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- 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.
- is a "prose composition with a focused subject of discussion" or a "long, systematic

Essays have traditionally been sub-classified 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.[1]
Essays are commonly used as literary criticism, political manifestos, learned arguments,
observations of daily life, recollections, and reflections of the author. Almost all modern
essays are written in prose, but works in verse have been dubbed essays (e.g., Alexander
Pope's An Essay on Criticism and An Essay on Man). While brevity usually defines an
essay, voluminous works like John Locke's An Essay Concerning Human
Understanding and Thomas Malthus's An Essay on the Principle of Population are
counterexamples. In some countries (e.g., the United States and Canada), essays have
become a major part of formal education. Secondary students are taught structured essay
formats to improve their writing skills; admission essays are often used by universities
in selecting applicants, and in the humanities and social sciences essays are often used as
a way of assessing the performance of students during final exams.
The concept of an "essay" has been extended to other mediums beyond writing. A film
essay is a movie that often incorporates documentary filmmaking styles, and focuses
more on the evolution of a theme or idea. A photographic essay covers a topic with a
linked series of photographs that may have accompanying text or captions.

Historical Background
"One damned thing after another" is how Aldous Huxley described the essay: "a literary
device for saying almost everything about almost anything."
As definitions go, Huxley's is no more or less exact than Francis Bacon's "dispersed
meditations," Samuel Johnson's "loose sally of the mind" or Edward Hoagland's
"greased pig."
Since Montaigne adopted the term "essay" in the 16th century to describe his "attempts"
at self-portrayal in prose, this slippery form has resisted any sort of precise, universal
But that won't an attempt to define the term in this brief article.

In the broadest sense, the term "essay" can refer to just about any short piece of
nonfiction -- an editorial, feature story, critical study, even an excerpt from a
book. However, literary definitions of a genre are usually a bit fussier.
One way to start is to draw a distinction between articles, which are read primarily for
the information they contain, and essays, in which the pleasure of reading takes
precedence over the information in the text. Although handy, this loose division points
chiefly to kinds of reading rather than to kinds of texts. So here are some other ways that
the essay might be defined.

Standard definitions often stress the loose structure or apparent shapelessness of the
essay. Johnson, for example, called the essay "an irregular, indigested piece, not a
regular and orderly performance."
True, the writings of several well-known essayists (William Hazlitt and Ralph Waldo
Emerson, for instance, after the fashion of Montaigne) can be recognized by the casual
nature of their explorations -- or "ramblings." But that's not to say that anything goes.
Each of these essayists follows certain organizing principles of his own.
Oddly enough, critics haven't paid much attention to the principles of design actually
employed by successful essayists. These principles are rarely formal patterns of
organization, that is, the "modes of exposition" found in many composition textbooks.
Instead, they might be described as patterns of thought -- progressions of a mind
working out an idea.

Unfortunately, the customary divisions of the essay into opposing types -- formal and
informal, impersonal and familiar -- are also troublesome. Consider this suspiciously
neat dividing line drawn by Michele Richman:
Post-Montaigne, the essay split into two distinct modalities: One remained
informal, personal, intimate, relaxed, conversational and often humorous; the
other, dogmatic, impersonal, systematic and expository.

The terms used here to qualify the term "essay" are convenient as a kind of critical
shorthand, but they're imprecise at best and potentially contradictory. Informal can
describe either the shape or the tone of the work -- or both. Personal refers to the stance
of the essayist, conversational to the language of the piece, and expository to its content
and aim. When the writings of particular essayists are studied carefully, Richman's
"distinct modalities" grow increasingly vague.
But as fuzzy as these terms might be, the qualities of shape and personality, form and
voice, are clearly integral to an understanding of the essay as an artful literary kind.

