A posteriori

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The list goes on at length, with the figurations varying greatly in terms of how plausible they seem to modern Christians and non-Christians. Typological interpretation was only one of several ways of interpreting the Bible. Others are discussed under fourfold meaning. Some works of medieval literature have been interpreted according to the typological models that were common in medieval religion. For instance, in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, the Miller's Tale of John the Carpenter describes how the gullible carpenter believes the trickster Nicholas' prediction of a coming flood, and John builds three boats out of tubs and hangs them from the rafters in preparation. His efforts provide sly Nicholas with an opportunity to engage in adultery with John's wife. Clearly this situation is a sort of type meant to be contrasted with the Biblical account of Noah's flood. Likewise, Dante's Inferno has passages with biblical overtones strategically placed throughout the poem. The exact extent to which readers can legitimately apply typological and tropological theory to secular literature is a matter of sharp debate among critics. The (in)famous American scholar D. W. Robertson in the last part of the twentieth-century, along with other "Robertsonian" scholars, have applied typological interpretations to secular poems such the Roman de la Rose, the works of Chrétien de Troyes, and medieval love lyrics. That application has been a source of fierce argument, however.

More recent religious poets--such as Edmund Spenser, George Herbert, John Milton, and William Blake have also used typological symbolism in their poetry. Twentieth-century Christian writers such as C. S. Lewis successfully employ typological models in The Chronicles of Narnia and The Great Divorce.

TYRONIAN NOTA: While modern English authors use an ampersand (&) as an abbreviation for the word and, medieval writers would use a tyronian nota to represent the Latin word et (modern English and). The nota looks a bit like the modern arabic number "7" (&).

TZ'U: A Chinese genre of poetry invented during the T'ang period. It was akin to a song libretto with a tonal pattern similar to the lu-shih, but with irregular meter. This term should not be confused with -tzu, an honorific suffix meaning "master" or "teacher" in names like the military philosopher Sun-Tzu, or Lao-Tzu, the taoist author of the Tao-te Ching.

UBI SUNT MOTIF (Latin, "Where are....?"): A literary motif dealing with the transience of life. The name comes from a longer Latin phrase, "Ubi sunt qui ante nos fuerent?" [Where are those who were before us?], a phrase that begins several medieval poems in Latin. The phrase evokes the transience of life, youth, beauty, and human endeavor. It is a particularly common motif in the ballades. A particularly memorable example comes from medieval French, where Francois Villon repeatedly asks in "The Ballade of Dead Ladies," "Ou sont les nieges d'antan?" ["Where are the snows of yesteryear?"]. Many Anglo-Saxon poems such as "The Ruin" and "The Wanderer" also deal with this theme. Although the motif is similar to the Roman carpe diem motif in its emphasis on transitory existence, the medieval ubi sunt motif usually does not call on the reader to embrace this world's pleasures before the end comes, but instead grimly or sorrowfully urges the reader to prepare spiritually for the afterlife.

ULTIMATE SOURCE: In linguistics, the earliest known or most ancient etymon for a particular word, as opposed to a direct source, the most recent source for a word.

UMLAUT: (1) Jacob Grimm's term for the process of assimilating a vowel to another sound in the following syllable. This process is also called mutation. This process is responsible for many unusual plurals in Germanic languages like English--such as man-men, foot-feet, and so on. (2) The diacritical marking also called a dieresis. Click here for more information on this diacritical marking.

UNDERSTATEMENT: See litotes and meiosis under tropes.

UNDERWORLD: The land of the dead--often depicted as beneath the surface of the earth in a variety of religious literatures. See Descent Into the Underworld.

UNINFLECTED GENITIVE: A genitive that has no case ending to signal its function. A number of such uninflected genitives appeared in Early Modern English--especially for nouns that originally were feminine in Anglo-Saxon grammar or nouns ending in -s or preceding another word beginning with s-. Thus, we might find "for conscience sake" and "for God sake" in Shakespearean plays.

UNINFLECTED PLURAL: A plural word identical to its singular form. For instance, "I saw one deer yesterday, but last week I saw five deer." Here, the word deer is identical whether it is singular or plural. Other examples include sheep, swine, folk, and (in Middle English) horse and kind, which did not develop the plural form horses and kinds until the 1600s through linguistic hypercorrection.

