Essayiste Wikipedia The Free

David Foster Wallace (1962–2008) was an American author of novels, essays, and short stories, and a professor at Illinois State University in Normal, Illinois, and Pomona College in Claremont, California.



Short story collections[edit]

Short fiction[edit]

  • 1984: "The Planet Trillaphon As It Stands In Relation to The Bad Thing", Amherst Review
    • 2009: republished in Tin House
  • 1985: "Mr. Costigan in May", Clarion
  • 1987: "Lyndon", Arrival
    • 1989: included in Girl with Curious Hair
  • 1987: "Here and There", Fiction
    • 1989: included in Girl with Curious Hair
  • 1987: "Other Math", Western Humanities Review
  • 1987: "Say Never", Florida Review
    • 1989: included in Girl with Curious Hair
  • 1987: "Solomon Silverfish", Sonora Review
  • 1988: "John Billy", Conjunctions[1]
    • 1989: included in Girl with Curious Hair
  • 1988: "Late Night", Playboy
    • 1989: included in Girl with Curious Hair as "My Appearance"
  • 1988: "Everything is Green", Puerto del Sol
    • 1989: reprinted in Harper's
    • 1989: included in Girl with Curious Hair
  • 1988: "Little Expressionless Animals", Paris Review
    • 1989: included in Girl with Curious Hair
  • 1989: "Crash of 69", Between C&D
  • 1989: "Luckily the Account Representative Knew CPR" in Girl with Curious Hair
  • 1989: "Girl with Curious Hair" in Girl with Curious Hair
  • 1989: "Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way" in Girl with Curious Hair
  • 1991: "Church Not Made With Hands", Rampike
  • 1991: "Forever Overhead", Fiction International
  • 1991: "Order and Flux in Northampton", Conjunctions
  • 1992: "Rabbit Resurrected", Harper's
  • 1993: "The Awakening of My Interest in Annular Systems", Harper’s
  • 1994 "Several Birds", The New Yorker
  • 1995 "An Interval", The New Yorker
  • 1997: "Death Is Not The End", Grand Street
    • 1999: reprinted (extended) in Brief Interviews with Hideous Men
  • 1998: "A Radically Condensed History of Postindustrial Life", Ploughshares, Spring 1998[2]
    • 1999: reprinted (slightly extended) in Brief Interviews with Hideous Men
  • 1998: "Brief Interviews with Hideous Men", Harper's
    • 1999: reprinted (extended, but with interview 16 omitted) in Brief Interviews with Hideous Men
  • 1999: "Asset", The New Yorker
  • 2002: "Peoria (4)", TriQuarterly #112
  • 2002: "Peoria (9)", TriQuarterly #112
  • 2007: "Good People", The New Yorker
  • 2008: "The Compliance Branch", Harper’s
  • 2009 "Wiggle Room", The New Yorker
  • 2009 "All That", The New Yorker
  • 2010 "A New Examiner," Harper’s
  • 2011 "Backbone", The New Yorker
  • 2013 "The Awakening of My Interest in Advanced Tax", Madra Press


Dates for entries in collections are the dates printed after the piece in the collection; the other dates are publication dates. Earliest dates are listed first; when they're the same the version in a collection is listed first, with the exception of Up, Simba! since the collected version references its magazine appearance and so was written afterward.


Other books[edit]


