what is british literature

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What Is British Literature?

Often referred to as UK literature, British literature primarily refers to all literature produced by British authors from the United Kingdom, which includes England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales, the Channel Islands, and Isle of Man. British literature includes works in Old, Middle, and Modern English, each of which represents a different period. British literature also includes early works written in Gaelic, Welsh, and Latin.

British literature has come to possess different characteristics over the years. People can fully appreciate it by learning the different types of literature that came to play in its history. UK literature is often divided into British works in Latin, early Celtic literature composed in the UK, Old English works, Middle English works, and Modern English compositions. There are only a few surviving early UK literature texts. Celts mostly made use of oral literature, and Henry VIII’s razing of monasteries caused the obliteration of much of the world’s literary treasures.

Old English works were written between 450 and 1066. Probably the most famous Old English work is Beowulf . The oldest original texts of British literary works came from this period, including "The Hymn of Creation" by the poet Cædmon.

Works written in Middle English were composed between 1066 and 1485. This historical period began when William the Conqueror successfully united factions in England, particularly the Normans and the Saxons, and when the Domesday Book was created. Examples of the best-known works in this period are The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer and Le Morte d’Arthur by Thomas Malory.

The Modern English era is comprised of all literary works composed by British authors beginning in the early 16th century and onward. This period can be further categorized into different types of literature. The Renaissance period is considered to have lasted from 1500 to 1660, and is best remembered for works written by William Shakespeare . During this period, sonnets and effusive forms of British poetry also rose in popularity, such as the ones written by Thomas Wyatt and Edmund Spenser.

Other periods making up the Modern English era include the Restoration Age, the Romantic Period, the Victorian Period, and all later periods. Gothic novels also became extremely popular in this era, particularly in the 18th century. Notable authors in this era include John Locke of the Restoration Period, Sir Walter Scott and John Keats of the Romantic Period, Alfred Lord Tennyson and Jane Austen of the Victorian Period, and Agatha Christie of the 20th century.

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Discussion Comments

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  • By: Georgios Kollidas John Locke was a British author during the Restoration Period.
  • By: Dual Aspect Jane Austen was said to have been influenced by the English moors.
  • By: Claudio Divizia British literature includes works written by William Shakespeare.
  • By: Tony Baggett Old English literature, including epic and lyrical poems, has been handed down through the centuries largely due to the efforts of King Alfred of Wessex.
  • By: Robert Beowulf is one of the most famous Old English poems.
  • By: John Lodder Jane Austen novels are notable works of the Victorian Period.
  • By: Books18 John Keats was a notable Romantic poet.
  • By: Georgios Kollidas "The Canterbury Tales" by Geoffrey Chaucer is one of the best known works written in Middle English.

A Brief Overview of British Literary Periods

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Old English (Anglo-Saxon) Period (450–1066)

Middle english period (1066–1500), the renaissance (1500–1660), the neoclassical period (1600–1785), the romantic period (1785–1832), the victorian period (1832–1901), the edwardian period (1901–1914), the georgian period (1910–1936), the modern period (1914–), the postmodern period (1945–).

what is british literature

  • Ph.D., English Language and Literature, Northern Illinois University
  • M.A., English, California State University–Long Beach
  • B.A., English, Northern Illinois University

Although historians have delineated the eras of British literature in different ways over time, common divisions are outlined below. 

The term Anglo-Saxon comes from two Germanic tribes: the Angles and the Saxons. This period of literature dates back to their invasion (along with the Jutes) of Celtic England circa 450. The era ends in 1066 when Norman France, under William, conquered England.

Much of the first half of this period—prior to the seventh century, at least—had oral literature. A lot of the prose during this time was a translation of something else or otherwise legal, medical, or religious in nature; however, some works, such as Beowulf  and those by period poets Caedmon and Cynewulf, are important.

The Middle English period sees a huge transition in the language, culture, and lifestyle of England and results in what we can recognize today as a form of “modern” (recognizable) English. The era extends to around 1500. As with the Old English period , much of the Middle English writings were religious in nature; however, from about 1350 onward, secular literature began to rise. This period is home to the likes of Chaucer , Thomas Malory, and Robert Henryson. Notable works include "Piers Plowman" and "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight." 

Recently, critics and literary historians have begun to call this the “Early Modern” period, but here we retain the historically familiar term “Renaissance.” This period is often subdivided into four parts, including the Elizabethan Age (1558–1603), the Jacobean Age (1603–1625), the Caroline Age (1625–1649), and the Commonwealth Period (1649–1660). 

The Elizabethan Age was the golden age of English drama. Some of its noteworthy figures include Christopher Marlowe, Francis Bacon, Edmund Spenser, Sir Walter Raleigh, and, of course, William Shakespeare. The Jacobean Age is named for the reign of James I. It includes the works of John Donne, Shakespeare, Michael Drayton, John Webster, Elizabeth Cary, Ben Jonson, and Lady Mary Wroth. The King James translation of the Bible also appeared during the Jacobean Age. The Caroline Age covers the reign of Charles I (“Carolus”). John Milton, Robert Burton, and George Herbert are some of the notable figures.

Finally, the Commonwealth Period was so named for the period between the end of the English Civil War and the restoration of the Stuart monarchy. This is the time when Oliver Cromwell, a Puritan, led Parliament, who ruled the nation. At this time, public theaters were closed (for nearly two decades) to prevent public assembly and to combat moral and religious transgressions. John Milton and Thomas Hobbes’ political writings appeared and, while drama suffered, prose writers such as Thomas Fuller, Abraham Cowley, and Andrew Marvell published prolifically.

The Neoclassical period is also subdivided into ages, including The Restoration (1660–1700), The Augustan Age (1700–1745), and The Age of Sensibility (1745–1785). The Restoration period sees some response to the puritanical age, especially in the theater. Restoration comedies (comedies of manner) developed during this time under the talent of playwrights like William Congreve and John Dryden. Satire, too, became quite popular, as evidenced by the success of Samuel Butler. Other notable writers of the age include Aphra Behn, John Bunyan, and John Locke.

The Augustan Age was the time of Alexander Pope and Jonathan Swift, who imitated those first Augustans and even drew parallels between themselves and the first set. Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, a poet, was prolific at this time and noted for challenging stereotypically female roles. Daniel Defoe was also popular. 

The Age of Sensibility (sometimes referred to as the Age of Johnson) was the time of Edmund Burke, Edward Gibbon, Hester Lynch Thrale, James Boswell, and, of course, Samuel Johnson. Ideas such as neoclassicism, a critical and literary mode, and the Enlightenment, a particular worldview shared by many intellectuals, were championed during this age. Novelists to explore include Henry Fielding, Samuel Richardson, Tobias Smollett, and Laurence Sterne as well as the poets William Cowper and Thomas Percy.

The beginning date for the Romantic period is often debated. Some claim it is 1785, immediately following the Age of Sensibility. Others say it began in 1789 with the start of the French Revolution , and still others believe that 1798, the publication year for William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s book Lyrical Ballads is its true beginning.

The time period ends with the passage of the Reform Bill (which signaled the Victorian Era) and with the death of Sir Walter Scott. American literature has its own Romantic period , but typically when one speaks of Romanticism, one is referring to this great and diverse age of British literature, perhaps the most popular and well-known of all literary ages.

This era includes the works of such juggernauts as Wordsworth, Coleridge, William Blake, Lord Byron, John Keats, Charles Lamb, Mary Wollstonecraft, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Thomas De Quincey, Jane Austen , and Mary Shelley . There is also a minor period, also quite popular (between 1786–1800), called the Gothic era . Writers of note for this period include Matthew Lewis, Anne Radcliffe, and William Beckford.

This period is named for the reign of Queen Victoria, who ascended to the throne in 1837, and it lasts until her death in 1901. It was a time of great social, religious, intellectual, and economic issues, heralded by the passage of the Reform Bill, which expanded voting rights. The period has often been divided into “Early” (1832–1848), “Mid” (1848–1870) and “Late” (1870–1901) periods or into two phases, that of the Pre-Raphaelites (1848–1860) and that of Aestheticism and Decadence (1880–1901).

The Victorian period is in strong contention with the Romantic period for being the most popular, influential, and prolific period in all of English (and world) literature. Poets of this time include Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Christina Rossetti, Alfred Lord Tennyson, and Matthew Arnold, among others. Thomas Carlyle, John Ruskin, and Walter Pater were advancing the essay form at this time. Finally, prose fiction truly found its place under the auspices of Charles Dickens, Charlotte and Emily Bronte, Elizabeth Gaskell, George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans), Anthony Trollope, Thomas Hardy, William Makepeace Thackeray, and Samuel Butler. 

This period is named for King Edward VII and covers the period between Victoria’s death and the outbreak of World War I. Although a short period (and a short reign for Edward VII), the era includes incredible classic novelists such as Joseph Conrad, Ford Madox Ford, Rudyard Kipling, H.G. Wells, and Henry James (who was born in America but spent most of his writing career in England); notable poets such as Alfred Noyes and William Butler Yeats ; and dramatists such as James Barrie, George Bernard Shaw, and John Galsworthy.

The Georgian period usually refers to the reign of George V (1910–1936) but sometimes also includes the reigns of the four successive Georges from 1714–1830. Here, we refer to the former description as it applies chronologically and covers, for example, the Georgian poets, such as Ralph Hodgson, John Masefield, W.H. Davies, and Rupert Brooke.

Georgian poetry today is typically considered to be the works of minor poets anthologized by Edward Marsh. The themes and subject matter tended to be rural or pastoral in nature, treated delicately and traditionally rather than with passion (like was found in the previous periods) or with experimentation (as would be seen in the upcoming modern period). 

The modern period traditionally applies to works written after the start of World War I . Common features include bold experimentation with subject matter, style, and form, encompassing narrative, verse, and drama. W.B. Yeats’ words, “Things fall apart; the center cannot hold,” are often referred to when describing the core tenet or “feeling” of modernist concerns.

Some of the most notable writers of this period include the novelists James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Aldous Huxley, D.H. Lawrence, Joseph Conrad, Dorothy Richardson, Graham Greene, E.M. Forster, and Doris Lessing; the poets W.B. Yeats, T.S. Eliot, W.H. Auden, Seamus Heaney, Wilfred Owens, Dylan Thomas, and Robert Graves; and the dramatists Tom Stoppard, George Bernard Shaw, Samuel Beckett, Frank McGuinness, Harold Pinter, and Caryl Churchill.

New Criticism also appeared at this time, led by the likes of Woolf, Eliot, William Empson, and others, which reinvigorated literary criticism in general. It is difficult to say whether modernism has ended, though we know that postmodernism has developed after and from it; for now, the genre remains ongoing.

The postmodern period begins about the time that World War II ended. Many believe it is a direct response to modernism. Some say the period ended about 1990, but it is likely too soon to declare this period closed. Poststructuralist literary theory and criticism developed during this time. Some notable writers of the period include Samuel Beckett , Joseph Heller, Anthony Burgess, John Fowles, Penelope M. Lively, and Iain Banks. Many postmodern authors wrote during the modern period as well. 

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Department of English Language and Literature, The University of Chicago

British Literature

In the field of British Literature, as in the English Department as a whole, we encourage a combination of skills: historical rigor, conceptual imagination, interdisciplinary agility, and close attention to the echoes and recesses of literary language. Our faculty include experts in every field of British literature and intellectual history from the seventh century to the twenty-first. In addition to these literary periods, we have powerful clusters in other areas that combine the resources of Departmental and other University faculty, brought together by faculty-graduate student workshops, centers, committees, and institutes in which we are actively involved. For example, students will find rich resources in medieval studies; poetry and poetics; theater and performance studies; race, politics, and culture; gender studies; literary and aesthetic theory; colonial, post-colonial, and transnational studies (in conjunction with centers for  South Asian ,  East Asian ,  Middle Eastern , and  Latin American  studies). Many faculty members in British Literature also work in American Literature as well as in Black Studies and colonial and postcolonial literature and culture (e.g. Caribbean).  We also have a thriving program in Creative Writing , in which many of our faculty, graduate students, and English majors participate.

Of particular interest to students working in British literature and culture is the University's  Nicholson Center for British Studies , which offers an annual lecture series and several year-long dissertation research fellowships as well as short term research grants for students who need to do research in Britain. Our undergraduate program in London, coordinated through the Study Abroad office, employs one graduate student as a program assistant in the fall term each year.  Other University resources for students in British literature and culture include the  Center for Gender Studies ; the  Center for the Study of Race, Politics, and Culture ; and the  Franke Institute for the Humanities . All these regularly sponsor lectures, conferences, symposia, workshops, and exhibitions, and also offer doctoral and post-doctoral fellowships.

Specific Areas of Study

  • Renaissance
  • 18th Century British/ Romanticism
  • 19th and 20th Century British and Anglophone Literature
  • Empire, colonialism and postcolonialism
  • Transnational Modernism
  • Post-1945 Literature and Culture
  • Irish Literature and Culture
  • Digital humanities
  • Drama and Performance studies
  • Poetry and Poetics
  • Literature, Film and Media studies
  • Literary and Cultural Theory
  • Psychoanalysis and Affect Studies
  • Race and Gender Studies
  • Literature and philosophy
  • Animal and posthuman studies
  • Ecocriticism and environmental studies
  • Literature and visual culture
  • Poetry and song

Faculty Members

Timothy Campbell

Timothy Campbell

Jim Chandler

James Chandler

Alexis Chema

Alexis Chema

Maud_Ellman

Maud Ellmann

Frances Ferguson

Frances Ferguson

Rachel Galvin

Rachel Galvin

Elaine Hadley

Elaine Hadley

Tim Harrison

Timothy Harrison

Helsinger

Elizabeth Helsinger

Heather Keenleyside

Heather Keenleyside

Loren-Kruger

Loren Kruger

Ellen MacKay

Ellen MacKay

Josephine McDonagh

Josephine McDonagh

Mark Miller

Mark Miller

W J T Mitchell

W. J. T. Mitchell

Benjamin Morgan

Benjamin Morgan

John Muse

Noémie Ndiaye

Julie Orlemanski photo credit Jason Smith

Julie Orlemanski

Lawrence Rothfield

Lawrence Rothfield

Ruddick

Lisa Ruddick

Benjamin A. Saltzman

Benjamin A. Saltzman

Joshua Scodel

Joshua Scodel

Stier

Richard Strier

Christopher Taylor

Christopher Taylor

von Nolcken

Christina von Nolcken

Wilkinson

John Wilkinson

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English Literature: A Very Short Introduction

English Literature: A Very Short Introduction

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English Literature: A Very Short Introduction considers such diverse topics as the birth of the novel, the brilliance of English comedy, the deep Englishness of landscape poetry, and the ethnic diversity of Britain's Nobel literature laureates. English literature is known for its major literary movements such as Romanticism and Modernism, and influential authors including Chaucer, Donne, Johnson, Wordsworth, Austen, Dickens, and Woolf. The study of English literature brings up fascinating questions. Why does literature matter? How does narrative work? What is distinctly English about English literature? How do literary texts change as they are transmitted from writer to reader?

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British Literature I Anthology: From the Middle Ages to Neoclassicism and the Eighteenth Century

(18 reviews)

what is british literature

Bonnie J. Robinson

Laura J. Getty

Copyright Year: 2018

ISBN 13: 9781940771281

Publisher: University of North Georgia Press

Language: English

Formats Available

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Reviewed by Molly Martin, Professor & Chair, University of Indianapolis on 2/9/24

The book does a generally good job with coverage (the amount of Bede included is much more than expected, but perhaps at the expense of Malory, among others). It could move a little further beyond the most well-known, canonical texts. There is no... read more

Comprehensiveness rating: 3 see less

The book does a generally good job with coverage (the amount of Bede included is much more than expected, but perhaps at the expense of Malory, among others). It could move a little further beyond the most well-known, canonical texts. There is no index. Each unit includes a helpful list of key terms, but they aren't defined or explained there.

Content Accuracy rating: 5

The text is accurate, though some of the introductions are a bit less in-depth than what I would like to see. That said, those introductions are very accessible to students--highly readable and generally well targeted to the chosen texts.

Relevance/Longevity rating: 3

This book's 2018 publication date means that it came out just before the discipline began to rethink the use of the term "Anglo-Saxon," which is used heavily in the text. The "further reading lists" were a bit out-of-date already in 2018.

Clarity rating: 5

Both the introductions and the translations are very readable. I think it very nicely targets its student audience in this regard.

Consistency rating: 4

The text is consistent throughout. It (mostly) follows a chronological order, and follows the same pattern for each text (intro, text proper, discussion questions) and unit. I do wonder why the editors sometimes chose prose to translate poetic works. I think this is a disservice.

Modularity rating: 5

Both the division of the text into (chronologically-based) units and the arrangement of the texts themselves lend themselves very well to syllabus creation and student reading.

Organization/Structure/Flow rating: 4

The text is very well organized, and follows the expected pattern for a similar anthology. I would like to see line numbers, particularly for poems.

Interface rating: 5

The interface is straightforward and easy to use (a simple pdf). It would be nice for there to be clickable links in the table of contents (and keywords, perhaps?), but that isn't necessary. The simple pdf works well.

Grammatical Errors rating: 5

I spotted no grammatical issues.

Cultural Relevance rating: 3

As I note above, the use of "Anglo-Saxon" is off-putting to me and is increasingly not used in field (this is not universal and still hotly debated by some). I would love to see that updated here.

I greatly appreciate the massive undertaking that a project like that is, and this anthology has much to its credit. I do think that it is in need of some updating and revising to make it even more useful for the college classroom.

Reviewed by Stephen Hamrick, Professor, Bemidji State University on 5/16/23

The textbook provides a good sense of comprehensiveness; although some things are missing ( Margery of Kempe, Lady Mary Wroth's poetry & prose), the text provides sufficient coverage. What is missing can be added with some effort. read more

The textbook provides a good sense of comprehensiveness; although some things are missing ( Margery of Kempe, Lady Mary Wroth's poetry & prose), the text provides sufficient coverage. What is missing can be added with some effort.

The overview/contexts provided present a reasonable and accurate sense of both the historical and literary contexts.

Relevance/Longevity rating: 5

The medieval and early modern texts provided cover the range of texts available and thus will remain relevant.

The text is written in lucid, accessible prose, and provides adequate context for any jargon/technical terminology used. Medieval texts, which often give students great difficulty, have sufficent aparatus/translation to be useful and accessible. Gawain and the Green Knight, however, lacks such translation.

