ISEE Upper Level Reading : Ideas in Literature Passages

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for ISEE Upper Level Reading

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Example Questions

Example Question #2 : Locating Details In Argumentative Humanities Passages

Adapted from "The Writing of Essays" in Certain Personal Matters by H.G. Wells (1901)

The art of the essayist is so simple, so entirely free from canons of criticism, and withal so delightful, that one must needs wonder why all men are not essayists. Perhaps people do not know how easy it is. Or perhaps beginners are misled. Rightly taught it may be learnt in a brief ten minutes or so, what art there is in it. And all the rest is as easy as wandering among woodlands on a bright morning in the spring.

Then sit you down if you would join us, taking paper, pens, and ink; and mark this, your pen is a matter of vital moment. For every pen writes its own sort of essay, and pencils also after their kind. The ink perhaps may have its influence too, and the paper; but paramount is the pen. This, indeed, is the fundamental secret of essay-writing. Wed any man to his proper pen, and the delights of composition and the birth of an essay are assured. Only many of us wander through the earth and never meet with her—futile and lonely men.

And, of all pens, your quill for essays that are literature. There is a subtle informality, a delightful easiness, perhaps even a faint immorality essentially literary, about the quill. The quill is rich in suggestion and quotation. There are quills that would quote you Montaigne and Horace in the hands of a trades-union delegate. And those quirky, idle noises this pen makes are delightful, and would break your easy fluency with wit. All the classical essayists wrote with a quill, and Addison used the most expensive kind the Government purchased. And the beginning of the inferior essay was the dawn of the cheap steel pen.

Wells suggests that bad essays began being written when __________.

Possible Answers:

people stopped learning how to write essays properly

steel pens were introduced

people started writing things other than essays

people forgot how to use the right pen

Correct answer:

steel pens were introduced

Explanation:

In the passage's last line, Wells says that "the beginning of the inferior essay was the dawn of the cheap steel pen," so he suggests that the introduction of the steel pen was the turning point for the quality of essay writing.

Example Question #351 : Isee Upper Level (Grades 9 12) Reading Comprehension

Adapted from “Review of The Life of Robinson Crusoe” in The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe, Vol. VIII: Literary Criticism by Edgar Allan Poe (1836; ed. J. A. Harrison, 1902)

While Defoe would have been fairly entitled to immortality had he never written Robinson Crusoe, yet his many other very excellent writings have nearly faded from our attention, in the superior lustre of the Adventures of the Mariner of York. What better possible species of reputation could the author have desired for that book than the species which it has so long enjoyed? It has become a household thing in nearly every family in Christendom! Yet never was admiration of any work—universal admiration—more indiscriminately or more inappropriately bestowed. Not one person in ten—nay, not one person in five hundred, has, during the perusal of Robinson Crusoe, the most remote conception that any particle of genius, or even of common talent, has been employed in its creation! Men do not look upon it in the light of a literary performance. Defoe has none of their thoughts—Robinson all. The powers which have wrought the wonder have been thrown into obscurity by the very stupendousness of the wonder they have wrought! We read, and become perfect abstractions in the intensity of our interest—we close the book, and are quite satisfied that we could have written as well ourselves! All this is effected by the potent magic of verisimilitude. Indeed the author of Crusoe must have possessed, above all other faculties, what has been termed the faculty of identification—that dominion exercised by volition over imagination which enables the mind to lose its own, in a fictitious, individuality. This includes, in a very great degree, the power of abstraction; and with these keys we may partially unlock the mystery of that spell which has so long invested the volume before us. But a complete analysis of our interest in it cannot be thus afforded. Defoe is largely indebted to his subject. The idea of man in a state of perfect isolation, although often entertained, was never before so comprehensively carried out. Indeed the frequency of its occurrence to the thoughts of mankind argued the extent of its influence on their sympathies, while the fact of no attempt having been made to give an embodied form to the conception, went to prove the difficulty of the undertaking. But the true narrative of Selkirk in 1711, with the powerful impression it then made upon the public mind, sufficed to inspire Defoe with both the necessary courage for his work, and entire confidence in its success. How wonderful has been the result!

