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Prose is a form of written or spoken language that follows the natural flow of speech, uses a language's ordinary grammatical structures, or follows the conventions of formal academic writing. It differs from most traditional poetry, where the form consists of verse (writing in lines) based on rhythmic meter or rhyme. The word "prose" first appears in English in the fourteenth century.
Works of philosophy, history, economics, journalism, and most fiction (an exception is the verse novel) are examples of works written in prose. Developments in twentieth century literature, including free verse, concrete poetry, and prose poetry, have led to the idea of poetry and prose as two ends on a spectrum rather than firmly distinct from each other.
The term is derived from the Old French prose, which in turn originates in the Latin expression prosa oratio (literally, straightforward or direct speech).
The British poet T. S. Eliot noted, whereas "the distinction between verse and prose is clear, the distinction between poetry and prose is obscure." Prose usually lacks the more formal metrical structure of the verses found in traditional poetry. Traditionally, it comprises full grammatical sentences (until the era of Modernism and Postmodernism when writers stretched the boundaries using stream of consciousness narrative and other techniques), and paragraphs, while poetry usually involves a metrical or rhyming scheme. Some works of prose make use of rhythm and verbal music. Verse is normally more systematic or formulaic, while prose is closer to both ordinary, and conversational speech.
In Molière's play Le Bourgeois gentilhomme the character Monsieur Jourdain asked for something to be written in neither verse nor prose, to which a philosophy master replies: "there is no other way to express oneself than with prose or verse," for the simple reason that "everything that is not prose is verse, and everything that is not verse is prose."
American novelist Truman Capote, in an interview, commented on prose style:
I believe a story can be wrecked by a faulty rhythm in a sentence— especially if it occurs toward the end—or a mistake in paragraphing, even punctuation. Henry James is the maestro of the semicolon. Hemingway is a first-rate paragrapher. From the point of view of ear, Virginia Woolf never wrote a bad sentence. I don't mean to imply that I successfully practice what I preach. I try, that's all.
Prose is divided into two main divisions:
This distinction is a general definition but it does not always hold. Ancient histories contain many obvious fictive elements and even early modern histories used fictional accounts interspersed with factional information, and many works attempted to draw on non-fictional elements as part of their storytelling. The categories became somewhat more distinct in the modern era, but post-modern trends have also tended to blur distinctions.
There are many types of prose, which include those used in works of non-fiction, and prose poem, alliterative prose and prose fiction. Types of non-fiction prose include:
Fictional prose includes:
- Novels/novellas - the most common fictional prose.
- A prose poem – is a composition in prose that has some of the qualities of a poem.
- Haikai prose – combines haiku and prose.
- Prosimetrum – is a poetic composition which exploits a combination of prose and verse (metrum); in particular, it is a text composed in alternating segments of prose and verse. It is widely found in Western and Eastern literature.
- Purple prose – is prose that is so extravagant, ornate, or flowery as to break the flow and draw excessive attention to itself.
Early Chinese prose was deeply influenced by the great philosophical writings of the Hundred Schools of Thought (770–221 B.C.E.). The works of Mo Zi (墨子), Mencius (孟子), and Zhuang Zi (莊子) contain well-reasoned, carefully developed discourses that reveal much stronger organization and style than their predecessors. Mo Zi's polemic prose was built on solid and effective methodological reasoning. Mencius contributed elegant diction and, like Zhuang Zi, relied on comparisons, anecdotes, and allegories. By the third century B.C.E., these writers had developed a simple, concise and economical prose style that served as a model of literary form for over 2,000 years. They were written in Classical Chinese, the language spoken during the Spring and Autumn period.
During the Tang period, the ornate, artificial style of prose developed in previous periods was replaced by a simple, direct, and forceful prose based on examples from the Hundred Schools and from the Han period, the period in which the great historical works of Sima Tan and Sima Qian were published. This neoclassical style dominated prose writing for the next 800 years. It was exemplified in the work of Han Yu 韓愈 (768–824), a master essayist and strong advocate of a return to Confucian orthodoxy; Han Yu was later listed as one of the "Eight Great Prose Masters of the Tang and Song."
The Song dynasty saw the rise in popularity of "travel record literature" (youji wenxue). Travel literature combined both diary and narrative prose formats, it was practiced by such seasoned travelers as Fan Chengda (1126–1193) and Xu Xiake (1587–1641) and can be seen in the example of Su Shi's Record of Stone Bell Mountain.
