An Overview of British
Literature
Including
England, Scotland, Ireland and
Wales
The Middle
Ages
Time Frame

Approximately from 5th century A.D. to the
16th century

From the fall of the Roman Empire to the
Renaissance
The cultural and literary
pinnacle of the time

Came during the 12th and 13th centuries—

Chaucer’s time
Language
 In
the early period, English was the
primarily of Northern European and
Germanic extractions, from the Angles,
Saxons, and Jutes.
 In the 9th century, Alfred the Great insured
that English would remain the dominant
language.
Language Continued…
With England’s invasion by Norman forces
in 1066 came a might influx of Latin and
Southern European languages, culture,
and philosophy.
 For three centuries, Norman influence
would dominate English culture. Indeed,
English almost became a forgotten dialect.

England’s Cultural Force

After the Hundred Years War with France
and the outbreak of “The Black Death”

More and more information was being
written in English-a major shift from Old to
Middle English-also supported to return to
linguistic roots.
The Great Shift in Language

Happened when Chaucer wrote The

London being the center and government
of English civilization, now determined the
linguistic future of the language, and its
evolution, replete with its violent cultural
and military history, was underway.
Canterbury Tales
Literature, Etc.

Beowulf-The first major work in the
vernacular Old English a 10th Century manuscript
of 3,182 lines.
 Geoffrey Chaucer-The ultimate master of
Middle English with The Canterbury Tales
 Sir Thomas More-Best known for his satire
Utopia (Latin version) which describes an ideal
island in the New World. He was a friend and
counselor to Henry VIII until the latter had him
beheaded.
The Renaissance
During the reign of Elizabeth
I and her successor James I,
England saw a flowering of
its culture with the
development of the printing
press and the rising of the
middle class.
The Renaissance
Witnessed the revival of
scholarship and
science and an
amalgamation of the
foreign words and
phrases into English
Language
Those who pushed the language
to its limits, and ultimately,
into what we now call modern
English
Sir Thomas More
Francis Bacon,
William Shakespeare
Literary Authors and Their Work
Sir Francis Beaumont- best represents the
comic style. Usually coupled with John Fletcher
for plays such as Philaster. Buried in
Westminster Abbey
George Chapman-dramatic reputation rest
most fully on his two part tragedy, Bussy
D’Ambois. Often called Shakespeare’s rival.
Thomas Dekker- His work is notable for its
optimism and its realistic portrayal of ordinary
London life and its people who live there.
Authors Continued…
John Fletcher- boasts the largest
number of plays of the Elizabethan period,
most are collaborations with other
playwrights. There is evidence that he
worked with Shakespeare on Henry VIII.
Thomas Kyd-only contribution to literary
history is The Spanish Tragedy, the first
important revenge tragedy in English
More Authors …
Christopher Marlowe-led an exciting
and often dangerous life, during which he
wrote an impressive collection of plays
and poetry
– Tamburlane
– Edward II
– Dr. Faustus
His work influenced Shakespeare’s early
histories, and the Bard memorialized him in
As You Like It as the “dead shepard”
More Authors Continued…
Thomas Middleton- his chief success came
with A Game at Chess, which had the longest
initial run of any play of the Jacobean period.
Edmund Spenser- His chief success came with
The Faerie Queene. Much of the work still
functions well through allusion, but, his specific
references, to events and personalities of his
day, have lost much of their significance.
And Lastly…
William Shakespeare
– Little is known of his life, however, his name appears
on the most impressive influential body of creative
work in the history of the English language.
– His works was a major catalyst in the monumental
shift form middle to modern English.
– His themes run the gamut from gender relations and
social satire to history and classical tragedy.
– He wrote 154 sonnets.
– Hamlet remains the most important piece of dramatic
literature in English, partly due to a number of words
and phrases tht have become commonplace.
The Seventeenth Century
Authors
John Donne
Ben Jonson
John Milton
Samuel Richardson
Jonathan Swift
John Donne (1572-1631)
 Considered one of the great metaphysical poets
and ministers in English history. His poetry
moves away from the traditional Elizabethan
format of flowery images. Instead, his work
builds on complicated conceits that transcend
usual symbols. As a minister he preferred
beautifully graphic imagery in which he played a
significant role, as actor magnificently portraying
the exquisite extremes of humanity. Most of his
sermons and memoirs have been published
along with his poetry.
Ben Johnson (1572-1637)
He can be truly called a Renaissance man
of the early 17th Century. He was a
playwright , poet, critic, scholar, actor,
translator, and poet laureate. Served as
the head of the first literary “school,” His
first play included Shakespeare in the
cast. His two plays, Volpone and The
Alchemist are considered the height of
satiric comedy. His poetry successfully
covers numerous genres.
John Milton (1608-1674)
One of the greatest thinkers and writers in
English history. His Latin elegies and
English odes fare considered models of
poetic beauty. Coming as he did on the
cusp of two great literary and social
movements, the Renaissance and the
Reformation, Milton’s work serves as a
philosophical bridge between the two.
Samuel Richardson (1689-1761)
Wrote one of the earliest novels in English
Literature, Pamela, an epistolary work
drawn from earlier works in English and
French. The novel was praised for its
realism and its high level of morality, but,
paradoxically, criticized for its perceived
impropriety. Few writers have attained the
expertise of the epistolary form that
Richardson developed.
Jonathan Swift (1667-1745)
Considered the master of satire, with
pieces such as A Modest Proposal and A
Tale of a Tub. However, it is with Gulliver’s
Travels that most readers remember him.
He also wrote political tracts and poems
dealing with themes as seemingly
divergent as love and revenge. In his later
years, Swift’s satires grew increasingly
dark, due, in part, to his own failing mental
and physical health.
The Restoration