Consistency rating: 5

The text provides clear consistency; the reading questions in particular make connections that allow students to note consistent, seminal patterns in early British Literature.

The textbooks provides logical and clear points of separation and/or sections; this will allow for clear modules and distinct unit within the early British survey.

Organization/Structure/Flow rating: 5

Organized largely chronologically, the text provides a standard periodization as remains dominant in both British and American teaching contexts.

The text is free of significant interface issues, including navigation problems, distortion of images/charts, and any other display features that may distract or confuse the reader. The bookmarks in the pdf work well and correspond precisely to the included page numbers.

The text introduces no grammatical errors.

Cultural Relevance rating: 5

As much as is possible for a British literature collection, the text uses a range of examples that engage a variety of races, ethnicities, and backgrounds, including Aphra Behn and Olaudah Equiano.

Although the collection leaves out some important women writers, the choices it makes include a focus on women and gender in a fashion that reflects both the state of literary criticism and classroom demographics. Overall a B+.

Reviewed by Shandi Wagner, Assistant Professor, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College on 9/30/22

The anthology does a good job of covering the periods and including some women writers as well as a writer of color (Equiano). There were some texts whose absence I noted, such as those by Margery Kempe and Eliza Haywood, but no anthology can be... read more

The anthology does a good job of covering the periods and including some women writers as well as a writer of color (Equiano). There were some texts whose absence I noted, such as those by Margery Kempe and Eliza Haywood, but no anthology can be completely comprehensive. What I missed even more, though, was a lack of cultural context. Introductions focused more on historical events than on cultural context such as social/class structure, gender roles, values and mores, etc. This lack of cultural context continued in the texts themselves with the absence of annotations. However, I did appreciate the Reading and Review Questions provided at the end of each text.

I noticed no inaccuracies.

The content is up-to-date and unlikely to need updating. The anthology includes literary works that have been accepted as significant, and the introductions and contextual material is quite general (and therefore unlikely to require updates as scholarship progresses).

Clarity rating: 2

While the introductions are clearly written, the clarity of the literary texts, in particular those of the medieval period, is questionable. Unlike most anthologies for early British literature, no explanatory annotations (contextual or translational) have been included to assist students in understanding these texts that are written in cultural contexts very different from our own. In addition, some of the texts, such as _Sir Gawain and the Green Knight_, are not translated into (more) modern English; as that text is presented in the book, I could not ask my students to read it.

The introductions are relatively consistent, although length and depth of introductions to individual authors and texts varies somewhat.

Modularity rating: 4

The sections are set up by traditional time periods which work well for creating modules. The interface allows for navigation by section headings, including authors with subheadings for the individual texts and the review questions. However, there are large sections of text (of about 100 pages) in some selections where there is no breakdown of the subsections or navigation options other than scrolling, which would be problematic for assigning to students. For instance, the selections from _The Canterbury Tales_ is not broken down into the individual tales and prologues for navigation or even as a preview in the TOC; readers must scroll through the hundred pages to see what is offered and find page numbers for reference.

The text is well organized by period.

Interface rating: 4

The navigation interface worked well except in those areas where the navigation to subsections was unavailable (as detailed above under modularity).

Grammatical Errors rating: 4

There is a rather glaring typo in the heading for Section 4, which lists the years for the eighteenth century as 1603-1688 (the same years as Section 3). This is incorrect in both the TOC and in the section heading itself (as well as the navigation label). Other than that, I noticed no issues.

There is nothing cultural insensitive or offensive.

what is british literature

Reviewed by David Sweeten, Assistant Professor of Early British Literature, Eastern New Mexico University on 11/1/21

This text provides a wide range of good texts, but there are some odd omissions. Including Julian of Norwich is great for facilitating discussion on female mystics, but what about Margery Kempe? We have some solid Middle English selections, but... read more

Comprehensiveness rating: 4 see less

This text provides a wide range of good texts, but there are some odd omissions. Including Julian of Norwich is great for facilitating discussion on female mystics, but what about Margery Kempe? We have some solid Middle English selections, but why exclude The Vision of Piers the Plowman or John Gower? Further, the readings from Chaucer are also somewhat limited. An anthology by nature will inevitably exclude some texts, but some of the choices here are rather strange.

Content Accuracy rating: 3

The front matter to texts is generally accurate, although it is a bit more brief in some areas than others. There is a larger issue, however, of citation in the front matter. At times the editors in these prefaces are relying on other scholarship but their citations are slim, if present, and do not consistently guide students or instructors to resources for more in-depth study. More strange, however, is that texts provided in translation provide no attribution of the translator. For Beowulf the editors appear to be using Leslie Hall’s translation, but attribute her work nowhere in this book. This same lack of attribution carries through to each of the Old English, the Middle English translations, and the selections from Marie de France. This lack is troubling both from the intellectual property issues it raises as well as the vital importance that translation can be in interpreting a text, instructors and students alike often needing to consult both the translation and the original in their own work. On this front, the authors are also not consistent on providing sources for where the version of the texts they are using come from, leading to further questions over how trustworthy some of this work is.

Relevance/Longevity rating: 4

The texts themselves will not undergo significant change, but their scholarship will and, from what has been provided, has. What to include in introducing a text is a tricky subject, as too much information can be as functionally ineffective as too little, but there are times in this text where more context would be beneficial and should reflect more current research. For example, discussion of the structure of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight does not include current textual scholarship, especially that of Kathryn Kerby-Fulton, and some of the discussion could use more current scholarship than Putter (1996) and Tolkien (1967).

Clarity rating: 4

The text of the introductory material is generally clear and well written. There is work to include a range of sociohistorical contexts and how various movements matter. The material can be a bit brief at times, however, and more clear sourcing of this content would be very welcome.

The above discussion about consistency of textual choices notwithstanding, the introductory material of the anthology is consistent period to period and text to text. While more coverage in some areas would be beneficial, a similar attention to detail has been applied to each.

The text can be modularly divided by period to meet specific needs. There is some reference to other sections, but this is done to establish context and doesn’t necessitate that readers will have read these other sections as well.

Topics are clearly presented, and the front matter of each section works to situate the respective sociohistorical contexts within British literary history.

There is a clear table of contents that helps guide through the text.

There are a few small issues but generally the text is consistent on grammar.

Cultural Relevance rating: 4

The text here is no insensitive of offensive, although the focus of this can, at times, be oriented to somewhat glance over sensitive topics. For example, Great Britain’s role and history in the slave trade is not thoroughly discussed, which is odd in key places such as Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko. The most that gets discussed on this front is a side statement: “Britain saw increased prosperity particularly through commercial trade—that included slave trading—colonial expansion, and industrial progress culminating in the factory system” (2122). Certainly what to included and not include in such a work is difficult, but the larger impacts of the slave trade are more vital to the historical context here than has been covered.

In sum, this anthology has a great deal of useful context and information, but the consistency in the sourcing and provided information makes for some difficulty in utilizing the anthology in the classroom. The instructor can provide additional context, as is necessary for any anthology, but the lack of clear source raises questions about what is here and where the instructor or students can go for more in-depth reading.

Reviewed by Terry Lindvall, Professor, Virginia Wesleyan University on 3/29/21

This digital anthology offers the potential delight of a full banquet of tasty readings. The range of British Literature: Middle Ages to the Eighteenth Century and Neoclassism encourages old curmudgeons with its full plate of nourishing dishes.... read more

This digital anthology offers the potential delight of a full banquet of tasty readings. The range of British Literature: Middle Ages to the Eighteenth Century and Neoclassism encourages old curmudgeons with its full plate of nourishing dishes. However, one rues that the menu does not include some neglected favorites. Where is that wondrous allegory of William Langland with his dream and seven deadly sins? Where is that first English autobiography of the wildly mystical Margery Kempe? Where is that most significant literary publication of Tyndale’s or King James’ Bible? Or, for that matter, the sublime phrases of Thomas Cranmer’s Book of Common Prayer? And why not, instead of so many John Donne and Robert Herrick poems, substitute the humble, but very accessible, poetry of George Herbert? Where are bits of the Wesley brothers, especially any hymns of Charles (and any of Cowper and Newton’s Olney hymns—one short sermon of John’s would suffice)? Why Moll Flanders over Robinson Crusoe? And then, with a wink and a bit of mischief, where is that classic flyting of Dunbar and friends? (I can understand, but not enjoy, the exclusion of that Scottish makar, Robbie Burns, but he would add such spice to the gathering.) Nevertheless, such a work revives a worthwhile history that slips away while publishers print more ephemeral works. (PS. For what it is worth, one other reviewer recommended Swift’s “The Lady’s Dressing Room” to balance Like Montagu’s response and I concur.) I applaud the merry inclusion of comic literature (e.g. Chaucer and Swift) with the pious and solemn. Third, the succinct introductions provide basic instructional historical context and literary insight into the readings. While one wishes for more explanation of literary allusions, such an encyclopedic addition would be too cumbersome. (Such will be the responsibility of the individual professor.) Adding the review questions supplies both a focus for the introductory student and a gentle prompt to think critically. One of the better notations is Tolkien’s riddles connected to the Exeter bits like “The Bookworm”. Finally, a glossary, vocabulary aids, and relevant footnotes would be helpful for students, as with Latin phrases, this line from Beowulf: “Oft Scyld the Scefing from scathers in numbers”, or the Middle English of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. I do think that a brief identification of “Key Terms” might work to the book’s advantage. So, too, an index and dates of publication would be quite useful.

As far as I read, the content of the introductory material and the translations appear remarkably accurate. However, the challenge of using the best translations is problematic, noting the dilemma of accessible texts and copyright issues.

In an era in which historical literature wanes, the relevance of this material looms greatly. Its longevity has already been demonstrated by its inclusion. Its relevance, in a culture tainted by chronological snobbery, is crucial to correct our intellectual myopia.

The introductions to each period provide solid and manageable material, without adding the academic nuances regarding each text. As such, students can access the larger picture and be prepared to have an enjoyable first meeting with the writings. However, there are “foreign” language phrases throughout that students may stumble over or ignore. Can one clarify or translate them for the readers. Nevertheless, the reflective questions enable confused students to gain a clearer perspective on what it is they just read.

The structure of the anthology is blessedly consistent. Its framework follows a logical and chronological order as clear as bread crumbs on a path into a dense forest. The unit Introductions and the Recommended Readings allow the students to get her bearings and proceed with a map in their cluttered minds.

The modularity works well for an introductory text. It doesn’t complicate what graduate programs will. It integrates various literary genres into a recognizable time period, suggesting links among the texts.

As a firm advocate of historical chronology, rather than genre or topic, I celebrate the organizational flow. For students to learn that writers stand on the shoulders of other writers, that originality is grounded in imitation as much as inspiration, is foundational for learning (and for humility). One can easily learn where one stands. However, with other reviewers, I would murmur, complain, and grumble over the lack of line numbers for the poetical texts. Such navigational aids enhance teaching and learning. To enable close readings with students, one must be able to guide them directly to the verse in question.

Interface rating: 3

Students who are very adept at navigating all manner of digital material will find the interface quite slow and frustrating. The difficulty is in transferring from one writing to another, as the collection seemingly requires one to return to the Table of Contents. Scrolling takes much longer than clicking to a particular page. Perhaps a link like the “Find” on one’s Word documents might enable them to traverse an interactive world of literature more efficiently. But as a Luddite, I can only see the problem and not know how to fix it.

I looked and looked, but found no grammatical errors or editing mistakes, except in any Anglo-Saxon or Medieval writings where everything is misspelled (hah).

The criteria of cultural relevance are overdetermined and too often introduce a fundamentalist dogma. The inquisitive and imaginative students will find more about their world by attending to these historical texts than in taking another identity formation course, where the Procrustean bed of significance tends to be ideologically driven and reductionistic. Cultural context for these writing, particularly in their religious Zeitgeist, would open up the readings so that students could contrast the postmodern milieu with this Western tradition. These works actually show a diversity of thought and style that seems sorely lacking in contemporary writings.

To summarize my review, I am grateful for a lucid and compelling anthology that follows a chronological structure. The breadth of offerings is most commendable (other than my own peculiar biases mentioned at the beginning—where are the hymns and the wild flytings?) and forms a solid foundation for the student of British history and literature.

I believe that a more fluid interface with internal links, an addition of line numbers for poetic texts, footnotes that clarify particularly obscure allusions and semantic differences,

One other recommendation concerns the visual aspect of the text (the pictures are dull). What might provide a welcome break to the readings is a germane image or illustration (maps are fine, but don’t provoke the imagination as much as a dramatic painting). For example, in dealing with Lady Montagu and Alexander Pope, include the fair use image of William Powell Frith’s “The Rejected Poet” (1863), to put flesh onto the word. Or include the illustrated frontispiece for works by Spenser (such as Knight Redcross) or Dryden—rather than their portraits. And think of all the potential dramatic images for Milton’s Paradise Lost! Let an image of Beelzebub wake up the student. This is a visual generation and such vivid works will work wonders on them.

Nevertheless, I commend the authors of this open-source anthology for the vision and labor of compiling such an inviting and accessible (and less expensive) work. For full disclosure, I have assessed this anthology according to a specialized criteria: namely, how does it fit with a study of British literature and religion and how does it expand the usual selections, as presented in Alistair McGrath’s Christian Literature: An Anthology? I am impressed with its range from its initial offering of the The Dream of the Rood through The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, much of which contributes to my courses. And, of course, the opportunity to reduce the cost for students under enormous debt, is a main advantage.

Reviewed by Toby Widdicombe, Professor, University of Alaska Anchorage on 11/2/20, updated 1/10/21

No index. A glossary is much needed. I would have liked an anthology with more authors and fewer selections from each. Key terms without adequate definition right there is sort of like a vocab list w/o definitions. read more

No index. A glossary is much needed. I would have liked an anthology with more authors and fewer selections from each. Key terms without adequate definition right there is sort of like a vocab list w/o definitions.

Content Accuracy rating: 4

I found no glaring errors in the headnotes.

It's hard not to be relevant with material that peters out at the end of the C18th! That said, I appreciated the effort to include less well-known voices and marginalized authors (women in particular).

I would have liked much more extensive headnotes and period discussions. That said, what we have works quite well with students.

I saw no inconsistencies in the anthology.

Modularity rating: 2

I would have liked a book with greater modularity. There are really only major period breaks and little attention paid to genre or region.

Yes to the extent that a decision was made to have chronology dominate.

Very good in this regard.

The headnotes are well written and lucid.

I would have liked much more attention paid to cultural context, but it is not culturally insensitive.

I enjoyed the frequent use of illustrations although the captions are rather unimaginative. This is almost as good an anthology as the Norton (for example) in terms of depth and much superior in readability. I have used this book in Brit. Lit. before and will do so again until/unless I come up with my own. Some of the translations are not the best, but that, I know, becomes a question of what is available free.

Reviewed by Christina Angel, Senior Lecturer, Metropolitan State University of Denver on 7/15/20

This textbook is easily comparable to the Norton and other similar anthologies for a survey course. What is especially useful here are the headnotes and recommended reading lists, as well as the follow up questions at the ends of readings, which... read more

Comprehensiveness rating: 5 see less

This textbook is easily comparable to the Norton and other similar anthologies for a survey course. What is especially useful here are the headnotes and recommended reading lists, as well as the follow up questions at the ends of readings, which other similar anthologies generally lack in this subject. The early and middle medieval works are in modern English, which is also appropriate for a lower-division survey, where there may not be time to teach even rudimentary Middle English, and certainly no time to cover Anglo-Saxon. Any pieces missing from the anthology, like any other, could be easily supplemented elsewhere, and the addition of female voices is appreciated.

Headnotes and questions provide concise but helpful direction to the student, and the carefully chosen information sections are accurate. The text seems to be geared to the student experiencing these sometimes challenging periods of literature for the first time, and this makes the text accessible. The choices of the modern English translations of the medieval texts is also apt.

Since the textbook covers older literature, it would be easy to say that relevance doesn't change much; however, the textbook is up to date with our current conceptions of these time periods and the literature associated with them. Important to note is the inclusion of female authors of the periods, which is often omitted in older anthologies of this type. The text's strong nod to diversity (such as it was in early canonical literature of Europe) is well represented here, giving a current presentation and understanding of the periods.

As I mentioned above, the clarity of the headnotes is worth noting here; they are both brief and full of helpful context and information for the reader, with a clear intent of introducing the new student to the time period and historical moment of the text, as well as structural and thematic nuance.

The text is quite consistent throughout in providing notes and structure that is predictable for the student, no matter where they are in the book, or what section they jump into. The nature of an anthology is to provide a similar experience no matter where the student starts reading, because it's not possible to read the entire book in one course. This book achieves that well.

Because of the very nature of anthologies, it's necessarily modular, but as I mentioned above, it is consistently organized and students should be able to have a great experience with the text no matter where they encounter it.

Organization is also a mostly given structure here, as the texts are necessarily placed in chronological order, but the text does a good job of breaking up the groups of texts into meaningful literary movement and historical contexts. This is extremely useful for the survey course in early British Literature, which tends to move students through big sections of history in only a single semester.

The text is easy to access, read, and navigate.

The book is well edited and clear; no immediate errors were found.

As I mentioned above, this time period of literature lacks the kind of diversity overall that contemporary students are often looking for, but the text does cover what diversity is there, particularly female voices in early and middle medieval texts.

I would use this text in my British Literature survey before turning to an expensive physical textbook in future. All of the main texts are here, it provides excellent context and makes the pieces accessible for the new-to-these-texts student. The choices of modern English translation of the early texts are also good and

Reviewed by Kim Gainer, Professor, Radford University on 7/8/20

Since this is an anthology that covers earlier English literature, the students need help with vocabulary, but there are no aids accompanying the texts of readings. There is not even a glossary at the end (although that would be much less useful... read more

Since this is an anthology that covers earlier English literature, the students need help with vocabulary, but there are no aids accompanying the texts of readings. There is not even a glossary at the end (although that would be much less useful than notes accompanying the text). For example, even in the Chaucer section, where the spelling and to a certain extent the language is modernized, definitions of archaic terms would be helpful. Certainly such definitions would be absolutely vital for Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, which is presented in the Middle English. There are lists of undefined Key Terms at the end of each section, but these lists are not guides to the vocabulary in the readings. The lack of vocabulary aids alone would prevent me from assigning this text. Note on modernization of language: The Canterbury Tales in the original Middle English are much easier for my students to read than Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. It seems odd that the selections from The Canterbury Tales are modernized while Gawain is presented in Middle English--and, again, with no vocabulary aids.

