Fable: A prose or Verse narrative intended to convey a moral. Animals or inanimate objects with human characteristics often serve as characters in fables.
A famous fable is Aesop's "The Tortoise and the Hare." (Compare with Exemplum.) (See also Allegory, Anthropomorphism, and folktale.)
Fairy Tales: Short narratives featuring mythical beings such as fairies, elves, and sprites. These tales originally belonged to the folklore of a particular nation or region, such as those collected in Germany by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm.
Two other celebrated writers of fairy tales are Hans Christian Andersen and Rudyard Kipling.
Falling Action: See Denouement
Fantasy: A literary form related to mythology and folklore. Fantasy literature is typically set in non-existent realms and features supernatural beings.
Notable examples of fantasy literature are The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien and the Gormenghast trilogy by Mervyn Peake. (Compare with Fairy Tales, folklore, and Science Fiction.)
Farce: A type of Comedy characterized by broad humor, outlandish incidents, and often vulgar subject matter.
Much of the "comedy" in film and television could more accurately be described as farce. (Compare with Burlesque.) (See also drama.)
Feet: See Foot
Feminine Rhyme: See Rhyme
Femme fatale: A French phrase with the literal translation "fatal woman." A femme fatale is a sensuous, alluring woman who often leads men into danger or trouble.
A classic example of the femme fatale is the nameless character in Billy Wilder's The Seven Year Itch, portrayed by Marilyn Monroe in the film adaptation.
Festschrift: A collection of essays written in honor of a distinguished scholar and presented to him or her to mark some special occasion.
Examples of festschriften are Worlds of Jewish Prayer: A Festschrift in Honour of Rabbi Zalman M. Schachter-Shalomi and The Organist as Scholar: Essays in Memory of Russell Saunders.
Fiction: Any story that is the product of imagination rather than a documentation of fact. characters and events in such narratives may be based in real life but their ultimate form and configuration is a creation of the author.
Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales, Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy, and Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind are examples of fiction.
Figurative Language: A technique in writing in which the author temporarily interrupts the order, construction, or meaning of the writing for a particular effect. This interruption takes the form of one or more figures of speech such as hyperbole, irony, or simile. Figurative language is the opposite of literal language, in which every word is truthful, accurate, and free of exaggeration or embellishment.
Examples of figurative language are tropes such as Metaphor and rhetorical figures such as apostrophe.
Figures of Speech: Writing that differs from customary conventions for construction, meaning, order, or significance for the purpose of a special meaning or effect. There are two major types of figures of speech: rhetorical figures, which do not make changes in the meaning of the words, and tropes, which do.
Types of figures of speech include simile, hyperbole, Alliteration, and pun, among many others. (See also Figurative Language, irony.)
Fin de siecle: A French term meaning "end of the century." The term is used to denote the last decade of the nineteenth century, a transition period when writers and other artists abandoned old conventions and looked for new techniques and objectives.
Two writers commonly associated with the fin de siecle mindset are Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw. (Compare with Aestheticism and Decadents.)
First Person: See Point of View
Flashback: A device used in literature to present action that occurred before the beginning of the story. Flashbacks are often introduced as the dreams or recollections of one or more characters.
Flashback techniques are often used in films, where they are typically set off by a gradual changing of one picture to another.
Foil: A character in a work of literature whose physical or psychological qualities contrast strongly with, and therefore highlight, the corresponding qualities of another character.
In his Sherlock Holmes stories, Arthur Conan Doyle portrayed Dr. Watson as a man of normal habits and intelligence, making him a foil for the eccentric and wonderfully perceptive Sherlock Holmes.
Folk Ballad: See Ballad
Folklore: Traditions and myths preserved in a culture or group of people. Typically, these are passed on by word of mouth in various forms such as legends, songs, and proverbs or preserved in customs and ceremonies. This term was first used by W. J. Thoms in 1846.
Sir James Frazer's The Golden Bough is the record of English folklore; myths about the frontier and the Old South exemplify American folklore. (Compare with folktale, Proverb.)