UNITIES, THREE (also known as the "three dramatic unities"): In the 1500s and 1600s, critics of drama expanded Aristotle's ideas in the Poetics to create the rule of the "three unities." A good play, according to this doctrine, must have three traits. The first is unity of action (realistic events following a single plotline and a limited number of characters encompassed by a sense of verisimilitude). The second is unity of time, meaning that the events should be limited to the two or three hours it takes to view the play, or at most to a single day of twelve or twenty-four hours compressed into those two or three hours. Skipping ahead in time over the course of several days or years was considered undesirable, because the audience was thought to be incapable of suspending disbelief regarding the passage of time. The third is unity of space, meaning the play must take place in a single setting or location. It is notable that Shakespeare often broke the three unities in his plays, which may explain why these rules later were never as dominant in England as they were in French and Italian Neoclassical drama. French playwrights like Moliére conformed to the model much more strictly in Love is the Doctor and Tartuffe.

UNIT SET: A series of lowered or raised platforms on stage, often connected by various stairs and exits, which form the various locations for all of a play's scenes. A unit set enables the scene to change rapidly--without intermissions or the drawing of the curtain in order to place new sets.

UNITY: The sense that all the elements in a piece of writing fit together to create a harmonious effect.

UNIVERSALS: Qualities of literature that appeal to readers in a wide variety of cultures and across a wide variety of historical periods--i.e., basic emotions, situations, values, and attitudes that readers can relate to regardless of other cultural or historical differences.

UNIVERSAL SYMBOL: Another term for an archetype.

UNMARKED WORD: See discussion under marked word.

UNRELEASED STOP: In linguistics, a stop sound without explosion (i.e., a puff of air) in the place where articulated stoppage would normally take place. For instance, this appears in some New York dialects. Here, when speaking the [t] in a word like outcome, a New Yorker might pronounce the first part of the [t], but rather than releasing the stop as a puff of air after the [t], the speaker might move directly into the /k/ sound that begins the syllable come.

UNRELIABLE NARRATOR: An imaginary storyteller or character who describes what he witnesses accurately, but misinterpets those events because of faulty perception, personal bias, or limited understanding. Often the writer or poet creating such an unreliable narrator leaves clues so that readers will perceive the unreliablity and question the interpretations offered. Examples of unreliable narrators arguably include "Geoffrey the pilgrim" in the Canterbury Tales, the character of Forest Gump in the movie of the same name, and possibly Wilson in "The Short, Happy Life of Francis Macomber." See discussion under authorial voice.

UNROUNDED VOWEL: See spread vowel.

UNROUNDING: The process of changing from a rounded vowel to a spread vowel. For instance, in the vowel u, Chaucer would have pronounced the letter as in the word full. By the 1500s, that sound changed to become the sound found in cut, sun, and but. That change is called unrounding. Contrast with the Great Vowel Shift.

UNSTRESSED: Lightly stressed as opposed to heavily stressed--i.e., a syllable that has little prominence when spoken aloud. Click here for more information in a PDF handout.

URAL-ALTAIC: A hypothetical language family thought to include Uralic and Altaic.

URALIC: A non-Indo-European language family including Finno-Ugric and Samoyedic.

UR-TEXT: A hypothetical "best" version of a lost literary text based on correlating later manuscripts and examining the differences between them. An Ur-text is not an actual physical manuscript we can examine or see in a museum, but rather an imaginary reconstruction of one that must have existed at some past point in time based on available evidence. This reconstruction cannot be absolutely certain, but it is a useful thought experiment for helping editors decide between textual variants when creating an edition of a literary work.

Later manuscripts and printed texts often exist in literary families, with later versions adapted from earlier ones. Scribal corruption, printing errata, authorial revision, and deliberate bowdlerization or alteration by later editors can result in textual variants (slightly differing versions of the same basic text). It isn't always clear which of these versions is most accurate.

When a modern editor wants to print her own edition, she will have to decide which version(s) she will use. Likewise, modern scholars who want an authoritative copy for historical and comparative purposes must determine which alterations are clear errors and which ones represent authorial intention. In some cases, textual critics can determine that one copy is most authoritative and use it as the basis of a critical edition. They may be able to examine an author's original typed copy in the case of a recent author like Hemingway or Toni Morrison, for instance. Far more often, however, the matter is muddled. Perhaps, as is the case with some works by Edgar Allan Poe, Lord Byron, and Emily Dickinson, a poem exists in several slightly different versions in the author's own hand, or it exists in versions printed by different publishing houses that have minor alterations in diction, punctuation, and so on. Do those differences indicate that the author or poet changed her mind, and we should trust the more recent version as authoritative? Or does the older version, the first one that the public saw, count as the most important one, and are the later changes made by meddling editors? What about when we can't tell which one she wrote first and we can't ask the author because she has died?