Many of the terms used to characterize the essay -- personal, familiar, intimate,
subjective, friendly, conversational -- represent efforts to identify the genre's most
powerful organizing force: the rhetorical voice or projected character (or persona) of the
In his study of Charles Lamb, Fred Randel observes that the "principal declared
allegiance" of the essay is to "the experience of the essayistic voice." Similarly, British
author Virginia Woolf has described this textual quality of personality or voice as "the
essayist's most proper but most dangerous and delicate tool."
Similarly, at the beginning of "Walden," Henry David Thoreau reminds the reader that
"it is ...
always the first person that is speaking." Whether expressed directly or not, there's
always an "I" in the essay -- a voice shaping the text and fashioning a role for the reader.

Fictional Qualities
The terms "voice" and "persona" are often used interchangeably to suggest the rhetorical
nature of the essayist himself on the page. At times an author may consciously strike a
pose or play a role. He can, as E.B. White confirms in his preface to "The Essays," "be
any sort of person, according to his mood or his subject matter."
In "What I Think, What I Am," essayist Edward Hoagland points out that "the artful 'I' of
an essay can be as chameleon as any narrator in fiction." Similar considerations of voice
and persona lead Carl H. Klaus to conclude that the essay is "profoundly fictive":
It seems to convey the sense of human presence that is indisputably related to
its author's deepest sense of self, but that is also a complex illusion of that self
-- an enactment of it as if it were both in the process of thought and in the
process of sharing the outcome of that thought with others.

But to acknowledge the fictional qualities of the essay isn't to deny its special status as

Reader's Role
A basic aspect of the relationship between a writer (or a writer's persona) and a reader
(the implied audience) is the presumption that what the essayist says is literally true. The
difference between a short story, say, and an autobiographical essay lies less in the
narrative structure or the nature of the material than in the narrator's implied contract
with the reader about the kind of truth being offered.
Under the terms of this contract, the essayist presents experience as it actually occurred
-- as it occurred, that is, in the version by the essayist. The narrator of an essay, the
editor George Dillon says, "attempts to convince the reader that its model of experience
of the world is valid."
In other words, the reader of an essay is called on to join in the making of meaning.
And it's up to the reader to decide whether to play along. Viewed in this way, the drama
of an essay might lie in the conflict between the conceptions of self and world that the
reader brings to a text and the conceptions that the essayist tries to arouse.

At Last, a Definition -- of Sorts

With these thoughts in mind, the essay might be defined as a short work of nonfiction,
often artfully disordered and highly polished, in which an authorial voice invites an
implied reader to accept as authentic a certain textual mode of experience.
Sure. But it's still a greased pig.

Sometimes the best way to learn exactly what an essay is -- is to read some great ones.
You'll find more than 300 of them in this collection of Classic British and American
Essays and Speeches.

English essayists included Robert Burton (15771641) and Sir Thomas Browne (1605
1682). In France, Michel de Montaigne's three volume Essais in the mid 1500s contain
over 100 examples widely regarded as the predecessor of the modern essay. In Italy,
Baldassare Castiglione wrote about courtly manners in his essay Il Libro del oregano. In
the 17th century, the Jesuit Baltasar Gracin wrote about the theme of wisdom.[5]
During the Age of Enlightenment, essays were a favored tool of polemicists who aimed
at convincing readers of their position; they also featured heavily in the rise of periodical
literature, as seen in the works of Joseph Addison, Richard Steele and Samuel Johnson.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, Edmund Burke and Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote
essays for the general public. The early 19th century, in particular, saw a proliferation of
great essayists in English William Hazlitt, Charles Lamb, Leigh Hunt and Thomas de
Quincey all penned numerous essays on diverse subjects. In the 20th century, a number
of essayists tried to explain the new movements in art and culture by using essays (e.g.,
T.S. Eliot). Whereas some essayists used essays for strident political themes, Robert
Louis Stevenson and Willa Cather wrote lighter essays. Virginia Woolf, Edmund Wilson,
and Charles du Bos wrote literary criticism essays.[5]

