GRE Subject Test: Literature in English : Literary Analysis of British Prose

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for GRE Subject Test: Literature in English

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Example Questions

Example Question #1 : Literary Analysis Of British Prose

There was a contention as far as a suit (in which, piety and dignity, religion and estimation, were mingled) which of the religious orders should ring to prayers first in the morning; and it was determined, that they should ring first that rose earliest.  If we understand aright the dignity of this bell, that tolls for our evening prayer, we would be glad to make it ours, by rising early, in that application, that it might be ours as well as his, whose indeed it is.  The bell doth toll for him, that thinks it doth; and though it intermit again, yet from that minute, that that occasion wrought upon him, he is united to God.

The bell mentioned in the passage can best be understood to refer to __________.

Possible Answers:

The bell rung to announce a death

The Liberty Bell

The bell rung to announce Mass

The bell rung to announce the end of Lent

The bell rung in the morning to wake people from their sleep

Correct answer:

The bell rung to announce a death

Explanation:

The bell in this sermon is that which was traditionally rung to announce a death. Even if you weren't familiar with this piece or aware of the practice of ringing a bell to announce a death, the description of the bell's hearer as being united with God should be enough to clue you into the fact that the poem is concerned with mortality.

Adapted from "Meditation XVII" in Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, and Severall Steps in My Sicknes by John Donne (1624)

Example Question #2 : Literary Analysis Of British Prose

"What is the People?"

And who are you that ask the question? One of the people. And yet you would be something! Then you would not have the People nothing. For what is the People? Millions of men, like you, with hearts beating in their bosoms, with thoughts stirring in their minds, with blood circulating in their veins, with wants and appetites, with  passions and anxious cares, with busy purposes and affections for others and a respect for themselves, and a desire of happiness, and a right to freedom, and a will to be free. And yet you would tear out this mighty heart of a nation, and lay it bare and bleeding at the foot of despotism: you would slay the mind of a country to fill up the dreary aching void with the old, obscene, drivelling prejudices of superstition  and tyranny: you would tread out the eye of Liberty (the light of nations) like 'a vile jelly', that mankind may be led about darkling to its endless drudgery, like the Hebrew ---------- (shorn of his strength and blind), by his insulting taskmasters: you would make the throne every thing. and the people nothing, to be yourself less than nothing, a very slave, a reptile, a creeping, cringing sycophant, a court favorite, a pander to Legitimacy - that detestable fiction, which would make you and me and all mankind its slaves or victims.

Who is the character referred to in the underlined simile?

Possible Answers:

Oedipus

Moses

Cain

Samson

Correct answer:

Samson

Explanation:

The explanation in parenthesis ("shorn of his strength and blind") is key here. The book of Judges in the Christian Bible tells the story of Samson who was given supernatural strength by God, but was later betrayed by a woman, Delilah, who cut off his hair where his strength resided (he was "shorn of his strength") and handed him over to his enemies, who gouged out his eyes.

Cain and Moses are not associated with blindness, and while Oedipus, according to Greek myth, did gouge his eyes out, he is not a "Hebrew" character.

 

Passage adapted from "What is the People?" by William Hazlitt (1817)

Example Question #3 : Literary Analysis Of British Prose

"What is the People?"

And who are you that ask the question? One of the people. And yet you would be something! Then you would not have the People nothing. For what is the People? Millions of men, like you, with hearts beating in their bosoms, with thoughts stirring in their minds, with blood circulating in their veins, with wants and appetites, with passions and anxious cares, with busy purposes and affections for others and a respect for themselves, and a desire of happiness, and a right to freedom, and a will to be free. And yet you would tear out this mighty heart of a nation, and lay it bare and bleeding at the foot of despotism: you would slay the mind of a country to fill up the dreary aching void with the old, obscene, drivelling prejudices of superstition  and tyranny: you would tread out the eye of Liberty (the light of nations) like 'a vile jelly', that mankind may be led about darkling to its endless drudgery, like the Hebrew ---------- (shorn of his strength and blind), by his insulting taskmasters: you would make the throne every thing. and the people nothing, to be yourself less than nothing, a very slave, a reptile, a creeping, cringing sycophant, a court favorite, a pander to Legitimacy - that detestable fiction, which would make you and me and all mankind its slaves or victims.

