Questions tagged [history-of-literature]

Questions about historical development within literature: for example, the history of a particular literary theme or idea, or of literature in a particular country or context. For questions about real-world history as it relates to literature, use [historical-context] instead. For questions about publication dates of specific works or editions, use [textual-history].

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Earliest work of English literature featuring “human hunting”

George R. R. Martin's first novel, Dying of the Light (1977) contains a manhunt. This is not a manhunt in the context of law enforcement or a military operation, but refers to a “hunting party” in ...
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When was the Holy Grail first depicted as an object to be owned by its seeker?

While the Holy Grail was always depicted as an important or powerful relic, in medieval literature I have never seen a quest to own the Grail, only to seek it in a spiritual sense. In early stories, ...
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Was Roald Dahl the first to use the “Hitler twist?”

In his story "Genesis and Catastrophe" [1959] , also called "A fine son", Roald Dahl uses a plot twist that has been done so often that it is an eye-roller: revealing near the end ...
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What does it mean to say “the future of the English language is grand but as far as its literature is concerned it seems bleak”?

An English professor commented that "the future of the English language is grand but as far as its literature is concerned it seems bleak". How can this sentence be interpreted? What exactly is the ...
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What is the origin of the trope of an evil character whose name is not permitted to be spoken?

Many works of fantasy involve an evil leader or "dark lord" whose real name is known but usually not permitted to be spoken, either by his own followers (out of respect?) or by others (out of fear?) ...
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Is A Supplement to the Journey to the West from the 17th century the oldest Chinese work of literature involving time travel?

A Supplement to the Journey to the West is a Chinese novel from around 1640 that was written as a type of addendum to the great classic novel Journey to the West. Journey to the West is set during the ...
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Earliest example of a story where an animal or object gains the ability to talk

I'm looking for the earliest example for a story with an animal or object that gains the ability to talk. Animal/object needs to have a name of their own, and the gaining of the ability to speak is ...
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Lack of Proper Ending in Stories by Old Indian Authors

I have read quite a few stories by old Indian authors who wrote in Hindi and Urdu in the early twentieth century. I noticed a trend of them not completing their stories or providing an ending and ...
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What is the earliest book where bad spelling is primarily for humor value?

I've enjoyed books like Molesworth by Geoffrey Willans and The BFG by Roald Dahl, where bad spelling and grammar (the BFG's extensive writing on the dream jars) are an integral part of the joke, and ...
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Albert Thibaudet and the Geneva School?

I'm learning about the literary critic Albert Thibaudet. I read on Wikipedia that he was the co-founder of the Geneva School of literary criticism, but I don't remember my tutor mentioning that about ...
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Which literature work took the longest time in its author's life (finished or not)

As far as I know Goethe has that title with Faust (this site tells that it spanned 57 years). So, is it the record; or are there any other works took longer? Unfinished works are also considered to ...
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For Saintsbury, which English novelists constituted the “great quartet of the mid-eighteenth century”?

In the anthology Shorter Novels: Elizabethan, first published in 1929, George Saintsbury writes in the introduction that the English novel had something like a false start in the Elizabethan era and ...
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What was the first novel written in the present tense?

Although many novels are still written in the past tense, it seems that many other novels nowadays are written in the present tense. When did this begin? What was the first novel written primarily in ...
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What is the earliest work with the time-loop trope?

The film "Groundhog Day" has a plot centered around a character whose day repeats exactly the same way each day, and upon waking retains memory of the previous day. This is what I call a "time-loop," ...
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Children raised out of human society - ancient stories

I am interested in the theme of human children raised out of human society (e.g. Mowgli or Romulus and Remus), whether by animals, gods, flowers, aliens, etc. What is the oldest story where such a ...
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Oldest children’s library in America?

I’ve already asked about the oldest free public library: now what’s the oldest children’s library in America?
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What is the oldest mention of a unicorn in English literature?

Since Stack Overflow thought it would be fun to use a 1990s style featuring a unicorn to celebrate this First of April, let me post a question that fits the theme: What is the oldest mention of a ...
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(How) have the interpretations of Macbeth's ending evolved over time?

I just attended a performance of Macbeth that ended on a much more ambivalent note than Shakespeare's original text. Instead of Malcolm and his posse picking up the shambles and Malcolm motivating his ...
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When was Shakespeare's The Tempest first analysed from a “post-colonial” perspective?

A recent answer from verbose mentioned: Postcolonial approaches to The Tempest cast Prospero as colonizer, exercising imperial control over the original inhabitants of the island: Caliban and Ariel....
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What is the first work of literature to reference existentialism?

Taking a class on existentialism and literature and I'm curious how far back the idea has been referenced in literature. What is the first work of literature to express the ideas of existentialism?
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How did the story of Robin Hood pass from oral literature to written?

Robin Hood is a famous figure of English folklore, whose existence or fictionality is still a subject of debate. The stories about him started off as folk tales transmitted orally (ballads), but by ...
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Are political dystopias becoming less popular?

After reading Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four I was looking for more dystopias that are similar to it. But the trouble is, most of them are becoming more sci-fi based rather than politically based. Don'...
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Was Harry Potter the first magic series to use wands?

Was Harry Potter the first magic series to use wands? I can't really think of any other series that used them.
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Why did iambic pentameter become so 'standard' in classical English poetry?

Iambic pentameter is probably the most prevailing and widely used meter in classical English poetry, and it's the 'standard' form of verse in many forms of poetry such as sonnets. From Wikipedia (...
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What is the meaning of “Georgian Verse”?

