British Literature Essay
This lesson is a continuation of the study of British literature and will focus on literature from the Neoclassical Period to today. This lesson is only an overview of some of the authors and literary works produced in England during a particular period. There are many other authors that made important contributions to the literature of this time period. The periods of British Literature are:
Classical Period (1200 BC to 455 AD) Medieval Period (455 AD to 1485) Renaissance and the Commonwealth Period (1485 to 1660) Neoclassical Period (1660 to 1790) Romantic Period (1790 to 1830) Victorian Period (1832 to 1901) Edwardian Era (1901 to 1910) Modernism (1914 to 1945) Post-Modernism Period from 1945 to the present Neoclassical Period (1660-1790) The Enlightenment (also referred to as the Neoclassical Period or the Age of Reason) was based on the concept that people could find perfection and happiness through reason and knowledge. This essentially humanist vision was characterized by a resistance to religious authority.
The Enlightenment began during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in Europe and eventually spread to America. The Restoration, the Augustan Age, and the Age of Johnson were time periods that were included in the Enlightenment. Literature from the colonial period and the beginning of the revolutionary period in American literature developed during this time. Two prominent American authors of the era were Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine. During the Restoration, British monarch Charles II was restored to the throne (hence the name of the era), marking the decline of the Puritan influence on British literature.
Writers of the Neoclassical Period John Dryden Dryden (1631-1700) was an English poet and dramatist. Some of his famous poems include “Astrea Redux,” “Absalom and Achitophel,” and “The Hind and the Panther. ” He is also known for his play All for Love. Dryden was the British poet laureate from 1670 to 1689. John Locke Locke (1631-1704) was an English philosopher who wrote the essay “Concerning Human Understanding. ” He believed that the only way a person could gain knowledge was through experience. Locke’s Two Treatises on Government promoted ideas about democracy.
William Wycherley Wycherley (1640-1716) was an English dramatist whose works include Love in a Wood, The Country Wife, and The Plain Dealer. Samuel Pepys Samuel Pepys (1633-1703) was a government official and writer who lived in England. His famous Diary is an important source of the lifestyles and history of the English people. Aphra Behn Behn (1640-1689) was an English novelist and dramatist and the first female to make a living from her writing. Some of her works include Oroonoko, The Forced Marriage, The Rover, and The Lucky Chance.
The Augustan Age (1700-1750), named for the Roman emperor Augustus, witnessed a return to the Latin literature of the ancient Roman Empire. British writers were influenced by the works of the ancient Roman poets Horace and Virgil during this era. Writers of the Augustan Age Joseph Addison Addison (1672-1719) was an English poet, essayist, dramatist, and member of Parliament. One of his well-known literary works was the poem “The Campaign. ” Sir Richard Steele Steele (1672-1729) was an essayist and dramatist from Ireland. With Joseph Addison, he founded the journals The Tattler, The Spectator, and The Guardian.
He was elected to Parliament and was later knighted. Two of his plays include The Funeral and The Conscious Lovers. Jonathan Swift Swift (1667-1745) was an Irish satirist who used Juvenalian satire to criticize the society of his day in Gulliver’s Travels. Some of his other works include A Tale of a Tub and A Modest Proposal. In 1694, he was ordained in the Church of England. Alexander Pope Pope (1688-1784) was a poet and writer of satire who was famous for his use of the heroic couplet in his writings. Some of his works include The Rape of the Lock, The Temple of Fame, An Essay on Man, and Moral Essays.
Daniel Defoe Defoe (1660-1731) was a journalist who wrote Robinson Crusoe. Some of his other works include The True-Born Englishman, Moll Flanders, and A Journal of the Plague Year. he Age of Johnson, named for Samuel Johnson (an important figure in English literature in the late 1700s), lasted from 1750-1790. Writers of the Age of Johnson Samuel Johnson Johnson (1709-1784) was an English author famous for his Dictionary of the English Language, The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia, and The Lives of the English Poets. He is also remembered for forming a group of writers called the Literary Club.
Oliver Goldsmith Goldsmith (1728-1774) was an English dramatist, essayist, poet, and novelist and was a member of the Literary Club. Goldsmith wrote the novel The Vicar of Wakefield. Other works include the poem “The Deserted Village” and the play She Stoops to Conquer. Edmund Burke Burke (1729-1797) served as a member of Parliament during the American Revolution. He supported the rights of the colonists and urged the British government to compromise with the American colonies. Some of his writings were critical of the French Revolution. Robert Burns Burns (1759-1796) was a Scottish songwriter and poet.
