Literary Adjectives

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Today's SMBC:

The mouseover title: "This comic is in fact an Orwellian attempt to change the definition of Orwellian."

The aftercomic:


  1. Provide similar definitions for Virgilian, Miltonian, Dickensian, Whitmanian, Chekhovian, and Faulknerian.
  2. Explain the relative frequency of these words — COCA: Homeric 247, Dickensian 292, Whitmanian 5.
  3. Find six similar adjectives for female authors, and compare their frequency with those of male authors whose names have similar frequencies.


  1. Rick said,

    May 2, 2022 @ 10:31 am

    Miltonian: Sympathy for the devil.
    Dickensian: Poor people with whimsical names.
    Faulknerian: Long sentences; so long that decay of meaning sets in.

    The first example for (3) that leaps to mind is Sapphic.

  2. KeithB said,

    May 2, 2022 @ 10:50 am

    I think Austinesque basically because "Romance Novel".

  3. KeithB said,

    May 2, 2022 @ 10:51 am

    "because" should be "became"

  4. Ross Presser said,

    May 2, 2022 @ 10:57 am

    Dickensian: containing too many words per paragraph to be understood in less than 15 minutes.

    Chekhovian: no unused guns

    Virgilian: storyline frequently interrupted by an angry spouse with high agency. (bad joke related to the movie "The Abyss")

  5. GH said,

    May 2, 2022 @ 11:33 am

    How many does "Brontëan" count as?

  6. Carl said,

    May 2, 2022 @ 11:39 am

    Hemmingwayesque: baby shoes yard sale lacunae.

    Angelouvian? Hurstonian? Morrisoniad?

  7. Bob Ladd said,

    May 2, 2022 @ 11:43 am

    Dickinsonian, Atwoodian, Steinian, and Woolfian are all readily findable on Google/Wiktionary. Wiktionary reports that Woolfesque and Woolfish are also current. I actually thought Atwoodesque might be more appropriate but it seems Atwoodian is a lot more common. Murdochian apparently more often refers to Rupert than to Iris. Even a Nobel Prize doesn't guarantee you your own adjective – I couldn't find "Buckian" anywhere, though Italian literary types clearly use "Deleddian".

    I'll leave assignments 1 and 2 to others.

  8. D.O. said,

    May 2, 2022 @ 2:04 pm

    Compare frequency with similar frequency? They are similar!
    How many points do I get?

  9. Barbara Phillips Long said,

    May 2, 2022 @ 2:59 pm

    @ KeithB —

    Austenesque is used by the Jane Austen Society of North America. It is used to refer to writing that evokes Austen, and my take would be that that includes the “comedy of manners” style.

    Romance novels encompass a wide range of subgenres. Regency historicals are most likely to be considered Austenesque.

    Re: Whitmanian

    My experience is that the preferred term is Whitmanesque. An example turns up in the definition of the word unpoetic:

    Atlanta and its suburbs are a surprisingly Whitmanesque experiment in pluralism, in which unpoetic concrete strip malls substitute for lyrical spears of summer grass.
    — Sanjena Sathian, Los Angeles Times, 18 Mar. 2021

    There is also this NYTimes headline:

    Re: Anne Bradstreet

    This poet does not appear to have her own adjective.

    Re: Anne Sexton

    The adjective is Sextonian:

  10. Barbara Phillips Long said,

    May 2, 2022 @ 3:19 pm

    Georgette Heyer is known for her Georgian and Regency historical novels inspired by Jane Austen. Goodreads shows an interesting example of circularity with a list of Heyeresque novels that begins with the works of Austen (who, for the record, was writing what would currently be known as “contemporaries,” not historicals):

  11. Michael said,

    May 2, 2022 @ 5:22 pm

    I've seen two attempts at "Dickensian," but neither seems (to me) to describe the adjective as it is most commonly used: "a bleak landscape with all of the drawbacks and none of the benefits of industrialization."

  12. Gregg said,

    May 2, 2022 @ 6:30 pm

    haha Kafkaesque may be the most overused authorial reference, but, boy, is it useful when applied to bureaucracies like public school administrative centers.

    Surreal is also overused. I still identify with the Surrealist movement, but find the word surreal as a synonym for strange a little offensive. But that's just me. Go ahead and use it as such.

