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Glossary of Terms

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Iamb: See Foot

Idiom: A word construction or verbal expression closely associated with a given language.
For example, in colloquial English the construction "how come" can be used instead of "why" to introduce a question. Similarly, "a piece of cake" is sometimes used to describe a task that is easily done.

Image: A concrete representation of an object or sensory experience. Typically, such a representation helps evoke the feelings associated with the object or experience itself. Images are either "literal" or "figurative." Literal images are especially concrete and involve little or no extension of the obvious meaning of the words used to express them. Figurative images do not follow the literal meaning of the words exactly. Images in literature are usually visual, but the term "image" can also refer to the representation of any sensory experience.
In his poem "The Shepherd's Hour," Paul Verlaine presents the following image: "The Moon is red through horizon's fog;/ In a dancing mist the hazy meadow sleeps." The first line is broadly literal, while the second line involves turns of meaning associated with dancing and sleeping.

Imagery: The array of images in a literary work. Also, figurative language.
William Butler Yeats's "The Second Coming" offers a powerful image of encroaching anarchy:
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart....

Imagism: An English and American Poetry movement that flourished between 1908 and 1917. The Imagists used precise, clearly presented images in their works. They also used common, everyday speech and aimed for conciseness, concrete imagery, and the creation of new rhythms.
Participants in the Imagist movement included Ezra Pound, H. D. (Hilda Doolittle), and Amy Lowell, among others.

In medias res: A Latin term meaning "in the middle of things." It refers to the technique of beginning a story at its midpoint and then using various flashback devices to reveal previous action.
This technique originated in such epics as Virgil's Aeneid.

Induction: The process of reaching a conclusion by reasoning from specific premises to form a general premise. Also, an introductory portion of a work of literature, especially a play.
Geoffrey Chaucer's "Prologue" to the Canterbury Tales, Thomas Sackville's "Induction" to The Mirror of Magistrates, and the opening scene in William Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew are examples of inductions to literary works. (Compare with Deduction.)

Intentional Fallacy: The belief that judgments of a literary work based solely on an author's stated or implied intentions are false and misleading. Critics who believe in the concept of the intentional fallacy typically argue that the work itself is sufficient matter for interpretation, even though they may concede that an author's statement of purpose can be useful.
Analysis of William Wordsworth's Lyrical Ballads based on the observations about Poetry he makes in his "Preface" to the second edition of that work is an example of the intentional fallacy.

Interior Monologue: A narrative technique in which characters' thoughts are revealed in a way that appears to be uncontrolled by the author. The interior monologue typically aims to reveal the inner self of a character. It portrays emotional experiences as they occur at both a conscious and unconscious level. images are often used to represent sensations or emotions.
One of the best-known interior monologues in English is the Molly Bloom section at the close of James Joyce's Ulysses. The interior monologue is also common in the works of Virginia Woolf. (Compare with Stream of Consciousness.)

Internal Rhyme: rhyme that occurs within a single line of Verse.
An example is in the opening line of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven": "Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary." Here, "dreary" and "weary" make an internal rhyme.

Irish Literary Renaissance: A late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century movement in Irish literature. Members of the movement aimed to reduce the influence of British culture in Ireland and create an Irish national literature.
William Butler Yeats, George Moore, and Sean O'Casey are three of the best-known figures of the movement. (Compare with Celtic Renaissance.)

Irony: In literary criticism, the effect of language in which the intended meaning is the opposite of what is stated.
The title of Jonathan Swift's "A Modest Proposal" is ironic because what Swift proposes in this essay is cannibalism — hardly "modest."

Italian Sonnet: See Sonnet


Jacobean Age: The period of the reign of James I of England (1603-1625). The early literature of this period reflected the worldview of the Elizabethan Age, but a darker, more cynical attitude steadily grew in the art and literature of the Jacobean Age. This was an important time for English drama and Poetry.
Milestones include William Shakespeare's tragedies, tragi-comedies, and sonnets; Ben Jonson's various dramas; and John Donne's metaphysical poetry.

Jargon: Language that is used or understood only by a select group of people. Jargon may refer to terminology used in a certain profession, such as computer jargon, or it may refer to any nonsensical language that is not understood by most people.
Literary examples of jargon are Francois Villon's Ballades en jargon, which is composed in the secret language of the coquillards, and Anthony Burgess's A Clockwork Orange, narrated in the fictional characters' language of "Nadsat."

Journalism: Writing intended for publication in a newspaper or magazine, or for broadcast on a radio or television program featuring news, sports, entertainment, or other timely material.
The essays and reviews written by H. L. Mencken for the Baltimore Morning Herald and collected in his Prejudices are an example of journalism. (See also New Journalism.)

Juvenalian Satire: See Satire


Knickerbocker Group: A somewhat indistinct group of New York writers of the first half of the nineteenth century. Members of the group were linked only by location and a common theme: New York life.
Two famous members of the Knickerbocker Group were Washington Irving and William Cullen Bryant. The group's name derives from Irving's Knickerbocker's History of New York.

