belles-lettres (bĕl-lĕˈtrə) [key] [from the French for literature, literally "fine letters"], literature that is appreciated for the beauty, artistry, and originality of its style and tone rather than for its ideas and informational content. Earlier the term was synonymous with literature, referring particularly to fiction, poetry, drama, criticism, and essays. However, belletristic literature has come to mean light, artificial writing and essays extolling the beauties of literature.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.