The focus of this article is on literature in the English language from anywhere, not just the literature of England, so that it includes writers from Scotland, the whole of Ireland, Wales, as well as literature in English from former British colonies, including the US. However, up until the early 19th century, it deals with the literature written in English of Britain and Ireland.
English literature is generally seen as beginning with the epic poem Beowulf, that dates from between the 8th to the 11th centuries, the most famous work in Old English, which has achieved national epic status in England, despite being set in Scandinavia. The next important landmark is the works of the poet Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1343-1400) especially The Canterbury Tales. Then during The Renaissance, especially the late 16th and early 17th centuries, major drama and poetry was written by William Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, John Donne and many others. Another great poet, from later in the 17th century, was John Milton (1608-1674) author of the epic poem Paradise Lost (1667). The late 17th and the early 18th century are particularly associated with satire, especially in the poetry of John Dryden and Alexander Pope, and the prose works of Johnathan Swift. The 18th century also saw the first British novels in the works of Daniel Defoe, Samuel Richardson, and Henry Fielding, while the late 18th and early 19th century was the period of the Romantic poets Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley and Keats.
It was in the Victorian era (1837–1901) that the novel became the leading literary genre in English, dominated especially by Charles Dickens, but there were many other significant writers, including the Brontë sisters, and then Thomas Hardy, in the final decades of the 19th century.The Americans began to produce major writers in the 19th century, including novelist Herman Melville, author of Moby Dick (1851) and the poets Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson. Another American, Henry James, was a major novelist of the late 19th and early twentieth century, while Polish-born Joseph Conrad was perhaps the most important British novelist of the first two decades of the 20th century.
Irish writers were especially important in the 20th century, including James Joyce, and later Samuel Beckett, both central figures in the Modernist movement. Americans, like poets T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound and novelist William Faulkner, were other important modernists. In the mid 20th century major writers started to appear in the various countries of the British Commonwealth, several who have been Nobel-laureates. Many major writers in English in the 20th and 21st centuries have come from outside the United Kingdom. The term Postmodern literature is used to describe certain tendencies in post-World War II literature. It is both a continuation of the experimentation championed by writers of the modernist period, relying heavily, for example, on fragmentation, paradox, questionable narrators, etc., and a reaction against Enlightenment ideas implicit in Modernist literature.
- A fuller discussion of literature in English from countries other than the UK and Ireland can be found in see also below.
- For a discussion of literature from England in other languages than English, see British literature.
- 1 Old English literature: c.658-1100
- 2 Middle English literature: 1100–1500
- 3 English Renaissance: 1500–1660
- 4 Neo-Classical Period: 1660–1798
- 5 19th-century literature
- 6 English literature since 1901
- 7 Nobel Prize in Literature winners
- 8 See also
- 9 Notes
- 10 References
- 11 External links
Old English literature: c.658-1100
Old English literature, or Anglo-Saxon literature, encompasses the surviving literature written in Old English in Anglo-Saxon England, in the period after the settlement of the Saxons and other Germanic tribes in England, as the Jutes and the Angles, c.450, after the withdrawal of the Romans, and "ending soon after the Norman Conquest" in 1066; that is, c. 1100–50. These works include genres such as epic poetry, hagiography, sermons, Bible translations, legal works, chronicles, riddles, and others. In all there are about 400 surviving manuscripts from the period. The earliest surviving work of literature in Old English is Caedmon's Hymn, which was probably composed between 658-680.
Oral tradition was very strong in early English culture and most literary works were written to be performed. Epic poems were thus very popular, and some, including Beowulf, have survived to the present day. Much Old English verse in the extant manuscripts is probably adapted from the earlier Germanic war poems from the continent. When such poetry was brought to England it was still being handed down orally from one generation to another.
Old English poetry falls broadly into two styles or fields of reference, the heroic Germanic and the Christian. The Anglo-Saxons were converted to Christianity after their arrival in England. The most popular and well-known of Old English poetry is alliterative verse, which uses accent, alliteration, the quantity of vowels, and patterns of syllabic accentuation. It consists of five permutations on a base verse scheme; any one of the five types can be used in any verse. The system was inherited from and exists in one form or another in all of the older Germanic languages.
The epic poem Beowulf, of 3182 alliterative lines, is the most famous work in Old English and has achieved national epic status in England, despite being set in Scandinavia. The only surviving manuscript is the Nowell Codex, the precise date of which is debated, but most estimates place it close to the year 1000. Beowulf is the conventional title, and its composition by an anonymous Anglo-Saxon poet, who is commonly referred to as the "Beowulf poet", is dated between the 8th and the early 11th century. In the poem, Beowulf, a hero of the Geats in Scandinavia, comes to the help of Hroðgar, the king of the Danes, whose mead hall (in Heorot) has been under attack by a monster known as Grendel. After Beowulf slays him, Grendel's mother attacks the hall and is then also defeated. Victorious, Beowulf goes home to Geatland in Sweden and later becomes king of the Geats. After a period of fifty years has passed, Beowulf defeats a dragon, but is fatally wounded in the battle. After his death, his attendants bury him in a tumulus, a burial mound, in Geatland.
Found in the same manuscript as the heroic poem Beowulf, the Nowell Codex, is the poem Judith, a retelling of the story found in the Latin Vulgate Bible's Book of Judith about the beheader of the Assyrian general Holofernes. The Old English Martyrology is a Mercian collection of hagiographies. Ælfric of Eynsham was a prolific 10th-century writer of hagiographies and homilies.
Nearly all Anglo-Saxon authors are anonymous: twelve are known by name from Medieval sources, but only four of those are known by their vernacular works with any certainty: Caedmon, Bede, Alfred the Great, and Cynewulf. Cædmon is the earliest English poet whose name is known. Cædmon's only known surviving work is Cædmon's Hymn, which probably dates from the late 7th century. The Hymn itself was composed between 658 and 680, recorded in the earlier part of the 8th century, and survives today in at least 14 verified manuscript copies. The poem is one of the earliest attested examples of Old English and is, with the runic Ruthwell Cross and Franks Casket inscriptions, one of three candidates for the earliest attested example of Old English poetry. It is also one of the earliest recorded examples of sustained poetry in a Germanic language. The poem, The Dream of the Rood, was inscribed upon the Ruthwell Cross.
Chronicles contained a range of historical and literary accounts, and a notable example is the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. This is a collection of annals in Old English chronicling the history of the Anglo-Saxons. Nine manuscripts survive in whole or in part, though not all are of equal historical value and none of them is the original version. The oldest seems to have been started towards the end of King Alfred's reign in the 9th century, and the most recent was written at Peterborough Abbey in 1116. Almost all of the material in the Chronicle is in the form of annals by year, the earliest being dated at 60 BC (the annals' date for Caesar's invasions of Britain), and historical material follows up to the year in which the chronicle was written, at which point contemporary records begin.
The poem Battle of Maldon also deals with history. This is the name given to a work, of uncertain date, celebrating the real Battle of Maldon of 991, at which the Anglo-Saxons failed to prevent a Viking invasion. Only 325 lines of the poem are extant; both the beginning and the ending are lost.
The Wanderer is an Old English poem preserved only in an anthology known as the Exeter Book, a manuscript dating from the late 10th century. It counts 115 lines of alliterative verse. As often the case in Anglo-Saxon verse, the composer and compiler are anonymous, and within the manuscript the poem is untitled. The Wanderer conveys the meditations of a solitary exile on his past glories as a warrior in his lord's band of retainers, his present hardships and the values of forbearance and faith in the heavenly Lord. Another poem with a religious theme, The Seafarer is also recorded in the Exeter Book, one of the four surviving manuscripts, and consists of 124 lines, followed by the single word "Amen". In the past it has been frequently referred to as an elegy, a poem that mourns a loss, or has the more general meaning of a simply sorrowful piece of writing. Some scholars, however, have argued that the content of the poem also links it with Sapiential Books, or Wisdom Literature. In his account of the poem in the Cambridge Old English Reader, published in 2004, Richard Marsden writes, “It is an exhortatory and didactic poem, in which the miseries of winter seafaring are used as a metaphor for the challenge faced by the committed Christian […]” (p. 221).
Classical antiquity was not forgotten in Anglo-Saxon England and several Old English poems are adaptations of late classical philosophical texts. The longest is King Alfred's (849–899) 9th-century translation of Boethius' Consolation of Philosophy. The Metres of Boethius are a series of Old English alliterative poems adapted from the Latin metra of the Consolation of Philosophy soon after Alfred's prose translation.
Middle English literature: 1100–1500
After the Norman conquest of England in 1066, the written form of the Anglo-Saxon language became less common, and under the influence of the new aristocracy, Law French became the standard language of courts, parliament, and polite society. As the invaders integrated, their language and literature mingled with that of the natives and the Norman dialects of the ruling classes became Anglo-Norman. At the same time Anglo-Saxon underwent a gradual transition into Middle English. Political power was no longer in English hands, so that the West Saxon literary language had no more influence than any other dialect and Middle English literature was written in the many dialects that correspond to the region, history, culture, and background of individual writers.
In this period religious literature continued to enjoy popularity and Hagiographies were written, adapted and translated, for example, The Life of Saint Audrey, Eadmer's (c. 1060 – c. 1126) contemporary biography of Anselm of Canterbury, and the South English Legendary. At the end of the 12th century, Layamon's Brut adapted Wace to make the first English-language work to discuss the legends of Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. It was also the first historiography written in English since the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. In this century a new form of English now known as Middle English evolved. This is the earliest form of English which is comprehensible to modern readers and listeners, albeit not easily.
Middle English Bible translations, notably Wycliffe's Bible, helped to establish English as a literary language. Wycliffe's Bible is the name now given to a group of Bible translations into Middle English, that were made under the direction of, or at the instigation of John Wycliffe. They appeared between approximately 1382 and 1395. These Bible translations were the chief inspiration and chief cause of the Lollard movement, a pre-Reformation movement that rejected many of the distinctive teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. The term "Lollard" refers to the followers of John Wycliffe, a prominent theologian who was dismissed from the University of Oxford in 1381 for criticism of the Church. In the Middle Ages most Western Christian people encountered the Bible only in the form of oral versions of scriptures, verses and homilies in Latin (other sources were mystery plays, usually conducted in the vernacular, and popular iconography). Though relatively few people could read at this time, Wycliffe’s idea was to translate the Bible into the vernacular, saying "it helpeth Christian men to study the Gospel in that tongue in which they know best Christ’s sentence". Although unauthorized, the work was popular and Wycliffite Bible texts are the most common manuscript literature in Middle English and almost 200 manuscripts of the Wycliffite Bible survive.
Another literary genre, that of Romances, appear in English from the 13th century, with King Horn and Havelock the Dane, based on Anglo-Norman originals such as the Romance of Horn (ca.1170), but it was in the 14th century that major writers in English first appeared. These are William Langland, Geoffrey Chaucer and the so-called 'Pearl Poet', whose most famous work is Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.
Langland's Piers Plowman (written ca. 1360–1387) or Visio Willelmi de Petro Plowman (William's Vision of Piers Plowman) is a Middle English allegorical narrative poem, written in unrhymed alliterative verse.
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a late-14th-century Middle English alliterative romance. It is one of the better-known Arthurian stories of an established type known as the "beheading game". Developing from Welsh, Irish and English tradition, Sir Gawain highlights the importance of honour and chivalry. It is an important poem in the romance genre, which typically involves a hero who goes on a quest that tests his prowess. "Preserved in the same manuscript with Sir Gawayne were three other poems, now generally accepted as the work of its author. These are two alliterative poems of moral teaching, "Patience" and "Purity", and an intricate elegiac poem, Pearl. The author of Sir Gawayne and the other poems is frequently referred to as 'the Pearl Poet'. " The English dialect of these poems from the Midlands is markedly different from that of the London-based Chaucer and, though influenced by French in the scenes at court in Sir Gawain, there are in the poems also many dialect words, often of Scandinavian origin, that belonged to northwest England.
Middle English lasts up until the 1470s, when the Chancery Standard, a form of London-based English, became widespread and the printing press regularized the language. The prolific Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1343 – 1400), whose works were written in Chancery Standard, was the first poet to have been buried in Poet's Corner of Westminster Abbey. Among his many works, which include The Book of the Duchess, the House of Fame, the Legend of Good Women and Troilus and Criseyde, Chaucer is best known today for The Canterbury Tales. This is a collection of stories written in Middle English (mostly written in verse although some are in prose), that are presented as part of a story-telling contest by a group of pilgrims as they travel together on a journey from Southwark to the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral. The prize for this contest is a free meal at the Tabard Inn at Southwark on their return. Chaucer is a significant figure in developing the legitimacy of the vernacular, Middle English, at a time when the dominant literary languages in England were still French and Latin. The first recorded association of Valentine's Day with romantic love is in Chaucer's Parlement of Foules of 1382.
At this time literature was being written in various languages in England, including Latin, Norman-French, English, and the multilingual nature of the audience for literature in the 14th century can be illustrated by the example of John Gower (c. 1330 – October 1408). A contemporary of William Langland and a personal friend of Geoffrey Chaucer, Gower is remembered primarily for three major works, the Mirroir de l'Omme, Vox Clamantis, and Confessio Amantis, three long poems written in Anglo-Norman, Latin and, Middle English respectively, which are united by common moral and political themes.
Significant religious works were also created in the 14th century, including works by an anonymous author in the manuscript called the Katherine Group, and by Julian of Norwich (ca.1342 – ca. 1416), and Richard Rolle. Julian's Revelations of Divine Love (circa 1393) is believed to be the first published book written by a woman in the English language; it chronicles, to some extent, her extensive pilgrimages to various holy sites in Europe and Asia.
A major work from the 15th century is Le Morte d'Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory, which was printed by Caxton in 1485. This is compilation of some French and English Arthurian romances, and was among the earliest books printed in England. it was popular and influential in the later revival of interest in the Arthurian legends.
- Medieval theatre
In the Middle Ages, drama in the vernacular languages of Europe may have emerged from religious enactments of the liturgy. Mystery plays were presented on the porch of the cathedrals or by strolling players on feast days. Miracle and mystery plays, along with moralities and interludes, later evolved into more elaborate forms of drama, such as was seen on the Elizabethan stages. Another form of medieval theatre was the mummers' plays, a form of early street theatre associated with the Morris dance, concentrating on themes such as Saint George and the Dragon and Robin Hood. These were folk tales re-telling old stories, and the actors travelled from town to town performing these for their audiences in return for money and hospitality.
Mystery plays and miracle plays (sometimes distinguished as two different forms, although the terms are often used interchangeably) are among the earliest formally developed plays in medieval Europe. Medieval mystery plays focused on the representation of Bible stories in churches as tableaux with accompanying antiphonal song. They developed from the 10th to the 16th century, reaching the height of their popularity in the 15th century before being rendered obsolete by the rise of professional theatre. The name derives from mystery used in its sense of miracle, but an occasionally quoted derivation is from misterium, meaning craft, a play performed by the craft guilds.
