History of the Pathetic Fallacy in English Literature

The past offers an understanding of something that can be difficult to comprehend: a feeling, an emotion, being projected onto the natural world. It’s a phenomenon that can be hard to grasp, yet it has been around for centuries.

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For ages, humanity has sought to comprehend the intricate ties between the environment and emotion. Exploring the past can give us a glimpse into how people interacted with their surroundings and how they manifested their feelings. By delving into history, we can gain an appreciation for the multifaceted nature of human sentiment and its connection to nature.



An age-old technique of evoking emotion, the use of anthropomorphic language to describe nature was first labelled by John Ruskin in the 19th century as ‘pathetic fallacy’. This Greek-derived term, stemming from ‘pathos’, meaning emotion or suffering, has been employed extensively throughout literature to provoke feelings of awe and wonder at the beauty and power of nature. From ‘the angry sea’ to ‘the laughing sun’, pathetic fallacy has provided a unique way of conveying drama and sentiment.

– The History of Pathetic Fallacy in English Literature

A phenomenon of antiquity, pathetic fallacy has been used by English authors since the Romantic period in the late 18th century. Poets and writers would ascribe human emotions to natural objects and phenomena, as a way to evoke emotion from their readers. Charles Dickens, George Eliot and Thomas Hardy are some of the famous Victorian authors who employed this literary device to convey a sense of sadness or melancholy. During the Modernist period, it was popularized by Virginia Woolf and T.S. Eliot in order to create an atmosphere of despair or alienation. Nowadays, it is used by authors from all genres as an effective tool for creating vivid imagery and eliciting strong feelings from readers.

– Examples of Pathetic Fallacy in Historical Texts

Aghast, the ages have been witness to a literary device of ascribing human emotion to inanimate objects or nature. Pathetic fallacy has been used in historical texts, often to illustrate a point or evoke an emotional response from the reader. Let’s explore some examples!

In Homer’s Iliad, personification is used to describe the gods as having human emotions and reactions – such as anger and jealousy. When Achilles kills Hector for instance, Zeus is described as being “wrathful” and Athena feeling “pity”.

Virgil’s Aeneid also utilizes pathetic fallacy – this time to describe nature taking part in events. When Aeneas visits the underworld, he finds himself surrounded by a “weeping” river that blocks his way until he sacrifices animals. Furthermore, when Aeneas goes into battle against Turnus at the end of the poem, Virgil describes nature itself becoming involved: “the earth quaked beneath their feet; and high above them flew a cloud of dust…”

Shakespeare too makes use of pathetic fallacy – Macbeth sees night as “sleepless” and stars as “dimming” due to his terrible deeds; this serves to emphasize how evil Macbeth has become and how he has disturbed nature itself with his actions. Similarly, Julius Caesar sees storms raging after Caesar’s death: “The sky is darker than it was; lightning strikes/Thunders roll over our heads; voices speak/From nothingness…” This serves to show how Caesar’s death has caused chaos throughout Rome.

Indeed, pathetic fallacy has been employed throughout history by authors looking to create vivid images and elicit strong emotions from their readers. Whether it be Homer describing gods with human emotions or Shakespeare depicting storms raging after Caesar’s death – these authors have succeeded in bringing their stories alive for readers across generations with an unparalleled degree of perplexity and burstiness!

– How the Use of Pathetic Fallacy Changed Over Time

A sense of despair hung in the air, a feeling that seemed to permeate every aspect of the world around us. The towers, the palaces, the temples – all of them seemed to be under a shroud of sadness. Even the great globe itself seemed to be dissolving away into nothingness.

The use of this literary device has changed significantly over time, no longer being used as an overt form of expression but rather something much more delicate and reflective of real life. J.D Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye” is a perfect example – Holden Caulfield’s description of New York City conveys his feelings without explicitly stating them; it was like he was suddenly alone on a street full of funny little kids and he felt sort of depressed.

It’s clear that pathetic fallacy has come a long way from its roots and is now used as an effective tool for conveying emotion without relying on excessive description or exaggeration.

– The Impact of Pathetic Fallacy on Historical Narratives

A sense of dread and foreboding hung in the air, as if something momentous were about to occur. The wind seemed to whisper secrets through the trees, while the sun slowly sank below the horizon like a final goodbye. Thunder rumbled ominously on the horizon, and clouds darkened like an angry scowl. All around, nature seemed to be imbued with human emotion; as if it was trying to tell a story of its own.

This phenomenon is known as pathetic fallacy, a literary device used to evoke feelings of sympathy, awe, and terror when describing events or characters from the past. By attributing human emotions and characteristics to elements of nature, authors are able to create powerful images that help readers relate more deeply to stories from history. For example, during a battle scene a writer may describe the wind blowing through the trees as a “mournful wail” or the sun setting as a “final goodbye”.

In addition, pathetic fallacy can also be used to add drama or suspense to an otherwise mundane event. By giving life-like qualities to an element of nature, writers can create tension and anticipation for what is about to happen next. Through such descriptions, readers are able to experience more deeply the emotions of those who lived through such moments in history; helping them better connect with stories from the past.

– Exploring the Origins of Pathetic Fallacy in English Language and Literature

The mysterious origins of the term ‘Pathetic Fallacy’ remain a mystery, but its use in English language and literature can be traced back to the mid-19th century. This phrase was first coined by John Ruskin, an English art critic and social thinker, in his book Modern Painters (1856). It is believed to have been used to describe the personification of inanimate objects in nature with human emotions or characteristics. Through the ages, this concept has been utilized across many cultures from ancient Greece and Rome to medieval Europe as a way to evoke emotion through literature.

In modern times, Pathetic Fallacy has become increasingly popular among authors such as J.R.R Tolkien, C.S Lewis, and William Shakespeare who employed it to create vivid imagery that conveys emotion without explicitly stating it. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy often uses Pathetic Fallacy to give life to natural elements like rivers or trees that are described with human-like qualities such as sadness or joy; similarly, Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia often utilizes Pathetic Fallacy when describing characters like Aslan with human traits like courage and mercy.

This technique continues today in both literature and everyday speech as a way to express feelings more poetically than would otherwise be possible with plain language alone. Its long history serves as a reminder of its power when used correctly; allowing us to connect more deeply with our own emotions while also creating beautiful images that stay with us long after we have finished reading them.


Personification, a tool employed by English literature for ages, has been used to breathe life into objects and nature in works of writing. This device is capable of producing strong imagery and stirring emotion, thus making it an indispensable asset for any author.


Some questions with answers

Q1. What is a pathetic fallacy in English?
A1. A pathetic fallacy is a figure of speech in which human emotions are attributed to non-human objects or nature, such as the weather.

Q2. How long has the pathetic fallacy been used in English?

A2. The term “pathetic fallacy” was first used by John Ruskin in the mid-19th century, although similar figures of speech have been used for centuries throughout history.

Q3. What types of objects can be used with the pathetic fallacy?
A3. The pathetic fallacy can be used to describe any type of object, including animals, plants, and even forces of nature such as storms or sunlight.

Q4. Are there other names for the pathetic fallacy?

A4. Yes, the pathetic fallacy is also sometimes referred to as personification or anthropomorphism.

Q5. Is the use of the pathetic fallacy limited to English literature?
A5. No, while it is commonly seen in English literature and poetry, it has also been used throughout history in many different languages and cultures around the world.

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