Literature

With the development of language, the human imagination has found a way to create and communicate through the written word. A literary work can transport us into a fictional, fantastic new world, describe a fleeting feeling, or simply give us a picture of the past through novels, poems, tragedies, epic works, and other genres. Through literature, communication becomes an art, and it can bridge and bond people and cultures of different languages and backgrounds.

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  • Distribution of majority Anglophone and Francophone populations in Canada. The 1996 census of Canada, from which this map is derived, defined a person's mother tongue as that language learned at home during childhood and still understood at the time of the census.
    Canadian literature
    Canadian literature, the body of written works produced by Canadians. Reflecting the country’s dual origin and its official bilingualism, the literature of Canada can be split into two major divisions: English and French. This article provides a brief historical account of each of these…
  • Romance
    Romance, literary form, usually characterized by its treatment of chivalry, that came into being in France in the mid-12th century. It had antecedents in many prose works from classical antiquity (the so-called Greek romances), but as a distinctive genre it was developed in the context of the…
  • St. Luke, illuminated page from the Beatus Apocalypse, Mozarabic, 975; in the Gerona Cathedral, Spain.
    Spanish literature
    Spanish literature, the body of literary works produced in Spain. Such works fall into three major language divisions: Castilian, Catalan, and Galician. This article provides a brief historical account of each of these three literatures and examines the emergence of major genres. Although…
  • Guslar
    Folk literature
    Folk literature, the lore (traditional knowledge and beliefs) of cultures having no written language. It is transmitted by word of mouth and consists, as does written literature, of both prose and verse narratives, poems and songs, myths, dramas, rituals, proverbs, riddles, and the like. Nearly all…
  • Expansion of the Ottoman Empire.
    Turkish literature
    Turkish literature, the body of written works in the Turkish language. The Orhon inscriptions represent some of the earliest extant writing in Turkish. These inscriptions appear on two monuments built in the early 8th century ce in northern Mongolia. Other early Turkish writing includes poetry in…
  • corroboree
    Australian literature
    Australian literature, the body of literatures, both oral and written, produced in Australia. Perhaps more so than in other countries, the literature of Australia characteristically expresses collective values. Even when the literature deals with the experiences of an individual, those experiences…
  • The percentage of land, by county, owned by Roman Catholics (i.e., the Irish natives) in 1641, 1688, and 1703. The average percentage for all of Ireland is indicated after the year identifying each map.
    Irish literature
    Irish literature, the body of written works produced by the Irish. This article discusses Irish literature written in English from about 1690; its history is closely linked with that of English literature. Irish-language literature is treated separately under Celtic literature. After the…
  • Latin literature
    Latin literature, the body of writings in Latin, primarily produced during the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire, when Latin was a spoken language. When Rome fell, Latin remained the literary language of the Western medieval world until it was superseded by the Romance languages it had generated…
  • Kazantzákis, Níkos
    Greek literature
    Greek literature, body of writings in the Greek language, with a continuous history extending from the 1st millennium bc to the present day. From the beginning its writers were Greeks living not only in Greece proper but also in Asia Minor, the Aegean Islands, and Magna Graecia (Sicily and southern…
  • Eugenio de Santa Cruz y Espejo, Francisco Javier
    Latin American literature
    Latin American literature, the national literatures of the Spanish-speaking countries of the Western Hemisphere. Historically, it also includes the literary expression of the highly developed American Indian civilizations conquered by the Spaniards. Over the years, Latin American literature has…
  • World distribution of Islam.
    Arabic literature
    Arabic literature, the body of written works produced in the Arabic language. The tradition of Arabic literature stretches back some 16 centuries to unrecorded beginnings in the Arabian Peninsula. At certain points in the development of European civilization, the literary culture of Islam and its…
  • Lewis Carroll: Through the Looking-Glass
    Children's literature
    Children’s literature, the body of written works and accompanying illustrations produced in order to entertain or instruct young people. The genre encompasses a wide range of works, including acknowledged classics of world literature, picture books and easy-to-read stories written exclusively for…
  • Gabriele D'Annunzio.
    Italian literature
    Italian literature, the body of written works produced in the Italian language that had its beginnings in the 13th century. Until that time nearly all literary work composed in Europe during the Middle Ages was written in Latin. Moreover, it was predominantly practical in nature and produced by…
  • Western literature
    Western literature, history of literatures in the languages of the Indo-European family, along with a small number of other languages whose cultures became closely associated with the West, from ancient times to the present. Diverse as they are, European literatures, like European languages, are…
  • Celtic literature
    Celtic literature, the body of writings composed in Gaelic and the languages derived from it, Scottish Gaelic and Manx, and in Welsh and its sister languages, Breton and Cornish. For writings in English by Irish, Scottish, and Welsh authors, see English literature. French-language works by Breton…
  • Setting for a scene in Mutter Courage und ihre Kinder (Mother Courage and Her Children), staged by Bertolt Brecht for a production in 1949 by the Berliner Ensemble.