This confusion is sharpened keenly in classical, medieval and Renaissance works. Finding "authorial intention" is difficult when, as in the case of certain Shakespearean plays, the first editions were printed in 1623, years after Shakespeare's actual death in 1616. It is even more challenging in the case of anonymous medieval authors when we aren't certain who they were and when they lived exactly. In the case of classical works like the Iliad or the Odyssey, the poem exists in literally thousands of different manuscripts--all copied down centuries after the heyday of Heroic Age Greece, and all varying slightly from each other in small passages. These are so removed from the original author, it may be pointless to use "authorial intention" as the guide to the best text.

In fashioning an Ur-text, the textual critic begins with the somewhat controversial assumption that "there is no original text," i.e., that not a single one of the surviving manuscripts represents the lost original one accurately and entirely. He then attempts to establish "families" of manuscripts by finding which ones have the same or similar readings in the same passages. If he can date the manuscripts by paleographic evidence, he can then arrange them into a stemma (plural stemmata), or family tree, with individual branches having the same textual reading for specific lines. In conjunction with other evidence, this often allows the scholar to pinpoint where and when one manuscript tradition branches off from another. For instance, we can speak of the Ellesmere family of manuscripts and the Hengwrt family of manuscripts in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. Each family has within its members similar alterations, interpretations, errors, and editorial choices as those found in the Ellesmere and Hengwrt, which appear to be the oldest and least corrupt representatives of that group. Later copyists or scribes in the family reproduced the alterations, interpretations, errors, and editorial choices of earlier copyists or scribes in the same manuscript family. Determining this lineage allows modern scholars to identify and dismiss changes that were later added and confirm material that must have existed in older versions of the text. By placing the different families side by side and travelling up the family tree, the scholar can often gain fairly good insights into what the lost original might have looked like before it "mutated" into different stemma, much like modern geneticists seek to reconstruct divergence in species by identifying when and where specific mutations occurred in DNA.

Probably the most famous Ur-texts include the "Q-text," which in Biblical scholarship is thought to be a single source that about 40-70 years after Christ's death branched into the three synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke (while the non-synoptic gospel of John developed from an independent manuscript family), and the "Ur-Hamlet," an earlier draft of Shakespeare's Hamlet that must have preceded the corrupt bad quartos of the play.

USAGE: The choice among grammatical, syntactic, or semantic options when the idea that one or the other option is correct or preferred to the other. Usage changes and language changes over time.

UTA: Another term for the Japanese genre of poetry also called a waka or tanka. See discussion under tanka.

UTO-AZTECAN: A non-Indo-European language family found in Central America and the western sections of North America.

UTOPIA: An imaginary place or government in which political and social perfection has been reached in the material world as opposed to some spiritual afterlife as discussed in the Christian Bible or the Elysian fields of The Odyssey. The citizens of such utopias are typically universally clean, virtuous, healthy, and happy, or at least those who are criminals are always captured and appropriately punished. A utopian society is one that has cured all social ills. See discussion under Utopian literature, below. Contrast with dystopia.

UTOPIAN LITERATURE: The term utopia comes from a Greek pun. In Greek, eu + topos ("good" + "place") and ou + topos ("no" + "place") sound very similar. Thus, utopia at once suggests a perfect society and an impossible one. Utopian literature is a term for any writing that presents the reader with (or explores the idea of) a perfect society in the physical world, as opposed to a perfect society existing in an afterlife.The first literary utopia was probably Plato's ideal commonwealth in the Republic, circa 400 BCE, in which a group of debating philosophers seeking to define justice end up as a mental exercise creating a hypothetical perfect polis, or self-governing city of about 8,000 citizens. In this imaginary society, philosophers are the rulers, goods and women are communally owned, slavery is taken for granted, and children are bred eugenically. Artists, actors, and poets are largely exiled. Ramn Llull's utopia in Blanquerna (c.1280) continued the tradition, but had little literary impact. Sir Thomas More's Utopia solidified the genre in 1516 and his name for the imaginary kingdom became the term used in reference to the genre more generally. Later versions include Andreae's Christianopolis, Campanella's City of the Sun, Bacon's New Atlantis, Samuel Gott's New Jerusalem, Winstanley's The Law of Freedom in a Platform, Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward, William Morris's News from Nowhere, Theodor Hertzka's Freeland, H. G. Wells's A Modern Utopia (my personal favorite), and more recent editions like Ecotopia.