Kunstlerroman: See Bildungsroman


Lais: See Lay

Lake Poets: See Lake School

Lake School: (Also known as the Lake Poets) These poets all lived in the Lake District of England at the turn of the nineteenth century. As a group, they followed no single "school" of thought or literary practice, although their works were uniformly disparaged by the Edinburgh Review.
The poets of the Lake School were Robert Southey, William Wordsworth, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

Lay: A song or simple narrative poem. The form originated in medieval France. Early French lais were often based on the Celtic legends and other tales sung by Breton minstrels — thus the name of the "Breton lay." In fourteenth-century England, the term "lay" was used to describe short narratives written in imitation of the Breton lays.
The most notable of these is Geoffrey Chaucer's "The Minstrel's Tale."

Leitmotiv: See Motif

Literal Language: An author uses literal language when he or she writes without exaggerating or embellishing the subject matter and without any tools of figurative language.
To say "He ran very quickly down the street" is to use literal language, whereas to say "He ran like a hare down the street" would be using figurative language. (Compare with Figurative Language.)

Literary Ballad: See Ballad

Literature: Literature is broadly defined as any written or spoken material, but the term most often refers to creative works.
Literature includes poetry, drama, fiction, and many kinds of nonfiction writing, as well as oral, dramatic, and broadcast compositions not necessarily preserved in a written format, such as films and television programs.

Lost Generation: A term first used by Gertrude Stein to describe the post-World War I generation of American writers: men and women haunted by a sense of betrayal and emptiness brought about by the destructiveness of the war.

The term is commonly applied to Hart Crane, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and others.

Lyric Poetry: A poem expressing the subjective feelings and personal emotions of the poet. Such poetry is melodic, since it was originally accompanied by a lyre in recitals. Most Western poetry in the twentieth century may be classified as lyrical.
Examples of lyric poetry include A. E. Housman's elegy "To an Athlete Dying Young," the odes of Pindar and Horace, Thomas Gray and William Collins, the sonnets of Sir Thomas Wyatt and Sir Philip Sidney, Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Rainer Maria Rilke, and a host of other forms in the poetry of William Blake and Christina Rossetti, among many others. (Compare with Dramatic Poetry and Narrative Poetry.)


Mannerism: Exaggerated, artificial adherence to a literary manner or style. Also, a popular style of the visual arts of late sixteenth-century Europe that was marked by elongation of the human form and by intentional spatial distortion. Literary works that are self-consciously high-toned and artistic are often said to be "mannered."
Authors of such works include Henry James and Gertrude Stein.

Masculine Rhyme: See Rhyme

Masque: A lavish and elaborate form of entertainment, often performed in royal courts, that emphasizes song, dance, and costumery. The Renaissance form of the masque grew out of the spectacles of masked figures common in medieval England and Europe. The masque reached its peak of popularity and development in seventeenth-century England, during the reigns of James I and, especially, of Charles I. Ben Jonson, the most significant masque writer, also created the "antimasque," which incorporates elements of humor and the grotesque into the traditional masque and achieved greater dramatic quality.
Masque-like interludes appear in Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene and in William Shakespeare's The Tempest. One of the best-known English masques is John Milton's Comus.

Measure: The Foot, Verse, or time sequence used in a literary work, especially a poem. Measure is often used somewhat incorrectly as a synonym for Meter. (Compare with Meter.)

Melodrama: A play in which the typical plot is a conflict between characters who personify extreme good and evil. Melodramas usually end happily and emphasize sensationalism. Other literary forms that use the same techniques are often labeled "melodramatic." The term was formerly used to describe a combination of drama and music; as such, it was synonymous with "opera."
Augustin Daly's Under the Gaslight and Dion Boucicault's The Octoroon, The Colleen Bawn, and The Poor of New York are examples of melodramas. The most popular media for twentieth-century melodramas are motion pictures and television. (Compare with drama.)

Memoirs: An autobiographical form of writing in which the author gives his or her personal impressions of significant figures or events. This form is different from the autobiography because it does not center around the author's own life and experiences.
Early examples of memoirs include the Viscount de Chateaubriand's The Memoirs of Chateaubriand and Giacomo Casanova's History of My Life, while modern memoirs include reminiscences of World War II by Dwight Eisenhower, Viscount Montgomery, and Charles de Gaulle.

Metaphor: A figure of speech that expresses an idea through the image of another object. Metaphors suggest the essence of the first object by identifying it with certain qualities of the second object.
An example is "But soft, what light through yonder window breaks?/ It is the east, and Juliet is the sun" in William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. Here, Juliet, the first object, is identified with qualities of the second object, the sun. (Compare with Simile.)