After the fourteenth century, vernacular fiction became popular, at least outside of court circles. Vernacular fiction covered a broader range of subject matter and was longer and more loosely structured than literary fiction. One of the masterpieces of Chinese vernacular fiction is the eighteenth-century domestic novel Dream of the Red Chamber (紅樓夢).
Ancient Greek prose
Greece's classical age produced two of the pioneers of history: Herodotus and Thucydides. Herodotus is commonly called the father of history, and his "History" contains the first truly literary use of prose in Western literature.
Very little has survived of prose fiction from the Hellenistic Era. The Milesiaka by Aristides of Miletos was probably written during the second century B.C.E. The Milesiaka itself has not survived to the present day in its complete form, but various references to it have survived. The book established a whole new genre of so-called "Milesian tales," of which The Golden Ass by the later Roman writer Apuleius is a prime example.
The ancient Greek novels Chaereas and Callirhoe by Chariton and Metiochus and Parthenope were probably both written during the late first century B.C.E. or early first century C.E., during the latter part of the Hellenistic Era. The discovery of several fragments of Lollianos's Phoenician Tale reveal the existence of a genre of ancient Greek picaresque novel.
The Roman Period
The Roman Period was the time when the majority of extant works of Greek prose fiction were composed. The ancient Greek novels Leucippe and Clitophon by Achilles Tatius and Daphnis and Chloe by Longus were both probably written during the early second century C.E. Daphnis and Chloe, by far the most famous of the five surviving ancient Greek romance novels, is a nostalgic tale of two young lovers growing up in an idealized pastoral environment on the Greek island of Lesbos. The Wonders Beyond Thule by Antonius Diogenes may have also been written during the early second century C.E., although scholars are unsure of its exact date. The Wonders Beyond Thule has not survived in its complete form, but a very lengthy summary of it written by Photios I of Constantinople has survived. The Ephesian Tale by Xenophon of Ephesus was probably written during the late second century C.E.
The satirist Lucian of Samosata lived during the late second century C.E. Lucian's works were popular during antiquity. Over eighty different writings attributed to Lucian have survived to the present day. Almost all of Lucian's works are written in the heavily Atticized dialect of ancient Greek language prevalent among the well-educated at the time. His book The Syrian Goddess, however, was written in a faux-Ionic dialect, deliberately imitating the dialect and style of Herodotus. Lucian's most famous work is the novel A True Story, which some authors have described as the earliest surviving work of science fiction. His dialogue The Lover of Lies contains several of the earliest known ghost stories as well as the earliest known version of "The Sorcerer's Apprentice." His letter The Passing of Peregrinus, a ruthless satire against Christians, contains one of the earliest pagan appraisals of early Christianity.
The Aethiopica by Heliodorus of Emesa was probably written during the third century C.E. It tells the story of a young Ethiopian princess named Chariclea, who is estranged from her family and goes on many misadventures across the known world. Of all the ancient Greek novels, the one that attained the greatest level of popularity was the Alexander Romance, a fictionalized account of the exploits of Alexander the Great written in the third century C.E. Eighty versions of it have survived in twenty-four different languages, attesting that, during the Middle Ages, the novel was nearly as popular as the Bible. Versions of the Alexander Romance were so commonplace in the fourteenth century that Geoffrey Chaucer wrote that "...every wight that hath discrecioun / Hath herd somwhat or al of [Alexander's] fortune."
Early Latin literature
The prose of the period is best known through On Agriculture (160 B.C.E.) by Cato the Elder. Cato wrote the first Latin history of Rome and of other Italian cities. He was the first Roman statesman to put his political speeches in writing as a means of influencing public opinion.
The Golden Age
Cicero has traditionally been considered the master of Latin prose. The writing he produced from about 80 B.C.E. until his death in 43 B.C.E. exceeds that of any Latin author whose work survives in terms of quantity and variety of genre and subject matter, as well as possessing unsurpassed stylistic excellence. Cicero's many works can be divided into four groups: (1) letters, (2) rhetorical treatises, (3) philosophical works, and (4) orations. His letters provide detailed information about an important period in Roman history and offer a vivid picture of the public and private life among the Roman governing class. Cicero's works on oratory are our most valuable Latin sources for ancient theories on education and rhetoric. His philosophical works were the basis of moral philosophy during the Middle Ages. His speeches inspired many European political leaders and the founders of the United States.
During the Augustan Age that followed, Livy produced a history of the Roman people in 142 books. Only 35 survived, but they are a major source of information on Rome.