Folktale: A story originating in oral tradition. Folktales fall into a variety of categories, including legends, ghost stories, fairy tales, Fables, and anecdotes based on historical figures and events.
Examples of folktales include Giambattista Basile's The Pentamerone, which contains the tales of Puss in Boots, Rapunzel, Cinderella, and Beauty and the Beast, and Joel Chandler Harris's Uncle Remus stories, which represent transplanted African folktales and American tales about the characters Mike Fink, Johnny Appleseed, Paul Bunyan, and Pecos Bill. (Compare with Tall Tale.)
Foot: The smallest unit of rhythm in a line of Poetry. In English-language poetry, a foot is typically one accented syllable combined with one or two unaccented syllables.
There are many different types of feet. When the accent is on the second syllable of a two syllable word (con-tort), the foot is an "iamb"; the reverse accentual pattern (tor-ture) is a "trochee." Other feet that commonly occur in poetry in English are "anapest", two unaccented syllables followed by an accented syllable as in in-ter-cept, and "dactyl", an accented syllable followed by two unaccented syllables as in su-i-cide. (Compare with Accent, Cadence, Measure, Meter, Sprung Rhythm, and Versification.) (See also Scansion.)
Foreshadowing: A device used in literature to create expectation or to set up an explanation of later developments.
In Charles Dickens's Great Expectations, the graveyard encounter at the beginning of the novel between Pip and the escaped convict Magwitch foreshadows the baleful atmosphere and events that comprise much of the narrative.
Form: The pattern or construction of a work which identifies its genre and distinguishes it from other genres.
Examples of forms include the different genres, such as the lyric form or the short story form, and various patterns for Poetry, such as the Verse form or the stanza form.
Formalism: In literary criticism, the belief that literature should follow prescribed rules of construction, such as those that govern the sonnet form.
Examples of formalism are found in the work of the New Critics and structuralists.
Fourteener Meter: See Meter
Free Verse: (Also known as Vers libre.) Poetry that lacks regular metrical and rhyme patterns but that tries to capture the Cadences of everyday speech. The form allows a poet to exploit a variety of rhythmical effects within a single poem.
Free-verse techniques have been widely used in the twentieth century by such writers as Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, Carl Sandburg, and William Carlos Williams.
Futurism: A flamboyant literary and artistic movement that developed in France, Italy, and Russia from 1908 through the 1920s. Futurist theater and poetry abandoned traditional literary forms. In their place, followers of the movement attempted to achieve total freedom of expression through bizarre imagery and deformed or newly invented words. The Futurists were self-consciously modern artists who attempted to incorporate the appearances and sounds of modern life into their work.
Futurist writers include Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, Wyndham Lewis, Guillaume Apollinaire, Velimir Khlebnikov, and Vladimir Mayakovsky.
Genre: A category of literary work. In critical theory, genre may refer to both the content of a given work tragedy, Comedy, pastoral and to its form, such as Poetry, novel, or drama.
This term also refers to types of popular literature, as in the genres of Science Fiction or the detective story.
Genteel Tradition: A term coined by critic George Santayana to describe the literary practice of certain late nineteenth-century American writers, especially New Englanders. Followers of the Genteel Tradition emphasized conventionality in social, religious, moral, and literary standards.
Some of the best-known writers of the Genteel Tradition are R. H. Stoddard and Bayard Taylor.
Georgian Age: See Georgian Poets
Georgian Period: See Georgian Poets
Georgian Poets: A loose grouping of English poets during the years 1912-1922. The Georgians reacted against certain literary schools and practices, especially Victorian wordiness, turn-of-the-century aestheticism, and contemporary urban realism. In their place, the Georgians embraced the nineteenth-century poetic practices of William Wordsworth and the other Lake Poets.
Rupert Brooke, Walter de la Mare, and D. H. Lawrence are three of the most prominent poets of the Georgian Period. (Compare with Decadents and Lake School.)
Georgic: A poem about farming and the farmer's way of life, named from Virgil's Georgics.
