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Literary Style

Until modern times, literary style meant ‘composition’ or ‘writing’ (n.), but nowadays this term implies many meanings such as: the way in which a person expresses his/her ideas; the sum of an author’s means of expression within the literary arena; the linguistic means of expression of a certain writer, a work of art, a literary genre, an era, a literary trend, etc.

Each of these aspects of a possible definition of the literary style is wide and complex in its own right, but we are not going into details right here, in this lesson. Style, as you know or can imagine changes along time, by inventing and applying the so called style phenomena, i.e. elements of style viewed as deviations from the common and usual literary construction – something out of the ordinary, especially before its wide adoption into a culture, language or literary genre. This is what makes an author progressive and innovative.

Traditionally, both in poetry and in prose, the notion of style used to embrace a few writing aspects such as clarity, accuracy or three distinct ways of language usage: i) the sublime; ii) the medium or temperate style; iii) and the simple or vulgar style.

However, starting with the modern era, the term of style changed its meaning once the modern literary critics started to view style as the expression of a writer’s individuality. The widely spread opinion that “style is the author him/herself” was transferred in the view that literature as a language component must bear the signs of the author’s individuality and then transport this to the masses of readers.

Now, apart from literary writing, we must realise that every communication has an individual style, in that the communicator can present his/her ideas in a number of ways, like: neutral (an answer given to a passer-by); familiar (used between friends and close acquaintances); familial (used among the members of a family); solemn or grave, ceremonial, ritualistic, such as that used to address an official or an important party on the social hierarchy; epistolary, or the specific style used for writing letters.

In parallel, we can distinguish between
a)    The styles of various genres or what we call a literary style. This will help define general characteristics of a series of literary works, such as lyrical style, epical, dramatical, etc.
b)    In the same classification we can find the national style, defining the particular characteristics of an actual culture in the context of the universal literature.
c)    Another avenue is that of the style of a period, outlining original elements, the character and ambient of an era in comparison with previous ones – for example think of the renaissance compared to antiquity.
d)    One other grouping is the style of a trend, which defines the general characteristics of a number of writers within the same literary tendency, like romanticism, classicism, naturalism, etc.

As an ending note, we must mention that the term of “style” is not solely applicable to literature and the writing art, but in fact it is a widely used notion within the whole dominion of art, including musical style, architectural style, visual arts style, etc.

Whereas I believe it is crucial for all of us to understand the wide applicability of style, for the purpose of our lessons we shall only consider the above mentioned individual style in as much as it helps us to develop our expression in written form, both in our exams in English, as well as in our creative writing attempts in the future.

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