  13. Andreas Johansson said,

    May 3, 2022 @ 1:19 am

    In miniatures wargaming jargon, "Polybian" means "of the Punic Wars era" (i.e. the period Polybius wrote about), and usually gets applied to the Roman army of that time.

  14. Barbara Phillips Long said,

    May 3, 2022 @ 1:28 am

    Some ambiguities:

    Catherian, for Willa Cather, is also a surname that pulls up genealogical sites.

    Emersonian is familiar to me as a reference to Ralph Waldo Emerson. I also saw some uses of Emersonesque, some to the author, and some to the musician Keith Emerson.

    Nathaniel Hawthorne is served by two competing spellings — Hawthornean and Hawthornian.

    Melvillian is used in relation to a Scottish education reformer named Andrew Melville and to the American novelist Herman Melville.

    Blyesque or Bly-esque can refer to poet Robert Bly or to Nellie Bly. It could also be applied to Mary Bly, Robert Bly’s daughter, a Shakespearean scholar who also writes under her own name. In addition, Mary Bly writes historical romances as Eloisa James, but the books could not be described as Jamesian — if the reference is to Henry James or to M.R.James (writer of scholarly ghost stories, apparently).

  15. Philip Anderson said,

    May 3, 2022 @ 6:53 am

    @Barbara Phillips Long
    I can assure you that M.R. James was both a real scholar and an author of many much-admired classic ghost stories, often with an academic setting. I was first introduced to his work by TV adaptions.

    His stories are very different from those of Lafcadio Hearn (Hearnian?):

    Off-topic here, but reading recently about “The silkworm-moth eyebrow of a woman”, in Hearn’s ‘Silkworms’ story, sent me back to another LL post:

  16. Victor Mair said,

    May 3, 2022 @ 6:57 am

    @Philip Anderson

    Good LL catches!

  17. DJL said,

    May 3, 2022 @ 9:03 am

    As a sort of Italian literary type, I would have certainly thought of the adjective 'dantesco' before 'deleddiano', but vabbè.

  18. stephen said,

    May 3, 2022 @ 10:41 am

    Would an author who changes literary styles for one night each month be a werewoolf?

  19. Michael said,

    May 3, 2022 @ 11:28 am

    At the risk of creating a tangent, it occurs to me that while I have never heard of a mystery, or puzzle, being "Doyle-ian," I have heard of "Holmesian"-style stories. Are there other fictional characters who have thus supplanted their authors.

    Back on topic: Lovecraftian means "there were tentacles involved."

  20. Doreen said,

    May 3, 2022 @ 1:16 pm

    Thinking of some more recent references:
    COCA has one occurrence of Didionesque.
    Wikipedia has an entry for Rowlingesque
    Google (but not COCA) knows e.g. Angelouvian (as mentioned by Carl above), Szymborskian, Gordimeresque and Ferrantean.

  21. Doreen said,

    May 3, 2022 @ 1:18 pm

    Oops, instead of "Szymborskian" it should be Szymborskan – but for that, Google just gives me Finnish mentions in the genetive case.

  22. Stephen (not the earlier one) said,

    May 3, 2022 @ 1:58 pm

    Michael said “ Are there other fictional characters who have thus supplanted their authors?” – we’ll, there’s Bertie Wooster (Woosterish) and there also seems to be evidence for Marplesque, but I’m just DuckDuckGoing rather than.using a decent corpus

  23. Philip Taylor said,

    May 3, 2022 @ 2:31 pm

    Well, I just took a guess, but as I suspected, Ulyssian / Ulyssean are attested, as is Frankensteinian. Oh, and I ordered a copy of M R James Collected Ghost Storieson the basis of its mentions above.

  24. Philip Anderson said,

    May 3, 2022 @ 5:07 pm

    @Philip Taylor
    I think M.R. James will appeal to you.

    Faustian and Falstaffian.

    Wildean might mean “witty but not necessarily accurate”.

  25. Philip Anderson said,

    May 3, 2022 @ 5:13 pm

    And quixotic, which has almost lost its connection to its eponym.

  26. Gregory Kusnick said,

    May 3, 2022 @ 6:43 pm

    Would Angelou's earliest work be considered Antegelouvian?