Poe suggests that the reputation of Robinson Crusoe is "indiscriminately" or "inappropriately bestowed" for all of the folllowing reasons EXCEPT __________.

Possible Answers:

Defoe's other works are not as well read as this book and deserve to be

people think more about Robinson Crusoe than they do about Daniel Defoe

people pay more attention to the story of the book than to its construction

attention is drawn from the book's genius by its own accomplishment

Correct answer:

Defoe's other works are not as well read as this book and deserve to be

Explanation:

While Poe may indeed believe that Defoe's other works should receive more attention, he doesn't think this a reason that the admiration for Robinson Crusoe is misplaced.

Example Question #52 : Ideas In Literature Passages

Adapted from “Review of The Life of Robinson Crusoe” in The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe, Vol. VIII: Literary Criticism by Edgar Allan Poe (1836; ed. J. A. Harrison, 1902)

While Defoe would have been fairly entitled to immortality had he never written Robinson Crusoe, yet his many other very excellent writings have nearly faded from our attention, in the superior lustre of the Adventures of the Mariner of York. What better possible species of reputation could the author have desired for that book than the species which it has so long enjoyed? It has become a household thing in nearly every family in Christendom! Yet never was admiration of any work—universal admiration—more indiscriminately or more inappropriately bestowed. Not one person in ten—nay, not one person in five hundred, has, during the perusal of Robinson Crusoe, the most remote conception that any particle of genius, or even of common talent, has been employed in its creation! Men do not look upon it in the light of a literary performance. Defoe has none of their thoughts—Robinson all. The powers which have wrought the wonder have been thrown into obscurity by the very stupendousness of the wonder they have wrought! We read, and become perfect abstractions in the intensity of our interest—we close the book, and are quite satisfied that we could have written as well ourselves! All this is effected by the potent magic of verisimilitude. Indeed the author of Crusoe must have possessed, above all other faculties, what has been termed the faculty of identification—that dominion exercised by volition over imagination which enables the mind to lose its own, in a fictitious, individuality. This includes, in a very great degree, the power of abstraction; and with these keys we may partially unlock the mystery of that spell which has so long invested the volume before us. But a complete analysis of our interest in it cannot be thus afforded. Defoe is largely indebted to his subject. The idea of man in a state of perfect isolation, although often entertained, was never before so comprehensively carried out. Indeed the frequency of its occurrence to the thoughts of mankind argued the extent of its influence on their sympathies, while the fact of no attempt having been made to give an embodied form to the conception, went to prove the difficulty of the undertaking. But the true narrative of Selkirk in 1711, with the powerful impression it then made upon the public mind, sufficed to inspire Defoe with both the necessary courage for his work, and entire confidence in its success. How wonderful has been the result!

When describing "the power of abstraction" that Defoe possessed, Poe is most likely using the underlined word "abstraction" to mean __________.

Possible Answers:

None of these answers

the ability to imagine himself in a different situation than reality

the ability to think about ideas rather than events

the ability to imagine himself as someone other than himself

Correct answer:

the ability to think about ideas rather than events

Explanation:

Here Poe is referring more generally to the idea of abstraction as the facility for thinking about ideas rather than events, which would allow Defoe to construct and inhabit the character of Crusoe the way Poe feels he does.

Example Question #53 : Ideas In Literature Passages

Adapted from “Review of The Life of Robinson Crusoe” in The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe, Vol. VIII: Literary Criticism by Edgar Allan Poe (1836; ed. J. A. Harrison, 1902)

