Guide to Literary Terms

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What is the definition of canon?

The definition of canon is a group of written works that have been broadly sanctioned or accepted as representative of a particular course of study, such as the Western literary canon.


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Last Updated May 26, 2023.

The canon refers to collections of works considered authoritative, influential, and culturally significant within a specific literary tradition or field. These works are recognized as having enduring value and are often studied, analyzed, and celebrated for their artistic and intellectual contributions.

Canon originates from the Greek word kan┼Źn, meaning "rule, standard, straight rod," possibly from kanna ("reed").

This opening line from Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice is an example of a quote from a work that has entered the literary canon.

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.

The novel is regarded as a classic of English literature and is widely studied and appreciated for its social commentary, memorable characters, and engaging storytelling. The quote has become iconic and is often recognized as a representation of Austen's sharp wit and incisive observations on societal expectations and the pursuit of marriage. As a part of the canon, Pride and Prejudice continues to shape and influence the literary landscape, and its inclusion reflects its enduring significance within the literary tradition.

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