  27. Barbara Phillips Long said,

    May 3, 2022 @ 11:31 pm

    @ Philip Anderson—

    Thanks for the information about M.R. James. I was kind of thrown by the Wiktionary description of his work as scholarly, but if the setting is academia, I suspect I would enjoy them.

  28. Narmitaj said,

    May 4, 2022 @ 6:28 am

    Ballardian – alienated professionals head in the "wrong" direction across a landscape of drained swimming pools. There was even a until last year. Refers to JG Ballard.

  29. Benjamin Orsatti said,

    May 4, 2022 @ 7:58 am

    This thread has now been closed (or should be in any event), there is a clear winner here:

    Gregory Kusnick said,
    May 3, 2022 @ 6:43 pm

    Would Angelou's earliest work be considered Antegelouvian?


  30. KeithB said,

    May 4, 2022 @ 8:00 am

    "Back on topic: Lovecraftian means "there were tentacles involved.""
    Or it contains the word "Cyclopean"
    Or it contains thinly (or not at all) veiled racism.

  31. Benjamin Orsatti said,

    May 4, 2022 @ 8:15 am

    What's the distinction between "Gogolesque" and "Kafkaesque"? Is it there a peculiarly Bohemian way of being stultifyingly bureaucratic that varies from the Russian standard?

  32. Terpomo said,

    May 4, 2022 @ 1:29 pm

    Rick, I don't usually hear "sapphic" used as a literary characterization; rather, I hear it mainly used to characterize individuals or relationships.

  33. stephen said,

    May 4, 2022 @ 2:30 pm

    Wikipedia has articles on only two people with Ian as a last name.
    Janis Ian has written both songs and stories. So her style would be either Ianian or Ianesque.

    Janis Ian (born 1951), singer and songwriter
    Scott Ian, stage name of Scott Ian Rosenfeld, guitarist with the metal band Anthrax.

    Wikipedia has many instances of -esque as a suffix. The article on Darth Vader has a photo of a species of lice with a Vader-esque head.

    And here's an article on a poet from the early 1900s named
    Jean Louis De Esque. So his style was either Esqueian or Esqueesque.

    But Ianesque and Esqueian seem more euphonious.

  34. Bob Ladd said,

    May 4, 2022 @ 2:43 pm

    @DJL: Sure, but the task was to find adjectives for FEMALE writers.

  35. Barbara Phillips Long said,

    May 4, 2022 @ 4:49 pm

    Adjectives for female writers:

    Alcottian — Louisa May Alcott

    Dickinsonian — Emily Dickinson (Also the name of the Dickinson College newspaper; the college is in Carlisle, Pa., in the county where I live, and was named for a relative of the poet.)

    Gaskellian — Elizabeth Gaskell

    Hurstonian — Zora Neale Hurston

    Lessing-esque or Lessingesque — Doris Lessing

    Plathian — Sylvia Plath

    Steinian, Stein-esque, and Steinesque — Gertrude Stein

    Whartonian — Edith Wharton


    Elizabeth Bishop — No adjective turned up that I could find; “bishoplike” refers to the ecclesiastical office.

    Louise Gluck never had a chance for Gluckian, which had already gone to the 18th century composer Christoph Willibald Gluck.

    Oliverian does not refer to the works of Mary Oliver, but to supporters of Oliver Cromwell; it is also the name of a private school in New Hampshire.

    Harriet Beecher Stowe — No adjective that I could find, possibly because of that -e.

    Adjectives for male writers:

    Ashberyian, Ashberyish, Ashbery-ish, and Ashberyesque — John Ashbery

    Chaucerian — Geoffrey Chaucer

    Longfellowian, but also Longfellowish and Longfellowesque — Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

    Thoreauesque and Thoreauvian — Henry David Thoreau

    Adjectives for characters:

    Arthurian — King Arthur

    Beatrician — Beatrice in Dante’s works

    Strangelovian — Dr. Strangelove

  36. Viseguy said,

    May 4, 2022 @ 4:56 pm

    So, the preferred adjectival suffix for this purpose seems to be "-(i)an", with "-esque" a not-so-close second. Is there an underlying rule, I wonder? Is "-(i)an" the default, subject to variation for the sake of euphony, e.g. "Didionesque" rather than "Didionian"? Or does meaning matter, too? To me, "-(i)an" has a locational valence, implying, in this context, a tie to the fictional "world" created by the author, whereas "-esque", other things being equal, would refer more to the author's style. But then there's "Kafkaesque", which, as another poster has pointed out, has taken on a life of its own — although, for me, "Kafkan" would be a serviceable way to disambiguate the reference to the fictional world created specifically by Franz K. Yet, when I Google it, I get (not unsurprisingly): "Did you mean kaftan?