I found the following book on Google Books: The Book of Georgian Verse edited by William Braithwaite, published in 1909. What is the meaning of Georgian? Search engine results provided nothing of use. ...
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Are there earlier incidences than Merchant of Venice of an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other?

In act 2, scene 2 of The Merchant of Venice, Launcelot Gobbo is conflicted regarding whether to run from Shylock, or continue working for him. Shakespeare expresses this internal conflict by ...
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Why are Dwarfs almost always technologically advanced compared to other races?

In almost every fantasy world Dwarfs are almost always shown to have superior technology compared to other races. Why is that?
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Why did Carl Jung write “Man and his symbols” in English?

Any specific reasons for Jung and his colleagues to write this book in English? The majority of his writings seem to be in German and most of his colleagues seem German speaking as well. I'm not sure ...
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What qualifies something as “Lovecraftian”?

I often hear the term "Lovecraftian" used in reference to describe certain elements of horror literature or film. I do understand this to be a reference to H.P. Lovecraft and his style of horror, but ...
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When did the first Dramatis Personae appear outside of theatre?

According to the Wikipedia article about Dramatis Personae, Dramatis Personae began in plays and later moved into the other forms of literature. This led me to ask: When did Dramatis Personae first ...
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What is the highest number a comic book issue ever achieved naturally?

Action Comics #1000 was first published in the US earlier this year. I got the impression that this seemed to be an unheard of before milestone. Most likely due to the fact that such a daunting ...
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What was the earliest novel that invented a language without words for “I” or “me”?

We recently had a questions about the usage of pronouns in Nalo Hopkinson's story "Shift". In that story, one of the characters uses the pronoun "you" to refer to himself. This is a consequence of ...
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What was the earliest diary by a European poet, dramatist or novelist?

The earliest surviving diary by a poet is probably the Tosa Diary by the tenth-century Japanese poet Ki no Tsurayuki. More details about this diary can be found on the Diary Review blog. The Diary ...
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What was the first book that taught readers how to analyse and interpret literature?

Books about literaty theory have a long tradition; Aristotle's Poetics dates back to the 4th century BC. Books about how to write literature also go back a long way, for example, Horace's Ars Poetica (...
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First Dutch children's bible

In the second half of 1943, Anne Frank received a children's bible from her father. Her older sister Margot objected to the idea of giving Anne a Bible on Hannukah, so her father thought giving it on ...
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When did people begin to regard Gulliver's Travels as a children's book?

Jonathan Swift published Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World. In Four Parts. By Lemuel Gulliver, First a Surgeon, and then a Captain of several Ships in 1726 as a satire on human nature. ...
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What is the literary origin of the ability to sense somebody else's powers or “force”?

"The force is strong with this one" is apparently a trope and its meaning has already been discussed in Science Fiction & Fantasy SE. The Star Wars franchise started in 1977, but the ability to ...
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Where was the first English playhouse outside London built?

When reading about English Renaissance theatre, discussions centre on authors, theatre companies and theatre buildings in and around London. For example, the first English playhouses were the Red Lion,...
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Oldest library in America?

What’s the oldest free public library in North America? I personally think that this question will be of at least some interest to regular users of this board,as well as some history buffs!
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Origin of symbolic interpretation of Prospero's breaking of his staff?

At the end of The Tempest, which is generally believed to be the last plays that Shakesepare wrote alone, Prospero breaks his staff and drowns his book. This has often been read as Shakespeare telling ...
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Earliest work of fiction in which characters using telepathy can't lie

In Liu Cixin's novel The Three-Body Problem (2006/2008), the inhabitants of the planet Trisolaris communicate with each other using telepathy and are unable to lie. In Ursula Le Guin's novel The Left ...
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What is the oldest non-biographical work of literature in which the author is also a protagonist?

Dante's Divine Comedy, written in the years 1308-1320, is a long narrative poem in which the poet is also a protagonist in the story. The story also includes many real characters, such as Virgil and ...
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What does 'reflection of love for the soul' intend to say?

Source: The Complete Idiot's Guide to Literary Theory and Criticism (2013 1 ed). p. 90. From the medieval period through the Renaissance, Plato's argument that physical beauty should be seen as ...
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Is it a common motif in (western) storytelling that the antagonists are located to the east?

I'm not sure if this is the correct place for this question. I was reading some Lord of the Rings-lore the other day and it got me thinking about the location of "evil" in storytelling. In ...
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Antecedents for Hawthorne's Dr. Rappaccini

In the short story Rappaccini's Daughter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Dr. Rappaccini uses his own daughter as a subject in his great experiment, resulting in her living a life of isolation and eventually ...
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Why did homophobia become a feature of detective fiction in the mid-20th century?

About 10 years ago I read the Maltese Falcon. It was a good read, but I remember being shocked by the blatant homophobia. Raymond Chandler's the Big Sleep was more subtle about it, but definitely ...
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Did medieval romances develop into modern romances?

I'm reading Arthurian texts and I know that it's considered a romance, but there is there such a big difference between modern romance, love stories, and medieval romances, which can be tales of ...
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What happened to the epic poem?

It's so strange to me that we all praised and adore things, but would never consider supporting them in a modern setting. There are many examples of this: poetry (very unpopular nowadays; not in the ...
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Predecessors/Inspirations of Scheinriesen (Illusionary Giants)

A "Scheinriese" (illusory giant), most notably Mr. Tur-Tur from Michael Ende's Jim Button and Luke the Engine Driver, is a being which when seen from a distance appears to be a giant, inadvertently ...
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How did contemporary readers respond to coincidence in 19th century novels

Reading 19th century literature in the 21st century, it is often striking how often the plot turns on often quite outrageous coincidences. Frequently this happens when a relatively small cast of ...