The introductions to each reading are accurate and useful if (no doubt necessarily) somewhat slender. For example, one introduction gives one sentence to the fact that "Ubi Sunt Qui Ante Nos Fuerunt?" can be placed within a literary tradition. It is unfortunate, however, that there are no contextual notes provided alongside the readings themselves to build upon such hints, for example, a comment on the relevant passages in Beowulf and The Wanderer or on later poems that catalog and comment on how ephemeral material being can be, such as Raleigh’s “The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd.” Because this is an anthology of earlier English literature, the texts are filled references to events and literary allusions that will go over the heads of students without more apparatus than is provided in this anthology.

The selections are of major works from the canon of earlier English literature. While the canon has evolved over time, these readings likely will continue to be assigned. The organization follows the customary breakdown into literary periods that, again, is unlikely to change anytime soon.

Clarity rating: 3

The introductions to the literary eras and the individual readings are clear. I would only wish, as I indicated in earlier comments, that there were an expanded literary apparatus. That fact results in there being less than "adequate context."

Occasional departures from consistency of framework, such as sometimes a "Bibliography" being provided, other times "Recommended Readings," and other times nothing at all.

As a literature anthology, it is inherently modular.

The book is organized by recognized literary periods, and within those, authors and texts. This organization makes it suitable for most literature survey courses.

You can click from the table of contents to a section, but there are otherwise no internal links allowing you to navigate within the book. It is basically a print text converted into a PDF and uploaded. The textbook is 2971 pages in length, and other than clicking on a link to get to the beginning of I section, I had to scroll to get anywhere--turning the pages of a print book is actually a quicker way to navigate to a specific page than scrolling through a lengthy PDF. Something else that I would call a navigation issue is the lack of line numbers in poems. In discussions and logs, my students are required to ground arguments in specifics, including citations to line numbers. Discussions, for example, would quickly get bogged down if my students were not able to rapidly direct their classmates to the lines that they wish to rely on to support their interpretations.

There are no issues with grammar, spelling, or punctuation.

The includes numerous selections from woman writers/a woman's point of view from the periods covered: Wife's Lament, Marie de France, Julian of Norwich, Queen Elizabeth, Mary Herbert, Aemilia Lanyer, Margaret Cavendish, Aphra Behn, Anne Finch, and Lady Mary Wortley Montagu. The anthology also includes excerpts from the narrative written by the enslaved, then-freed African Olaudah Equiano. The inclusion of Behn's Oroonoko would support discussions of issues of race and colonialism; similarly, excerpts from Daniel Defoe's Moll Flanders would support discussions of issues of gender and class.

The selection and organization are suitable for an undergraduate survey course in earlier English literature. It would be helpful for student comprehension if words and allusions were glossed, and it would be easier to use the textbook (1) if there were internal links and (2) if poems were provided with line numbers.

Reviewed by Michael Torregrossa, Adjunct Faculty-English,, Bristol Community College on 6/30/20

There is a good assortment of texts here from both male and female writers of the periods covered here. I liked that each selection had a short introduction by the editors, some illustration, and some questions to get the reader thinking deeper... read more

There is a good assortment of texts here from both male and female writers of the periods covered here. I liked that each selection had a short introduction by the editors, some illustration, and some questions to get the reader thinking deeper about the text. Overall, these reminded me of apparatus in primary/secondary school readers, so I think the continuity might help the student feel comfortable with the textbook. I did especially like that the contents pages were hyperlinked to selections in the text itself. I feel the average teacher might find much value here, but I do have some serious reservations with the overall effective of this edition. (There is also no index to the book, and any glossary is limited to three short word lists given without any attempt to define those terms.)

I'm a medievalist, so I was most interested in the material on medieval literature. The selections were comparable to those in the Norton Anthology, with the notable omissions of William Langland and Margery Kempe and the inclusion of only a small section from Thomas Malory. However, I did have some notable concerns with editorial practices related to the unit (and book) as a whole. First, I don't see any bibliographic references for the texts (or any text in the book, for that matter). Where are these reproduced from? One World Lit text in the Open Textbook Library had a bibliography that noted it used out-dated, publicly-accessible versions of its text. That seems the case here as well. Some of the translations sound very archaic and not modern. Second, in a text that seems designed to promote accessibly, why are the Middle English selections not translated or, at least, modernized? (Sir Gawain and the Green Knight in Middle English is especially foreign looking.) I wouldn't expect non-English majors to read these texts in the original. Why do the editors? Lastly, I don't see any glossing or notes to any selection (either here or elsewhere in the book), something usually found in anthologies designed for students. What level of education and comprehension are we assuming for readers of this book? This also further limits its use as a teaching tool because the instructor also wouldn't have any resources to answer student questions.

Content Accuracy rating: 2

I don't see any specific issues with factual accuracy or deliberate bias in what I reviewed, and, again, I think most instructors would find the book of value to them and their students. However, the introductions are short and could probably be bettered by contributions from experts in the period, text, or writer to give the reader a better ability to engage the text with regards to current debates about the work. More critical, I think, is the issue of the texts themselves and the ability to see them as "accurate". As noted, I feel the translations and editions used are out-dated for a twenty-first-century textbook, and, to me, that impacts the accuracy and comprehension of the individual texts and the potential for missing out on more recent interpretations and ideas about each text. In addition, not knowing the origin of the version of each text used also concerns me. Too often students gravitate towards such freely-accessible editions to save money. I would hope that an anthology designed as specifically open-access would do better in its selection and commission of versions towards adopting better/more accurate texts (like Norton does). Otherwise, this is no better than something my students might cobble together.

Relevance/Longevity rating: 2

Again, while the selection is relevant, given the corpus/canon, I don't feel the versions of the texts are relevant for today's readers. I'm probably in the minority here, but this is always my big concern with open access. If you use an older edition or translation of a literary text, then that ignores all of the history of scholarship produced since then. I don't know where these versions come from, but the World Lit text I looked at was using items as old as the 1860s. That's a long way from 2020. I fear these versions could be as old.

I feel clarity is greatly impacted by the concerns addressed earlier, and I would hope these issues would bother others as well. The materials by the editors are clear and contemporary, but the texts themselves are not. Versions used appear antiquated and are sometimes inaccessible to the average student reader. We're not asking our students to read the Old English texts here in Old English, so why is Middle English chosen in place of translated texts? (I think the Norton Anthology also has some issues with this, but, as far as I know, it's version of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight has always been a translation.) Also, without any glossing or notes, students may not fully comprehend the texts, whether medieval, early modern, or modern.

Consistency rating: 3

I suppose I would say the book is consistent; although, that consistency is its often biggest drawback. The layout and design are similar section to section and unit to unit, but issues with the origins of each specific edition of the texts used and lack of support are also reoccurring.

Modularity rating: 3

The book does not appear entirely modular to me in the way that other open-access books can be. I do find value in its aids to navigation using the links in the contents pages. Yet, I also notice that sections run together on the page, like other common anthologies, rather than separate each selection to an entirely discrete section of its own, which might be done since a ebook doesn't need to conserve paper. Finally, there is no way to disassemble the book, but one might refer students to the specific links given in the contents pages to effectively pull the book apart.

No concerns with organization. The contents are mostly chronological, as expected in this type of textbook.

No notable issues with the interface as observed in the online version.

No noticeable grammar issues with the content original to this textbook. The literary selections vary greatly with respect to the language of 2020, and, while that might be an expected issue, that might reduce the ability of a reader or teacher to comprehend the texts included.

No notable issues with cultural content. The selections are mostly conservative and in-line with the standard canon of British literature for these eras. Not knowing the sources of the versions chosen, I can't comment directly on the content as insensitive, offensive, or not; however, I suspect an older version of the texts included might have more potential issues than a more recent translation or edition, such as included in the Norton Anthology. Future editions of this textbook might also offer greater "variety of races, ethnicities, and backgrounds," as best applicable to each period. I would also urge the editors to replace older translations and/or editions of the texts already included with more recent ones (or newly commissioned ones) and provide more critical apparatus that could allow students to create greater cultural awareness about each text.

As noted at the outset, I think I'm probably in the minority in downgrading aspects of this textbook and critiquing it so harshly. The Norton Anthology is an admirable work, but students today don't like (or can't afford) to pay for their textbooks. I see this book as one attempt at an option, but, to receive my praise and recommendation, the editors of this (and other similar anthologies) need to think more critically about the specific versions of the texts they use and/or at least be more transparent in their origin. There also needs to be more effort made to aid students and teachers in comprehending and enjoying the literature they are reading through translation and/or modernization, glossing, notations, and more critical apparatus.

Reviewed by Susan Dauer, Professor, Valencia College on 6/1/20, updated 6/9/20

I am pleased to see such a wide variety of work, including not only excerpts but full texts. This book contains everything from riddles and poems to plays and a novel. The notes are readable, and the discussion questions are written for students... read more

I am pleased to see such a wide variety of work, including not only excerpts but full texts. This book contains everything from riddles and poems to plays and a novel. The notes are readable, and the discussion questions are written for students to think about works individually and in comparison with other texts. My comment here is a 4 rather than a 5 because the lists of key terms are just that: lists. If you are going to tell students in a preliminary class that these are the main terms they need to understand, then there should be a definition with the term or clicking on it should take back to the relevant information. Students can do a search for the term, but if they use a shorthand (I typed "heroic" rather than "heroic couplet," for example.), they might be confused by their results.

I checked the elements I am most familiar with, the selections from the medieval period. I did not see anything that looked to be in error. The notes are clear and concise. There are some interesting comparisons that would spark student interest (The Lord of the Rings and The Wanderer, for example).

There is one glaring typo. The dates (1603-1688) for Part 3 are repeated for Part 4 ["Part 4: Neoclassicism and the Eighteenth Century (1603-1688)"] despite the fact that the section title says "Eighteenth Century." I admit that this make me (probably unfairly) wonder what other small errors I might have missed.

This is a text meant for students learning the first half of British Literature. The texts themselves will not become dated. However, I noted that most of the works suggested for additional reading were from books from roughly the middle of the twentieth century. I am not sure how easily available to students these would be.

The notes are clear and concise. The reading and review questions address a variety of issues.

The four major units each start with Outcomes and end with relevant terms. Each section contains a variety of readings and similar treatment in terms of notes and reading questions.

A syllabus for British Literature could be set up in a variety of ways using this text. An instructor could use the primary sources with or without assigning the additional resources. More familiar texts can be paired with lesser known works. A day's assignment might be several short works, such as Medieval lyrics, or a work might be divided over several day, a Shakespearean play or Swift's novel.

This text moves smoothly through time from the early Middle Ages to the Eighteenth Century (There is an error with the dates for the last section, as noted above).

Bookmarks, if a reader knows how to use them, make this an easier text to maneuver through than it may first appear.

Although I did not read every word, I did not notice any typos other than the problem listed above with the dates in the section title.

This is a tricky question for a work such as this one. This a work focusing on the early period of literature in England. For the most part, this means the works will be those written by the authors of the time and place: white men. There is a good effort to include works by women, and the last selection is actually a slave narrative by Oloudah Equiano.

I think I've said everything above.

Reviewed by Sharon Grindle, Senior Instructor, Colorado State University on 12/25/19

The Table of Contents and introductory materials are excellent, and cover much the same ground as the comparable Norton Anthology; an index would make this text more accessible for a survey class making choices on which pieces to emphasize. read more

The Table of Contents and introductory materials are excellent, and cover much the same ground as the comparable Norton Anthology; an index would make this text more accessible for a survey class making choices on which pieces to emphasize.

I especially appreciate the contextualization of selected pieces in the chapter overviews, with more biographical and publishing detail provided in the selection preface.

One of the most common student complaints about this kind of survey course is its emphasis on white male authors, and I see that echoed in these textual selections and their contextualizing material. Kempe is notably absent, as is the infamous exchange between Swetnam and Speght. I also find the review questions on material such as Queen Elizabeth's speeches to emphasize content more than context or challenging the canon.

The text is straightforward and accessible, and constructed with student access in mind.

While I'll admit to not closely reading the entirety of this comprehensive anthology, it seems consistent in both tone and content. I may revise this element of my review as I teach with it.

This is a necessary component of designing this sort of text, and well executed.

There are elements of thematic organization within the larger chronological divisions.

No problems I noticed here.

Per what I already said about diversity of authorship and contextual notes: I do think this book could work harder to include a full range of early British authorship. This is an easier project with the later survey courses, but Britain was not a monolith before the Tudor period, and certainly isn't afterward.

Reviewed by Rachael Hammond , Lecturer, Shenandoah University on 7/31/19

Overall, the textbook delivers a solid and thoughtful compilation of works representing the time periods of this anthology topic. As some others have noted, Kempe could certainly be included. Some other topics and authors that could enrich the... read more

Overall, the textbook delivers a solid and thoughtful compilation of works representing the time periods of this anthology topic.

As some others have noted, Kempe could certainly be included. Some other topics and authors that could enrich the text might be: a more diverse selection of the Anglo-Saxon/Medieval poems, especially those that might present more surprising depictions of family and social relationships or relevance of the natural world ("Get Up and Bar the Door," "Deor, " "Seafarer," "Sir Patrick Spens," etc.).

I was surprised not to see more emphasis on ballads, as well, especially since they can add an important pivot to the second anthology. But, more importantly, some students might take only the early British Literature course. In this case, they might not really learn much about this important poem form, its origins, and its great influence on poetry and music to this day.

While the AS Chronicles are mentioned in recommended reading, they could be included, as well. In particular, some samples can be especially engaging to students and helpful for appreciating the scientific knowledge level and general mindsets of the times.

I also agree with some reviewers that Sidney could be more extensively included.

In addition, the editors might also consider including samples of Chretien de Troyes, in counterpoint to Marie de France, and perhaps William Langland, to highlight genre diversity of the Alliterative Revival.

Including another work by the Gawain-Poet/ Pearl-Poet could also strengthen this anthology.

Including more narrative poem sampling of Shakespeare could be thought-provoking, for both appreciating the Bard's range of skill and contrasting other authors' approaches to allegory, etc.

If including these suggested pieces is too cumbersome, perhaps they could be more prominently mentioned in the recommendations lists (they seem to lean more toward secondary sources).

In contrast, the amount of Herrick seemed unexpectedly extensive (though an e-book seems a good place to be more robust than scant).

The text includes a nice selection of riddles, a nice surprise given that too many anthologies seem to marginalize them.

The book seems generally well-edited and thoughtful. The unit and author introductions are quite strong. They are clear and full of solid, factual information.

The content seems solid and up-to-date. The overall structure is chronological--which is a clear, logical, and standard approach.

In some ways the sequencing within a unit might be improved if works of the same genre were placed back-to-back (such as placing a mystery play just before a morality play sample, for more explicit juxtaposition). That said, an ebook is easily navigated, and a professor should segue the course readings, as appropriate.

The unit introductions show great care in making the information easy to digest, whether a student is an English major or not. This book could also serve nicely for an honors high school course.

The comprehension questions and terms lists are also solid and helpful.

The text is logically structured. It follows chronological order. The terms are clarified within the introductory prose portions of the units. The follow up in the terms sections, at the unit ends, also supports student learning.

The text flows logically. Again, the chronological approach essentially provides a very logical order for teachers and students alike.

That said, a professor could also, with ease, approach the material through genre or thematic approaches without trouble. This text connects, rather than separates, the Anglo-Saxon and Medieval eras.

The material is generally provided in manageable portions.

The chronological sequencing makes for a very clear organization. The readings are sandwiched between clear introductions on the front end and reading comprehension and terms on the back end. The sequencing facilitates easy teacher planning and comfortable student learning.

Delineating the AS and Medieval portions a bit more clearly could help students who get overwhelmed, especially when tackling older versions of the English language. Doing more with side by sides (original and modern translations) could also help struggling students, for instance, in tackling the Gawain piece.

The interface is generally clear. The table of contents is standard and easy to use. An index would be a nice addition, however.

The images included are helpful, especially the maps. Including more images of actual places and illuminated manuscripts could help decrease student reading fatigue. Many students are acclimated to reading on screens, but they are perhaps accustomed to more breaks from text.

The headers are solid and logical, but transforming from a two-part to a three-part header could be very helpful. Right now the headers include the book title and unit name. Including the title of the work could be very helpful for students new to ebooks or for people in a hurry to get to a specific reading without bouncing back to the table of contents to find an actual page number to "hunt on."

Generally quite strong! -Maybe just a few glitches (punctuation of play titles sorts of things).

Overall, the text is solid. Editors might consider the placement of the last author, to avoid appearing as a "tack on." Perhaps some of the Shakespeare readings could add more to this area, as well. While the included comedy is a great reading for gender relations and communication studies, some of his other works could also address racial or religious depictions of the times more directly. Perhaps mining Chaucer a bit more thoroughly could also bolster this area, as well. Some ballads also deliver insights especially into the expectations and experiences of females of the medieval period.

Overall, an impressive book! The text could certainly serve quite well as a main text for an early British Literature course.

Reviewed by Carolyn Whitson, Professor of English, Minnesota State Metropolitan State University on 6/26/19

The book has some moments of deep comprehensiveness (Venerable Bede is presented exhaustively, with several chapters on details of political and theological minutiae that I have a hard time imagining being read in its entirety in a survey course),... read more

The book has some moments of deep comprehensiveness (Venerable Bede is presented exhaustively, with several chapters on details of political and theological minutiae that I have a hard time imagining being read in its entirety in a survey course), and at other times it seems to do "greatest hits," to the point of sacrificing breadth. We have a goodly amount of Chaucer, but no Margery Kempe or Caxton or male mystics, only a bit of Marie de France. "British Literature" seems narrowly construed--more writings of British explorers and colonizers/colonists would be helpful here. It's nice to see Equiano included at the end, but he feels tacked on, rather than integrated.

The text gives sound, general overview in the essays on the periods and the authors, but doesn't venture much. Compared to the standards in the field (the Norton, the Oxford, and Longman anthologies), the introductory features are quite brief, and avoid wading into current areas of interest among scholars. So, it's easy to be accurate when there isn't much level of detail.

I believe the anthology is constructed to be a standard for a number of years, mainly by following the deepest treads in the road. The introductory essays in the anthology could have been written at any time since 1985. There is acknowledgement of women authors, and one author of color, but other anthologies are more up-to-date and representative of the variety of authors in the period. I would use this for the classics in it, but would have to supplement if I were to teach a survey more in line with today's understanding of the discipline.