Passage adapted from "What is the People?" by William Hazlitt (1818)

The underlined phrases all feature which of the following?

Possible Answers:

Onomatopoeia

Alliteration

Synecdoche

Hyperbole

Correct answer:

Alliteration

Explanation:

The phrases all feature the repetition of words that begin with the same letter for rhetorical effect--that is, alliteration.

There is no hyperbole (exaggeration that is not meant to be taken literally), not even in "millions of men." The people of England did number in the millions when Hazlitt was writing.

Synecdoche (a trope where the part represents the whole or vice versa) and onomatopoeia (words that imitate the sound they describe) are also absent.

 

Passage adapted from "What is the People?" by William Hazlitt (1817)

Example Question #4 : Literary Analysis Of British Prose

"What is the People?"

And who are you that ask the question? One of the people. And yet you would be something! Then you would not have the People nothing. For what is the People? Millions of men, like you, with hearts beating in their bosoms, with thoughts stirring in their minds, with blood circulating in their veins, with wants and appetites, with passions and anxious cares, with busy purposes and affections for others and a respect for themselves, and a desire of happiness, and a right to freedom, and a will to be free. And yet you would tear out this mighty heart of a nation, and lay it bare and bleeding at the foot of despotism: you would slay the mind of a country to fill up the dreary aching void with the old, obscene, drivelling prejudices of superstition  and tyranny: you would tread out the eye of Liberty (the light of nations) like 'a vile jelly', that mankind may be led about darkling to its endless drudgery, like the Hebrew ---------- (shorn of his strength and blind), by his insulting taskmasters: you would make the throne every thing and the people nothing, to be yourself less than nothing, a very slave, a reptile, a creeping, cringing sycophant, a court favorite, a pander to Legitimacy - that detestable fiction, which would make you and me and all mankind its slaves or victims.

 

What is a more contemporary synonym for the underlined word ("sycophant")?

Possible Answers:

Opposition researcher

Yes-man

Spin doctor

Bag man

Correct answer:

Yes-man

Explanation:

A "sycophant" is someone who flatters the people in power for personal gain. "Yes-man" would be a more contemporary synonym. Note that Hazlitt goes on to provide a synonym ("court favorite").

 

Passage adapted from "What is the People?" by William Hazlitt (1817)

Example Question #5 : Literary Analysis Of British Prose

"What is the People?"

And who are you that ask the question? One of the people. And yet you would be something! Then you would not have the People nothing. For what is the People? Millions of men, like you, with hearts beating in their bosoms, with thoughts stirring in their minds, with blood circulating in their veins, with wants and appetites, with passions and anxious cares, with busy purposes and affections for others and a respect for themselves, and a desire of happiness, and a right to freedom, and a will to be free. And yet you would tear out this mighty heart of a nation, and lay it bare and bleeding at the foot of despotism: you would slay the mind of a country to fill up the dreary aching void with the old, obscene, drivelling prejudices of superstition  and tyranny: you would tread out the eye of Liberty (the light of nations) like 'a vile jelly', that mankind may be led about darkling to its endless drudgery, like the Hebrew ---------- (shorn of his strength and blind), by his insulting taskmasters: you would make the throne every thing and the people nothing, to be yourself less than nothing, a very slave, a reptile, a creeping, cringing sycophant, a court favorite, a pander to Legitimacy - that detestable fiction, which would make you and me and all mankind its slaves or victims.

 

The author of the passage quoted also wrote which of the following works?

Possible Answers:

Table Talk and Liber Amoris

The Rambler and A Dictionary of the English Language

The Sacred Wood and The Waste Land

On the Sublime and Reflections on the Revolution in France

Correct answer:

Table Talk and Liber Amoris

Explanation:

The passage is from an 1817 essay by William Hazlitt, author of Table Talk (a collection of essays) and Liber Amoris (an account of a tragic love affair).  

With its call for liberty for "millions of men," the essay is an explicit critique of the conservative philosophy of Edmund Burke, who wrote On the Sublime and Reflections on the Revolution in France.

The Rambler and A Dictionary of the English Language are works by Samuel Johnson, a staunch conservative/Tory writer unlikely to have produced such a passionate paean to liberty.

The Sacred Wood and The Waste Land are works by T. S. Eliot, who famously described himself as "Anglo-Catholic in religion, a classicist in literature, and a royalist in politics."

