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Literary Terms Glossary
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The following is a list of literary terms; that is, those words used in discussion, classification, criticism, and analysis of poetry, novels and picture books.

A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W

* Reader-response criticism

Reader-response criticism is a school of literary theory that focuses on the reader (or "audience") and his or her experience of a literary work, in contrast to other schools and theories that focus attention primarily on the author or the content and form of the work.

Although literary theory has long paid some attention to the reader's role in creating the meaning and experience of a literary work, modern reader-response criticism began in the 1960s and '70s, particularly in America and Germany, in work by Norman Holland, Stanley Fish, Wolfgang Iser, Hans-Robert Jauss, Roland Barthes, and others. Important predecessors were I. A. Richards, who in 1929 analyzed a group of Cambridge undergraduates' misreadings; Louise Rosenblatt, who, in Literature as Exploration (1938), argued that it is important for the teacher to avoid imposing any "preconceived notions about the proper way to react to any work"; and C. S. Lewis in An Experiment in Criticism (1961).

Reader-response theory recognizes the reader as an active agent who imparts "real existence" to the work and completes its meaning through interpretation. Reader-response criticism argues that literature should be viewed as a performing art in which each reader creates his or her own, possibly unique, text-related performance. It stands in total opposition to the theories of formalism and the New Criticism, in which the reader's role in re-creating literary works is ignored. New Criticism had emphasized that only that which is within a text is part of the meaning of a text. No appeal to the authority or intention of the author, nor to the psychology of the reader, was allowed in the discussions of orthodox New Critics. The New Critics' position assumed an objective, fixed text that could be studied apart from any human being, and this assumption persisted even into postmodern criticism.

* Realism (arts)

Realism in the visual arts and literature refers to the general attempt to depict subjects "in accordance with secular, empirical rules", as they are considered to exist in third person objective reality, without embellishment or interpretation. As such, the approach inherently implies a belief that such reality is ontologically independent of man's conceptual schemes, linguistic practices and beliefs, and thus can be known (or knowable) to the artist, who can in turn represent this 'reality' faithfully. As Ian Watt states, modern realism "begins from the position that truth can be discovered by the individual through the senses" and as such "it has its origins in Descartes and Locke, and received its first full formulation by Thomas Reid in the middle of the eighteenth century."

Realism often refers more specifically to the artistic movement, which began in France in the 1850s. These realists positioned themselves against romanticism, a genre dominating French literature and artwork in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Purporting to be undistorted by personal bias, Realism believed in the ideology of objective reality and revolted against the exaggerated emotionalism of the romantic movement. Truth and accuracy became the goals of many Realists. Many paintings which sprung up during the time of realism depicted people at work, as during the 19th century there were many open work places due to the Industrial Revolution and Commercial Revolutions. The popularity of such 'realistic' works grew with the introduction of photography — a new visual source that created a desire for people to produce representations which look “objectively real.”

The term is also used to refer to works of art which, in revealing a truth, may emphasize the ugly or sordid, such as works of social realism, regionalism or Kitchen sink realism.

* Redaction

In the study of literature, redaction is a form of editing in which multiple source texts are combined (redacted) and subjected to minor alteration to make them into a single work. Often this is a method of collecting a series of writings on a similar theme and creating a definitive and coherent work.

On occasion, the persons performing the redaction (the redactors) add brief elements of their own. The reasons for doing so are varied and can include the addition of elements to adjust the underlying conclusions of the text to suit the redactor's opinion, adding bridging elements to integrate disparate stories, or the redactor may add a frame story, such as the tale of Scheherazade which frames the collection of folk tales in The Book of One Thousand and One Nights.

Sometimes the source texts are interlaced, particularly when discussing closely related details, things, or people. This is common when source texts contain alternative versions of the same story, and slight alterations are often made in this circumstance, simply to make the texts appear to agree, and thus the resulting redacted text appear to be coherent. Such a situation is proposed by the documentary hypothesis, which proposes that multiple redactions occurred during the creation of the Torah, often combining texts, which have rival political attitudes and aims, together; another example is the Talmud.