Common features of the genre include elaborate multil-lingual puns or anagrams in the names of characters or in the geographic features of the imaginary landscape, native guides that show the way through the land to a narrator who is an outsider or stranger to the utopian society, and extensive criticism about contemporary political, social, economic, or ethical problems. A common misconception is that Utopian models are meant to be actual blueprints for a better way of life. In actual fact, the point of such literature is to help the reader better understand the problems, paradoxes, or faults found in existing political institutions rather than suggest a specific design for perfect politics.

VALORIZATION: In literary criticism, the privileging of one key aspect of a literary text or one particular process as the focus of literary analysis. New Critics, for instance, valorize the text itself, the words on the page as an independent literary artifact and de-emphasize biographical details about the author's life. Freudian critics valorize the unconscious mind. Textual critics valorize the process of editing and creating a "best text" of a literary work. Deconstructionists valorize language as a free-floating collection of signs, etc.

VARIABLE SYLLABLE: A syllable which can be either long or short, stressed or unstressed, depending upon context.

VARIORUM: A variorum edition is any published version of an author's work that contains notes and comments by a number of scholars and critics. The term is a shortened version of the Latin phrase cum notis variorum ("with the notes of various people"). The New Variorum Shakespeare is possibly the best known variorium edition in English.

VEGETATIONSDÄMON (Ger. "Plant-spirit"): A deity or spirit in mythology or in animism that represents (or is directly equivalent to) the vitality of domestic crops and/or native vegetation. This spirit would (in enacted ritual, in sacrifice, or in mythological narratives) grow and mature as the crops would grow and mature, but when the crops would be harvested, or when the seasons would change with autumn, the vegetationsdämon would either wither in death or would be struck down and killed in the harvest. Depending upon the mythic version, either the vegetationsdämon would be replaced by a new spirit with the new season, or the dead spirit would spontaneously resurrect and appear in the new season in young and vital form again. Analogues to this belief can be seen in Celtic "sacred kings," "Jack-in-the-Green" carvings, and the mystery cults of Demeter and Bacchus in ancient Greece. In the late nineteenth-century, German folklorists like Wilhelm Mannhardt studied Baltic myths and used studies of the vegetationsdämon to explain the origin of many cross-cultural myths in which a god dies and rises again. Later, British scholars like Sir James Frazer expanded upon Mannhardt's ideas and popularized them in The Golden Bough. Their work has since been criticized as a "one-size-fits-all" approach to myth (most recently and especially by Swiss scholars like Walter Burkert who focus on primitive hunting rituals as a source for myth). Likewise, the idea of a "seasonal dying god" makes much more sense in Northern Europe (with its fall and winter seasons) than it does in tropical locales like South America or balmy Mediterranean regions like Greece and Italy, where warm weather lasts year-round. In spite of those criticisms, Mannhardt and Frazer have been profoundly influential in mythological studies and on early twentieth-century poets and occultists.

VEHICLE: A means of conveyance or transport. In literature, vehicle extends to mean the method by which an author accomplishes her purpose. Thus, one might say, "Swift uses the vehicle of satire to express his ideas," or that "Darwin employs the vehicle of clear diction to best communicate a scientific theory."

VELAR: In linguistics, any velar sound involves the soft palate or velum--especially when the tongue touches against the soft palate.

VELLUM: The skin of a young calf used as a writing surface--the medieval equivalent of "paper." A technical distinction is usually made between vellum and parchment; the latter is made from goatskin or sheepskin. Uterine vellum--the skin of stillborn or very young calves, is characterized by small size and particularly fine, white appearance. As Michelle P. Brown notes in Understanding Illuminated Manuscripts, the process for creating vellum or parchment is quite complicated:

To produce parchment or vellum, the animal skins were defleshed in a bath of lime, stretched on a frame, and scraped with a lunular knife while damp. they could then be treated with pumice, whitened with a substance such as chalk, and cut to size. Differences in preparation technique seem to have occasioned greater diversity in appearance than did the type of skin used. Parchment supplanted papyrus as the most popular writing support material in the fourth century, although it was known earlier. Parchment was itself largely replaced by paper in the sixteenth century (with the rise of printing) but remained in use for certain high-grade books. (95)

VENODOTIAN CODE: See Dosbarth Gwynedd.