Several English poets in the eighteenth century produced georgics in imitation of Virgil, including John Dyer (The Fleece) and James Grainger (The Sugar-Cane.)
Gilded Age: A period in American history during the 1870s characterized by political corruption and materialism. A number of important novels of social and political criticism were written during this time.
Examples of Gilded Age literature include Henry Adams's Democracy and F. Marion Crawford's An American Politician.
Gothic: See Gothicism
Gothicism: In literary criticism, works characterized by a taste for the medieval or morbidly attractive. A gothic novel prominently features elements of horror, the supernatural, gloom, and violence: clanking chains, terror, charnel houses, ghosts, medieval castles, and mysteriously slamming doors. The term "gothic novel" is also applied to novels that lack elements of the traditional Gothic setting but that create a similar atmosphere of terror or dread.
Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is perhaps the best-known English work of this kind.
Gothic Novel: See Gothicism
Graveyard School: A group of eighteenth-century English poets who wrote long, picturesque meditations on death. Their works were designed to cause the reader to ponder immortality.
The most famous work of this school is Thomas Gray's Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard.
Great Chain of Being: The belief that all things and creatures in nature are organized in a hierarchy from inanimate objects at the bottom to God at the top. This system of belief was popular in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
A summary of the concept of the great chain of being can be found in the first epistle of Alexander Pope's An essay on Man, and more recently in Arthur O. Lovejoy's The Great Chain of Being: A Study of the History of an Idea.
Grotesque: In literary criticism, the subject matter of a work or a style of expression characterized by exaggeration, deformity, freakishness, and disorder. The grotesque often includes an element of comic absurdity.
Early examples of literary grotesque include Francois Rabelais's Pantagruel and Gargantua and Thomas Nashe's The Unfortunate Traveller, while more recent examples can be found in the works of Edgar Allan Poe, Evelyn Waugh, Eudora Welty, Flannery O'Connor, Eugene Ionesco, Gunter Grass, Thomas Mann, Mervyn Peake, and Joseph Heller, among many others. (See also Black Humor.)
Haiku: (Also known as Hokku.) The shortest form of Japanese poetry, constructed in three lines of five, seven, and five syllables respectively. The message of a haiku poem usually centers on some aspect of spirituality and provokes an emotional response in the reader.
Early masters of haiku include Basho, Buson, Kobayashi Issa, and Masaoka Shiki. English writers of haiku include the Imagists, notably Ezra Pound, H. D., Amy Lowell, Carl Sandburg, and William Carlos Williams. (Compare with Tanka.)
Half Rhyme: See Consonance
Hamartia: In tragedy, the event or act that leads to the hero's or heroine's downfall. This term is often incorrectly used as a synonym for tragic flaw.
In Richard Wright's Native Son, the act that seals Bigger Thomas's fate is his first impulsive murder.
Harlem Renaissance: (Also known as Negro Renaissance and New Negro Movement.) The Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s is generally considered the first significant movement of black writers and artists in the United States. During this period, new and established black writers published more fiction and Poetry than ever before, the first influential black literary journals were established, and black authors and artists received their first widespread recognition and serious critical appraisal. Among the major writers associated with this period are Claude McKay, Jean Toomer, Countee Cullen, Langston Hughes, Arna Bontemps, Nella Larsen, and Zora Neale Hurston.
Works representative of the Harlem Renaissance include Arna Bontemps's poems "The Return" and "Golgotha Is a Mountain," Claude McKay's novel Home to Harlem, Nella Larsen's novel Passing, Langston Hughes's poem "The Negro Speaks of Rivers," and the journals Crisis and Opportunity, both founded during this period.
Harlequin: A stock character of the commedia dell'arte who occasionally interrupted the action with silly antics.
Harlequin first appeared on the English stage in John Day's The Travailes of the Three English Brothers. The San Francisco Mime Troupe is one of the few modern groups to adapt Harlequin to the needs of contemporary satire.
Hellenism: Imitation of ancient Greek thought or styles. Also, an approach to life that focuses on the growth and development of the intellect. "Hellenism" is sometimes used to refer to the belief that reason can be applied to examine all human experience.
