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Overview

Students who write about what they read learn twice, for as they plan and develop their writing, they necessarily grow as thinkers.

This book provides comprehensive discussions and sample papers for students who are writing about the elements of literature. All chapters contain discussions of important literary subjects—such as character, setting, and symbolism—followed by a guide to the necessary steps for students to produce good essays. This accessible text is a perfect companion for any course that wants to focus on strengthening writing skills.

We are delighted to offer select Penguin Putnam titles at a substantial discount to your students when you request a special package of one or more Penguin titles with any Prentice I fall text. Contact your Prentice Hall sales representative for special ordering instructions.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780130978578
  • Publisher: Prentice Hall
  • Publication date: 7/11/2002
  • Edition description: Older Edition
  • Edition number: 10
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Read an Excerpt

To the Instructor

In this brief tenth edition of Writing About Literature, I have kept and strengthened those features that so many of you have valued over the years. As in the past, I base my approach not on genres, with specific assignments to be determined, but rather on topics for full-length essays on texts in any genre. While the constant emphasis is on writing complete essays about literature, the chapters may also be used as starting points for classroom study and discussion, and thus may also be adapted for shorter writing assignments. In a one-semester course the book is extensive enough to offer selective if not complete choices for study and writing.

The various chapter discussions may actually be considered as essay assignments, for that is how they were developed. Many years ago, when I was just starting out as a teacher of literature, and, inevitably, as a teacher of writing, I learned that there was a direct connection between the ways I made my assignments and the quality of student work. The more I explained to students what I wanted from them, the better their final essays turned out to be. Soon, however, I found myself taking up entire classroom periods in making assignments, and it was then that I began to write and hand out my directions, thus saving considerable classroom time. When I put these directions together, Writing Themes About Literature, now Writing About Literature, was the result, first published in 1964. Every assignment was tried out in the classroom, and I was able to make changes and improvements based on the questions I was asked and also based on the written assignments my students turned in.Organization

As in each past brief edition of Writing About Literature, each chapter consists 'of two parts. The first is a discussion of a literary approach, and the second consists of suggestions for writing, together with a demonstrative essay or essays showing how students might deal with the approach.

A major characteristic preserved in this brief edition is that, after the preliminary discussion in Chapter 1, the chapters are arranged in a loose order of increasing difficulty Beginning with Chapter 2, the chapters contain topics relevant to all the genres. The comparison-contrast chapter (Chapter 10), for example, illustrates the ways in which the earlier techniques may be focused on any of the chapter-title topics in the book. The chapter also demonstrates how an extensive comparison-contrast technique may be applied simultaneously to fiction, poetry, and drama.

Although you might assign the chapters in sequence throughout your course, you may also choose them according to your objectives and needs. One instructor, for example, might pass over the earlier chapters and go directly to the later ones. Another might choose the chapter on comparison-contrast for separate assignments such as comparative studies of symbolism, structure, character, and point of view. Still another might use just a few of the chapters, assigning them two or more times until students overcome initial difficulties. No matter how the chapters are used, the two parts—discussion and illustration—enable students to improve their skills as readers and writers.

The illustrative parts of the chapters—the demonstrative essays—are presented in the belief that the word imitation need not be preceded by adjectives like slavish and mere. These demonstrative essays represent suggestions and guidance for thematic development, and therefore represent a full treatment of each of the various topics. Nevertheless, they have been kept within the approximate lengths of most assignments in undergraduate courses. If students are writing outside of class, they can readily create full-length essays. And even though the demonstrative essays treat three or more aspects of particular topics, there is nothing to prevent assigning only one aspect, either for an impromptu or for an outside-class essay. Thus, using the chapter on setting, you might assign a paragraph about the use of setting in only the first scene of a story, or a paragraph about descriptions of interior settings, colors, or shades of color and light.

I emphasize that the purpose of the demonstrative essays is to show what might be done—not what must be done—on particular assignments. It is clear that students writing about literary works are facing a complex task. First, they must read a new work for the first time; second, they must attempt to understand it; and third, they must then apply new or unfamiliar concepts to that work as they begin to write about it. By guiding them in developing a thematic form in which to express their ideas, the demonstrative essays are intended to help them overcome the third difficulty. Guidance is key here, not prescription. At first, of course, some students may follow the demonstrative essays closely, whereas others may adapt them or else use them as points of departure. My hope is that students will free themselves to go their own ways as they become more experienced as writers.

