Literary Type

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Type, Literary


(rod literaturnyi), a group of literary works similar in their method of depicting reality, for which the original model is an object or subject or the act of artistic expression itself.

The text depicts the world of objects, expresses the inner state of the narrator, or reproduces verbal communication. Traditionally, there are three literary types, the epic, the lyric, and the drama, each of which corresponds to a particular function of the word (representative, emotive, or communicative) and develops its aesthetic value. The epic captures everyday life in its fluidity, in its temporal and spatial dimensions, and in the fullness of its events (plot). The lyric expresses the inner state of an individual, with its impulsiveness and spontaneity, as well as the creation and fluctuation of impressions, fantasies, moods, associations, meditations, and reflections (expressiveness). The drama records verbal acts, with their emotional and volitional aspirations, their characteristic sociopsychological style, and their inner freedom and external conditionality. In other words, drama captures the dual, expressive and plot characteristics of speech, thus combining the features of the lyric and the epic.

The category of the literary type is associated with the general aesthetic principle of delimiting the representational, the expressive, and the stage (representational expressive) arts. It is also associated with the general epistemological categories of subject and object and their interaction. Consequently, the category of the literary type is basic for the typology and systema-tization of literary phenomena, and it is the point of departure for the more specific classification of literary phenomena into categories and genres.

The basis for the typological classification of literature is the polymorphism of the word as an artistic medium, which makes it similar to colors, sounds, and movement in its range of plastic, expressive, and dynamic possibilities. The differences between the literary types are reflected in the selective affinity of each one for synthesis with other arts. Thus, the lyric may be combined with music (singing), the drama with pantomime (theater), and the epic with painting and graphics (book illustration).

Historically, the literary types emerged from the syncretic ritual chorus, as the cultural solidarity of the primitive collective disintegrated and the individual became separated from the group. In the epic the individual contemplates the life of the people, in the lyric he yields to intimate emotional experiences, and in the drama he comes into conflict with superpersonal necessity or fate and carries on a dialogue with the chorus, the representative of the universal. (The inclusion of the chorus in this description of the drama reflects the origin of the literary types in ancient Greek literature.) Literary types developed through a succession of related genres. For example, the epic progressed from the epopee, idyll, and fable to the novel, novella, and short story. In addition, the development of literary types depended on their strong association with a particular trend or school. The lyric lost importance under classicism, but it was revived by the romantics. Literary types also developed by means of the interpenetration of their original characteristics. For example, the emergence of the lyrical epic poem or the lyrical and epic drama actualized the differences between the epic and the epical, the lyric and the lyrical, and the drama and the dramatic as typological forms and as types of content, which are freed from their simple interdependence and occur in varying combinations. An example of the modern artistic synthesis of types based on the epic is the novel, which freely absorbed into its narrative structure the dialogue, the author’s meditations, and indirect speech and the tale—two new speech forms that use a different method than the traditional literary types to link the subject and the object of expression. The modern artistic synthesis of literary types based on the epic is also exemplified by screenplays for television and motion pictures, which are sometimes classified as a special literary type.

After a long period of delimitation and isolation following an initial syncretism, 20th-century literary types are moving toward integration. The epic distance, lyric isolation, and dramatic conflict that embody the aesthetic complex of man’s alienation from and opposition to the world are giving way to quests for new verbal structures that refract the more mobile, relative boundaries between the subject and the object of artistic expression. In modern realism this trend is reflected in an increased interest in the “human document,” as well as in the use of folkloric syncretist traditions, but in modernism it leads to the complete obliteration of the distinction between consciousness and reality in “stream-of-consciousness” literature and in the creation of myths.

The tradition of the typological classification of literature was begun by Aristotle (Poetics) and was continued by French classicism, which developed principles defining the differences between literary types in the spirit of normative poetics. (The Russian literary terms zhanr, rod, and vid are associated with the French word genre) The tradition of typological classification was also continued by German classical aestheticians from Goethe to Hegel, who gave literary typologies a spiritualistic, logical, and epistemological interpretation that was developed in Russia by V. G. Belinskii. In the 20th century, literary typology has received both existential psychological and formalist structuralist interpretations (E. Staiger of Switzerland and K. Burke of the USA, for example). In addition, some Western critics, such as B. Croce, have expressed a negative attitude toward the category of literary types, arguing that it is superimposed on aesthetics by dogmatic rationalism and is inadequate for an understanding of unique artistic phenomena. The Chicago school of neo-Aristotelians treats the concept of literary types as it applies to the New Criticism. Soviet aesthetics focuses on the problems of content and historical change in literary types, as well as on their place in the arts (see, for example, Teoriia literatury: Osnovnye problemy ν istoricheskom osveshchenii [The Theory of Literature: Fundamental Problems in Historical Enlightenment], book 2, Moscow, 1964).


Aristotle. Ob iskusstvepoezii. Moscow, 1957.
Hegel, G. W. F. Estetika, vol. 3. Moscow, 1971.
Belinskii, V. G. “Razdelenie poezii na rody i vidy.” Poln. sobr. soch., vol. 5. Moscow, 1954.
Veselovskii, A. N. Istoricheskaia poetika. Leningrad, 1940.
Gachev, G. D. Soderzhatel’nost’ khudozhestvennykh form: Epos, Lirika, Teatr. Moscow, 1968.
Kagan, M. S. Morfologiia iskusstva. Leningrad, 1972.
Staiger, E. Grundbegrijfe der Poetik, 8th ed. Zürich-Berlin, 1968.
Frye, N. Anatomy of Criticism. Princeton, N. J., 1957.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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