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Literature is literally "an acquaintance with letters" as in the first sense given in the Oxford English Dictionary; it has, however, generally come to identify a collection of texts.

literature spelled in small "l" means that any written form. example: essays

while literature spelled in big letter "L" means that it is a written form belongs to a specific country

literature comes from the greek word "litera" means letters.

1 Introduction

2 Forms of literature

3 Somewhat related narrative forms

4 Genres of literature

5 Literary techniques

6 Literary figures

7 Literature by country or language

8 Literary analysis

9 Story elements

10 Themes in literature

11 Literary periods

12 Other

13 See also

14 External links

Table of contents


Nations can have literatures, as can corporations, philosophical schools or historical periods. Popular belief commonly holds that the literature of a nation, for example, comprises the collection of texts which make it a whole nation. The Hebrew Bible, Beowulf, the Iliad and the Odyssey and the Constitution of the United States, all fall within this definition of a kind of literature.

More generally, one can equate a literature with a collection of stories, poems and plays that revolve around a particular topic. In this case, the stories, poems and plays may or may not have nationalisticic implications. The Western Canon forms one such literature.

Classifying a specific item as part of a literature (whether as American literature, advertising literature, gay and lesbian literature or Roman literature) can involve severe difficulties. To some people, the term "literature" can apply broadly to any symbolic record which can include images, sculptures, as well as letters. To others, a literature must only include examples of text composed of letters, or other narrowly defined examples of symbolic written language (hieroglyphs, for example). Even more conservative interpreters of the concept would demand that the text have a physical form, usually on paper or some other portable form, to the exclusion of inscriptions or digital media.

Furthermore, people may perceive a difference between "literature" and some popular forms of written work. The terms "literary fiction" and "literary merit" often serve to distinguish between individual works. For example, almost all literate people percieve the works of Charles Dickens as "literature", whereas many tend to look down on the works of Jeffrey Archer as unworthy of inclusion under the general heading of English literature. Critics may exclude works from the classification "literature", for example, on the grounds of a poor standard of grammar and syntax, of an unbelievable or disjointed story-line, or of inconsistent or unconvincing characterss. Genre fiction (e.g. romance, crime, science fiction) may also become excluded from consideration as "literature".

Frequently, the texts that make up literature crossed over these boundaries. Illustrated stories, hypertexts, cave paintings and inscribed monuments have all at one time or another pushed the boundaries of what is and is not literature.

Forms of literature


A poem is a composition usually written in verse. Poems rely heavily on imagery, precise word choice, and metaphor; they may take the form of measures consisting of patterns of stresses (metric feet) or of patterns of different-length syllables (as in classical prosody); and they may or may not utilise rhyme. Poetry is difficult to characterize precisely. Typically though, poetry as a form of literature makes some significant use of the formal properties of the words it uses — these properties being attached to the written or spoken form of the words, rather than to their meaning. Metre depends on syllables and on rhythms of speech; rhyme and alliteration depend on words that have similar pronunciation. Some contemporary poets, such as e. e. cummings, made extensive use of words' visual form.

Poetry perhaps pre-dates other forms of literature: early known examples include the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh (dated from around 3000 B.C), the Bible and the surviving works of Homer (the Iliad and the Odyssey).

Much poetry uses specific forms: the haiku, the limerick, the sonnet, for example. A haiku must have seventeen syllables, distributed over three lines in groups of five, seven, and five, and should have an image of a season and something to do with nature. A limerick has five lines, with a rhyme scheme of AABBA, and line lengths of 3,3,2,2,3 stressed syllables.

Language and tradition dictate some poetic norms: Greek poetry rarely rhymes, Italian or French poetry often does, English and German can go either way (although modern non-rhyming poetry often, perhaps unfairly, has a more "serious" aura). Perhaps the most paradigmatic style of English poetry, blank verse, as exemplified in Shakespeare and Milton, consists of unrhymed iambic pentameters. Some languages prefer longer lines; some shorter ones. Some of these conventions result from the ease of fitting a specific language's vocabulary and grammar into certain structures, rather than into others; for example, some languages contain more rhyming words than others, or typically have longer words. Other structural conventions come about as the result of historical accidents, where many speakers of a language associate good poetry with a verse form preferred by a particular good poet.

