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Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson (1830-1886), America’s best-known female poet and one of the foremost authors in American literature. Dickinson’s simply constructed yet intensely felt, acutely intellectual writings take as their subject issues vital to humanity: the agonies and ecstasies of love, sexuality, the unfathomable nature of death, the horrors of war, God and religious belief, the importance of humor, […]

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Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens (1812-1870), probably the best-known and, to many people, the greatest English novelist of the 19th century. A moralist, satirist, and social reformer, Dickens crafted complex plots and striking characters that capture the panorama of English society. Dickens’s novels criticize the injustices of his time, especially the brutal treatment of the poor in a society sharply divided by […]

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Dante Alighieri

Dante Alighieri (1265-1321), Italian poet, and one of the supreme figures of world literature, who was admired for the depth of his spiritual vision and for the range of his intellectual accomplishment. II EARLY YEARS Dante was born in Florence between late May and early June 1265, into a family of the lower nobility. His mother died in his childhood, his […]

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Geoffrey Chaucer

Geoffrey Chaucer (1343?-1400), one of the greatest English poets, whose masterpiece, The Canterbury Tales, was one of the most important influences on the development of English literature. His life is known primarily through records pertaining to his career as a courtier and civil servant under the English kings Edward III and Richard II. The son of a prosperous London wine merchant, Chaucer […]

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William Blake

William Blake (1757-1827), English poet, painter, and engraver, who created an unusual form of illustrated verse; his poetry, inspired by mystical vision, is among the most original, lyric, and prophetic in the language. Blake, the son of a hosier(stocking-maker), was born November 28, 1757, in London, where he lived most of his life. Largely self-taught, he was, however, widely read, and his […]

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Jane Austen

Jane Austen (1775-1817), English novelist, noted for her witty studies of early-19th-century English society. With meticulous detail, Austen portrayed the quiet, day-to-day life of members of the upper middle class. Her works combine romantic comedy with social satire and psychological insight. Two common themes in Austen’s books are the loss of illusions—usually leading characters to a more mature outlook—and the clash […]

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Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou, born in 1928, American author, poet, performer, and civil rights activist, best known for portrayals of strong African American women in her writings. Characteristically using a first-person point of view and the rhythms of folk song, she writes of the African American woman’s coming of age, of struggles with discrimination, of the African […]

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Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), American essayist and poet, who asserted in his writings the belief that each person has the power to transcend the material world and to see and grasp the infinite. The philosophical movement of which he was a leader has been given the name transcendentalism. Influenced by such schools of thought as […]

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William Faulkner

William Faulkner (1897-1962), American novelist, known for his epic portrayal, in some 20 novels, of the tragic conflict between the old and the new South. Although Faulkner’s intricate plots and complex narrative style alienated many readers of his early writings, he was a literary genius whose powerful works and creative vision earned him the 1949 Nobel Prize […]

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F. Scott Fitzgerald

F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940), American writer, whose novels and short stories chronicled changing social attitudes during the 1920s, a period dubbed The Jazz Age by the author. He is best known for his novels The Great Gatsby (1925) and Tender Is the Night (1934), both of which depict disillusion with the American dream of self-betterment, […]

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Robert Frost

Robert Frost (1874-1963), American poet, who drew his images from the New England countryside and his language from New England speech. Although Frost’s images and voice often seem familiar and old, his observations have an edge of skepticism and irony that make his work, upon rereading, never as old-fashioned, easy, or carefree as it first appears. In […]

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Nathaniel Hawthorne

Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864), American novelist, whose works are deeply concerned with the ethical problems of sin, punishment, and atonement. Hawthorne’s exploration of these themes was related to the sense of guilt he felt about the roles of his ancestors in the 17th-century persecution of Quakers (see Friends, Society of) and in the 1692 witchcraft trials of Salem, […]

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Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961), American novelist and short-story writer, whose style is characterized by crispness, laconic dialogue, and emotional understatement. Hemingway’s writings and his personal life exerted a profound influence on many American writers, both during his lifetime and since his death. Many of his works are regarded as classics of American literature. Ernest Miller Hemingway was born in Oak […]

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Homer

Homer, the name traditionally assigned to the author of the Iliad and the Odyssey, the two major epics that have survived from Greek antiquity. Nothing is known of Homer as an individual, and in fact it is a matter of controversy whether a single person can be said to have created both the Iliad and the Odyssey. Linguistic […]

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James Joyce

James Joyce (1882-1941), Irish author, whose writings feature revolutionary innovations in prose techniques. He was one of the foremost literary figures of the 20th century. Joyce is best known for his epic novel Ulysses (1922), which uses stream of consciousness, a literary technique that attempts to portray the natural and sometimes irrational flow of thoughts and sensations in […]

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