Main article: Zuihitsu
As with the novel, essays existed in Japan several centuries before they developed in
Europe with a genre of essays known as zuihitsu loosely connected essays and
fragmented ideas. Zuihitsu have existed since almost the beginnings of Japanese
literature. Many of the most noted early works of Japanese literature are in this genre.
Notable examples include The Pillow Book (c. 1000), by court lady Sei Shnagon, and
Tsurezuregusa (1330), by particularly renowned Japanese Buddhist monk Yoshida
Kenk. Kenk described his short writings similarly to Montaigne, referring to them as
"nonsensical thoughts" written in "idle hours". Another noteworthy difference from
Europe is that women have traditionally written in Japan, though the more formal,
Chinese-influenced writings of male writers were more prized at the time.
Modern essayists are brave enough to challenge old ideas and adapt them to suit todays
quickly changing world. The fact Americans are one of the most diverse nations
influences the writing moods much. Such themes as religion, feminism and post-
feminism, various social issues, etc. get their new life now.
The Internet gives a way to a short storys development. This genre becomes more and
more popular: people do not want (and do not have) to spend much time on reading and
analyzing long manuscripts, and most of them prefer quick reading online. Such a
tendency helped many novice writers declare themselves by simple sharing of their short
stories with online audience.
Modern essay has seven distinct characteristics which distinguish it from the essays of
the nineteenth or even eighteenth century essays. These characteristics include (a) global
emphasis in content, (b) political tones, (c) slogan based (usually discussing the impact
of globalization, liberalization, privatization and professionalisation, gender
equalization, I.T. revolution, World peace, spiritualization and increasing health
problems and need for poverty and ignorance elimination, democratic governance and
disarmament issues, (d) unbalanced, one side supporters and (e) use of harshness and
arrogant language and idiom, i.e. unfinished and hurriedly posted for publication,
waiting for rejoinders and defence and (f) less attention to correctness of language and
suitability of the idiom (g) heavily laden with quotations and references and (h), by and
large contemptuous in impression and impact.
With this background the 21st Century essay is likely to be a genre of its own type
different from the present genre called essays. Usually authors are invited to deliver
special lectures on topic of World Concern or on Historical, Political, Literacy, Religious
Personalities and their speeches delivered on such occasion are printed in the form of
essays which are only a shade different from Dissertation or brief reports, fully

- Father of Essay
French courtier and author of ESSAIS (1572-80, 1588), which established a new literary
form. Montaigne has remained the greatest exponent of the essay, a short piece that
discusses the author's personal thoughts about a particular subject. His successors have
followed him in the use of the self as subject, the replacement of logical thought by free
association, and the use of essay as "a literary device for saying almost everything about
anything" (Aldous Huxley). It has been said, that Montaigne was the first blogger.

Francis Bacon
- Father of Modern English Essay
He was not only one of the greatest writers, but also a great English statesman,
philosopher and politician. The great classical poet Alexander Pope regarded him as the
wisest, the brightest and the meanest of mankind.
Bacon is the Father of English essay. His essays are famous for their wit and aphoristic
style. Most of the lines from his essays have always been acclaimed as immortal quotes.
For example, we may take the following lines that have become proverbs:

Popular Essayists

Early American and Colonial Period: to 1776

Francis Bacon (1561-1626) and his work Of Youth and Age, Of Truth, Of
Studies, Of Revenge,
of Parents and Children, Of Marriage and Single Life, Of Discourse
Samuel Sewall (1652 1730) and his work The Selling of Joseph (1700)
John Woolman (1720-1772) and his two essays Some Considerations on the
Keeping of Negroes (1754 and 1762)

Democratic Origins and Revolutionary Writers: 1776-1820

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) and his works Advice on the Choice of a
Mistress, The Art of
Procuring Pleasant Dreams, The Temple of Learning, The Whistle
Thomas Paine (1737-1809) and his two works: Common Sense (1776), The
American Crisis (1783)
Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) and his The Declaration of Independence
Washington Irving (1783-1859) and his The Mutability of Literature (1820)