A cogent discussion of Hellenism can be found in Matthew Arnold's Culture and Anarchy.
Heptameter: See Meter
Hero/Heroine: The principal sympathetic character (male or female) in a literary work. Heroes and heroines typically exhibit admirable traits: idealism, courage, and integrity, for example.
Famous heroes and heroines include Pip in Charles Dickens's Great Expectations, the anonymous narrator in Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man, and Sethe in Toni Morrison's Beloved. (Compare with Antagonist, anti-hero, and protagonist.)
Heroic Couplet: A rhyming couplet written in iambic pentameter (a Verse with five iambic feet).
The following lines by Alexander Pope are an example: "Truth guards the Poet, sanctifies the line,/ And makes Immortal, Verse as mean as mine." (See also Foot.)
Heroic Line: The Meter and length of a line of Verse in epic or heroic Poetry. This varies by language and time period.
For example, in English poetry, the heroic line is iambic pentameter (a verse with five iambic feet); in French, the alexandrine (a verse with six iambic feet); in classical literature, dactylic hexameter (a verse with six dactylic feet). (See also Foot, Poetics, Scansion, and Versification.)
Heroine: See Hero/Heroine
Hexameter: See Meter
Historical Criticism: The study of a work based on its impact on the world of the time period in which it was written.
Examples of postmodern historical criticism can be found in the work of Michel Foucault, Hayden White, Stephen Greenblatt, and Jonathan Goldberg.
Hokku: See Haiku
Holocaust Literature: literature influenced by or written about the Holocaust of World War II. Such literature includes true stories of survival in concentration camps, escape, and life after the war, as well as fictional works and Poetry.
Representative works of Holocaust literature include Saul Bellow's Mr. Sammler's Planet, Anne Frank's The Diary of a Young Girl, Jerzy Kosinski's The Painted Bird, Arthur Miller's Incident at Vichy, Czeslaw Milosz's Collected Poems, William Styron's Sophie's Choice, and Art Spiegelman's Maus.
Homeric Simile: (Also known as Epic Simile.) An elaborate, detailed comparison written as a simile many lines in length.
An example of an epic simile from John Milton's Paradise Lost follows:
Angel Forms, who lay entranced
Thick as autumnal leaves that strow the brooks
In Vallombrosa, where the Etrurian shades
High over-arched embower; or scattered sedge
Afloat, when with fierce winds Orion armed
Hath vexed the Red-Sea coast, whose waves o'erthrew
Busiris and his Memphian chivalry,
While with perfidious hatred they pursued
The sojourners of Goshen, who beheld
From the safe shore their floating carcasses
And broken chariot-wheels.
Horatian Satire: See Satire
Humanism: A philosophy that places faith in the dignity of humankind and rejects the medieval perception of the individual as a weak, fallen creature. "Humanists" typically believe in the perfectibility of human nature and view reason and education as the means to that end.
Humanist thought is represented in the works of Marsilio Ficino, Ludovico Castelvetro, Edmund Spenser, John Milton, Dean John Colet, Desiderius Erasmus, John Dryden, Alexander Pope, Matthew Arnold, and Irving Babbitt.
Humors: (Also spelled Humours.) Mentions of the humors refer to the ancient Greek theory that a person's health and personality were determined by the balance of four basic fluids in the body: blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile. A dominance of any fluid would cause extremes in behavior. An excess of blood created a sanguine person who was joyful, aggressive, and passionate; a phlegmatic person was shy, fearful, and sluggish; too much yellow bile led to a choleric temperament characterized by impatience, anger, bitterness, and stubbornness; and excessive black bile created melancholy, a state of laziness, gluttony, and lack of motivation.
Literary treatment of the humors is exemplified by several characters in Ben Jonson's plays Every Man in His Humour and Every Man out of His Humour.
Hyperbole: In literary criticism, deliberate exaggeration used to achieve an effect.
In William Shakespeare's Macbeth, Lady Macbeth hyperbolizes when she says, "All the perfumes of Arabia could not sweeten this little hand."