  • 1985: "Richard Taylor's 'Fatalism' and the Semantics of Physical Modality" (thesis)
    • 2010: Reprinted in Fate, Time, and Language: An Essay on Free Will (see above).
  • 1987: "Matters of Sense and Opacity", New York Times letter
  • 1988: "Fictional Futures and the Conspicuously Young" in The Review of Contemporary Fiction
    • 2012: Reprinted in Both Flesh and Not
  • 1990: Signifying Rappers: Rap and Race in the Urban Present (with Mark Costello)
  • 1990: "The Horror of Pretentiousness: 'The Great and Secret Show' by Clive Barker ", in The Washington Post
  • 1990: "Michael Martone's Fort Wayne is Seventh on Hitler's List", in Harvard Book Review
  • 1990: "The Empty Plenum: David Markson's Wittgenstein's Mistress" in The Review of Contemporary Fiction
    • 2012: Reprinted in Both Flesh and Not
  • 1991: "Exploring Inner Space: War Fever by J.G. Ballard", in The Washington Post
  • 1991: "The Million-Dollar Tattoo: Laura's Skin by F.J. Fiederspiel", in New York Times Book Review
  • 1991: "Tragic Cuban Emigre and a Tale of 'The Door to Happiness':The Doorman by Reinaldo Arenas", in The Philadelphia Inquirer Book Review
  • 1991: "Presley as Paradigm: Dead Elvis: A Chronicle of Cultural Obsession by Greil Marcus", Los Angeles Times
  • 1992: "Kathy Acker’s Portrait of an Eye: Three Novels", in Harvard Review
  • 1992: "Iris' Story: An Inversion of Philosophic Skepticism: The Blindfold by Siri Hustvedt", in The Philadelphia Inquirer
    • 1992: reprinted in Contemporary Literary Criticism (vol. 76)
  • 1992: "Tracy Austin's 'Beyond Center Court: My Story'", The Philadelphia Inquirer
  • 1990: "Derivative Sport in Tornado Alley", ASFTINDA
  • 1990: "E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction", ASFTINDA
    • 1993: published (lightly edited and sans footnotes) in Review of Contemporary Fiction
  • 1993: "Getting Away from Already Being Pretty Much Away from It All", ASFTINDA
  • 1992: "Greatly Exaggerated", ASFTINDA
    • 1992: published as "Morte d'Author: An Autopsy" in the Harvard Book Review
  • 1996: "God Bless You, Mr. Franzen", Harper's letter (September 1996)
  • 1994: "Mr. Cogito" in Spin
    • 2012: Reprinted in Both Flesh and Not
  • 1996: "Democracy and Commerce at the US Open" in Tennis (included with NYTM)
    • 2012: Reprinted in Both Flesh and Not
  • 1996: "Impediments to Passion" in Might Magazine
    • 1998: reprinted as "Hail The Returning Dragon, Clothed In New Fire" in Shiny Adidas Tracksuits and the Death of Camp and Other Essays from Might Magazine
    • 2012: Reprinted in Both Flesh and Not as "Back in New Fire"
  • 1996: "Quo Vadis – Introduction", Review of Contemporary Fiction
  • 1995: "David Lynch Keeps His Head", ASFTINDA
    • 1996: published (severely abbreviated) in Premiere
  • 1995: "Tennis Player Michael Joyce's Professional Artistry as a Paradigm of Certain Stuff about Choice, Freedom, Discipline, Joy, Grotesquerie, and Human Completeness", ASFTINDA
  • 1995: "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again", ASFTINDA
  • 1996: "Joseph Frank's Dostoevsky", CTL
    • 1996: published as "Feodor's Guide" in Voice Literary Supplement (book review)
  • 1997: A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again
  • 1997: "Twilight of the Great Literary Beasts: John Updike, Champion Literary Phallocrat, Drops One; Is This Finally the End for the Magnificent Narcissist?", New York Observer book review
    • 1998: reprinted (edited) in CTL as "Certainly the End of Something or Other, One Would Sort of Have to Think: (Re John Updike's Towards the End of Time)"
  • 1998: "Big Red Son", CTL
    • 1998: published (abbreviated and bowdlerized) as "Neither Adult Nor Entertainment" in Premiere under the names Willem R. deGroot and Matt Rundlet
  • 1998: "The Nature of the Fun" in Fiction Writer
    • 1998: published in Why I Write: Thoughts on the Craft of Fiction (Will Blythe, ed.)
    • 2012: Reprinted in Both Flesh and Not
  • 1998: "F/X Porn" in Waterstone's Magazine
    • 2012: Reprinted in Both Flesh and Not as "The (As It Were) Seminal Importance of Terminator 2"
  • 1998: "Laughing with Kafka", Harper's
    • 1999: reprinted (with different footnotes) in CTL as "Some Remarks on Kafka's Funniness from Which Probably Not Enough Has Been Removed"
  • 1999: "Overlooked: Five Direly Underappreciated U.S. Novels >1960" in Salon
    • 2012: Reprinted in Both Flesh and Not
  • 1999: "100-word statement", Rolling Stone
  • 2000: "Rhetoric and the Math Melodrama" (heavily edited) in Science
      • 2000: response to letter in response
      • 2012: Reprinted in Both Flesh and Not
  • 2000: "The Weasel, Twelve Monkeys, and the Shrub", Rolling Stone
    • 2000: reprinted (greatly expanded and with a preface) as Up, Simba!: 7 Days on the Trail of an Anticandidate
    • 2005: reprinted (verbatim) in Consider the Lobster
    • 2008: reprinted (with a foreword by Jacob Weisberg) as McCain's Promise: Aboard the Straight Talk Express with John McCain and a Whole Bunch of Actual Reporters, Thinking About Hope
  • 1999: "Authority and American Usage (or, 'Politics and the English Language' is Redundant)" in CTL
  • 2001: "The Best of the Prose Poem" in Rain Taxi
    • 2012: Reprinted in Both Flesh and Not
  • 2001: "The View from Mrs. Thompson's", CTL
  • 2004: "Twenty-Four Word Notes" printed as "Word Note" (various) in Oxford American Writer's Thesauraus
    • 2012: Reprinted in Both Flesh and Not
  • 2004: "Borges on the Couch" in the New York Times Book Review
  • 2004: "Consider the Lobster", CTL
    • 2004: published (with slight edits and gruesome details removed) in Gourmet
  • 2005: "Kenyon Commencement Address"
    • 2006: reprinted (revised and edited) in The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2006
    • 2008: reprinted (severely abridged) in Wall Street Journal as "David Foster Wallace on Life and Work"
    • 2009: reprinted as This Is Water
  • 2005: "Host", CTL
    • 2005: published (abbreviated and in color) in The Atlantic
  • 2006: "Federer as Religious Experience", NYTM: PLAY
    • 2012: Reprinted in Both Flesh and Not as "Federer Both Flesh and Not"
  • 2007: "Deciderization 2007 — a Special Report" published as introduction to The Best American Essays 2007
    • 2012: Reprinted in Both Flesh and Not
  • 2007: "Just Asking", in The Atlantic
    • 2012: Reprinted in Both Flesh and Not
  • 2008: "It All Gets Quite Tricky", Harper's[3]

The David Foster Wallace Reader[edit]

A collection of excerpts.