 

Passage adapted from "What is the People?" by William Hazlitt (1817)

Example Question #6 : Literary Analysis Of British Prose

A)

I wish either my father or my mother, or indeed both of them, as they were in duty both equally bound to it, had minded what they were about when they begot me; had they duly consider'd how much depended upon what they were then doing;—that not only the production of a rational Being was concerned in it, but that possibly the happy formation and temperature of his body, perhaps his genius and the very cast of his mind;—and, for aught they knew to the contrary, even the fortunes of his whole house might take their turn from the humours and dispositions which were then uppermost.

 

B)

Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show. To begin my life with the beginning of my life, I record that I was born (as I have been informed and believe) on a Friday, at twelve o'clock at night. It was remarked that the clock began to strike, and I began to cry, simultaneously.

 

C)

Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was coming down along the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo...

His father told him that story: his father looked at him through a glass: he had a hairy face.

He was baby tuckoo. The moocow came down the road where Betty Byrne lived: she sold lemon platt.

 

D)

Eight months after the celebration of the nuptials between Captain Blifil and Miss Bridget Allworthy, a young lady of great beauty, merit, and fortune, was Miss Bridget, by reason of a fright, delivered of a fine boy. The child was indeed to all appearances perfect; but the midwife discovered it was born a month before its full time.

 

Which begins James Joyce's The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man?

Possible Answers:

C

B

D

A

Correct answer:

C

Explanation:

The key here is modernist experimentation.

Autobiographies are normally written from the point of view of the mature author, but in the opening lines of The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916), Joyce experiments with a stream-of-consciousness flow as experienced by a young child—a technique that he would go on to refine in Ulysses.

A is the opening paragraph from Sterne's Tristram Shandy, written one hundred and fifty years before Joyce's novella. Even though Tristram Shandy is also highly experimental, the eighteenth-century diction is a hint that this is not a work by Joyce.

B and D by Dickens and Fielding, respectively, are also conventional in terms of style and narration.

 

A: Adapted from The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne (1759)

B: Adapted from David Copperfield by Charles Dickens (1850)

C: Adapted from The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce (1916)

D: Adapted from The History of Tom Jones, A Foundling by Henry Fielding (1749)

Example Question #7 : Literary Analysis Of British Prose

"A preacher in earnest, weeping sometimes for his auditory, sometimes with them; always preaching to himself like an angel from a cloud, but in none; carrying some, as St. Paul was, to heaven in holy raptures, and enticing others by a sacred art and courtship to amend their lives: Here picturing a vice so as to make it ugly to those that practiced it, and a virtue so as to make it be beloved even by those that loved it not, and all this with a most particular grace and an inexpressible comeliness."

Who is the subject of this biographical excerpt?

Possible Answers:

John Donne

John Milton

Henry Wotton

Andrew Marvell

George Herbert

Correct answer:

John Donne

Explanation:

The correct answer is John Donne (1572-1631). A "Metaphysical" poet known for his romantic and satyrical works, Donne was ordained as an Anglican Priest in 1615, and served as Dean of St. Paul's Cathedral in London from 1621 until his death in 1631. In both his secular—often erotic—poetry and his devout prose meditations, Donne used extended visual metaphors, or "conceits," to explore metaphysical concepts in terms of everyday objects and phenomena from the physical world.

 

George Herbert (1593-1633), also an Anglican priest and Metaphysical poet, wrote exclusively on religious and spiritual themes.

Andrew Marvell (1621-1678), poet, politician, and close friend to John Milton, was the author of "To His Coy Mistress," "The Garden," "An Horatian Ode Upon Cromwell's Return From Ireland," and other poems in the Metaphysical vein.

John Milton (1608-1674), puritan writer of poetry and prose works, is best known today as the author of Paradise Lost (1667).

Henry Wotton (1568-1639) was an English writer, diplomat, and politician, who is best known today for his ode, "O his Mistris, the Queen of Bohemia."

 

Passage adapted from Izaak Walton, The Lives of Dr. John Donne; Sir Henry Wotton; Mr. Richard Hooker; Mr. George Herbert; and Dr. Robert Sanderson. By Isaac Walton. With Notes, and the Life of the Author. By Thomas Zouch, Md. (London: Wilson, Spence, and Mawman, 1796): 57.

All GRE Subject Test: Literature in English Resources

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