Key Definitions

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You can expect to be quizzed on various definitions at an interview for English Literature. Of course, it’s impossible to cover all possible definitions, but in general you ought to have an ability to define all parts of speech, tools used in writing, and types of literature quickly and succinctly. Here we’ll take a look at some definitions that have been previously asked at interview at Oxford.

Define: Sentence

This might seem very straightforward, but it’s worth having a clear definition in your mind. Use the following definition, taken from the Cambridge English Dictionary: ‘A sentence is a group of words, usually containing a verb, that expresses a thought in the form of a statement, question, instruction, or exclamation, and starts with a capital letter when written.’ It’s worth noting that there is ‘usually’ a verb – it’s rather difficult to think of sentences without verbs until one realises that an exclamatory sentence needs no verb. An example:
What a disaster!

Define: Metaphor

You should be clear on what a metaphor is, and be able to differentiate it from a simile. A metaphor is ‘‘an expression, often found in literature, that describes a person or object by referring to something that is considered to have similar characteristics to that person or object.’ Have some metaphors ready that you like – be they drawn from great works or even from your own writing.

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Define: Conjunction

Conjunctions connect; think of words like ‘and’ or ‘but.’ Remember that a conjunction can add to a train of thought, as in ‘it was difficult and boring’ or can contrast it – as in ‘it was difficult, but rewarding.’

Define: Haiku

This has been asked at interview before, and it’s a good question – the majority of the population will have some idea of a Haiku, but only a few students will have a true knowledge of what the form constitutes. You will likely know that a haiku is a Japanese short poem with three phrases, and that it follows a pattern of 5,7,5 syllables. However, you should also be aware that haikus should contain both a kireji (which is a word that supports the verse, e.g. by providing an ending if used at the close) and a kigo, which is a seasonal reference. Haikus are nature poems in essence – hence the kigo being part of the form.

Define: Gothic

You’ll need to be able to define various different types of literature. Gothic works focus on the macabre, and often on the surreal. The reader will be expected to suspend their disbelief to some extent, and expect a journey into a potentially sinister world. You could also make reference to Gothic architecture, and the path that Gothic works have taken from Walpole through to today’s teenage vampire movies.

Define: Renaissance

Renaissance themes typically include religious experiences, revenge, and tragedy. Key writers include Marlow. The Renaissance was the period lasting from the end of the 14th century through to the 17th century, and saw social and intellectual progress that revolutionised much of the way that the world thought.

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Define: Romantics

If asked about the Romantics you should be able to make reference to their love of nature and aesthetics, and be able to discuss key writers like Shelley and Keats. The Romanticism movement began in Europe towards the end of the 1700s and began to decline by the middle of the 1800s.

Define: Victorian

Typical themes in Victorian works include changing gender roles and industrialisation vs bucolicism. Writers could include Dickens, Austen, or Bronte.

Define: Blank Verse

Blank verse is a non-rhyming verse written in iambic pentameter. There is a consistent meter, with 10 syllables in each line. Unstressed syllables are followed by stressed syllables. Try to have an example of blank verse which you can recite and discuss, and be aware that this form is also known as unrhymed iambic pentameter.

Define: Style

Style is defined as ‘a way of doing something, especially one that is typical of a person, group of people, place or period.’ You would associate a particular ‘style’ with a particular author, movement, place or time – and the interesting part of the discussion would be following this train of thought.

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