Redactional processes are documented in numerous disciplines, including ancient literary works and biblical studies. Much has been written on the role of redaction in creating meaning for texts in various formats. For example, in the field of biblical studies, see John Barton, Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. 5: 644-647; or Odil Hannes Steck, Old Testament Exegesis, 2nd edition (Atlanta: Scholars Press), 74-93.

In business and law, a document can have certain parts "redacted", meaning sensitive names and details were removed for various reasons.

Redactional fatigue is an important related concept: when making changes to a large text, a redactor may occasionally overlook a piece of text that conflicts with the redactional goals. Since many important ancient texts are likely to have been redacted at least once, such snippets open a window into an earlier form of the text. The nature of the conflict between the bulk of a redacted text and the contradictory windows can suggest what the goals of the redactor might have been.

* Red herring

Red herring is an idiomatic expression referring to the rhetorical or literary tactic of diverting attention away from an item of significance. For example, in mystery fiction, where the identity of a criminal is being sought, an innocent party may be purposefully cast in a guilty light by the author through the employment of false emphasis, deceptive clues, 'loaded' words or other descriptive tricks of the trade. The reader's suspicions are thus misdirected, allowing the true culprit to go (temporarily at least) undetected. A false protagonist is another example of a red herring.

In a literal sense, there is no such fish species as a "red herring"; rather it refers to a particularly strong kipper, meaning a fish—typically a herring but not always—that has been strongly cured in brine and/or heavily smoked. This process makes the fish particularly pungent smelling and, with a strong enough brine, turns its flesh reddish. This term, in its literal sense as a strongly cured kipper, can be dated to the late Middle Ages, as quoted here c1400 Femina (Trin-C B.14.40) 27: "He eteþ no ffyssh But heryng red." Samuel Pepys used it in his diary entry of 28 February 1660 "Up in the morning, and had some red herrings to our breakfast, while my boot-heel was a-mending, by the same token the boy left the hole as big as it was before."

The idiomatic sense of "red herring" has, until very recently, been thought to originate from a supposed technique of training young scent hounds. There are variations of the story, but according to one version, the pungent red herring would be dragged along a trail until a puppy learned to follow the scent. Later, when the dog was being trained to follow the faint odour of a fox or a badger, the trainer would drag a red herring (whose strong scent confuses the animal) perpendicular to the animal's trail to confuse the dog. The dog would eventually learn to follow the original scent rather than the stronger scent. An alternate etymology points to escaping convicts who would use the pungent fish to throw off hounds in pursuit.

In reality, the technique was probably never used to train hounds or help desperate criminals. The idiom probably originates from an article published 14 February 1807 by journalist William Cobbett in the polemical Weekly Political Register. In a critique of the English press, which had mistakenly reported Napoleon's defeat, Cobbett recounted that he had once used a red herring to deflect hounds in pursuit of a hare, adding "It was a mere transitory effect of the political red-herring; for, on the Saturday, the scent became as cold as a stone." As British etymologist Michael Quinion says, "This story, and [Cobbett's] extended repetition of it in 1833, was enough to get the figurative sense of red herring into the minds of his readers, unfortunately also with the false idea that it came from some real practice of huntsmen."

* Refrain

A refrain (from Vulgar Latin refringere, "to repeat", and later from Old French refraindre) is the line or lines that are repeated in music or in verse; the "chorus" of a song. Poetic fixed forms that feature refrains include the villanelle, the virelay, and the sestina.

The use of refrains is particularly associated with where the verse-chorus-verse song structure typically places a refrain in almost every song. The refrain or chorus often sharply contrasts the verse melodically, rhythmically, and harmonically, and assumes a higher level of dynamics and activity, often with added instrumentation. Chorus form, or strophic form, is a sectional and/or additive way of structuring a piece of music based on the repetition of one formal section or block played repeatedly. See also verse-chorus form.