From Latin to the modern vernacular
Latin was a major influence on the development of prose in many European countries. Especially important was the great Roman orator Cicero (106 – 43 B.C.E.). It was the lingua franca among literate Europeans until quite recent times, and the great works of Descartes (1596 – 1650), Francis Bacon (1561 – 1626), and Baruch Spinoza (1632 – 1677) were published in Latin. Among the last important books written primarily in Latin prose were the works of Swedenborg (d. 1772), Linnaeus (d. 1778), Euler (d. 1783), Gauss (d. 1855), and Isaac Newton (d. 1727).
Two of the most important Elizabethan prose writers were John Lyly (1553 or 1554 – 1606) and Thomas Nashe (November 1567 – c. 1601). Lyly is an English writer, poet, dramatist, playwright, and politician, best known for his books Euphues: The Anatomy of Wit (1578) and Euphues and His England (1580). Lyly's mannered literary style, originating in his first books, is known as euphuism. Lyly must also be considered and remembered as a primary influence on the plays of William Shakespeare, and in particular the romantic comedies. Lyly's play Love's Metamorphosis is a large influence on Love's Labour's Lost, and Gallathea is a possible source for other plays. After the lyrical Richard II, written almost entirely in verse, Shakespeare introduced prose comedy into the histories of the late 1590s, Henry IV, parts 1 and 2, and Henry V.
Nashe is considered the greatest of the English Elizabethan pamphleteers. He was a playwright, poet, and satirist, who is best known for his novel The Unfortunate Traveller.
Restoration era prose
Prose in the Restoration period is dominated by Christian religious writing, but the Restoration also saw the beginnings of two genres that would dominate later periods: fiction and journalism. Religious writing often strayed into political and economic writing; just as political and economic writing implied or directly addressed religion.
Augustan era prose
The essay, satire, and dialogue (in philosophy and religion) thrived in the Augustan age, and the English novel was truly begun as a serious art form. Literacy in the early eighteenth century passed into the working classes, as well as the middle and upper classes Furthermore, literacy was not confined to men, though rates of female literacy are very difficult to establish. For those who were literate, circulating libraries in England began in the Augustan period. Libraries were open to all, but they were mainly associated with female patronage and novel reading.
English essayists were aware of Continental models, but they developed their form independently from that tradition, and periodical literature grew between 1692 and 1712. Periodicals were inexpensive to produce, quick to read, and a viable way of influencing public opinion, and consequently there were many broadsheet periodicals headed by a single author and staffed by hirelings (so-called "Grub Street" authors). One periodical outsold and dominated all others, The Spectator, written by Joseph Addison and Richard Steele (with occasional contributions from their friends).
The Augustan period showed less literature of controversy than the Restoration. There were Puritan authors, however, and one of the names usually associated with the novel is perhaps the most prominent in Puritan writing: Daniel Defoe. After the coronation of Anne, dissenter hopes of reversing the Restoration were at an ebb, and dissenter literature moved from the offensive to the defensive, from revolutionary to conservative. Defoe's infamous volley in the struggle between high and low church came in the form of The Shortest Way with the Dissenters; Or, Proposals for the Establishment of the Church.
The ground for the novel had been laid by journalism, drama and satire. Long prose satires like Swift's Gulliver's Travels (1726) had a central character who goes through adventures and may (or may not) learn lessons. However, the most important single satirical source for the writing of novels came from Cervantes's Don Quixote (1605, 1615). In general, one can see these three axes, drama, journalism, and satire, as blending in and giving rise to three different types of novel.
Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe (1719) was the first major novel of the new century and was published in more editions than any other works than Gulliver's Travels. Defoe worked as a journalist during and after its composition, where he encountered the memoirs of Alexander Selkirk, who had been stranded in South America on an island for some years. Defoe took aspects of the actual life and, from that, generated a fictional life, satisfying an essentially journalistic market with his fiction. In the 1720s, Defoe interviewed famed criminals and produced accounts of their lives. In particular, he investigated Jack Sheppard and Jonathan Wild and wrote True Accounts of the former's escapes (and fate) and the latter's life. From his reportage on the prostitutes and criminals, Defoe may have become familiar with the real-life Mary Mollineaux, who may have been the model for Moll in Moll Flanders (1722). In the same year, Defoe produced A Journal of the Plague Year (1722), which summoned up the horrors and tribulations of 1665 for a journalistic market for memoirs, and an attempted tale of a working-class male rise in Colonel Jack (1722). His last novel returned to the theme of fallen women in Roxana (1724). Thematically, Defoe's works are consistently Puritan. They all involve a fall, a degradation of the spirit, a conversion, and an ecstatic elevation. This religious structure necessarily involved a bildungsroman, for each character had to learn a lesson about him or herself and emerge the wiser.
