“Three generations of imbeciles are enough.”–Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., 1927
“Recognize that the worth of human life varies.”–Peter Singer, 2000
A writer has several ways to enhance the reader’s experience. The quotations above serve as epigraphs for Books One and Two of my new novel, Gods and Lesser Men. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, an epigraph is “a short quotation introducing a book or chapter . . . that indicates the leading idea or sentiment” of the work.
In her New Republic review of Rosemary Ahern’s The Art of the Epigraph: How Great Books Begin,Rachel Buurma discusses the history and purpose of the epigraph. Most often, the quotation attempts to link a new book to the great literature of the past, but one type she mentions is “the less-than-literary epigraph . . . the most dramatic demonstration of what all epigraphs are designed to do–make us notice that the creation of literature is a shared act between author and reader. When we read a decidedly unliterary phrase as the first words of a literary work, we are forced to notice the flickering moment when we pass from the world to the book–when words become literature.”