In music, a refrain has two parts: the lyrics of the song, and the melody. Sometimes refrains vary their words slightly when repeated; recognisability is given to the refrain by the fact that it is always sung to the same tune, and the rhymes, if present, are preserved despite the variations of the words. Such a refrain is featured in "The Star-Spangled Banner," which contains a refrain which is introduced by a different phrase in each verse, but which always ends:

O'er the land of the free, and the home of the brave.

A similar refrain is found in the "Battle Hymn of the Republic," which affirms in successive verses that "Our God," or "His Truth." is "marching on."

* Regency novel

Regency novels are either:

  • Fiction actually written during the Regency era - The works of Jane Austen, Sir Walter Scott, Susan Ferrier, and Maria Edgeworth would fall into this category.
  • Later fiction set within the Regency era. - These include romance novels (called "Regency romances"), detective fiction, and military fiction.
  • In both cases the setting is typically Regency England, although the settings can sometimes be extended to the European continent or to the various British colonies of the same time period. Traits often found in both types include a highly developed sense of social standing between the characters; emphasis on 'manners' and class issues; and the emergence of modern social thought amongst the upper classes of England.

    The Regency period in the United Kingdom is the period between 1811 and 1820, when King George III was deemed unfit to rule and his son, later George IV, was instated to be his proxy as Prince Regent. It was a decade of particular manners and fashions, and overlaps with the Napoleonic Period in Europe.

    * Regionalism (literature)

    In literature, regionalism or local color fictionality refers to fiction or poetry that focuses on specific features – including characters, dialects, customs, history, and topography – of a particular region.

    * Renga

    Renga (連歌 renga?, collaborative poetry) is a genre of Japanese collaborative poetry. A renga consists of at least two ku (句) or stanzas, usually many more. The opening stanza of the renga, called the hokku (発句), became the basis for the modern haiku form of poetry.

    Two of the most famous masters of renga were the Buddhist priest Sōgi (1421 - 1502) and Matsuo Bashō (1644 - 1694).

    * Renku

    Renku (連句 "linked verses"?), the Japanese form of popular collaborative linked verse poetry formerly known as haikai no renga (俳諧の連歌), is an offshoot of the older Japanese poetic tradition of ushin renga, or orthodox collaborative linked verse. At renga gatherings participating poets would take turns providing alternating verses of 17 syllables and 14 syllables. Initially haikai no renga distinguished itself through vulgarity and coarseness of wit, before growing into a legitimate artistic tradition, and eventually giving birth to the haiku form of Japanese poetry.

    * Repetition (rhetorical device)

    Repetition is the simple repeating of a word, within a sentence or a poetical line, with no particular placement of the words, in order to emphasize. This is such a common literary device that it is almost never even noted as a figure of speech.“

    Today, as never before, the fates of men are so intimately linked
    to one another that a disaster for one is a disaster for everybody.
    (Natalia Ginzburg, The Little Virtues, 1962)

    * Resolution - Plot (narrative)

    Plot is a literary term for the events a story comprises, particularly as they relate to one another in a pattern, a sequence, through cause and effect, or by coincidence. One is generally interested in how well this pattern of events accomplishes some artistic or emotional effect. An intricate, complicated plot is called an imbroglio, but even the simplest statements of plot may include multiple inferences, as in traditional ballads.

    * Reverse chronology

    Reverse chronology is a method of story-telling whereby the plot is revealed in reverse order.

    In a story employing this technique, the first scene shown is actually the conclusion to the plot. Once that scene ends, the penultimate scene is shown, and so on, so that the final scene the viewer sees is the first chronologically.

    Many stories employ flashback, showing prior events, but whereas the scene order of most conventional films is A-B-C-etc, a film in reverse chronology goes Z-Y-X-etc.