Politically, The Restoration refers to the
reestablishment of the House of Tudor
through King Charles II, but it also
includes the cultural movement of the last
40 years of the 17th Century.
It represents the first period of modern
English prose writing, an abundance of
witty comedies, and poetry.
Authors
Joseph AddisonA key member of the Kit—Kat Club,
organized by influential Whigs in the
early 18th century.
Known as “the model of the middle
style”, and it can be argued that his
style introduces a “middle class”
style to literature
Authors Cont...
James Boswell
A minor literary figure in his own right
and will always be remembered for his
monumental Life of Samuel Johnson, to
which he devoted much of his life. His
personal letters and memoirs portray a
man given to emotional and physical
extremes. He writes frankly of his violent
temper, promiscuity, and depression.
More Authors...
Daniel Defoe
His work Robinson Crusoe is
considered the firs modern novel in
the English language.
He published more than 560 pieces
of fiction, non-fiction, tracts, and
pamphlets.
More...
John Dryden
Can be called the chronicler of his age. A
proponent of the Restoration, he was a
poet capable of weaving aspects of his
culture into his prolific writing, including
political realities, theology, philosophy,
art, and rhetoric. His greatest
contribution to literature did not evolve,
however, until he discovered his ability to
use satire effectively.
More...
Samuel Johnson
His career did not run smoothly. Most of
his early work either went unnoticed or
was criticized negatively. It was with his
Dictionary of the English Language that
set his reputation and led to the several
degrees that would be awarded him. The
Dictionary is useful for its scope and
plethora of quotations. It also helped set
spelling standards for the language.
More...
Alexander Pope
A prolific writer, producing
volumes of poetry, translations of
the Iliad and the Odyssey, political
and critical pieces, and a mockheroic satire. The satire is aimed
toward dullness in general and
toward specific authors who have
earned Pope’s ridicule in particular.
And Finally...
William Wycherley
His popularity comes from his sardonic
wit and cutting satires of a hedonistic
London society. His criticism of society is
far harsher than that of his
contemporaries. His comedies often build
on the animal-like qualities of his
characters as an indictment of the
darkness just below the shiny surface of
Restoration culture.
The Romantic Movement
In its simplest form stands as an emotional
reaction to the rational, neo-classical
th
standards of the 18 century Augustan
poetry and prose.
The Romantic Movement
The philosophical diversity of its practitionersBlake’s fundamentalist Christianity vs. William
Wordsworth’s pantheism for instance-suggest
that the Romanticism is more complex than s
simple emotional reaction.
The Romantic Movement
The term itself stems from the 17th century
usage of “romantick” to describe words that
include, among others, nature, magic,
chivalry, adventure, and idealistic love.
The Romantic Movement
18th century Puritans disapproved of romantic
elements, but there were proponents such as Pope
who dared to experiment with the apparent
indolence and emotional extremes of romanticism
and pushed what would become the Romantic
movement of the 19th century.
The Romantic Movement
• Romantic writers move in different thematic
directions, they agree in their rejection of 18th
century literary and cultural rigidity. Thus the
individual takes center stage, along with all the
trappings of human emotion, intuition, and
reverence for Nature.
The Romantic Authors
Jane Austin
Known for her impressive collection of
novels
Her influences extend from what might be
considered an uneventful life.
Her greatest works deal with the subtle
complexities of the “ordinary” lives of
England’s gentry
The Romantic Authors
William Blake
A highly mystical poet, he evolves much of his poetic
style from his investigation of a personal mythology.
He had a vision of authority and submission within a
family context and a broader Christian context.
Much of his work was too esoteric for the reading public,
and as a result, his literary career lagged due to
increasingly complex biblical imagery and mystical
philosophy. In the 20th century Blake’s poetry has had a
marked influence on underground and avant-garde
poetry as well as the Beat Generation Writers.