VERB: A word that "does" the subject's action in a sentence or shows a state of being or equation. For instance, "He sang to her." The word sang is the verb. Typically verbs can appear in various tenses (like past, present, or future), in various aspects (complete or not complete), in different voices (such as active, passive, or aorist) and in different moods (indicative, imperative, subjunctive, jussive, conditional). Many languages use one form of a verb for singular subjects and a different form for plural subjects.

VERBAL IRONY: See discussion under irony, above.

VERBAL NOUN: A noun that comes from a verb. For instance, peregrination comes from the verb peregrinate, and the gerund running comes from the present participle of the verb run. Contrast this with the noun timber, which does not come from a verb.

VERBAL PARADOX: See paradox and oxymoron.

VERCELLI MANUSCRIPT: An important manuscript of Old English religious poems and sermons--probably written in the late tenth-century. The name comes from Vercelli monastery in northern Italy, where the lost manuscript was rediscovered. This manuscript includes one of only two copies of the poem, "The Dream of the Rood." The other surviving copy of this poem is a set of partial excerpts from the work that appears carved in runes on the Ruthwell Cross near Dumfries in southern Scotland.

VERISIMILITUDE: The sense that what one reads is "real," or at least realistic and believable. For instance, the reader possesses a sense of verisimilitude when reading a story in which a character cuts his finger, and the finger bleeds. If the character's cut finger had produced sparks of fire rather than blood, the story would not possess verisimilitude. Note that even fantasy novels and science fiction stories that discuss impossible events can have verisimilitude if the reader is able to read them with suspended disbelief. Cf. Willing Suspension of Disbelief.

VERNACULAR (from Latin vernaculus "native, indigenous"): The everyday or common language of a geographic area or the native language of commoners in a country as opposed to a prestigious dead language maintained artificially in schools or in literary texts. Latin, for instance, has not been a vernacular language for about 1250 years. Sanskrit has not been a vernacular language in India for more than 2000 years. However, Latin in medieval Europe and Sanskrit in ancient India were considered much more suitable for art, scholarship, poetry, and religious texts than the common tongue of everyday people even though (or perhaps because) only a small percentage of the learned could read the older languages.

Usually, a race or culture writes in its native tongue during the early days of its civilization. For instance, the Chinese Wên Li was a vernacular language at the time of Confucius, and it would have been easily understood by most Chinese people in that dialectical area. Likewise, Saint Jerome translated the koine Greek of the New Testament into the "vulgate" or common Latin familiar to Roman citizens. As time goes by, and the early writings take on special cultural prestige, these older writings tend to be preserved and taught even after the original language changes or dies out completely. Often the classical languages are no longer understandable by common citizens--but these dead languages would still be used in the courts, in government documents, in poetry, and in scripture.

In the early medieval period, only Latin writings had much prestige. The medieval church was disturbed by attempts to translate the Bible into common languages like English, German, Italian, or French. In England, for example, Wycliffites and Lollards would be burnt at the stake for making illegal translations of the Bible into "base" languages less worthy than Saint Jerome's Latin. For this reason, little English literature survives between 1066 and 1300. The major literary works in Britain between 1066 and 1300 are primarily in Latin (and to a smaller extent, French).

Dante was one of the first major literary figures to break this stifling tradition by choosing to write his masterpiece The Divine Comedy in vernacular Italian rather than classical Latin. In England, he was followed by Geoffrey Chaucer, who chose to write The Book of the Duchess, Troilus and Creseida, The Canterbury Tales and other early works in English. This contrasts sharply with Gower, Froissart, Machaut, and other writers at the English court who wrote most of their work in Latin or French. Dante, Chaucer, and others in the fourteenth century made it acceptable to write in the vernacular tongues rather than classical languages, and readers of this webpage can thank them accordingly that they aren't reading the HTML code in Latin. Cf. Black Vernacular.

