History of literature

The meaning of literature (literary studies & a place of children literature)

1. Literature as distinct from the other arts.

2. The expressive means of literary art

3. Division of literature into kinds & genres

4. Ways of approaching a work of literature/ Branches of literary studies.

5. the (dis)advantages of the historical approach.


1. There are words that are difficult to define. “Literature” is one of them.

ü Literature is not a handcraft. It’s a transmission of the feeling the artist has experienced. (Lev Tolstoj)

ü It’s one of the functions of literature to turn truths into truths. (Chesterton)

ü To turn events into the ideas is the function of literature (Santayana)

ü Literature always anticipates life; it does not copy it, but moulds it to its purpose. (Wilde)

ü To write literature is to create out of the materials of the human spirit something which did not exist before (Faulkner)

Literature relies upon a word, which is the fundamental of any ideas.

It’s the most significant difference between the literature & any other kind of art.

ü Literature is sharing of experience & it helps the human being to broaden the necessary limited individual experience.

All the definitions define literature as a kind of art that relies upon the word as the main means of expressing the experience of individual characters. Literature does so because the word differs from all the other means of expression, because it can reach any sphere. Literature deals with the images & image is the main instrument of literary expression.

Literature may be about anything in the world. The matter what it’s about – it’s about the human being. It’s always the attitude of human beings towards thing that is being described.

L relies upon many types of relationships, which may be described as the components of its creative trends.







It’s quite natural to suppose that the writer is related to the work of literature & through it to the reader. These are natural relations. But in the process of writing the writer is influenced by the reader, because he is writing for a certain reader. So the reader influences the writer.

Having written or in the process of creating a work of literature the writer has to take into consideration the laws of a certain genre, the laws of image development. The development of image has its own topic, so it influences the writer. Moreover the life the book has after having been written is different from what the writer wanted it to have, so it influences the writer. As the reader may he reaction to the work of literature may change through time – it influences the work of art. It’s the objective reality that serves as the background of the relationships.

Written literature is only a part. Folklore & other manifestations of literature have influenced it a great deal. Writing has brought literature many new qualities, but still as the manifestation of the work of literature, it has lost some of its natural qualities.

e.g. immediacy (the immediate influence it had upon the listener, because of the facial expression, gestures, melody, intonation)/ Instead of that writers try to use different means to make their writing more expressive. Through writing literature has acquired immortality & it can be, so to say, transferred in time & space.


There are 3 kinds of literature

1. epic

2. lyric

3. drama

1. An epic is characterized by the action that should be entire; the character should be distinguished & episodes should easily arise from the main fable. But the main thing is that it renders life as something that happened to the characters or the author in the past & the author deals with it as with some clear-cut period of time.

Novel, long story, short story, essay

2. A lyric is a poem directly expressing the poet’s own thoughts & emotions. The direct appeal is the main that distinguishes a lyric from the epic.

Ballad, ode, elegy, sonnet etc.

3. Drama is letting one’s character to speak without any interference of the author.

Drama, tragedy, comedy, family chronicle


The main approaches to literature

Every individual ha his/her own approach to literature. It depends upon experience, attitude to life, community individual lives in, upon his/her desires.

Literature is a reflection of life – it’s bewildering as life itself.

1) The majority of people go to the book for the plot – they like to read about events. Such people like detective stories (sequence of events that leads one to anticipate the development of the plot).

2) Others go for the character – some of the human features that describe characters have fascination for us.

3) We can go to a book for an exhibition of manners.

We may approach the literature with none of these in our mind.

Sometimes we come to understand that literature is an instrument of your mind & heart. In this one people go to literature to learn about the psychology of other human being, to learn about what makes people like or dislike some things. Showing the psychology of people is the main function of literature. It makes people understand what makes people behave in this or that way.

Historical approach to literature is not a science. If a work of a scientist may become better, because the other scientist has investigated the same problem & written reports about it. The work of literature does not undergo such metamorphosis. The words of B. Shaw will never make the words of Shakespeare update. The work of literature will never become less interesting to the reader only because it was written several centuries ago. The work of literature remains fresh & keeps its quality because in it people can find their own experience, attitudes.

There are cases when th writer is disregarded by his contemporaries, when the works of the writer come to the reader of the next century as revelation. The situation may become (in)favorable. The writer never writes for any social reform – it’s not his aim.

The first approach of any work of literature is the approach to fiction as to narrative (the succession of events given by the author to explain what happened to this or that character). Still criticism of a work of art from this prospective should not take only the number of events the story contains, but also who the story-teller is: the author, one of the characters, especially chosen to give his reminiscences, the mixture of the 1st two ways of telling the story or there may be several characters telling the story from different perspectives.

Events may be given in a chronological or logical way. The 2nd approach deals with a work of literature as an exhibition of character. In this respect the work of art from the point of view of interrelations that exist & develop between & among the characters. We criticize the book from the perspective “what kind of individual every character was, what was his/her attitude, what were his/her ideals, how he tried to achieve his goals, etc.” We should regard book as a gallery of characters, every character being distinct from the other ones. Why is the character unique?

The 3rd approach: we can approach a book from the perspective of its being the exhibition of manners. We criticize it from the point of view of society, which is described, & from the point of view of cultural background, against which is the society described.

The 4th approach: we can approach a book from the point of view of its being a vehicle of a certain philosophy of life.

The 5th approach is a biographical approach. Many people prefer it. What influenced the author? What were his ideas? What shaped his outlook? How were his ideas changed in the course of time? How is all this reflected in his works?

The 6th approach is aesthetic. This is the approach that deals with the author’s style that should be viewed:

    1. as a set of devices the author uses to produce an impact on the reader
    2. the personal style of the author

The most important approach to literary criticism is the personal style (how different he is from the other authors, his contemporaries, predecessors, or followers). Here we resort to the 7th approach – comparative kind of criticism.

The history of literature is a subject that deals with our attitude to the fiction of the past & present, which becomes actual for us, because of the actuality of the problem itself.


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