The Romantic Authors
Lord Byron George Gordon
His years in England were not overly pleasant.
His wife left him, his debts rose, and rumors of
incest filtered through social circles. In 1816, he
left England and never returned. He spend his
remaining years with the Shelleys and traveling
through Europe. His poetry and dram had a
large impact on t he Romantics, his greatest
popularity was in Europe and America rather
than England.
The Romantic Authors
John Keats- In many of his
poems, there is a subtle tension
between the ruthless decay of life
and the bounding sensual
pleasures that are part of that
decay.
The Romantic Authors
• Mary Wollstonecraft ShelleyShe is best known for
Frankenstein, or the Modern
Prometheus, which arguably set
the aesthetic stage for the
Romantic movement in England.
The Romantic Authors
• Percy Bysshe Shelley- He first
received critical notice with his
beautiful poem, Alasstor written
the year his son William was
born. This was the summer that
he went to Lake Geneva with
Byron where he wrote poetry.
The Romantic Authors
William Wordsmith- He endured
harsh criticism form other Romantic
writers, including Byron, Shelley, and
Keats. However, Matthew Arnold
admired the beauty of Wordsworth’s
images of the sublime good in nature
and man.
The Victorian Age
This age began and ended with the reign of Queen
Victoria. The literary Victorian Age ran until just
about the time the Titanic sank. Culturally, the
age came to accept social and political change as
the norm. The mid 19th century rose with the
middle class, industrialization, urbanization, an
increase in technology, and the advancement of
science and pseudoscience. The tendency of the
age is toward the novel although the Victorian
writers investigate the relationship between
people and society, between the individual and
the self. Supports or suggests the research of
Freud.
The Victorian Age
Matthew Arnold- He began his amazing
literary career with the publication of The
Strayed Reveller and continued with such
favorites as Dover Beach. Later he turned
toward critical essays on educational and
social topics in which he called for a
broader, more European outlook for what
he saw as the provincialism of 19th
century England.
The Victorian Age
Charlotte Bronte-Her most fully
realized novel is one of the leading
works of the 19th century
Romanticism, Jane Eyre. She
investigates issues of women’s
rights. The major theme of Bronte’s
work is intense personal integrity
that resists degradation.
The Victorian Age
Emily Bronte- Her poetry was considered
her strongest achievement, even above
her darkly moving novel Wuthering
Heights. Many early readers found her
tale of intrigue and mystery on the moors
of England incomprehensible. Not until
her death and even into the 20th century
did readers and critics begin to appreciate
the full weight of Bronte’s power as a
writer.
The Victorian Age
Elizabeth Barrett BrowningWell know for her Sonnets from
the Portuguese, yet her true
work of genius did not come
until1857, with Aurora Leigh,
which investigates the social
responsibilities of the poet and
the position of women in society.
The Victorian Age
Robert Browning-He did not
truly realize success until he
married Elizabeth Barrett.
Browning reentered the literary
world with the publication of Men
and Women. After Elizabeth’s
death, he published several more
collections of poetry.
The Victorian Age
Lewis Carroll-Alice’s Adventures in
Wonderland established Carroll as a
preeminent writer of children’s
literature. Unlike children’s literature
of the time, Carroll’s books do not
appear to teach any particular
morals; behind their surface as pure
entertainment, however, lie
devastating satires on the celebrities
and morals of the time.
The Victorian Age
Charles Dickens- Few writers
have been as successful in
capturing an age as Charles
Dickens. He turned out a
remarkable series of novels that
deal with the psychosocial
aspects of Victorian society. His
writings describe the intricacies
and various ills of Victorian
culture.
The Victorian Age
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle- Like
Agatha Christie’s work, his
sleuth, Sherlock Holmes, has
engendered loyal fans around
the world. From a stylistic points
of view, Doyle's’ work creates a
fascinating view of late Victorian
England and its accompanying
mind set.
The Victorian Age
George Eliot-Her real name is Mary
