Education and Information Site VirtualSalt A Glossary of Litterary Terms, Page 2 Robert A. Harris
February 5, 2010





Epic. An extended narrative poem recounting actions, travels, adventures, and heroic episodes and written in a high style (with ennobled diction, for example). It may be written in hexameter verse, especially dactylic hexameter, and it may have twelve books or twenty four books. Characteristics of the classical epic include these: Typical in epics is a set of conventions (or epic machinery). Among them are these: Examples: Epistolary novel. A novel consisting of letters written by a character or several characters. The form allows for the use of multiple points of view toward the story and the ability to dispense with an omniscient narrator. Examples: Euphemism. The substitution of a mild or less negative word or phrase for a harsh or blunt one, as in the use of "pass away" instead of "die." The basic psychology of euphemistic language is the desire to put something bad or embarrassing in a positive (or at least neutral light). Thus many terms referring to death, sex, crime, and excremental functions are euphemisms. Since the euphemism is often chosen to disguise something horrifying, it can be exploited by the satirist through the use of irony and exaggeration.
Euphuism. A highly ornate style of writing popularized by John Lyly's Euphues, characterized by balanced sentence construction, rhetorical tropes, and multiplied similes and allusions.

Existentialist novel. A novel written from an existentialist viewpoint, often pointing out the absurdity and meaninglessness of existence. Example:





Fantasy novel. Any novel that is disengaged from reality. Often such novels are set in nonexistent worlds, such as under the earth, in a fairyland, on the moon, etc. The characters are often something other than human or include nonhuman characters. Example: Flashback. A device that allows the writer to present events that happened before the time of the current narration or the current events in the fiction. Flashback techniques include memories, dreams, stories of the past told by characters, or even authorial sovereignty. (That is, the author might simply say, "But back in Tom's youth. . . .") Flashback is useful for exposition, to fill in the reader about a character or place, or about the background to a conflict.

Foot. The basic unit of meter consisting of a group of two or three syllables. Scanning or scansion is the process of determining the prevailing foot in a line of poetry, of determining the types and sequence of different feet.

Types of feet: U (unstressed); / (stressed syllable)

Iamb: U /
Trochee: / U
Anapest: U U /
Dactyl: / U U
Spondee: / /
Pyrrhic: U U

Iambic words: about, event, infuse, persuade
Trochaic words:
woman, daisy, golden, patchwork
Anapestic words: underneath, introduce
Dactyllic words: fantasy, alchemy, penetrate

Note that poetic feet are composed of words fitted together to form the meter. That is, anapestic hexameter is not composed of lines of six anapestic words each, but lines of six anapestic feet, made up of various words. Here is an off-the-cuff anapestic hexameter couplet:

On the wall, under light, stood a man in a coat, with a dog by his side.
Looking up, looking down, our eyes met with a frown--and a smile from the dog.

See also versification, below.

Frame. A narrative structure that provides a setting and exposition for the main narrative in a novel. Often, a narrator will describe where he found the manuscript of the novel or where he heard someone tell the story he is about to relate. The frame helps control the reader's perception of the work, and has been used in the past to help give credibility to the main section of the novel, through the implication or claim that the novel represents a true account of events, written by someone other than the author. In the 16th through the 18th centuries, frames were sometimes used to help protect the author and publisher from persecution for the ideas presented. Examples of novels with frames:

Free verse. Verse that has neither regular rhyme nor regular meter. Free verse often uses cadences rather than uniform metrical feet.
I cannot strive to drink
dry the ocean's fill
since you replenish my gulps
with your tears
Gothic novel. A novel in which supernatural horrors and an atmosphere of unknown terror pervades the action. The setting is often a dark, mysterious castle, where ghosts and sinister humans roam menacingly. Horace Walpole invented the genre with his Castle of Otranto. Gothic elements include these: Examples: For more information, see Elements of the Gothic Novel.

Graphic Novel. A novel illustrated panel by panel, either in color or black and white. Graphic novels are sometimes referred to as extended comics, because the presentation format (panel by panel illustration, mostly dialog with usually little exposition) suggests a comic. So too does the emphasis on action in many graphic novels. Characters who are not human, talking monsters, and imaginary beings sometimes populate graphic novels, bringing them closer to science fiction or fantasy than realism.

Heroic Couplet. Two lines of rhyming iambic pentameter. Most of Alexander Pope's verse is written in heroic couplets. In fact, it is the most favored verse form of the eighteenth century. Example:
      u    /    u   /     u   /  u      /    u    / 

    'Tis hard to say, if greater want of skill 



     u  /   u  /   u   /  u  /   u   / 

    Appear in writing or in judging ill. . . . 

          --Alexander Pope 
[Note in the second line that "or" should be a stressed syllable if the meter were perfectly iambic. Iambic= a two syllable foot of one unstressed and one stressed syllable, as in the word "begin." Pentameter= five feet. Thus, iambic pentameter has ten syllables, five feet of two syllable iambs.]

Historical novel. A novel where fictional characters take part in actual historical events and interact with real people from the past. Examples:

Horatian Satire. In general, a gentler, more good humored and sympathetic kind of satire, somewhat tolerant of human folly even while laughing at it. Named after the poet Horace, whose satire epitomized it. Horatian satire tends to ridicule human folly in general or by type rather than attack specific persons. Compare Juvenalian satire.

Humanism. The new emphasis in the Renaissance on human culture, education and reason, sparked by a revival of interest in classical Greek and Roman literature, culture, and language. Human nature and the dignity of man were exalted and emphasis was placed on the present life as a worthy event in itself (as opposed to the medieval emphasis on the present life merely as preparation for a future life).

Humours. In medieval physiology, four liquids in the human body affecting behavior. Each humour was associated with one of the four elements of nature. In a balanced personality, no humour predominated. When a humour did predominate, it caused a particular personality. Here is a chart of the humours, the corresponding elements and personality characteristics:

The Renaissance took the doctrine of humours quite seriously--it was their model of psychology--so knowing that can help us understand the characters in the literature. Falstaff, for example, has a dominance of blood, while Hamlet seems to have an excess of black bile.

Hypertext novel. A novel that can be read in a nonsequential way. That is, whereas most novels flow from beginning to end in a continuous, linear fashion, a hypertext novel can branch--the reader can move from one place in the text to another nonsequential place whenever he wishes to trace an idea or follow a character. Also called hyperfiction. Most are published on CD-ROM. See also interactive novel. Examples:


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Robert Harris is a writer and educator with more than 25 years of teaching experience at the college and university level. RHarris at virtualsalt.com