Publication Date


Document Type


First Advisor

Gorman, David J.

Degree Name

Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy)

Legacy Department

Department of English


This project asks how and why certain works have received the label of “literature” while others have not. The project begins in Chapter 1 by examining seven glossaries of literary terms to define literature by means of understanding its parts, by which I mean the classes that literature has been divided into (e.g., genres). The overall finding of this chapter is that, while the glossarists seem to converge in their definitions of some terms, they greatly diverge in defining others. This divergence creates a problem in defining literature as a whole, because glossarists do not even reach a consensus in defining its parts. The remainder of the dissertation widens the scope to consider literature as a whole. Chapters 2 and 3 examine ninety academic journal articles consisting of proposals to treat various works and genres as literature (e.g., the Bible, film, or dime novels as literature). By discovering themes among the reasons that authors give in their proposals for treating a given work as literature, I develop a list of what I call the “symptoms of literariness,” which are features that might indicate the presence or absence of literature in a given case. Chapter 4 answers the question, “What is literature?” by examining two cases of works that retroactively gained literary status despite there being no evidence that their authors had intended to write a literary work. Neither Francis Bacon’s works nor Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address were considered literary by their contemporaries or even their authors, yet both are paradigmatic examples of literature today. Chapter 4 speculates on the routes that these works travelled on their journey toward gaining literary status. On the whole, this investigation into the definitions, symptoms, and routes toward literariness reveals the complexity of a concept that is still evolving.


337 pages




Northern Illinois University

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