Ann Evans. Her earliest works,
including Silas Marner ,deal with life
in Warwickshire, Eliot’s home.
Although some novels are set in the
period before the Reform Bill, the
moral and social issues presented
are clearly indicative of Victorian
England.
The Victorian Age
Thomas HardyHis novels are masterpieces of
literary naturalism. Many of his
works are centered on the tragic-epic
struggle between the individual and
the environment. He also wrote
poetry; in fact, he considered himself
primarily a poet.
The Victorian Age
Rudyard KiplingHe is remembered for his children’s
stories. Yet he successfully wrote
many other forms of literature,
particularly stories about the
common people of India. His Kipling
also valued technology and included
various machines and inventions in
many of his tales.
The Victorian Age
Robert Louis StevensonHis adventure novels have
charmed generations. In
particular, his first full-length
novel, Treasure Island has gone
through hundreds of editions and
has been adapted for film at
least three times.
The Victorian Age
Bram Stoker-
Many readers admit a morbid fascination
with Stoker’s one memorable creation,
Count Dracula. In one stroke, Stoker
managed to elevate a relatively obscure
Eastern European myth to the stature of a
multicultural dark force replete with lurid
psycho-sexual implications. Dracula
contains a wealth of information about the
latest technological advances of the day
and can almost be read as an
anthropological text.
The Victorian Age
Alfred, Lord Tennyson-He published two
of his most memorable poems. “The Lady
of Shallot” and “The Lotus Eaters” in
Poems. Both works signify his use of
classical mythology and medieval legend
tinged with melancholia. In another work,
he received criticism for its reliance upon
medieval allusions to ridicule Victorian
society, but he remained steadfast in his
belief that they merely reflected certain
inconsistencies within the society.
The Victorian Age
H. G. Wells- He is best known for his
science fiction stories that have been
adapted for film. He also set the
framework for today’s science fiction
authors by his interest in social and
technological progress and its
implications, rather than pure
fantasy.
The Victorian Age
Oscar Wilde- His flamboyant behavior,
which first made him society’s darling,
caused him much trouble in his later life,
including imprisonment for homosexuality
in 1895. His literature pivots on social
and cultural satire with such works as The
Importance of being Earnest. His only
novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, a Gothic
melodrama about the demented search for
eternal youth, caused quite a scandal
when it was published.
The Twentieth
Century
The 20th century is a time of great change and
technological revolution. Writers use
literature to express problems that run
concurrent with socio-cultural changes.
Existentialism defines the philosophical
stance through the two world wars while
postmodernism suggests the lack of social
unity and the ultimate unreality of cultural
and political ideals in the second half of the
century, especially with the generation X
writers.
The Twentieth
Century
W.H. Auden- His talent as a poet
first came to the fore while he was at
Christ Church, Oxford where he later
taught. T.S. Eliot accepted Auden’s
first collection of poetry which
established him as one of the
strongest voices of his generation.
The Twentieth
Century
Agatha Christie- Few can lay
claim to what Dame Agatha
does. She wrote 66 detective
novels and developed at least
two memorable sleuths.
Several of her novels have
been adapted for film, stage,
and television.
The Twentieth
Century
Joseph Conrad- He knew little
English when he immigrated to
England from Poland. By the
age of forty, he had not only
mastered it, but had written his
first novel.
The Twentieth
Century
Aldous Huxley- As a suggestion
of the consequences of a
careless society, he wrote one
of the memorable pieces of
science fiction, Brave New
World. He warned against the
temptations of technology
The Twentieth
Century
George Bernard Shaw- He is
England’s most important playwright
of the first half of the 20th century,
and arguable, second only to
Shakespeare as its greatest, the
Irish-born Shaw used theatre as a
“bully pulpit” to espouse the causes
in which he believed.
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An Overview of British Literature