Alongside essays on Twain, Fitzgerald, Frost, and Henry James, there are pieces about Jackson Pollock, Chuck Berry, the telephone, the Winchester rifle, and Linda Lovelace. Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words? Timeless stories from our 170-year archive handpicked to speak to the news of the day. Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Simply because anthologies or serialization influenced the composition of poems and novels didn’t mean that writers tossed aesthetic considerations aside. So while lesser writers summon enthusiasm or indifference, great writers power their way into our consciousness almost against our will. We know how the Nobel Prize committee defines literature, but how does the dictionary? 15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 4, Middle English, from Anglo-French, from Latin litteratura writing, grammar, learning, from litteratus. Such novels, he argued, appealed on some primitive storytelling level; they expressed our need for myth and archetype and had to be considered literature even “at their egregious worst.”. See the full definition for literature in the English Language Learners Dictionary, Nglish: Translation of literature for Spanish Speakers, Britannica English: Translation of literature for Arabic Speakers, Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about literature. Writers may not be able to “escape from contingency,” as the new historicists used to say, but those sensitive to their prisons can transform the walls that confine them — a transformation that requires an awareness of the great poets and novelists who preceded them. “Literature.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/literature. One can have flawed literature but not bad literature; one can have something “like literature” or even “literature on a humble but not ignoble level,” as Edmund Wilson characterized the Sherlock Holmes stories, but one can’t have dumb or mediocre literature. For the greater part of its history, lit(t)eratura referred to any writing formed with letters. For the greater part of its history, lit (t)eratura referred to any writing formed with letters. 1 a (1) : writings in prose or verse especially : writings having excellence of form or expression and expressing ideas of permanent or universal interest literature stands related to man as science stands to nature — J. H. Newman. [inline_ad ad=3]The truth is we want from poetry and prose what Bob Dylan and advertisements and even many well-written commercial novels cannot provide. I mean, of course, quality. Literature is defined as books and other written works, especially those considered to have creative or artistic merit or lasting value. What was the apotheosis of Shakespeare and Milton if not an attempt to show the world that England and not France — especially not France — had produced such geniuses? In time, the canon, formerly the province of reviews and magazines, was annexed by institutions of higher learning, which cultivated eminent professors of English and comparative literature and later recruited famous poets and writers to act as gatekeepers. Traditionalists, naturally, were aghast. While books were conceived in private, they reflected the ideological makeup of their host culture; and the criticism that gave them legitimacy served only to justify the prevailing social order. Want to change your email address or password? Clearly the idea of greatness continues to appeal, and just as clearly our definition of it has changed — as has our definition of literature. The word canon, from the Greek, originally meant “measuring stick” or “rule” and was used by early Christian theologians to differentiate the genuine, or canonical, books of the Bible from the apocryphal ones. Eagleton, who once proposed replacing departments of literature with departments of “discourse studies,” refuses, thirty years after the publication of his highly readable Literary Theory, to cede to literature a single objective reality.