There are four complete or nearly complete extant English biblical collections of plays from the late medieval period; although these collections are sometimes referred to as "cycles," it is now believed that this term may attribute to these collections more coherence than they in fact possess. The most complete is the York cycle of forty-eight pageants. They were performed in the city of York, from the middle of the fourteenth century until 1569. There are also the Towneley plays of thirty-two pageants, once thought to have been a true 'cycle' of plays and most likely performed around the Feast of Corpus Christi probably in the town of Wakefield, England during the late Middle Ages until 1576. Besides the Middle English drama, there are three surviving plays in Cornish known as the Ordinalia.
These biblical plays differ widely in content. Most contain episodes such as the Fall of Lucifer, the Creation and Fall of Man, Cain and Abel, Noah and the Flood, Abraham and Isaac, the Nativity, the Raising of Lazarus, the Passion, and the Resurrection. Other pageants included the story of Moses, the Procession of the Prophets, Christ's Baptism, the Temptation in the Wilderness, and the Assumption and Coronation of the Virgin. In given cycles, the plays came to be sponsored by the newly emerging Medieval craft guilds.
Having grown out of the religiously based mystery plays of the Middle Ages, the morality play is a genre of Medieval and early Tudor theatrical entertainment, which represented a shift towards a more secular base for European theatre. In their own time, these plays were known as "interludes", a broader term given to dramas with or without a moral theme. Morality plays are a type of allegory in which the protagonist is met by personifications of various moral attributes who try to prompt him to choose a Godly life over one of evil. The plays were most popular in Europe during the 15th and 16th centuries.
The Somonyng of Everyman (The Summoning of Everyman) (c. 1509 – 1519), usually referred to simply as Everyman, is a late 15th-century English morality play. Like John Bunyan's allegory Pilgrim's Progress (1678), Everyman examines the question of Christian salvation through the use of allegorical characters. The play is the allegorical accounting of the life of Everyman, who represents all mankind. All the characters are also allegorical, each personifying an abstract idea such as Fellowship, (material) Goods, and Knowledge and the conflict between good and evil is dramatized by the interactions between characters.
English Renaissance: 1500–1660
Following the introduction of a printing press into England by William Caxton in 1476, vernacular literature flourished. The Reformation inspired the production of vernacular liturgy which led to the Book of Common Prayer, a lasting influence on literary language. The English Renaissance was a cultural and artistic movement in England dating from the late 15th and early 16th centuries to the 17th century. It is associated with the pan-European Renaissance that is usually regarded as beginning in Italy in the late 14th century. Like most of northern Europe, England saw little of these developments until more than a century later. Renaissance style and ideas, however, were slow in penetrating England, and the Elizabethan era in the second half of the 16th century is usually regarded as the height of the English Renaissance.
Elizabethan and Jacobean period (1558–1625)
During the reign of Elizabeth I (1558–1603) and then James I (1603–25), in the late 16th and early 17th century, a London-centred culture, that was both courtly and popular, produced great poetry and drama. English playwrights combined the influence of the Medieval theatre with the Renaissance's rediscovery of the Roman dramatists, Seneca, for tragedy, and Plautus and Terence, for comedy. Italy was an important source for Renaissance ideas in England and the linguist and lexicographer John Florio (1553–1625), whose father was Italian, was a royal language tutor at the Court of James I, had furthermore brought much of the Italian language and culture to England. He was also the translator of Frenchman Montaigne into English. This Italian influence can also be found in the poetry of Thomas Wyatt (1503–1542), one of the earliest English Renaissance poets. He was responsible for many innovations in English poetry and, alongside Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey (1516/1517–1547), introduced the sonnet from Italy into England in the early 16th century. Wyatt's professed object was to experiment with the English tongue, to civilise it, to raise its powers to those of its neighbours. While a significant amount of his literary output consists of translations and imitations of sonnets by the Italian poet Petrarch, he also wrote sonnets of his own. Wyatt took subject matter from Petrarch's sonnets, but his rhyme schemes make a significant departure. Petrarch's sonnets consist of an "octave", rhyming abba abba, followed, after a turn (volta) in the sense, by a sestet with various rhyme schemes, however his poems never ended in a rhyming couplet. Wyatt employs the Petrarchan octave, but his most common sestet scheme is cddc ee. This marks the beginnings of English sonnet with 3 quatrains and a closing couplet.
Edmund Spenser (c. 1552–1599) was one of the most important poets of this period, author of The Faerie Queene (1590 and 1596), an epic poem and fantastical allegory celebrating the Tudor dynasty and Elizabeth I. Another major figure, Sir Philip Sidney, (1554–1586) was an English poet, courtier and soldier, and is remembered as one of the most prominent figures of the Elizabethan Age. His works include Astrophel and Stella, The Defence of Poetry, and The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia. Poems intended to be set to music as songs, such as by Thomas Campion (1567–1620), became popular as printed literature was disseminated more widely in households. See English Madrigal School.
Among the earliest Elizabethan plays are Gorboduc (1561) by Sackville and Norton and Thomas Kyd's (1558–94) The Spanish Tragedy (1592). Gorboduc is notable especially as the first verse drama in English to employ blank verse, and for the way it developed elements, from the earlier morality plays and Senecan tragedy, in the direction which would be followed by later playwrights. The Spanish Tragedy, or Hieronimo is Mad Again is an Elizabethan tragedy written by Thomas Kyd between 1582 and 1592. Highly popular and influential in its time, The Spanish Tragedy established a new genre in English literature theatre, the revenge play or revenge tragedy. Its plot contains several violent murders and includes as one of its characters a personification of Revenge. The Spanish Tragedy was often referred to, or parodied, in works written by other Elizabethan playwrights, including William Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, and Christopher Marlowe. Many elements of The Spanish Tragedy, such as the play-within-a-play used to trap a murderer and a ghost intent on vengeance, appear in Shakespeare's Hamlet. Thomas Kyd is frequently proposed as the author of the hypothetical Ur-Hamlet that may have been one of Shakespeare's primary sources for Hamlet.
William Shakespeare (1564–1616) stands out in this period as a poet and playwright as yet unsurpassed. Shakespeare was not a man of letters by profession, and probably had only some grammar school education. He was neither a lawyer, nor an aristocrat, like the "university wits" who monopolised the English stage when he started writing. But he was very gifted and versatile, and he surpassed the "professionals", like Robert Greene, who mocked this "Shake-scene" of low origins. Shakespeare wrote plays in a variety of genres, including histories, tragedies, comedies and the late romances, or tragicomedies. His early classical and Italianate comedies, like A Comedy of Errors, containing tight double plots and precise comic sequences, give way in the mid-1590s to the romantic atmosphere of his greatest comedies. A Midsummer Night's Dream is a witty mixture of romance, fairy magic, and rustic comic scenes. Shakespeare's next comedy, the equally romantic Merchant of Venice, can be problematic because of how it portrays Shylock, a vengeful Jewish moneylender. The wit and wordplay of Much Ado About Nothing, the charming rural setting of As You Like It, and the lively merrymaking of Twelfth Night complete Shakespeare's sequence of great comedies. After the lyrical Richard II, written almost entirely in verse, Shakespeare introduced prose comedy into the histories of the late 1590s, Henry IV, parts 1 and 2, and Henry V. His characters become more complex and tender as he switches deftly between comic and serious scenes, prose and poetry, and achieves the narrative variety of his mature work. This period begins and ends with two tragedies: Romeo and Juliet, the famous romantic tragedy of sexually charged adolescence, love, and death; and Julius Caesar, based on Sir Thomas North's 1579 translation of Plutarch's Parallel Lives, which introduced a new kind of drama. In the early 17th century, Shakespeare wrote the so-called "problem plays", Measure for Measure, Troilus and Cressida, and All's Well That Ends Well, as well as a number of his best known tragedies, including Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth, King Lear and Anthony and Cleopatra. The plots of Shakespeare's tragedies often hinge on such fatal errors or flaws, which overturn order and destroy the hero and those he loves. In his final period, Shakespeare turned to romance or tragicomedy and completed three more major plays: Cymbeline, The Winter's Tale and The Tempest, as well as the collaboration, Pericles, Prince of Tyre. Less bleak than the tragedies, these four plays are graver in tone than the comedies of the 1590s, but they end with reconciliation and the forgiveness of potentially tragic errors. Some commentators have seen this change in mood as evidence of a more serene view of life on Shakespeare's part, but it may merely reflect the theatrical fashion of the day. Shakespeare collaborated on two further surviving plays, Henry VIII and The Two Noble Kinsmen, probably with John Fletcher.
Shakespeare also popularized the English sonnet, which made significant changes to Petrarch's model. A collection of 154 by sonnets, dealing with themes such as the passage of time, love, beauty and mortality, were first published in a 1609 quarto entitled SHAKE-SPEARES SONNETS: Never before imprinted. (although sonnets 138 and 144 had previously been published in the 1599 miscellany The Passionate Pilgrim). The first 17 poems, traditionally called the procreation sonnets, are addressed to a young man urging him to marry and have children in order to immortalize his beauty by passing it to the next generation. Other sonnets express the speaker's love for a young man; brood upon loneliness, death, and the transience of life; seem to criticise the young man for preferring a rival poet; express ambiguous feelings for the speaker's mistress; and pun on the poet's name. The final two sonnets are allegorical treatments of Greek epigrams referring to the "little love-god" Cupid.
Marlowe's (1564–1593) subject matter is different from Shakespeare's as it focuses more on the moral drama of the Renaissance man than any other thing. Drawing on German lore, Marlowe introduced the story of Faust to England in his play Doctor Faustus (c. 1592), about a scientist and magician who, obsessed by the thirst of knowledge and the desire to push man's technological power to its limits, sells his soul to the Devil. Faustus makes use of "the dramatic framework of the morality plays in its presentation of a story of temptation, fall, and damnation, and its free use of morality figures such as the good angel and the bad angel and the seven deadly sins, along with the devils Lucifer and Mephistopheles."
Thomas Dekker (c. 1570–1632) was, between 1598 and 1602, involved in about forty plays, usually in collaboration. He is particularly remembered for The Shoemaker's Holiday (1599), a work where he appears to be the sole author. Dekker is noted for his "realistic portrayal of daily London life and for "his sympathy for the poor and oppressed".
After Shakespeare's death, the poet and dramatist Ben Jonson (1572–1637) was the leading literary figure of the Jacobean era. Jonson's aesthetics hark back to the Middle Ages and his characters embody the theory of humours. According to this contemporary medical theory, behavioral differences result from a prevalence of one of the body's four "humours" (blood, phlegm, black bile, and yellow bile) over the other three; these humours correspond with the four elements of the universe: air, water, fire, and earth. However, the stock types of Latin literature were an equal influence. Jonson therefore tends to create types or caricatures. However, in his best work, characters are "so vitally rendered as to take on a being that transcends the type". Jonson's famous comedy Volpone (1605 or 1606)) shows how a group of scammers are fooled by a top con-artist, vice being punished by vice. Other major plays by Jonson are Epicoene (1609), The Alchemist (1610), and Bartholomew Fair (1614).
Others who followed Jonson's style include Beaumont and Fletcher, who wrote the popular comedy, The Knight of the Burning Pestle (probably 1607–08), a satire of the rising middle class, especially of those nouveaux riches who pretend to dictate literary taste without knowing much literature at all. In the story, a couple of grocers wrangle with professional actors to have their illiterate son play a leading role in a drama. He becomes a knight-errant wearing, appropriately, a burning pestle on his shield. Seeking to win a princesses' heart, the young man is ridiculed much in the way Don Quixote was. One of Beaumont and Fletcher's skills was that of portraying of how feudalism and chivalry had turned into snobbery and make-believe and that new social classes were on the rise.
Another popular style of theatre during Jacobean times was the revenge play, which was popularized in the Elizabethan era by Thomas Kyd (1558–94), and then further developed later by John Webster (?1578-?1632). Webster's most famous plays are The White Devil (1612) and The Duchess of Malfi (1613). Other revenge tragedies include The Changeling written by Thomas Middleton and William Rowley, The Atheist's Tragedy by Cyril Tourneur, first published in 1611, Christopher Marlow's The Jew of Malta, The Revenge of Bussy D'Ambois by George Chapman, The Malcontent (ca. 1603) of John Marston and John Ford's 'Tis Pity She's a Whore. Besides Hamlet, Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus is a revenge tragedy.
George Chapman (?1559-?1634) also wrote revenge tragedies, but today he is remembered chiefly for his famous translation in 1616 of Homer's Iliad and Odyssey into English verse. This was the first ever complete translations of either poem into the English language. The translation had a profound influence on English literature and inspired John Keats's famous sonnet "On First Looking into Chapman's Homer" (1816).
The most important prose work of the early 17th century was the King James Bible. This, one of the most massive translation projects in the history of English up to this time, was started in 1604 and completed in 1611. This represents the culmination of a tradition of Bible translation into English that began with the work of William Tyndale, and it became the standard Bible of the Church of England. The project was headed by James I himself, who supervised the work of forty-seven scholars.
Besides Shakespeare and Ben Jonson, the major poets of the early 17th century included the Metaphysical poets: John Donne (1572–1631), George Herbert (1593–1633), Henry Vaughan, Andrew Marvell, and Richard Crashaw. Their style was characterized by wit and metaphysical conceits, that is far-fetched or unusual similes or metaphors, such as in Andrew Marvell’s comparison of the soul with a drop of dew, in an expanded epigram format, with the use of simple verse forms, octosyllabic couplets, quatrains or stanzas in which length of line and rhyme scheme enforce the sense. The specific definition of wit which Johnson applied to the school was: "a kind of discordia concors; a combination of dissimilar images, or discovery of occult resemblances in things apparently unlike." Their poetry diverged from the style of their times, containing neither images of nature nor allusions to classical mythology, as were common, and there are often allusions to scientific or geographical discoveries. There is also a frequent concern with religious subjects in their poetry
Late Renaissance: 1625–1660
The Metaphysical poets John Donne (1572–1631) and George Herbert (1593–1633 were still alive after 1625, and later in the 17th century a second generation of metaphysical poets were writing, including Richard Crashaw (1613–49), Andrew Marvell (1621–1678), Thomas Traherne (1636 or 1637–1674) and Henry Vaughan (1622–1695). The Cavalier poets were another important group of 17th-century poets, who came from the classes that supported King Charles I during the English Civil War (1642–51). (King Charles reigned from 1625 and was executed 1649). The best known of the Cavalier poets are Robert Herrick, Richard Lovelace, Thomas Carew and Sir John Suckling. They "were not a formal group, but all were influenced by" Ben Jonson. Most of the Cavalier poets were courtiers, with notable exceptions. For example, Robert Herrick was not a courtier, but his style marks him as a Cavalier poet. Cavalier works make use of allegory and classical allusions, and are influence by Latin authors Horace, Cicero and Ovid. John Milton (1608–74) "was the last great poet of the English Renaissance" and published a number of works before 1660, including A L'Allegro,1631; Il Penseroso, 1634; Comus (a masque), 1638; and Lycidas, (1638). However, his major epic works, including Paradise Lost (1667) were published in the Restoration period.
