REading FOreign LITerature

What is Literature?_

There is a very wide difference of opinion, even among distinguished critics.

Here is the definition given by Mr. B. Worsfold in his "Judgement in Literature." "Literature," he says, "in the widest sense, is the record of impressions made by external realities of every kind upon great men, and of the reflections which these men have made upon them. The subject matter of literature covers the whole range of human life and activity, as well as every known manifestation of physical nature. For not only are actual events and the doings and sayings of actual persons reproduced in it, but the rules deduced from observation of the conditions of man's life are included in its records. Similarly it presents to us not merely what individual men found to interest them in particular countries in a particular epoch, but also long-continued observation of the processes of nature. And so literature plays a very important part in the life of man. Literature is the brain of humanity."

The value of literature lies in the fact that it is an interpretation of life. A great writer is one who interprets life greatly, one who is exquisitely responsive to the most subtle impressions of the outside world. He sees things far more clearly, and feels them far more deeply than do men of the common stock, and he endevours to convey this heightened sense of the wonder and glory of the world to our duller and grosser perceptions.

Literary Appreciation really means Literary Judgement, or in other words, it is an attempt to estimate the true literary value of a work. You are not to indulge in lavish praise or to seek out and enlarge upon its faults. But you are carefully to weigh all that can be said for it or against it, to give our calm and considered judgement accordingly.

Literary appreciation is a matter of personal judgement, and if you can feel that work is fine, lofty and ennobling, that it has captured and conveyed to you some high thought or profound emotion, that it has given you, even for a brief moment a glimpse of rare and faultless beauty, then this work is great and moving and beautiful.

To read with intelligent appreciation the works of any author you should know something of the age in which he lived.

In studying a work of any writer the first thing to do is to gain an impression of the work as a whole. When you have gained the general impression, you should next proceed to a closer and more detailed examination of the work, you should look for certain definite qualities and characteristics.

The value of a writer's work can therefore be to a large extent determined by the test of truth. This relates to the subject matter of the work. The next quality has reference to the form of the work, whether it is well constructed, whether every part of the work contributes to a unity of impression.

The last point you will have to consider in criticizing a work is the style in which it is written. Style in literature is the manner in which a writer expresses his thoughts, it is his particular or individual way of looking at things.

Some examples of the main kinds of styles:

The Plain Style is clear, simple, direct, and easily understood. Ornament is avoided, the sentences are usually of medium length and loose in form, and the words chosen are, for the most part, the short, concrete, native words familiar to all.

The Terse Style is compact, neat, rapid, and concise. There is not a redundant phrase or a superfluous epithet. Every thought is rigorously condensed, and then expressed with crisp, epigramic brevity.

The Picturesque Style is graphic, animated and life-like. It is the style in which the writer tries to make us realise as a whole, and as intensively as possible, some sense he is representing to our mind in a series of vividly descriptive word-pictures.

The Forcible Style is intense, nervous, arresting, and strongly marked. Force can be attained by contrast (as in the use of metaphors, simile, and allegory), by association (as in the use of metonymy and synecdoche), by employing the various devices to gain emphasis, by apt illustration and brevity of statement.

The Graceful Style. In it we have ease, refinement, good taste, a perfect harmony of thought and diction.

Wit and Humour. The distinction between the two is this: Humour is based on the emotions and Wit on the intellect; Humour is genial, Wit sarcastic; Humour is warm and sympathetic, Wit cold and derisive; in Humour we laugh with a person, in Wit we laugh at him.

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