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A literary society is a group of people interested in literature. In the modern sense, this refers to a society that wants to promote one genre of literature or a specific writer. Modern literary societies typically promote research about their chosen author or genre, publish newsletters, and hold meetings where research findings can be presented and discussed. Some are more academic and scholarly, while others are more social groups of amateurs who appreciate a chance to discuss their favourite writer with other hobbyists. Historically, literary society has also referred to salons such as those of Madame de Stael, Madame Geoffrin and Madame de Tencin in pre-Revolutionary France, and student groups at colleges and universities in the United States.
American College Literary Societies
There was a specialized form of the literary society which existed at American Colleges and Universities in the 19th century. The college literary societies were a part of virtually all academic institutions. Usually they existed in pairs at a particular campus, and would compete for members and prestige, and supplemented the classical studies of the curriculum with modern literature and current events. Many also maintained significant libraries, which often rivaled or surpassed the college library. When they disbanded, the libraries were typically given to the college. Even today, the oldest books in the early American colleges often bear the bookplate of a literary society.
These are Latin named and themed organizations whose purposes vary from society to society. Activities include but are not limited to: The weekly presentation of papers written by society members, and a debate on its merits; Readings of members work and others', followed by discussion; literary Productions, which are practices in oratory skill; intramural sports teams; service events; and social gatherings. Meetings were often ended with snacks, such as peanuts or sardines. Singing and music also played a role in society life as musical instruments became more available. There are seven active literary societies at Illinois College. It is from the collegiate literary societies with Latin names that the earliest Greek organizations sprung. As an example, Beta Theta Pi fraternity was started by 8 students of the Union Literary Society at Miami University in 1839. Many early Greek chapters were started as a result of schism in the Latin societies. The Greek chapters were smaller, numbering from 8 to 15 at any given time. These were more intimate groups as compared to the societies. Confidences could be shared,promoting a certain amount of secrecy, which became an early hallmark of a Greek chapter. And as the Greek organizations grew, the literary societies declined. Some vestiges remain, but for the most part society life ended in the early twentieth century.
Modern literary societies
Modern examples of literary societies include:
- in France, Parnassian poets and La Pléiade
- in Germany, the Tunnel über der Spree, the Georgekreis and the Group 47
- in Russia, the Arzamas Society, the Serapion Brothers and LEF
- in India, the Vangiya Sahitya Parishad and Asam Sahitya Sabha
- in Italy, the Società letteraria di Verona