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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Belles-lettres or belles lettres is a term that is used to describe a category of writing. However the boundaries of that category vary in different usages.

Literally, "belles lettres" is a French phrase meaning "beautiful" or "fine" writing. In this sense, therefore, it includes all literary works – especially fiction, poetry, drama, or essays – valued for their aesthetic qualities and originality of style and tone (usually with regard to the language used but sometimes even in terms of the visual typography employed) rather than their informative or moral content. The term can thus be used to refer to literature generally. The Nuttall Encyclopedia, for example, described belles lettres as the department of literature which implies literary culture and belongs to the domain of art, whatever the subject may be or the special form; it includes poetry, the drama, fiction, and criticism.

However, for many modern purposes, belles lettres is used in a rather narrower sense, to identify literary works that do not fall into other major categories such as fiction, poetry or drama. Thus it would include essays, récits, published collections of speeches and letters, satirical and humorous writings, and other miscellaneous writings. The Oxford English Dictionary (2nd Edition) says that "it is now generally applied (when used at all) to the lighter branches of literature". The term remains in use among librarians and others who have to classify books: While a large library might have separate categories for essays, letters, humour and so forth (and most of them are assigned different codings in, for example, the Dewey decimal classification system), in libraries of modest size they are often all grouped together under the heading "belles lettres".

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Belles-lettres" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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