Romantic Period : 18201860

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882): Gifts, Self-Reliance, The Poet
Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809-1894): The Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table
Margaret Fuller (1810-1850): Papers on Literature and Art
Joseph Dennie (1768-1812): Jack and Gill: A Mock Criticism
Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906): On Womens Right to Vote
Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849): The Philosophy of Furniture
Frederick Douglass (1818-1895): The Destiny of Colored Americans

The Rise of Realism: 1860-1914

Mark Twain (1835-1910): Advice to Youth, The Danger of Lying in Bed, On the
Decay of the
Art of Lying
W.E.B. Du Bois (1868-1963): Of Mr. Booker T. Washington and Others
Louisa May Alcott (1832-1888): Death of a Soldier (1863)
Henry Adams (1838-1918): A Law of Acceleration (1907)
A. Bronson Alcott (1799-1888): Exercise essay collection Table-Talk (1877)
Mary Austin (1868-1934): The Land of Little Rain (1903

Modernism and Experimentation: 1914-1945

Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961): The Snows of Kilimanjaro
William Faulkner (1897-1962): The Sound and the Fury
F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940): What I Think and Feel at 25
George Ade (1866-1944): Luxuries 192

American Essay Writers of Postwar Period

Norman Mailer (1923-2007): The White Negro
John McPhee (1931-present): The Search for Marvin Gardens
Joan Didion (1934-present): The White Album
Edward Hoagland (1932-present): Heaven and Nature
Contemporary American Essayists
Marilynne Robinson: When I Was a Child I Read Books
John Jeremiah Sullivan: Pulphead
Stephen King: Great Hookers I Have Known
Sarah Vowell: The Partly Cloudy Patriot
David Shields: Reality Hunger
Ralph Waldo Emerson
was a great writer who turned the essay into a form all his own. His celebrated essays
the twelve published in Essays: First Series (1841) and eight in Essays: Second
Series (1844)are here presented for the first time in an authoritative one-volume
edition, which incorporates all the changes and corrections Emerson made after their
initial publication.
Through his writing and his own personal philosophy, Ralph Waldo Emerson
unburdened his young country of Europes traditional sense of history and showed
Americans how to be creators of their own circumstances. His mandate, which called for
harmony with, rather than domestication of, nature, and for a reliance on individual
integrity, rather than on materialistic institutions, is echoed in many of the great
American philosophical and literary works of his time and ours, and has given an
impetus to modern political and social activism.
William Hazlitt
English essayist, critic, and biographer.
English writer best known for his humanistic essays. Lacking conscious artistry or
literary pretention, his writing is noted for the brilliant intellect it reveals.
Hazlitt's most important works are often divided into two categories: literary criticism
and familiar essays. Of his literary criticism Hazlitt wrote, "I say what I think: I think
what I feel. I cannot help receiving certain impressions from things; and I have sufficient
courage to declare (somewhat abruptly) what they are."
William Hazlitt was one of the leading prose writers of the Romantic period. Influenced
by the concise social commentary in Joseph Addison's eighteenth-century magazine, the
Spectator, and by the personal tone of the essays of Michel de Montaigne, Hazlitt was
one of the most celebrated practitioners of the "familiar" essay. Characterized by
conversational diction and personal opinion on topics ranging from English poets to
washerwomen, the style of Hazlitt's critical and autobiographical writings has greatly
influenced methods of modern writing on aesthetics. His literary criticism, particularly
on the Lake poets, has also provided readers with a lens through which to view the work
of his Romantic contemporaries.

Samuel Johnson
SAMUEL JOHNSON (17091784), the great literary dictator of the latter part of the
eighteenth century
Samuel Johnson is primarily thought of not as a fiction writer but as a critic, and since
his criticism explains so much about the peculiar form which his own fiction was to
take, it is wise to discuss his views on criticism.