Neo-Classical Period: 1660–1798
Restoration Age: 1660–1700
Restoration literature includes both Paradise Lost and the Earl of Rochester's Sodom, the high spirited sexual comedy of The Country Wife and the moral wisdom of Pilgrim's Progress. It saw Locke's Two Treatises on Government, the founding of the Royal Society, the experiments and the holy meditations of Robert Boyle, the hysterical attacks on theatres from Jeremy Collier, the pioneering of literary criticism from Dryden, and the first newspapers. The official break in literary culture caused by censorship and radically moralist standards under Cromwell's Puritan regime created a gap in literary tradition, allowing a seemingly fresh start for all forms of literature after the Restoration. During the Interregnum, the royalist forces attached to the court of Charles I went into exile with the twenty-year-old Charles II. The nobility who travelled with Charles II were therefore lodged for over a decade in the midst of the continent's literary scene. Charles spent his time attending plays in France, and he developed a taste for Spanish plays. Those nobles living in Holland began to learn about mercantile exchange as well as the tolerant, rationalist prose debates that circulated in that officially tolerant nation.
John Milton is one of the greatest English poets, wrote at this time of religious flux and political upheaval. Milton best known for his epic poem Paradise Lost (1671). Among other important poems are: L'Allegro,1631; Il Penseroso 1634; Comus (a masque), 1638; Lycidas; Paradise Regained, 1671; Samson Agonistes, 1671. Milton's poetry and prose reflect deep personal convictions, a passion for freedom and self-determination, and the urgent issues and political turbulence of his day. Writing in English, Latin, and Italian, he achieved international renown within his lifetime, and his celebrated Areopagitica, written in condemnation of pre-publication censorship, is among history's most influential and impassioned defenses of free speech and freedom of the press. William Hayley's 1796 biography called him the "greatest English author", and he remains generally regarded "as one of the preeminent writers in the English language".
The largest and most important poetic form of the era was satire. In general, publication of satire was done anonymously. There were great dangers in being associated with a satire. On the one hand, defamation law was a wide net, and it was difficult for a satirist to avoid prosecution if he were proven to have written a piece that seemed to criticize a noble. On the other hand, wealthy individuals would respond to satire as often as not by having the suspected poet physically attacked by ruffians. John Dryden was set upon for being merely suspected of having written the Satire on Mankind. A consequence of this anonymity is that a great many poems, some of them of merit, are unpublished and largely unknown.
John Dryden (1631–1700) was an influential English poet, literary critic, translator, and playwright who dominated the literary life of Restoration England to such a point that the period came to be known in literary circles as the Age of Dryden. He established the heroic couplet as a standard form of English poetry by writing successful satires, religious pieces, fables, epigrams, compliments, prologues, and plays with it; he also introduced the alexandrine and triplet into the form. In his poems, translations, and criticism, he established a poetic diction appropriate to the heroic couplet. Dryden's greatest achievements were in satiric verse in works like the mock-heroic MacFlecknoe (1682). W. H. Auden referred to him as "the master of the middle style" that was a model for his contemporaries and for much of the 18th century. The considerable loss felt by the English literary community at his death was evident from the elegies that it inspired. Alexander Pope (1688–1744) was heavily influenced by Dryden, and often borrowed from him; other writers in the 18th century were equally influenced by both Dryden and Pope. Though Ben Jonson had been poet laureate to James I, this was not then a formal position and the formal title of Poet Laureate, as a royal office, was first conferred by letters patent on John Dryden in 1670. The post then became a regular British institution.
Prose in the Restoration period is dominated by Christian religious writing, but the Restoration also saw the beginnings of two genres that would dominate later periods: fiction and journalism. Religious writing often strayed into political and economic writing, just as political and economic writing implied or directly addressed religion. The Restoration was also the time when John Locke wrote many of his philosophical works. Locke's empiricism was an attempt at understanding the basis of human understanding itself and thereby devising a proper manner for making sound decisions. These same scientific methods led Locke to his two Treatises on Government, which later inspired the thinkers in the American Revolution. As with his work on understanding, Locke moves from the most basic units of society toward the more elaborate, and, like Thomas Hobbes, he emphasizes the plastic nature of the social contract. For an age that had seen absolute monarchy overthrown, democracy attempted, democracy corrupted, and limited monarchy restored, only a flexible basis for government could be satisfying. The Restoration moderated most of the more strident sectarian writing, but radicalism persisted after the Restoration. Puritan authors such as John Milton were forced to retire from public life or adapt, and those Digger, Fifth Monarchist, Leveller, Quaker, and Anabaptist authors who had preached against monarchy and who had participated directly in the regicide of Charles I were partially suppressed. Consequently, violent writings were forced underground, and many of those who had served in the Interregnum attenuated their positions in the Restoration. John Bunyan stands out beyond other religious authors of the period. Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress is an allegory of personal salvation and a guide to the Christian life. Instead of any focus on eschatology or divine retribution, Bunyan instead writes about how the individual saint can prevail against the temptations of mind and body that threaten damnation. The book is written in a straightforward narrative and shows influence from both drama and biography, and yet it also shows an awareness of the grand allegorical tradition found in
Edmund Spenser. During the Restoration period, the most common manner of getting news would have been a broadsheet publication. A single, large sheet of paper might have a written, usually partisan, account of an event. However, the period saw the beginnings of the first professional and periodical (meaning that the publication was regular) journalism in England. Journalism develops late, generally around the time of William of Orange's claiming the throne in 1689. Coincidentally or by design, England began to have newspapers just when William came to court from Amsterdam, where there were already newspapers being published. It is impossible to satisfactorily date the beginning of the novel in English. However, long fiction and fictional biographies began to distinguish themselves from other forms in England during the Restoration period. An existing tradition of Romance fiction in France and Spain was popular in England. The "Romance" was considered a feminine form, and women were taxed with reading "novels" as a vice. One of the most significant figures in the rise of the novel in the Restoration period is Aphra Behn. She was not only the first professional female novelist, but she may be among the first professional novelists of either sex in England. Behn's most famous novel was Oroonoko in 1688. This was a biography of an entirely fictional African king who had been enslaved in Suriname. Behn's novels show the influence of tragedy and her experiences as a dramatist.
As soon as the previous Puritan regime's ban on public stage representations was lifted, the drama recreated itself quickly and abundantly. The most famous plays of the early Restoration period are the unsentimental or "hard" comedies of John Dryden, William Wycherley, and George Etherege, which reflect the atmosphere at Court, and celebrate an aristocratic macho lifestyle of unremitting sexual intrigue and conquest. After a sharp drop in both quality and quantity in the 1680s, the mid-1690s saw a brief second flowering of the drama, especially comedy. Comedies like William Congreve's The Way of the World (1700), and John Vanbrugh's The Relapse (1696) and The Provoked Wife (1697) were "softer" and more middle-class in ethos, very different from the aristocratic extravaganza twenty years earlier, and aimed at a wider audience. The playwrights of the 1690s set out to appeal to more socially mixed audiences with a strong middle-class element, and to female spectators, for instance by moving the war between the sexes from the arena of intrigue into that of marriage. The focus in comedy is less on young lovers outwitting the older generation, more on marital relations.
Augustan literature (1700–1750)
During the 18th century literature reflected the worldview of the Age of Enlightenment (or Age of Reason): a rational and scientific approach to religious, social, political, and economic issues that promoted a secular view of the world and a general sense of progress and perfectibility. Led by the philosophers who were inspired by the discoveries of the previous century by people like Isaac Newton and the writings of Descartes, John Locke and Francis Bacon. They sought to discover and to act upon universally valid principles governing humanity, nature, and society. They variously attacked spiritual and scientific authority, dogmatism, intolerance, censorship, and economic and social restraints. They considered the state the proper and rational instrument of progress. The extreme rationalism and skepticism of the age led naturally to deism; the same qualities played a part in bringing the later reaction of romanticism. The Encyclopédie of Denis Diderot epitomized the spirit of the age.
The term Augustan literature derives from authors of the 1720s and 1730s themselves, who responded to a term that George I of England preferred for himself. While George I meant the title to reflect his might, they instead saw in it a reflection of Ancient Rome's transition from rough and ready literature to highly political and highly polished literature. Because of the aptness of the metaphor, the period from 1689 to 1750 was called "the Augustan Age" by critics throughout the 18th century (including Voltaire and Oliver Goldsmith). The literature of the period is overtly political and thoroughly aware of critical dictates for literature. It is an age of exuberance and scandal, of enormous energy and inventiveness and outrage, that reflected an era when English, Scottish, and Irish people found themselves in the midst of an expanding economy, lowering barriers to education, and the stirrings of the Industrial Revolution.
It was during this time that poet James Thomson (1700–48) produced his melancholy The Seasons (1728–30) and Edward Young (1681–1765) wrote his poem Night Thoughts (1742), though the most outstanding poet of the age is Alexander Pope (1688–1744). It is also the era that saw a serious competition over the proper model for the pastoral. In criticism, poets struggled with a doctrine of decorum, of matching proper words with proper sense and of achieving a diction that matched the gravity of a subject. At the same time, the mock-heroic was at its zenith. Pope's Rape of the Lock (1712–17) and The Dunciad (1728–43) are still the greatest mock-heroic poems ever written. Pope also translated the Iliad (1715–20) and the Odyssey (1725–26). Since his death, Pope has been in a constant state of re-evaluation. His high artifice, strict prosody, and, at times, the sheer cruelty of his satire were an object of derision for the Romantic poets, and it was not until the 1930s that his reputation was revived. Pope is now considered the dominant poetic voice of his century, a model of prosodic elegance, biting wit, and an enduring, demanding moral force.
In prose, the earlier part of the period was overshadowed by the development of the English essay. Joseph Addison and Richard Steele's The Spectator established the form of the British periodical essay, inventing the pose of the detached observer of human life who can meditate upon the world without advocating any specific changes in it. Periodical essays bloomed into journalistic writings; such as Samuel Johnson’s "Reports of the Debates of the Senate of Lilliput", titled to disguise the actual proceeding of parliament as it was illegal for any Parliamentary Reports to be reproduced in print. However, this was also the time when the English novel, first emerging in the Restoration, developed into a major art form. Daniel Defoe turned from journalism and writing criminal lives for the press to writing fictional criminal lives with Roxana and Moll Flanders. He also wrote a fictional treatment of the travels of Alexander Selkirk called Robinson Crusoe (1719). The novel would benefit indirectly from a tragedy of the stage, and in mid-century many more authors would begin to write novels.
If Addison and Steele were dominant in one type of prose, then Jonathan Swift was in another. Swift's prose style is unmannered and direct, with a clarity that few contemporaries matched. He was a profound skeptic about the modern world, but he was similarly profoundly distrustful of nostalgia. He saw in history a record of lies and vanity, and he saw in the present a madness of vanity and lies. He believed that Christian values were essential, but these values had to be muscular and assertive and developed by constant rejection of the games of confidence men and their gulls. Swift's A Tale of a Tub announced his skeptical analysis of the claims of the modern world, and his later prose works, such as his war with Patridge the astrologer, and most of all his attacks on pride in Gulliver's Travels, only left safe the individual who was in constant fear and humility. After his "exile" to Ireland, Swift reluctantly began defending the Irish people from the predations of colonialism. His A Modest Proposal and the Drapier Letters provoked riots and arrests, but Swift, who had no love of Irish Roman Catholics, was outraged by the abuses and barbarity he saw around him.
Drama in the early part of the period featured the last plays of John Vanbrugh and William Congreve, both of whom carried on the Restoration comedy with some alterations. However, the majority of stagings were of lower farces and much more serious and domestic tragedies. George Lillo and Richard Steele both produced highly moral forms of tragedy, where the characters and the concerns of the characters were wholly middle class or working class. This reflected a marked change in the audience for plays, as royal patronage was no longer the important part of theatrical success. Additionally, Colley Cibber and John Rich began to battle each other for greater and greater spectacles to present on stage. The figure of Harlequin was introduced, and pantomime theatre began to be staged. This "low" comedy was quite popular, and the plays became tertiary to the staging. Opera also began to be popular in London, and there was significant literary resistance to this Italian incursion. This trend was broken only by a few attempts at a new type of comedy. Pope and John Arbuthnot and John Gay attempted a play entitled Three Hours After Marriage that failed. In 1728, however, John Gay returned to the playhouse with The Beggar's Opera. Gay's opera was in English and retold the story of Jack Sheppard and Jonathan Wild. However, it seemed to be an allegory based on Robert Walpole and the directors of the South Sea Company, and so Gay's follow up opera was banned without a performance. The Licensing Act 1737 brought an abrupt halt to much of the period's drama, as the theatres were once again brought under state control.
An effect of the Licensing Act of 1737 was to cause more than one aspiring playwright to switch over to writing novels. Henry Fielding (1707–54) began to write prose satire and novels after his plays could not pass the censors. In the interim, Samuel Richardson (1689–1761) had produced a novel intended to counter the deleterious effects of novels in Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded (1740). Henry Fielding attacked the absurdity of this novel with two of his own works, Joseph Andrews (1742) and Shamela, and then countered Richardson's Clarissa (1748) with Tom Jones (1749). Tobias Smollett (1721–71) elevated the picaresque novel with works such as Roderick Random (1748) and Peregrine Pickle (1751). Each of these novels represents a formal and thematic divergence from the others. Each novelist was in dialogue and competition with the others, and, in a sense, the novel established itself as a diverse and open-formed genre in this explosion of creativity. The most lasting effects of the experimentation would be the psychological realism of Richardson, the bemused narrative voice of Fielding.