Two of Burns’ better known songs are “Auld Lang Syne” and “Comin’ Thro’ the Rye. ” James Boswell Boswell (1740-1795) was a Scottish author who wrote the biography The Life of Samuel Johnson. He was a member of Samuel Johnson’s Literary Club, and the two men traveled together. Boswell’s Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides is an account of one of their trips. Edward Gibbon Gibbon (1737-1794) was a leading historian whose most famous work was the History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Thomas Gray Gray (1716-1771) was an English poet whose style was used by many of the Romantic writers.
His most famous work was Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard. Olaudah Equiano Equiano (c. 1750 – c. 1797) was an African slave who was brought to the West Indies. He received some education and was later granted his freedom by his master. He was the first black to write an autobiography in England. He wrote The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African in 1789. Romantic Period (1790-1830) Romanticism is the school of thought and period of literature in which emotion, passion, and imagination are considered more important than reason and intuition more important than logic.
During the Romantic Period, most writers were discontented with commercial, inhuman, and standardized conditions. Many Romantic writers portrayed people in unrealistic situations. To escape from modern life, the Romantics turned their interest to remote and faraway places, the medieval past, folklore and legends, nature, and the common people. Romantics glorified the individual and believed that people must be free from confining rules and able to develop individually. The Romantic novels described exciting adventures, unexplained events, and the evil influences of obsessions. Writers of the Romantic Period William Blake.
Blake (1757-1827) was an English poet, artist, and prominent figure of Romanticism. Some of his works included Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience. Blake created the illustrations in some of his books such as The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. William Wordsworth Wordsworth (1770-1850) was a Romantic poet whose literary works focused on the beauty of nature. He teamed with Samuel Taylor Coleridge to write Lyrical Ballads, marking the beginning of the Romantic movement. Other works include The Solitary Reaper and the autobiographical poem “Prelude. ” Samuel Coleridge Coleridge (1772-1834) was a poet and philosopher from England.
He coauthored Lyrical Ballads with William Wordsworth. His most famous works include “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” and “Kubla Khan. ” Percy Bysshe Shelly Shelly (1792-1822) was an English poet whose many poems contained political and religious themes. His works include “Ode to the West Wind,” “The Cloud,” and “The Skylark. ” John Keats Keats (1795-1821) was a poet who focused on death, love, and beauty. His works include “Ode to a Nightingale” and “On a Grecian Urn. ” Sir Walter Scott Scott (1771-1832) was a Scottish novelist and poet who became a lawyer in 1792. He was credited with creating the historical novel.
Scott became one of the leading literary figures of his day. Scott’s works of poetry include “The Lay of the Last Minstrel,” “Marmion,” and “The Lady of the Lake. ” His novels include Waverley, The Tale of Old Mortality, The Heart of Midlothian, Ivanhoe, The Talisman, St. Ronan’s Well, A Legend of Montrose, and Quentin Durward. Jane Austen Austen (1775-1814) was an English novelist who incorporated her observations of the manners and society of her time. Through dialogue and narration, she allowed her characters to be guided by common sense and traditional values. Her more famous works include Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice.
Gothic novel Gothic novels use horror and medieval elements such as castles and dungeons. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights are examples of Gothic novels. Writers of Gothic Novels Ann Radcliffe Radcliffe (1764-1823) wrote The Mysteries of Udolpho and The Italian. The setting of most of her work involved innocent young women, dark mysterious castles, and nobles with secret pasts. Horace Walpole Horace Walpole (1717-1797) wrote The Castle of Otranto, considered by some to be the first Gothic novel, as well as over 4,000 published letters.
Writers in the Victorian Period (1832-1901) wrote about the living conditions of the lower class. The Victorian Period was also marked by sentimental novels. The modern drama appeared toward the end of the Victorian Age. Writers of the Victorian Period of Literature (1832-1901) Alfred Lord Tennyson Tennyson (1809-1892) served as the poet laureate of Great Britain from 1850 to 1892. Some of his works include “Ulysses” and “The Charge of the Light Brigade. ” Robert Browning Browning (1812-1889) used dramatic monologue in his writings.