Following the demonstrative essays are commentaries, something students recommended that I include in the fourth brief edition and that I have kept ever since. These are designed to connect the precepts in the first parts of the chapters to the demonstrative writing in the second parts. Additions, Revisions, Other Changes, and Retentions

All changes in the brief tenth edition of Writing About Literature, as in earlier editions, are designed to help students read, study, think, plan, draft, and write. I have left no part of the book untouched. A number of chapters are extensively revised; some are almost entirely rewritten. This is particularly true of the revisions in Chapter 1, "Preliminary: The Process of Reading, Responding to, and Writing About Literature." There are many changes here, and also the addition of some drawings that I hope will prove helpful to students beginning to write about literature on a serious level. Of particular note is the chapter on a close reading of texts (Chapter 2), a preliminary technique for all students just beginning the actual study of literature. In the new Chapter 5, I have added a discussion of structure to the discussion of plot.

character, point of view, plot and structure, and setting. In this brief edition the discussion of the extended comparison-contrast essay in Chapter 10 has been preserved for the benefit of instructors who want students to pursue the technique of comparison and contrast through a number of separate poems, stories, and plays. This extended essay is designed to give students guidance in treating a sizable number of works without creating a sizable number of pages in their essays.

There are many other changes designed to improve the brief tenth edition. In making the many revisions, alterations, repositionings, and additions (and subtractions), I have tried to clarify, improve, and freshen the underlying information and examples. Many of the titles, headings, and subheadings have continued as complete sentences so as to make them encapsulate the discussions they precede. My hope is that these informative headings will assist students in their understanding of the various topics. In a number of the chapters, the writing sections headed "Raise Questions to Discover Ideas" are augmented, and in the various "Special Topics" sections I have kept the topics designed to help students do library research.

Of major importance in the brief tenth edition are the lists of "Special Topics for Studying and Discussing" at the ends of the chapters. These are mainly keyed to the works anthologized in Appendix D, but you are encouraged to adapt them to the selections in whatever anthologies you may be using. In several chapters, there are short related topics that are boxed and shaded to set them apart for emphasis. These discussions, such as "Using the Names of Authors When Writing About Literature," "Vehicle and Tenor," and "The Need to Present an Argument When Writing Essays About Literature," are designed as short notes to help students think about and develop their own writing. Users of previous editions have singled out these short boxed discussions for praise.

Aside from the extensive revisions and improvements, the chapters are internally different because of a number of changes in Appendix D. The additions are Poe's "The Masque of the Red Death," Hardy's "The Man He Killed," Randall's "Ballad of Birmingham," Wordsworth's "Lines Written in Early Spring," and Yeats's "The Second Coming." Also, a few poems from the brief ninth edition have been omitted. To accompany these changes, there are changes in the topics of the demonstrative essays. I hope that these will make the book richer and, within the confines of the short number of selections, timely. With all the changes, the brief tenth edition of Writing About Literature remains a useful and comprehensive guide for composition courses in which literature is introduced, and also for literature courses at any level.

An innovation of the brief sixth edition that has been retained in all subsequent editions is the glossary, which is based on the terms set in boldface in the text. The increasing number of students taking entrance examinations and GREs has justified this continuation. A student may consult the glossary, which includes definitions and page numbers for further reference, and thereby develop a full and systematic knowledge of many important literary concepts.

A particular word is in order about the works included in Appendix D. At one time I believed that clarifying references could be drawn from a pool of works commonly known by advanced high school and college students, and I therefore thought that no reference anthology was necessary. I presented a small number of works in the second main edition, keyed to some but not all of the demonstrative essays, but reviewers recommended against it for subsequent editions. Recently, however, readers have emphasized that references to unknown works, even complete and self-explanatory ones, do not fully explain and clarify. Therefore, after the brief fifth edition, I made the book almost completely self-contained with the increased number of works in Appendix D. The result is that both references and demonstrative essays may be easily verified by a reading of the works included in the book. Experience has shown that the unity and coherence provided by these works help students understand and develop their own assignments. Writing and Literature

The brief tenth edition brings into focus something that has been true of Writing About Literature since it first appeared in 1964. The book is primarily a practical guide for writing; the emphasis throughout is on how the reading of literature may improve writing. This emphasis is made to help students not only in composition and literature but also in most of their classes. In other subjects such as psychology, economics, sociology, biology, and political science, instructors use texts and ask students to develop papers from raw data. Writing is based on external, written materials, not on the student's own experiences or opinions. Writing is about reading.