  • Fiction International 19:2 (Aids Art, Photomontages from Germany and England) (1991), contributing author
  • Grand Street 42 (1992), contributor
  • Grand Street 46 (1993), contributor
  • The Review of Contemporary Fiction: The Future of Fiction, A Forum Edited by David Foster Wallace (1996), editor
  • Open City Number Five : Change or Die (1997), contributing author
  • The Best American Essays 2007 (2007), guest editor
  • The New Kings of Nonfiction (2007), contributing author
  • The Mechanics' Institute Review, Issue 4 (September 2007)


  • Becky Bradway, "Interview with David Foster Wallace." Creating Nonfiction. Ed. Becky Bradway and Doug Hesse. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2009, 770-73.
  • Larry McCaffery, "An Interview with David Foster Wallace." Review of Contemporary Fiction 13.2 (Summer 1993), 127–150. (text at Dalkey Archive Press website)
  • Laura Miller, "The Salon Interview: David Foster Wallace." Salon 9 (1996).[4]
  • "The Usage Wars." Radio interview with David Foster Wallace and Bryan A. Garner. The Connection (March 30, 2001). (full audio interview)
  • Caleb Crain, "Approaching Infinity: David Foster Wallace talks about writing novels, riding the Green Line, and his new book on higher math." Boston Globe. October 26, 2003.[5]
  • Michael Goldfarb, "David Foster Wallace." radio interview for The Connection (June 25, 2004). (full audio interview)
  • David Foster Wallace on Bookworm
  • Charlie Rose: An interview with David Foster Wallace March 27, 1997
  • Zachary Chouteau, "Infinite Zest: Words with the Singular David Foster Wallace." Bookselling This Week
  • Dave Eggers, "David Foster Wallace." The Believer. November 2003.[6]
  • "Brief Interview with a Five Draft Man." Interview with Stacey Schmeidel for Amherst Magazine. Spring 1999.[7]
  • A radio interview with David Foster Wallace Aired on the Lewis Burke Frumkes Radio Show in the spring of 1999.
  • 2010: Lipsky, David. Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace. New York: Broadway, 2010.
  • Wallace, David Foster. David Foster Wallace: The Last Interview: and Other Conversations. Melville House, 2012. ISBN 978-1612192062
  • Bryan A. Garner and David Foster Wallace. Quack This Way: David Foster Wallace & Bryan A. Garner talk language and writing. RosePen Books, 2013. ISBN 978-0-991-11810-6.

Works about David Foster Wallace[edit]


  • Bolger, Robert K. and Korb, Scott (eds). Gesturing Toward Reality: David Foster Wallace and Philosophy. Bloomsbury Academic, 2014. ISBN 978-1441162656
  • Boswell, Marshall. Understanding David Foster Wallace. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2003. ISBN 1-57003-517-2
  • Boswell, Marshall and Burn, Stephen, eds. A Companion to David Foster Wallace Studies. Palgrave Macmillan, 2013 (American Literature Readings in the Twenty-First Century). ISBN 9781137078346
  • Burn, Stephen. David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest: A Reader's Guide. New York, London: Continuum, 2003. ISBN 0-8264-1477-X
  • Carlisle, Greg. Elegant Complexity: A Study of David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest. Austin, TX: Sideshow Media Group Press, 2007. ISBN 978-0-9761465-3-7
  • Carlisle, Greg. Nature's Nightmare: Analyzing David Foster Wallace's Oblivion. Sideshow Media Group Press, 2013.
  • Cohen, Samuel, and Konstantinou, Lee (eds.). The Legacy of David Foster Wallace. University of Iowa Press, 2012. ISBN 9781609381042
  • Dowling, William, and Bell, Robert. A Reader's Companion to Infinite Jest. Xlibris, 2004. ISBN 1-4134-8446-8
  • Hayes-Brady, Clare. The Unspeakable Failures of David Foster Wallace: Language, Identity and Resistance. New York: Bloomsbury, 2016.
  • Hering, David, ed. Consider David Foster Wallace: Critical Essays. Austin, TX: Sideshow Media Group Press, 2010.
  • Hering, David. David Foster Wallace: Fiction and Form. New York: Bloomsbury, 2016.
  • Jackson, Edward, Xavier Marcó del Pont, and Tony Venezia (eds.), David Foster Wallace Special Issue of Orbit: A Journal of American Literature, 22 March 2017.
  • Lipsky, David. Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace. New York: Broadway, 2010. ISBN 978-0307592439
  • Max, D. T. Every Love Story is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace. New York: Viking, 2012.
  • Miller, Adam S. The Gospel According to David Foster Wallace: Boredom and Addiction in an Age of Distraction (New Directions in Religion and Literature). New York: Bloomsbury, 2016.
  • Thompson, Lucas Global Wallace (DFW Studies). New York: Bloomsbury, 2017.
  • Wallace, David Foster. David Foster Wallace: The Last Interview: and Other Conversations. Melville House, 2012. ISBN 978-1612192062

Academic articles and book chapters[edit]

