Epigraph (literature)

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Facsimile of the original title page for William Congreve's The Way of the World published in 1700, on which the epigraph from Horace's Satires can be seen in the bottom quarter.

In literature, an epigraph is a phrase, quotation, or poem that is set at the beginning of a document or component.[1] The epigraph may serve as a preface, as a summary, as a counter-example, or to link the work to a wider literary canon,[2] either to invite comparison or to enlist a conventional context.[3]

In a book, it is part of the front matter.

Examples

Epigraph and dedication page, The Waste Land
  • As an epigraph to The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway famously quotes Gertrude Stein, "You are all a lost generation."
  • The epigraph to E. L. Doctorow's Ragtime quotes Scott Joplin's instructions to those who play his music, "Do not play this piece fast. It is never right to play Ragtime fast." This stands in contrast to the accelerating pace of American society at the turn of the 20th century.
  • A Samuel Johnson quote is used as an epigraph in Hunter S. Thompson's novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: "He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man."
  • Stephen King uses many epigraphs in his writing, usually to mark the beginning of another section in the novel. An unusual example is The Stand where he uses lyrics from certain songs to express the metaphor used in a particular part.
Epigraph, consisting of an excerpt from the book itself, William Morris's The House of the Wolfings

Why, you may take the most gallant sailor, the most intrepid airman or the most audacious soldier, put them at a table together – what do you get? The sum of their fears.

Fictional quotations

Some authors use fictional quotations that purport to be related to the fiction of the work itself.

Examples include:

See also

  • Epigram, a brief, interesting, memorable, and sometimes surprising or satirical statement
  • Incipit, the first few words of a text, employed as an identifying label
  • Flavor text, applied to games and toys
  • Prologue, an opening to a story that establishes context and may give background

References

  1. ^ "Epigraph". University of Michigan. Retrieved 17 December 2013. 
  2. ^ "Definition of Epigraph". Literary Devices. Retrieved 17 December 2013. 
  3. ^ Bridgeman, Teresa. Negotiating the New in the French Novel: Building Contexts for Fictional Worlds. Page No-129: Psychology Press, 1998. ISBN 0415131251. Retrieved 17 December 2013. 
  4. ^ Tom Clancy, The Sum of All Fears, 1991, Harper Collins Publishing, London
  5. ^ Dean Koontz. Podcast Episode 25: Book of Counted Sorrows 1 (Podcast). Retrieved July 9, 2011. 

Bibliography

External links

  • Epigraphic: an ever-growing, searchable collection of literary epigraphs
  • Epigraph at Literary Devices
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