Some of his works include “Pippa Passes,” “The Pied Piper of Hamelin,” “Bells and Pomegranates,” and “My Last Duchess. ” Anne Bronte Anne Bronte (1820-1849) was the youngest of the three Bronte sisters. Her novels include Agnes Grey and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Oscar Wilde Wilde (1854-1900) was an Irish author who published only one novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray. Wilde wrote many comedies, including A Woman of No Importance and The Importance of Being Earnest. Thomas Carlyle Carlyle (1795-1881) was a Scottish historian and essayist who criticized the laissez faire doctrine that allowed people to do as they pleased.
His works include Frederick the Great. George Bernard Shaw Shaw (1856-1950) was an Irish dramatist and novelist and a member of the socialist Fabian Society. He wrote over 50 plays including Pygmalion and won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Edward Lear Lear (1812-1888) was an English artist and author famous for his limericks and children’s poems. Lear’s first publication was A Book of Nonsense, and his most famous children’s poem was “The Owl and the Pussycat. ” Charlotte Bronte Charlotte Bronte (1816 – 1855) was an English author best known for her novel Jane Eyre.
With her sisters Emily and Anne, she published poetry written depicting their childhood fantasy world. The poems were published under the male pseudonyms of Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell. Emily Bronte Emily Bronte (1818 – 1848) was one of the English Bronte sisters famous for their literary style. Her only novel was the Gothic Wuthering Heights. Charles Dickens Dickens (1812 – 1859) gained fame as a writer of The Pickwick Papers. Many of his literary works were based on his life experiences and social conditions in England. His best known works include A Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations.
Pre-Raphaelite Poets The Pre-Raphaelite poets (named for the Italian painter Raphael) of the Victorian Age wanted to return the morality of the medieval era to the modern world. Dante Rossetti Rossetti (1828-1882) was considered a leading poet and painter in England during the 1800s. His poetry contained imagery and examples of symbolism, and his paintings included romantic scenes. His literary works included Sister Helen and The House of Life. William Morris Morris (1834-1896) was an English artist, poet, and social reformer whose work reflected an interest in medieval art and Gothic architecture.
His works include The Life and Death of Jason, The Earthly Paradise, A Dream of John Ball, and News from Nowhere. Realism (1860 – 1914) Realist authors described life as it really existed. Writers examined and exposed the social, economic, and political problems of society using the dialect or language of the people. Realists saw the corruption of the Gilded Age and called for reform. They rejected Romanticism, which portrayed people in unrealistic situations. Mark Twain, Bret Harte, and Henry James were writers of Realism. Transcendentalism (1800s).
Transcendentalism was a religious and philosophical movement in the early to middle 1800s. Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) was the leader of the Transcendentalist movement in America. He believed that people could gain knowledge through the use of their intellect rather than from the experiences of their lives. The Transcendentalists rejected formal religious teachings. Naturalism Naturalists represented the extreme element of the Realism movement of literature. They believed that family history and environment were the main influences on the development of a person’s character and that people had no control over their fate.
Political, economic, social, and heredity factors controlled the actions and fate of the people. Naturalist writers exposed the abuses and suffering of people in America. Upton Sinclair described in The Jungle, the plight of the workers in the meat packing plants in Chicago. Stephen Crane wrote about the sufferings of the soldiers during the Civil War in The Red Badge of Courage. Other Naturalist authors included Jack London, Theodore Dreiser, and Eugene O’Neill. Edwardian Period (1901-1910) This period of British Literature refers to the reign of Edward VII, the eldest son of Queen Victoria and her husband Albert.
Edward was interested in the arts and founded the Royal College of Music. Writers of the Edwardian Period H. G. Wells Wells (1866-1946) was a novelist, historian, and well-known author of science fiction. His literary works include The Time Machine, The War of the Worlds, and The Shape of Things to Come. His Wealth and Happiness of Mankind addressed the social needs of people in general. Arnold Bennet Bennet (1867-1931) was an English journalist, novelist, and playwright. The film The Madness of King George was an adaptation of one of his plays. One of his most famous works was A Private Function.
Rupert Brook Brook (1887-1915) was an English poet whose writings described the lives of people who suffered through the horror of World War I. One of his most famous works is The Soldier. John Masefield Masefield (1878-1967) was a novelist and poet laureate from England. His works of poetry include “The Everlasting Mercy,” “Dauber,” and “Reynard the Fox” and the novels Sard Harker and The Bird of Dawning. Modernism (1914-1945) Modernism was a literary and cultural movement that did not support the social, political, or economic values of the 1800s.
