Forewords are very common in literature. Most novels, especially those of some importance, contain a foreword of some sort. These are usually written by someone who knows the author well or has some kind of esteem on their own terms.
For example, one well-known writer might pen a foreword at the beginning of another author’s novel. It’s also possible to find forewords at the beginning of poetry collections, short story collections, and even before the first paragraph of a long or short story or novella.
Foreword pronunciation: four-whard
A foreword is a short piece of writing, usually a few paragraphs or a few pages, that is printed before the main text in a book. They can be found at the beginning of fiction and nonfiction novels, biographies, autobiographies, short story collections, poetry collections, essay collections, and more.
There are no specific rules as to what a foreword needs to or can’t contain. For example, the foreword writer might choose to spend their page or pages expressing their admiration for the author and the influence the writing has had on the broader literary world. Or, they might spend a few paragraphs outlining some important information they believe the reader should know before beginning the text.
It’s easy to imagine an example in which a biographer writes a foreword for a deceased author. In this foreword, they might explore elements of the author’s life, literary influence, and even the impact of their death. They may say things for the author that the author is no longer in a position to say.
The foreword might also convey a personal connection that the foreword writer has to the author they’re describing. They might have met the author at one point, spent time working with them, or even known them as a personal friend. The first edition of a novel may not contain a foreword that the later additions do. Sometimes, publishers choose to have new forewords added before literary works of importance.
Examples of Forewords
Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
Wuthering Heights is an excellent example of a novel that may contain different forewords in different editions. This will be at the discretion of the publisher and if there is new information to convey. For example, in the 1959 Signet Classics edition of Wuthering Heights, there is a foreword by Geoffrey Moore. Part of the foreword reads:
The girl was Emily Brontë. And with her sister, age 14, Charlotte another sister aged 18, Branwell her brother of 17. “Taby” what is the servant Tabitha Aykroyd, tenderhearted a great gossip, and teller of tales, and “Aunt” was Aunt Elizabeth Brandwell, sister of the dead mother. Their father, the Reverend Patrick Brontë, an Irishman born Brontë, had worked his way up from a shanty in Roscommon to St. John’s College, Cambridge, and preferment in the Church of England.
He goes on to say:
There are few more convincing, less sentimental accounts of passionate love than weathering Heights. And if we ask where this inexperienced girl found the knowledge which informs this book, there can only be one reply: in her own heart.
Read Emily Brontë’s poetry.
Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
In Virginia Woolf’s famed novel Mrs. Dalloway, there is a 1981 foreword by Maureen Howard. It begins:
With what pleasure we read the famous opening sentence of Mrs. Dalloway, for its rings with the confidence of the writer: “Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.” Virginia Woolf knew exactly what she was up to – title and heroine’s name sprung in her first line, the clarity of diction, the very simplicity of the domestic errand suggesting a world that we will comprehend. The novel is tempered by such easy lines: “That is all “; “I am unhappy”; “I have five sons.”
She goes on to say:
As readers of Mrs. Dalloway 50 years after its publication we see that the novel endures. We admire the originality of concept, the brilliance of style, but it is the feelings in the book that remain so fresh and we wonder that Virginia Woolf had to ask herself “How can one weigh and shape dialogue till each sentence tears the shingles in the bottom of the reader soul?”
Forewords are essential in that they provide readers with information about the novel, the writer’s legacy, and why they should care about what they’re about to read. Often, they are written by esteemed scholars and literary authors.
An author might write their own foreword if they have personal information they want to share that they think is going to benefit the reader’s experience with the text. An author might include another writer’s unique foreword in their own novel in order to convey something similar.
When writing a foreword to your own literary work, it’s important to consider if you have information to share that is not already conveyed within the text itself. Was there research that you did that you want to speak about? Or, was there a particular moment in the writing process that you found notably influential? When writing a foreword for someone else, what do you have to say about that person? After reading their literary work, whether it be a novel or a long short story, do you have input that’s going to make another reader’s experience more pleasurable and informative?
Related Literary Terms
- Biography: an account or description of a person’s life, literary, fictional, historical, or popular in nature, written by a biographer.
- Novel: a long, written, fictional narrative that includes some amount of realism.
- Novella: a prose, fiction work that’s shorter than a novel and longer than a short story.
- Rebuttal: a response to an argument that contradicts or attempts to disprove it. It is given by one’s opponent.
- Prose: a written and spoken language form that does not make use of a metrical pattern or rhyme scheme.
- Prologue: the opening to a story that comes before the first page or chapter. It is used to establish context or to provide necessary details.