The introductory essays are quite clear and to the point. I really wish, however, that there were more guiding footnotes to the primary sources, as you find in the standard anthologies in the field. Where I am a little puzzled is in some of the choices for translations of the primary materials: I'm happy to see the Chaucer passages streamlined into more modern spellings and translations rather than just splatting out the Middle English for students to sink or swim in, but why does the version of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight have such scant consideration--it contains thorns and yoghs and "v"s used instead of "u"s, all with no guidance to the student about these things. This is completely out of character in comparison to other Middle English materials in the section. Because the Gawain poet uses a different dialect from Chaucer, and the Middle English Lyrics are translated to only have gestures toward "thou" and "speaketh," this seems very uneven in terms of clarity of text to students.

Please see my comments under Clarity. The choices for translations in the medieval section are not very consistent in their style of English and syntax, which I think would be quite frustrating to students. As well, the complexity/depth of the study questions vary greatly throughout the anthology. In some, like the Venerable Bede section, they seem more like reading checks than heuristics leading the students to a deeper level of understanding of the content.

As an anthology, this text is imminently modular. In fact, its chief virtue is its modularity. I would use this anthology as a free source for some of its better-presented texts: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Chaucer, Milton. But, for these very same authors, there are dedicated scholarly websites with much better supportive apparatus, so perhaps it would be better to say that there are sufficient modules in the aggregate that I would choose this text for the student to give her/him one document file as a source for several of these pieces.

Yes, this is clearly organized, but the nature of the genre makes this almost a given. The anthology is organized chronologically. It consistently has a general introductory essay to the period, and then a briefer intro for the specific primary sources. I wish that on the pages themselves the headers would tell the student where, specifically, in the anthology they are (instead of "Middle Ages" and page number, why not "Middle Ages, Author"?). As an ebook, the table of contents function is pretty rudimentary.

This is, as noted above, an effective, rudimentary organization of materials. There are very few bells or whistles, just the occasional link out to a website, some nice wiki-commons images of authors and frontispieces of manuscripts. The table of contents is basic. Not much innovative is ventured, so this functions effectively.

Yes, this anthology is well-proofread and the authors are professionals in their use of the English language.

The anthology is the embodiment of inoffensiveness. It makes a sincere effort at gender balance, has one author of color at the very end of the book, and is mum on any cultural issues that are hot-button topics today. It's not bad, but it is not as conscientious or detailed on these issues as the standard texts in the field are (the Longman, the Norton, Oxford and Cambridge). Any instructor with a commitment to reflecting current scholarship on these texts will have to bring their own training to bear on the anthology.

This is a fine free resource for instructors wishing to save students money, and who have their own pedagogical materials to supplement what is offered here to introduce the primary sources. The study questions in particular are suitable for high school or freshman students, but do not assist an instructor in giving an in-depth presentation of this very rich and complex subject matter. It is a workman-like anthology, and will allow the instructor to re-allocate student expenses to a few smaller, specific books for a course which otherwise would have been invested in an expensive industry-standard anthology.

Reviewed by Christina Francis, Associate Professor, Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania on 3/13/19

I was surprised to see a lack of any sonnets from Sidney, Spenser, or Shakespeare in the Tudor section of the anthology. In the 18th century section, I would have included Swift's "the Lady's Dressing Room," especially because Montagu's reply is... read more

I was surprised to see a lack of any sonnets from Sidney, Spenser, or Shakespeare in the Tudor section of the anthology. In the 18th century section, I would have included Swift's "the Lady's Dressing Room," especially because Montagu's reply is included.

I like the abbreviated lists of recommended readings and the learning objectives for each section. The questions for discussion could also be helpful.

While I have not combed through the textbook with a fine-toothed comb, I can say that perhaps a bit more work on consistency could happen. For example, within the Chaucer section the dream vision about birds is titled at least three different ways: Parlement of Fowles, Parliament of Birds, and Parliament of Fowles.

Another issue that may fall under accuracy is language, especially with the medieval texts. For example, the frontispiece on Chaucer does not discuss language at all related to the text. Clearly the texts have been translated to some extent but not fully, so this does not accurately represent the original piece. Some disclaimers about translation choices should be made. My sense from just glancing at the opening lines of the 'General Prologue' is that some words have regularized spelling, others have been fully translated into modern English, and still others are left alone or misspelled. Since there are no line glosses to clarify word meanings, this adds to the difficulty of reading this text in a classroom.

Due to the nature of the literature contained within this textbooks, the works contained within will never become out of date or obsolete. With a textbook such as this, the question is really about what may be excluded or included. For example, should more short prose pieces that give cultural context or more women writers be included? This is really a question of what you want you class to accomplish, and may be easily added to class content without much difficulty.

The textbook materials, the frontispieces for each reading, seem to be clearly written.

One of my biggest issues with this text is the lack of line numbers. Since most of the content is poetry, and presumably students would have to use these works in their writing, there is no easy way to direct readers to close reading of sections of the poem except by page numbers; this is inadequate for working with poetry, especially if students are expected to quote from works in their writing for a class.

Another glaring absence is footnotes throughout. While I understand that footnotes are editorial in nature, there are works for which these are fairly crucial, such as Milton's 'Paradise Lost.'

The structure and presentation of texts seems to be consistent.

The way the texts are sub-sectioned makes a lot of sense. I particularly like the division of the Tudor from the early 17th century materials. However, I would have liked to see the Middle Ages similarly sub-sectioned. This is an even longer swath of time with very distinct markers that separate the Anglo-Saxon materials from the High and Late Middle Ages.

It does seem like works would be easily extracted to build a smaller, more tailored anthology for a class. However, I could recommend that any new work start on a new page, so that extraction becomes even easier. For example, If I only wanted to extract "The Dream of the Rood," I would get the beginning of Beowulf on the last page. Since this is an electronic text, I don't believe there should be a concern for white space left on pages.

The sequencing of the works is logical and works well. When a work is excerpted, I would suggest that the textbook needs to indicate which selections are included. For example, 'Paradise Lost' is a very long work, but unless I scroll through the whole section, I would have no way of knowing that a particular book or portion of a book was not included in this anthology, as it is not indicated in the Table of Contents.

I appreciate the ability to move from the Table of Contents directly to a text by clicking on the title. However, other potential navigation functions beyond Go To # would be helpful: it's a large text which means a lot of scrolling (the scrolling enhances of the difficulty of close reading, as there are no line numbers to help readers get to precisely where they might want to be in a poem).

I did not notice an egregious number of errors.

This is a difficult thing for this course material to accomplish well. It's difficult to move away from a class with texts mostly written by old white men. However, the content does include text written by women for every period covered.

I appreciate the work that this book demonstrates, and I also appreciate the use of images throughout to help illustrate relevant concepts, individuals, etc.

Reviewed by Christopher Fee, Professor, Gettysburg College on 3/11/19

The range of texts offered in this compilation is relatively good, with some notable exceptions: Margery Kemp, for example, is traditionally taught in tandem with Julian of Norwich; although all anthologies must make difficult choices in this... read more

The range of texts offered in this compilation is relatively good, with some notable exceptions: Margery Kemp, for example, is traditionally taught in tandem with Julian of Norwich; although all anthologies must make difficult choices in this regard, it is notable when such a strong woman’s voice is excised from a collection already top-heavy with men. In general, however, the compilers make a good effort at providing a useful range of authors and texts. The editions selected were chosen, evidently, because they are not protected by copyright, which is a double-edged sword: It is extremely valuable to offer such texts for free to students, of course, but out-of-date translations and editions do not benefit from recent scholarship, however, and may contain language and embody preconceptions that could prove problematic if presented to students without any sort of context. The apparent lack of a glossary, index, or marginal glosses is a particularly troubling aspect of this text, especially as regards the earlier selections; while it is true that Chaucer may be read without notes or glosses, it’s not always easy, and it could prove very difficult indeed for Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, which is often taught in translation specifically because the dialect is much more difficult than that of Chaucer for a modern reader. While the inclusion of a Middle English version of Sir Gawain could be laudable given the appropriate editorial apparatus to provide support to students, as it is presented in this compilation, many readers may find it close to unintelligible. Even Shakespeare, it should be noted, is generally taught in editions with helpful notes and margin glosses, and it is notable when these are entirely absent. It would seem most fair, in any case, to make all the original publication data of each included text readily available, as it is, for example, in the Norton editions. The manuscript illustration provided for Sir Gawain is a case in point of the weak attempt to identify the source of images. These may be freely available for use, but that is no reason not to inform students of the ultimate source of a given image, in that particular case MS. Cotton Nero AX f. 94, if memory serves. The introductory materials attempt a solid if elementary overview, and the suggested reading seems solid in most cases. The review questions are relatively helpful, as well, if not particularly challenging.

No obvious errors in fact leap out at the reader.

The selection of texts will likely stand the test of time for some years, although the editorial commentary, the suggested readings, and the review questions may more quickly become dated.

The editorial text is clear and entirely accessible; some of the earlier selections, however, would greatly benefit from marginal glosses and footnotes to benefits students who one would generally assume to have little conversance with earlier forms of English.

The entire work is logically and consistently arranged, and the editorial writing seems to have been conceived of as a coherent whole.

This compilation is arranged very much along the lines of a classic literary anthology, and should present no obstacles in that regard to either instructors or students.

From the perspective of one trained in traditional methods of teaching literature in a period-based fashion, this compilation is organized intuitively; this is not to say that such collections cannot be criticized on this basis, but merely to acknowledge that the compilers seem to have had the needs of the traditional survey course in mind when they designed this text.

The text seems free of major navigational, distortion, or display problems; that said, it is not particularly easy to move around in quickly, and the reader may find that jumping around from place to place in a given text or from text to text is most easily done by returning to the Table of Contents, which is interactive. The lack of line numbers for poetry is close to a fatal flaw in terms of in-class rapid navigation of texts, however, and seems an odd omission for a classroom teacher to make: In a day and age of multiple electronic versions of texts on phones and other screens as well as on paper, line numbers become the one anchor point bringing together many class discussions. Even when the translations and editions differ, everyone in a class can find the same place quickly, and indeed, the adroit instructor may use to her advantage such differences to engage students in productive discussions of the nature and implicit biases of various versions of a given text.

The text seems free of major obvious grammatical or typographical errors.

The text makes a reasonable attempt at inclusiveness; as compared to other anthologies, it is reasonably successful in this attempt, and is not overtly offensive or insensitive in any obvious way, although the employment of older, out-of-copyright editions is always a bit risky in this regard.

In short, this collection is an admirable and useful attempt to provide an open-source anthology for traditional surveys of early British literature. Its shortcomings include a lack of helpful footnotes and glosses for earlier forms of English, a lack of full and obvious attribution of the editions used as sources, a lack of line numbers for poetry, and a functional but clunky interface.

Reviewed by Alexis Butzner, Instructor, Chemeketa Community College on 3/2/19

The editors have done an admirable job of selecting key authors from each period, though some notables absences remain (for instance, significant female authors like Margery Kempe, Lady Mary Wroth, Katherine Phillips). The choice to include full... read more

The editors have done an admirable job of selecting key authors from each period, though some notables absences remain (for instance, significant female authors like Margery Kempe, Lady Mary Wroth, Katherine Phillips). The choice to include full versions of most provided texts is bold and often helpful, as in the case of the provided novels. However, it might not be the most useful for students—it is unlikely that undergraduates in a literature survey would gain more from reading the entirety of Bede’s Ecclesiastical History than they would from all seeing a wider range of early modern sonnets or medieval folk and fairy tale traditions. Similarly, the editors claim the importance of authors (like Francis Bacon) and texts (such as the King James Bible, which they refer to as “the most important publication of the age”) in chapter introductions without including them in the anthology.

No obvious errors in content.

The anthologized works tend to be important and will not themselves go out of date. However, recommended reading lists for each chapter are dated and often limited in scope. For instance, the list provided for the medieval period skews heavily toward Arthuriana; only one recommended text focuses on Old English literature (and is a primary text with an outdated apparatus), and most other texts are historical rather than critical. The list provided for the chapter titled “The Tudor Age” is also out of date, with the latest inclusion having been published in 1996—the only theoretical/critical angle presented is psychoanalysis, and the last book published on playgoing is Andrew Gurr’s 1987 Playgoing in Shakespeare’s London, which, while important, has been followed up by two more volumes from Gurr himself (in 1996 and 2000), as well as other important work by David Scott Kastan, Jean E. Howard, and Mary Bly. The editors also curiously choose to refer to the period as the “Renaissance,” though that term has been superseded by “Early Modern” for most scholars. The list provided for “The Seventeenth Century: The Age of Revolution” lacks several key texts that explore and discuss the period as an “age of revolution.” In a subsequent edition, updates to this would be relatively easy, and it would be simple to keep updating it for student use in effective ways.

Clarity rating: 1

In many ways, the editors are more compilers than true editors. They present versions of selected texts that are no longer under copyright--and thus tend to not reflect modern usage--without any additional apparatus to guide students. While useful for ensuring the affordability of the textbook, this poses a significant problem. No vocabulary is defined, and no assistance is provided to aid in comprehension. Poetic lines are not numbered, making accurate citation of longer texts nearly difficult.

Translations of Old English are unattributed (and themselves use vocabulary that students would find difficult, but which are not defined) and students are given no clear notion of the original language (except in well-chosen images).

The editors include an unattributed translation of Marie de France by Eugene Mason (1954) which Peggy Maddox has demonstrated offers a “false impression...of Marie’s story” – and one which comes from an author who declares himself unconcerned with textual fidelity in translation (“Ravishing Marie: Eugene Mason’s Translation of Marie de France’s Breton Lai of Lanval” Translation Review 61.1 (2002): 31-40).

The chosen version of The Canterbury Tales seems to follow a version published, by D. Laing Purves, in 1874 “in nineteenth-century garb” for the “popular perusal” of an Edinburgh audience. This renders “Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote / The droghte of Marche lath perced to the roote” into “When that Aprilis, with his showers swoot, / The drought of March hath pierced to the root” this seemingly minor change has the consequence of making a reading of the original Middle English impossible, of making discussions of poetic meter difficult, and of not improving the comprehensibility of the language for modern students.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is the first text presented in its original Middle English. Unfortunately, the introduction to the text offers no indication of how students might attempt to read the difficult orthographical differences in the text, and again, there is no apparatus with definitions, translations or explanations.

As the texts move toward more recognizable English, the lack of an apparatus is less of an issue (though it would still be helpful in many cases), but for the early texts it makes for an impossible task for the undergraduate student.

Textual introductions are inconsistent: some feel like solid scholarly overviews of the texts, with relevant context and even (occasionally) references to scholarship; others are cursory and fail to define basic terms (“morality play”) for students.

The choice to label each time period a “chapter” makes for cumbersome reading and confusing learning outcomes. The outcomes listed in each chapter would require students to read and retain every work included in the anthology, which is unlikely to reflect how such anthologies are used. Similarly, the lists of key terms at the end of each chapter sometimes reflect names or terms quickly glossed over in the introductions, and sometimes reflect or concepts within texts themselves, but in any case would be difficult to fully define.

The text is organized chronologically, which is a standard and logical choice for an anthology of this type.

The text is presented in a clean and relatively easy to use interface. Students using the full PDF may experience difficulty in scrolling between sections, as the text jumped around during normal use.

The text contains no obvious grammatical errors. However, in multiple locations, the final section, which spans “Neoclassicism and the Eighteenth Century” is accorded the date range of 1603-1688, reusing the dates from the previous section on the seventeenth century.

The editors have endeavored to include a variety of authors where possible, a task which is difficult in some of the periods covered in the anthology. However some gaps remain, as in the first three “chapters” (through 1688), where other important female authors might have been included.

Many of the study questions are leading and filled with assumptions that could press students toward particular interpretations or prevent them from independent considerations, and these questions often rely on having read other texts in the anthology.

Ultimately, this is a solid compilation of previously-edited open-source texts, but it would fail to serve the needs of most undergraduates (even with significant additional material provided by a professor with content knowledge). The anthology could live up to its potential if revised in a way that updated the recommended readings to be more comprehensive and more recent, and if it provided significant textual apparati to help students in the comprehension of texts and the accurate understanding of their structural features.

Reviewed by Terry Riley, Professor of English, Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania on 1/26/19

The selection is comprehensive: predictable but extensive, at about twice the length of the corresponding volume in the Norton Anthology series. There is no index nor any glossaries. read more

The selection is comprehensive: predictable but extensive, at about twice the length of the corresponding volume in the Norton Anthology series. There is no index nor any glossaries.

Historical and literary introductions are accurate, clear, and up-to-date. Learning objectives and questions for discussion are useful if not exciting. I saw no evidence of bias.

These are all classic texts, and they will be relevant for a long time. Updates should be easy.

The introductions and other apparatus provided by the editors is clear and jargon-free, appropriate for college and senior high school students.

The book is laid out consistently.

I think students would get used to navigating the text is fairly short order. One moves from the table of contents either by using the hot links or by entering a page number at the bottom of the page; likewise one learns, or one can be shown, to go back to the table of contents by entering "iii" at the bottom of the page. One problem is that the reader can't "page around" as is possible with a paper book. This difficulty could be mitigated by putting the author's name and/or title of the work at the top of each page.

Organization is chronological, as is traditional with historical surveys.

No navigation problems as such, though as noted above there is a learning curve. No problems with the clarity of the images.

No grammatical errors.

No offenses.

The introductions to each major chapter are useful, but they can't cover enough of vocabulary and cultural context. Early modern English is full of words that look like modern English but have different meanings or connotations. Many young people today have little knowledge of the cultural and social structures of Medieval and Renaissance Europe. The import of such passages as The earl had had terror: comfort he got for it, Waxed ’neath the welkin, world-honor gained from Beowulf would be lost on most 21st century readers. The book lacks those footnotes and glosses that make the Nortons and the Longmans reader friendly. There are ways of compensating (e.g., the teacher could provide the glosses in some other medium). One would need to use the book to see if there are any problems that a one-time examination did not reveal. I have covered my few reservations here, and will add only that a British Lit I teacher who wishes to spare her students $50 - $100 ought to try this volume.

Reviewed by Jennifer Black, Lecturer, Boise State University on 1/4/19

This anthology contains a good collection of major texts from British literature from the Middle Ages to the 18th Century. Most of the most commonly-taught texts are included, along with helpful introductory essays for each section and... read more

This anthology contains a good collection of major texts from British literature from the Middle Ages to the 18th Century. Most of the most commonly-taught texts are included, along with helpful introductory essays for each section and explanations preceding each text. There are also relevant images that accompany many of the texts, which add a nice visual element to the anthology. A major strength of the anthology is that it includes the full text of several major works, including Beowulf, Doctor Faustus, two Shakespeare plays, Gulliver's Travels, etc., as well as excerpts of many other long texts. This anthology doesn't have quite the breadth of the Norton or Longman print editions, but it has a sufficient number and variety of texts for any British Literature survey course. The table of contents provides an effective index to the textbook's content.