While Defoe would have been fairly entitled to immortality had he never written Robinson Crusoe, yet his many other very excellent writings have nearly faded from our attention, in the superior lustre of the Adventures of the Mariner of York. What better possible species of reputation could the author have desired for that book than the species which it has so long enjoyed? It has become a household thing in nearly every family in Christendom! Yet never was admiration of any work—universal admiration—more indiscriminately or more inappropriately bestowed. Not one person in ten—nay, not one person in five hundred, has, during the perusal of Robinson Crusoe, the most remote conception that any particle of genius, or even of common talent, has been employed in its creation! Men do not look upon it in the light of a literary performance. Defoe has none of their thoughts—Robinson all. The powers which have wrought the wonder have been thrown into obscurity by the very stupendousness of the wonder they have wrought! We read, and become perfect abstractions in the intensity of our interest—we close the book, and are quite satisfied that we could have written as well ourselves! All this is effected by the potent magic of verisimilitude. Indeed the author of Crusoe must have possessed, above all other faculties, what has been termed the faculty of identification—that dominion exercised by volition over imagination which enables the mind to lose its own, in a fictitious, individuality. This includes, in a very great degree, the power of abstraction; and with these keys we may partially unlock the mystery of that spell which has so long invested the volume before us. But a complete analysis of our interest in it cannot be thus afforded. Defoe is largely indebted to his subject. The idea of man in a state of perfect isolation, although often entertained, was never before so comprehensively carried out. Indeed the frequency of its occurrence to the thoughts of mankind argued the extent of its influence on their sympathies, while the fact of no attempt having been made to give an embodied form to the conception, went to prove the difficulty of the undertaking. But the true narrative of Selkirk in 1711, with the powerful impression it then made upon the public mind, sufficed to inspire Defoe with both the necessary courage for his work, and entire confidence in its success. How wonderful has been the result!

Poe says that "Defoe is largely indebted to his subject," that subject being __________.

Possible Answers:

mankind itself

Robinson Crusoe himself

the true narrative of Selkirk in 1711 

the concept of a man isolated from everyone else

Correct answer:

the true narrative of Selkirk in 1711 

Explanation:

Poe suggests that, had the true story of Selkirk in 1711 never occurred, Defoe might never have had the confidence or inspiration for his own book.

Example Question #54 : Ideas In Literature Passages

Adapted from “Review of The Life of Robinson Crusoe” in The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe, Vol. VIII: Literary Criticism by Edgar Allan Poe (1836; ed. J. A. Harrison, 1902)

While Defoe would have been fairly entitled to immortality had he never written Robinson Crusoe, yet his many other very excellent writings have nearly faded from our attention, in the superior lustre of the Adventures of the Mariner of York. What better possible species of reputation could the author have desired for that book than the species which it has so long enjoyed? It has become a household thing in nearly every family in Christendom! Yet never was admiration of any work—universal admiration—more indiscriminately or more inappropriately bestowed. Not one person in ten—nay, not one person in five hundred, has, during the perusal of Robinson Crusoe, the most remote conception that any particle of genius, or even of common talent, has been employed in its creation! Men do not look upon it in the light of a literary performance. Defoe has none of their thoughts—Robinson all. The powers which have wrought the wonder have been thrown into obscurity by the very stupendousness of the wonder they have wrought! We read, and become perfect abstractions in the intensity of our interest—we close the book, and are quite satisfied that we could have written as well ourselves! All this is effected by the potent magic of verisimilitude. Indeed the author of Crusoe must have possessed, above all other faculties, what has been termed the faculty of identification—that dominion exercised by volition over imagination which enables the mind to lose its own, in a fictitious, individuality. This includes, in a very great degree, the power of abstraction; and with these keys we may partially unlock the mystery of that spell which has so long invested the volume before us. But a complete analysis of our interest in it cannot be thus afforded. Defoe is largely indebted to his subject. The idea of man in a state of perfect isolation, although often entertained, was never before so comprehensively carried out. Indeed the frequency of its occurrence to the thoughts of mankind argued the extent of its influence on their sympathies, while the fact of no attempt having been made to give an embodied form to the conception, went to prove the difficulty of the undertaking. But the true narrative of Selkirk in 1711, with the powerful impression it then made upon the public mind, sufficed to inspire Defoe with both the necessary courage for his work, and entire confidence in its success. How wonderful has been the result!

Poe suggests all of the following about Robinson Crusoe EXCEPT __________.

Possible Answers:

any reader of the book could have written just as well

no one appreciates the book nearly enough

Defoe doesn't get nearly enough credit for the artistry that went into the book

Defoe's other works don't get nearly the attention that Robinson Crusoe does

Correct answer:

any reader of the book could have written just as well

Explanation:

Poe says that people come away from reading Robinson Crusoe thinking they could write just as well, but he himself does not believe this.

