I've read several novels (Cornelia Funke's Inkheart trilogy springs to mind, for example) in which each chapter is associated with a quote from some other piece of literature, which is usually somehow relevant to the events of the chapter. The same technique can be used with short story collections, the quotes being associated with individual stories rather than chapters (see Poe, for example).

Is there a name for this literary practice, or for the quotes themselves?

For example, I'd like to be able to say "Poe often practised _____ by putting a quote just below the title in many of his short stories" or "What is the significance of the _____ quote for Chapter 17 in [book]?"


2 Answers 2


As Spagirl commented, it is an epigraph.

As the great and powerful Oz Google puts it (borrowing from dictionary.com, which in turn borrows from Oxford dictionary), an epigraph is

a short quotation or saying at the beginning of a book or chapter, intended to suggest its theme

And as Wikipedia puts it

In literature, an epigraph is a phrase, quotation, or poem that is set at the beginning of a document or component. The epigraph may serve as a preface, as a summary, as a counter-example, or to link the work to a wider literary canon, either to invite comparison or to enlist a conventional context.

Wikipedia itself cites three different sources in the above quote:

  1. An epigraph is an effective literary tool that some writers utilize to focus the reader toward the theme, purpose, or concerns behind the work - a student's project on the University of Michigan website)

  2. An epigraph is a literary device in the form of a poem, quotation or sentence usually placed at the beginning of a document or a simple piece having a few sentences but which belongs to another writer. An epigraph can serve different purposes such as it can be used as a summary, introduction, an example, or an association with some famous literary works, so as to draw comparison or to generate a specific context to be presented in the piece. - LiteraryDevices.net

  3. It also cites a section in Negotiating the New in the French Novel: Building Contexts for Fictional Worlds by Teresa Bridgeman (the section applies the ideas of how an epigraph can affect a story to a specific piece of French literature).
  • 1
    Just a note: The great and powerful google actually lifted that definition from Oxford Dictionaries (in, admittedly, a long tradition of lexicographers "borrowing" from one another).
    – 1006a
    Commented Oct 10, 2017 at 14:00
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    Seems like this should be introduced with "Do not arouse the wrath of the great and powerful Oz. I said come back tomorrow." --Oz Commented Oct 10, 2017 at 15:05
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    @1006a interestingly, Google actually took it from Dictionary.com which in turn took it from Oxford. But yes; I'll edit to mention that.
    – auden
    Commented Oct 10, 2017 at 20:27
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    I'm not sure what dictionary that's from. OUP publish lots of English dictionaries, and it's not very clear which one it is that you can browse on their website.
    – TRiG
    Commented Oct 10, 2017 at 22:28

The word you are looking for is epigraph. Oxford Dictionary defines the word as:

A short quotation or saying at the beginning of a book or chapter, intended to suggest its theme.

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