A Glossary of Literary Criticism

A deceiving or self-deceived character in fiction, normally an object of ridicule in comedy or satire, but often the hero of a tragedy. In comedy he most frequently takes the form of a miles gloriosus or a pedant.
Relating to literature as a total order of words.
A form of prose fiction, traditionally known as the Menippean or Varronian satire and represented by Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy, characterized by a great variety of subject-matter and a strong interest in ideas. In shorter forms it often has a cena or symposium setting and verse interludes.
The thematic term corresponding to "myth" in fictional literature: metaphor as pure and potentially total identification, without regard to plausibility or ordinary experience.
A symbol, usually an image, which recurs often enough in literature to be recognizable as an element of one's literary experience as a whole.
A form of drama in which the main subject is sacred or sacrosanct legend, such as miracle plays, solemn and processional in form but not strictly tragic. Name taken from Calderon's Autos sacramentales..
Autobiography regarded as a form of prose fiction, or prose fiction cast in the form of autobiography.
The meaning of a work of literature, which may be the total pattern of its symbols (literal meaning), its correlation with an external body of propositions or facts (descriptive meaning), its theme, or relation as a form of imagery to a potential commentary (formal meaning), its significance as a literary convention or genre (archetypal meaning), or its relation to total literary experience (anagogic meaning).
The adaptation of myth and metaphor to canons of morality or plausibility.
A self-deprecating or unobtrusively treated character in fiction, usually an agent of the happy ending in comedy and of the catastrophe in tragedy.
Encyclopaedic Form:
A genre presenting an anagogic form of symbolism, such as a sacred scripture, or its analogues in other modes. The term includes the Bible, Dante's Commedia, the great epics, and the works of Joyce and Proust.
The literary genre in which the radical of presentation is the author or minstrel as oral reciter, with a listening audience in front of him.
The internal social context of a work of literature, comprising the characterization and setting of fictional literature and the relation of the author to his reader or audience in thematic literature.
Literature in which the radical of presentation is the printed or written word, such as novels and essays.
Relating to literature in which there are internal characters, apart from the author and his audience; opposed to thematic. (N.B. The use of this term is regrettably inconsistent with the preceding one, as noted on p. 248.)
High Mimetic:
A mode of literature in which, as in most epics and tragedies, the central characters are above our own level of power and authority, though within the order of nature and subject to social criticism.
A symbol in its aspect as a formal unit of art with a natural content.
A primary consideration governing the process of composition, such as the metre selected for a poem; taken from Coleridge.
A mode of literature in which the characters exhibit a power of action inferior to the one assumed to be normal in the reader or audience, or in which the poet's attitude is one of detached objectivity.
The mythos (sense 2) of the literature concerned primarily with a "realistic" level of experience, usually taking the form of a parody or contrasting analogue to romance. Such irony may be tragic or comic in its main emphasis; when comic it is normally identical with the usual meaning of satire.
The verbal "texture" or rhetorical aspect of a work of literature, including the usual meanings of the terms "diction" and "imagery."
Low Mimetic:
A mode of literature in which the characters exhibit a power of action which is roughly on our own level, as in most comedy and realistic fiction.
A literary genre characterized by the assumed concealment of the audience from the poet and by the predominance of an associational rhythm distinguishable both from recurrent metre and from semantic or prose rhythm.
A species of drama in which music and spectacle play an important role and in which the characters tend to be or become aspects of human personality rather than independent characters.
The rhythm, movement, and sound of words; the aspect of literature which is analogous to music, and often shows some actual relation to it. From Aristotle's melopoiia.
A relation between two symbols, which may be simple juxtaposition (literal metaphor), a rhetorical statement of likeness or similarity (descriptive metaphor), an analogy of proportion among four terms (formal metaphor), an identity of an individual with its class (concrete universal or archetypal metaphor), or statement of hypothetical identity (anagogic metaphor).
A conventional power of action assumed about the chief characters in fictional literature, or the corresponding attitude assumed by the poet toward his audience in thematic literature. Such modes tend to succeed one another in a historical sequence.
A symbol in its aspect as a center of one's total literary experience; related to Hopkins's term "inscape" and to Joyce's term "epiphany."
A symbol in its aspect as a verbal unit in a work of literary art.
A narrative in which some characters are superhuman beings who do things that "happen only in stories"; hence, a conventionalized or stylized narrative not fully adapted to plausibility or "realism."
  1. The narrative of a work of literature, considered as the grammar or order of words (literal narrative), plot or "argument" (descriptive narrative), secondary imitation of action (formal narrative), imitation of generic and recurrent action or ritual (archetypal narrative), or imitation of the total conceivable action of an omnipotent god or human society (anagogic narrative).
  2. One of the four archetypal narratives, classified as comic, romantic, tragic, and ironic.
Primitive or popular, in the sense given those terms of an ability to communicate in time and space more readily than other types of literature.
The spectacular or visible aspect of drama; the ideally visible or pictorial aspect of other literature.
The character in an ironic fiction who has the role of a scapegoat or arbitrarily chosen victim.
  1. One of the five contexts in which the narrative and meaning of a work of literature may be considered, classified as literal, descriptive, formal, archetypal, and anagogic.
  2. One of six distinguishable stages of a mythos (sense 2).
Point of Epiphany:
An archetype presenting simultaneously an apocalyptic world and a cyclical order of nature, or sometimes the latter alone. Its usual symbols are ladders, mountains, lighthouses, islands, and towers.
  1. The mythos of literature concerned primarily with an idealized world.
  2. A form of prose fiction practised by Scott, Hawthorne, William Morris, etc., distinguishable from the novel.
  1. A fictional mode in which the chief characters live in a I world of marvels (naive romance), or in which the mood is elegiac or idyllic and hence less subject to social criticism than in the mimetic modes.
  2. The general tendency to present myth and metaphor in an idealized human form, midway between undisplaced myth and "realism."
A symbol in its aspect as a verbal representative of a natural object or concept.
Any unit of any work of literature which can be isolated for critical attention. In general usage restricted to the smaller units, such as words, phrases, images, etc.
Relating to works of literature in which no characters are involved except the author and his audience, as in most lyrics and essays, or to works of literature in which internal characters are subordinated to an argument maintained by the author, as in allegories and parables; opposed to fictional.

Source: Frye 1957: 365-7

Last modified: 22 May 1996

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