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more about literary organization

Some writers write for money, but all writers write in order to be read and admired by readers. This being the case, you might think that the reader would be the focus of instruction in schools. But in the conventional approach, educators let readers play second fiddle to writers. Why?

In the main, educators do not do research, teach literature, or organize literary curricula around such principles as the likes and dislikes of their students, the works students actually read, their specific ethnic or cultural, backgrounds, or the corner of the world they come from. It's the exception when a course is designed to explore the novels that British or American students actually read or to examine student knowledge or appreciation of poetry.

Instead, scholars, teachers, and institutions of learning typically organize courses around writers and their works, genres, or periods. Some advanced courses are organized according to form.

Educators usually teach the works of writers who produce English or German or French literature, the literary techniques writer's use to make their works effective, literary genres in which writers specialize, such as such as novels or short stories, literary eras or periods in which writers lived or wrote, such as the Renaissance, styles in which writers write, such as 18th and 19th century Romanticism, or collections of writers grouped according to their national or regional loyalty and that of their works, such as "English Lit.," "American Lit.," and "World Lit." In America, courses that teach black literature are organized around black writers and periods.

True, apart from academic and degree requirements, students are free to choose the courses they want to sign up for. But student backgrounds, needs, ethnicity, or literary preferences are generally ignored in the design and dissemination of these courses, especially at lower scholastic levels. One size fits all.


Academics know that the way they categorize literature is an important determinant of what their students take away from literature courses. Given this knowledge, why do academics organize curricula as they do?

Academics organize courses along the same (usually narrow) lines as they do research. Their research methods affect their understanding of literary subjects and, in turn, their understanding affects how well they are equipped to teach these subjects.

Organizing literature is not as easy a task as first it may seem. The field of literature is so rich and complex, categorizing and organizing an exploration of a literary subject wisely can be a challenge for anyone. A single work or author or a group of works or authors may be categorized and studied from the point of view of form, genre, period, author's nation or national affiliation, writing styles, writing techniques, and many more. Each point of view adds something to the student's understanding and appreciation of a subject and each point of view amplifies all the others.

Seldom is it practical to examine a literary subject from more than one or a few points of view in one academic course; and at the same time, it's a logical contradiction not to assign a single work or author to more than one literary category. This contradiction presents a dilemma to all categorizers and curriculum designers because, where literature is concerned, usually there are so many different profitable ways to look at a single subject that much worthwhile material must be bypassed. Thus, for example, Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came, the magnificent, nightmarish, and mysterious lyric poem by Robert Browning, is an example of British Literature, World Literature, poetry, romance, mystery, and lyricism, all at the same time. But where to put it? How to teach it?

the muse's approach

The Muse Of Literature is not an academic and this feature is not a classroom. Nevertheless, The Muse faces the same dilemma as do literary academics and institutions of learning.

How should The Muse approach the categorization and exploration of literature? What works, authors, and other literary subjects should be grouped and examined, and from what points of view?

After much deliberation, The Muse has concluded that, in this feature, the best way to approach literature is to give academics their due. So many astute academicians, researchers, and institutions of learning have spent so many long years developing and perfecting the way they organize and present literature, it would be an act of hubris for The Muse to adopt any other approach but theirs. For these reasons, this feature is organized into literary categories in the conventional manner.

Here's an abbreviated example of the time-honored academic way of classifying literature. It illustrates the organizational pattern followed by The Muse:

Literary Categories Literary Genres Literary Forms Literary Periods
  • Mystery
  • Speculative
  • Romance
  • Drama
  • Poetry
  • Novel
  • Short story
  • World.
    • Classical Greece
    • Classical Rome
  • British.
    • Elizabethan
    • Romantic
    • Victorian
    • Modern
  • American.
    • Colonial
    • Civil War
    • Modern


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