Ottoman Empire prose
Ottoman prose did not contain any examples of fiction; that is, there were no counterparts to, for instance, the European romance, short story, or novel (though analogous genres did, to some extent, exist in both the Turkish folk tradition and in Divan poetry).
Roughly speaking, the prose of the Ottoman Empire can be divided along the lines of two broad periods: early Ottoman prose, written prior to the nineteenth century C.E. and exclusively nonfictional in nature; and later Ottoman prose, which extended from the mid-nineteenth century Tanzimat period of reform to the final fall of the Ottoman Empire in 1922, and in which prose fiction was first introduced.
Literary Modernism and Postmodernism
Literary Modernism began with a self-conscious attempt to break with previous tradition, to create something new. It took numerous forms. Its precise beginning is hard to define. Some would place its roots with the tradition of Realism in the works of Honore de Balzac and Gustave Flaubert. The high moment of modernism came much later in the early twentieth century.
Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio (1919) is known as an early work of modernism for its plain-spoken prose style and emphasis on psychological insight into characters. Regarding technique, modernist works sought to obfuscate the boundaries between genres. Thus prose works tended to be poetical and poetry prose-like. T. S. Eliot's poetry sacrificed lyrical grace for the sake of fragmented narrative while Virginia Woolf's novels (such as Mrs. Dalloway and The Waves) have been described as poetical. Her use of stream of consciousness technique to move of the locus of the novel from the interaction of the characters to the interior monologue within the character's mind. The prose of post-modernism became more self-referential as language was seen not as the medium or tool of communication but as endlessly folding back on itself. Authors like James Joyce, Thomas Pynchon, Anthony Burgess, and Vladimir Nabokov among many others created texts that broke with narrative traditions and created prose that was non-linear and pushed the boundaries of meaning.
- ↑ "prose (n.)," Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved February 27, 2023.
- ↑ T.S. Eliot, Poetry & Prose: The Chapbook (London, U.K.: Poetry Bookshop, 1921).
- ↑ Molière, "Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme," English translation Project Gutenberg, December 25, 2008. Retrieved February 27, 2023.
- ↑ Pati Hill, "Truman Capote, The Art of Fiction No. 17," The Paris Review 17(16) (Spring-Summer 1957). Retrieved February 28, 2023.
- ↑ David Lehman, Great American Prose Poems: From Poe to the Present (New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, 2008, ISBN 978-1439105115). Retrieved February 27, 2023.
- ↑ Susanna Braund, "Prosimetrum," in Hubert Cancil and Helmuth Schneider, eds. Brill's New Pauly (Leiden, N.L.: Brill Online, 2012). Retrieved February 27, 2023.
- ↑ "A Word a Day – purple prose," Wordsmith.org. Retrieved February 27, 2023.
- ↑ P.G. Walsh, "Lucius Madaurensis," Phoenix 22(2) (1968): 143–157.
- ↑ Lucius Apuleius Madaurensis, 31 The Golden Ass, trans. Jack Lindsay (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1960, ISBN 0253200369), 31. Retrieved February 27, 2023.
- ↑ Edmund P. Cueva, "Plutarch's Ariadne in Chariton's Chaereas and Callirhoe," American Journal of Philology 117(3) (Fall 1996): 473–484.
- ↑ Cf. Thomas Hägg, "The Oriental Reception of Greek Novels: A Survey with Some Preliminary Considerations," Symbolae Osloenses (61) (1986): 99–131.
- ↑ Thomas Hägg and Bo Utas, The Virgin and Her Lover: Fragments of an Ancient Greek Novel and a Persian Epic Poem, Brill Studies in Middle Eastern Literatures, 30 (Leiden, N.L.: Brill, 2003, ISBN 978-9004132603), 1.
- ↑ 13.0 13.1 13.2 Bryan P. Reardon, Collected Ancient Greek Novels (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1989, ISBN 0520043065), 809–810. Retrieved February 20, 2023.
- ↑ The "early dating of P.Oxy 3836 holds, Achilles Tatius' novel must have been written 'nearer 120 than 150'" Albert Henrichs, Culture In Pieces: Essays on Ancient Texts in Honour of Peter Parsons, eds. Dirk Obbink and Richard Rutherford (Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press, 2011, ISBN 978-0199292011), 309, n. 29 .
- ↑ "the use (albeit mid and erratic) of the Attic dialect suggest a date a little earlier [than mid-second century] in the same century." The Greek Novel: Oxford Bibliographies Online Research Guide (Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press, 2010, ISBN 978-0199803033), 7.