VERNER'S LAW: In linguistics, a codicil or addition to Grimm's Law that helps explain some exceptions to Grimm's Law of the First Sound Shift. The law was proposed by Karl Verner in 1875, and it states that early Germanic voiceless fricatives became voiced when (1) the Indo-European stress was not on the immediately preceding syllable, and (2) the word appears in a voiced environment (See Algeo, pages 81-82).

VERS: Not to be confused with verse, below, a vers is a song in Old Provencal almost indistinguishable from the chanson, but vers is the older term.

VERS LIBRE: See discussion under free verse.

VERS DE SOCIÉTÉ: Light verse that compliments another or touches on the manners and morals of its time-period. The verse is often intended for public performance, and it is typically thought to be marked by wit, eloquence, and graceful diction.

VERSE: There are three general meanings for verse (1) a line of metrical writing, (2) a stanza, or (3) any composition written in meter (i.e., poetry generally). Remember that rhyme is not the identifying mark of poetry, but rather meter.

VERSE PARAGRAPH: A division of poetry indicated normally by adding an extra line-space above and below the section to set it off from other parts of the poem. Unlike a stanza, in which the division of poetry corresponds to repeated elements of rhyme or other poetic structure, and in which each stanza must be identical in length and form to that of other stanzas, verse paragraphs end and begin according to divisions of sense and subject-matter. They are much like prose paragraphs in an essay, in which each paragraph deals with a single topic or idea, and a new paragraph division indicates that a new topic or idea is to be explored. Like paragraphs in a prose essay (and unlike stanzas), verse paragraphs can vary in length within an individual poetic work. Milton's Paradise Lost is an example of a poem written in verse paragraphs. Contrast with stanza.

VERSIFICATION: Literally, the making of verse, the term is often used as another name for prosody. This refers to the technical and practical aspect of making poems as opposed to purely theoretical and aesthetic poetic concerns.

VERSO: See discussion under quarto or examine this chart.

VICTORIAN PERIOD: The period of British literature in the late nineteenth century. The date of the period is often given as 1837-1901--the years Queen Victoria ruled the expanding British Empire. Alternatively, the date is given as 1832-1901, according to the passage of the first labor reform bill in the 1832 English Parliament. The Victorian Period of literature is characterized by excellent novelists, essayists, poets, and philosophers, but only a few dramatists.

The positive characteristics, attitudes, and qualities of the Victorian Period often suggest a belief in social progress, a conservative attitude about sexual mores and respectability, values of middle-class industriousness and hard work, and a strong sense of gentlemanly honor and feminine virtue. The negative characteristics of the Victorian Period include complacency, hypocrisy, smugness, and simplistic moral earnestness. When applied to literature, the word Victorian often implies humorlessness, unquestioning belief or orthodoxy and authority in matters of politics and religion, prudishness, and condemnation of those who defy social and moral convention. These dual qualities originate in Britain's self-satisfaction and economic growth during the nineteenth century. The country's increased national wealth, its scientific and industrial advances, the growing power of its navy, and its relentless expansion in overseas colonies all contributed to the period's zeitgeist. Some of the prominent British writers include Cardinal Newman, Benjamin Disraeli, Bulwer-Lytton, Charles Darwin, Oscar Wilde, Rudyard Kipling, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Swinburne, Samuel Butler, Charles Dickens, Thackeray, Anthony Trollope, Charlotte Bronte, Anne Bronte, George Eliot, Ruskin, Matthew Arnold, George Meredith, Lewis Caroll, William Morris, Wilkie Collins, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Christina Rossetti, Lord Acton, Samuel Butler, and Louis Stevenson. Cf. didactic literature. Click here to download a list of the major periods of literary history.

VIGNETTE (French, "little vine"): A short composition showing considerable skill, especially such a composition designed with little or no plot or larger narrative structure. Often vignettes are descriptive or evocative in their nature. An example would be the brief narratives appearing in Sandra Cisneros's short-stories. More loosely, vignettes might be descriptive passages within a larger work, such as Virginia Woolf's "Kew Gardens," or Faulkner's descriptions of horses and landscapes in The Hamlet. The term vignette ("little vine") originally comes from a decorative device appearing on a title page or at the beginnings and ends of chapters. Conventionally, nineteenth-century printers depicted small looping vines here loosely reminiscent of the vinework in medieval manuscripts.