Metaphysical Conceit: See Conceit

Metaphysical Poetry: The body of poetry produced by a group of seventeenth-century English writers called the "Metaphysical Poets." The group includes John Donne and Andrew Marvell. The Metaphysical Poets made use of everyday speech, intellectual analysis, and unique imagery. They aimed to portray the ordinary conflicts and contradictions of life. Their poems often took the form of an argument, and many of them emphasize physical and religious love as well as the fleeting nature of life. Elaborate conceits are typical in metaphysical poetry.
Marvell's "To His Coy Mistress" is a well-known example of a metaphysical poem.

Meter: In literary criticism, the repetition of sound patterns that creates a rhythm in Poetry. The patterns are based on the number of syllables and the presence and absence of accents. The unit of rhythm in a line is called a Foot. Types of meter are classified according to the number of feet in a line. These are the standard English lines: Monometer, one foot; Dimeter, two feet; Trimeter, three feet; Tetrameter, four feet; Pentameter, five feet; Hexameter, six feet (also called the Alexandrine); Heptameter, seven feet (also called the "Fourteener" when the feet are iambic).
The most common English meter is the iambic pentameter, in which each line contains ten syllables, or five iambic feet, which individually are composed of an unstressed syllable followed by an accented syllable. Both of the following lines from Alfred, Lord Tennyson's "Ulysses" are written in iambic pentameter:
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
(See also Scansion, and Sprung Rhythm.)

Mise en scene: The costumes, scenery, and other properties of a drama.
Herbert Beerbohm Tree was renowned for the elaborate mises en scene of his lavish Shakespearean productions at His Majesty's Theatre between 1897 and 1915.

Modernism: Modern literary practices. Also, the principles of a literary school that lasted from roughly the beginning of the twentieth century until the end of World War II. Modernism is defined by its rejection of the literary conventions of the nineteenth century and by its opposition to conventional morality, taste, traditions, and economic values.
Many writers are associated with the concepts of Modernism, including Albert Camus, Marcel Proust, D. H. Lawrence, W. H. Auden, Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, William Butler Yeats, Thomas Mann, Tennessee Williams, Eugene O'Neill, and James Joyce.

Monologue: A composition, written or oral, by a single individual. More specifically, a speech given by a single individual in a drama or other public entertainment. It has no set length, although it is usually several or more lines long.
An example of an "extended monologue" — that is, a monologue of great length and seriousness — occurs in the one-Act, one-character play The Stronger by August Strindberg. (Compare with Interior Monologue and Soliloquy.)

Monometer: See Meter

Mood: The prevailing emotions of a work or of the author in his or her creation of the work. The mood of a work is not always what might be expected based on its subject matter.
The poem "Dover Beach" by Matthew Arnold offers examples of two different moods originating from the same experience: watching the ocean at night. The mood of the first three lines —
The sea is calm tonight
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straights....
is in sharp contrast to the mood of the last three lines —
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

Motif: (Also known as Motiv or Leitmotiv.) A theme, character type, image, Metaphor, or other verbal element that recurs throughout a single work of literature or occurs in a number of different works over a period of time.
For example, the various manifestations of the color white in Herman Melville's Moby Dick is a "specific" motif, while the trials of star-crossed lovers is a "conventional" motif from the literature of all periods.

Motiv: See Motif

Muckrakers: An early twentieth-century group of American writers. Typically, their works exposed the wrongdoings of big business and government in the United States.
Upton Sinclair's The Jungle exemplifies the muckraking novel.

Muses: Nine Greek mythological goddesses, the daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne (Memory). Each muse patronized a specific area of the liberal arts and sciences. Calliope presided over epic poetry, Clio over history, Erato over love poetry, Euterpe over music or Lyric Poetry, Melpomene over tragedy, Polyhymnia over hymns to the gods, Terpsichore over dance, Thalia over Comedy, and Urania over astronomy. Poets and writers traditionally made appeals to the Muses for inspiration in their work.
John Milton invokes the aid of a muse at the beginning of the first book of his Paradise Lost:
Of Man's First disobedience, and the Fruit
of the Forbidden Tree, whose mortal taste
Brought Death into the World, and all our woe,
With loss of Eden, till one greater Man
Restore us, and regain the blissful Seat,
Sing Heav'nly Muse, that on the secret top
of Oreb, or of Sinai, didst inspire
That Shepherd, who first taught the chosen Seed,
In the Beginning how the Heav'ns and Earth
Rose out of Chaos....

Mystery: See Suspense

Myth: An anonymous tale emerging from the traditional beliefs of a culture or social unit. Myths use supernatural explanations for natural phenomena. They may also explain cosmic issues like creation and death. Collections of myths, known as mythologies, are common to all cultures and nations, but the best-known myths belong to the Norse, Roman, and Greek mythologies.
A famous myth is the story of Arachne, an arrogant young girl who challenged a goddess, Athena, to a weaving contest; when the girl won, Athena was enraged and turned Arachne into a spider, thus explaining the existence of spiders. (Compare with Fable.)

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