Example Question #51 : Literature Passages

Adapted from "Review of Wyandotté, or The Hutted Knoll” in The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe—Vol. XI: Literary Criticism by Edgar Allan Poe (1843; ed. 1902)

It will be at once seen that there is nothing original in this story. On the contrary, it is even excessively common-place. The lover, for example, rescued from captivity by the mistress; the Knoll carried through the treachery of an inmate; and the salvation of the besieged, at the very last moment, by a reinforcement arriving, in consequence of a message borne to a friend by one of the besieged, without the cognizance of the others; these, we say, are incidents which have been the common property of every novelist since the invention of letters. And as for plot, there has been no attempt at any thing of the kind. The tale is a mere succession of events, scarcely any one of which has any necessary dependence upon any one other. Plot, however, is, at best, an artificial effect, requiring, like music, not only a natural bias, but long cultivation of taste for its full appreciation; some of the finest narratives in the world—Gil-Blas and Robinson Crusoe, for example—have been written without its employment; and The Hutted Knoll, like all the sea and forest novels of Cooper, has been made deeply interesting, although depending upon this peculiar source of interest not at all. Thus the absence of plot can never be critically regarded as a defect; although its judicious use, in all cases aiding and in no case injuring other effects, must be regarded as of a very high order of merit.

There are one or two points, however, in the mere conduct of the story now before us, which may, perhaps, be considered as defective. For instance, there is too much obviousness in all that appertains to the hanging of the large gate. In more than a dozen instances, Mrs. Willoughby is made to allude to the delay in the hanging; so that the reader is too positively and pointedly forced to perceive that this delay is to result in the capture of the Knoll. As we are never in doubt of the fact, we feel diminished interest when it actually happens. A single vague allusion, well-managed, would have been in the true artistical spirit.

Again; we see too plainly, from the first, that Beekman is to marry Beulah, and that Robert Willoughby is to marry Maud. The killing of Beulah, of Mrs. Willoughby, and Jamie Allen, produces, too, a painful impression which does not properly appertain to the right fiction. Their deaths affect us as revolting and supererogatory; since the purposes of the story are not thereby furthered in any regard. To Willoughby’s murder, however distressing, the reader makes no similar objection; merely because in his decease is fulfilled a species of poetical justice. We object, also, to the manner in which the general interest is dragged out, or suspended. The besieging party are kept before the Knoll so long, while so little is done, and so many opportunities of action are lost, that the reader takes it for granted that nothing of consequence will occur—that the besieged will be finally delivered. He gets so accustomed to the presence of danger that its excitement, at length, departs. The action is not sufficiently rapid. There is too much procrastination. There is too much mere talk for talk’s sake. The interminable discussions between Woods and Captain Willoughby are, perhaps, the worst feature of the book, for they have not even the merit of referring to the matters on hand. In general, there is quite too much colloquy for the purpose of manifesting character, and too little for the explanation of motive. The characters of the drama would have been better made out by action; while the motives to action, the reasons for the different courses of conduct adopted by the dramatis personae, might have been made to proceed more satisfactorily from their own mouths, in casual conversations, than from that of the author in person. To conclude our remarks upon the head of ill-conduct in the story, we may mention occasional incidents of the merest melodramatic absurdity: as, for example, at page 156, of the second volume, where “Willoughby had an arm round the waist of Maud, and bore her forward with a rapidity to which her own strength was entirely unequal.” We may be permitted to doubt whether a young lady of sound health and limbs, exists, within the limits of Christendom, who could not run faster, on her own proper feet, for any considerable distance, than she could be carried upon one arm of either the Cretan Milo or of the Hercules Farnese. 

Poe says that the plot of this novel is lacking because __________.

Possible Answers:

none of the events in the novel make any logical sense

none of the events in the novel succeed each other chronologically

none of the events in the novel are original

none of the events in the novel logically depend on each other

Correct answer:

none of the events in the novel logically depend on each other

Explanation:

Poe says the novel is "a mere succession of events, scarcely any one of which has any necessary dependence upon any one other," meaning that the events do not logically depend upon each other as in a well-contrived plot.

