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The Belles-Lettres Style

The belles-letters style is a generic term for three substyles in which the main principles and the most general properties of the style are materialized. These three substyles are:

  1. The language of poetry, or simply verse.
  2. Emotive prose, or the language of fiction.
  3. The language of the drama.

Each of these substyles has certain common features, typical of the general belles-lettres style, which make up the foundation of the style, by which the particular style is made recognizable and can therefore be singled out. Each of them also enjoys some individuality or some features typical only of one or another substyle.

The common features of all the substyles are as follows.

1. They have the common function which may broadly be called “aesthetico-congnitive”. This is a double function which aims at the cognitive process, which secures the gradual unfolding of the idea to the reader and at the same time calls forth a feeling of pleasure, derived from the form in which the content is wrought. This pleasure is caused not only by admiration but also by the fact that the reader is led to form his own conclusion about the thing he reads. Nothing gives more pleasure and satisfaction than realizing that one has the ability to penetrate into the hidden tissue of events, phenomena and human activity, and to perceive the relation between various seemingly unconnected facts brought together by the creative mind of the writer.

2. The purpose of the belles-lettres style is not to prove but only to suggest a possible integration of the phenomena of life by forcing the reader to see the viewpoint of the writer. This is the cognitive function of the belles-lettres style.

3. The belles-lettres style rests on certain indispensable linguistic features which are:

  • Genuine, not trite, imagery, achieved by purely linguistic devices.
  • The use of words in contextual and very often in more than one dictionary meaning, or at least greatly influenced by the lexical environment.
  • Vocabulary which will reflect to a greater or lesser degree the author’s personal evaluation of things or phenomena.
  • A peculiar individual selection of vocabulary and syntax, a kind of lexical and syntactical idiosyncrasy.
  • The introduction of the typical features of colloquial language to a full degree (in plays) or a lesser one (in emotive prose) or a slight degree, if any (in poems).

4. The belles-lettres style is individual in essence. This is one of its most distinctive properties. Individuality in selecting language means (including stylistic devices), extremely apparent in poetic style, becomes gradually less in publicistic style, is hardly noticeable in the style of scientific prose and is entirely lacking in newspapers and in official style.

There may be a greater or lesser volume of imagery (but not an absence of imagery); a greater or lesser number of words with contextual meaning (but not all words without contextual meaning); a greater or lesser number of colloquial elements (but not a complete absence of colloquial elements).


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