Origin of essay as a literary form

Though his matter was various - from cannibals to sorrow, from liars to parental love - his true subject was himself. As Hazlitt later put it, Montaigne "did not set up for a philosopher, wit, orator, or moralist, but he became all these merely by daring to tell us whatever was in his mind". Montaigne arguably invented not just a genre, but the modern notion of the author as a subject in both senses.

But the proto-Enlightenment philosophers of the 17th century, such as Locke, attempted to transform the essay into an objective positivistic form.


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Perhaps reflecting the scientific idea of an assay - laboratory analysis of a metal to determine its ore - they used the essay to test their theories. John Wilkins's Essay towards a Real Character , and a Philosophical Language even attempted to invent a system in which every word corresponded perfectly to one particular thing in the universe, and every thing to one word.

Its aim was to eject ambiguity, uncertainty and relativism - the very qualities out of which Montaigne created the essay form, which for him had been the opposite of a transparent language: prose with a voice. Nothing could kill Montaigne's original notion of the essay, however. Subjectivity, the individual voice and even philosophical relativism have remained strong strands in the humanistic essayistic tradition. For the Austrian modernist Robert Musil, Essayismus "essayism" became more than a matter of literary form: it was a metaphor for a philosophy of life, a route to knowledge and self-realisation in a world perceived as fragmentary.

When Zadie Smith recently described the essay as a form of prose capable of expressing "messy reality", she was pointing to something similar. Smith's own essay collection, Changing My Mind , appeared in , signalling her commitment to the revival of a genre for which publishing has offered few outlets in recent times. In , the late John Gross lamented that many writers who in the past would have set themselves up as essayists had been sidetracked by the demands of modern journalism.

Certainly, in the 19th century the periodical press offered a forum that no longer exists for substantial essays such as De Quincey's Confessions of an English Opium-Eater or Matthew Arnold's Culture and Anarchy In our own times, journalistic articles have grown shorter and shorter and academic monographs more monolithic and specialised, while the essay has been neglected. Yet there are signs that the essay is entering a phase of renewed development.

If so, there are precedents. Intriguingly, it seems that the personal essay - a form of prose often seen as conversational or at least close to speech - historically flowers during anxious growth spurts in the dissemination of the written word. Montaigne's assertion of the subjective authorial stance was arguably a response to the growing influence of print, which dislocated writers from books as these circulated in an ever wider - and more arbitrary and anonymous - marketplace.

Similarly, the Romantic revival of the essay occurred during an unprecedented boom in print culture, fuelled by rising literacy, increasing commercialisation and, after , the development of the flatbed cylinder press, which enabled the Times to be printed at 1, copies per minute. For Hazlitt, De Quincey, Charles Lamb and Thomas Carlyle, the essay was a bulwark against their enemy "abstraction", whether in metaphysics, ideology, or the dehumanising influence of market forces, the "cash nexus".

As it had for Montaigne, the "I" of the essay stood up for the value of individual imagination against the anonymity of modern culture. If half of the story is made-up, but half is very obviously true, it might be best called mixed genre. NOTE: Sometimes the term mixed genre is defined in terms of the novel or book. A mixed genre novel might be a novel that mixes science fiction elements with characteristics of a legal thriller.


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  • Or a mixed genre novel might also be a work that plays fast and loose with fact and fiction. Mixed genre writing often has a kind of self-aware, almost tongue-in-cheek, element to it—a wink to the reader who is not fooled by the mixing of fiction and nonfiction, even if the lines are blurry. Why is mixed genre writing so often self-referential? Writing mixed genre and passing it off as an essay or a short story could make editors think that you are trying to dupe them, so it helps to include something in the work that makes reference to itself as being a mixture of fact and fiction.

    Who is publishing mixed genre short prose? The primary markets for short prose are literary magazines and journals. For more information on how to find markets for your short prose, please read Researching Literary Markets for Your Work if you plan to research on your own. Ronnie L. My story has two versions and the reader is told this clearly and must decide which version is true or how much fiction there is in each version? The above article helps in defining the essay short story commentary memoir and mixed genre.

    Thanks for the article. It takes you to info on short stories where there is another link that does the same thing.

    The Essay: History and Definition

    To make matters considerably more muddled, various creative magazines are preliminary to recognize what is frequently called blend categorization composing. For most of the college students this post will be very helpful. You defined the essays and other academic papers. Writing is an important task for them and it is a perfect guide. In fact, it becomes easier to make the right progress once you generate the right results.

    Very interesting website for a guy that has one and a blog. Started out with little memoirs of my time in the woods. Then decided the kids needed it more than I, so published some kids books. Your website, which I stumbled upon accidentally has helped to enlighten this poor guy.

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    Thhanks for the marvelous posting! I really enjoyd reading it, yyou are a grea author.

    I will be sure to bookmark your blog and will often come back in the foreseeable future. I want too enourage you to definitely continue your great writing, have a nice weekend! I just like the helpful info you ssupply on yoir articles. Goood luck for thhe next! Be aware that 5, words is too long for many literary journals, so check their guidelines before you submit your work. Nice clarification article. I tend to mix my genres on accident so this is highly beneficial. I think though my short non-fiction are considered stories and not essays after reading this article.

    This particular article is meant to offer some guidance at the initial stage of defining a genre.

    The Form of the Periodical Essay

    That should help you get started defining your genre further. Prose genre can be categorised into two major groups, namely by fiction and by sub-genre. How do you examine the different sub-type of each category? I had just left a teaching class, which went very well! Everything was perfect. However, outside I was also speaking with another teacher on several topics.

    I waved goodby and ran to my car, flew down the road because I knew something horrible was going to happen to me. I could not feel my hands, feet, nor could I hear a single thing.

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    Literature and HIstory Essay

    Half way home, I could not drive any more and jumped into the driveway of a friend, whose husband was a doctor. I leaned on the horn and passed out. I was later told that the husband of my friend knew I was having a stroke. He contacted my husband and family and sent me to the hospital. My mind remained relaxed for two weeks in the hospital.

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    They sent me home finally. I returned to school in four months, remained there for ten years, in perfection! Absolutely not. I cannot believe who, what, and why I am this current individual. Good luck! Sounds like an interesting project! I feel better just sticking to more boundaries!

    I. What is an Essay?

    This is great informative article, and the questions it raises are equally significant. It almost begs for a disclaimer to protect the reader from drawing unsafe conclusions. Perhaps this is one of those times when it would be better to keep within time-honored labels, and strive for fresh approaches to push their boundaries. I mostly write short stories. They almost always have real life elements.

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