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English literature,literature written in English since c.1450 by the inhabitants of the British Isles; it was during the 15th cent. that the English language acquired much of its modern form. For the literature of previous linguistic periods, see the articles on Anglo-Saxon literatureAnglo-Saxon literature,
the literary writings in Old English (see English language), composed between c.650 and c.1100.
See also English literature. Poetry
..... Click the link for more information. and Middle English literatureMiddle English literature,
English literature of the medieval period, c.1100 to c.1500. See also English literature and Anglo-Saxon literature. Background
..... Click the link for more information. (see also Anglo-Norman literatureAnglo-Norman literature,
body of literature written in England, in the French dialect known as Anglo-Norman, from c.1100 to c.1250. Initiated at the court of Henry I, it was supported by the wealthy, French-speaking aristocracy who controlled England after the Norman conquest.
..... Click the link for more information. ).
For literature written by English speakers elsewhere, see American literatureAmerican literature,
literature in English produced in what is now the United States of America. Colonial Literature
American writing began with the work of English adventurers and colonists in the New World chiefly for the benefit of readers in the mother country.
..... Click the link for more information. ; Australian literatureAustralian literature,
the literature of Australia. Because the vast majority of early Australian settlers were transported prisoners, the beginnings of Australian literature were oral rather than written.
..... Click the link for more information. ; Canadian literature, EnglishCanadian literature, English,
literary works produced in Canada and written in the English language. Early Canadian Writing
Although Canadian writing began as an imitative colonial literature, it has steadily developed its own national characteristics.
..... Click the link for more information. ; New Zealand literatureNew Zealand literature.
In the 20th cent. New Zealand developed a vital literary tradition, though only a few of its authors are well-known outside its islands: Katherine Mansfield, short-story writer; Sylvia Ashton-Warner, novelist and teacher; Eileen Duggan, poet; Dame Ngaio
..... Click the link for more information. ; and South African literatureSouth African literature,
literary works written in South Africa or written by South Africans living in other countries. Populated by diverse ethnic and language groups, South Africa has a distinctive literature in many African languages as well as Afrikaans (a vernacular
..... Click the link for more information. .
The Tudors and the Elizabethan Age
The beginning of the Tudor dynasty coincided with the first dissemination of printed matter. William CaxtonCaxton, William,
c.1421–91, English printer, the first to print books in English. He served apprenticeship as a mercer and from 1463 to 1469 was at Bruges as governor of the Merchants Adventurers in the Low Countries, serving as a diplomat for the English king.
..... Click the link for more information. 's press was established in 1476, only nine years before the beginning of Henry VII's reign. Caxton's achievement encouraged writing of all kinds and also influenced the standardization of the English language. The early Tudor period, particularly the reign of Henry VIII, was marked by a break with the Roman Catholic Church and a weakening of feudal ties, which brought about a vast increase in the power of the monarchy.
Stronger political relationships with the Continent were also developed, increasing England's exposure to Renaissance culture. Humanism became the most important force in English literary and intellectual life, both in its narrow sense—the study and imitation of the Latin classics—and in its broad sense—the affirmation of the secular, in addition to the otherworldly, concerns of people. These forces produced during the reign (1558–1603) of Elizabeth I one of the most fruitful eras in literary history.
The energy of England's writers matched that of its mariners and merchants. Accounts by men such as Richard HakluytHakluyt, Richard
, 1552?–1616, English geographer. He graduated in 1574 from Oxford, where he later lectured on geography. A passionate interest in the history of discovery led him to collect and publish narratives of voyages and travels.
..... Click the link for more information. , Samuel PurchasPurchas, Samuel
, 1577?–1626, English clergyman and compiler of travel literature, b. Essex. Chaplain to the archbishop of Canterbury, he later was rector of St. Martin's Church, London.
..... Click the link for more information. , and Sir Walter RaleighRaleigh or Ralegh, Sir Walter
, 1554?–1618, English soldier, explorer, courtier, and man of letters. Early Life
As a youth Raleigh served (1569) as a volunteer in the Huguenot army in France.
..... Click the link for more information. were eagerly read. The activities and literature of the Elizabethans reflected a new nationalism, which expressed itself also in the works of chroniclers (John StowStow, John,
1525?–1605, English chronicler and antiquarian. He was a tailor in his youth, but after 1560 he came under the patronage of Archbishop Matthew Parker, whose Society of Antiquaries he joined, and began collecting historical documents and manuscripts.
..... Click the link for more information. , Raphael HolinshedHolinshed, Raphael
, d. c.1580, English chronicler. He was a translator who also assisted Reginald Wolfe in the preparation of a universal history, which was never finished.
..... Click the link for more information. , and others), historians, and translators and even in political and religious tracts. A myriad of new genres, themes, and ideas were incorporated into English literature. Italian poetic forms, especially the sonnetsonnet,
poem of 14 lines, usually in iambic pentameter, restricted to a definite rhyme scheme. There are two prominent types: the Italian, or Petrarchan, sonnet, composed of an octave and a sestet (rhyming abbaabba cdecde
..... Click the link for more information. , became models for English poets.
Sir Thomas WyattWyatt, Sir Thomas,
1503–42, English poet and statesman, father of Sir Thomas Wyatt. He served in various capacities under Henry VIII and was knighted in 1536. It is generally agreed he had been the lover of Anne Boleyn before her marriage to the king.
..... Click the link for more information. was the most successful sonneteer among early Tudor poets, and was, with Henry Howard, earl of SurreySurrey, Henry Howard, earl of,
1517?–1547, English poet; son of Thomas Howard, 3d duke of Norfolk. His irascibility and continuous vaunting of his descent from Edward I resulted in his imprisonment on several occasions.