Age of sensibility: 1750–1798
This period is also sometimes described as the "Age of Johnson". Samuel Johnson (1709–1784), often referred to as Dr Johnson, was an English author who made lasting contributions to English literature as a poet, essayist, moralist, literary critic, biographer, editor and lexicographer. Johnson has been described as "arguably the most distinguished man of letters in English history". He is also the subject of "the most famous single work of biographical art in the whole of literature": James Boswell's Life of Samuel Johnson (1791). His early works include the poems "London" and "his most impressive poem" "The Vanity of Human Wishes" (1749). Both poems are modelled on Juvenal’s satires. After nine years of work, Johnson's A Dictionary of the English Language was published in 1755; it had a far-reaching effect on Modern English and has been described as "one of the greatest single achievements of scholarship." This work brought Johnson popularity and success. Until the completion of the Oxford English Dictionary 150 years later, Johnson's was viewed as the pre-eminent British dictionary. His later works included essays, an influential annotated edition of William Shakespeare's plays (1765), and the widely read tale Rasselas (1759). In 1763, he befriended James Boswell, with whom he later travelled to Scotland; Johnson described their travels in A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland (1786). Towards the end of his life, he produced the massive and influential Lives of the Most Eminent English Poets (1779–81), a collection of biographies and evaluations of 17th- and 18th-century poets. Through works such as the "Dictionary, his edition of Shakespeare, and his Lives of the Poets in particular, he helped invent what we now call English Literature".
The second half of the 18th century saw the emergence of three major Irish authors Oliver Goldsmith (1728–1774), Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1751–1816) and Laurence Sterne (1713–68). Goldsmith settled in London in 1756, where he published the novel The Vicar of Wakefield (1766), a pastoral poem The Deserted Village (1770) and two plays, The Good-Natur'd Man 1768 and She Stoops to Conquer 1773. This latter was a huge success and is still regularly revived. Sheridan was born in Dublin into a family with a strong literary and theatrical tradition. The family moved to England in the 1750s. His first play, The Rivals 1775, was performed at Covent Garden and was an instant success. He went on to become the most significant London playwright of the late 18th century with plays like The School for Scandal and The Critic. Both Goldsmith and Sheridan reacted against the sentimental comedy of the 18th-century theatre, writing plays closer to the style of Restoration comedy. Sterne published his famous novel Tristram Shandy in parts between 1759 and 1767.
The sentimental novel or the novel of sensibility is a genre which developed during the second half of the 18th century. It celebrates the emotional and intellectual concepts of sentiment, sentimentalism, and sensibility. Sentimentalism, which is to be distinguished from sensibility, was a fashion in both poetry and prose fiction beginning in the eighteenth century in reaction to the rationalism of the Augustan Age. Sentimental novels relied on emotional response, both from their readers and characters. They feature scenes of distress and tenderness, and the plot is arranged to advance emotions rather than action. The result is a valorization of "fine feeling," displaying the characters as a model for refined, sensitive emotional effect. The ability to display feelings was thought to show character and experience, and to shape social life and relations. Among the most famous sentimental novels in English are Samuel Richardson's Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded (1740), Oliver Goldsmith's Vicar of Wakefield (1766), Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy (1759–67), Sentimental Journey (1768), Henry Brooke's The Fool of Quality (1765–70), Henry Mackenzie's The Man of Feeling (1771) and Maria Edgeworth's Castle Rackrent (1800).
Another novel genre also developed in this period. In 1778, Frances Burney (1752–1840) wrote Evelina, one of the first novels of manners. Social behaviour in public and private settings accounts for much of the plot of Evelina. This is mirrored in other novels that were particularly popular at the beginning of the 19th century, especially those of Jane Austen. Fanny Burney's novels indeed "were enjoyed and admired by Jane Austen".
The Romantic movement in English literature of the early 19th century has its roots in 18th-century poetry, the Gothic novel and the novel of sensibility. This includes the graveyard poets, who were a number of pre-Romantic English poets, writing in the 1740s and later, whose works are characterised by their gloomy meditations on mortality, "skulls and coffins, epitaphs and worms" in the context of the graveyard. To this was added, by later practitioners, a feeling for the 'sublime' and uncanny, and an interest in ancient English poetic forms and folk poetry. They are often considered precursors of the Gothic genre. The poets include; Thomas Gray (1716–71), whose Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard (1751) is "the best known product of this kind of sensibility"; William Cowper (1731–1800); Christopher Smart (1722–71); Thomas Chatterton (1752–70); Robert Blair (1699–1746), author of The Grave (1743), "which celebrates the horror of death"; and Edward Young (1683–1765), whose The Complaint, or Night Thoughts on Life, Death and Immortality (1742–45), is another "noted example of the graveyard genre". Other precursors of Romanticism are the poets James Thomson (1700–48) and James Macpherson (1736–96).
James Macpherson (1736–96) was the first Scottish poet to gain an international reputation. Claiming to have found poetry written by the ancient bard Ossian, he published translations that acquired international popularity, being proclaimed as a Celtic equivalent of the Classical epics. Fingal, written in 1762, was speedily translated into many European languages, and its appreciation of natural beauty and treatment of the ancient legend has been credited more than any single work with bringing about the Romantic movement in European, and especially in German literature, through its influence on Johann Gottfried von Herder and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. It was also popularised in France by figures that included Napoleon. Eventually it became clear that the poems were not direct translations from the Gaelic, but flowery adaptations made to suit the aesthetic expectations of his audience. Both Robert Burns (1759–96) and Walter Scott (1771–1832) were highly influenced by the Ossian cycle.
Significant foreign influences were the Germans Goethe, Schiller and August Wilhelm Schlegel and French philosopher and writer Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–78). Edmund Burke's A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (1757) is another important influence. The changing landscape, brought about by the industrial and agricultural revolutions, with the expansion of the city and depopulation of the countryside, was another influence on the growth of the Romantic movement in Britain. The poor condition of workers, the new class conflicts and the pollution of the environment, led to a reaction against urbanism and industrialization and a new emphasis on the beauty and value of nature.
During the end of the 18th century, Horace Walpole's 1764 novel The Castle of Otranto, created the Gothic fiction genre, that combines elements of horror and romance. The pioneering gothic novelist Ann Radcliffe introduced the brooding figure of the gothic villain which developed into the Byronic hero. Her most popular and influential work The Mysteries of Udolpho 1795, is frequently cited as the archetypal Gothic novel. Vathek 1786 by William Beckford, and The Monk 1796 by Matthew Lewis, were further notable early works in both the gothic and horror literary genres. The first short stories in the United Kingdom were gothic tales like Richard Cumberland's "remarkable narrative" "The Poisoner of Montremos" (1791).
Romanticism was an artistic, literary, and intellectual movement that originated in Europe toward the end of the 18th century. Various dates are given for the Romantic period in British literature, but here the publishing of Lyrical Ballads in 1798 is taken as the beginning, and the crowning of Queen Victoria in 1837 as its end, even though, for example, William Wordsworth lived until 1850 and both Robert Burns and William Blake published before 1798. The writers of this period, however, "did not think of themselves as 'Romantics' ", and the term was first used by critics of the Victorian period. Romanticism arrived later in other parts of the English-speaking world.
The Romantic period was one of major social change in England, because of the depopulation of the countryside and the rapid development of overcrowded industrial cities, that took place in the period roughly between 1750 and 1850. The movement of so many people in England was the result of two forces: the Agricultural Revolution, that involved the Enclosure of the land, drove workers off the land, and the Industrial Revolution which provided them employment, "in the factories and mills, operated by machines driven by steam-power". Indeed Romanticism may be seen in part as a reaction to the Industrial Revolution, though it was also a revolt against aristocratic social and political norms of the Age of Enlightenment, as well a reaction against the scientific rationalization of nature. The French Revolution was an especially important influence on the political thinking of many of the Romantic poets.
The landscape is often prominent in the poetry of this period, so that it the Romantics, especially perhaps Wordsworth, are often described as 'nature poets'. However, the longer Romantic 'nature poems' have a wider concern because they are usually meditations on "an emotional problem or personal crisis".
Robert Burns (1759–1796) was a pioneer of the Romantic movement, and after his death he became a cultural icon in Scotland. As well as writing poems, Burns also collected folk songs from across Scotland, often revising or adapting them. His Poems, chiefly in the Scottish Dialect was published in 1786. Among poems and songs of Burns that remain well known across the world are, "Auld Lang Syne", "A Red, Red Rose", "A Man's A Man for A' That", "To a Louse", "To a Mouse", "The Battle of Sherramuir", "Tam o' Shanter" and "Ae Fond Kiss".
The poet, painter, and printmaker William Blake (1757–1827) was another the early Romantic poets. Largely disconnected from the major streams of the literature of the time, Blake was generally unrecognised during his lifetime, but is now considered a seminal figure in the history of both the poetry and visual arts of the Romantic Age. Considered mad by contemporaries for his idiosyncratic views, Blake is held in high regard by later critics for his expressiveness and creativity, and for the philosophical and mystical undercurrents within his work. Among his most important works are Songs of Innocence (1789) and Songs of Experience (1794) "and profound and difficult 'prophecies' " such as Visions of the Daughters of Albion (1793), The First Book of Urizen (1794), Milton (1804–?11), and "Jerusalem: the Emanation of the Giant Albion" (1804–?20).
After Blake, among the earliest Romantics were the Lake Poets, a small group of friends, including William Wordsworth (1770–1850), Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772–1834), Robert Southey (1774–1843) and journalist Thomas de Quincey (1785–1859). However, at the time Walter Scott (1771–1832) was the most famous poet. Scott achieved immediate success with his long narrative poem The Lay of the Last Minstrel in 1805, followed by the full epic poem Marmion in 1808. Both were set in the distant Scottish past.
The early Romantic Poets brought a new emotionalism and introspection, and their emergence is marked by the first romantic manifesto in English literature, the "Preface" to Lyrical Ballads (1798). In it Wordsworth discusses what he sees as the elements of a new type of poetry, one based on the "real language of men", and which avoids the poetic diction of much 18th-century poetry. Here, Wordsworth gives his famous definition of poetry, as "the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings" which "takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility." The poems in Lyrical Ballads were mostly by Wordsworth, though Coleridge contributed, one of the great poems of English literature, the long "Rime of the Ancient Mariner", a tragic ballad about the survival of one sailor through a series of supernatural events on his voyage through the South Seas, and which involves the symbolically significant slaying of an albatross. Coleridge is also especially remembered for "Kubla Khan", "Frost at Midnight", "Dejection: an Ode", "Christabel", as well as the major prose work Biographia Literaria. His critical work, especially on Shakespeare, was highly influential, and he helped introduce German idealist philosophy to English-speaking culture. Coleridge and Wordsworth, along with Carlyle, were a major influence, through Emerson, on American transcendentalism. Among Wordsworth's most important poems, are "Michael", "Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey", "Resolution and Independence", "Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood" and the long, autobiographical, epic The Prelude. The Prelude was begun in 1799 but published posthumously in 1850. Wordsworth's poetry is noteworthy for how he "inverted the traditional hierarchy of poetic genres, subjects, and style by elevating humble and rustic life and the plain [...] into the main subject and medium of poetry in general", and how, in Coleridge's words, he awakens in the reader "freshness of sensation" in his depiction of familiar, commonplace objects.
Robert Southey (1774–1843) was another of the so-called "Lake Poets", and Poet Laureate for 30 years from 1813 to his death in 1843. Although his fame has been long eclipsed by that of his contemporaries and friends William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Thomas De Quincey (1785–1859) was an English essayist, best known for his Confessions of an English Opium-Eater (1821), an autobiographical account of his laudanum use and its effect on his life. William Hazlitt (1778–1830), friend of both Coleridge and Wordsworth, is another important essayist at this time, though today he is best known for his literary criticism, especially Characters of Shakespeare's Plays (1817–18).
The second generation of Romantic poets includes Lord Byron (1788–1824), Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792–1822) and John Keats (1795–1821). Byron, however, was still influenced by 18th-century satirists and was, perhaps the least 'romantic' of the three, preferring "the brilliant wit of Pope to what he called the 'wrong poetical system' of his Romantic contemporaries". Byron achieved enormous fame and influence throughout Europe with works exploiting the violence and drama of their exotic and historical settings. Goethe called Byron "undoubtedly the greatest genius of our century". A trip to Europe resulted in the first two cantos of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage (1812), a mock-heroic epic of a young man's adventures in Europe, but also a sharp satire against London society. The poem contains elements thought to be autobiographical, as Byron generated some of the storyline from experience gained during his travels between 1809 and 1811. However, despite the success of Childe Harold and other works, Byron was forced to leave England for good in 1816 and seek asylum on the Continent, because, among other things, of his alleged incestuous affair with his half-sister Augusta Leigh. Here he joined Percy Bysshe and Mary Shelley, with his secretary John William Polidori on the shores of Lake Geneva, during the 'year without a summer'. Polidori's The Vampyre was published in 1819, creating the literary vampire genre. This short story was inspired by the life of Lord Byron and his poem The Giaour (1813). Between 1819 and 1824 Byron published his unfinished epic satire Don Juan, which, though initially condemned by the critics, "was much admired by Goethe who translated part of it".
Shelley is perhaps best known for poems such as Ozymandias, Ode to the West Wind, To a Skylark, Music, When Soft Voices Die, The Cloud, The Masque of Anarchy and Adonaïs, an elegy written on the death of Keats. Shelley's early profession of atheism, in the tract "The Necessity of Atheism", led to his expulsion from Oxford, and branded him as a radical agitator and thinker, setting an early pattern of marginalization and ostracism from the intellectual and political circles of his time. His close circle of admirers, however, included the most progressive thinkers of the day, including his future father-in-law, philosopher William Godwin. A work like Queen Mab (1813) reveal Shelley, "as the direct heir to the French and British revolutionary intellectuals of the 1790s. Shelley became an idol of the next three or four generations of poets, including important Victorian and Pre-Raphaelite poets such as Robert Browning, and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, as well as later W. B. Yeats. Shelley's influential poem The Masque of Anarchy (1819) calls for nonviolence in protest and political action. It is perhaps the first modern statement of the principle of nonviolent protest. Mahatma Gandhi's passive resistance was influenced and inspired by Shelley's verse, and Gandhi would often quote the poem to vast audiences.
Mary Shelley (1797–1851) is remembered as the author of Frankenstein (1818). The plot of this is said to have come from a waking dream she had, in the company of Percy Shelley, Lord Byron, and John Polidori, following a conversation about galvanism and the feasibility of returning a corpse or assembled body parts to life, and on the experiments of the 18th-century natural philosopher and poet Erasmus Darwin, who was said to have animated dead matter. Sitting around a log fire at Byron's villa, the company also amused themselves by reading German ghost stories, prompting Byron to suggest they each write their own supernatural tale.
Though John Keats shared Byron and Shelley's radical politics, "his best poetry is not political", but is especially noted for its sensuous music and imagery, along with a concern with material beauty and the transience of life. Among his most famous works are: "The Eve of St Agnes", "Ode to Psyche", "La Belle Dame sans Merci", "Ode to a Nightingale", "Ode on a Grecian Urn", "Ode on Melancholy", "To Autumn" and the incomplete Hyperion, a 'philosophical' poem in blank verse, which was "conceived on the model of Milton's Paradise Lost ". Keats' letters "are among the finest in English" and important "for their discussion of his aesthetic ideas", including 'negative capability' ". Keats has always been regarded as a major Romantic, "and his stature as a poet has grown steadily through all changes of fashion".