VIKING (Old Norse vikingr, "pirate," perhaps related to vik, a navigable creek, bay, or inlet to the sea, or perhaps related to an Old English word wic, meaning "encampment"): Technically, in its most exclusive sense, a viking is a pirate, any individual that goes i-viking ("plundering") regardless of the buccaneer's ethnicity. Historically, Irishmen, Anglo-Saxons, Franks, Bretons, and Slavs all joined in viking raids at various points, and chroniclers called them all vikings during their attacks. In its most common usage, the word viking applies to the pale-skinned North Germanic tribes between the years 550 CE and 1052 CE who inhabited modern Scandinavia (i.e., Denmark, Sweden, and Norway). These tribes eventually settled in Iceland and the Faroese islands and they conquered or raided large portions of England, Ireland, Scotland, and Normandy. The resulting ethnographic mixtures are often called Viking cultures (with a capital V- to indicate the scholar is referring to the larger race rather than pirates alone). The Old Norse and North Germanic languages that the Viking cultures spoke developed into modern Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Icelandic, and Faroese.The first mention of these tribes is in the writings of the Gothic historian Jordanes (c. 550 CE), who records their location. From archeological evidence, we know Viking forts built at Eketorp and Ismantorp date back at least a century earlier than Jordanes' records. Contact between the rest of Europe and the Viking-held lands was sporadic for centuries, involving occasional trade, small raids, or largely failed attempts to convert the Vikings. Such examples include Willibrord's first Christian mission sent to Scandinavia, (c. 725 CE) along with Archbishop Ebo of Rheims' missionary trip to Denmark in 823 CE.

However, the Vikings ultimately did burst onto the European stage in a shocking way when bands of them attacked Portland (c. 789), and then followed up by attacking the defenseless monastery of Lindisfarne (793). The idea of armed pagans cutting down pacifist Christian monks, looting churches, destroying illuminated bibles to claim the gold decoration, and carting off engemmed reliquaries and other holy paraphernalia as loot completely horrified Christian contemporaries, who grew to fear Vikings with an almost religious dread. The Vikings, astonished at how rich the monasteries were, and how helpless the "foolish" Christian monks were, returned in ever larger bands that would sail up creeks and inlets to strike unpredictable targets far inland in Britain and Europe. After killing defenders and burning defenses, they would frequently enslave monks, children, and women to take back north with them.

A sign of European helplessness is visible in the Viking practice of winter-seotling, or establishing a base camp in invaded territory during the winter rather than sailing home to Scandinavia with the ill-garnered gains. (It's a sign of some weakness when a band of burglars can break into a victim's house and steal her belongings; it's a sign of much greater helplessness if the band of burglars repeatedly decides to set up tents in the victim's living room and to stay there rather than go to the trouble of returning home between robberies.) In 839-840, the Viking invaders winter-seotled in Ireland for the first time. In 842, they winter-seotled in Francia [France]. In 850, they began winter-seotling in England. It would be tedious to list all the major raids, but ultimately Danish Vikings invaded and settled permanently in Dublin and large parts of northern England. The regions controlled by Danish Vikings in England (including London at one point in history, but most focused around Northumberland and York) became known as the Danelaw. The Danish presence had a profound influence on English, introducing many Old Norse vocabulary words into common English use, and even more importantly, leading to a loss of grammatical inflections in Anglo-Saxon.

The Viking raids left a particularly deep imprint in medieval English literature. "The Battle of Maldon," for instance, recounts the historical last-stand of an aging Anglo-Saxon regional governor and his untrained levy of troops against a Viking incursion in 991. Archbishop Wulfstan of York eloquently captured England's despair in his "Sermon of the Wolf to the English People," written in response to Svein Forkbeard's victory over the Anglo-Saxons in 1014.

See also related terms under althing, berserker, danegeld, saga, and thing.

VILLANELLE: A genre of poetry consisting of nineteen lines--five tercets and a concluding quatrain. The form requires that whole lines be repeated in a specific order, and that only two rhyming sounds occur in the course of the poem. A number of English poets, including Oscar Wilde, W. E. Henley, and W. H. Auden have experimented with it. Here is an example of an opening stanza to one poem by W. E. Henley:

A dainty thing's the Villanelle,
Sly, musical, a jewel in rhyme.
It serves its purpose passing well.
A double-clappered silver bell,
That must be made to clink in chime,
A dainty thing's the Villanelle.
And if you wish to flute a spell,
Or ask a meeting 'neath the lime,
It serves its purpose passing well.

Probably the most famous English villanelle is Dylan Thomas's "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night."

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