The information in the textbook is mostly accurate, and the texts included are free from errors or typos. The texts represent the most familiar versions of these literary works, and the language is generally true to the original sources. There doesn't seem to be information included about translators of texts, especially middle English texts (like Beowulf), nor about which variants of texts are being used (e.g., quarto or folio versions of Shakespeare plays). So that is a significant weakness of the textbook, but the overall accuracy of the texts is sufficient for an introductory survey course.

The content of the textbook appears to be up-to-date and focuses on widely-accepted facts and interpretations of the various texts. Most of the information that might need to be updated appears in the introductory materials for each text, so it would be easy to locate and revise if needed.

The text does not appear to include many footnotes or explanations for obscure terms. The language for the introductory materials is very clear and comprehensible, but there are very few helps for students in understanding the primary texts included in the anthology. Students using this text would need access to a very good dictionary or online tools to help decipher some of the more challenging texts.

The structure and layout of the textbook is nicely consistent, which makes the book easy to navigate. There is a lack of consistency in the editing, since some texts retain early modern spellings and others have been modernized, so that might be a barrier for students. For instance, the passages from Spenser retain his archaic spellings, but Shakespeare's sonnets are presented in modern orthography, so students might get a false impression of the original language of the texts. Overall, however, the book is consistent enough for an introductory course.

The modularity of the text is generally strong. The texts are organized by authors and titles, but also include subheadings and other tools for keeping track of where you are in a large book. It would be nice to have some line numbers to use for reference, especially in texts where they were included in the original (like Paradise Lost).

The organization of the text is clear and understandable. The texts follow a general chronological order and are grouped together by author. The organization follows the standard format used in most British literature anthologies.

There are no noticeable interface issues. The images are clear, the texts are easy to read, the fonts are consistent, and the navigation is straightforward. Hyperlinks from the table of contents to the various sections of the textbook are a helpful feature of the book.

The book appears to have been carefully edited, so there are no noticeable grammatical errors. The writing in the introductory materials for each text is clear and professional. The only grammatical issue is the lack of consistency in editing between texts from different authors and periods.

The text makes a good faith effort to be culturally inclusive, to the extent that an anthology of early British literature can be. There are several female authors included, as well as a few from different races and social classes. There is certainly room for a little more diversity in the texts included, like perhaps adding some broadside ballads, but there has clearly been an effort to make this text inclusive.

This is a very helpful anthology for anyone teaching the first half of the British literature survey course. I especially appreciate the editorial materials included in the anthology, as well as the images that help provide a cultural context for the text. I hope to see more footnotes and line numbers in the next iteration of the text; at the very least, it would be helpful to have links to supplementary materials to explain some of the textual variants not represented in the anthology. But overall, this is a great resource for students beginning their study of British literature.

Table of Contents

Part 1: The Middle Ages

  • 1.1 Learning Outcomes
  • 1.2 Introduction
  • 1.3 Recommended Reading
  • 1.4 The Dream of the Rood
  • 1.5 Beowulf
  • 1.7 The Wanderer
  • 1.8 The Wife's Lament
  • 1.9 The Venerable Bede
  • 1.10 Anglo-Saxon Riddles
  • 1.11 Marie de France
  • 1.12 Middle English Lyrics
  • 1.13 Geoffrey Chaucer
  • 1.14 Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
  • 1.15 Julian of Norwich
  • 1.16 The Second Shepherds' Play
  • 1.17 Sir Thomas Malory
  • 1.18 Everyman
  • 1.19 Key Terms

Part Two: The Tudor Age (1485-1603)

  • 2.1 Learning Outcomes
  • 2.2 Introduction
  • 2.3 Recommended Reading
  • 2.4 Thomas More
  • 2.5 Thomas Wyatt
  • 2.6 Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey
  • 2.7 Queen Elizabeth
  • 2.8 Edmund Spenser
  • 2.9 Sir Walter Raleigh
  • 2.10 Sir Philip Sidney
  • 2.11 Mary (Sidney) Herbert, Countess of Pembroke
  • 2.12 Christopher Marlowe
  • 2.13 William Shakespeare
  • 2.14 Key Terms

Part 3: The Seventeenth Century: The Age of Revolution (1603-1688)

  • 3.1 Learning Outcomes
  • 3.2 Introduction
  • 3.3 Recommended Reading
  • 3.4 John Donne
  • 3.5 Aemilia Lanyer
  • 3.6 Ben Jonson
  • 3.7 Robert Herrick
  • 3.8 Andrew Marvell
  • 3.9 Margaret Cavendish, the Duchess of Newcastle
  • 3.10 John Milton
  • 3.11 John Dryden
  • 3.12 Samuel Pepys
  • 3.13 Key Terms

Part 4: Neoclassicism and the Eighteenth Century (1603-1688)

  • 4.1 Learning Outcomes
  • 4.2 Introduction
  • 4.3 Recommended Reading
  • 4.4 Aphra Behn
  • 4.5 William Congreve
  • 4.6 Daniel Defoe
  • 4.7 Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilsea
  • 4.8 Jonathan Swift
  • 4.9 Alexander Pope
  • 4.10 Henry Fielding
  • 4.11 Lady Mary Wortley Montagu
  • 4.12 Samuel Johnson
  • 4.13 James Boswell
  • 4.14 Olaudah Equiano
  • 4.15 Key Terms

Ancillary Material

About the book.

The University of North Georgia Press and Affordable Learning Georgia bring you British Literature I: From the Middle Ages to Neoclassicism and the Eighteenth Century . Featuring over 50 authors and full texts of their works, this anthology follows the shift of monarchic to parliamentarian rule in Britain, and the heroic epic to the more egalitarian novel as genre.

  • Original introductions to The Middle Ages; The Sixteenth Century: The Tudor Age; The Seventeenth Century: The Age of Revolution; and Neoclassicism and the Eighteenth Century
  • Over 100 historical images
  • Instructional Design, including Reading and Review Questions and Key Terms
  • Forthcoming ancillary with open-enabled pedagogy, allowing readers to contribute to the project

This textbook is an Open Access Resource. It can be reused, remixed, and reedited freely without seeking permission.

About the Contributors

Bonnie J. (B.J.) Robinson , Ph.D., is the Director of the University of North Georgia Press and a professor of English at the University of North Georgia. She has published scholarly works on late Victorian literature and Creative Writing pedagogy and served on the editorial boards of Turn-of-the-Century Women, The Walter Pater Newsletter, and The William Morris Newsletter. Dr. Robinson has won several publishing grants, including a National Endowment for the Humanities digital start-up grant on digital publishing in the Humanities.

Laura J. Getty , Ph.D., is a professor of English at the University of North Georgia. She received her Ph.D. in Comparative Literature at The Pennsylvania State University, and her areas of specialization are medieval literature, world literature, and mythology. Dr. Getty was the editor-in-chief of Compact Anthology of World Literature and a contributing editor for World Literature I: Beginnings to 1650 , both with the UNG Press.

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British Literature and Its Division Into Various Periods

British literature spans centuries of rich literary tradition, each period marked by distinct characteristics, themes, and styles. From the earliest writings to contemporary works, the evolution of British literature reflects the socio-cultural, political, and artistic developments of each era. Let’s delve into the fascinating journey of British literature through its various periods.

Table of Contents

Introduction

British literature encompasses the literary works produced in the United Kingdom, including England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. It’s a testament to the creativity and imagination of countless writers who have contributed to the literary landscape over the centuries.

Early and Medieval Literature

Anglo-saxon period.

The Anglo-Saxon period, also known as the Old English period, extends from the arrival of Germanic tribes in England in the 5th century to the Norman Conquest in 1066. Beowulf, an epic poem, stands as one of the most significant literary works of this era.

Middle English Period

Following the Norman Conquest, Middle English literature emerged, characterized by the works of Geoffrey Chaucer, particularly his masterpiece, The Canterbury Tales . This period witnessed a blending of Anglo-Saxon and Norman-French influences.

Renaissance Literature

Elizabethan era.

The Elizabethan era, named after Queen Elizabeth I, was a golden age of English literature. Playwrights like William Shakespeare flourished during this period, producing timeless classics such as Hamlet , Macbeth , and Romeo and Juliet .

Jacobean Era

The Jacobean era succeeded the Elizabethan period and saw the continuation of Shakespeare’s legacy alongside the rise of other playwrights like Ben Jonson. The era is renowned for its tragic and dark themes.

17th Century Literature

The puritan age.

The Puritan Age was marked by religious and political upheavals, influencing literature with its moralistic and didactic tone. John Milton’s Paradise Lost exemplifies the literature of this period.

The Restoration Period

The Restoration period followed the tumultuous Interregnum, characterized by the restoration of the monarchy under King Charles II. This era witnessed the revival of drama with the works of playwrights like John Dryden.

18th Century Literature

The augustan age.

The Augustan Age, named after the reign of King George I, was marked by the emergence of satire and prose. Writers like Alexander Pope and Jonathan Swift contributed significantly to the literary landscape of this period.

The Age of Sensibility

The Age of Sensibility, also known as the Age of Johnson, emphasized sentimentality and emotional expression. Samuel Johnson’s A Dictionary of the English Language and his essays are notable works of this era.

Romanticism

First generation romantic poets.

Romanticism ushered in a new era of literature, celebrating individualism, nature, and emotion. Poets like William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and William Blake laid the foundation for Romantic poetry.

Second Generation Romantic Poets

The second generation of Romantic poets, including Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and John Keats, explored themes of rebellion, freedom, and the supernatural in their works.

Victorian Literature

Early victorian literature.

The early Victorian period was characterized by industrialization and social reform. Writers like Charles Dickens and the Brontë sisters depicted the harsh realities of Victorian society in their novels.

High Victorian Literature

The high Victorian period saw the height of the British Empire and a flourishing of literature. Poets like Alfred, Lord Tennyson, and Robert Browning captured the spirit of the age with their works.

20th Century Literature

Edwardian period.

The Edwardian period, named after King Edward VII, witnessed the decline of the British Empire and the onset of modernity. Writers like E.M. Forster and Virginia Woolf experimented with narrative techniques and explored the complexities of human consciousness.

Modernism challenged traditional forms and conventions, embracing experimentation and fragmentation. Writers like James Joyce, T.S. Eliot, and D.H. Lawrence pushed the boundaries of literature with their innovative works.

Contemporary Literature

Postmodernism.

Postmodern literature rejected grand narratives and embraced irony and pastiche. Authors like Salman Rushdie and Jeanette Winterson deconstructed literary conventions and explored identity and reality in their works.

Contemporary British Literature

Contemporary British literature encompasses a diverse range of voices and perspectives. Writers like Zadie Smith, Ian McEwan, and Kazuo Ishiguro continue to captivate readers with their insightful storytelling.

British literature is a testament to the enduring power of storytelling and the ever-evolving nature of human expression. From the epic poems of the Anglo-Saxon period to the experimental works of contemporary authors, British literature continues to inspire and enrich readers around the world.

  • British literature is typically divided into periods such as the Anglo-Saxon period, Renaissance, Romanticism, Victorian era, and modernism, among others.
  • Famous British authors include William Shakespeare, Geoffrey Chaucer, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Virginia Woolf, and Salman Rushdie, among many others.
  • Historical events such as wars, political upheavals, and social changes often influenced the themes, styles, and subject matter of British literature.
  • Common themes in British literature include love, power, identity, social class, nature, and the human condition.
  • British literature has had a profound impact on global literature, influencing writers and readers around the world with its rich storytelling tradition and universal themes.

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Literary Theory and Criticism

Home › History of English Literature › A Brief History of English Literature

A Brief History of English Literature

By NASRULLAH MAMBROL on July 18, 2018 • ( 14 )

OLD ENGLISH LITERATURE

The Old English language or Anglo-Saxon is the earliest form of English. The period is a long one and it is generally considered that Old English was spoken from about A.D. 600 to about 1100. Many of the poems of the period are pagan, in particular Widsith and Beowulf.

The greatest English poem, Beowulf is the first English epic. The author of Beowulf is anonymous. It is a story of a brave young man Beowulf in 3182 lines.  In this epic poem, Beowulf sails to Denmark with a band of warriors to save the King of Denmark, Hrothgar.  Beowulf saves Danish King Hrothgar from a terrible monster called Grendel. The mother of Grendel who sought vengeance for the death of her son was also killed by Beowulf. Beowulf was rewarded and became King. After a prosperous reign of some forty years, Beowulf slays a dragon but in the fight he himself receives a mortal wound and dies. The poem concludes with the funeral ceremonies in honour of the dead hero. Though the poem Beowulf is little interesting to contemporary readers, it is a very important poem in the Old English period because it gives an interesting picture of the life and practices of old days.

The difficulty encountered in reading Old English Literature lies in the fact that the language is very different from that of today. There was no rhyme in Old English poems. Instead they used alliteration.

Besides Beowulf , there are many other Old English poems. Widsith, Genesis A, Genesis B, Exodus, The Wanderer, The Seafarer, Wife’s Lament, Husband’s Message, Christ and Satan, Daniel, Andreas, Guthlac, The Dream of the Rood, The Battle of Maldon etc. are some of the examples.

Two important figures in Old English poetry are Cynewulf and Caedmon. Cynewulf wrote religious poems and the four poems, Juliana, The Fates of the Apostles, Christ and Elene are always credited with him. Caedmon is famous for his Hymn.

Alfred enriched Old English prose with his translations especially Bede’s Ecclesiastical History. Aelfric is another important prose writer during Old English period. He is famous for his Grammar, Homilies and Lives of the Saints. Aelfric’s prose is natural and easy and is very often alliterative.

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Middle English Literature

Geoffrey Chaucer Poet Geoffrey Chaucer was born circa 1340 in London, England. In 1357 he became a public servant to Countess Elizabeth of Ulster and continued in that capacity with the British court throughout his lifetime.  The Canterbury Tales became his best known and most acclaimed work. He died in 1400 and was the first to be buried in Westminster Abbey’s Poet’s Corner.

Chaucer’s first major work was ‘The Book of the Duchess’, an elegy for the first wife of his patron John of Gaunt. Other works include ‘Parlement of Foules’, ‘The Legend of Good Women’ and ‘Troilus and Criseyde’. In 1387, he began his most famous work, ‘The Canterbury Tales’, in which a diverse group of people recount stories to pass the time on a pilgrimage to Canterbury.

William Langland ,   (born  c.  1330—died  c.  1400), presumed author of one of the greatest examples of Middle English alliterative poetry, generally known as  Piers Plowman,  an allegorical work with a complex variety of religious themes. One of the major achievements of  Piers Plowman  is that it translates the language and conceptions of the cloister into symbols and images that could be understood by the layman. In general, the language of the poem is simple and colloquial, but some of the author’s imagery is powerful and direct.

PERIODS IN THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE DRAMA

In Europe, as in Greece, the drama had a distinctly religious origin. The first characters were drawn from the New Testament, and the object of the first plays was to make the church service more impressive, or to emphasize moral lessons by showing the reward of the good and the punishment of the evil doer. In the latter days of the Roman Empire the Church found the stage possessed by frightful plays, which debased the morals of a people already fallen too low. Reform seemed impossible; the corrupt drama was driven from the stage, and plays of every kind were forbidden. But mankind loves a spectacle, and soon the Church itself provided a substitute for the forbidden plays in the famous Mysteries and Miracles.

MIRACLE AND MYSTERY PLAYS

In France the name miracle was given to any play representing the lives of the saints, while the mystère represented scenes from the life of Christ or stories from the Old Testament associated with the coming of Messiah. In England this distinction was almost unknown; the name Miracle was used indiscriminately for all plays having their origin in the Bible or in the lives of the saints; and the name Mystery, to distinguish a certain class of plays, was not used until long after the religious drama had passed away.

The earliest Miracle of which we have any record in England is the Ludus de Sancta Katharina, which was performed in Dunstable about the year 1110. It is not known who wrote the original play of St. Catherine, but our first version was prepared by Geoffrey of St. Albans, a French schoolteacher of Dunstable. Whether or not the play was given in English is not known, but it was customary in the earliest plays for the chief actors to speak in Latin or French, to show their importance, while minor and comic parts of the same play were given in English.

For four centuries after this first recorded play the Miracles increased steadily in number and popularity in England. They were given first very simply and impressively in the churches; then, as the actors increased in number and the plays in liveliness, they overflowed to the churchyards; but when fun and hilarity began to predominate even in the most sacred representations, the scandalized priests forbade plays altogether on church grounds. By the year 1300 the Miracles were out of ecclesiastical hands and adopted eagerly by the town guilds; and in the following two centuries we find the Church preaching against the abuse of the religious drama which it had itself introduced, and which at first had served a purely religious purpose. But by this time the Miracles had taken strong hold upon the English people, and they continued to be immensely popular until, in the sixteenth century, they were replaced by the Elizabethan drama.

The early Miracle plays of England were divided into two classes: the first, given at Christmas, included all plays connected with the birth of Christ; the second, at Easter, included the plays relating to his death and triumph. By the beginning of the fourteenth century all these plays were, in various localities, united in single cycles beginning with the Creation and ending with the Final Judgment. The complete cycle was presented every spring, beginning on Corpus Christi day; and as the presentation of so many plays meant a continuous outdoor festival of a week or more, this day was looked forward to as the happiest of the whole year.

Probably every important town in England had its own cycle of plays for its own guilds to perform, but nearly all have been lost. At the present day only four cycles exist (except in the most fragmentary condition), and these, though they furnish an interesting commentary on the times, add very little to our literature. The four cycles are the Chester and York plays, so called from the towns in which they were given; the Towneley or Wakefield plays, named for the Towneley family, which for a long time owned the manuscript; and the Coventry plays, which on doubtful evidence have been associated with the Grey Friars (Franciscans) of Coventry. The Chester cycle has 25 plays, the Wakefield 30, the Coventry 42, and the York 48. It is impossible to fix either the date or the authorship of any of these plays; we only know certainly that they were in great favor from the twelfth to the sixteenth century. The York plays are generally considered to be the best; but those of Wakefield show more humor and variety, and better workmanship. The former cycle especially shows a certain unity resulting from its aim to represent the whole of man’s life from birth to death. The same thing is noticeable in Cursor Mundi , which, with the York and Wakefield cycles, belongs to the fourteenth century.

