GRE Subject Test: Literature in English : History and Theory of Literary Criticism

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 Questions

Example Question #1 : Feminist Criticism

The premise that women need space of their own to write originated in an essay by which British author?

Possible Answers:

Mina Loy

Virginia Woolf

Gertrude Stein

Djuna Barnes

Angela Carter

Correct answer:

Virginia Woolf

Explanation:

This premise is the central tenet of Virginia Woolf’s 1929 essay A Room of One’s Own. The extended essay examines the idea that women need not only a literal room of their own for escaping the domestic roles assigned to them but also a figurative space in the traditionally male-dominated literary canon. Although the work uses a fictional narrator to make its points, it was first presented by Woolf as a series of lectures at Cambridge University.

Example Question #1 : History And Theory Of Literary Criticism

Passage adapted from Samuel Johnson, "Preface to Shakespeare (1756)," 9-63, in Johnson on Shakespeare: Essays and Notes Selected and Set Forth with an Introduction by Walter Raleigh (London: Oxford University Press, 1969): 29.

"Whether Shakespeare knew the unities, and rejected them by design, or deviated from them by happy ignorance, it is, I think, impossible to decide, and useless to enquire. We may reasonably suppose, that, when he rose to notice, he did not want the counsels and admonitions of scholars and criticks, and that he at last deliberately persisted in a practice, which he might have begun by chance."

Which of the following is NOT one of the "unities" alluded to in the above excerpt?

Possible Answers:

Unity of Time

Unity of Action

Unity of Place

Unity of Language

Correct answer:

Unity of Language

Explanation:

The three Classical Unities (also known as Aristotelian Unities) that formed the basis of much 17th and 18th century dramatic and literary criticism were: Unity of Time, Unity of Place, and Unity of Action.

  

Passage adapted from Samuel Johnson, "Preface to Shakespeare (1756)," 9-63, in Johnson on Shakespeare: Essays and Notes Selected and Set Forth with an Introduction by Walter Raleigh (London: Oxford University Press, 1969): 29.

Example Question #1 : Formalism / New Criticism

In the seventeenth century a dissociation of sensibility set in, from which we have never recovered; and this dissociation, as is natural, was aggravated by the influence of the two most powerful poets of the century, Milton and Dryden. Each of these men performed certain poetic functions so magnificently well that the magnitude of the effect concealed the absence of others. The language went on and in some respects improved; the best verse of Collins, Gray, Johnson, and even Goldsmith satisfies some of our fastidious demands better than that of Donne or Marvell or King. But while the language became more refined, the feeling became more crude. The feeling, the sensibility, expressed in the "Country Churchyard" (to say nothing of Tennyson and Browning) is cruder than that in the "Coy Mistress."

The essay from which the passage was taken is concerned primarily with which of the following groups of poets?

Possible Answers:

The Metaphysical Poets

The Cavalier Poets

The Graveyard Poets

The Neoclassical Poets

The Romantic Poets

Correct answer:

The Metaphysical Poets

Explanation:

This passage comes from an essay entitled "The Metaphysical Poets" by T. S. Eliot (1921). The most obvious clue is the author's reference to Donne, Marvell, and King, each of whom was closely associated with what has come to be known as metaphysical poetry. The other major clue is based on the author's description of the "dissociation of sensibility" as having set in during the seventeenth century with the rise of poets such as Milton and Dryden.

Passage adapted from "The Metaphysical Poets" by T. S. Eliot (1921)

Example Question #3 : History And Theory Of Literary Criticism

In the seventeenth century a dissociation of sensibility set in, from which we have never recovered; and this dissociation, as is natural, was aggravated by the influence of the two most powerful poets of the century, Milton and Dryden. Each of these men performed certain poetic functions so magnificently well that the magnitude of the effect concealed the absence of others. The language went on and in some respects improved; the best verse of Collins, Gray, Johnson, and even Goldsmith satisfies some of our fastidious demands better than that of Donne or Marvell or King. But while the language became more refined, the feeling became more crude. The feeling, the sensibility, expressed in the "Country Churchyard" (to say nothing of Tennyson and Browning) is cruder than that in the "Coy Mistress."

The author of the passage was __________.

Possible Answers:

Cleanth Brooks

William Empson

F. R. Leavis

Ezra Pound

T. S. Eliot

Correct answer:

T. S. Eliot

Explanation:

This excerpt is from an essay by the poet T. S. Eliot. While he is known primarily as a poet, Eliot was also an extremely prolific critic. His critical work greatly influenced the school of criticism known as "New Criticism," and his essay on "The Metaphysical Poets" led to a resurgence of interest in the "Metaphysical Poetry" of writers like John Donne and Andrew Marvell.

Passage adapted from "The Metaphysical Poets" by T. S. Eliot (1921)

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