Yet instructors of-writing and literature face the problems we have always faced. Throughout all our colleges and universities, the demands for good student writing have gone beyond a requirement and a goal, and have now reached a clamor. The needs of other departments have been brought into strong focus by the creation of programs for writing across the curriculum. Such demands have correspondingly imposed a wide diversification of subject matter, straining the general knowledge of English department staffs and also creating a certain topical and thematic pressure on English composition and literature courses. Writing programs that stress internalized subject matter, such as personal experiences or occasional topic materials, have little bearing on writing for other courses. We as English faculty, with a background in literature, have the task of meeting the service needs of our institutions without compromising our own disciplinary commitment.

The approach in this book is aimed at these problems. English teachers can work with their own discipline—literature—while also fulfilling their primary and often required responsibility of teaching writing that is externally, not internally, directed. The book thus keeps the following issues in perspective:

  • The requirement of the institution for composition
  • The need of students to develop writing skills based on written texts
  • The responsibility of the English faculty to teach writing while still working within their own expertise

It is therefore gratifying to claim that, for close to four decades, Writing About Literature has been offering assistance to meet these needs. The approach works, but it is still novel. It gives coherence to the sometimes fragmented composition course. It also provides for adaptation and, as I have stressed, variety. Using the book, you can develop a virtually endless number of new topics for essays. One obvious benefit is the possibility of entirely eliminating not only the traditional "theme barrels" of infamous memory in fraternity and sorority houses but also the newer interference from online "enterprises" that provide critical essays to order. I find it difficult to find words to express my contempt for such businesses.

Although Writing About Literature is designed, as I have said in the past, as a rhetoric of practical criticism for students, it is based on profoundly held convictions. I believe that true liberation in a liberal arts curriculum is achieved only through clearly defined goals. Just to make assignments and let students do with them what they can is to encourage frustration and mental enslavement. If students develop a deep knowledge of specific approaches to subject material, however, they can begin to develop some of that expertness that is essential to freedom. As Pope said in An Essay on Criticism,

True Ease in Writing comes from Art, not Chance,
As those move easiest who have learn'd to dance.

It is almost axiomatic that the development of writing skill in one area (in this instance, the interpretation of literature) has an enabling effect for skills in other areas. The search for information with a particular goal in mind; the asking of pointed questions; the testing, rephrasing, and developing of ideas—all these and more are transferable skills for students to build on throughout their college years and beyond.

I have one concluding article of faith. Those of us whose careers have been established in the study of literature have made commitments to our belief in its value. The study of literature is valid in and of itself; but literature as an art form employs techniques and creates problems for readers that can be dealt with only through analysis, and analysis means work. Thus the immediate aim of Writing About Literature is to help students to read and write about individual literary works. The ultimate objective (in the past I wrote "primary objective") is to promote the lifelong pleasurable study and love of literature.

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Table of Contents

1. Preliminary: The Process of Reading, Responding to, and Writing About Literature.

2. Writing About a Close-Reading: Analyzing Entire Short Poems or Selected Passages from Prose Fiction and Longer Poems.

3. Writing About Character: The People in Literature.

4. Writing About Point of View: The Position or Stance of the Work's Narrator or Speaker.

5. Writing About Plot and Structure: The Development and Organization of Narratives and Drama.

6. Writing About Setting: The Background of Place, Objects, and Culture in Literature.

7. Writing About an Idea or a Theme: The Meanings and the Messages in Literature.

8. Writing About Metaphors and Similes: A Source of Depth and Range in Literature.

9. Writing About Symbolism and Allusions: Windows to a Wide Expanse of Meaning.

10. Writing Essays of Comparison-Contrast and Extended Comparison-Contrast: Learning by Seeing Literary Works Together.

Appendix A: Critical Approaches Important in the Study of Literature.