    As a hypothetical example, if the fairy tale Jack and the Beanstalk was told using reverse chronology, the opening scene would depict Jack chopping the beanstalk down and killing the giant. The next scene would feature Jack being discovered by the giant and climbing down the beanstalk in fear of his life. Later, we would see Jack running into the man with the infamous magic beans, then, at the end of the film, being sent off by his mother to sell the cow.

    * Rhapsode

    A rhapsode (Greek: ῥαψῳδός, rhapsōdos) or, in modern usage, rhapsodist, refers to a classical Greek professional performer of epic poetry in the fifth and fourth centuries BC (and perhaps earlier). Rhapsodes notably performed the epics of Homer (Iliad and Odyssey) but also the wisdom and catalogue poetry of Hesiod and the satires of Archilochus and others. Plato's dialogue Ion, in which Socrates confronts a star player rhapsode, remains our richest source of information on these artists. Often, rhapsodes are depicted in Greek art, wearing their signature cloak and carrying a staff. This equipment is also characteristic of travellers in general, implying that rhapsodes were itinerant performers, moving from town to town.

    * Rhetoric

    Rhetoric is the art and study of the use of language with persuasive effect. In Aristotle's systematization of rhetoric, one important aspect of rhetoric to study and theorize was the three persuasive audience appeals: logos, pathos, and ethos, as well as the five canons of rhetoric: invention or discovery, arrangement, style, memory, and delivery. Along with grammar and logic or dialectic, rhetoric is one of the three ancient arts of discourse. From ancient Greece to the late 19th Century, it was a central part of Western education, filling the need to train public speakers and writers to move audiences to action with arguments.

    The very act of defining itself has been a central part of rhetoric, appearing among Aristotle's Topics. The word is derived from the Greek ῥητορικός (rhētorikós), "oratorical", from ῥήτωρ (rhḗtōr), "public speaker", related to ῥημα (rhêma), "that which is said or spoken, word, saying", and ultimately derived from the verb ἐρῶ (erô), "to speak, say". In its broadest sense, rhetoric concerns human discourse.

    Contemporary studies of rhetoric address a more diverse range of domains than was the case in ancient times. While classical rhetoric trained speakers to be effective persuaders in public forums and institutions like courtrooms and assemblies, contemporary rhetoric investigates human discourse writ large. Rhetoricians have studied the discourses of a wide variety of domains, including the natural and social sciences, fine art, religion, journalism, digital media, fiction, history, cartography, and architecture, along with the more traditional domains of politics and the law. Public relations, lobbying, law, marketing, professional and technical writing, and advertising are modern professions that employ rhetorical practitioners.

    * Rhetorical device

    In rhetoric, a rhetorical device or resource of language is a technique that an author or speaker uses to convey to the listener or reader a meaning with the goal of persuading him or her towards considering a topic from a different perspective. While rhetorical devices may be used to evoke an emotional response in the audience, there are other reasons to use them. The goal of rhetoric is to persuade towards a particular frame of view or a particular course of action, so appropriate rhetorical devices are used to construct sentences designed both to make the audience receptive through emotional changes and to provide a rational argument for the frame of view or course of action.

    Two rhetorical devices are irony and metaphor.

    The use of irony in rhetoric is primarily to convey to the audience an incongruity that is often used as a tool of humor in order to deprecate or ridicule an idea or course of action.

    The use of metaphor in rhetoric is primarily to convey to the audience a new idea or meaning by linking it to an existing idea or meaning with which the audience is already familiar. By making the new appear to be linked to or a type of the old and familiar, the person using the metaphor hopes to help the audience understand the new.

    An example of rhetorical device is this passage attributed to a speech by Abraham Lincoln about a political adversary in which Lincoln said that his adversary had "dived down deeper into the sea of knowledge and come up drier than any other man he knew".

    This attributed quote uses a body of water as a metaphor for a body of knowledge with the ironical idea of someone who gained so little from his education that he achieved the impossible of jumping into a body of water and climbing back out without getting wet.