Another important poet in this period was John Clare (1793–1864), Clare was the son of a farm labourer, who came to be known for his celebratory representations of the English countryside and his lamentation for the changes taking place in rural England. His poetry underwent a major re-evaluation in the late 20th century and he is often now considered to be among the most important 19th-century poets. His biographer Jonathan Bate states that Clare was "the greatest labouring-class poet that England has ever produced. No one has ever written more powerfully of nature, of a rural childhood, and of the alienated and unstable self".
George Crabbe (1754–1832) was an English poet who, during the Romantic period, wrote "closely observed, realistic portraits of rural life [...] in the heroic couplets of the Augustan age". Lord Byron who was an admirer of Crabbe's poetry, described him as "nature's sternest painter, yet the best". Modern critic Frank Whitehead has said that "Crabbe, in his verse tales in particular, is an important–indeed, a major–poet whose work has been and still is seriously undervalued." Crabbe's works include The Village (1783), Poems (1807), The Borough (1810), and his poetry collections Tales (1812) and Tales of the Hall (1819).
One of the most popular novelist of the era was Sir Walter Scott, whose historical romances inspired a generation of painters, composers, and writers throughout Europe, including Franz Schubert, Felix Mendelssohn and J. M. W. Turner. His novels also inspired many operas, of which the most famous are Lucia di Lammermoor (1835) by Donizetti and Bizet’s, La jolie fille de Perth, The Fair Maid of Perth (1867). Scott's novel-writing career was launched in 1814 with Waverley, often called the first historical novel, and was followed by Ivanhoe. His popularity in England and further abroad did much to form the modern stereotype of Scottish culture. The Waverley Novels, including The Antiquary, Old Mortality, The Heart of Midlothian, are now generally regarded as Scott's masterpieces.
Jane Austen's works critique the novels of sensibility of the second half of the 18th century and are part of the transition to 19th-century realism. Her plots, though fundamentally comic, highlight the dependence of women on marriage to secure social standing and economic security. Austen brings to light the hardships women faced, who usually did not inherit money, could not work and where their only chance in life depended on the man they married. She reveals not only the difficulties women faced in her day, but also what was expected of men and of the careers they had to follow. This she does with wit and humour and with endings where all characters, good or bad, receive exactly what they deserve. Her work brought her little personal fame and only a few positive reviews during her lifetime, but the publication in 1869 of her nephew's A Memoir of Jane Austen introduced her to a wider public, and by the 1940s she had become accepted as a major writer. The second half of the 20th century saw a proliferation of Austen scholarship and the emergence of a Janeite fan culture. Austen's works include Sense and Sensibility (1811), Pride and Prejudice (1813), Mansfield Park(1814), Emma (1815), Northanger Abbey (1817) and Persuasion (1817).
- Romanticism in America
The European Romantic movement reached America in the early 19th century. American Romanticism was just as multifaceted and individualistic as it was in Europe. Like the Europeans, the American Romantics demonstrated a high level of moral enthusiasm, commitment to individualism and the unfolding of the self, an emphasis on intuitive perception, and the assumption that the natural world was inherently good, while human society was filled with corruption. Romanticism became popular in American politics, philosophy and art. The movement appealed to the revolutionary spirit of America as well as to those longing to break free of the strict religious traditions of early settlement. The Romantics rejected rationalism and religious intellect. It appealed to those in opposition of Calvinism, which includes the belief that the destiny of each individual is preordained.
Romantic Gothic literature made an early appearance with Washington Irving's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (1820) and Rip Van Winkle (1819), There are picturesque "local color" elements in Washington Irving's essays and especially his travel books. From 1823 the prolific and popular novelist James Fenimore Cooper (1789–1851) began publishing his historical romances of frontier and Indian life, to create a unique form of American literature. Cooper is best remembered for his numerous sea-stories and the historical novels known as the Leatherstocking Tales, with their emphasis on heroic simplicity and their fervent landscape descriptions of an already-exotic mythicized frontier peopled by "noble savages", exemplified by Uncas, from The Last of the Mohicans (1826) show the influence of Rousseau's (1712–78) philosophy. Edgar Allan Poe's tales of the macabre that first appeared in the early 1830s, and his balladic poetry were more influential in France than at home.
The Romantic movement in America continued well into the 19th-century and writers like Hawthorne and Melville are discussed in the next section.
Victorian literature (1837–1901)
Also American literature (sections 4–6)
The Victorian novel
It was in the Victorian era (1837–1901) that the novel became the leading literary genre in English. Women played an important part in this rising popularity both as authors and as readers. Monthly serializing of fiction encouraged this surge in popularity, due to a combination of the rise of literacy, technological advances in printing, and improved economics of distribution. Charles Dickens' Pickwick Papers, was published in twenty parts between April 1836 and November 1837. Both Dickens and Thackeray frequently published this way. However, the standard practice of publishing three volume editions continued until the end of the 19th century. Circulating libraries, that allowed books to be borrowed for an annual subscription, were a further factor in the rising popularity of the novel.
The 1830s and 1840s saw the rise of social novel, that "arose out of the social and political upheavals which followed the Reform Act of 1832". This was in many ways a reaction to rapid industrialization, and the social, political and economic issues associated with it, and was a means of commenting on abuses of government and industry and the suffering of the poor, who were not profiting from England's economic prosperity. Stories of the working class poor were directed toward middle class to help create sympathy and promote change. An early example is Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist (1837–38). Other significant early example of this genre are Sybil, or The Two Nations, a novel by Benjamin Disraeli (1804–81) and Charles Kingsley's (1819–75) Alton Locke (1849).
Charles Dickens (1812–70) emerged on the literary scene in the late 1830s and soon became probably the most famous novelist in the history of English literature. One of his most popular works to this day is A Christmas Carol (1843). Dickens fiercely satirized various aspects of society, including the workhouse in Oliver Twist, the failures of the legal system in Bleak House, the dehumanizing effect of money in Dombey and Son and the influence of the philosophy of utilitarianism in factories, education etc., in Hard Times. However some critics have suggested that Dickens' sentimentality blunts the impact of his satire. In more recent years Dickens has been most admired for his later novels, such as Dombey and Son (1846–48), Bleak House (1852–53) and Little Dorrit (1855–57), Great Expectations (1860–61), and Our Mutual Friend (1864–65). An early rival to Dickens was William Makepeace Thackeray (1811–63), who during the Victorian period ranked second only to him, but he is now much less read and is known almost exclusively for Vanity Fair (1847). In that novel he satirizes whole swaths of humanity while retaining a light touch. It features his most memorable character, the engagingly roguish Becky Sharp.
The Brontë sisters, Emily, Charlotte and Anne, were other significant novelists in the 1840s and 1850s. Their novels caused a sensation when they were first published but were subsequently accepted as classics. They had written compulsively from early childhood and were first published, at their own expense, in 1846 as poets under the pseudonyms Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell. The following year the three sisters each published a novel. Charlotte Brontë's (1816–55) work was Jane Eyre, which is written in an innovative style that combines naturalism with gothic melodrama, and broke new ground in being written from an intensely first-person female perspective. Emily Brontë's (1818–48) novel was Wuthering Heights and, according to Juliet Gardiner, "the vivid sexual passion and power of its language and imagery impressed, bewildered and appalled reviewers," and led the Victorian public and many early reviewers to think that it had been written by a man. Even though it received mixed reviews when it first came out, and was often condemned for its portrayal of amoral passion, the book subsequently became an English literary classic. The third Brontë novel of 1847 was Anne Brontë's (1820–49) Agnes Grey, which deals with the lonely life of a governess. Anne Brontë's second novel, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1848), is perhaps the most shocking of the Brontës' novels. In seeking to present the truth in literature, Anne's depiction of alcoholism and debauchery was profoundly disturbing to 19th-century sensibilities. Charlotte Brontë's Shirley was published in 1849, Villette in 1853, and The Professor in 1857.
Elizabeth Gaskell (1810–65) was also a successful writer and her first novel, Mary Barton, was published anonymously in 1848. Gaskell's North and South contrasts the lifestyle in the industrial north of England with the wealthier south. Even though her writing conforms to Victorian conventions, Gaskell usually frames her stories as critiques of contemporary attitudes, and her early works focused on factory work in the Midlands. She always emphasised the role of women, with complex narratives and dynamic female characters.
Anthony Trollope's (1815–82) was one of the most successful, prolific and respected English novelists of the Victorian era. Some of his best-loved works are set in the imaginary west country county of Barsetshire, including The Warden (1855) and Barchester Towers (1857). Trollope's novels portray the lives of the landowning and professional classes of early Victorian England. Henry James suggested that Trollope's greatest achievement was "great apprehension of the real", and that "what made him so interesting, came through his desire to satisfy us on this point".
George Eliot's (Mary Ann Evans (1819–80) first novel Adam Bede was published in 1859, and she was a major novelist of the mid-Victorian period. Her works, especially Middlemarch (1871–72), are important examples of literary realism, and are admired for their combination of high Victorian literary detail, with an intellectual breadth that removes them from the narrow geographic confines they often depict, that has led to comparisons with Tolstoy. While her reputation declined somewhat after her death, in the 20th century she was championed by a new breed of critics, most notably by Virginia Woolf, who called Middlemarch "one of the few English novels written for grown-up people". Various film and television adaptations of Eliot's books have also introduced her to a wider readership.
George Meredith (1828–1909) is best remembered for his novels The Ordeal of Richard Fevered (1859) and The Egotist (1879). "His reputation stood very high well into" the 20th-century but then seriously declined.
An interest in rural matters and the changing social and economic situation of the countryside is seen in the novels of Thomas Hardy (1840–1928). A Victorian realist, in the tradition of George Eliot, he was also influenced both in his novels and poetry by Romanticism, especially by William Wordsworth. Charles Darwin is another important influence on Thomas Hardy. Like Charles Dickens he was also highly critical of much in Victorian society, though Hardy focussed more on a declining rural society. While Hardy wrote poetry throughout his life, and regarded himself primarily as a poet, his first collection was not published until 1898, so that initially he gained fame as the author of such novels as, Far from the Madding Crowd (1874), The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886), Tess of the d'Urbervilles (1891), and Jude the Obscure (1895). He ceased writing novels following adverse criticism of this last novel. In novels such as The Mayor of Casterbridge and Tess of the d'Urbervilles Hardy attempts to create modern works in the genre of tragedy, that are modelled on the Greek drama, especially Aeschylus and Sophocles, though in prose, not poetry, fiction, not a play, and with characters of low social standing, not nobility. Another significant late-19th-century novelist is George Robert Gissing (1857–1903), who published 23 novels between 1880 and 1903. His best known novel is New Grub Street (1891). Important developments occurred in genre fiction in this era.
Although pre-dated by John Ruskin's The King of the Golden River in 1841, the history of the modern fantasy genre is generally said to begin with George MacDonald, the influential author of The Princess and the Goblin and Phantastes (1858). William Morris was a popular English poet who also wrote several fantasy novels during the latter part of the 19th century. Wilkie Collins' epistolary novel The Moonstone (1868), is generally considered the first detective novel in the English language, while The Woman in White is regarded as one of the finest sensation novels. H. G. Wells's (1866–1946) writing career began in the 1890s with science fiction novels like The Time Machine (1895), and The War of the Worlds (1898) which describes an invasion of late Victorian England by Martians, and Wells is seen, along with Frenchman Jules Verne (1828–1905), as a major figure in the development of the science fiction genre. He also wrote realistic fiction about the lower middle class in novels like Kipps (1905) and The History of Mr Polly (1910).
- American novel (From Romanticism to realism)
(See also the discussion of American literature under Romanticism above).
By the mid-19th century, the pre-eminence of literature from the British Isles began to be challenged by writers from the former American colonies. This included one of the creators of the new genre of the short story, and inventor of the detective story Edgar Allan Poe (1809–49). A major influence on American writers at this time was Romanticism. The Romantic movement gave rise to New England Transcendentalism, which portrayed a less restrictive relationship between God and Universe. The publication of Ralph Waldo Emerson's 1836 essay Nature is usually considered the watershed moment at which transcendentalism became a major cultural movement. The new philosophy presented the individual with a more personal relationship with God. Transcendentalism and Romanticism appealed to Americans in a similar fashion, for both privileged feeling over reason, individual freedom of expression over the restraints of tradition and custom. It often involved a rapturous response to nature. It encouraged the rejection of harsh, rigid Calvinism, and promised a new blossoming of American culture. Other significant transcendentalists were Henry David Thoreau (1817–1862), the naturalist John Muir, (1838–1914), and Louisa May Alcott (1832–1888) author of Little Women.
In 1837, the young Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804–1864) collected some of his stories as Twice-Told Tales, a volume rich in symbolism and occult incidents. Hawthorne went on to write full-length "romances", quasi-allegorical novels that explore such themes as guilt, pride, and emotional repression in his native New England. The romantic American novel developed fully with Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter (1850), a stark drama of a woman cast out of her community for committing adultery. Hawthorne's fiction had a profound impact on his friend Herman Melville (1819–1891). Melville first made a name for himself by turning material from his seafaring days into exotic and sensational sea narrative novels. Inspired by Hawthorne's focus on allegories and dark psychology, Melville went on to write romances replete with philosophical speculation. In Moby-Dick (1851), an adventurous whaling voyage becomes the vehicle for examining such themes as obsession, the nature of evil, and human struggle against the elements. In another important work, the short novel Billy Budd, Melville dramatizes the conflicting claims of duty and compassion on board a ship in time of war. His books sold poorly, and he had been long forgotten by the time of his death, but Melville was rediscovered in the early decades of the 20th century. Later Transcendentalist writers are Henry David Thoreau Walden, (1854) and poets Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson. By the 1880s, however, psychological and social realism were competing with Romanticism in the novel.
American realist fiction has its beginnings in the 1870s with the works of Twain, Howell and James.
Mark Twain (the pen name used by Samuel Langhorne Clemens, 1835–1910) was the first major American writer to be born away from the East Coast – in the border state of Missouri. His regional masterpieces were the memoir Life on the Mississippi and the novels Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876) and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884). Twain's style – influenced by journalism, wedded to the vernacular, direct and unadorned but also highly evocative and irreverently humorous – changed the way Americans write their language. His characters speak like real people and sound distinctively American, using local dialects, newly invented words, and regional accents. William Dean Howells also represented the realist tradition through his novels, including The Rise of Silas Lapham (1885). Realism also influenced American drama of the period, in part through the works of Howells but also through the works of such Europeans as Ibsen and Zola.