Works for theatre (see below) traditionally took verse form. This has now become rare outside opera and musicalss, although many would argue that the language of drama remains intrinsically poetic.


A play or drama is another, classical literary form that has continued to evolve over the years. It is comprised chiefly of dialogue between characters, and is usually intended for dramatic / theatrical performance (see theatre) rather than reading. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, opera developed as a combination of poetry, drama, and music. Nearly all drama was in verse form until comparatively recently.

Greek drama is the earliest form of drame for which we have substantial knowledge. Tragedy, as a dramatic genre, developed as a performance associated with religious and civic festivals, typically enacting or developing upon well-known historical or mythological themes. Tragedies were generally very serious in theme and treated important conflicts in human nature, but were not necessarily "tragic" as currently understood— meaning sad and without a happy ending. Comedy, as a dramatic genre, was a later development; Greek festivals eventually came to include three tragedies counterbalanced by a comedy or satyr play.

Modern theatre does not in general adhere to any of these restrictions of form or theme. A play is anything written for performance by actors (screenplays, for example); and even some things that are not; many contemporary writers have taken advantage of the dialogue-centred character of plays as a way of presenting literary work that is intended simply to be read, not performed.


An essay is a discussion of a topic from an author's personal point of view, exemplified by works by Francis Bacon or Charles Lamb. A memoir is the story of an author's life from his personal point of view. An epistle is usually a formal, didactic, or elegant letter.

'Essay' in English derives from the French 'essai', meaning 'attempt'. Thus an essay may be open-ended, provocative, inconclusive; or all three. The first writings identified as "essays" were the self-reflective musings of Michel de Montaigne, and he is still seen today as the father of this literary form.

Prose fiction

Prose is writing that does not adhere to any particular formal structures (other than simple grammar); "non-poetic writing," writing, perhaps. The term is sometimes used pejoratively, but prosaic writing is simply writing that says something without necessarily trying to say it in a beautiful way, or using beautiful words. Prose writing can of course be beautiful; the suggestion then is that it is not beautiful by virtue of the formal features of words (rhymes, alliteration, meter), but the distinction does not need to be marked precisely, and perhaps cannot be. There is "prose poetry," which attempts to convey the aesthetic richness typical of poetry using only prose; and there is "free verse," which is poetry not adhering to any of the strictures of one or another formal poetic style.

Narrative fiction generally favours prose for the writing of novels, short stories, and the like. Singular examples of these exist throughout history, but they did not develop into systematic and discrete literary forms until relatively recently. Length often serves to categorize works of prose fiction. Although lines remain somewhat arbitrary, publishing conventions dictate the following:

  • A short story comprises prose writing of less than 10,000 to 20,000 words, but typically more than 500 words, which may or may not have a narrative arc.
  • A story containing between 20,000 and 50,000 words falls into the novella category.
  • A work of fiction containing more than 50,000 words falls squarely into the realm of the novel.
A novel consists simply of a long story written in prose; yet it developed comparatively recently. In Europe Cervantes wrote perhaps the first significant novel: Don Quixote, published in 1600. Earlier works, such as the Decameron and the Canterbury Tales, have comparable forms and would probably classify as novels if written today. Earlier works written in Asia resemble even more strongly the novel as we now think of it— for example, works such as the Chinese Romance of the Three Kingdoms and the Japanese Tale of Genji by Lady Murasaki.

Early novels in Europe did not, at the time, count as significant literature, perhaps because "mere" prose writing seemed easy and unimportant. It has become clear, however, that prose writing can provide aesthetic pleasure without adhering to poetic forms. Additionally, the freedom authors gain in not having to concern themselves with verse structure translates often into a more complex plot or into one richer in precise detail than one typically finds even in narrative poetry. This freedom also allows an author to experiment with many different literary styles— including poetry— in the scope of a single novel.

See Ian Watt's The Rise of the Novel. [This definition needs expansion]

Other prose literature

Philosophy, history, journalism, and legal and scientific writings have traditionally ranked as literature. They olofedr some of the oldest prose writings in existence; novels and prose stories earned the names "fiction" to distinguish them from factual writing or nonfiction, which writers historically have crafted in prose.

