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familiar essay


familiar essay

Encyclopedia of the Essay, edited by Tracy Chevalier (Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers, 1997)


A short prose composition (a type of creative nonfiction) characterized by the personal quality of the writing and the distinctive voice or persona of the essayist.

See also:

Examples of Familiar Essays:


  • "Post-Montaigne, the essay split into two distinct modalities: one remained informal, personal, intimate, relaxed, conversational, and often humorous; the other, dogmatic, impersonal, systematic, and expository."
    (Michele Richman in The Barthes Effect by R. Bensmaia. Univ. of Minnesota Press, 1987)

  • "Familiar essays . . . have traditionally been highly informal in tone, often humorous, valuing lightness of touch above all else. They have been filled with intimate personal observations and reflections, and have emphasized the concrete and tangible, the sensual enjoyment of everyday pleasures. . . .

    "Nowadays the familiar essay is often seen as a form particularly well suited to modern rhetorical purposes, able to reach an otherwise suspicious or uninterested audience through personal discourse, which reunites the appeals of ethos (the force and charm of the writer's character) and pathos (the emotional engagement of the reader) with the intellectual appeal of logos."
    (Dan Roche, "Familiar Essay." Encyclopedia of the Essay, ed. by Tracy Chevalier. Fitzroy Dearborn, 1997)

  • "[T]he familiar essayist lives, and takes his professional sustenance, in the everyday flow of things. Familiar is his style and familiar, too, is the territory he writes about. . . .

    "In the end the true job of the familiar essayist is to write what is on his mind and in his heart in the hope that, in doing so, he will say what others have sensed only inchoately."
    (Joseph Epstein, preface to Familiar Territory: Observations on American Life. Oxford Univ. Press, 1979)

  • Revival of the Familiar Essay
    "Equally problematic are conventional divisions of the essay into formal and informal, impersonal and familiar, expository and conversational. Though imprecise and potentially contradictory, such labels not only serve as a form of critical shorthand but also point to what is often the most powerful organizing force in the essay: the rhetorical voice or projected character [ethos] of the essayist. . . .

    "The modernist era, that period of fragmentation and innovation at the beginning of the 20th century, is best known to students of literature for the radical transformations that occurred in poetry and fiction. But the essay, too, experienced dramatic changes during this time. Divested of its self-conscious literariness and reinvested with the colloquial vigor of popular journalism, the essay was reborn in such cosmopolitan magazines as The Smart Set, The American Mercury, and The New Yorker.

    "This 'new' brand of essay--exuberant, witty, and often contentious--was in fact more faithful to the journalistic traditions of Addison and Steele, Lamb and Hazlitt than the often preciously lambent writings of those who had deliberately mimicked the English essayists. Recognizing the power of a combative narrative voice to attract readers' attention and impose on a journal a distinctive style, magazine editors recruited writers with forceful rhetorical presences."
    (Richard Nordquist, "Essay," in Encylopedia of American Literature, ed. S. R. Serafin. Continuum, 1999)

  • "The familiar essay in prose and the lyric in poetry are alike essentially literary organs of personality. In discussing the nature and the character of these two forms of literature, it is well-nigh impossible to consider separately the subject, the author and the style."
    (W. M. Tanner, Essays and Essay-Writing. Atlantic Monthly Company, 1917)

  • "The true essay, then, is a tentative and personal treatment of a subject; it is a kind of improvisation on a delicate theme; a species of soliloquy."
    (A.C. Benson, "On Essays at Large." The Living Age, Feb. 12, 1910)
Also Known As: informal essay
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