GRE Subject Test: Literature in English : Contexts of Prose

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

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All GRE Subject Test: Literature in English Resources

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Example Question #1 : Contexts 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.  Who casts not up his eye to the sun when it rises?  But who takes off his eye from a comet, when that breaks out? who bends not his ear to any bell, which upon any occasion rings?  But who can remove it from that bell, which is passing a piece of himself out of this world?

The author of this passage served as the Dean of which of the following cathedrals?

Possible Answers:

Saint Patrick's

Saint Andrew's

Saint Pancras

Saint Paul's

Saint Peter's

Correct answer:

Saint Paul's

Explanation:

The author of the passage is John Donne, who served as the Dean of St. Paul's Cathedral in London from 1621 until his death in 1631.  This sermon was Donne's most famous piece of prose and is one that you should definitely know for the test.

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

Example Question #2 : Contexts Of British Prose

What is considered the first English work of Gothic literature?

Possible Answers:

Frankenstein

Jane Eyre

The Mystery of Edwin Drood

“The Fall of the House of Usher”

The Castle of Otranto

Correct answer:

The Castle of Otranto

Explanation:

British author Horace Walpole is widely considered the progenitor of the Gothic style, which is characterized by its mix of horror, romanticism, and macabre excess. Walpole’s 1764 novel The Castle of Otranto is usually described as the first work in this genre, although Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, Charles Dickens’ unfinished Mystery of Edwin Drood, and Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher” are all more widely known works of Gothic literature.

Example Question #3 : Contexts Of British Prose

Which of the following are subjects of Wuthering Heights?

Possible Answers:

classism and a love triangle

democracy and agrarian disputes

education and domestic subservience

childhood and federal crime

nature and industrial advancements

Correct answer:

classism and a love triangle

Explanation:

Wuthering Heights, published in 1847 by Emily Brönte, concerns jealousy and a love triangle between the lower-class Heathcliff, the middle-class Catherine Earnshaw, and the wealthy Edgar Linton.

Example Question #1 : Contexts Of British Prose

In James Joyce’s seminal modernist work Ulysses, a hapless dreamer named Leopold Bloom goes about his daily routine in which city?

Possible Answers:

London

Cambridge

Dublin

Edinburgh

Belfast

Correct answer:

Dublin

Explanation:

Published in 1922, Ulysses occurs on a single day in Dublin. The novel is highly experimental, relying heavily on allusion, stream-of-consciousness, and esoteric wordplay.

Example Question #1 : Contexts Of British Prose 1660–1925

Which of the following male author names is actually the pseudonym of a female writer?

Possible Answers:

Thomas Hardy

Henry Fielding

E. M. Forster

Daniel Defoe

George Eliot

Correct answer:

George Eliot

Explanation:

This is George Eliot, whose given name was Mary Anne Evans and who wrote nineteenth-century masterpieces such as Middlemarch, Daniel Deronda, and The Mill on the Floss. She is said to have used a pen name in part to protect her privacy and in part to ensure that her works would be taken seriously and not considered as representative of the light-hearted romances that women were assumed to write exclusively.

Example Question #1 : Contexts Of British Prose 1660–1925

With which movement is Oscar Wilde’s novel The Picture of Dorian Gray most closely associated?

Possible Answers:

Aestheticism

Realism

Empiricism

Expressionism

Modernism

Correct answer:

Aestheticism

Explanation:

Published in 1891, The Picture of Dorian Gray investigates the relationship between aesthetics and morality. It does so through the story of a young man (Dorian Gray) who has a magical portrait painted of him (by Basil Hallward) that enables him to remain young and unblemished despite his increasingly repugnant and unethical actions. The novel’s emphasis on the utility of art and the artist and preoccupation with beautiful things make it most closely linked to aestheticism, which emphasizes form and style above all else.

Example Question #1 : Contexts Of British Prose 1660–1925

The 1726 work Gulliver’s Travels satirizes which then-popular type of writing?

Possible Answers:

Melodrama

Epic poem

Eclogue

Epistolary novel

Travelogue

Correct answer:

Travelogue

Explanation:

Written by Jonathan Swift, Gulliver’s Travels parodies the popular travelogues of eighteenth-century Europe. It was considered fashionable at the time to travel to an exotic land and then publish an account of the journey, but Swift’s satire transcends the genre by presenting a deeper investigation of human nature and social goods.

Example Question #1 : Contexts Of British Prose 1660–1925

Which of the following is the earliest novel written in English amongst the answer choices?

Possible Answers:

Don Quixote

Clarissa

Robinson Crusoe

Gulliver’s Travels

Pamela

Correct answer:

Robinson Crusoe

Explanation:

Daniel Defoe’s 1719 Robinson Crusoe is the first novel written in English among these answer choices. While Miguel Cervantes’ Don Quixote precedes Robinson Crusoe by more than a hundred years, it originally was written in Spanish.

Example Question #2 : Contexts Of British Prose 1660–1925

Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa, or, the History of a Young Lady is an early example of which style of novel?

Possible Answers:

Gothic

Epistolary

Picaresque

Pastoral

Tragicomic

Correct answer:

Epistolary

Explanation:

Clarissa is an epistolary novel, or a novel written in the form of a series of letters. The story centers on its eponymous heroine and her tragic attempts to break free from her family’s conniving and preserve her honor.

Example Question #1 : Contexts Of British Prose 1660–1925

Which of the following is not a theme of Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel Frankenstein?

Possible Answers:

The nature of knowledge

Secrecy

Politics

Insanity

Aesthetics

Correct answer:

Politics

Explanation:

Frankenstein investigates insanity in its probing of Dr. Frankenstein’s mental state; it investigates both secrecy and the nature of knowledge in its portrayal of the guilt and fear Dr. Frankenstein feels when he discovers but does not disclose powerful new information; and it investigates aesthetics when it contrasts the beautiful (various female characters) with the hideous (the monster). Politics is the only theme that does not play a major role in the novel.

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All GRE Subject Test: Literature in English Resources

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