This has become less so in the case of science over the last two centuries, as advances and specialization have made new scientific research inaccessible to most audiences; science is appears mostly in journals. Scientific works of Euclid, Aristotle, Copernicus, and Newton still possess great value; but since the science in them has largely become outdated, they no longer serve for scientific instruction, yet they remain too technical to sit well in most literature programmes. Outside of history of science programmes students rarely read such works. Many books "popularizing" science might still deserve the title "literature"; history will tell.

Philosophy, too, has become an increasingly academic discipline. More of its practitioners lament this situation than occurs with the sciences; nonetheless most new philosophical work appears in academic journals. Major philosophers through history -- Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Descartes, Nietzsche -- have become as canonical as any writers. Some recent philosophy undoubtedly merits the title "literature" — the work of Wittgenstein, for example, does; but much of it does not, and some areas, such as logic, have become extremely technical to the same degree as the sciences.

A great deal of historical writing can still rank as literature, particularly the genre known as creative nonfiction. So can a great deal of journalism, such as literary journalism. However these areas have become extremely large, and often have a utilitarian purpose: to record data or convey immediate information. As a result the writing in these fields often lacks a literary quality, although it often and in its better moments has that quality. Major historians include Herodotus, Thucydides, Procopius, all of whom count as canonical literary figures.

Law offers a less clear case. Some writings of Plato and Aristotle, or even the early parts of the Bible, might count as legal. The law tables of Hammurabi of Babylon might count. Roman civil law as codified during the reign of Justinian I of Byzantium has a reputation as significant literature. The founding documents of many countries, including the Constitution of the United States, count as literature, however legal writing now rarely exhibits literary merit.

Most of these fields, then, through specialization or proliferation, no longer generally constitute "literature" in the sense under discussion. They may sometimes colunt as "literary literature"; more often they produce what one might call "technical literature" or "professional literature."

Somewhat related narrative forms

Comics (or graphic novels) present stories told in a combination of sequential artwork, dialogue and text.

Genres of literature

Alternate history
Children\'s literature
Constrained writing
Diaries and Journals
:Crime fiction, Detective fiction
:Family Saga
:Historical fiction
:Historiographical metafiction
:Legal thriller
:Roman à clef
:Speculative fiction
::Science fiction
:The Slave narrative
:Spy fiction/Political thriller
Oral Narrative (Oral History)

Literary techniques

Epistolary novel
First-person narrative
Omniscient narrator
Vision / Prophecy
Story within a story
Fictional guidebook
False document

Literary figures

Short story authors

Literature by country or language

American literature
Anglo-Welsh literature
Arabic literature
Australian literature
Babylonian literature and science
Bengali literature
Bohemian literature
Canadian literature
Catalan literature
Celtic literature
Chinese literature
Croatian literature
Czech literature
Danish literature
Dutch literature
English literature
Finnish literature
French literature
German literature
Greek literature
Hungarian literature
Icelandic literature
Indian writing in English
Irish literature
Israeli literature
Italian literature
Japanese literature
Korean literature
Latin literature
Malayalam literature
New Zealand literature
Norwegian literature
Pakistani literature
Persian literature
Philippine literature
Polish literature
Portuguese literature
Provençal literature
Romanian literature
Russian literature
Scottish literature
Serbian literature
Slovak literature
Slovene literature
Spanish literature
Tamil literature
Turkish literature
Urdu/Hindi literature
Western literature , see Otto Maria Carpeaux
Yiddish literature

Literary analysis

Analyzing fiction
Analyzing literature
Analyzing plays
Analyzing poetry
Character analysis
Literary topos

Story elements

Elements of plot
Figurative language
Setting tone

Themes in literature

Adultery in literature
Chess in early literature
Family life in literature
Generation in literature
Heroines in literature
Losers in literature
Norse mythological influences on later literature
Post-colonialism in literature
Robots in literature
School and university in literature
Smuggling in literature
Technology and culture in literature
Tourism in literature

Literary periods

Pre-modern (medieval)

Old English
Middle English

Early modern (renaissance)


Age of Sensibility



Scientific literature
Blindness literature
Literature cycle
Rabbinic literature

See also

External links