Mon. Jun 17th, 2024
Genres and Sub-Genres of Literature:

Definitions of Literature

Literature, as an art form, has been defined in various ways by numerous authors and scholars throughout history. These definitions reflect the multifaceted nature of literature and its impact on human thought and culture. Here are some notable perspectives:

1. Samuel Johnson

Samuel Johnson, the 18th-century English writer and lexicographer, offered a pragmatic definition:

Johnson’s definition emphasizes the enduring quality of literature and its capacity to engage readers repeatedly.

  • “Literature is the art of writing something that will be read twice.”

2. Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf, a prominent modernist writer, highlighted the aesthetic and emotional experience:

Woolf’s perspective suggests that literature transcends societal judgments and taps into the deeper, often turbulent, currents of human emotion and experience.

3. Ezra Pound

  • “Literature is strewn with the wreckage of those who have minded beyond reason the opinion of others.”

Ezra Pound, an influential poet and critic, offered a concise and impactful definition:

  • “Great literature is simply language charged with meaning to the utmost possible degree.”

Pound’s definition underscores the power of language in literature to convey profound and layered meanings.

4. C.S. Lewis

C.S. Lewis, a celebrated author and scholar, focused on the transformative power of literature:

  • “Literature adds to reality, it does not simply describe it. It enriches the necessary competencies that daily life requires and provides; and in this respect, it irrigates the deserts that our lives have already become.”

Lewis believed that literature enhances our understanding of reality and enriches our lives by providing deeper insights and perspectives.

5. G.K. Chesterton

G.K. Chesterton, a prolific writer, and critic, emphasized the creative and imaginative aspects:

  • “Literature is a luxury; fiction is a necessity.”

Chesterton’s view highlights the essential role of literature in fulfilling our need for creativity and imagination.

6. Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ralph Waldo Emerson, an influential American essayist and philosopher, saw literature as a reflection of universal truths:

  • “All literature is a photograph of the spirit, and mirrors the life of every man.”

Emerson’s definition suggests that literature captures the essence of the human spirit and experience, reflecting universal truths and emotions.

7. James Joyce

James Joyce, a key modernist writer, offered a more complex and layered definition:

  • “Literature is the eternal present.”

Joyce’s definition suggests that literature exists outside of time, offering a timeless and immediate experience to the reader.

8. E.M. Forster

E.M. Forster, a renowned novelist, provided a functional definition:

  • “The only books that influence us are those for which we are ready, and which have gone a little farther down our particular path than we have yet got ourselves.”

Forster’s perspective highlights the personal and developmental impact of literature on readers.

9. Joseph Conrad

Joseph Conrad, known for his complex narratives and deep psychological insights, viewed literature as a means of understanding:

  • “The purpose of literature is to instruct, to inspire, and to entertain.”

Conrad’s definition encompasses the educational, motivational, and enjoyable aspects of literature. Also read:

10. T.S. Eliot

T.S. Eliot, a major poet and critic, emphasized the role of literature in preserving and shaping culture:

  • “Literature is a substitute for religion, and so is religion a substitute for literature.”

Eliot’s definition reflects the profound cultural and spiritual significance of literature.


The definitions of literature by different authors reveal the diverse ways in which this art form is perceived and valued. Whether viewed as a timeless reflection of the human spirit, a powerful use of language, a tool for personal and cultural enrichment, or a creative necessity, literature encompasses a wide array of functions and meanings.

These perspectives underscore the multifaceted nature of literature and its enduring impact on individuals and societies. By appreciating these varied definitions, readers can gain a deeper understanding of the richness and complexity of literary works.

Also Read: What is Symbolism

By Anna313

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *