10 Definitions of Literature | Characteristics And there Types

We explain what literature is, its history, types, and other characteristics. Also, what are the literary genres?

What is literature?

Literature is one of the Fine Arts and one of the oldest forms of artistic expression, characterized, according to the Dictionary of the Royal Spanish Academy, by “verbal expression”. That is to say, it achieves its aesthetic purposes through the word, both oral and mostly written.

However, it is never easy to justify what is and what is not literature, since this is a historically constructed concept (that is, literature was written before the idea of ​​literature existed). Thus, it was revised and redefined numerous times over time, and there are multiple possible definitions.

One of the unique features of literature is its use of language, which is often called the “literary language”, and which differs from ordinary or everyday use. His particular use of language pursues beauty and self-reflection, not only through the use of tropes and rhetorical figures but also through a particular sense of rhythm and meaning.

To this, in addition, must be added the permissions that fiction gives: situations, images, and stories from the imagination or from reality itself, but filtered through subjectivity.

Literature is a field of study in itself: it serves as an object of study for literary theory and literary criticism, as well as for the philology and history of literature. On the other hand, one can also speak of literature in a sense not linked to art, but referring to an organized set of knowledge and texts around a theme: “medical literature” or “technical literature”, for example.

10 definitions of literature

  1. Literature is an art form that uses language, preferably in written form, as a means of expression and communication.
  2. A definition or conception of literature has also been given as “the science of verbal communication”.
  3. Literature is verbal communication, but there are other forms of communication that are not included in the concept of literature. Includes a wide range of works, including philosophical and political essays, technical expositions, historical chronicles, and analyses, all of which take the form of books. and eloquent.
  4. Entry literature is considered one of the fine arts, and as we have long recognized, art, in its many forms, was an activity that allowed us to extend the mantle of creativity and fantasy over reality. .
  5. In the 17th century, what we now call “literature” was called poetry and eloquence. During the Spanish Golden
  6. Age, poetry was understood to belong to any genre and to be any literary invention, not necessarily poetry. became.
  7. Literature is classically described as “the art of expressing beauty through words,” unless reality is provocative, magical, or enjoys pain and suffering.
  8. Literature is neither a collection of works nor an intellectual category, but a writing activity.
  9. The word literature comes from the Latin “litterae” and refers to knowing how to read and write well.
  10. The term “theory” has become an umbrella for various theoretical studies, most of which derive from various elements of continental philosophy.
  11. Literature was the knowledge and science of letters.

Characteristics of the literature

The literature, in general, is characterized by the following:

  • It consists of the use of verbal language for aesthetic purposes, that is, moving it away from daily communicative use, and concentrating rather on its forms.
  • He uses rhetorical tools (figures or tropes), rhythm, and imagination or fantasy to compose pieces of a different nature.
  • The different existing literary manifestations are classified into literary genres. The three ancient genres were epic, tragedy, and lyric; while the modern genres are narrative, dramaturgy, poetry, and essay.
  • What is understood by literature at one time can change in the next, adding or losing texts to what is considered canonical. This is the reason why many texts originally written as scientific or religious texts are considered literature today.
  • Today it is disclosed and recognized more than ever before. in history, thanks to the rise of a massive literary-publishing apparatus, and to the high levels of literacy in the contemporary world.

Origin of literature

Texts with “eloquence” or “poetry”

After the invention of writing in Mesopotamia in the third millennium BC. It took 4,800 years before the literary term appeared.

In the 18th century, the Epic of Gilgamesh was referred to as an “eloquence” or “poetry” text, considered the first written work. The same goes for the Greek Iliad or the Roman Aeneid, to name just a few texts.

The formal appearance of the term literature

As mentioned earlier, the term literature came into use in the early 18th century and is used to group all acts that use writing to express an idea or thought.

The word “literature” was first used in the work “Letters about the latest literature” written by Gotthold Ephraim Lessing to refer to literary works. It should be noted that at this point in history the term is only used for texts that have a certain literary quality or “literality”.

The perception of the literality of the text was later strengthened in the work Elements de littérature by the French writer Jean-Francois Marmontel.

English formalisms in the 18th and 19th centuries

By this time the term literature had spread throughout England, replaced by philosophical letters, essays, and treatises. That’s enough to maintain the aesthetics.

It is important to note that the novel fell out of favor because it was perceived as a poor form of written expression, as did the settlers with street fiction, ballads, and folk poetry.

This attitude against the welfare of the people is more in line with class opinion than the aesthetics of the work. And it makes sense that this was the case if one studies the political and social context of Britain at the time.

And in the nineteenth century, restrictions on what could or could not be considered literature in England remained. The author of texts, distinguished by his ingenuity and fulfilling what the most educated and upper classes wanted, was called “literate”. It is a sublime term given to several writers.

The stability of the term literature 

Over the years, word literature gained the stability it needed among the various peoples of Europe, Asia, Africa, Oceania, and later America. Now the term takes on a guise that was once considered rather complicated and has even been replaced by local literature.

Types of Literature 

There are different types of literature:

Oral literature

It is the oldest and is directly related to popular belief. In this way, residents pass on their knowledge and customs to their fellow citizens through stories, legends and myths.

Written literature

This happened around 3000 BC. on. C. Mesopotamia. It was first developed on clay tablets, on walls and stones, then on papyrus, and then on paper and electronic media. It covers a wide range of literary genres.

Science fiction literature 

This literature belongs to the narrative genre and in it, the author includes facts from everyday reality or from fiction. Often the creators of this literary genre were ahead of their time and explained subsequent events. A clear case is presented by Jules Verne and his works.

Non-fiction literature

This type of literature also belongs to the narrative genre, except that it discusses real events or eyewitnesses. They are usually used in the development of traditional novels and stories as well. The events contained in these texts can be verified, which gives the work more credibility.

Fantastic literature

Usually featuring facts and supernatural beings that can take place in the known world or in a fictional world. In this type of text that belongs to the narrative genre (although it can also be appreciated in poetry), the writer functions as the god who creates events, creatures, and things.

Literary genres

There are several ways to cover literary genres, and in some cases, they are confused with subgenres. The first classification – and the one most widely accepted by writers – is that proposed by Aristotle (384 BC – 322 BC) in his Poetics.

He noted that literary genres were divided into narrative, poetry, and drama.


At the time of Aristotle, it was known as the epic genre. Back then, he narrated legendary events (fictional or real) combined with narration, dialogue, and description. 10 literary definitions

The narrative is currently characterized as a written category in which the narrator presents facts in prose. These in turn have several subgenres such as novels or short stories.


This genre is poetry, a form of expression in which the emotional acquires a symbolic meaning. The author’s diction usually carries more weight than the facts themselves, using various literary sources to embellish the writing.

The usual spelling is verse, although prose can also be used in some cases. Some of the lyrical subgenres are song, ode, hymn, elegy,


Its origins lie in ancient Greece when the drama was created to worship the gods. Dialogue is the engine of the genre and generally exhibits a lack of narrative, as is the case in the theater.

According to Aristotle, this literary genre includes tragedy, comedy, drama, and melodrama. Other subgenres are currently being added, such as farce, tragicomedy, or textbook.

The case of the didactic genre

There is no consensus on whether the didactic genre can be a fourth literary genre. Its aims are dissemination and teaching, with essay, dialogue, public speaking, or public teaching as major subgenera. 10 literary definitions

Functions of literature

Aesthetic function

This aspect refers to the beauty that the author can reveal in the text. This quality is usually the main attraction of the job. 10 literary definitions

Social function

This refers to the fact that literary texts usually serve as testimony to historical events, ideals, and prominent figures at various times of their creation.

Cultural function

This function refers to the fact that literature serves as a bridge to convey knowledge, customs, and culture of society.

Musical function

It sounds contradictory, but literature has a set of elements that make for well-organized musicality. When this is achieved, it creates a pleasant sensation for those who appreciate the text.

This feature is not only typical of poetry but is found in all genres. What is needed is a good command of the writer’s language and its resources.

Affective function 

It refers to the emotions a writer can achieve when writing a text. It all depends on the qualities the author has and how well he handles the theme and language.

Symbolic function

This section refers to the specific message the author wants to convey, based on the use of symbols to support it. As this function is directly linked to poetics, literati play an important role.

Evasive function 

This refers to the fact that both the author as he writes and the reader who interprets it, or who hears the literary work as it is being told, can escape the realities in which they live. Yes, literary works help to avoid the situations being experienced.

Commit function

This function refers to the role an author plays in writing a work and their responsibility to readers and history. We need to understand that each literary work has a message that, for better or worse, affects those who read it. Herein lies the importance of the artist’s commitment when creating.

Classic authors of literature

Arthur Conan Doyle

  • The sign of the four.
  • The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.

Charles Dickens

  • Various stories.
  • David Copperfield
  • The Christmas song.
  • Big hopes.
  • Oliver Twist.

Daniel Defoe

  • Robinson Crusoe.

Edgar Allan Poe

  • Various stories.

Edgar rice Burrough

  • Tarzan of the apes.

Emilio salgari 10 definitions of literature

  • The black corsair.
  • The Queen of the Caribs.
  • The Mysteries of the Black Jungle.
  • The Mompracem (or Sandokan) tigers.
  • Sandokan, the king of the sea.

George Orwell

  • Rebellion on the farm.

Gustave Flaubert

  • Madame Bovary.

Herman Melville

  • Bartleby, the clerk.

Jane Austen

  • Pride and prejudice.
  • Sense and Sensibility.

Jonathan Swift

  • Gulliver’s Travels.

Juan Ramon Jimenez 10 definitions of literature

  • Platero and me.

Julio Verne

  • Around the Moon.
  • Five weeks in a balloon.
  • Owner of the world.
  • Around the World in 80 Days.
  • Twenty thousand leagues of underwater travel.
  • Journey to the Center of the Earth.

Leon Tolstoy 

  • Ana Karenina.
  • The death of Ivan Ilyich.

Mark Twain

  • The Prince and the Pauper.
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
  • Tom Sawyer’s adventures.

Oscar Wilde 

  • Various stories.
  • The crime of Lord Arthur Saville.
  • The Canterville Ghost.
  • The Picture of Dorian Gray.

Robert Louis Stevenson

  • The strange case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
  • The black arrow.
  • The island of the treasure.


  • Various stories.
  • Micromegas.

Washington Irving 

  • The legend of Sleepy Hollow.
  • Rip Van Winkle. 10 definitions of literature
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