    Some Rhetorical Devices:

    Sonic devices depend on sound.

    1. Alliteration is the repetition of the beginning sound of a word. This device is used to emphasize something, especially some kind of threat, bad or danger. For example, "The zoo kept several selfish seals".
    2. Assonance is the repetition of a similar set of sounds, it is used to emphasize intensity, evil, etc.
    3. Cacophony is the eruption of chaotic, awful sound.
    4. Onomatopoeia uses one or more onomatopoeic word (a word that sounds like what the author is describing).

    Devices of Altered Signification shift the meaning of words.

    1. Metaphor directly says something is something else. For example, "his beard was a lion's mane".
    2. Simile is a gentler form of metaphor which tends to use "as" or "like to compare something to something else. For example, "his beard was like a lion's mane."

    * Rhetorical operations

    Since classical rhetoric, the four fundamental rhetorical operations, which still today serve to encompass the various figures of speech, have been: addition (adiectio), omission (detractio), permutation (immutatio) and transposition (transmutatio). Originally these were called, in Latin, the four operations of quadripartita ratio.

    * Rhetorical question

    A rhetorical question is a figure of speech in the form of a question posed for its persuasive effect without the expectation of a reply (e.g.: "Why me?") Rhetorical questions encourage the listener to think about what the (often obvious) answer to the question must be. When a speaker states, "How much longer must our people endure this injustice?", no formal answer is expected. Rather, it is a device used by the speaker to assert or deny something.

    * Rhyme

    A rhyme is a repetition of similar sounds in two or more words and is most often used in poetry and songs. The word "rhyme" may also refer to a short poem, such as a rhyming couplet or other brief rhyming poem such as nursery rhymes.

    * Rhymed prose

    Rhymed prose is a literary form and literary genre, written in unmetrical rhymes. This form has been known in many different cultures. In some cases the rhymed prose is a distinctive, well-defined style of writing. In modern literary traditions the boundaries of poetry are very broad (free verse, prose poetry, etc.), and some works may be described both as prose and poetry.

    * Rhyme royal

    Rhyme royal (or Rime royal) is a rhyming stanza form that was introduced into English poetry by Geoffrey Chaucer.

    The rhyme royal stanza consists of seven lines, usually in iambic pentameter. The rhyme scheme is a-b-a-b-b-c-c. In practice, the stanza can be constructed either as a terza rima and two couplets (a-b-a, b-b, c-c) or a quatrain and a tercet (a-b-a-b, b-c-c). This allows for a good deal of variety, especially when the form is used for longer narrative poems; and along with the couplet, it was the standard narrative metre in the late Middle Ages.

    * Robinsonade

    Robinsonade is a literary genre that takes its name from the 1719 novel Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe. The success of this novel spawned enough imitations that its name was used to define a genre, which is sometimes described simply as a "desert island story".

    The word "robinsonade" was coined by the German writer Johann Gottfried Schnabel in the Preface of his work Die Insel Felsenburg (1731). It is often viewed as a subgenre of survivalist fiction.

    * Romance (genre)

    As a literary genre of high culture, romance or chivalric romance is a style of heroic prose and verse narrative that was popular in the aristocratic circles of High Medieval and Early Modern Europe. They were fantastic stories about the marvelous adventures of a chivalrous, heroic knight errant, often of super-human ability, who often goes on a quest. Popular literature also drew on themes of romance, but with ironic, satiric or burlesque intent. Romances reworked legends, fairy tales, and history to suit tastes, but by c.1600 they were out of fashion and Miguel de Cervantes famously satirised them in his novel Don Quixote. Still, the modern image of "medieval" is more influenced by the romance than by any other medieval genre, and the standard image of medieval invokes knights, distressed damsels, dragons, and other romantic tropes.

    Originally, romance literature was written in Old French, Anglo-Norman and Occitan, later, in English and German. During the early 13th century romances were increasingly written as prose. In later romances, particularly those of French origin, there is a marked tendency to emphasize themes of courtly love, such as faithfulness in adversity. From ca. 1800 the connotations of "romance" moved from the magical and fantastic to somewhat eerie "Gothic" adventure narratives.

    * Romance novel

    The romance novel is a literary genre developed in Western culture, mainly in English-speaking countries. Novels in this genre place their primary focus on the relationship and romantic love between two people, and must have an "emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending." Through the late 20th and early 21st centuries, these novels are commercially in two main varieties: category romances, which are shorter books with a one-month shelf-life, and single-title romances, which are generally longer with a longer shelf-life. Separate from their type, a romance novel can exist within one of many subgenres, including contemporary, historical, science fiction and paranormal.

    One of the earliest romance novels was Samuel Richardson's popular 1740 novel Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded, which was revolutionary on two counts: it focused almost entirely on courtship and did so entirely from the perspective of a female protagonist. In the next century, Jane Austen expanded the genre, and her Pride and Prejudice is often considered the epitome of the genre. Austen inspired Georgette Heyer, who introduced historical romances in 1921. A decade later, British company Mills and Boon began releasing the first category romance novels. Their books were resold in North America by Harlequin Enterprises Ltd, which began direct marketing to readers and allowing mass-market merchandisers to carry the books.

    The modern romance genre was born in 1972 with Avon's publication of Kathleen Woodiwiss's The Flame and the Flower, the first single-title romance novel to be published as an original paperback. Nancy Coffey was the senior editor who negotiated the multi-book deal. The genre boomed in the 1980s, with the addition of many category romance lines and an increased number of single-title romances. Popular authors began pushing the boundaries of the genre and plots and characters began to modernize.

    In North America, romance novels are the most popular genre in modern literature, comprising almost 55% of all paperback books sold in 2004. The genre is also popular in Europe and Australia, and romance novels appear in 90 languages. Most of the books, however, are written by authors from English-speaking countries, leading to an Anglo-Saxon perspective in the fiction. Despite the popularity and widespread sales of romance novels, the genre has attracted significant derision, skepticism and criticism.

    * Romanticism

    Romanticism (or the Romantic Era) was a complex artistic, literary and intellectual movement that originated in the second half of the 18th century in Europe, and gained strength in reaction to the Industrial Revolution. In part, it was a revolt against aristocratic social and political norms of the Age of Enlightenment and a reaction against the scientific rationalization of nature. It was embodied most strongly in the visual arts, music, and literature, but had a major impact on historiography, education and natural history.

    The movement validated strong emotion as an authentic source of aesthetic experience, placing new emphasis on such emotions as trepidation, horror and terror and awe—especially that which is experienced in confronting the sublimity of untamed nature and its picturesque qualities, both new aesthetic categories. It elevated folk art and ancient custom to something noble, made of spontaneity a desirable character (as in the musical impromptu), and argued for a "natural" epistemology of human activities as conditioned by nature in the form of language and customary usage.

    Romanticism reached beyond the rational and Classicist ideal models to elevate a revived medievalism and elements of art and narrative perceived to be authentically medieval, in an attempt to escape the confines of population growth, urban sprawl, and industrialism, and it also attempted to embrace the exotic, unfamiliar, and distant in modes more authentic than Rococo chinoiserie, harnessing the power of the imagination to envision and to escape.

    The modern sense of a romantic character may be expressed in Byronic ideals of a gifted, perhaps misunderstood loner, creatively following the dictates of his inspiration rather than the mores of contemporary society.