  • Benzon, Kiki. "Darkness Legible, Unquiet Lines: Mood Disorders in the Fiction of David Foster Wallace." Creativity, Madness and Civilization. Ed. Richard Pine. Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Press, 2007: 187–198.
  • Bresnan, Mark. "The Work of Play in David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest." Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction 50:1 (2008), 51–68.
  • Burn, Stephen. "Generational Succession and a Source for the Title of David Foster Wallace's The Broom of the System." Notes on Contemporary Literature 33.2 (2003), 9–11.
  • Cioffi, Frank Louis. "An Anguish Becomes Thing: Narrative as Performance in David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest." Narrative 8.2 (2000), 161–181.
  • Delfino, Andrew Steven. "Becoming the New Man in Post-Postmodernist Fiction: Portrayals of Masculinities in David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest and Chuck Palahniuk's Fight Club. MA Thesis, Georgia State University.
  • Ewijk, Petrus van. "'I' and the 'Other': The relevance of Wittgenstein, Buber and Levinas for an understanding of AA's Recovery Program in David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest." English Text Construction 2.1 (2009), 132–45.
  • Goerlandt, Iannis and Luc Herman. "David Foster Wallace." Post-war Literatures in English: A Lexicon of Contemporary Authors 56 (2004), 1–16; A1-2, B1-2.
  • Goerlandt, Iannis. "Fußnoten und Performativität bei David Foster Wallace. Fallstudien." Am Rande bemerkt. Anmerkungspraktiken in literarischen Texten. Ed. Bernhard Metz & Sabine Zubarik. Berlin: Kulturverlag Kadmos, 2008: 387–408.
  • Goerlandt, Iannis. "'Put the book down and slowly walk away': Irony and David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest." Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction 47.3 (2006), 309–28.
  • Goerlandt, Iannis. "'Still steaming as its many arms extended': Pain in David Foster Wallace's Incarnations of Burned Children." Sprachkunst 37.2 (2006), 297–308.
  • Harris, Jan Ll. Addiction and the Societies of Control: David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest, paper delivered at Figuring Addictions/Rethinking Consumption conference, Institute for Cultural Research, Lancaster University, April 4–5, 2002.
  • Hering, David. "Theorising David Foster Wallace's Toxic Postmodern Spaces." US Studies Online 18 (2011)[1]
  • Holland, Mary K. "'The Art's Heart's Purpose': Braving the Narcissistic Loop of David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest." Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction 47.3 (2006), 218–42.
  • Jacobs, Timothy. "The Brothers Incandenza: Translating Ideology in Fyodor Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov and David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest." Contemporary Literary Criticism Vol. 271. Ed. Jeffrey Hunter. New York: Gale, 2009. Also published in Texas Studies in Literature and Language 49.3 (2007), 265–92.
  • Jacobs, Timothy. "American Touchstone: The Idea of Order in Gerard Manley Hopkins and David Foster Wallace." Comparative Literature Studies 38.3 (2001), 215–31.
  • Kelly, Adam. "David Foster Wallace: the Death of the Author and the Birth of a Discipline." Irish Journal of American Studies Online 2 (2010).
  • Kelly, Adam. "Development Through Dialogue: David Foster Wallace and the Novel of Ideas." Studies in the Novel 44.3 (2012): 265–81.
  • Kelly, Adam. "Dialectic of Sincerity: Lionel Trilling and David Foster Wallace." Post45 Peer Reviewed (17 October 2014).
  • LeClair, Tom. "The Prodigious Fiction of Richard Powers, William T. Vollmann, and David Foster Wallace." Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction 38.1 (1996), 12–37.
  • Morris, David. "Lived Time and Absolute Knowing: Habit and Addiction from Infinite Jest to the Phenomenology of Spirit." Clio: A Journal of Literature, History and the Philosophy of History 30 (2001), 375–415.
  • Nichols, Catherine. "Dialogizing Postmodern Carnival: David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest". Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction 43.1 (2001), 3–16.
  • Rother, James. "Reading and Riding the Post-Scientific Wave. The Shorter Fiction of David Foster Wallace". Review of Contemporary Fiction 13.2 (1993), 216–234. ISBN 1-56478-123-2
  • Tysdal, Dan. "Inarticulation and the Figure of Enjoyment: Raymond Carver's Minimalism Meets David Foster Wallace's 'A Radically Condensed History of Postindustrial Life'". Wascana Review of Contemporary Poetry and Short Fiction 38.1 (2003), 66–83.

Book reviews and online essays[edit]

  • Benzon, Kiki. "Mister Squishy, c'est moi: David Foster Wallace's Oblivion"electronic book review (2004).
  • Esposito, Scott, et al. "Who Was David Foster Wallace? A Symposium on the Writing of David Foster Wallace".The Quarterly Conversation.
  • Harris, Michael. "A Sometimes Funny Book Supposedly about Infinity: A Review of Everything and More". Notices of the AMS 51.6 (2004), 632–638.
  • Jacobs, Tim. "The Fight: Considering David Foster Wallace Considering You". Rain Taxi Review of Books. Online Edition, Part Two. Winter 2009.
  • Jacobs, Timothy. "David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest." The Explicator 58.3 (2000), 172–75.
  • Jacobs, Timothy. "David Foster Wallace's The Broom of the System." Ed. Alan Hedblad. Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction. Detroit: Gale Research Press, 2001, 41–50.
  • Kelly, Adam. "The Map and the Territory: Infinite Boston."The Millions (13 Aug 2013).
  • Mason, Wyatt. "Don't like it? You don't have to play [review of Oblivion: Stories]". London Review of Books 26.22 (2004).


External links[edit]

David Foster Wallace giving a reading in San Francisco in 2006.

For other uses, see Essay (disambiguation).

For a description of essays as used by Wikipedia editors, see Wikipedia:Essays.

"Essai" redirects here. For other uses, see Essai (disambiguation).