    Dramatic literature
    Dramatic literature, the texts of plays that can be read, as distinct from being seen and heard in performance. The term dramatic literature implies a contradiction in that literature originally meant something written and drama meant something performed. Most of the problems, and much of the…
  • Literature
    Literature, a body of written works. The name has traditionally been applied to those imaginative works of poetry and prose distinguished by the intentions of their authors and the perceived aesthetic excellence of their execution. Literature may be classified according to a variety of systems,…
  • Sima Qian, detail, ink and colour on silk; in the National Palace Museum, Taipei.
    Chinese literature
    Chinese literature, the body of works written in Chinese, including lyric poetry, historical and didactic writing, drama, and various forms of fiction. Chinese literature is one of the major literary heritages of the world, with an uninterrupted history of more than 3,000 years, dating back at…
  • George Gascoigne, woodcut, 1576.
    Literary criticism
    Literary criticism, the reasoned consideration of literary works and issues. It applies, as a term, to any argumentation about literature, whether or not specific works are analyzed. Plato’s cautions against the risky consequences of poetic inspiration in general in his Republic are thus often…
  • The Flood Tablet, 11th cuneiform tablet in a series relating the Gilgamesh epic, from Nineveh, 7th century bce; in the British Museum, London.
    Epic
    Epic, long narrative poem recounting heroic deeds, although the term has also been loosely used to describe novels, such as Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace, and motion pictures, such as Sergey Eisenstein’s Ivan the Terrible. In literary usage, the term encompasses both oral and written compositions.…
  • Panchatantra
    Short story
    Short story, brief fictional prose narrative that is shorter than a novel and that usually deals with only a few characters. The short story is usually concerned with a single effect conveyed in only one or a few significant episodes or scenes. The form encourages economy of setting, concise…
  • German literature
    German literature, German literature comprises the written works of the German-speaking peoples of central Europe. It has shared the fate of German politics and history: fragmentation and discontinuity. Germany did not become a modern nation-state until 1871, and the prior history of the various…
  • Hundred Years' War; Sluis, Battle of
    French literature
    French literature, the body of written works in the French language produced within the geographic and political boundaries of France. The French language was one of the five major Romance languages to develop from Vulgar Latin as a result of the Roman occupation of western Europe. Since the Middle…
  • Dust jacket designed by Vanessa Bell for the first edition of Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse, published by the Hogarth Press in 1927.
    Novel
    Novel, an invented prose narrative of considerable length and a certain complexity that deals imaginatively with human experience, usually through a connected sequence of events involving a group of persons in a specific setting. Within its broad framework, the genre of the novel has encompassed an…
  • Nise-e of Minamoto Kintada, one of the 36 poets, from a handscroll by Fujiwara Nobuzane, Kamakura period (1192–1333); in the Freer Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
    Japanese literature
    Japanese literature, the body of written works produced by Japanese authors in Japanese or, in its earliest beginnings, at a time when Japan had no written language, in the Chinese classical language. Both in quantity and quality, Japanese literature ranks as one of the major literatures of the…
  • Smith, John: Virginia
    American literature
    American literature, the body of written works produced in the English language in the United States. Like other national literatures, American literature was shaped by the history of the country that produced it. For almost a century and a half, America was merely a group of colonies scattered…
  • Copernicus, Nicolaus: heliocentric system
    English literature
    English literature, the body of written works produced in the English language by inhabitants of the British Isles (including Ireland) from the 7th century to the present day. The major literatures written in English outside the British Isles are treated separately under American literature,…
  • wine bottle
    Persian literature
    Persian literature, body of writings in New Persian (also called Modern Persian), the form of the Persian language written since the 9th century with a slightly extended form of the Arabic alphabet and with many Arabic loanwords. The literary form of New Persian is known as Farsī in Iran, where it…
  • Athol Fugard (centre) with actors John Kani (left) and Winston Ntshona, 1973.
    African literature
    African literature, the body of traditional oral and written literatures in Afro-Asiatic and African languages together with works written by Africans in European languages. Traditional written literature, which is limited to a smaller geographic area than is oral literature, is most characteristic…
  • Mongol shaman wearing a ritual gown and holding a drum with the image of a spirit helper, c. 1909.