Appendix B: Writing Examinations on Literature.

Appendix C: The Use of References and Tenses in Writing About Literature.

Appendix D: A Brief Anthology of Works Used for Demonstrative Essays and References.

Stories:

An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge, Ambrose Bierce. The Story of an Hour, Kate Chopin. The Three Strangers, Thomas Hardy. Young Goodman Brown, Nathaniel Hawthorne. The Necklace, (in Chapter 1), Guy de Maupassant. First Confession, Frank O'Connor. The Masque of the Red Death, Edgar Allan Poe.

Poems:

Dover Beach, Matthew Arnold. The Tyger, William Blake. Kubla Khan, Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Desert Places, Robert Frost. Channel Firing, Thomas Hardy. The Man He Killed, Thomas Hardy. Negro, Langston Hughes. Bright Star, John Keats. On First Looking Into Chapman's Homer, (in Chapter 9), John Keats. Rhine Boat Trip, Irving Layton. Patterns, Amy Lowell. Anthem for Doomed Youth, Wilfred Owen. Ballad of Birmingham, Dudley Randall. Echo, Christina Rossetti. Sonnet 30, (in Chapter 9), William Shakespeare. Sonnet 73, William Shakespeare. The Second Coming, William Butler Yeats. The Boxes, Shelly Wagner. Lines Written in Early Spring, William Wordsworth.

Plays:

The Bear: A Joke in One Act, Anton Chekhov. Trifles, Susan Glaspell.

A Glossary of Important Literary Terms.Index of Authors, Directors, First Lines of Poetry, Titles, and Topics.

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Preface

To the Instructor

In this brief tenth edition of Writing About Literature, I have kept and strengthened those features that so many of you have valued over the years. As in the past, I base my approach not on genres, with specific assignments to be determined, but rather on topics for full-length essays on texts in any genre. While the constant emphasis is on writing complete essays about literature, the chapters may also be used as starting points for classroom study and discussion, and thus may also be adapted for shorter writing assignments. In a one-semester course the book is extensive enough to offer selective if not complete choices for study and writing.

The various chapter discussions may actually be considered as essay assignments, for that is how they were developed. Many years ago, when I was just starting out as a teacher of literature, and, inevitably, as a teacher of writing, I learned that there was a direct connection between the ways I made my assignments and the quality of student work. The more I explained to students what I wanted from them, the better their final essays turned out to be. Soon, however, I found myself taking up entire classroom periods in making assignments, and it was then that I began to write and hand out my directions, thus saving considerable classroom time. When I put these directions together, Writing Themes About Literature, now Writing About Literature, was the result, first published in 1964. Every assignment was tried out in the classroom, and I was able to make changes and improvements based on the questions I was asked and also based on the written assignments my students turned in.

Organization

As in each past brief edition of Writing About Literature, each chapter consists 'of two parts. The first is a discussion of a literary approach, and the second consists of suggestions for writing, together with a demonstrative essay or essays showing how students might deal with the approach.

A major characteristic preserved in this brief edition is that, after the preliminary discussion in Chapter 1, the chapters are arranged in a loose order of increasing difficulty Beginning with Chapter 2, the chapters contain topics relevant to all the genres. The comparison-contrast chapter (Chapter 10), for example, illustrates the ways in which the earlier techniques may be focused on any of the chapter-title topics in the book. The chapter also demonstrates how an extensive comparison-contrast technique may be applied simultaneously to fiction, poetry, and drama.

Although you might assign the chapters in sequence throughout your course, you may also choose them according to your objectives and needs. One instructor, for example, might pass over the earlier chapters and go directly to the later ones. Another might choose the chapter on comparison-contrast for separate assignments such as comparative studies of symbolism, structure, character, and point of view. Still another might use just a few of the chapters, assigning them two or more times until students overcome initial difficulties. No matter how the chapters are used, the two parts—discussion and illustration—enable students to improve their skills as readers and writers.