An essay is, generally, a piece of writing that gives the author's own argument — but the definition is vague, overlapping with those of a paper, an article, a pamphlet, and a short story. Essays have traditionally been sub-classified as formal and informal. Formal essays are characterized by "serious purpose, dignity, logical organization, length," whereas the informal essay is characterized by "the personal element (self-revelation, individual tastes and experiences, confidential manner), humor, graceful style, rambling structure, unconventionality or novelty of theme," etc.[1]

Essays are commonly used as literary criticism, political manifestos, learned arguments, observations of daily life, recollections, and reflections of the author. Almost all modern essays are written in prose, but works in verse have been dubbed essays (e.g., Alexander Pope's An Essay on Criticism and An Essay on Man). While brevity usually defines an essay, voluminous works like John Locke's An Essay Concerning Human Understanding and Thomas Malthus's An Essay on the Principle of Population are counterexamples. In some countries (e.g., the United States and Canada), essays have become a major part of formal education. Secondary students are taught structured essay formats to improve their writing skills; admission essays are often used by universities in selecting applicants, and in the humanities and social sciences essays are often used as a way of assessing the performance of students during final exams.

The concept of an "essay" has been extended to other mediums beyond writing. A film essay is a movie that often incorporates documentary filmmaking styles and focuses more on the evolution of a theme or idea. A photographic essay covers a topic with a linked series of photographs that may have accompanying text or captions.


An essay has been defined in a variety of ways. One definition is a "prose composition with a focused subject of discussion" or a "long, systematic discourse".[2] It is difficult to define the genre into which essays fall. Aldous Huxley, a leading essayist, gives guidance on the subject.[3] He notes that "the essay is a literary device for saying almost everything about almost anything", and adds that "by tradition, almost by definition, the essay is a short piece". Furthermore, Huxley argues that "essays belong to a literary species whose extreme variability can be studied most effectively within a three-poled frame of reference". These three poles (or worlds in which the essay may exist) are:

  • The personal and the autobiographical: The essayists that feel most comfortable in this pole "write fragments of reflective autobiography and look at the world through the keyhole of anecdote and description".
  • The objective, the factual, and the concrete particular: The essayists that write from this pole "do not speak directly of themselves, but turn their attention outward to some literary or scientific or political theme. Their art consists of setting forth, passing judgment upon, and drawing general conclusions from the relevant data".
  • The abstract-universal: In this pole "we find those essayists who do their work in the world of high abstractions", who are never personal and who seldom mention the particular facts of experience.

Huxley adds that the most satisfying essays "...make the best not of one, not of two, but of all the three worlds in which it is possible for the essay to exist."

The word essay derives from the French infinitive essayer, "to try" or "to attempt". In English essay first meant "a trial" or "an attempt", and this is still an alternative meaning. The Frenchman Michel de Montaigne (1533–1592) was the first author to describe his work as essays; he used the term to characterize these as "attempts" to put his thoughts into writing, and his essays grew out of his commonplacing.[4] Inspired in particular by the works of Plutarch, a translation of whose Œuvres Morales (Moral works) into French had just been published by Jacques Amyot, Montaigne began to compose his essays in 1572; the first edition, entitled Essais, was published in two volumes in 1580. For the rest of his life, he continued revising previously published essays and composing new ones. Francis Bacon's essays, published in book form in 1597, 1612, and 1625, were the first works in English that described themselves as essays. Ben Jonson first used the word essayist in English in 1609, according to the Oxford English Dictionary.



English essayists included Robert Burton (1577–1641) and Sir Thomas Browne (1605–1682). In France, Michel de Montaigne's three volume Essais in the mid 1500s contain over 100 examples widely regarded as the predecessor of the modern essay. In Italy, Baldassare Castiglione wrote about courtly manners in his essay Il Cortigiano. In the 17th century, the JesuitBaltasar Gracián wrote about the theme of wisdom.[5] During the Age of Enlightenment, essays were a favored tool of polemicists who aimed at convincing readers of their position; they also featured heavily in the rise of periodical literature, as seen in the works of Joseph Addison, Richard Steele and Samuel Johnson. In the 18th and 19th centuries, Edmund Burke and Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote essays for the general public. The early 19th century, in particular, saw a proliferation of great essayists in English – William Hazlitt, Charles Lamb, Leigh Hunt and Thomas de Quincey all penned numerous essays on diverse subjects. In the 20th century, a number of essayists tried to explain the new movements in art and culture by using essays (e.g., T.S. Eliot). Whereas some essayists used essays for strident political themes, Robert Louis Stevenson and Willa Cather wrote lighter essays. Virginia Woolf, Edmund Wilson, and Charles du Bos wrote literary criticism essays.[5]


Main article: Zuihitsu

As with the novel, essays existed in Japan several centuries before they developed in Europe with a genre of essays known as zuihitsu — loosely connected essays and fragmented ideas. Zuihitsu have existed since almost the beginnings of Japanese literature. Many of the most noted early works of Japanese literature are in this genre. Notable examples include The Pillow Book (c. 1000), by court lady Sei Shōnagon, and Tsurezuregusa (1330), by particularly renowned Japanese Buddhist monk Yoshida Kenkō. Kenkō described his short writings similarly to Montaigne, referring to them as "nonsensical thoughts" written in "idle hours". Another noteworthy difference from Europe is that women have traditionally written in Japan, though the more formal, Chinese-influenced writings of male writers were more prized at the time.