Example Question #21 : Analyzing Argumentative Claims, Bias, And Support In Humanities Passages

Adapted from "Review of Wyandotté, or The Hutted Knoll” in The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe—Vol. XI: Literary Criticism by Edgar Allan Poe (1843; ed. 1902)

It will be at once seen that there is nothing original in this story. On the contrary, it is even excessively common-place. The lover, for example, rescued from captivity by the mistress; the Knoll carried through the treachery of an inmate; and the salvation of the besieged, at the very last moment, by a reinforcement arriving, in consequence of a message borne to a friend by one of the besieged, without the cognizance of the others; these, we say, are incidents which have been the common property of every novelist since the invention of letters. And as for plot, there has been no attempt at any thing of the kind. The tale is a mere succession of events, scarcely any one of which has any necessary dependence upon any one other. Plot, however, is, at best, an artificial effect, requiring, like music, not only a natural bias, but long cultivation of taste for its full appreciation; some of the finest narratives in the world—Gil-Blas and Robinson Crusoe, for example—have been written without its employment; and The Hutted Knoll, like all the sea and forest novels of Cooper, has been made deeply interesting, although depending upon this peculiar source of interest not at all. Thus the absence of plot can never be critically regarded as a defect; although its judicious use, in all cases aiding and in no case injuring other effects, must be regarded as of a very high order of merit.

There are one or two points, however, in the mere conduct of the story now before us, which may, perhaps, be considered as defective. For instance, there is too much obviousness in all that appertains to the hanging of the large gate. In more than a dozen instances, Mrs. Willoughby is made to allude to the delay in the hanging; so that the reader is too positively and pointedly forced to perceive that this delay is to result in the capture of the Knoll. As we are never in doubt of the fact, we feel diminished interest when it actually happens. A single vague allusion, well-managed, would have been in the true artistical spirit.

Again; we see too plainly, from the first, that Beekman is to marry Beulah, and that Robert Willoughby is to marry Maud. The killing of Beulah, of Mrs. Willoughby, and Jamie Allen, produces, too, a painful impression which does not properly appertain to the right fiction. Their deaths affect us as revolting and supererogatory; since the purposes of the story are not thereby furthered in any regard. To Willoughby’s murder, however distressing, the reader makes no similar objection; merely because in his decease is fulfilled a species of poetical justice. We may observe here, nevertheless, that his repeated references to his flogging [another character] seem unnatural, because we have otherwise no reason to think him a fool, or a madman, and these references, under the circumstances, are absolutely insensate. We object, also, to the manner in which the general interest is dragged out, or suspended. The besieging party are kept before the Knoll so long, while so little is done, and so many opportunities of action are lost, that the reader takes it for granted that nothing of consequence will occur—that the besieged will be finally delivered. He gets so accustomed to the presence of danger that its excitement, at length, departs. The action is not sufficiently rapid. There is too much procrastination. There is too much mere talk for talk’s sake. The interminable discussions between Woods and Captain Willoughby are, perhaps, the worst feature of the book, for they have not even the merit of referring to the matters on hand. In general, there is quite too much colloquy for the purpose of manifesting character, and too little for the explanation of motive. The characters of the drama would have been better made out by action; while the motives to action, the reasons for the different courses of conduct adopted by the dramatis personae, might have been made to proceed more satisfactorily from their own mouths, in casual conversations, than from that of the author in person. To conclude our remarks upon the head of ill-conduct in the story, we may mention occasional incidents of the merest melodramatic absurdity: as, for example, at page 156, of the second volume, where “Willoughby had an arm round the waist of Maud, and bore her forward with a rapidity to which her own strength was entirely unequal.” We may be permitted to doubt whether a young lady of sound health and limbs, exists, within the limits of Christendom, who could not run faster, on her own proper feet, for any considerable distance, than she could be carried upon one arm of either the Cretan Milo or of the Hercules Farnese. 

Poe suggests that Robinson Crusoe is a fine narrative despite his belief that __________.