The illustrative parts of the chapters—the demonstrative essays—are presented in the belief that the word imitation need not be preceded by adjectives like slavish and mere. These demonstrative essays represent suggestions and guidance for thematic development, and therefore represent a full treatment of each of the various topics. Nevertheless, they have been kept within the approximate lengths of most assignments in undergraduate courses. If students are writing outside of class, they can readily create full-length essays. And even though the demonstrative essays treat three or more aspects of particular topics, there is nothing to prevent assigning only one aspect, either for an impromptu or for an outside-class essay. Thus, using the chapter on setting, you might assign a paragraph about the use of setting in only the first scene of a story, or a paragraph about descriptions of interior settings, colors, or shades of color and light.

I emphasize that the purpose of the demonstrative essays is to show what might be done—not what must be done—on particular assignments. It is clear that students writing about literary works are facing a complex task. First, they must read a new work for the first time; second, they must attempt to understand it; and third, they must then apply new or unfamiliar concepts to that work as they begin to write about it. By guiding them in developing a thematic form in which to express their ideas, the demonstrative essays are intended to help them overcome the third difficulty. Guidance is key here, not prescription. At first, of course, some students may follow the demonstrative essays closely, whereas others may adapt them or else use them as points of departure. My hope is that students will free themselves to go their own ways as they become more experienced as writers.

Following the demonstrative essays are commentaries, something students recommended that I include in the fourth brief edition and that I have kept ever since. These are designed to connect the precepts in the first parts of the chapters to the demonstrative writing in the second parts.

Additions, Revisions, Other Changes, and Retentions

All changes in the brief tenth edition of Writing About Literature, as in earlier editions, are designed to help students read, study, think, plan, draft, and write. I have left no part of the book untouched. A number of chapters are extensively revised; some are almost entirely rewritten. This is particularly true of the revisions in Chapter 1, "Preliminary: The Process of Reading, Responding to, and Writing About Literature." There are many changes here, and also the addition of some drawings that I hope will prove helpful to students beginning to write about literature on a serious level. Of particular note is the chapter on a close reading of texts (Chapter 2), a preliminary technique for all students just beginning the actual study of literature. In the new Chapter 5, I have added a discussion of structure to the discussion of plot.

character, point of view, plot and structure, and setting. In this brief edition the discussion of the extended comparison-contrast essay in Chapter 10 has been preserved for the benefit of instructors who want students to pursue the technique of comparison and contrast through a number of separate poems, stories, and plays. This extended essay is designed to give students guidance in treating a sizable number of works without creating a sizable number of pages in their essays.

There are many other changes designed to improve the brief tenth edition. In making the many revisions, alterations, repositionings, and additions (and subtractions), I have tried to clarify, improve, and freshen the underlying information and examples. Many of the titles, headings, and subheadings have continued as complete sentences so as to make them encapsulate the discussions they precede. My hope is that these informative headings will assist students in their understanding of the various topics. In a number of the chapters, the writing sections headed "Raise Questions to Discover Ideas" are augmented, and in the various "Special Topics" sections I have kept the topics designed to help students do library research.

Of major importance in the brief tenth edition are the lists of "Special Topics for Studying and Discussing" at the ends of the chapters. These are mainly keyed to the works anthologized in Appendix D, but you are encouraged to adapt them to the selections in whatever anthologies you may be using. In several chapters, there are short related topics that are boxed and shaded to set them apart for emphasis. These discussions, such as "Using the Names of Authors When Writing About Literature," "Vehicle and Tenor," and "The Need to Present an Argument When Writing Essays About Literature," are designed as short notes to help students think about and develop their own writing. Users of previous editions have singled out these short boxed discussions for praise.

Aside from the extensive revisions and improvements, the chapters are internally different because of a number of changes in Appendix D. The additions are Poe's "The Masque of the Red Death," Hardy's "The Man He Killed," Randall's "Ballad of Birmingham," Wordsworth's "Lines Written in Early Spring," and Yeats's "The Second Coming." Also, a few poems from the brief ninth edition have been omitted. To accompany these changes, there are changes in the topics of the demonstrative essays. I hope that these will make the book richer and, within the confines of the short number of selections, timely. With all the changes, the brief tenth edition of Writing About Literature remains a useful and comprehensive guide for composition courses in which literature is introduced, and also for literature courses at any level.