Forms and styles

This section describes the different forms and styles of essay writing. These forms and styles are used by an array of authors, including university students and professional essayists.

Cause and effect

The defining features of a "cause and effect" essay are causal chains that connect from a cause to an effect, careful language, and chronological or emphatic order. A writer using this rhetorical method must consider the subject, determine the purpose, consider the audience, think critically about different causes or consequences, consider a thesis statement, arrange the parts, consider the language, and decide on a conclusion.[6]

Classification and division

Classification is the categorization of objects into a larger whole while division is the breaking of a larger whole into smaller parts.[7]

Compare and contrast

Compare and contrast essays are characterized by a basis for comparison, points of comparison, and analogies. It is grouped by the object (chunking) or by point (sequential). The comparison highlights the similarities between two or more similar objects while contrasting highlights the differences between two or more objects. When writing a compare/contrast essay, writers need to determine their purpose, consider their audience, consider the basis and points of comparison, consider their thesis statement, arrange and develop the comparison, and reach a conclusion. Compare and contrast is arranged emphatically.[8]


Descriptive writing is characterized by sensory details, which appeal to the physical senses, and details that appeal to a reader's emotional, physical, or intellectual sensibilities. Determining the purpose, considering the audience, creating a dominant impression, using descriptive language, and organizing the description are the rhetorical choices to consider when using a description. A description is usually arranged spatially but can also be chronological or emphatic. The focus of a description is the scene. Description uses tools such as denotative language, connotative language, figurative language, metaphor, and simile to arrive at a dominant impression.[9] One university essay guide states that "descriptive writing says what happened or what another author has discussed; it provides an account of the topic".[10]Lyric essays are an important form of descriptive essays.


In the dialectic form of the essay, which is commonly used in philosophy, the writer makes a thesis and argument, then objects to their own argument (with a counterargument), but then counters the counterargument with a final and novel argument. This form benefits from presenting a broader perspective while countering a possible flaw that some may present. This type is sometimes called an ethics paper.[11]


An exemplification essay is characterized by a generalization and relevant, representative, and believable examples including anecdotes. Writers need to consider their subject, determine their purpose, consider their audience, decide on specific examples, and arrange all the parts together when writing an exemplification essay.[12]


An essayist writes a familiar essay if speaking to a single reader, writing about both themselves, and about particular subjects. Anne Fadiman notes that "the genre's heyday was the early nineteenth century," and that its greatest exponent was Charles Lamb.[13] She also suggests that while critical essays have more brain than the heart, and personal essays have more heart than brain, familiar essays have equal measures of both.[14]

History (thesis)

A history essay sometimes referred to as a thesis essay describes an argument or claim about one or more historical events and supports that claim with evidence, arguments, and references. The text makes it clear to the reader why the argument or claim is as such.[15]


A narrative uses tools such as flashbacks, flash-forwards, and transitions that often build to a climax. The focus of a narrative is the plot. When creating a narrative, authors must determine their purpose, consider their audience, establish their point of view, use dialogue, and organize the narrative. A narrative is usually arranged chronologically.[16]


An argumentative essay is a critical piece of writing, aimed at presenting objective analysis of the subject matter, narrowed down to a single topic. The main idea of all the criticism is to provide an opinion either of positive or negative implication. As such, a critical essay requires research and analysis, strong internal logic and sharp structure. Its structure normally builds around introduction with a topic's relevance and a thesis statement, body paragraphs with arguments linking back to the main thesis, and conclusion. In addition, an argumentative essay may include a refutation section where conflicting ideas are acknowledged, described, and criticized. Each argument of argumentative essay should be supported with sufficient evidence, relevant to the point.


An economic essay can start with a thesis, or it can start with a theme. It can take a narrative course and a descriptive course. It can even become an argumentative essay if the author feels the need. After the introduction, the author has to do his/her best to expose the economic matter at hand, to analyze it, evaluate it, and draw a conclusion. If the essay takes more of a narrative form then the author has to expose each aspect of the economic puzzle in a way that makes it clear and understandable for the reader


A reflective essay is an analytical piece of writing in which the writer describes a real or imaginary scene, event, interaction, passing thought, memory, or form — adding a personal reflection on the meaning of the topic in the author's life. Thus, the focus is not merely descriptive. The writer doesn’t just describe the situation, but revisits the scene with more detail and emotion to examine what went well, or reveal a need for additional learning — and may relate what transpired to the rest of the author's life.

Other logical structures

The logical progression and organizational structure of an essay can take many forms. Understanding how the movement of thought is managed through an essay has a profound impact on its overall cogency and ability to impress. A number of alternative logical structures for essays have been visualized as diagrams, making them easy to implement or adapt in the construction of an argument.[17]


Main article: Free response

In countries like the United States and the United Kingdom, essays have become a major part of a formal education in the form of free response questions. Secondary students in these countries are taught structured essay formats to improve their writing skills, and essays are often used by universities in these countries in selecting applicants (seeadmissions essay). In both secondary and tertiary education, essays are used to judge the mastery and comprehension of the material. Students are asked to explain, comment on, or assess a topic of study in the form of an essay. In some courses, university students must complete one or more essays over several weeks or months. In addition, in fields such as the humanities and social sciences,[citation needed] mid-term and end of term examinations often require students to write a short essay in two or three hours.