After these plays were written according to the general outline of the Bible stories, no change was tolerated, the audience insisting, like children at “Punch and Judy,” upon seeing the same things year after year. No originality in plot or treatment was possible, therefore; the only variety was in new songs and jokes, and in the pranks of the devil. Childish as such plays seem to us, they are part of the religious development of all uneducated people. Even now the Persian play of the “Martyrdom of Ali” is celebrated yearly, and the famous “Passion Play,” a true Miracle, is given every ten years at Oberammergau.

THE MORAL PERIOD OF THE DRAMA

The second or moral period of the drama is shown by the increasing prevalence of the Morality plays. In these the characters were allegorical personages,–Life, Death, Repentance, Goodness, Love, Greed, and other virtues and vices. The Moralities may be regarded, therefore, as the dramatic counterpart of the once popular allegorical poetry exemplified by the Romance of the Rose . It did not occur to our first, unknown dramatists to portray men and women as they are until they had first made characters of abstract human qualities. Nevertheless, the Morality marks a distinct advance over the Miracle in that it gave free scope to the imagination for new plots and incidents. In Spain and Portugal these plays, under the name auto , were wonderfully developed by the genius of Calderon and Gil Vicente; but in England the Morality was a dreary kind of performance, like the allegorical poetry which preceded it.

To enliven the audience the devil of the Miracle plays was introduced; and another lively personage called the Vice was the predecessor of our modern clown and jester. His business was to torment the “virtues” by mischievous pranks, and especially to make the devil’s life a burden by beating him with a bladder or a wooden sword at every opportunity. The Morality generally ended in the triumph of virtue, the devil leaping into hell-mouth with Vice on his back.

The best known of the Moralities is “Everyman,” which has recently been revived in England and America. The subject of the play is the summoning of every man by Death; and the moral is that nothing can take away the terror of the inevitable summons but an honest life and the comforts of religion. In its dramatic unity it suggests the pure Greek drama; there is no change of time or scene, and the stage is never empty from the beginning to the end of the performance. Other well-known Moralities are the “Pride of Life,” “Hyckescorner,” and “Castell of Perseverance.” In the latter, man is represented as shut up in a castle garrisoned by the virtues and besieged by the vices.

Like the Miracle plays, most of the old Moralities are of unknown date and origin. Of the known authors of Moralities, two of the best are John Skelton, who wrote “Magnificence,” and probably also “The Necromancer”; and Sir David Lindsay (1490-1555), “the poet of the Scotch Reformation,” whose religious business it was to make rulers uncomfortable by telling them unpleasant truths in the form of poetry. With these men a new element enters into the Moralities. They satirize or denounce abuses of Church and State, and introduce living personages thinly disguised as allegories; so that the stage first becomes a power in shaping events and correcting abuses.

THE INTERLUDES

It is impossible to draw any accurate line of distinction between the Moralities and Interludes. In general we may think of the latter as dramatic scenes, sometimes given by themselves (usually with music and singing) at banquets and entertainments where a little fun was wanted; and again slipped into a Miracle play to enliven the audience after a solemn scene. Thus on the margin of a page of one of the old Chester plays we read, “The boye and pigge when the kinges are gone.” Certainly this was no part of the original scene between Herod and the three kings. So also the quarrel between Noah and his wife is probably a late addition to an old play. The Interludes originated, undoubtedly, in a sense of humor; and to John Heywood (1497?-1580?), a favorite retainer and jester at the court of Mary, is due the credit for raising the Interlude to the distinct dramatic form known as comedy.

Heywood’s Interludes were written between 1520 and 1540. His most famous is “The Four P’s,” a contest of wit between a “Pardoner, a Palmer, a Pedlar and a Poticary.” The characters here strongly suggest those of Chaucer.  Another interesting Interlude is called “The Play of the Weather.” In this Jupiter and the gods assemble to listen to complaints about the weather and to reform abuses. Naturally everybody wants his own kind of weather. The climax is reached by a boy who announces that a boy’s pleasure consists in two things, catching birds and throwing snowballs, and begs for the weather to be such that he can always do both. Jupiter decides that he will do just as he pleases about the weather, and everybody goes home satisfied.

All these early plays were written, for the most part, in a mingling of prose and wretched doggerel, and add nothing to our literature. Their great work was to train actors, to keep alive the dramatic spirit, and to prepare the way for the true drama.

ELIZABEHAN POETRY AND PROSE

After the death of Geoffrey Chaucer in 1400, a century has gone without great literary outputs. This period is known as Barren Age of literature.

Even though there are many differences in their work, Sir Thomas Wyatt and the Earl of Surrey are often mentioned together. Sir Thomas Wyatt introduced the Sonnet in England whereas Surrey wrote the first blank verse in English.

Thomas Wyatt followed the Italian poet Petrarch to compose sonnets. In this form, the 14 lines rhyme abbaabba (8) + 2 or 3 rhymes in the last six lines.

The Earl of Surrey’s blank verse is remarkable. Christopher Marlow, Shakespeare, Milton and many other writers made use of it.

Tottel’s Songs and Sonnets (1557) is the first printed anthology of English poetry. It contained 40 poems by Surrey and 96 by Wyatt. There were 135 by other authors. Some of these poems were fine, some childish.

In 1609, a collection of Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets was printed. These sonnets were addressed to one “Mr. W.H.”. The most probable explanation of the identity of “W.H.” is that he was William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke.

Other people mentioned in the sonnets are a girl, a rival poet, and a dark-eyed beauty.  Shakespeare’s two long poems, Venus and Adonis, The Rape of Lucrece are notable.

One of the most important poets of Elizabethan period is Edmund Spenser (1552-1599). He has been addressed “the poets’ poet”. His pastoral poem, The Shepeard’s Calendar (1579) is in 12 books, one for each month of the year. Spenser’s Amoretti, 88 Petrarchan sonnets clebrates his progress of love. The joy of his marriage with Elizabeth Boyle is expressed in his ode Epithalamion. His Prothalamion is written in honour of the double marriage of the daughters of the Earl of Worester. Spenser’s allegorical poem, The Faerie Queene is his greatest achievement.  Spenser invented a special metre for The Faerie Queene . The verse has nine lines and the rhyme plan is ababbcbcc. This verse is known as the ‘Spenserian Stanza’.

Sir Philip Sidney is remembered for his prose romance, Arcadia . His critical essay Apology for Poetry, sonnet collection Astrophel and Stella are elegant.

Michael Drayton and Sir Walter Raleigh are other important poets of Elizabethan England. Famous Elizabethan dramatist Ben Jonson produced fine poems also.

The University Wits John Lyly, Thomas Kyd, George Peele, Thomas Lodge, Robert Green, Christopher Marlow, and Thomas Nash also wrote good number of poems. John Lyly is most widely known as the author of prose romance entitled Euphues. The style Lyly used in his Euphues is known as Euphuism. The sentences are long and complicated. It is filled with tricks and alliteration. Large number of similes are brought in.

John Donne’s works add the beauty of Elizabethan literature. He was the chief figure of Metaphysical Poetry. Donne’s poems are noted for its originality and striking images and conceits. Satires, Songs and Sonnets, Elegies, The Flea, A Valediction: forbidding mourning, A Valediction: of weeping etc. are his famous works.

Sir Francis Bacon is a versatile genius of Elizabethan England. He is considered as the father of English essays. His Essays first appeared in 1597, the second edition in 1612 and the third edition in 1625. Besides essays, he wrote The Advancement of Learning, New Atlantis and History of Henry VII.

Bacon’s popular essays are Of Truth, Of Friendship, Of Love, Of Travel, Of Parents and Children, Of Marriage and Single Life, Of Anger, Of Revenge, Of Death, etc.

Ben Jonson’s essays are compiled in The Timber or Discoveries. His essays are aphoristic like those of Bacon. Jonson is considered as the father of English literary criticism.

Many attempts were carried out to translate Bible into English. After the death of John Wycliff, William Tyndale tried on this project. Coverdale carried on the work of Tyndale. The Authorized Version of Bible was published in 1611.

ELIZABETHAN DRAMA

The English dramas have gone through great transformation in Elizabethan period. The chief literary glory of the Elizabethan age was its drama. The first regular English comedy was Ralph Roister Doister written by Nicholas Udall. Another comedy Gammar Gurton’s Needle is about the loss and the finding of a needle with which the old woman Gammar Gurton mends clothes.

The first English tragedy was Gorboduc , in blank verse. The first three acts of Gorboduc writtern by Thomas Norton and the other two by Thomas Sackville.

The University Wits contributed hugely for the growth of Elizabethan drama. The University Wits were young men associated with Oxford and Cambridge. They were fond of heroic themes. The most notable figures are Christopher Marlow, Thomas Kyd, Thomas Nash, Thomas Lodge, Robert Greene, and George Peele.

Christopher Marlow was the greatest of pre-Shakespearean dramatist. Marlow wrote only tragedies. His most famous works are  Edward II, Tamburlaine the Great, The Jew of Malta, The Massacre at Paris, and Doctor Faustus. Marlow popularized the blank verse. Ben Jonson called it “the mighty line of Marlow”.

Thomas Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy is a Senecan play. It resembles Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Its horrific plot gave the play a great and lasting popularity.

The greatest literary figure of English, William Shakespeare was born at Stratford-on-Avon on April 26, 1564. He did odd jobs and left to London for a career. In London, he wrote plays for Lord Chamberlain’s company. Shakespeare’s plays can be classified as the following

1.The Early Comedies: in these immature plays the plots are not original. The characters are less finished and the style lacks the genius of Shakespeare. They are full of wit and word play. Of this type are The Comedy of Errors, Love’s Labour’s Lost, and The Two Gentlemen of Verona.

2.The English Histories: These plays show a rapid maturing of Shakespeare’s technique. His characterization has improved. The plays in this group are Richard II, Henry IV and Henry V.

3. The Mature Comedies: The jovial good humour of Sir Toby Belch in Twelfth Night, the urban worldywise comedy of Touchstone in As You Like It, and the comic scenes in The Merchant of Venice, Much Ado About Nothing etc. are full of vitality. They contain many comic situations.

4.The  Sombre Plays: In this group are All’s Well that Ends Well, Measure for Measure, and Trolius and Cressida . These plays show a cynical attitude to life and are realistic in plot.

5. The Great Tragedies : Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth , and King Lear are the climax of Shakespeare’s art. These plays stand supreme in intensity of emotion, depth of psychological insight, and power of style.

6. The Roman Plays: Julius Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra, Coriolanus etc. follow the great tragic period. Unlike Marlow, Shakespeare is relaxed in the intensity of tragedy.

7. The Last Plays: The notable last plays of Shakespeare are Cymbeline, The Winter’s Tale, and The Tempest.

The immense power and variety of Shakespeare’s work have led to the idea that one man cannot have written it all; yet it must be true that one man did. Thus Shakespeare remains as the greatest English dramatist even after four centuries of his death.

Other dramatist who flourished during the Elizabethan period is Ben Jonson. He introduced the “comedy of humours’’, which portrays the individual as dominated by one marked characteristic. He is best known for his Every Man  in his Humour. Other important plays of Jonson are Every Man out of his Humour, Volpone or the Fox, and The Alchemist,

John Webster’s The White Devil and The Duchess of Malfi are important Elizabethan dramas. Thomas Dekker, Thomas Middleton, Thomas Heywood, Beaumont and Fletcher etc. are other noted Elizabethan playwrights.  

John Milton and His Time

John Milton (1608- 1674) was born in London and educated at Christ’s College, Cambridge. After leaving university, he studied at home. Milton was a great poet, polemic, pamphleteer, theologian, and parliamentarian. In 1643, Milton married a woman much younger than himself. She left Milton and did not return for two years. This unfortunate incident led Milton to write two strong pamphlets on divorce. The greatest of all his political writings is Areopagitica, a notable and impassioned plea for the liberty of the press.

Milton’s early poems include On Shakespeare, and On Arriving at the Age of Twenty-three. L’Allegro( the happy man and Il Penseroso (the sad man) two long narrative poems.  Comus is a masque written by Milton when he was at Cambridge.

His pastoral elegy Lycidas is on his friend, Edward King who drowned to death on a voyage to Ireland. Milton’s one of the sonnets deals with the theme of his blindness.

Milton is remembered for his greatest epic poem Paradise Lost. Paradise Lost contained twelve books and published in 1677. Milton composed it in blank verse. Paradise Lost covers the rebellion of Satan(Lucifer) in heaven and his expulsion. Paradise Lost contains hundreds of remarkable lines. Milton coined many words in this poem.

Paradise Regained and Samson Agonistes are other two major poems of Milton.

Milton occupies a central position in English literature. He was a great Puritan and supported Oliver Cromwell in the Civil War. He wrote many pamphlet in support of parliament.

LYRIC POETS DURING MILTON’S PERIOD (THE CAVALIER POETS)

Milton’s period produced immense lyric poetry. These lyrical poets dealt chiefly with love and war.

Richard Lovelace’s Lucasta contains the best of his shorter pieces. His best known lyrics, such as To Althea, from Prison and To Lucasta, going in the Wars, are simple and sincere.

Sir John Suckling was a famous wit at court. His poems are generous and witty. His famous poem is  Ballad upon a Wedding.

Robert Herrick wrote some fresh and passionate lyrics. Among his best known shorter poems are To Althea, To Julia, and Cherry Ripe.

Philip Massinger and John Ford produced some notable in this period.

Many prose writers flourished during Milton’s age. Sir Thomas Browne is the best prose writer of the period. His ReligioMedici is a curious mixture of religious faith and scientific skepticism. Pseudodoxia Epidemica, or Vulgar Errors is another important work.

Thomas Hobbes’s Leviathan, Thomas Fuller’s The History of the Holy War are other important prose works during this period. Izaac Walton’s biography of John Donne is a very famous work of Milton’s period. His Compleat Angler discusses the art of river fishing.

RESTORATION DRAMA AND PROSE

The Restoration of Charles II (1660) brought about a revolution in English literature. With the collapse of the Puritan Government there sprang up activities that had been so long suppressed. The Restoration encouraged levity in rules that often resulted in immoral and indecent plays.

John Dryden (1631-1700)

Dryden is the greatest literary figure of the Restoration. In his works, we have an excellent reflection of both the good and the bad tendencies of the age in which he lived. Before the Restoration, Dryden supported Oliver Cromwell. At the Restoration, Dryden changed his views and became loyal to Charles II. His poem Astrea Redux (1660) celebrated Charles II’s return.

Dryden’s Annus Mirabilis( Miracle Year) describes the terrors of Great Fire in London in 1666. Dryden appeared as the chief literary champion of the monarchy in his famous satirical allegory, Abasalom and Achitophel. John Dryden is now remembered for his greatest mock-heroic poem, Mac Flecknoe. Mac Flecknoe is a personal attack on his rival poet Thomas Shadwell.

Dryden’s other important poems are Religio Laici, and The Hind and the Panther.

John Dryden popularized heroic couplets in his dramas. Aurengaxebe, The Rival Ladies, The Conquest of Granada, Don Sebastian etc. are some of his famous plays.

His dramatic masterpiece is All for Love. Dryden polished the plot of Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra in his All for Love.

As a prose writer, Dryden’s work, An Essay on Dramatic Poesie is worth mentioning.

John Bunyan’s greatest allegory, The Pilgrim’s Progress, The Holy War, 

Comedy of Manners

Restoration period produced a brilliant group of dramatists who made this age immortal in the history of English literature. These plays are hard and witty, comic and immoral. It was George Etheredge who introduced Comedy of Manners. His famous plays are She Would if She Could, The Man of Mode and Love in a Tub.

William Congreve is the greatest of Restoration comedy writers. His Love for Love, The Old Bachelor, The Way of the World and The Double Dealer are very popular.

William Wycherley is another important Restoration comedy playwright. His Country Wife, and Love in a Wood are notable plays.

Sir John Vanbrugh’s best three comedies are The Provoked Wife, The Relapse and The Confederacy.

ENGLISH POETS, 1660-1798

ALEXANDER POPE (1688-1744)

Alexander Pope was the undisputed master of both prose and verse. Pope wrote many poems and mock-epics attacking his rival poets and social condition of England. His Dunciad is an attack on dullness. He wrote An Essay on Criticism ( 1711) in heroic couplets. In 1712, Pope pubished The Rape of the Lock,  one of the most brilliant poems in English language. It is a mock-heroic poem dealing with the fight of two noble families.

An Essay on Man, Of the Characters of Women, and the translation of Illiad and Odyssey are his other major works.

Oliver Goldsmith wrote two popular poems in heroic couplets. They are The Traveller and The Deserted Village.

James Thompson is remembered for his long series of descriptive passages dealing with natural scenes in his poem The Seasons. He wrote another important poem The Castle of Indolence.

Edward Young produced a large amount of literary work of variable quality. The Last Day, The Love of Fame, and The Force of Religion are some of them.

Robert Blair ’s fame is chiefly dependent on his poem The Grave. It is a long blank verse poem of meditation on man’s morality.

Thomas Gray (1716-1771) is one of the greatest poets of English literature. His first poem was the Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College. Then after years of revision, he published his famous Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard. Its popularity had been maintained to the present day. Other important poems of Thomas Gray are Ode on a Favourite Cat, The Bard and The Progress of Poesy.

William Blake (1757-1827) is both a great poet and artist. His two collections of short lyrics are Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience. His finest lyric is The Tiger.

Robert Burns is known as the national poet of Scotland. A Winter Night, O My Love is like a Red Red Rose, The Holy Fair etc. are some of his major poems.

William Cowper, William Collins, and William Shenstone are other notable poets before the Romanticism.

EIGHTEENTH CENTURY PROSE

DANIEL DEFOE (1659-1731)

Daniel Defoe wrote in bulk. His greatest work is the novel Robinson Crusoe. It is based on an actual event which took place during his time. Robinson Crusoe is considered to be one of the most popular novels in English language. He started a journal named The Review. His A Journal of the Plague Year deals with the Plague in London in 1665.

Sir Richard Steele and Joseph Addison worked together for many years. Richard Steele started the periodicals The Tatler, The Spectator, The Guardian, The English Man, and The Reader. Joseph Addison contributed in these periodicals and wrote columns. The imaginary character of Sir Roger de Coverley was very popular during the eighteenth century.

Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) is one of the greatest satirists of English literature. His first noteworthy book was The Battle of the Books . A Tale of a Tub is a religious allegory like Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. His longest and most famous work is Gulliver’s Travels. Another important work of Jonathan Swift is A Modest Proposal.

Dr. Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) is very much famous for his Dictionary (1755). The Vanity of Human Wishes is a longish poem by him. Johnson started a paper named The Rambler. His The Lives of the Poets introduces fifty-two poets including Donne, Dryden, Pope, Milton, and Gray. Most of the information about Johnson is taken from his friend James Boswell’s biography Life of Samuel Johnson.

Edward Gibbon is famous for the great historical work, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. His Autobiography contains valuable material concerning his life.

Edmund Burke is one of the masters of English prose. He was a great orator also. His speech On American Taxation is very famous.  Revolution in France and A Letter to a Noble Lord are his notable pamphlets.

The letters of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, Earl of Chesterfield, Thomas Gray and Cowper are good prose works in Eighteenth century literature.

The Birth of English Novel

The English novel proper was born about the middle of the eighteenth century. Samuel Richardson (1689-1761) is considered as the father of English novel. He published his first novel Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded in 1740. This novel is written in the form of letters. Thus Pamela is an ‘epistolary novel’. The character Pamela is a poor and virtuous woman who marries a wicked man and afterwards reforms her husband. Richardson’s next novel Clarissa Harlowe was also constructed in the form of letters. Many critics consider Clarissa as Richardson’s masterpiece. Clarissa is the beautiful daughter of a severe father who wants her to marry against her will. Clarissa is a very long novel.

Henry Fielding (1707-1754) is another important novelist. He published Joseph Andrews in 1742. Joseph Andrews laughs at Samuel Richardson’s Pamela. His greatest novel is Tom Jones . Henry Fielding’s last novel is Amelia.

Tobias Smollett wrote a ‘picaresque novel’ titled The Adventures of Roderick Random. His other novels are The Adventures of Ferdinand and Humphry Clinker.

Laurence Sterne is now remembered for his masterpiece Tristram Shandy which was published in 1760. Another important work of Laurence Sterne is A Sentimental journey through France and Italy. These novels are unique in English literature. Sterne blends humour and pathos in his works.

Horace Walpole is famous both as a letter writer and novelist. His one and only novel The Castle of Otranto deals with the horrific and supernatural theme.

Other ‘terror novelists’ include William Beckford and Mrs Ann Radcliffe.

EARLY NINTEENTH CENTURY POETS (THE ROMANTICS)

The main stream of poetry in the eighteenth century had been orderly and polished, without much feeling for nature. The publication of the first edition of the Lyrical Ballads in 1798 came as a shock. The publication of Lyrical Ballads by William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge was the beginning of the romantic age. They together with Southey are known as the Lake Poets, because they liked the Lake district in England and lived in it.

William Wordsworth ((1770-1850) was the poet of nature. In the preface to the second edition of the Lyrical Ballads, Wordsworth set out his theory of poetry. He defined poetry as “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings and emotions”. His views on poetical style are the most revolutionary.

In his early career as a poet, Wordsworth wrote poems like An Evening Walk and Descriptive Sketches. The Prelude is the record of his development as a poet. It is a philosophical poem. He wrote some of the best lyric poems in the English language like The Solitary Reaper, I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud, Ode on the Itimations of Immorality, Resolution and Independence etc. Tintern Abbey is one of the greatest poems of Wordsworth.

Samuel Tylor Coleridge (1772-1814) wrote four poems for The Lyrical Ballads. The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is the most noteworthy. Kubla Khan, Christabel, Dejection an Ode, Frost at Midnight etc. are other important poems. Biographia Literaria is his most valuable prose work. Coleridge’s lectures on Shakespeare are equally important.

Lord Byron’s Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage was based on his travels. Don Juan ranks as one of the greatest of satirical poems. The Vision of Judgment is a fine political satire in English.

PB Shelley (1792-1822) was a revolutionary figure of Romantic period. When Shelley was studying at Oxford, he wrote the pamphlet The Necessity of Atheism which caused his expulsion from the university. Queen Mab, The Revolt of Islam and Alastor are his early poems. Prometheus Unbound is a combination of the lyric and the drama. Shelley wrote some of the sweetest English lyrics like To a Skylark, The Cloud, To Night etc. Of his many odes, the most remarkable is  Ode to the West Wind. Adonais is an elegy on the death of John Keats.

John Keats (1795-1821) is another great Romantic poet who wrote some excellent poems in his short period of life. His Isabella deals with the murder of a lady’s lover by her two wicked brothers. The unfinished epic poem Hyperion is modelled on Milton’s Paradise Lost. The Eve of St Agnes is regarded as his finest narrative poem. The story of Lamia is taken from Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy. Endymion, Ode to a Nightingale, Ode on a Grecian Urn, Ode to Psyche, Ode on Melancholy and Ode to Autumn are very famous . His Letters give give a clear insight into his mind and artistic development.

Robert Southey is a minor Romantic poet. His poems, which are of great bulk, include Joan of Arc, Thalaba, and The Holly-tree. 4

LATER NINETEENTH CENTURY POETS (Victorian Poets)

Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809-92) is a chief figure of later nineteenth century poetry. His volume of Poems contain notable poems like The Lady of Shalott, The Lotos-Eaters, Ulysses, Morte d’ Arthur. The story of Morte d’ Arthur is based on Thomas Malory’s poem Morte d’ Arthur. In Memoriam(1850) caused a great stir when it first appeared. It is a very long series of meditations upon the death of Arthur Henry Hallam, Tennyson’s college friend, who died at Vienna in 1833. In Memoriam is the most deeply emotional, and probably the greatest poetry he ever produced. Maud and Other Poems was received with amazement by the public. Idylls of the King, Enoch Arden, Harold etc. are his other works.

Robert Browning (1812-89) is an English poet and playwright whose mastery of dramatic monologues made him one of the foremost Victorian poets.  He popularized ‘dramatic monologue’. The Ring and the Book  is an epic-length poem in which he justifies the ways of God to humanity  Browning is popularly known by his shorter poems, such as  Porphyria’s Lover ,  Rabbi Ben Ezra ,  How They Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix , and  The Pied Piper of Hamelin . He married Elizabeth Barrett, another famous poet during the Victorian period. Fra Lippo Lippi Andrea Del Sarto and My Last Duchess are famous dramatic monologues.

Matthew Arnold  (1822-1888) was an English poet and cultural critic who worked as an inspector of schools. He was the son of Thomas Arnold, the famed headmaster of Rugby School. Arnold is sometimes called the third great Victorian poet, along with Alfred Lord Tennyson and Robert Browning. Arnold valued natural scenery for its peace and permanence in contrast with the ceaseless change of human things. His descriptions are often picturesque, and marked by striking similes. Thyrsis, Dover Beach and The Scholar Gipsy are his notable poems.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti was an English poet, illustrator, painter and translator in the late nineteenth century England. Rossotti’s poems were criticized as belonging to the ‘Fleshy School’ of poetry. Rossetti wrote about nature with his eyes on it.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning, wife of Robert Browning wrote some excellent poems in her volume of Sonnets from the Portuguese.

AC Swinburne followed the style of Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Swinburne’s famous poems works are Poems and Ballads and tristram of Lyonesse.

Edward Fitzgerald translated the Rubaiyat of the Persian poet Omar Khayyam. Fitzgerald’s translation is loose and did not stick too closely to the original.

Rudyard Kipling and Francis Thompson also wrote some good poems during the later nineteenth century.

Nineteenth Century Novelists  (Victorian Novelists)

Jane Austen 1775-1817 is one of the greatest novelists of nineteenth century English literature. Her first novel Pride and Prejudice (1813) deals with the life of middle class people. The style is smooth and charming. Her second novel Sense and Sensibility followed the same general lines of Pride and Prejudice. Northanger Abbey, Emma, Mansfield Park, and Persuasion are some of the other famous works. Jane Austen’s plots are skillfully constructed. Her characters are developed with minuteness and accuracy.

Charles Dickens (1812-1870) is considered as one of the greatest English novelists. Dickens has contributed some evergreen characters to English literature. He was a busy successful novelist during his lifetime. The Pickwick Papers and Sketches by Boz are two early novels. Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickleby , David Copperfield, Hard Times, A Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations are some of the most famous novels of Charles Dickens. No English novelists excel Dickens in the multiplicity of his characters and situations. He creates a whole world people for the readers. He sketched both lower and middle class people in London.

William Makepeace Thackeray was born in Calcutta and sent to England for education. William Thackeray is now chiefly remembered for his novel The Vanity Fair. While Dickens was in full tide of his success, Thackeray was struggling through neglect and contempt to recognition. Thackeray’s genius blossomed slowly. Thackeray’s characters are fearless and rough. He protested against the feeble characters of his time. The Rose and the Ring, Rebecca and Rowena, and The Four Georges are some of his works.

The Bront ë s Charlotte, Emily, and Anne were the daughters of an Irish clergy man Patrick Bront ë, who held a living in Yorkshire. Charlotte Bront ë ’ s first novel, The Professor failed to find a publisher and only appeared after her death. Jane Eyre is her greatest novel. the plot is weak and melodramatic. This was followed by Shirley and Villette. Her plots are overcharged and she is largely restricted to her own experiments.

Emily Brontë wrote less than Charlottë. Her one and only novel Wuthering Heights (1847) is unique in English literature. It is the passionate love story of Heathcliff and Catherine.

Anne Bronte ’s two novels, Agnes Grey and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall are much inferior to those of her sisters, for she lacks nearly all their power and intensity.

George Eliot (1819-1880) is the pen-name of Mary Ann Evans. Adam Bede was her first novel. Her next novel, The Mill on the Floss is partly autobiographical. Silas Marner is a shorter novel which gives excellent pictures of village life. Romola, Middle March and Daniel Deronda are other works of George Eliot.

Thomas Hardy (1840-1928) published his first work Desperate Remedies anonymously. Under the Greenwood Tree, one of the lightest and most appealing of his novels established him as a writer. It was set in the rural area he was soon to make famous as Wessex. Far From the Madding Crowd is a tragi-comedy set in Wessex. The rural background of the story is an integral part of the novel, which reveals the emotional depths which underlie rustic life. The novel, The Return of the Native is a study of man’s helplessness before the mighty Fate. The Mayor of Casterbridge also deals with the theme of Man versus Destiny. Tess of the D’Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure aroused the hostility of conventional readers due to their frank handling of sex and religion. At the beginning Tess of the D’Urbervilles was rejected by the publishers. The outcry with the publication of Jude the Obscure led Hardy in disgust to abandon novel writing. Thomas Hardy’s characters are mostly men and women living close to the soil.

Mary Shelley , the wife of Romantic poet PB Shelley is now remembered as a writer of her famous novel of terror, Frankestein. Frankestein can be regarded as the first attempt at science fiction. The Last Man is Mary Shelley’s another work.

Edgar Allan Poe was a master of Mystery stories. Poe’s powerful description of astonishing and unusual events has the attraction of terrible things. Some of his major works are The Mystery of Marie Roget, The Murders in the Rue Morgue, The Fall of the House of Usher and The Mystery of Red Death.

Besides poetry collections like The Lady of the Last Ministrel, Marmion, The Lady of the Lake, and The Lord of the Isles, Sir Walter Scott produced enormous number of novels. Waverly, Old Mortality, The Black Dwarf, The Pirate, and Kenilworth are some of them. He was too haste in writing novels and this led to the careless, imperfect stories. He has a great place in the field of historical novels.

Frederick Marryat ’s sea novels were popular in the nineteenth century. His earliest novel was The Naval Officer. All his best books deal with the sea. Marryat has a considerable gift for plain narrative and his humour is entertaining. Peter Simple, Jacob Faithful and Japhet in Search of His Father are some of his famous works.

R.L. Stevenson ’s The Tr easure Island, George Meredith ’s The Egoist, Edward Lytton ’s The Last Days of Pompeii, Charles Reade ’s Mask and Faces, Anthony Trollope ’s The Warden, Wilkie Collins ’s The Moonstone, Joseph Conard ’s Lord Jim, Nathaniel Hawthrone ’s The Scarlet Letter etc. are some of other famous works of nineteenth century English literature.

Other Nineteenth Century Prose

Charles Lamb is one of the greatest essayists of nineteenth century. Lamb started his career as a poet but is now remembered for his well-known Essays of Elia. His essays are unequal in English. He is so sensitive and so strong. Besides Essays of Elia, other famous essays are Dream Children and Tales from Shakespeare. His sister, Mary Lamb also wrote some significant essays.

William Hazlitt ’s reputation chiefly  rests on his lectures and essays on literary and general subjects. His lectures, Characters of Shakespeare’s Plays, The English Poets and The English Comic Writers are important.

Thomas De Quincey ’s famous work is Confessions of an English Opium Eater. It is written in the manner of dreams. His Reminiscences of the English Lake Poets contain some good chapters on Wordsworth and Coleridge.

Thomas Carlyle is another prose writer of nineteenth century. His works consisted of translations, essays, and biographies. Of these the best are his translation of Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship, his The Life of Schiller, and his essays on Robert Burns and Walter Scott.

Thomas Macaulay (Lord Macaulay) wrote extensively. He contributed for The Encyclopedia of Britannica and The Edinburgh Review. His History of England is filled with numerous and picturesque details.

Charles Darwin is one of the greatest names in modern science. He devoted almost wholly to biological and allied studies. His chief works are The Voyage of the Beagle, Origin of Species, and The Descent of Man.

John Ruskin ’s works are of immense volume and complexity. His longest book is Modern Painters. The Seven Lamps of Architecture, and The Stones of Venice expound his views on artistic matters. Unto this Last is a series of articles on political economy.

Samuel Butler , the grandson of Dr. Samuel Butler was inspired by the Darwinian theory of evolution. Evolution Old and New, Unconcious Memory, Essays on Life, Art and Science, The Way of All Flesh etc. rank him as one of the greatest prose writers of ninteenth century. He was an acute and original thinker. He exposed all kinds of reliogious, political, and social shams and hypocrisies of his period.

Besides being a great poet, Mathew Arnold also excelled as an essayist. His prose works are large in bulk and wide in range. Of them all his critical essays are probably of the greatest value. Essays in Criticism, Culture and Anarchy, and Literature and Dogma have permanent value.

Lewis Carroll , another prose writer of ninteenth century is now remembered for her immortal work, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Ever since its publication, this novel continues to be popular among both the children and adult readers.

Chapter 13 Twentieth-century novels and other prose

The long reign of Queen Victoria ended in 1901. There was a sweeping social reform and unprecedented progress. The reawakening of a social conscience was found its expression in the literature produced during this period.

Rudyard Kipling was born in Bombay but soon moved to Lahore. He worked as a news reporter in Lahore. Kipling was a prolific and versatile writer. His insistent proclamation of the superiority of the white races, his support for colonization, his belief in the progress and the value of the machine etc. found an echo on the hearts of many of his readers. His best-known prose works include Kim, Life’s Handicap, Debits and Credits, and Rewards and Fairies. He is now chiefly remembered for his greatest work, The Jungle Book.

E.M Forster wrote five novels in his life time. Where Angels Fear to Tread has well-drawn characters. Other novels are The Longest Journey, A Room with a View, Howards End, and A Passage to India. A Passage to India is unequal in English in its presentation of the complex problems which were to be found in the relationship between English and native people in India. E.M Forster portrayed the Indian scene in all its magic and all its wretchedness.

H.G Wells began his career as a journalist. He started his scientific romances with the publication of The Time Machine. The Invisible Man, The War of the Worlds, The First Men in the Moon and The Food of the Gods are some of his important science romances. Ann Veronica, Kipps and The History of Mr Polly are numbered among his sociological novels.

D.H Lawrence was a striking figure in the twentieth century literary world. He produced over forty volumes of fiction during his period. The White Peacock is his earliest novel. The largely autobiographical and extremely powerful novel was Sons and Lovers. It studies with great insight the relationship between a son and mother. By many, it is considered the best of all his works. Then came The Rainbow, suppressed as obscene, which treats again the conflict between man and woman. Women in Love is another important work. Lady Chatterley’s Lover is a novel in which sexual experience is handled with a wealth of physical detail and uninhibited language.  Lawrence also excelled both as a poet and short story writer.

James Joyce is a serious novelist, whose concern is chiefly with human relationships- man in relation to himself, to society, and to the whole race. He was born in Dublin, Ireland. His first work, Dubliners, is followed by a largely autobiographical novel A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. It is an intense account of a developing writer. The protagonist of the story, Stephen Dedalus is James Joyce himself. The character Stephen Dedalus appears again in his highly complex novel, Ulysses published in 1922. Joyce’s mastery of language, his integrity, brilliance, and power is noticeable in his novel titled Finnefan’s Wake.

Virginia Woolf famed both as a literary critic and novelist. Her first novel, The Voyage Out is told in the conventional narrative manner. A deeper study of characters can be found in her later works such as Night and Day, Jacob’s Room, To the Lighthouse, Mrs. Dalloway and Orlando. In addition to her novels, Virginia Woolf wrote a number of essays on cultural subjects. Woolf rejected the conventional concepts of novel. She replaced emphasis on incident, external description, and straight forward narration by using the technique “ Stream of Consciousness ”. James Joyce and Virginia Woolf popularized this writing technique.

George Orwell became a figure of outstanding importance because of Animal Farm. It is a political allegory on the degeneration of communist ideals into dictatorship. Utterly different was Nineteen Eighty-Four on the surveillance of state over its citizen. Burmese Days and The Road to Wigan Pier are other works.

William Golding deals with man’s instinct to destroy what is good, whether it is material or spiritual.  His best known novel is Lord of the Flies . The Scorpion God, The Inheritors and Free Fall are other notable works.

Somerset Maugham was a realist who sketched the cosmopolitan life through his characters. The Moon and Sixpence, Mrs. Craddock and The Painted Veil are some of his novels. His best novel is Of Human Bondage. It is a study in frustration, which had a strong autobiographical element.

Kingsly Amis ’s Lucky Jim, Take a Girl like You, One Fat Englishman , and Girl are notable works in the twentieth century.

Twentieth Century Drama

After a hundred years of insignificance, drama again appeared as an important form in the twentieth century. Like the novelists in the 20 th century, most of the important dramatists were chiefly concerned with the contemporary social scene. Many playwrights experimented in the theatres. There were revolutionary changes in both the theme and presentation.