The most significant American novelist of the late 19th-century was Henry James (1843–1916). Although born in New York City, he spent most of his adult years in England. Many of his novels centre on Americans who live in or travel to Europe. James confronted the Old World-New World dilemma by writing directly about it. The first period of James's fiction, usually considered to have culminated in The Portrait of a Lady, concentrated on the contrast between Europe and America. The style of these novels is generally straightforward and, though personally characteristic, well within the norms of 19th-century fiction. Roderick Hudson (1875) is a Künstlerroman that traces the development of the title character, an extremely talented sculptor. Although Roderick Hudson featured mostly American characters in a European setting, James made the Europe–America contrast even more explicit in his next novel. In fact, the contrast could be considered the leading theme of The American (1877). Other works of James first period include Washington Square (1880), The Portrait of a Lady (1881), and James concluded the first phase of his career with a novel that remains his most popular piece of long fiction. Later works of James second period, that have a more involved, psychological approach, include The Bostonians (1886), The Princess Casamassima (1886), and What Maisie Knew (1897).
The premier ghost story writer of the 19th century was Sheridan Le Fanu. His works include the macabre mystery novel Uncle Silas (1865), and his Gothic novella Carmilla (1872), tells the story of a young woman's susceptibility to the attentions of a female vampire. Bram Stoker's horror story Dracula (1897), belongs to a number of literary genres, including vampire literature, horror fiction, gothic novel and invasion literature.
Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes is a brilliant London-based "consulting detective", famous for his intellectual prowess. Conan Doyle wrote four novels and fifty-six short stories featuring Holmes, from 1880 up to 1907, with a final case in 1914. All but four Conan Doyle stories are narrated by Holmes' friend, assistant, and biographer, Dr. Watson. The Lost World literary genre was inspired by real stories of archaeological discoveries by imperial adventurers. H. Rider Haggard wrote one of the earliest examples, King Solomon's Mines, in 1885. Contemporary European politics and diplomatic manoeuvrings informed Anthony Hope's swashbuckling Ruritanian adventure novel The Prisoner of Zenda (1894).
Literature for children developed as a separate genre. Some works become internationally known, such as those of Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and its sequel Through the Looking-Glass. Adventure novels, such as those of Robert Louis Stevenson (1850–94), are generally classified as for children. Stevenson's Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886), depicts the dual personality of a kind and intelligent physician who turns into a psychopathic monster after imbibing a drug intended to separate good from evil in a personality. His Kidnapped (1886) is a fast-paced historical novel set in the aftermath of the Jacobite rising of 1745, and Treasure Island 1883, is the classic pirate adventure. At the end of the Victorian era and leading into the Edwardian era, Beatrix Potter was an author and illustrator, best known for her children’s books, which featured animal characters. In her thirties, Potter published the highly successful children's book The Tale of Peter Rabbit in 1902. Potter eventually went on to published 23 children's books and become a wealthly woman.
The leading poets during the Victorian period were Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809–1892), Robert Browning (1812–89), Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806–61), and Matthew Arnold (1822–88). The poetry of this period was heavily influenced by the Romantics, but also went off in its own directions. Particularly notable was the development of the dramatic monologue, a form used by many poets in this period, but perfected by Browning. Literary criticism in the 20th century gradually drew attention to the links between Victorian poetry and modernism.
Tennyson was Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom during much of Queen Victoria's reign. He was described by T. S. Eliot, as "the greatest master of metrics as well as melancholia", and as having "the finest ear of any English poet since Milton". Browning main achievement was in dramatic monologues such as "My Last Duchess", "Andrea del Sarto" and "The Bishop Orders his Tomb", which were published in his two-volume Men and Women in 1855. In his introduction to the Oxford University Press edition of Browning's Poems 1833–1864, Ian Jack comments, that Thomas Hardy, Rudyard Kipling, Ezra Pound and T S Eliot "all learned from Browning's exploration of the possibilities of dramatic poetry and of colloquial idiom". Tennyson was also a pioneer in the use of the dramatic monologue, in "The Lotus-Eaters" (1833), "Ulysses" (1842), and '"Tithonus" (1860). While Elizabeth Barrett Browning was the wife of Robert Browning she had established her reputation as a major poet before she met him. Her most famous work is the sequence of 44 sonnets "Sonnets from the Portuguese" published in Poems (1850). Matthew Arnold's reputation as a poet has "within the past few decades [...] plunged drastically," and he is best remembered now for his critical works, like Culture and Anarchy (1869), and his 1867 poem "Dover Beach". This poem depicts a nightmarish world from which the old religious verities have receded. It is sometimes held up as an early, if not the first, example of the modern sensibility. Arnold was both an admirer and a critic of Romantic poetry, and has been seen as another a bridge between Romanticism and Modernism. In many of his poems can be seen the psychological and emotional conflicts, the uncertainty of purpose, above all the feeling of disunity within oneself or of the individual's estrangement from society which is today called alienation and is thought of as a modern phenomenon. As Kenneth Allott said in 1954: "If a poet can ever teach us to understand what we feel, and how to live with our feelings, then Arnold is a contemporary."
Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828–1882) was a poet, illustrator, painter and translator. He founded the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in 1848 with William Holman Hunt and John Everett Millais, and was later to be the main inspiration for a second generation of artists and writers influenced by the movement, most notably William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones. Rossetti's art was characterised by its sensuality and its medieval revivalism. Poetry and image are closely entwined in Rossetti's work and he frequently wrote sonnets to accompany his pictures. He also illustrated poems by his sister Christina Rossetti such as Goblin Market.
While Arthur Clough (1819–1861) was a more minor figure of this era, he has been described as "a fine poet whose experiments in extending the range of literary language and subject were ahead of his time". Clough has been regarded as one of the most forward-looking English poets of the 19th century, in part due to a sexual frankness that shocked his contemporaries. He often went against the popular religious and social ideals of his day, and his verse is said to have the melancholy and the perplexity of an age of transition, although Through a Glass Darkly suggests that he did not lack certain religious beliefs of his own.
Towards the end of the 19th century, English poets began to take an interest in French Symbolism and Victorian poetry entered a decadent fin-de-siècle phase. Two groups of poets emerged in the 1890s, the Yellow Book poets who adhered to the tenets of Aestheticism, including Algernon Charles Swinburne, Oscar Wilde and Arthur Symons and the Rhymers' Club group, that included Ernest Dowson, Lionel Johnson and Irishman William Butler Yeats. Yeats went on to become an important modernist in the 20th century. Also in the 1890s A. E. Housman published at his own expense A Shropshire Lad, a cycle of 63 poems, because he could not find a publisher. At first selling slowly, it rapidly became a lasting success, and its appeal to English musicians had helped to make it widely known before World War I, when its themes struck a powerful chord with English readers. A Shropshire Lad has been in print continuously since May 1896. The poems are pervaded by deep pessimism and preoccupation with death, without religious consolation. Housman wrote most of them while living in Highgate, London, before ever visiting that part of Shropshire (about thirty miles from his birthplace), which he presented in an idealised pastoral light, as his 'land of lost content'.
The nonsense verse of Edward Lear, along with the novels and poems of Lewis Carroll, is regarded as a precursor of surrealism. In 1846 Lear published A Book of Nonsense, a volume of limericks that went through three editions and helped popularise the form. In 1865 The History of the Seven Families of the Lake Pipple-Popple was published, and in 1867 his most famous piece of nonsense, The Owl and the Pussycat, which he wrote for the children of his patron Edward Stanley, 13th Earl of Derby. Many other works followed. Lewis Carroll's most famous writings are Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and its sequel Through the Looking-Glass, as well as the poems "The Hunting of the Snark" and "Jabberwocky".
Writers of comic verse included the dramatist, librettist, poet and illustrator W. S. Gilbert (1836–1911), who is best known for his fourteen comic operas produced in collaboration with the composer Sir Arthur Sullivan, of which the most famous include H.M.S. Pinafore, The Pirates of Penzance and one of the most frequently performed works in the history of musical theatre, The Mikado.
In the 21st century two Victorian poets who published little in the 19th century, Thomas Hardy (1840–1928) and Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844–89), are now regarded as major poets. While Hardy first established his reputation the late 19th century with novels, he also wrote poetry throughout his career. However he did not publish his first collection until 1898, so that he tends to be treated as a 20th-century poet. Hopkins Poems were published posthumously by Robert Bridges in 1918. Hopkins' poem "The Wreck of the Deutschland", written in 1875, first introduced what Hopkins called "sprung rhythm." As well as developing new rhythmic effects, Hopkins "was also very interested in ways of rejuvenating poetic language" and frequently "employed compound and unusual word combinations". Several 20th-century poets, including W.H. Auden, Dylan Thomas, and American Charles Wright, "turned to his work for its inventiveness and rich aural patterning".
- American poets
America also produced major poets in the 19th century, such as Emily Dickinson (1830–86) and Walt Whitman (1819–92). America's two greatest 19th-century poets could hardly have been more different in temperament and style. Walt Whitman (1819–1892) was a working man, a traveler, a self-appointed nurse during the American Civil War (1861–1865), and a poetic innovator. His major work was Leaves of Grass, in which he uses a free-flowing verse and lines of irregular length to depict the all-inclusiveness of American democracy. Whitman was also a poet of the body, or "the body electric," as he called it. In Studies in Classic American Literature, the English novelist D. H. Lawrence wrote that Whitman "was the first to smash the old moral conception that the soul of man is something 'superior' and 'above' the flesh". Emily Dickinson (1830–1886), on the other hand, lived the sheltered life of a genteel, unmarried woman in small-town Amherst, Massachusetts. Within its formal structure, her poetry is ingenious, witty, exquisitely wrought, and psychologically penetrating. Her work was unconventional for its day, and little of it was published during her lifetime. Many of her poems dwell on death, often with a mischievous twist. One, "Because I could not stop for Death", begins, "He kindly stopped for me." The opening of another Dickinson poem toys with her position as a woman in a male-dominated society and an unrecognized poet: "I'm nobody! Who are you? / Are you nobody too?"
A change came in the Victorian era with a profusion on the London stage of farces, musical burlesques, extravaganzas and comic operas that competed with productions of Shakespeare's plays and serious drama by dramatists like of James Planché and Thomas William Robertson. In 1855, the German Reed Entertainments began a process of elevating the level of (formerly risqué) musical theatre in Britain that culminated in the famous series of comic operas by Gilbert and Sullivan and were followed by the 1890s with the first Edwardian musical comedies. The length of runs in the theatre changed rapidly during the Victorian period. As transportation improved, poverty in London diminished, and street lighting made for safer travel at night, the number of potential patrons for the growing number of theatres increased enormously. Plays could run longer and still draw in the audiences, leading to better profits and improved production values. The first play to achieve 500 consecutive performances was the London comedy Our Boys, opening in 1875. Its astonishing new record of 1,362 performances was bested in 1892 by Charley's Aunt. Several of Gilbert and Sullivan's comic operas broke the 500-performance barrier, beginning with H.M.S. Pinafore in 1878, and Alfred Cellier and B. C. Stephenson's 1886 hit, Dorothy, ran for 931 performances. After W. S. Gilbert, Oscar Wilde became the leading poet and dramatist of the late Victorian period. Wilde's plays, in particular, stand apart from the many now forgotten plays of Victorian times and have a much closer relationship to those of the Edwardian dramatists such as Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw (1856–1950), whose career began in the last decade of the 19th century, Wilde's 1895 comic masterpiece, The Importance of Being Earnest, holds an ironic mirror to the aristocracy and displays a mastery of wit and paradoxical wisdom.
English literature since 1901
A major British lyric poet of the first decades of the 20th century was Thomas Hardy (1840–1928). Though not a modernist, Hardy was an important transitional figure between the Victorian era and the 20th century. A major novelist of the late 19th century, Hardy lived well into the third decade of the 20th century, but because of the adverse criticism of his last novel, Jude the Obscure, in 1895, from that time Hardy concentrated on publishing poetry. On the other hand another significant transitional figure between Victorians and modernists, the late-19th-century novelist, Henry James (1843–1916), continued to publish major works into the 20th century. James had lived in Europe since 1875 and became a British citizen, but this was only in 1915, and he was born in America and spent his formative years there. Another immigrant, Polish-born modernist novelist Joseph Conrad (1857–1924) published his first important work, Heart of Darkness in 1899 and Lord Jim in 1900. The American exponent of Naturalism Theodore Dreiser's (1871–1945) Sister Carrie was also published in 1900. However, the Victorian Gerard Manley Hopkins's (1844–89) highly original poetry was not published until 1918, long after his death, while another major modernist poet, Irishman W. B. Yeats's (1865–1939), career began late in the Victorian era. Yeats was one of the foremost figures of 20th-century literature. A pillar of both the Irish and British literary establishments, in his later years he served as an Irish Senator for two terms. Yeats was a driving force behind the Irish Literary Revival. In 1923 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature as the first Irishman so honoured Yeats is generally considered one of the few writers who completed their greatest works after being awarded the Nobel Prize; such works include The Tower (1928) and The Winding Stair and Other Poems (1929).
But while modernism was to become an important literary movement in the early decades of the new century, there were also many fine writers who, like Thomas Hardy, were not modernists. During the early decades of the 20th century the Georgian poets like Rupert Brooke (1887–1915), Walter de la Mare (1873–1956), John Masefield (1878–1967, Poet Laureate from 1930) maintained a conservative approach to poetry by combining romanticism, sentimentality and hedonism, sandwiched as they were between the Victorian era, with its strict classicism, and Modernism, with its strident rejection of pure aestheticism. Edward Thomas (1878–1917) is sometimes treated as another Georgian poet. Thomas enlisted in 1915 and is one of the First World War poets along with Wilfred Owen (1893–1918), Rupert Brooke (1887–1915), Isaac Rosenberg (1890–1917), Edmund Blunden (1896–1974) and Siegfried Sassoon (1886–1967). Irish playwrights George Bernard Shaw (1856–1950) and J.M. Synge (1871–1909) were influential in British drama. Shaw's career began in the last decade of the 19th century, while Synge's plays belong to the first decade of the 20th century. Synge's most famous play, The Playboy of the Western World, "caused outrage and riots when it was first performed" in Dublin in 1907. George Bernard Shaw turned the Edwardian theatre into an arena for debate about important political and social issues, like marriage, class, "the morality of armaments and war" and the rights of women. An important dramatist in the 1920s, and later, was Irishman Sean O'Casey (1880–1964). Also in the 1920s and later Noël Coward (1899–1973) achieved enduring success as a playwright, publishing more than 50 plays from his teens onwards. Many of his works, such as Hay Fever (1925), Private Lives (1930), Design for Living (1932), Present Laughter (1942) and Blithe Spirit (1941), have remained in the regular theatre repertoire.
