonist. They nevertheless interact with the more important characters in such a way as to offer insight into the narrative action.
Angry young men: A term referring to a group of English writers, musicians and artists in the 1950s. Included in this group are Kingsley Amis, Braine, Sillitoe and, notably, Osborne. Osbourne’s play Look Back in Anger portrays the anti-hero Jimmy Porter, who is the prototypical Angry Young Man. This group resented the upper-class and the establishment. Their works articulate contempt for the pretense of society in post-war Britain where, despite promises, working or middle-class educated people were unable to break into powerful areas. Their writing was often powerful, bitter and angry, often humorous, and much of it received critical acclaim.
antanaclasis: A figurative device where a word is repeated in two or more of its senses, e.g. when in Shakespeare's play Othello says: Put out the light, and then put out the light (Act V, Scene 2) The first ' light' refers to the candle, the second is a metaphor for Desdemona's life.
anthology: A selection of work by different writers. Sometimes the volume will be of a particular genre, e.g. post-colonial literature, or dedicated to a particular period, e.g. metaphysical poetry. See also collection.
anthropomorphism: When non-humans are given human abilities to think and speak.
anti-Semitic literature: Literature that disparages Jewish people or encourages racist attitudes toward them. A great deal of the religious literature produced in medieval and Renaissance Europe engaged in anti-Semitism.
appreciation: This examination term suggests that more than just a line by line mechanical analysis of a piece of text is required, and that the candidate must show a more in-depth understanding of the effects of various techniques.
Aristotle: A Greek philosopher who lived from 384 BC to 322 BC. Aristotle wrote on numerous subjects including poetry, physics, music, politics and biology. He was the student of Plato. Alongside Plato and Socrates, Aristotle is considered an important figure to the founding of Western knowledge.
aside: A theatrical convention, often leading to dramatic irony, whereby a character in a play speaks so that the audience may hear (sometimes directly addressing the audience) but, it is supposed, the other characters on stage do not hear. See soliloquy.
assonance: The rhyming or repetition of vowels within words. It is used to create a melodious effect, often in poetry), e.g. 'wide' and 'time'. The device only occasionally results in the rhyming of words.
Augustan Period (or The Age of Pope): This period is considered to include literature written in England between about 1700 and 1745. This period saw the rapid development of the novel as a popular form of literature. Satire was often utilised.
authorial intention: The phrase indicates what the author meant when s/ he wrote a text. Many modern critics suppose that what the author may or may not have intended is immaterial, that there is no fixed meaning in a text, and that an individual reader's interpretation is all-important.
autobiographical novel: In contrast with the autobiography , an autobiographical novel is a semi-fictional account established in part on the author's life experience, but these experiences are often transposed onto a fictional character or intermixed with fictional events.
auto-da-fé: From the Portuguese, meaning "act of faith", the term refers to the late medieval church's ceremonial execution en masse of accused witches, Jews, heretics, or Muslims. The execution was frequently achieved by burning at the stake.
avant-garde: This phrase is used to describe modern work that is at the cutting edge or 'ahead of its time'. Avant-garde literature deliberately sets out to be innovative, and even to shock. Writers often experiment with form and technique in this type of writing.
The difficulty of literature is not to write, but to write what you mean.
Robert Louis Stevenson
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