English Literature Dictionary

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dactyl : A three syllable foot which is accented on the first syllable. An example of this would be the word "merrily," which is spoken: MER - ri - ly

dark lady sonnets: A number of sonnets written by Shakespeare (sonnet numbers 127-152) addressing a dark lady (a reference due to her colouring). It is unknown whether she is an actual person, someone Shakespeare knew or a fictional character.

dative: A grammatical case.

dead language: An extinct language where there are no longer native speakers of the language.

declension: A grammatical term referring to the inflection of certain words for number and case.

deconstruction: The approach whereby any text is unfolded and meticulously investigated for its meaning, to the point where the base of the text is exposed as unstable. The term was coined by French philosopher Jacques Derrida. See post-structuralism and aporia.

deep structure: A linguistic term which refers to the underlying structure of a sentence, which the surface representation or meaning is derived from.

Defoe, Daniel: Born around 1659, Defoe died on the 24 April 1731. Originally Daniel Foe, this English writer and journalist was crucial to the success of the novel form. He achieved great success through his novel Robinson Crusoe. See novel.

denotation: The direct or explicit meaning of a word, or a string of words. See connotation.

denouement: The final resolution of a plot, especially in drama or narrative.

description: Passages of writing, most often in prose, which are descriptive of places, people, objects, social manners and so forth.

descriptive writing: This is creative writing, which can be both fictional and non-fictional. Important to creating descriptive writing are the five senses, description, literary devices and abstract language.

detective fiction: Fiction in which the mystery is solved by a detective.

device: Describes any literary technique, for example metaphors or alliteration.

deux ex machina: A device, either artificial or unlikely, which is suddenly introduced into a plot to provide a resolution.

deuteragonist: An actor whose character is next in line of importance after the protagonist.

diachronic: Changes which occur within a linguistic system between specified points in time.

dialect: The language of a particular district, class, or group of persons. The term dialect includes the sounds, spelling, grammar, and diction employed by a specific people.

dialogue: The speech between two or more characters in any type of text.

diary: Personal observations in a day-to-day record, usually not meant for others to read or for publication.

Dickens, Charles: Nineteenth century English novelist whose works were published in serial form. Dickens had a particular sympathy of the poor and often wrote about them.  He is famous for works including Oliver Twist, Great Expectations and A tale of two cities.

diction: The choice of a particular word or words as opposed to others.

dictionary: A collection of terms and their definitions collated into one source.

didactic: Writing that aims to instruct, or even preach.

diphthong: In phonetics, it refers to a sound made up of two vowel sounds.

dipody: Prosody a metrical unit consisting of two feet.

dirge: A song or poem expressing mourning as at a funeral.

discourse: A dialogue comprised of several sentences, more generally recognised as conversations, speeches or debates. The term can also refer to theories or metaphorical conversations on controversial issues amongst academics and scholars. For example feminism can be identified as a discourse.

discuss: This exam term is frequently used to encourage candidates to closely consider a topic. Related words, used in exams, which have a similar meaning include assess, comment, examine, consider, explore and evaluate.

dissonance: The feature of discordant, clashing or unmelodious sounds in poetry and prose.

distance: Sometimes referred to as 'aesthetic distance', distance is a phrase used to suggest the detachment from the subject-matter with which either the writer or the reader views a piece of literature. This effect is created through use of tone, diction, and presentation.

dithyramb: Originally referring to an impassioned chant or song in a Greek chorus, it now refers to any extremely enthusiastic written or spoken text.

document: A written record giving information or evidence.

Donne, John: Born in 1572 Donne was a metaphysical poet who wrote sonnets, love poems, satires, elegies and religious poetry. His writing is noted for its sensual style and vividness. He died in 1631. See metaphysical.

double entendre: A word with a double meaning, one of which might be sexual.

double negative: When two negative words are used to express a single negative.  Common in English used during Chaucer's time, up until the time of Shakespeare

double plot: Where a play has both a main and a sub-plot. Some plays may have triple or multiple plots.

Douglass, Frederick: Born a slave in the USA, he became a fighter for freedom of all kinds, supporting the abolition of slavery and women's rights. He wrote three versions of his autobiography.

drama: Any kind of performance intended for an audience in a theatre.

dramatic effect/effectiveness: This exam term requires candidates to think about the dramatic effectiveness of a specific passage or aspect of a play. Candidates must be aware of all factors such as situation, stage directions, significance in plot development, characterisation, dramatic irony, poetic effects, and anything else that may add to the impact upon an audience.

dramatic impact: See dramatic effect.

dramatic irony: Where a character is unaware of the ironyof his or her words, or situation, and other characters on stage or, more especially, the audience is conscious of this. See irony.

dramatic monologue: See monologue.

dramatic point of view: A device where the readers of a narrative are placed as an audience as if in a play or movie. The author does not explain the character's thoughts or emotions.

dramatic tension: Techniques used within drama to create tension and suspense, such as stichomythica. see dramatic effect.

dramatis personae: A list of the characters of a play.

dramatisation: When a text from any other medium is converted into a drama.

dramatist: An alternative word for 'playwright'. It can also cover those who write drama. for media other than the stage, e.g. film, radio, television.

dynamic character: A character who experiences a change in personality or outlook.

dystopia: The representation of an unpleasant fictional world, which is the opposite of a utopia. Dystopias often project a writer's vision of an ominous future. Notable examples include Huxley's Brave new world and Orwell’s Nineteen eighty-four.

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What is wonderful about great literature is that it transforms the man who reads it towards the condition of the man who wrote.
E. M. Forster

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