Portal:Literature

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Literature is a term that does not have a universally accepted definition, but which has variably included all written work; writing that possesses literary merit; and language that foregrounds literariness, as opposed to ordinary language. Etymologically the term derives from Latin literatura/litteratura "writing formed with letters", although some definitions include spoken or sung texts. Literature can be classified according to whether it is fiction or non-fiction, and whether it is poetry or prose; it can be further distinguished according to major forms such as the novel, short story or drama; and works are often categorised according to historical periods, or according to their adherence to certain aesthetic features or expectations (genre).

Literature may consist of texts based on factual information (journalistic or non-fiction), a category that may also include polemical works, biographies, and reflective essays, or it may consist of texts based on imagination (such as fiction, poetry, or drama). Literature written in poetry emphasizes the aesthetic and rhythmic qualities of language—such as sound, symbolism, and metre—to evoke meanings in addition to, or in place of, ordinary meanings, while literature written in prose applies ordinary grammatical structure and the natural flow of speech. Literature can also be classified according to historical periods, genres, and political influences. While the concept of genre has broadened over the centuries, in general, a genre consists of artistic works that fall within a certain central theme; examples of genre include romance, mystery, crime, fantasy, erotica, and adventure, among others.

More about literature

Selected work

Illustration from Candide depicting the scene where Candide and Cacambo meet a maimed slave of a sugar mill near Surinam
Candide, ou l'Optimisme is a French satire first published in 1759 by Voltaire, a philosopher of the Age of Enlightenment. It begins with a young man, Candide, who is living a sheltered life in an Edenic paradise and being indoctrinated with Leibnizian optimism (or simply Optimism) by his mentor, Pangloss. The work describes the abrupt cessation of this lifestyle, followed by Candide's slow, painful disillusionment as he witnesses and experiences great hardships in the world. Voltaire concludes with Candide, if not rejecting optimism outright, advocating a deeply practical precept, "we must cultivate our garden", in lieu of the Leibnizian mantra of Pangloss, "all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds".

Candide is characterised by its sarcastic tone, as well as by its erratic, fantastical and fast-moving plot. A picaresque novel with a story similar to that of a more serious bildungsroman, it parodies many adventure and romance clichés, the struggles of which are caricatured in a tone that is mordantly matter-of-fact. Still, the events discussed are often based on historical happenings, such as the Seven Years' War and the 1755 Lisbon earthquake. As philosophers of Voltaire's day contended with the problem of evil, so too does Candide in this short novel, albeit more directly and humorously. Voltaire ridicules religion, theologians, governments, armies, philosophies, and philosophers through allegory; most conspicuously, he assaults Leibniz and his optimism.

Selected figure

Maya Angelou reciting poetry at President Bill Clinton's inauguration, in January 1993
Maya Angelou (born Marguerite Ann Johnson; April 4, 1928) is an American author and poet. She has published seven autobiographies, three books of essays, and several books of poetry, and is credited with a list of plays, movies, and television shows spanning more than fifty years. She has received dozens of awards and over thirty honorary doctoral degrees. Angelou is best known for her series of seven autobiographies, which focus on her childhood and early adult experiences.

With the publication of critically acclaimed I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969), Angelou publicly discussed aspects of her personal life. She is respected as a spokesperson of black people and women, and her works have been considered a defense of black culture. Although attempts have been made to ban her books from some US libraries, her works are widely used in schools and universities worldwide. Angelou's major works have been labeled as autobiographical fiction, but many critics have characterized them as autobiographies. She has made a deliberate attempt to challenge the common structure of the autobiography by critiquing, changing, and expanding the genre. Her books center on themes such as racism, identity, family, and travel. Angelou is best known for her autobiographies, but she is also an established poet, although her poems have received mixed reviews.

Selected excerpt

Weeks passed, and the little Rabbit grew very old and shabby, but the Boy loved him just as much. He loved him so hard that he loved all his whiskers off, and the pink lining to his ears turned grey, and his brown spots faded. He even began to lose his shape, and he scarcely looked like a rabbit any more, except to the Boy. To him he was always beautiful, and that was all that the little Rabbit cared about. He didn’t mind how he looked to other people, because the nursery magic had made him Real, and when you are Real shabbiness doesn't matter.

Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit

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Selected illustration

Lord Byron - Childe Harold's Pilgimage - Dugdale edition.jpg
Credit: I. H. Jones

Childe Harold's Pilgrimage is a lengthy narrative poem in four parts written by Lord Byron. The poem describes the travels and reflections of a world-weary young man who, disillusioned with a life of pleasure and revelry, looks for distraction in foreign lands. This illustration, which depicts a giant described in Canto I, Stanza 39, is the frontispiece to an 1825 printing of the book.

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Today in literature

12 July

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