In these countries, so-called academic essays also called papers, are usually more formal than literary ones.[citation needed] They may still allow the presentation of the writer's own views, but this is done in a logical and factual manner, with the use of the first person often discouraged. Longer academic essays (often with a word limit of between 2,000 and 5,000 words)[citation needed] are often more discursive. They sometimes begin with a short summary analysis of what has previously been written on a topic, which is often called a literature review.[citation needed]

Longer essays may also contain an introductory page that defines words and phrases of the essay's topic. Most academic institutions require that all substantial facts, quotations, and other supporting material in an essay be referenced in a bibliography or works cited page at the end of the text. This scholarly convention helps others (whether teachers or fellow scholars) to understand the basis of facts and quotations the author uses to support the essay's argument and helps readers evaluate to what extent the argument is supported by evidence, and to evaluate the quality of that evidence. The academic essay tests the student's ability to present their thoughts in an organized way and is designed to test their intellectual capabilities.

One of the challenges facing universities is that in some cases, students may submit essays purchased from an essay mill (or "paper mill") as their own work. An "essay mill" is a ghostwriting service that sells pre-written essays to university and college students. Since plagiarism is a form of academic dishonesty or academic fraud, universities and colleges may investigate papers they suspect are from an essay mill by using plagiarism detection software, which compares essays against a database of known mill essays and by orally testing students on the contents of their papers.[18]

Magazine or newspaper

Main article: Long-form journalism

Essays often appear in magazines, especially magazines with an intellectual bent, such as The Atlantic and Harpers. Magazine and newspaper essays use many of the essay types described in the section on forms and styles (e.g., descriptive essays, narrative essays, etc.). Some newspapers also print essays in the op-ed section.


Employment essays detailing experience in a certain occupational field are required when applying for some jobs, especially government jobs in the United States. Essays known as Knowledge Skills and Executive Core Qualifications are required when applying to certain US federal government positions.

A KSA, or "Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities," is a series of narrative statements that are required when applying to Federal government job openings in the United States. KSAs are used along with resumes to determine who the best applicants are when several candidates qualify for a job. The knowledge, skills, and abilities necessary for the successful performance of a position are contained on each job vacancy announcement. KSAs are brief and focused essays about one's career and educational background that presumably qualify one to perform the duties of the position being applied for.

An Executive Core Qualification, or ECQ, is a narrative statement that is required when applying to Senior Executive Service positions within the US Federal government. Like the KSAs, ECQs are used along with resumes to determine who the best applicants are when several candidates qualify for a job. The Office of Personnel Management has established five executive core qualifications that all applicants seeking to enter the Senior Executive Service must demonstrate.

Non-literary types


A film essay (or "cinematic essay") consists of the evolution of a theme or an idea rather than a plot per se, or the film literally being a cinematic accompaniment to a narrator reading an essay.[citation needed] From another perspective, an essay film could be defined as a documentary film visual basis combined with a form of commentary that contains elements of self-portrait (rather than autobiography), where the signature (rather than the life story) of the filmmaker is apparent. The cinematic essay often blends documentary, fiction, and experimental film making using tones and editing styles.[19]

The genre is not well-defined but might include propaganda works of early Soviet parliamentarians like Dziga Vertov, present-day filmmakers including Chris Marker,[20]Michael Moore (Roger & Me (1989), Bowling for Columbine (2002) and Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004)), Errol Morris (The Thin Blue Line (1988)), Morgan Spurlock (Supersize Me: A Film of Epic Portions) and Agnès Varda. Jean-Luc Godard describes his recent work as "film-essays".[21] Two filmmakers whose work was the antecedent to the cinematic essay include Georges Méliès and Bertolt Brecht. Méliès made a short film (The Coronation of Edward VII (1902)) about the 1902 coronation of King Edward VII, which mixes actual footage with shots of a recreation of the event. Brecht was a playwright who experimented with film and incorporated film projections into some of his plays.[19]Orson Welles made an essay film in his own pioneering style, released in 1974, called F for Fake, which dealt specifically with art forger Elmyr de Hory and with the themes of deception, "fakery," and authenticity in general. These are often published online on video hosting services.[22][23]

David Winks Gray's article "The essay film in action" states that the "essay film became an identifiable form of filmmaking in the 1950s and '60s". He states that since that time, essay films have tended to be "on the margins" of the filmmaking the world. Essay films have a "peculiar searching, questioning tone ... between documentary and fiction" but without "fitting comfortably" into either genre. Gray notes that just like written essays, essay films "tend to marry the personal voice of a guiding narrator (often the director) with a wide swath of other voices".[24] The University of Wisconsin Cinematheque website echoes some of Gray's comments; it calls a film essay an "intimate and allusive" genre that "catches filmmakers in a pensive mood, ruminating on the margins between fiction and documentary" in a manner that is "refreshingly inventive, playful, and idiosyncratic".[25]


In the realm of music, composer Samuel Barber wrote a set of "Essays for Orchestra," relying on the form and content of the music to guide the listener's ear, rather than any extra-musical plot or story.


A photographic essay strives to cover a topic with a linked series of photographs. Photo essays range from purely photographic works to photographs with captions or small notes to full-text essays with a few or many accompanying photographs. Photo essays can be sequential in nature, intended to be viewed in a particular order — or they may consist of non-ordered photographs viewed all at once or in an order that the viewer chooses. All photo essays are collections of photographs, but not all collections of photographs are photo essays. Photo essays often address a certain issue or attempt to capture the character of places and events.