Novelists who are not considered modernists include: Rudyard Kipling (1865–1936) who was also a successful poet; H. G. Wells (1866–1946); John Galsworthy (1867–1933), (Nobel Prize in Literature, 1932) whose works include a sequence of novels, collectively called The Forsyte Saga (1906–21); Arnold Bennett (1867–1931) author of The Old Wives' Tale (1908); G. K. Chesterton (1874–1936); and E.M. Forster's (1879–1970), though Forster's work is "frequently regarded as containing both modernist and Victorian elements". H. G. Wells was a prolific author who is now best known for his science fiction novels. His most notable science fiction works include The War of the Worlds, The Time Machine, The Invisible Man and The Island of Doctor Moreau all written in the 1890s. Other novels include Kipps (1905) and Mr Polly (1910). Forster's most famous work, A Passage to India 1924, reflected challenges to imperialism, while his earlier novels, such as A Room with a View (1908) and Howards End (1910), examined the restrictions and hypocrisy of Edwardian society in England. The most popular British writer of the early years of the 20th century was arguably Rudyard Kipling, a highly versatile writer of novels, short stories and poems, and to date the youngest ever recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature (1907). Kipling's works include The Jungle Books (1894–95), The Man Who Would Be King and Kim (1901), while his inspirational poem "If—" (1895) is a national favourite and a memorable evocation of Victorian stoicism. Kipling's reputation declined during his lifetime, but more recently postcolonial studies has "rekindled an intense interest in his work, viewing it as both symptomatic and critical of imperialist attitudes". Strongly influenced by his Christian faith, G. K. Chesterton was a prolific and hugely influential writer with a diverse output. His best-known character is the priest-detective Father Brown, who appeared only in short stories, while The Man Who Was Thursday published in 1908 is arguably his best-known novel. Of his nonfiction, Charles Dickens: A Critical Study (1906) has received some of the broadest-based praise. Another major work of science fiction, from the early 20th century, is A Voyage to Arcturus by Scottish writer David Lindsay, first published in 1920. It combines fantasy, philosophy, and science fiction in an exploration of the nature of good and evil and their relationship with existence. It has been described by writer Colin Wilson as the "greatest novel of the twentieth century", and was a central influence on C. S. Lewis's Space Trilogy. Also J. R. R. Tolkien said he read the book "with avidity", and praised it as a work of philosophy, religion, and morality. It was made widely available in paperback form when published as one of the precursor volumes to the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series in 1968.
Alongside the more conservative writers mentioned, English literary modernism developed in the early 20th-century out of a general sense of disillusionment with Victorian era attitudes of certainty, conservatism, and belief in the idea of objective truth. The movement was influenced by the ideas of Charles Darwin (1809–82) (On Origin of Species) (1859), Ernst Mach (1838–1916), Henri Bergson (1859–1941), Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900), James G. Frazer (1854–1941), Karl Marx (1818–83) (Das Kapital, 1867), and the psychoanalytic theories of Sigmund Freud (1856–1939), among others. The continental art movements of Impressionism, and later Cubism, were also important inspirations for modernist writers. Important literary precursors of modernism, were: Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821–81) (Crime and Punishment (1866), The Brothers Karamazov (1880); Walt Whitman (1819–92) (Leaves of Grass) (1855–91); Charles Baudelaire (1821–67) (Les Fleurs du mal), Rimbaud (1854–91) (Illuminations, 1874); August Strindberg (1849–1912), especially his later plays.
In addition to W. B. Yeats other important early modernists poets were the American poets T. S. Eliot (1888–1965) and Ezra Pound (1885–1972). Eliot became a British citizen in 1927 but was born and educated in America. His most famous works are: "Prufrock" (1915), The Wasteland (1921) and Four Quartets (1935–42). Ezra Pound was not only a major poet, first publishing part of The Cantos in 1917, but an important mentor for other poets, most significantly in his editorial advice for Eliot's poem The Wasteland. Other important American poets writing early in the 20th century were William Carlos Williams (1883–1963), Robert Frost (1874–1963), who published his first collection in England in 1913, and H.D. (1886–1961). Gertrude Stein (1874–1946), an American expatriate living in Paris, famous for her line "Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose," was also an important literary force during this time period. American poet Marianne Moore (1887–1972) published from the 1920s to the 1960s.
Amongst the novelists, after Joseph Conrad, other important early modernist include Dorothy Richardson (1873–1957), whose novel Pointed Roof (1915), is one of the earliest example of the stream of consciousness technique, and D. H. Lawrence (1885–1930), who published The Rainbow in 1915, though it was immediately seized by the police. Then in 1922 Irishman James Joyce's important modernist novel Ulysses appeared. Ulysses has been called "a demonstration and summation of the entire movement". Set during one day in Dublin, in it Joyce creates parallels with Homer's epic poem the Odyssey. William Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury (1929) is another significant modernist novel, that uses the stream of consciousness technique.
The modernist movement continued through the 1920s and 1930s and beyond. During the period between the World Wars, American drama came to maturity, thanks in large part to the works of Eugene O'Neill (1888–1953). O'Neill's experiments with theatrical form and his use of both Naturalist and Expressionist techniques had a major influence on American dramatists. His best-known plays include Anna Christie (Pulitzer Prize 1922), Desire Under the Elms (1924), Strange Interlude (Pulitzer Prize 1928), Mourning Becomes Electra (1931). In poetry Hart Crane published The Bridge in 1930 and E. E. Cummings and Wallace Stevens were publishing from the 1920s until the 1950s. Similarly William Faulkner continued to publish until the 1950s and was awarded a Nobel Prize in 1949. However, not all those writing in these years were modernists, this includes Americans novelists Theodore Dreiser, Dos Passos, Ernest Hemingway, Scott Fitzgerald (The Great Gatsby 1925), and John Steinbeck.
Important British writers between the World Wars, include the Scottish poet Hugh MacDiarmid (1892–1978), who began publishing in the 1920s, and novelists Virginia Woolf (1882–1941), E. M. Forster (1879–1970) (A Passage to India, 1924), Evelyn Waugh (1903–66), P. G. Wodehouse (1881–1975) (who was not a modernist) and D. H. Lawrence. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover was published privately in Florence in 1928, though the unexpurgated version was not published in Britain until 1959. Woolf was an influential feminist, and a major stylistic innovator associated with the stream-of-consciousness technique in novels like Mrs Dalloway (1925) and To the Lighthouse (1927). Her 1929 essay A Room of One's Own contains her famous dictum; "A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction". In the 1930s W. H. Auden and Christopher Isherwood co-authored verse dramas, of which The Ascent of F6 (1936) is the most notable, that owed much to Bertolt Brecht. T. S. Eliot had begun this attempt to revive poetic drama with Sweeney Agonistes in 1932, and this was followed by The Rock (1934), Murder in the Cathedral (1935) and Family Reunion (1939). There were three further plays after the war. In Parenthesis, a modernist epic poem by David Jones (1895–1974) first published in 1937, is probably the best known contribution from Wales to the literature of the First World War.
An important development, beginning really in the 1930s and 1940s was a tradition of working class novels that were actually written by writers who had a working-class background. Among these were coal miner Jack Jones, James Hanley, whose father was a stoker and who also went to sea as a young man, and other coal miner authors' Lewis Jones from South Wales and Harold Heslop from County Durham.
Aldous Huxley (1894–1963) published his famous dystopia Brave New World in 1932, the same year as John Cowper Powys's A Glastonbury Romance. Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer then appeared in 1934, though it was banned for many years in both Britain and America. Samuel Beckett (1906–89) published his first major work, the novel Murphy in 1938. This same year Graham Greene's (1904–91) first major novel Brighton Rock was published. Then in 1939 James Joyce's published Finnegans Wake. In this work Joyce creates a special language to express the consciousness of a character who is dreaming. It was also in 1939 that another Irish modernist poet, W. B. Yeats, died. British poet W. H. Auden was another significant modernists in the 1930s.
1940 to the 21st century
Though some have seen modernism ending by around 1939, with regard to English literature, "When (if) modernism petered out and postmodernism began has been contested almost as hotly as when the transition from Victorianism to modernism occurred". In fact a number of modernists were still living and publishing in the 1950s and 1960, including T. S. Eliot, William Faulkner, Dorothy Richardson, and Ezra Pound. Furthermore Basil Bunting, born in 1901, published little until Briggflatts in 1965 and Samuel Beckett, born in Ireland in 1906, continued to produce significant works until the 1980s, including Waiting for Godot (1953), Happy Days (1961), Rockaby (1981), though some view him as a post-modernist.
Among British writers in the 1940s and 1950s were novelist Graham Greene whose works span the 1930s to the 1980s and poet Dylan Thomas, while Evelyn Waugh, W.H. Auden and T. S. Eliot continued publishing significant work. In 1947 Malcolm Lowry published Under the Volcano, while George Orwell's satire of totalitarianism, 1984, was published in 1949. One of the most influential novels of the immediate post-war period was William Cooper's naturalistic Scenes from Provincial Life, a conscious rejection of the modernist tradition. Graham Greene was a convert to Catholicism and his novels explore the ambivalent moral and political issues of the modern world. Notable for an ability to combine serious literary acclaim with broad popularity, his novels include Brighton Rock (1938), The Power and the Glory (1940), The Heart of the Matter (1948), A Burnt-Out Case (1961), and The Human Factor (1978). Other novelists writing in the 1950s and later were: Anthony Powell whose twelve-volume cycle of novels A Dance to the Music of Time, is a comic examination of movements and manners, power and passivity in English political, cultural and military life in the mid-20th century; comic novelist Kingsley Amis is best known for his academic satire Lucky Jim (1954); Nobel Prize laureate William Golding's allegorical novel Lord of the Flies 1954, explores how culture created by man fails, using as an example a group of British schoolboys marooned on a deserted island who try to govern themselves, but with disastrous results. Philosopher Iris Murdoch was a prolific writer of novels throughout the second half of the 20th century, that deal especially with sexual relationships, morality, and the power of the unconscious, including Under the Net (1954), The Black Prince (1973) and The Green Knight (1993). Scottish writer Muriel Spark pushed the boundaries of realism in her novels. Her first, The Comforters (1957) concerns a woman who becomes aware that she is a character in a novel; The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1961), at times takes the reader briefly into the distant future, to see the various fates that befall its characters. Anthony Burgess is especially remembered for his dystopian novel A Clockwork Orange (1962), set in the not-too-distant future, which was made into a film by Stanley Kubrick in 1971. In the entirely different genre of Gothic fantasy Mervyn Peake (1911–68) published his highly successful Gormenghast trilogy between 1946 and 1959.
Doris Lessing from Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), published her first novel The Grass is Singing in 1950, after immigrating to England. She initially wrote about her African experiences. Lessing soon became a dominant presence in the English literary scene, frequently publishing right through the century, and won the nobel prize for literature in 2007. Other works by her include a sequence of five novels collectively called Children of Violence (1952–69), The Golden Notebook (1962), The Good Terrorist (1985), and a sequence of five science fiction novels the Canopus in Argos: Archives (1979–1983). Indeed from 1950 on a significant number of major writers came from countries that had over the centuries been settled by the British, other than America which had been producing significant writers from at least the Victorian period. There had of course been a few important works in English prior to 1950 from the then British Empire. The South African writer Olive Schreiner's famous novel The Story of an African Farm was published in 1883 and New Zealander Katherine Mansfield published her first collection of short stories, In a German Pension, in 1911. The first major novelist, writing in English, from the Indian sub-continent, R. K. Narayan, began publishing in England in the 1930s, thanks to the encouragement of English novelist Graham Greene. Caribbean writer Jean Rhys's writing career began as early as 1928, though her most famous work, Wide Sargasso Sea, was not published until 1966. South Africa's Alan Paton's famous Cry, the Beloved Country dates from 1948.
From Nigeria a number of writers have achieved an international reputation for works in English, including novelist Chinua Achebe, who published Things Fall Apart in 1958, as well as playwright Wole Soyinka and novelist Buchi Emecheta. Soyinka won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1986, as did South African novelist Nadine Gordimer in 1995. Other South African writers in English are novelist J.M. Coetzee (Nobel Prize 2003) and playwright Athol Fugard. Kenya's most internationally renown author is Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o who has written novels, plays and short stories in English. Poet Derek Walcott, from St Lucia in the Caribbean, was another Nobel Prize winner in 1992. Two Irishmen and an Australian were also winners in the period after 1940: novelist and playwright, Samuel Beckett (1969); poet Seamus Heaney (1995); Patrick White (1973) a major novelist in this period, whose first work was published in 1939. Another noteworthy Australian writer at the end of this period is poet Les Murray. Northern Ireland has produced major poets, including Paul Muldoon and Derek Mahon. While Scotland has in the late 20th century produced several important novelists, including James Kelman who like Samuel Beckett can create humour out of the most grim situations. How Late it Was, How Late, 1994, won the Booker Prize that year; A. L. Kennedy whose 2007 novel Day was named Book of the Year in the Costa Book Awards. In 2007 she won the Austrian State Prize for European Literature; Alasdair Gray whose Lanark: A Life in Four Books (1981) is a dystopian fantasy set in his home town Glasgow.
Among Canadian writers who have achieved an international reputation, are novelist and poet Margaret Atwood, poet, song writer and novelist Leonard Cohen, short story writer Alice Munro, and more recently poet Anne Carson. Another admired Canadian novelist and poet is Michael Ondaatje, who was born in Sri Lanka.
An important cultural movement in the British theatre which developed in the late 1950s and early 1960s was Kitchen sink realism (or "kitchen sink drama"), a term coined to describe art (the term itself derives from an expressionist painting by John Bratby), novels, film and television plays. The term angry young men was often applied members of this artistic movement. It used a style of social realism which depicts the domestic lives of the working class, to explore social issues and political issues. The drawing room plays of the post war period, typical of dramatists like Terence Rattigan and Noël Coward were challenged in the 1950s by these Angry Young Men, in plays like John Osborne's Look Back in Anger (1956). Arnold Wesker and Nell Dunn also brought social concerns to the stage.
Again In the 1950s, the absurdist play Waiting for Godot (1955) (originally En attendant Godot, 1952), by Irish writer Samuel Beckett profoundly affected British drama. The Theatre of the Absurd influenced Harold Pinter (born 1930), (The Birthday Party, 1958), whose works are often characterised by menace or claustrophobia. Beckett also influenced Tom Stoppard (born 1937) (Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, 1966). Stoppard's works are however also notable for their high-spirited wit and the great range of intellectual issues which he tackles in different plays. Both Pinter and Stoppard continued to have new plays produced into the 1990s. Michael Frayn (born 1933) is among other playwrights noted for their use of language and ideas. He is also a novelist.