- ↑ 16.0 16.1 Longus, Daphnis and Chloe and Xenophon of Ephesus, Anthia and Habrocomes, ed. and trans. Jeffrey Henderson (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009, ISBN 978-0674996335), 69, 127.
- ↑ Richard Hunter, "Longus, Daphnis and Chloe," in The Novel in the Ancient World ed. Gareth L. Schmeling (Leiden, N.L.: Brill, 1996, ISBN 9004096302), 361–386.
- ↑ J.R. Morgan, "Lucian's True Histories and the Wonders Beyond Thule of Antonius Diogenes," The Classical Quarterly (New Series) (35): 475–490.
- ↑ Marion Moeser, The Anecdote in Mark, the Classical World and the Rabbis: A Study of Brief Stories in the Demonax, The Mishnah, and Mark 8:27–10:45 (London, U.K.: A&C Black, 2002, ISBN 978-0826460592), 88.
- ↑ Lucinda Dirven, "The Author of De Dea Syria and his Cultural Heritage," Numen 44(2) (May 1997): 153–179.
- ↑ Greg Grewell, "Colonizing the Universe: Science Fictions Then, Now, and in the (Imagined) Future," Rocky Mountain Review of Language and Literature 55(2) (2001): 25–47 (30f.)
- ↑ S.C. Fredericks, "Lucian's True History as SF," Science Fiction Studies 3(1) (March 1976): 49–60.
- ↑ Lucian, "The Doubter," in Thirteen Uncanny Tales, ed. Roger Lancelyn Green (London, U.K.: Dutton, 1970, ISBN 978-0460050852), 14–21.
- ↑ George Luck, "Witches and Sorcerers in Classical Literature," Witchcraft and Magic in Europe: Ancient Greece And Rome eds. Bengt Ankarloo and Stuart Clark (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999, ISBN 0812217055), 141.
- ↑ Robert E. Van Voorst, Jesus outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence (Studying the Historical Jesus) (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2000, ISBN 978-0802843685).
- ↑ Niklas Holzberg, The Ancient Novel, trans. Christine Jackson-Holzberg (London, U.K.: Routledge, 1995, ISBN 978-0415107532), 78.
- ↑ Glanwill W. Bowersock, "The Aethiopica of Heliodorus and the Historia Augusta," in Historiae Augustae Colloquia n.s. 2, Colloquium Genevense (Bari, IT: Edipuglia, 1991), 43.
- ↑ Andreas Mehl, Roman Historiography: An Introduction to its Basic Aspects and Development, trans. Hans-Friedrich Mueller (Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010, ISBN 978-1405121835), 52. Retrieved February 27, 2023.
- ↑ Charles W. Eliot, Letters of Marcus Tullius Cicero and Letters of Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus: Part 9 Harvard Classics, (Whitefish, MT: Kessinger Publishing, 2004, ISBN 978-0766182042), 3. Retrieved February 27, 2023.
- ↑ Henry Nettleship and F. Haverfield, Lectures and Essays: Second Series (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2010, ISBN 978-1108012461), 105. Retrieved February 27, 2023.
- ↑ Max Cary and Theodore Johannes Haarhoff, Life and thought in the Greek and Roman world (Oxfordshire, U.K.: Taylor & Francis, 1985, ISBN 978-0313249860), 268. Retrieved February 27, 2023.
- ↑ J. Kerrigan (ed.), "Love's Labours Lost," in New Penguin Shakespeare (Harmondsworth, U.K.: Penguin, 1982, ISBN 0140707387).
- ↑ C. C. Hense, "John Lilly and Shakespeare," in Jahrbuch der deutschen Shakesp. Gesellschaft, vols. vii and viii (Berlin, DE: G. Reimer, 1872, 1873).
- ↑ Charles Nicholl, "'Faustus' and the Politics of Magic," London Review of Books 12(5) (March 8, 1990): 18–19. Retrieved February 27, 2023.
- ↑ E. P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class (Vintage, 1966, ISBN 978-0394703220).
- ↑ John Mullan, "Swift, Defoe, and narrative forms" in The Cambridge Companion to English Literature 1650–1740, ed. Steven Zwicker (Cambridge: U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1999, ISBN 978-0521564885), 252.
- ↑ J. Paul Hunter, "The 'Occasion' of Robinson Crusoe," in Robinson Crusoe, ed. Michael Shinagel (New York, NY: Norton, 1994, ISBN 978-0393964523), 331-333.
ReferencesISBN links support NWE through referral fees
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Retrieved February 27, 2023.
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