Visual arts

In the visual arts, an essay is a preliminary drawing or sketch that forms a basis for a final painting or sculpture, made as a test of the work's composition (this meaning of the term, like several of those following, comes from the word essayJA's meaning of "attempt" or "trial").

See also


  1. ^Holman, William (2003). A Handbook to Literature (9 ed.). New Jersey: Prentice Hall. p. 193. 
  2. ^Gale – Free Resources – Glossary – DEArchived 2010-04-25 at the Wayback Machine.. Retrieved March 23, 2011.
  3. ^Aldous Huxley, Collected Essays, "Preface".
  4. ^"Book Use Book Theory: 1500–1700: Commonplace Thinking". Archived from the original on 2013-08-01. Retrieved 2013-08-10. 
  5. ^ abessay (literature) – Britannica Online EncyclopediaArchived 2009-12-04 at the Wayback Machine.. Retrieved March 22, 2011.
  6. ^Chapter 7: Cause and Effect in Glenn, Cheryl. Making Sense: A Real-World Rhetorical Reader. Ed. Denise B. Wydra, et al. Second ed. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2005.
  7. ^Chapter 5: Classification and Division in Glenn, Cheryl. Making Sense: A Real-World Rhetorical Reader. Ed. Denise B. Wydra, et al. Second ed. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2005.
  8. ^Chapter 6: Comparison and Contrast in Glenn, Cheryl. Making Sense: A Real-World Rhetorical Reader. Ed. Denise B. Wydra, et al. Second ed. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2005.
  9. ^Chapter 2: Description in Glenn, Cheryl. Making Sense: A Real-World Rhetorical Reader. Ed. Denise B. Wydra, et al. Second ed. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2005.
  10. ^Section 2.1 of the Simon Fraser University CNS Essay Handbook. Available online at:
  11. ^"How to Write an Ethics Paper (with Pictures) - wikiHow". Archived from the original on 2016-08-28. Retrieved 2016-07-01. 
  12. ^Chapter 4: Exemplification in Glenn, Cheryl. Making Sense: A Real-World Rhetorical Reader. Ed. Denise B. Wydra, et al. Second ed. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2005.
  13. ^Fadiman, Anne. At Large and At Small: Familiar Essays. p. x. 
  14. ^Fadiman, At Large and At Small, xi.
  15. ^History Essay Format & Thesis Statement, (February 2010)
  16. ^Chapter 3 Narration in Glenn, Cheryl. Making Sense: A Real-World Rhetorical Reader. Ed. Denise B. Wydra, et al. Second ed. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2005.
  17. ^"'Mission Possible' by Dr. Mario Petrucci"(PDF). Archived from the original on 2014-10-26. Retrieved 2014-10-25. 
  18. ^Khomami, Nadia (20 February 2017). "Plan to crack down on websites selling essays to students announced". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 27 April 2017. 
  19. ^ abCinematic Essay Film GenreArchived 2007-08-08 at the Wayback Machine.. Retrieved March 22, 2011.
  20. ^(registration required) Lim, Dennis (July 31, 2012). "Chris Marker, 91, Pioneer of the Essay Film"Archived 2012-08-03 at the Wayback Machine.. The New York Times. Retrieved July 31, 2012.
  21. ^Discussion of film essaysArchived 2007-08-08 at the Wayback Machine.. Chicago Media Works.
  22. ^Kaye, Jeremy (2016-01-17). "5 filmmakers that have mastered the art of the Video Essay". Medium. Archived from the original on 2017-08-30. Retrieved 2017-07-05. 
  23. ^Liptak, Andrew (2016-08-01). "This filmmaker deep-dives into what makes your favorite cartoons tick". The Verge. Archived from the original on 2017-08-30. Retrieved 2017-07-05. 
  24. ^Gray, David Winks (January 30, 2009). "The essay film in action". San Francisco Film Society. Archived from the original on March 15, 2009. 
  25. ^"Talking Pictures: The Art of the Essay Film". Retrieved March 22, 2011.

Further reading

  • Theodor W. Adorno, "The Essay as Form" in: Theodor W. Adorno, The Adorno Reader, Blackwell Publishers 2000.
  • Beaujour, Michel. Miroirs d'encre: Rhétorique de l'autoportrait'. Paris: Seuil, 1980. [Poetics of the Literary Self-Portrait. Trans. Yara Milos. New York: NYU Press, 1991].
  • Bensmaïa, Reda. The Barthes Effect: The Essay as Reflective Text. Trans. Pat Fedkiew. Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press, 1987.
  • D'Agata, John (Editor), The Lost Origins of the Essay. St Paul: Graywolf Press, 2009.
  • Giamatti, Louis. "The Cinematic Essay", in Godard and the Others: Essays in Cinematic Form. London, Tantivy Press, 1975.
  • Lopate, Phillip. "In Search of the Centaur: The Essay-Film", in Beyond Document: Essays on Nonfiction Film. Edited by Charles Warren, Wesleyan University Press, 1998. pp. 243–270.
  • Warburton, Nigel. The basics of essay writing. Routledge, 2006. ISBN 0-415-24000-X, ISBN 978-0-415-24000-0

External links

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Essays.
University students, like these students doing research at a university library, are often assigned essays as a way to get them to analyze what they have read.
An 1895 cover of Harpers, a US magazine that prints a number of essays per issue.
"After School Play Interrupted by the Catch and Release of a Stingray" is a simple time-sequence photo essay.

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