    Central Asian arts
    Central Asian arts, the literary, performing, and visual arts of a large portion of Asia embracing the Turkic republics (Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan), Tajikistan, Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, Mongolia, Tibet, Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan, and parts of Russia and China. As used here, the…
  • Title page from the first edition of The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano; or, Gustavus Vassa, the African, Written by Himself (1789).
    African American literature
    African American literature, body of literature written by Americans of African descent. Beginning in the pre-Revolutionary War period, African American writers have engaged in a creative, if often contentious, dialogue with American letters. The result is a literature rich in expressive subtlety…
  • Yiddish theatre poster
    Yiddish literature
    Yiddish literature, the body of written works produced in the Yiddish language of Ashkenazic Jewry (central and eastern European Jews and their descendants). Yiddish literature culminated in the period from 1864 to 1939, inspired by modernization and then severely diminished by the Holocaust. It…
  • Fresco of the Preaching Buddha at the Wet-kyi-in, Gu-byauk-gyi, Pagan, c. 1113.
    Southeast Asian arts
    Southeast Asian arts, the literary, performing, and visual arts of Southeast Asia. Although the cultural development of the area was once dominated by Indian influence, a number of cohesive traits predate the Indian influence. Wet-rice (or padi) agriculture, metallurgy, navigation, ancestor cults,…
  • The ethnic and linguistic composition of Belgium.
    Belgian literature
    Belgian literature, the body of written works produced by Belgians and written in Flemish, which is equivalent to the Standard Dutch (Netherlandic) language of the Netherlands, and in Standard French, which are the two main divisions of literature by language of Belgium. A lesser-known literature…
  • Andrada e Silva, portrait by an unknown artist
    Brazilian literature
    Brazilian literature, the body of written works produced in the Portuguese language in Brazil. Brazil was claimed for Portugal in 1500 and was named for the land’s first export product, pau-brasil (brazilwood), trade in which was initiated in 1502 by a consortium of “New Christians” (converted…
  • Rhetoric
    Rhetoric, the principles of training communicators—those seeking to persuade or inform. In the 20th century it underwent a shift of emphasis from the speaker or writer to the auditor or reader. This article deals with rhetoric in both its traditional and its modern forms. For information on…
  • Boswell, detail of an oil painting from the studio of Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1786; in the National Portrait Gallery, London
    Biography
    Biography, form of literature, commonly considered nonfictional, the subject of which is the life of an individual. One of the oldest forms of literary expression, it seeks to re-create in words the life of a human being—as understood from the historical or personal perspective of the author—by…
  • Korean literature
    Korean literature, the body of works written by Koreans, at first in Classical Chinese, later in various transcription systems using Chinese characters, and finally in Hangul (Korean: han’gŭl; Hankul in the Yale romanization), the national alphabet. Although Korea has had its own language for…
  • João de Barros, lithograph by Luiz after a portrait by Legrane.
    Portuguese literature
    Portuguese literature, the body of writing in the Portuguese language produced by the peoples of Portugal, which includes the Madeira Islands and the Azores. The literature of Portugal is distinguished by a wealth and variety of lyric poetry, which has characterized it from the beginning of its…
  • Polish literature
    Polish literature, body of writings in Polish, one of the Slavic languages. The Polish national literature holds an exceptional position in Poland. Over the centuries it has mirrored the turbulent events of Polish history and at times sustained the nation’s cultural and political identity. Poland…
  • Author
    Author, one who is the source of some form of intellectual or creative work; especially, one who composes a book, article, poem, play, or other literary work intended for publication. Usually a distinction is made between an author and others (such as a compiler, an editor, or a translator) who…
  • Popular art
    Popular art, any dance, literature, music, theatre, or other art form intended to be received and appreciated by ordinary people in a literate, technologically advanced society dominated by urban culture. Popular art in the 20th century is usually dependent on such technologies of reproduction or d…
  • Pushkin, Aleksandr Sergeyevich
    Russian literature
    Russian literature, the body of written works produced in the Russian language, beginning with the Christianization of Kievan Rus in the late 10th century. The unusual shape of Russian literary history has been the source of numerous controversies. Three major and sudden breaks divide it into four…
  • Mridanga; in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
    South Asian arts
    South Asian arts, the literary, performing, and visual arts of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka. Despite a history of ethnic, linguistic, and political fragmentation, the people of the Indian subcontinent are unified by a common cultural and ethical outlook; a wealth of ancient textual…
  • Hallgrímsson, Jónas
    Icelandic literature
    Icelandic literature, body of writings in Icelandic, including those from Old Icelandic (also called Old Norse) through Modern Icelandic. Icelandic literature is best known for the richness of its classical period, which is equivalent in time to the early and medieval periods in western European…
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