  37. Viseguy said,

    May 4, 2022 @ 5:06 pm

    PS: The Ionian in me — which, according to, predominates genetically, not surprising given that both of my parent are Sicilian — is drawn to "Didionian" over "Didionesque" — but whatever, c'est la vie.

  38. Viseguy said,

    May 4, 2022 @ 5:13 pm

    PPS: The misnegation in my last post but one was, needless to say, intentional.

  39. Barbara Phillips Long said,

    May 4, 2022 @ 10:21 pm

    @ stephen —

    The adjectives for Jean Louis De Esque might include the “de,” but I didn’t find any in a general search.

    For comparison, the adjective for Ursula Le Guin is “Le Guinean”:

  40. Barbara Phillips Long said,

    May 4, 2022 @ 10:50 pm

    One adjective that has not come up in relation to female writers is “anonymous.” When I was looking at my bookshelves, I noticed a book that was given to me years ago, related to a PBS show — Anonymous was a Woman:

    There is also an award for female artists, with the same name as the book. The quote “anonymous was a woman” is adapted from the work of Virginia Woolf.

    While I feel the contention that many women were relegated to anonymity is true, it is likely many men were consigned to anonymity, too. Given the nature of anonymity, I cannot see how one can prove that more women than men were anonymous, or vice versa.

  41. Philip Taylor said,

    May 5, 2022 @ 3:20 am

    I think that that would depend on how one defined "more", Barbara. If used as a measure of relativity, then I would agree; but if used as an absolute, then if historically there were more male authors than female, then it is probable that more anonymous authors were male than female. Would you not agree ?

  42. Keith said,

    May 5, 2022 @ 3:33 am

    For me, Lovecraftian would be "The language was artificially archaic, sprinkled with unpronounceable incantations."

    Similarly, Thoreauvian (or Thoreauesque) would be "The language was artificially archaic; the premise is a life of self-reliance removed from organised society that can only be practised thanks to the tools and materials provided by mining and industry."

    I expect that I shall have made a few enemies, with those statements.

  43. DJL said,

    May 5, 2022 @ 9:04 am

    Fine, Bob. Think I would have come up with 'morantiano', for Elsa Morante, before 'deleddiano', but that might just reflect a preference of mine (and this despite being of Sardinian ancestry).

  44. Rick said,

    May 5, 2022 @ 10:37 am

    Lovecraftian: The angles, my god, the angles!

  45. Craig said,

    May 5, 2022 @ 10:46 am

    @stephen, one wonders then at the possibilities for Ionesco (Ionescoesque, Ionesco(v)(i)an), although I find Ionesconian to be the preferred term over Ionescoan.

  46. Haamu said,

    May 5, 2022 @ 4:50 pm

    @Craig — I was wondering that as well. I think I prefer "Ionescian" (omitting the "o"; pronounced with a hard "c"), if only because it allows one to refer to something that is similar to, but not precisely, Ionescian as "Ionescianesque."

    I will agree proleptically with anyone who finds the spelling problematic, in that it suggests a soft "c" — but then I can't decide on a better spelling. Suggestions welcome.

  47. Andreas Johansson said,

    May 6, 2022 @ 8:04 am


    Romanian seems to, like Italian, use a 'h' to force a 'c' to be hard, so "Ioneschian" mayhap.

  48. Philip Anderson said,

    May 6, 2022 @ 3:11 pm

    As an adjective, -esque surely means “in the style of”, so an imitation, rather than describing the writer’s own works. So Kafka himself could not be Kafka-esque.

  49. Jonathan said,

    May 9, 2022 @ 3:54 pm

    Is 'Miltonian' distinct from 'Miltonic'? Byron, in the dedication to 'Don Juan, writes: '…Milton appeal'd to the Avenger, Time,
    If Time, the Avenger, execrates his wrongs,
    And makes the word "Miltonic" mean "sublime," …

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