Part of the reason for the movement away from the 1800s was due to the tremendous destruction and loss of life that occurred during World War I. The Modernist movement included art, philosophy, architecture, and literature in both Europe and America. Writers of the Modernism Period William B. Yeats Yeats (1865-1939) was an Irish playwright, poet, and dramatist who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1923. Some of his works include the poem “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” and the plays The Countess Cathleen and The Land of Heart’s Desire. Seamus Heaney
Heaney (1939-) is an Irish poet whose work focuses on the politics and culture of Northern Ireland. Some of his works include The Spirit Level and Wintering Out and North. Dylan Thomas Thomas (1914-1953) was a Welsh poet who focused on the themes of religion, death, and love. His works include Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog and Adventures in the Skin Trade. Virginia Woolf Woolf (1882-1941) was an English novelist. Her literary works focused on social and economic independence for women. Her novels include Mrs. Dalloway, The Years, and Between the Acts. Wilfred Owen.
Owen (1893-1918) was an English writer who wrote about World War I. His poetry focuses on the theme that war is not a glorious venture. His works include “Anthem for Doomed Youth. ” T. S. Eliot Eliot (1888–1965) was an American born English poet and playwright and one of the leading writers of the Modernist period of literature. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1948. Some of his work includes The Hollow Men, Ash Wednesday, Four Quartets, Murder in the Cathedral, and The Cocktail Party. David Herbert Lawrence Lawrence (1885–1930) was a novelist whose literary works focused on how men and women relate to each other.
His most famous work was Lady Chatterley’s Lover. His other works include The Rainbow and The Studies in Classic American Literature. Siegfried Sassoon Sassoon (1886–1967) was a British poet and author who wrote about the experiences of World War I. Sassoon’s literary works include The Old Century and Rhymed Ruminations. Aldous Huxley Huxley (1894–1963) was an English poet and novelist. His novel Brave New World criticized how science was destroying the morals of English society. His other works include Those Barren Leaves and Point Counter Point. Post-modernism Period (1945 to the present)
Post-modernism includes some values and beliefs of the Modernism period. Its literature rejects traditional values of society and supports the anti-novel form. George Orwell Orwell’s (1903-1950) writings reflect his distrust of government and political and social ideologies. His works include Nineteen Eighty-Four and the modern fable Animal Farm. Joseph Conrad Conrad (1857-1924) was a prominent British novelist of the Post-modernist period. Some of his works include Lord Jim and Under Western Eyes. Conrad was a naturalized British citizen, having been born in the Ukraine. James Joyce.
Joyce (1882-1941) was an Irish writer who used the “stream of consciousness” technique. Some of his works include Ulysses and Finnegans Wake and the short story collection Dubliners. Katherine Mansfield Mansfield (1888-1923) was a writer from New Zealand whose pen name was Kathleen Beauchamp. Her works include The Garden Party, Bliss, and In a German Pension. Doris Lessing Lessing (1919- ) is an English novelist and author whose works focus on the role of women in politics and society. Some of her works include The Grass is Singing, Children of Violence, Under My Skin, and Walking in the Shade.
Nadine Gordimer Gordimer (1923- ) is a South African novelist and short story writer. She won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1991. Her literary works include None to Accompany Me and The House Gun. Robert Graves Graves (1895-1985) was an English poet and writer. His autobiography, Goodbye to All That, describes the horror of war. Graves’ other work include I Claudius and Claudius the God. Kingsley Amis Amis (1922–1995) was a novelist and poet from England. His literary works include Lucky Jim, The Old Devils, The Riverside Villas Murder, The Green Man, and The Folks That Live on the Hill.
Anthony Powell Powell (1905–2000) was an English novelist and playwright. His plays include The Garden God and The Rest I’ll Whistle. Powell’s novels include Afternoon Men, Venusberg, From a View to a Death, and Agents and Patients. Powell’s autobiography, To Keep the Ball, was written in four volumes from 1976 to 1982. Muriel Spark Spark (1918- ) is a Scottish novelist whose literary works include The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, A Far Cry from Kensington, and Aiding and Abetting. A. S. Byatt Byatt (1936- ) is an English novelist. Her literary works include Possession.
The Shadow of the Sun, and Babel Tower. Martin Amis Amis (1949- ) is an English journalist and novelist. Some of his works include The Rachel Papers, London Fields, Night Train, and Henry Water. The information in this lesson will be a valuable resource for you in the study of different periods of literature. Remember that this lesson is only an overview of some of the authors and literary works produced in Great Britain during this time period. There are many other authors that made important contributions to the literature of this time period that were not discussed in this lesson.