Possible Answers:

it has no actual plot

it requires a cultivation of taste for its fullest appreciation

it has a natural bias, like music

it contains elements that are not original

Correct answer:

it has no actual plot

Explanation:

In the passage's first paragraph, Poe makes the surprising statement that the book is one of "the finest narratives in the world" despite the fact that it has been written without the "employment" of a plot.

Example Question #41 : Identifying And Analyzing Important Details In Humanities Passages

Adapted from "Review of Wyandotté, or The Hutted Knoll” in The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe—Vol. XI: Literary Criticism by Edgar Allan Poe (1843; ed. 1902)

It will be at once seen that there is nothing original in this story. On the contrary, it is even excessively common-place. The lover, for example, rescued from captivity by the mistress; the Knoll carried through the treachery of an inmate; and the salvation of the besieged, at the very last moment, by a reinforcement arriving, in consequence of a message borne to a friend by one of the besieged, without the cognizance of the others; these, we say, are incidents which have been the common property of every novelist since the invention of letters. And as for plot, there has been no attempt at any thing of the kind. The tale is a mere succession of events, scarcely any one of which has any necessary dependence upon any one other. Plot, however, is, at best, an artificial effect, requiring, like music, not only a natural bias, but long cultivation of taste for its full appreciation; some of the finest narratives in the world—Gil-Blas and Robinson Crusoe, for example—have been written without its employment; and The Hutted Knoll, like all the sea and forest novels of Cooper, has been made deeply interesting, although depending upon this peculiar source of interest not at all. Thus the absence of plot can never be critically regarded as a defect; although its judicious use, in all cases aiding and in no case injuring other effects, must be regarded as of a very high order of merit.

There are one or two points, however, in the mere conduct of the story now before us, which may, perhaps, be considered as defective. For instance, there is too much obviousness in all that appertains to the hanging of the large gate. In more than a dozen instances, Mrs. Willoughby is made to allude to the delay in the hanging; so that the reader is too positively and pointedly forced to perceive that this delay is to result in the capture of the Knoll. As we are never in doubt of the fact, we feel diminished interest when it actually happens. A single vague allusion, well-managed, would have been in the true artistical spirit.

Again; we see too plainly, from the first, that Beekman is to marry Beulah, and that Robert Willoughby is to marry Maud. The killing of Beulah, of Mrs. Willoughby, and Jamie Allen, produces, too, a painful impression which does not properly appertain to the right fiction. Their deaths affect us as revolting and supererogatory; since the purposes of the story are not thereby furthered in any regard. To Willoughby’s murder, however distressing, the reader makes no similar objection; merely because in his decease is fulfilled a species of poetical justice. We may observe here, nevertheless, that his repeated references to his flogging [another character] seem unnatural, because we have otherwise no reason to think him a fool, or a madman, and these references, under the circumstances, are absolutely insensate. We object, also, to the manner in which the general interest is dragged out, or suspended. The besieging party are kept before the Knoll so long, while so little is done, and so many opportunities of action are lost, that the reader takes it for granted that nothing of consequence will occur—that the besieged will be finally delivered. He gets so accustomed to the presence of danger that its excitement, at length, departs. The action is not sufficiently rapid. There is too much procrastination. There is too much mere talk for talk’s sake. The interminable discussions between Woods and Captain Willoughby are, perhaps, the worst feature of the book, for they have not even the merit of referring to the matters on hand. In general, there is quite too much colloquy for the purpose of manifesting character, and too little for the explanation of motive. The characters of the drama would have been better made out by action; while the motives to action, the reasons for the different courses of conduct adopted by the dramatis personae, might have been made to proceed more satisfactorily from their own mouths, in casual conversations, than from that of the author in person. To conclude our remarks upon the head of ill-conduct in the story, we may mention occasional incidents of the merest melodramatic absurdity: as, for example, at page 156, of the second volume, where “Willoughby had an arm round the waist of Maud, and bore her forward with a rapidity to which her own strength was entirely unequal.” We may be permitted to doubt whether a young lady of sound health and limbs, exists, within the limits of Christendom, who could not run faster, on her own proper feet, for any considerable distance, than she could be carried upon one arm of either the Cretan Milo or of the Hercules Farnese. 

Another way of stating Poe's first criticism of the novel is that __________.