    Although the movement was rooted in the German Sturm und Drang movement, which prized intuition and emotion over Enlightenment rationalism, the ideologies and events of the French Revolution laid the background from which both Romanticism and the Counter-Enlightenment emerged. The confines of the Industrial Revolution also had their influence on Romanticism, which was in part an escape from modern realities; indeed, in the second half of the 19th century, "Realism" was offered as a polarized opposite to Romanticism. Romanticism elevated the achievements of what it perceived as heroic individualists and artists, whose pioneering examples would elevate society. It also legitimized the individual imagination as a critical authority, which permitted freedom from classical notions of form in art. There was a strong recourse to historical and natural inevitability, a zeitgeist, in the representation of its ideas.

    * Romanzo d' appendice

    Romanzo d'appendìce (Italian for Feuilleton) was a popular genre in literature, which originated in England and France, in the second half of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th.

    This literary genre is characterised by the existence of many and often recurring characters, and by many cliffhangers at the end of a chapter, to ensure sales of the next episode. This is a clear case of form influencing content: these novels were published in episodes in newspapers and could in a certain sense be compared to modern soap opera. Ponson du Terrail, Eugene Sue, Maurice Leblanc, Gustave Le Rouge and Michel Zévaco were among the numerous authors which contributed to the genre.

    Feuilleton is used in current language to indicate a quite improbable story.

    * Roman à clef

    Roman à clef or roman à clé (French for novel with a key, is the term used for a novel describing real life, behind a façade of fiction. The "key" in this context is the mapping of the fictitious, but recognizable, names in the novel to those real people that the fictional characters represent. This "key" may be published separately by the author or instead inferred through the use of epigraphs or other literary devices.

    Created by Madeleine de Scudery in the 17th century to provide a forum for her thinly veiled fiction featuring political and public figures, roman à clef has since been used by writers as diverse as Victor Hugo, Phillip K. Dick, and Salman Rushdie.

    The reasons an author might choose the roman à clef format include satire; writing about controversial topics and/or reporting inside information on scandals without giving rise to charges of libel; the opportunity to turn the tale the way the author would like it to have gone; the opportunity to portray personal, autobiographical experiences without having to expose the author as the subject; avoiding self-incrimination or incrimination of others that could be used as evidence in civil, criminal, or disciplinary proceedings; and the plain old settling of scores.

    Biographically-inspired works have also appeared in other literary genres and art forms, notably the film à clef.

    * Round character - Character (arts)

    A character is the representation of a person in a narrative or dramatic work of art (such as a novel, play, or film). Derived from the ancient Greek word kharaktêr (χαρακτήρ), the earliest use in English, in this sense, dates from the Restoration, although it became widely used after its appearance in Tom Jones in 1749. From this, the sense of "a part played by an actor" developed. Character, particularly when enacted by an actor in the theatre or cinema, involves "the illusion of being a human person." In literature, characters guide readers through their stories, helping them to understand plots and ponder themes. Since the end of the 18th century, the phrase "in character" has been used to describe an effective impersonation by an actor. Since the 19th century, the art of creating characters, as practised by actors or writers, has been called characterisation.

    * Round-robin story

    A round-robin story, or simply "round robin," is a type of collaborative fiction or storytelling in which a number of authors each write chapters of a novel or pieces of a story, in rounds. Round-robin novels were invented in the 19th century, and later became a tradition particularly in science fiction. In modern usage, the term often applies to collaborative fan fiction, particularly on the Internet, though it can also refer to friends or family telling stories at a sleepover, around a campfire, etc.

    * Ruritanian romance

    A Ruritanian Romance is a story set in a fictional country, usually in Central or Eastern Europe, such as the Ruritania that gave the genre its name. The popularity of the Graustark novels led to this type of story also being called Graustarkian Romances.

    Such stories are typically swashbuckling adventure novels, tales of high romance and intrigue, centered on the upper classes, aristocracy and royalty. The themes of honor, loyalty, and love predominate, and the books frequently feature the restoration of kings to their thrones.

    Although recognizable Ruritanian romances such as Robert Louis Stevenson's Prince Otto were written prior to Anthony Hope's The Prisoner of Zenda, that 1894 novel set the type, with its handsome political decoy restoring the rightful king to the throne, and resulted in a burst of similar popular fiction, such as George Barr McCutcheon's Graustark novels and Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Lost Prince. See a list of homages here.

