From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
An essay is, generally, a piece of writing that gives the author's own
argument — but the deﬁnition is vague, overlapping with those of an
article, a pamphlet, and a short story. Essays have traditionally been subclassiﬁed as formal and informal. Formal essays are characterized by
"serious purpose, dignity, logical organization, length," whereas the
informal essay is characterized by "the personal element (self-revelation,
individual tastes and experiences, conﬁdential manner), humor, graceful
style, rambling structure, unconventionality or novelty of theme," etc.
Essays can consist of a number of elements, including: literary ...view middle of the document...
3 As an educational tool
4 Forms and styles
4.1 Cause and effect
4.2 Classiﬁcation and division
4.3 Compare and contrast
4.8 History (thesis)
4.13 Other logical structures
5 Magazine or newspaper
7 Non-literary types
7.4 Visual Arts
8 See also
10 Further reading
11 External links
An essay has been deﬁned in a variety of ways. One deﬁnition is a "prose composition with a focused subject of
discussion" or a "long, systematic discourse". It is difﬁcult to deﬁne the genre into which essays fall. Aldous
Huxley, a leading essayist, gives guidance on the subject. He notes
that "the essay is a literary device for saying almost everything about
almost anything", and adds that "by tradition, almost by deﬁnition, the
essay is a short piece". Furthermore, Huxley argues that "essays belong
to a literary species whose extreme variability can be studied most
effectively within a three-poled frame of reference". These three poles
(or worlds in which the essay may exist) are:
The personal and the autobiographical: The essayists that feel
most comfortable in this pole "write fragments of reﬂective
autobiography and look at the world through the keyhole of
anecdote and description".
The objective, the factual, and the concrete-particular: The
essayists that write from this pole "do not speak directly of
themselves, but turn their attention outward to some literary or
scientiﬁc or political theme. Their art consists on setting forth,
passing judgement upon, and drawing general conclusions from
the relevant data".
The abstract-universal: In this pole "we ﬁnd those essayists who
do their work in the world of high abstractions", who are never
personal and who seldom mention the particular facts of
Huxley adds that the most satisfying essays "...make the best not of one,
not of two, but of all the three worlds in which it is possible for the
essay to exist."
John Locke's 1690 An Essay
Concerning Human Understanding.
The word essay derives from the French inﬁnitive essayer, "to try" or "to attempt". In English essay ﬁrst meant
"a trial" or "an attempt", and this is still an alternative meaning. The Frenchman Michel de Montaigne (1533–
1592) was the ﬁrst author to describe his work as essays; he used the term to characterize these as "attempts" to
put his thoughts into writing, and his essays grew out of his commonplacing. Inspired in particular by the
works of Plutarch, a translation of whose Œuvres Morales (Moral works) into French had just been published
by Jacques Amyot, Montaigne began to compose his essays in 1572; the ﬁrst edition, entitled Essais, was
published in two volumes in 1580. For the rest of his life he...