Possible Answers:

it is too clichéd 

it is too original

it has too many incidents in it

its plot is too allegorical

Correct answer:

it is too clichéd 

Explanation:

In the first line of the passage, Poe says, "It will be at once seen that there is nothing original in this story." Saying that there is nothing original in the novel is another way of saying that everything that happens in it is too clichéd.

Example Question #51 : Literature Passages

Adapted from "The Modern Essay" in The Times Literary Supplement by Virginia Woolf (November 30, 1922)

As Mr. Rhys truly says, it is unnecessary to go profoundly into the history and origin of the essay—whether it derives from Socrates or Siranney the Persian—since, like all living things, its present is more important than its past. Moreover, the family is widely spread; and while some of its representatives have risen in the world and wear their coronets with the best, others pick up a precarious living in the gutter near Fleet Street. The form, too, admits variety. The essay can be short or long, serious or trifling, about God and Spinoza, or about turtles and Cheapside. But as we turn over the pages of these five little volumes, containing essays written between 1870 and 1920, certain principles appear to control the chaos, and we detect in the short period under review something like the progress of history.

Of all forms of literature, however, the essay is the one which least calls for the use of long words. The principle which controls it is simply that it should give pleasure; the desire which impels us when we take it from the shelf is simply to receive pleasure. Everything in an essay must be subdued to that end. It should lay us under a spell with its first word, and we should only wake, refreshed, with its last. In the interval we may pass through the most various experiences of amusement, surprise, interest, indignation; we may soar to the heights of fantasy with Lamb or plunge to the depths of wisdom with Bacon, but we must never be roused. The essay must lap us about and draw its curtain across the world.

Woolf suggests that the present of the essay is more important than its past because __________.

Possible Answers:

the essay form is a living thing

the essay is not that important

the origin of the essay is untraceable

the origin of the essay is simply not important

Correct answer:

the essay form is a living thing

Explanation:

Woolf refers to the essay as a living thing in the metaphorical sense that it continues to grow, flourish, and be relevant.

Example Question #52 : Literature Passages

Adapted from "The Modern Essay" in The Times Literary Supplement by Virginia Woolf (November 30, 1922)

The essay must lap us about and draw its curtain across the world. So great a feat is seldom accomplished, though the fault may well be as much on the reader's side as on the writer's. Habit and lethargy have dulled his palate. A novel has a story, a poem rhyme; but what art can the essayist use in these short lengths of prose to sting us wide awake and fix us in a trance which is not sleep but rather an intensification of life—a basking, with every faculty alert, in the sun of pleasure? He must know—that is the first essential—how to write. His learning may be as profound as Mark Pattison's, but in an essay it must be so fused by the magic of writing that not a fact juts out, not a dogma tears the surface of the texture. Macaulay in one way, Froude in another, did this superbly over and over again. They have blown more knowledge into us in the course of one essay than the innumerable chapters of a hundred textbooks. But when Mark Pattison has to tell us, in the space of thirty-five little pages, about Montaigne, we feel that he had not previously assimilated M. Grün. M. Grün was a gentleman who once wrote a bad book. M. Grün and his book should have been embalmed for our perpetual delight in amber. But the process is fatiguing; it requires more time and perhaps more temper than Pattison had at his command. He served M. Grün up raw, and he remains a crude berry among the cooked meats, upon which our teeth must grate for ever. Something of the sort applies to Matthew Arnold and a certain translator of Spinoza. Literal truth-telling and finding fault with a culprit for his good are out of place in an essay, where everything should be for our good and rather for eternity than for the March number of the Fortnightly Review.

The reader may be as much to blame as the essayist for not maintaining interest in an essay, Woolf states, because __________.

Possible Answers:

the reader likes fiction and poetry more than essays

the reader doesn't have the taste for essays due to laziness and being used to other literary forms

the reader hasn't the refined taste necessary to appreciate the essay

the reader cannot read essays properly

Correct answer:

the reader doesn't have the taste for essays due to laziness and being used to other literary forms

Explanation:

Woolf speaks of "habit and lethargy" as reasons the reader hasn't the taste for essays, meaning that the reader is too lazy and not used to reading something that doesn't have a set form.

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