    The genre was widely spoofed and mocked. George Bernard Shaw's Arms and the Man parodied many elements. Dorothy Sayers's Have His Carcase featured as the murder victim a man deceived by his murderers because of his foolish belief in his royal ancestry, fed by endless reading of Ruritanian romances. In Vladimir Nabokov's Pale Fire, the main narrator has the delusion of being the incognito king of a "distant northern land" who romantically escaped a Soviet-backed revolution.

    The popularity of the genre declined after the first part of the twentieth century. Aside from the change in literary taste, the royalist elements of Ruritanian romances became less plausible as many European monarchies receded even from memory, and their restorations grew less likely.

    Many elements of the genre have been transplanted into fantasy worlds, particularly those of fantasy of manners and alternate history. The science fiction writer Andre Norton first reached success with a 1934 Ruritanian novel, The Prince Commands. Although "Ruritania" originally referred to a contemporary country, the idea has been adapted for use in historical fiction. A subgenre of this is historical romance, such as Jennifer Blake's Royal Seduction and its sequel Royal Passion; both are set in the nineteenth century and feature Prince Rolfe (later King) and his son Prince Roderic respectively, of the fictional Balkan country of Ruthenia.

    The countries of Syldavia and Borduria, in "The Adventures of Tintin" are clearly literary descendants of Ruritania, this origin especially accentuated by the classical Ruritarian plot device of identical twins - one good, the other bad - used to resolve a mystery in "King Ottokar's Sceptre".

    Eric Ambler's 1936 novel "The Dark Frontier", taking place at the fictional East European country of Ixania, both uses and parodies the main elements of this sub-genre. And its influence is also evident in the first scenes of Charlie Chaplin's "A king in New York", where King Igor Shahdov is dethroned and escapes his unnamed country for America.

    In an odd take on the genre, the 1956 British sci-fi movie The Gamma People is set in Gudavia, a Ruritanian-style central European dictatorship.

    Latveria, ruled by Doctor Doom in the Marvel Comics Universe, is a recognisable late addition to the genre - with the manifest anachronism of the series placing an absolute monarchy in post-WWII Europe.

    * Russian formalism

    Russian formalism was an influential school of literary criticism in Russia from the 1910s to the 1930s. It includes the work of a number of highly influential Russian and Soviet scholars such as Viktor Shklovsky, Yuri Tynianov, Vladimir Propp, Boris Eichenbaum, Roman Jakobson, Grigory Vinokur who revolutionised literary criticism between 1914 and the 1930s by establishing the specificity and autonomy of poetic language and literature. Russian formalism exerted a major influence on thinkers like Mikhail Bakhtin and Yuri Lotman, and on structuralism as a whole. The movement's members had a relevant influence on modern literary criticism, as it developed in the structuralist and post-structuralist periods. Under Stalin it became a pejorative term for elitist art.

    Russian formalism was a diverse movement, producing no unified doctrine, and no consensus amongst its proponents on a central aim to their endeavours. In fact, "Russian Formalism" describes two distinct movements: the OPOJAZ Obshchestvo Izucheniia Poeticheskogo Yazyka - Society for the Study of Poetic Language in St. Petersburg and the Linguistic Circle in Moscow. Therefore, it is more precise to refer to the "Russian Formalists", rather than to use the more encompassing and abstract term of "Formalism".

    The term "formalism" was first used by the adversaries of the movement, and as such it conveys a meaning explicitly rejected by the Formalists themselves. In the words of one of the foremost Formalists, Boris Eichenbaum: "It is difficult to recall who coined this name, but it was not a very felicitous coinage. It might have been convenient as a simplified battle cry but it fails, as an objective term, to delimit the activities of the "Society for the Study of Poetic Language."

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    Published - February 2011






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