John Galsworthy was a social reformer who showed both sides of the problems in his plays. He had a warm sympathy for the victims of social injustice. Of his best-known plays The Silver Box deals with the inequality of justice, Strife with the struggle between Capital and Labour, Justice with the meaninglessness of judiciary system.

George Bernard Shaw is one of the greatest dramatists of 20 th century. The first Shavian play is considered to be Arms and the Man. It is an excellent and amusing stage piece which pokes fun at the romantic conception of the soldier. The Devil’s Disciple, Caesar and Cleopatra, and The Man of Destiny are also noteworthy. Man and Superman is Shaw’s most important play which deals the theme half seriously and half comically. Religion and social problems are again the main topics in Major Barbara. The Doctor’s Dilemma is an amusing satire. Social conventions and social weaknesses were treated again in Pygmalion , a witty and highly entertaining study of the class distinction. St Joan deals with the problems in Christianity. The Apple Cart, Geneva, The Millionaire, Too True to be Good and On the Rocks are Shaw’s minor plays.

J M Synge was the greatest dramatist in the rebirth of the Irish theatre. His plays are few in number but they are of a stature to place him among the greatest playwrights in the English language. Synge was inspired by the beauty of his surroundings, the humour, tragedy, and poetry of the life of the simple fisher-folk in the Isles of Aran. The Shadow of the Glen is a comedy based on an old folktale, which gives a good romantic picture of Irish peasant life. It was followed by Riders to the Sea, a powerful, deeply moving tragedy which deals with the toll taken by the sea in the lives of the fisher-folk of the Ireland. The Winker’s Wedding and The Well of the Saints are other notable works.

Samuel Beckett, the greatest proponent of Absurd Theatre is most famous for his play, Waiting for Godot. It is a static representation without structure or development, using only meandering, seemingly incoherent dialogue to suggest despair of a society in the post-World War period. Another famous play by Beckett is Endgame.

Harold Pinter was influenced by Samuel Beckett. His plays are quite short and set in an enclosed space. His characters are always in doubt about their function, and in fear of something or someone ‘outside’. The Birthday Party, The Dumb Waiter, A Night Out, The Homecoming and Silence are his most notable plays.

James Osborne’ s Look Back in Anger gave the strongest tonic to the concept of Angry Young Man . Watch it Come Down, A Portrait of Me, Inadmissible Evidence etc. are his other major works.

T.S Eliot wrote seven dramas. They are Sweeney Agonistes, The Rock, Murder in the Cathedral, The Family Reunion, The Cocktail Party, The Confidential Clerk and The Elder Statesman.

Juno and the Paycock, The Plough and the Stars, and The Silver Tassie marked Sean O’Casey out as the greatest new figure in the inter-War years. His own experience enabled him to study the life of the Dublin slums with the warm understanding.

Another leading playwright of 20 th century was Arnold Wesker. Wesker narrated the lives of working class people in his plays. Roots, Chicken Soup with Barley and I’m Talking about Jerusalem are his famous works.

Bertolt Brecht, J.B Priestley, Somerset Maugham, Christopher Fry, Peter Usinov, Tom Stoppard, Bernard Kops, Henry Livings, Alan Bennett et al are other important playwrights of twentieth century English literature.

Chapter 15 Twentieth Century Poetry

The greatest figure in the poetry of the early part of the Twentieth century was the Irish poet William Butler Yeats. Like so many of his contemporaries, Yeats was acutely conscious of the spiritual barrenness of his age. W.B Yeats sought to escape into the land of ‘faery’ and looked for his themes in Irish legend. He is one of the most difficult of modern poets. His trust was in the imagination and intuition of man rather than in scientific reasoning. Yeats believed in fairies, magic, and other forms of superstition. He studied Indian philosophy and Vedas. An Irish Seaman Foresees His Death, The Tower, The Green Helmet etc. are his major poems.

With possible excepion of Yeats, no twentieth century poet has been held in such esteem by his fellow-poets as T.S Eliot. Eliot’s first volume of verse, Prufrock and Other Observations portrays the boredom, emptiness, and pessimism of its days. His much discussed poem The Waste Land(1922) made a tremendous impact on the post-War generation, and it is considered one of the important documents of its age. The poem is difficult to understand in detail, but its general aim is clear. The poem is built round the symbols of drought and flood, representing death and rebirth. The poem progresses in five movements, “The Burial of the Dead”, “The Game of the Chess”, “The Fire Sermon”, “Death by Water”, and “What the Thunder Said”.  Eliot’s poem Ash Wednesday is probably his most difficult. Obscure images and symbols and the lack of a clear, logical structure make the poem difficult.

W.H Auden was an artist of great virtuosity, a ceaseless experimenter in verse form, with a fine ear for the rhythm and music of words. He was modern in tone and selection of themes. Auden’s later poems revealed a new note of mysticism in his approach to human problems. He was outspokingly anti-Romantic and stressed the objective attitude.

Thomas Hardy began his career as a poet. Though he was not able to find a publisher, he continued to write poetry. Hardy’s verses consist of short lyrics describing nature and natural beauty. Like his novels, the poems reveal concern with man’s unequal struggle against the mighty fate. Wessex Poems, Winter Words, and Collected Poems are his major poetry works.

G.M Hopkins is a unique figure in the history of English poetry. No modern poet has been the centre of more controversy or the cause of more misunderstanding. He was very unconventional in writing technique. He used Sprung-rhythm, counterpoint rhythm, internal rhythms, alliteration, assonance, and coinages in his poems.

Dylan Thomas was an enemy of intellectualism in verse. He drew upon the human body, sex, and the Old Testament for much of his imagery and complex word-play. His verses are splendidly colourful and musical. Appreciation of landscape, religious and mystical association, sadness and quietness were very often selected as themes for his verses.

Sylvia Plath and her husband Ted Hughes composed some brilliant poems in the 20 th century. Plath’s mental imbalance which brought  her to suicide can be seen in her poetry collections titled Ariel, The Colossus, and Crossing the Water. Ted Hughes was a poet of animal and nature. His major collection of poetry are The Hawk in the Rain, Woodwo, Crow, Crow Wakes and Eat Crow.

R.S Thomas, Philip Larkin, Kingsley Amis, Peter Porter, Seamus Heaney et al are also added the beauty of 20 th century English poetry.

The First World War brought to public notice many poets, particularly among the young men of armed forces, while it provided a new source of inspiration for writers of established reputation. Rupert Brooke, Slegfried Sassoon, and Wilfred Owen are the major War poets. Rupert Brooke ’s famous sonnet “If I should die, think only this of me” has appeared in so many anthologies of twentieth century verse. Brooke turned to nature and simple pleasures for inspiration. Sassoon wrote violent and embittered poems. Sassoon painted the horrors of life and death in the trenches and hospitals. Wilfred Owen was the greatest of the war poets. In the beginning of his literary career, Owen wrote in the romantic tradition of John Keats and Lord Tennyson. Owen was a gifted artist with a fine feeling for words. He greatly experimented in verse techniques.

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Categories: History of English Literature , Literature

Tags: A Brief History of English Literature , Comedy of Manners , EARLY NINTEENTH CENTURY POETS , EIGHTEENTH CENTURY PROSE , ELIZABEHAN POETRY AND PROSE , ELIZABETHAN DRAMA , Geoffrey Chaucer , Interlude , John Milton and His Time , LATER NINETEENTH CENTURY POETS , Literary Criticism , Literary Theory , Middle English Literature , Miracle plays , Morality plays , Nineteenth Century Novelists , Nineteenth Century Prose , OLD ENGLISH LITERATURE , POETS DURING MILTON’S PERIOD , RESTORATION DRAMA AND PROSE , Romanticism , The Birth of English Novel , THE CAVALIER POETS , Twentieth Century Drama , Twentieth Century Poetry , Victorian Literature , Victorian Novelists , War Poets , William Langland

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The Met Gala’s Strange but Fitting Literary Inspiration

In 1962, J.G. Ballard published “The Garden of Time,” a short story about aristocrats overrun by “an immense rabble.” Now it’s the dress-code theme for the year’s most lavish ball.

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By Jim Windolf

  • May 6, 2024

In an Instagram post on Feb. 15, Vogue rather cryptically announced the dress code for this year’s Met Gala: “The Garden of Time.”

An article published that same day on the Vogue website cleared things up a little, noting that “The Garden of Time” was the title of a short story by J.G. Ballard , a British author who specialized in dystopian works of fiction.

“The Garden of Time” appeared in the February 1962 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction and was included in the “The Complete Stories of J.G. Ballard,” a collection published not long after the author’s death in 2009. The story describes the last days of Count Axel and his wife, known only as the Countess, who reside in a Palladian villa surrounded by a garden.

They pass the days in seclusion. The count busies himself by attending to rare manuscripts. The countess plays Bach and Mozart on a harpsichord.

The threat to their peaceful existence arrives in the form of an army on the horizon. As it moves closer, Count Axel develops a clearer view of this “vast throng of people, men and women, interspersed with a few soldiers.” In an effort to turn back the advance of this “immense rabble,” he reverses time by plucking blooms from the garden’s most exquisite plant, the time flowers.

Soon enough, the last flower is plucked, and the mob overruns the property. The villa lies in ruins, and all that remains of the count and countess is a pair of statues “gazing out over the grounds” from behind a stand of thorn bushes.

“The Garden of Time” is a fitting but ironic choice as a theme for the year’s most lavish celebration. It’s fitting because the Met Gala celebrates the contemporary equivalents of aristocrats at a time of widespread social anger toward elites; it’s ironic because the reference suggests that the guests and hosts may be doomed.

The same Ballard story inspired a 2021 fashion collection by the designer Thom Browne. The clothing was understated and classic, and the clay-like makeup worn by some of Mr. Browne’s models suggested creatures halfway between statue and human.

The sympathies of “The Garden of Time” seem to lie with the count and countess. And yet the author slips in hints that their lovely existence may be empty. When Count Axel puts his arm around his wife’s waist, he realizes that “he had not embraced her for several years.”

In a 1975 interview with Science Fiction Monthly, Mr. Ballard denied that the story suggested that he missed a bygone way of life. “I think some social changes that took place in this country in the mid-’60s are the best and greatest thing that ever happened here,” he said, adding that it was “marvelous” to see the breakdown of old class divisions.

Our Coverage of the 2024 Met Gala

Zendaya Makes Two Arrivals: The actress wore a second John Galliano design to make a late (re)entrance at the Met Gala . The first was a custom Maison Margiela couture dress he created specifically for her.

A Fitting Literary Inspiration: In 1962, J.G. Ballard published “The Garden of Time,” a short story about aristocrats overrun by “an immense rabble.” It was a fitting but ironic choice as this year’s  dress-code theme .

The Body Spectacle: The night saw Kim Kardashian engaged in a kind of body modification  via extreme corseting. While Tyla, the South African singer and songwriter, appeared coated in sand .

Arrests and Protests: As expected, protesters gathered near the Met Gala to protest the war in Gaza, creating an atmosphere far different  from the one inside the event.

The ‘Naked’ Trend: What better way to distinguish oneself  from hundreds of well-dressed competitors than to wear almost nothing at all?

A Night of Firsts: Here’s the story behind Rebecca Ferguson’s sequin, bird-covered dress , Da’Vine Joy Randolph’s all-denim look , Pamela Anderson’s new incarnation , Christian Cowan and Sam Smith’s debut as a couple , and Amanda Seyfried’s semi-recycled look .

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  1. English literature

    English literature, the body of written works produced in the English language by inhabitants of the British Isles (including Ireland) from the 7th century to the present day. The major literatures written in English outside the British Isles are treated separately under American literature, Australian literature, Canadian literature, and New ...

  2. British literature

    British literature is literature from the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man, and the Channel Islands.This article covers British literature in the English language.Anglo-Saxon (Old English) literature is included, and there is some discussion of Latin and Anglo-Norman literature, where literature in these languages relate to the early development of the ...

  3. English literature

    English literature is literature written in the English language from the English-speaking world.The English language has developed over the course of more than 1,400 years. The earliest forms of English, a set of Anglo-Frisian dialects brought to Great Britain by Anglo-Saxon invaders in the fifth century, are called Old English. Beowulf is the most famous work in Old English, and has achieved ...

  4. What Is British Literature? (with pictures)

    British literature has come to possess different characteristics over the years. People can fully appreciate it by learning the different types of literature that came to play in its history. UK literature is often divided into British works in Latin, early Celtic literature composed in the UK, Old English works, Middle English works, and ...

  5. Literature

    literature, a body of written works.The name has traditionally been applied to those imaginative works of poetry and prose distinguished by the intentions of their authors and the perceived aesthetic excellence of their execution. Literature may be classified according to a variety of systems, including language, national origin, historical period, genre, and subject matter.

  6. A Brief Overview of British Literary Periods

    The Renaissance (1500-1660) Recently, critics and literary historians have begun to call this the "Early Modern" period, but here we retain the historically familiar term "Renaissance.". This period is often subdivided into four parts, including the Elizabethan Age (1558-1603), the Jacobean Age (1603-1625), the Caroline Age (1625 ...

  7. British Literature

    Of particular interest to students working in British literature and culture is the University's Nicholson Center for British Studies, which offers an annual lecture series and several year-long dissertation research fellowships as well as short term research grants for students who need to do research in Britain. Our undergraduate program in ...

  8. The English Renaissance

    The English Renaissance, an era of cultural revival and poetic evolution starting in the late 15th century and spilling into the revolutionary years of the 17th century, stands as an early summit of poetry achievement, the era in which the modern sense of English poetry begins. The era's influence—its enduring traditions, inspiring ...

  9. English Literature: A Very Short Introduction

    Abstract. English Literature: A Very Short Introduction considers such diverse topics as the birth of the novel, the brilliance of English comedy, the deep Englishness of landscape poetry, and the ethnic diversity of Britain's Nobel literature laureates. English literature is known for its major literary movements such as Romanticism and Modernism, and influential authors including Chaucer ...

  10. British Literature I Anthology: From the Middle Ages to Neoclassicism

    The University of North Georgia Press and Affordable Learning Georgia bring you British Literature I: From the Middle Ages to Neoclassicism and the Eighteenth Century. Featuring over 50 authors and full texts of their works, this anthology follows the shift of monarchic to parliamentarian rule in Britain, and the heroic epic to the more egalitarian novel as genre.

  11. British Literature and Its Division Into Various Periods

    British literature spans centuries of rich literary tradition, each period marked by distinct characteristics, themes, and styles. From the earliest writings to contemporary works, the evolution of British literature reflects the socio-cultural, political, and artistic developments of each era.

  12. Literature of England

    The literature of England is literature written in what is now England, or by English writers. It consists mainly of English literature - i.e. literature written in the English language - but there are important examples of literature from England written in other languages. Anglo-Latin literature

  13. English literature

    English literature - Romanticism, Poetry, Novels: As a term to cover the most distinctive writers who flourished in the last years of the 18th century and the first decades of the 19th, "Romantic" is indispensable but also a little misleading: there was no self-styled "Romantic movement" at the time, and the great writers of the period did not call themselves Romantics.

  14. British Literature Periods, Notable Authors & Styles

    British literature is significant because it is the largest body of literature in the English language. While American literature is also written in English, it does not boast the long history of ...

  15. A Brief History of English Literature

    OLD ENGLISH LITERATURE. The Old English language or Anglo-Saxon is the earliest form of English. The period is a long one and it is generally considered that Old English was spoken from about A.D. 600 to about 1100. Many of the poems of the period are pagan, in particular Widsith and Beowulf.

  16. Classics of British Literature

    This course is an excellent introduction to British/English literature. It is commendable that Professor Sutherland includes lesser-known (but important) writers, and that he acknowledges the difficulty of some works, such as Paradise Lost, while stressing that they are still, of course, worth reading.

  17. British Romanticism

    British Romanticism. An introduction to the poetic revolution that brought common people to literature's highest peaks. " [I]f Poetry comes not as naturally as the Leaves to a tree it had better not come at all," proposed John Keats in an 1818 letter, at the age of 22. This could be called romantic in sentiment, lowercase r, meaning ...

  18. PDF Introduction to British Literature

    Connotation is the emotions associated with a word. Take for example, 'haughty Healfdene'. 'Haughty' means 'proud'. Today's connotation of haughty is rather negative; it means that one is arrogant, conceited, stuck-up, self-important, etc. In earlier times the word 'haughty' had a more positive connotation.

  19. English literature

    English literature - Renaissance, Poetry, Drama: In a tradition of literature remarkable for its exacting and brilliant achievements, the Elizabethan and early Stuart periods have been said to represent the most brilliant century of all. (The reign of Elizabeth I began in 1558 and ended with her death in 1603; she was succeeded by the Stuart king James VI of Scotland, who took the title James ...

  20. The Broadview Anthology of British Literature

    An anthology that fully reflects the diversity of British literature. The Broadview takes a fresh approach to many canonical authors and includes an extraordinarily wide selection of work by lesser-known writers. The anthology also provides extensive coverage of the worldwide connections of British literature. Historical and cultural context.

  21. English Literature (AQA) Paper 1

    English Literature (AQA) Paper 1 - Exam Megathread. This is the post-exam mega thread for English Literature (AQA) Paper 1 (Morning) . You can discuss how the exam went in this post. absolutely petrified (i do macbeth and Jekyll+Hyde). Please, please, PLEASE be a decent theme, and please can I just magically remember everything.

  22. Letter from Members of the Faculty

    Letter from Members of the Faculty. May 8, 2024. As faculty members of the Department of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia,* we affirm the rights of students and other members of our community to engage in public speech and nonviolent forms of protest. We are troubled by the university's decision to discipline students without ...

  23. The Met Gala's Strange but Fitting Literary Inspiration

    A Fitting Literary Inspiration: In 1962, J.G. Ballard published "The Garden of Time," a short story about aristocrats overrun by "an immense rabble." It was a fitting but ironic choice as ...

  24. English literature

    English literature - Modernism, Poetry, Novels: The 20th century opened with great hope but also with some apprehension, for the new century marked the final approach to a new millennium. For many, humankind was entering upon an unprecedented era. H.G. Wells's utopian studies, the aptly titled Anticipations of the Reaction of Mechanical and Scientific Progress upon Human Life and Thought ...

  25. Ateneo and the CUHK conduct academic exchange on the role of archiving

    Dr Vincenz Serrano, Associate Chairperson for Literature of Ateneo's Department of English and Editor in Chief, Kritika Kultura, opened the event with an address, welcoming the participants from both schools. This was followed by some welcoming remakers from Dr Anne Lan K Candelaria, Ateneo's Assistant Vice President for Graduate Education. ...