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Enigmas and Riddles in Literature


  • Page extent: 312 pages
  • Size: 229 x 152 mm
  • Weight: 0.46 kg


 (ISBN-13: 9780521119894)

How do enigmas and riddles work in literature? This benchmark study investigates the literary trope of the riddle, and its relation to the broader term 'enigma', including enigma as large masterplot. Cook argues for a revival of the old figure of speech known as 'enigma' from Aristotle to the seventeenth century by demonstrating its usefulness. The opening chapter surveys 'enigma personified' as sphinx and griffin, resuscitating a lost Graeco-Latin pun on 'griffin' used by Lewis Carroll. The history and functions of enigma draw on classical and biblical through to modern writing. Wide-ranging examples concentrate on literature in English, especially modern poetry, with three detailed case studies on Dante, Lewis Carroll, and Wallace Stevens. An important contribution to studies of poetic thought and metaphor, this anatomy of the riddle will appeal particularly to readers and scholars of poetry, modern American and comparative literatures, rhetoric, and folk-riddles.

• The first full-length study of how enigmas and riddles, both large and small, work in literature • A wide-ranging study, including detailed case studies of Dante, Lewis Carroll, and Wallace Stevens • Eleanor Cook is an eminent, well-known academic, particularly in North America. She has published widely on poetry and poetics, allusion, the English Bible, and the riddle in literature


Introduction; 1. Enigma personified: the riddling beasts, Sphinx and griffin; 2. Enigma as trope: history, function, fortunes; 3. What is the shape of the riddle? Enigma as masterplot; 4. Case study I. Enigma in Dante's Eden (Purgatorio 27-33); 5. Questions of riddle and genre; 6. Riddle as scheme: a case for a new griph-class; 7. Case study II. Mapping riddles: Lewis Carroll and the Alice books; 8. Figures for enigma; 9. Case study III. The structure of reality: enigma in Wallace Steven's later work; 10. From protection to innocent amusement: some other functions of enigma; Afterword: enigma, the boundary figure; Appendix: Enigma, riddle and friends among the lexicographers.


'This is an extraordinary book. … [It] is a feast for the ear, eye, and mind.' Judith Scherer Herz, University of Toronto Quarterly

'This is one of the most resourceful and attractive works of constructive speculation … Very seldom is an important book so enjoyable.' Alastair Fowler, Yale Review

'… Eleanor Cook's magnificent book …' Curtis Gruenler, Christianity and Literature

'… beautifully organized and detailed analysis … Highly recommended …' Choice

'… meticulous scholarship of this work …' Katherine Knight, Folklore

'… a great contribution to the theory of literature …' Lisa Goldfarb, Wallace Stevens Journal

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