An innovation of the brief sixth edition that has been retained in all subsequent editions is the glossary, which is based on the terms set in boldface in the text. The increasing number of students taking entrance examinations and GREs has justified this continuation. A student may consult the glossary, which includes definitions and page numbers for further reference, and thereby develop a full and systematic knowledge of many important literary concepts.

A particular word is in order about the works included in Appendix D. At one time I believed that clarifying references could be drawn from a pool of works commonly known by advanced high school and college students, and I therefore thought that no reference anthology was necessary. I presented a small number of works in the second main edition, keyed to some but not all of the demonstrative essays, but reviewers recommended against it for subsequent editions. Recently, however, readers have emphasized that references to unknown works, even complete and self-explanatory ones, do not fully explain and clarify. Therefore, after the brief fifth edition, I made the book almost completely self-contained with the increased number of works in Appendix D. The result is that both references and demonstrative essays may be easily verified by a reading of the works included in the book. Experience has shown that the unity and coherence provided by these works help students understand and develop their own assignments.

Writing and Literature

The brief tenth edition brings into focus something that has been true of Writing About Literature since it first appeared in 1964. The book is primarily a practical guide for writing; the emphasis throughout is on how the reading of literature may improve writing. This emphasis is made to help students not only in composition and literature but also in most of their classes. In other subjects such as psychology, economics, sociology, biology, and political science, instructors use texts and ask students to develop papers from raw data. Writing is based on external, written materials, not on the student's own experiences or opinions. Writing is about reading.

Yet instructors of-writing and literature face the problems we have always faced. Throughout all our colleges and universities, the demands for good student writing have gone beyond a requirement and a goal, and have now reached a clamor. The needs of other departments have been brought into strong focus by the creation of programs for writing across the curriculum. Such demands have correspondingly imposed a wide diversification of subject matter, straining the general knowledge of English department staffs and also creating a certain topical and thematic pressure on English composition and literature courses. Writing programs that stress internalized subject matter, such as personal experiences or occasional topic materials, have little bearing on writing for other courses. We as English faculty, with a background in literature, have the task of meeting the service needs of our institutions without compromising our own disciplinary commitment.

The approach in this book is aimed at these problems. English teachers can work with their own discipline—literature—while also fulfilling their primary and often required responsibility of teaching writing that is externally, not internally, directed. The book thus keeps the following issues in perspective:

  • The requirement of the institution for composition
  • The need of students to develop writing skills based on written texts
  • The responsibility of the English faculty to teach writing while still working within their own expertise

It is therefore gratifying to claim that, for close to four decades, Writing About Literature has been offering assistance to meet these needs. The approach works, but it is still novel. It gives coherence to the sometimes fragmented composition course. It also provides for adaptation and, as I have stressed, variety. Using the book, you can develop a virtually endless number of new topics for essays. One obvious benefit is the possibility of entirely eliminating not only the traditional "theme barrels" of infamous memory in fraternity and sorority houses but also the newer interference from online "enterprises" that provide critical essays to order. I find it difficult to find words to express my contempt for such businesses.

Although Writing About Literature is designed, as I have said in the past, as a rhetoric of practical criticism for students, it is based on profoundly held convictions. I believe that true liberation in a liberal arts curriculum is achieved only through clearly defined goals. Just to make assignments and let students do with them what they can is to encourage frustration and mental enslavement. If students develop a deep knowledge of specific approaches to subject material, however, they can begin to develop some of that expertness that is essential to freedom. As Pope said in An Essay on Criticism,

True Ease in Writing comes from Art, not Chance,
As those move easiest who have learn'd to dance.

It is almost axiomatic that the development of writing skill in one area (in this instance, the interpretation of literature) has an enabling effect for skills in other areas. The search for information with a particular goal in mind; the asking of pointed questions; the testing, rephrasing, and developing of ideas—all these and more are transferable skills for students to build on throughout their college years and beyond.

I have one concluding article of faith. Those of us whose careers have been established in the study of literature have made commitments to our belief in its value. The study of literature is valid in and of itself; but literature as an art form employs techniques and creates problems for readers that can be dealt with only through analysis, and analysis means work. Thus the immediate aim of Writing About Literature is to help students to read and write about individual literary works. The ultimate objective (in the past I wrote "primary objective") is to promote the lifelong pleasurable study and love of literature.

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