An important new element in the world of British drama, from the beginnings of radio in the 1920s, was the commissioning of plays, or the adaption of existing plays, by BBC radio. This was especially important in the 1950s and 1960s (and from the 1960s for television). Many major British playwrights in fact, either effectively began their careers with the BBC, or had works adapted for radio. Most of playwright Caryl Churchill's early experiences with professional drama production were as a radio playwright and, starting in 1962 with The Ants, there were nine productions with BBC radio drama up until 1973 when her stage work began to be recognised at the Royal Court Theatre. Joe Orton's dramatic debut in 1963 was the radio play The Ruffian on the Stair, which was broadcast on 31 August 1964. Tom Stoppard's "first professional production was in the fifteen-minute Just Before Midnight programme on BBC Radio, which showcased new dramatists". John Mortimer made his radio debut as a dramatist in 1955, with his adaptation of his own novel Like Men Betrayed for the BBC Light Programme. But he made his debut as an original playwright with The Dock Brief, starring Michael Hordern as a hapless barrister, first broadcast in 1957 on BBC Radio's Third Programme, later televised with the same cast, and subsequently presented in a double bill with What Shall We Tell Caroline? at the Lyric Hammersmith in April 1958, before transferring to the Garrick Theatre. Mortimer is most famous for Rumpole of the Bailey a British television series which starred Leo McKern as Horace Rumpole, an aging London barrister who defends any and all clients. It has been spun off into a series of short stories, novels, and radio programmes.
Other notable radio dramatists included Brendan Behan, and novelist Angela Carter. Novelist Susan Hill also wrote for BBC radio, from the early 1970s. Irish playwright Brendan Behan, author of The Quare Fellow (1954), was commissioned by the BBC to write a radio play The Big House (1956); prior to this he had written two plays Moving Outand A Garden Party for Irish radio.
Among the most famous works created for radio, are Dylan Thomas's Under Milk Wood (1954), Samuel Beckett's All That Fall (1957), Harold Pinter's A Slight Ache (1959) and Robert Bolt's A Man for All Seasons (1954). Samuel Beckett wrote a number of short radio plays in the 1950s and 1960s, and later for television. Beckett's radio play Embers was first broadcast on the BBC Third Programme on 24 June 1959, and won the RAI prize at the Prix Italia awards later that year.
While poets T. S. Eliot, W. H. Auden and Dylan Thomas were still publishing in this period, new poets starting their careers in the 1950s and 1960s included Philip Larkin (1922–85) (The Whitsun Weddings,1964), Ted Hughes (1930–98) (The Hawk in the Rain,1957) and Irishman (Northern Ireland) Seamus Heaney (born 1939) (Death of a Naturalist, 1966). Northern Ireland has also produced a number of other significant poets, including Derek Mahon and Paul Muldoon. In the 1960s and 1970s Martian poetry aimed to break the grip of 'the familiar', by describing ordinary things in unfamiliar ways, as though, for example, through the eyes of a Martian. Poets most closely associated with it are Craig Raine and Christopher Reid. Martin Amis, an important contemporary novelist, carried into fiction this drive to make the familiar strange. Another literary movement in this period was the British Poetry Revival was a wide-reaching collection of groupings and subgroupings that embraces performance, sound and concrete poetry. Leading poets associated with this movement include J. H. Prynne, Eric Mottram, Tom Raworth, Denise Riley and Lee Harwood. The Mersey Beat poets were Adrian Henri, Brian Patten and Roger McGough. Their work was a self-conscious attempt at creating an English equivalent to the Beats. Many of their poems were written in protest against the established social order and, particularly, the threat of nuclear war. Other noteworthy later 20th-century poets are Welshman R. S. Thomas, Geoffrey Hill, Charles Tomlinson and Carol Ann Duffy, who is the current poet laureate. Geoffrey Hill (born 1932) is considered one of the most distinguished English poets of his generation, Although frequently described as a "difficult" poet, Hill has retorted that poetry supposed to be difficult can be "the most democratic because you are doing your audience the honour of supposing they are intelligent human beings". Charles Tomlinson (born 1927) is another important English poet of an older generation, though "since his first publication in 1951, has built a career that has seen more notice in the international scene than in his native England; this may explain, and be explained by, his international vision of poetry". The critic Michael Hennessy has described Tomlinson as "the most international and least provincial English poet of his generation". His poetry has won international recognition and has received many prizes in Europe and the United States.
One of Penguin Books most successful publications in the 1970s was Richard Adams's heroic fantasy Watership Down (1972). Evoking epic themes, it recounts the odyssey of a group of rabbits seeking to establish a new home. Another successful novel of the same era was John Fowles' The French Lieutenant's Woman (1969), with a narrator who freely admits the fictive nature of his story, and its famous alternative endings. This was made into a film in 1981 with a screenplay by Harold Pinter. Angela Carter (1940–1992) was a novelist and journalist, known for her feminist, magical realism, and picaresque works. Writing from the 1960s until the 1980s, her novels include, The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman 1972 and Nights at the Circus 1984. Margaret Drabble (born 1939) is a novelist, biographer and critic, who published from the 1960s into the 21st century. Her older sister, A. S. Byatt (born 1936) is best known for Possession published in 1990.
Salman Rushdie is among a number of post Second World War writers from the former British colonies who permanently settled in Britain. Rushdie achieved fame with Midnight's Children 1981, which was awarded both the James Tait Black Memorial Prize and Booker prize, and was named Booker of Bookers in 1993. His most controversial novel The Satanic Verses 1989, was inspired in part by the life of Muhammad. V. S. Naipaul (born 1932), born in Trinidad, was another immigrant, who wrote among other things A House for Mr Biswas (1961) and A Bend in the River (1979). Naipaul won the Nobel Prize in Literature. Also from the West Indies is George Lamming (born 1927), who wrote In the Castle of My Skin (1953), while from Pakistan, came Hanif Kureshi (born 1954), a playwright, screenwriter, filmmaker, novelist and short story writer. His book The Buddha of Suburbia (1990) won the Whitbread Award for the best first novel, and was also made into a BBC television series. Another important immigrant writer Kazuo Ishiguro (born 1954) was born in Japan, but his parents immigrated to Britain when he was six. His works include, The Remains of the Day 1989, Never Let Me Go 2005.
Martin Amis (1949) is one of the most prominent of contemporary British novelists. His best-known novels are Money (1984) and London Fields (1989). Pat Barker (born 1943) has won many awards for her fiction. English novelist and screenwriter Ian McEwan (born 1948) is another of contemporary Britain's most highly regarded writers. His works include The Cement Garden (1978) and Enduring Love (1997), which was made into a film. In 1998 McEwan won the Man Booker Prize with Amsterdam. Atonement (2001) was made into an Oscar-winning film. McEwan was awarded the Jerusalem Prize in 2011. Zadie Smith's Whitbread Book Award winning novel White Teeth (2000), mixes pathos and humour, focusing on the later lives of two war time friends in London. Julian Barnes (born 1946) is another successful living novelist, who won the 2011 Man Booker Prize for his book The Sense of an Ending, while three of his earlier books had been shortlisted for the Booker Prize: Flaubert's Parrot (1984), England, England (1998), and Arthur & George (2005). He has also written crime fiction under the pseudonym Dan Kavanagh.
Two significant contemporary Irish novelists are John Banville (born 1945) and Colm Tóibín (born 1955). Banville is also adapter of dramas, and screenwriter and writes detective novels under the pseudonym Benjamin Black. Banville has won numerous awards: The Book of Evidence was shortlisted for the Booker Prize and won the Guinness Peat Aviation award in 1989; his eighteenth novel, The Sea, won the Booker Prize in 2005; he was awarded the Franz Kafka Prize in 2011. Colm Tóibín (Irish),1955) is a novelist, short story writer, essayist, playwright, journalist, critic, and, most recently, poet. The contemporary Australian novelist Peter Carey (born 1943) is one of only two writers to have won the Booker Prize twice.
From 1940 into the 21st century, American playwrights, poets and novelists have continued to be internationally prominent. The following is a list of some of the more important writers (along with some important early works):
Novelists: Russian-born Vladimir Nabokov (Lolita, 1956), John Updike (Rabbit Run, 1960), Thomas Pynchon (V, 1963), Richard Ford, Eudora Welty (mainly short stories), Richard Wright, James Baldwin (Go Tell it on the Mountain, (1953), Saul Bellow (Herzog 1964)*, Bernard Malamud (The Fixer, 1967), Joyce Carol Oates, Cynthia Ozick, Toni Morrison*, Philip Roth (Portnoy's Complaint, 1969), Don DeLillo, Jane Smiley, David Foster Wallace, Isaac Bashevis Singer.*
Poets: John Ashberry, Robert Lowell (Life Studies, 1959), Charles Olson, Louise Glück, Elizabeth Bishop (North and South, 1946), Alan Ginsberg (Howl, 1956), Robert Bly (Silence in the Snowy Fields, 1962), Richard Wilbur, Sylvia Plath (Ariel, 1965), Amy Clampitt, Robert Pinsky, Mary Oliver, James Wright, Billy Collins.
- Nobel Prize winners
The term Postmodern literature is used to describe certain tendencies in post-World War II literature. It is both a continuation of the experimentation championed by writers of the modernist period (relying heavily, for example, on fragmentation, paradox, questionable narrators, etc.) and a reaction against Enlightenment ideas implicit in Modernist literature. Postmodern literature, like postmodernism as a whole, is difficult to define and there is little agreement on the exact characteristics, scope, and importance of postmodern literature. Among postmodern writers are the Americans Henry Miller, William S. Burroughs, Joseph Heller, Kurt Vonnegut, Hunter S. Thompson, Truman Capote and Thomas Pynchon.
20th-century genre literature
Agatha Christie (1890–1976) was a crime writer of novels, short stories and plays, who is best remembered for her 80 detective novels as well as her successful plays for the West End theatre. Christie's works, particularly those featuring the detectives Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple, have given her the title the 'Queen of Crime' and she was one of the most important and innovative writers in this genre. Christie's novels include, Murder on the Orient Express, Death on the Nile and And Then There Were None. Another popular writer during the Golden Age of detective fiction was Dorothy L. Sayers (1893–1957). Other recent noteworthy writers in this genre are Ruth Rendell, P. D. James and Scot Ian Rankin.
Erskine Childers The Riddle of the Sands 1903, is an early example of the spy novel. A noted writer in the spy novel genre was John le Carré, while in thriller writing, Ian Fleming created the character James Bond 007 in January 1952, while on holiday at his Jamaican estate, Goldeneye. Fleming chronicled Bond's adventures in twelve novels, including Casino Royale (1953), Live and Let Die (1954), Dr. No (1958), Goldfinger (1959), Thunderball (1961), and nine short story works.
Hungarian-born Baroness Emma Orczy's (1865–1947) original play, The Scarlet Pimpernel, opened in October 1903 at Nottingham’s Theatre Royal and was not a success. However, with a rewritten last act, it opened at the New Theatre in London in January 1905. The premier of the London production was enthusiastically received by the audience, running 122 performances and enjoying numerous revivals. The Scarlet Pimpernel became a favourite of London audiences, playing more than 2,000 performances and becoming one of the most popular shows staged in England to that date. The novel The Scarlet Pimpernel was published soon after the play opened and was an immediate success. Orczy gained a following of readers in Britain and throughout the world. The popularity of the novel encouraged her to write a number of sequels for her "reckless daredevil" over the next 35 years. The play was performed to great acclaim in France, Italy, Germany and Spain, while the novel was translated into 16 languages. Subsequently, the story has been adapted for television, film, a musical and other media.
The Kailyard school of Scottish writers, notably J. M. Barrie (1869–1937), creator of Peter Pan (1904), presented an idealised version of society and brought of fantasy and folklore back into fashion. In 1908, Kenneth Grahame (1859–1932) wrote the children's classic The Wind in the Willows. An informal literary discussion group associated with the English faculty at the University of Oxford, were the "Inklings". Its leading members were the major fantasy novelists; C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. Lewis is especially known for The Chronicles of Narnia, while Tolkien is best known as the author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Another significant writer is Alan Garner author of Elidor (1965), while Terry Pratchett is a more recent fantasy writer. Roald Dahl rose to prominence with his children's fantasy novels, such as James and the Giant Peach and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, often inspired by experiences from his childhood, which are notable for their often unexpected endings, and unsentimental, dark humour. J. K. Rowling author of the highly successful Harry Potter series and Philip Pullman famous for his His Dark Materials trilogy are other significant authors of fantasy novels for younger readers.
In the later decades of the 20th century, the genre of science fiction began to be taken more seriously because of the work of writers such as Arthur C. Clarke's (2001: A Space Odyssey), Isaac Asimov, Ursula K. Le Guin, Michael Moorcock and Kim Stanley Robinson. Another prominent writer in this genre, Douglas Adams, is particularly associated with the comic science fiction work, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which began life as a radio series in 1978. Mainstream novelists such Doris Lessing and Margaret Atwood also wrote works in this genre, while Scottish novelist Ian M. Banks has also achieved a reputation as both a writer of traditional and science fiction novels.
Nobel Prize in Literature winners
- Rudyard Kipling (1907): UK
- Rabindranath Tagore (1913): India
- W. B. Yeats (1923): Ireland
- George Bernard Shaw (1925): Ireland
- Sinclair Lewis (1930): US
- John Galsworthy (1932): UK
- Eugene O'Neill (1936): US
- Pearl S. Buck (1938): US
- T. S. Eliot (1948): UK (born in the US)
- William Faulkner (1949): US
- Bertrand Russell (1950): UK
- Winston Churchill (1953): UK
- Ernest Hemingway (1954): US
- John Steinbeck (1962): US
- Samuel Beckett (1969): Ireland (lived in France much of his life)
- Patrick White (1973): Australia
- Saul Bellow (1976): US
- Isaac Bashevis Singer (1978): US (born in Poland)
- William Golding (1983): UK
- Wole Soyinka (1986): Nigeria
- Joseph Brodsky (1987): US (born in Russia)
- Nadine Gordimer (1991): South Africa
- Derek Walcott (1992): St Lucia, West Indies
- Toni Morrison (1993): US
- Seamus Heaney (1995): Ireland
- V. S. Naipaul (2001): UK (born in Trinidad)
- J. M. Coetzee (2003): South Africa
- Harold Pinter (2005): UK
- Doris Lessing (2007): UK (grew-up in Zimbabwe)
- Alice Munro (2013): Canada
- British literature
- English novel
- English poetry
- Irish literature
- Modernist poetry in English
- Scottish literature
- Welsh literature in English
- African literature; and see former British colonies, Nigeria, Kenya, South African literature, etc.
- American literature
- Australian literature
- Canadian literature
- Caribbean literature
- Indian English literature
- New Zealand literature
- Pakistani English literature
- Postcolonial literature
- Women's writing in English
- List of Commonwealth Writers prizes
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- The English Literary Canon
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- Luminarium: 16th Century Renaissance English Literature (1485–1603)
- Luminarium: Seventeenth Century English Literature (1603–1660)
- A Bibliography of Literary Theory, Criticism and Philology Ed. José Ángel García Landa, (University of Zaragoza, Spain)