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An essay – is a typically short piece of writing, from an authors personal point of view. Essays are non-fiction but often subjective; while expository, they can also include narrative. Essays can be literary criticism, political manifestos, learned arguments, observations of daily life, recollections, and reflections of the author.
The definition of an essay is vague, overlapping with those of an article and a short story. Almost all modern essays are written in prose, but works in verse have been dubbed essays (e.g. Alexander Popes An Essay on Criticism and An Essay on Man). While brevity usually defines an essay, voluminous works like John Lockes An Essay Concerning Human Understanding and Thomas Malthuss An Essay on the Principle of Population provide counterexamples.
Notable essayists are legion. They include G.K. Chesterton, Virginia Woolf, Voltaire, Adrienne Rich, Alamgir Hashmi, Joan Didion, Jean Baudrillard, Benjamin Disraeli, Susan Sontag, Natalia Ginzburg, Sara Suleri, Annie Dillard, Joseph Addison, Richard Steele, Charles Lamb, Leo Tolstoy, William Hazlitt, Thomas Babington Macaulay, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Shelley, Walter Bagehot, Maurice Maeterlinck, George Orwell, George Bernard Shaw, John DAgata, Reynolds Price, Gore Vidal, Marguerite Yourcenar, J.M. Coetzee, Gaston Waringhien and E.B. White.
It is very difficult to define the genre into which essays fall. The following remarks by Aldous Huxley, a leading essayist, may help:
“Like the novel, the essay is a literary device for saying almost everything about almost anything. By tradition, almost by definition, the essay is a short piece, and it is therefore impossible to give all things full play within the limits of a single essay. But a collection of essays can cover almost as much ground, and cover it almost as thoroughly,