..... Click the link for more information. , a seminal influence. Tottel's Miscellany (1557) was the first and most popular of many collections of experimental poetry by different, often anonymous, hands. A common goal of these poets was to make English as flexible a poetic instrument as Italian. Among the more prominent of this group were Thomas ChurchyardChurchyard, Thomas,
1520?–1604, English author. In his youth he was page to Henry Howard, earl of Surrey. He spent most of his life as a professional soldier, serving in Scotland, Flanders, and France.
..... Click the link for more information. , George GascoigneGascoigne, George
, c.1539–1577, English author, a pioneer in various fields of English literature. A reckless, dissipated youth, he left Cambridge without a degree to study law, but he spent most of his time in debtors' prison and was never admitted to the bar.
..... Click the link for more information. , and Edward de Vere, earl of OxfordOxford, Edward de Vere, 17th earl of,
1550–1604, English poet, b. Castle Heddingham, Essex, educated at Queens' and St. John's colleges, Cambridge.
..... Click the link for more information. . An ambitious and influential work was A Mirror for Magistrates (1559), a historical verse narrative by several poets that updated the medieval view of history and the morals to be drawn from it.
The poet who best synthesized the ideas and tendencies of the English Renaissance was Edmund SpenserSpenser, Edmund,
1552?–1599, English poet, b. London. He was the friend of men eminent in literature and at court, including Gabriel Harvey, Sir Philip Sidney, Sir Walter Raleigh, and Robert Sidney, earl of Leicester.
..... Click the link for more information. . His unfinished epic poem The Faerie Queen (1596) is a treasure house of romance, allegory, adventure, Neoplatonic ideas, patriotism, and Protestant morality, all presented in a variety of literary styles. The ideal English Renaissance man was Sir Philip SidneySidney or Sydney, Sir Philip,
1554–86, English author and courtier. He was one of the leading members of Queen Elizabeth's court and a model of Renaissance chivalry.
..... Click the link for more information. —scholar, poet, critic, courtier, diplomat, and soldier—who died in battle at the age of 32. His best poetry is contained in the sonnet sequence Astrophel and Stella (1591) and his Defence of Poesie is among the most important works of literary criticism in the tradition.
Many others in a historical era when poetic talents were highly valued, were skilled poets. Important late Tudor sonneteers include Spenser and Shakespeare, Michael Drayton, Samuel Daniel, and Fulke Greville. More versatile even than Sidney was Sir Walter Raleigh—poet, historian, courtier, explorer, and soldier—who wrote strong, spare poetry.
Early Tudor drama owed much to both medieval morality plays and classical models. Ralph Roister Doister (c.1545) by Nicholas UdallUdall, Nicholas,
1505–56, English dramatist, educated at Oxford. He was headmaster of Eton (1534–41) and of Westminster School (from 1554). His one extant play, Ralph Roister Doister (c.1545), is regarded as the first complete English comedy.
..... Click the link for more information. and Gammer Gurton's Needle (c.1552) are considered the first English comedies, combining elements of classical Roman comedy with native burlesque. During the late 16th and early 17th cent., drama flourished in England as never before or since. It came of age with the work of the University Wits, whose sophisticated plays set the course of Renaissance drama and paved the way for Shakespeare.
The Wits included John LylyLyly or Lilly, John
, 1554?–1606, English dramatist and prose writer. An accomplished courtier, he also served as a member of Parliament from 1589 to 1601.
..... Click the link for more information. , famed for the highly artificial and much imitated prose work Euphues (1578); Robert GreeneGreene, Robert,
1558?–1592, English author. His short romances, written in the manner of Lyly's Euphues, include Pandosto (1588), from which Shakespeare drew the plot for A Winter's Tale, and Menaphon (1589).
..... Click the link for more information. , the first to write romantic comedy; the versatile Thomas LodgeLodge, Thomas,
1558?–1625, English writer, grad. Oxford, 1577. After abandoning the study of law for literature, he published (c.1580) his defense of poetry and other arts, usually called Honest Excuses, in reply to the attacks made by Stephen Gosson in
..... Click the link for more information. and Thomas NasheNashe or Nash, Thomas
, 1567–1601, English satirist. Very little is known of his life. Although his first publications appeared in 1589, it was not until Pierce Penniless His Supplication to the Devil
..... Click the link for more information. ; Thomas KydKyd or Kid, Thomas,
1558–94, English dramatist, b. London. The son of a scrivener, he evidently followed his father's profession for a few years. In the 1580s he began writing plays.
..... Click the link for more information. , who popularized neo-Senecan tragedy; and Christopher MarloweMarlowe, Christopher,
1564–93, English dramatist and poet, b. Canterbury. Probably the greatest English dramatist before Shakespeare, Marlowe, a shoemaker's son, was educated at Cambridge and he went to London in 1587, where he became an actor and dramatist for the Lord
..... Click the link for more information. , the greatest dramatist of the group. Focusing on heroes whose very greatness leads to their downfall, Marlowe wrote in blank verse with a rhetorical brilliance and eloquence superbly equal to the demands of high drama. William ShakespeareShakespeare, William,
1564–1616, English dramatist and poet, b. Stratford-upon-Avon. He is widely considered the greatest playwright who ever lived. Life
..... Click the link for more information. , of course, fulfilled the promise of the Elizabethan age. His history plays, comedies, and tragedies set a standard never again equaled, and he is universally regarded as the greatest dramatist and one of the greatest poets of all time.
The Jacobean Era, Cromwell, and the Restoration
Elizabethan literature generally reflects the exuberant self-confidence of a nation expanding its powers, increasing its wealth, and thus keeping at bay its serious social and religious problems. Disillusion and pessimism followed, however, during the unstable reign of James I (1603–25). The 17th cent. was to be a time of great upheaval—revolution and regicide, restoration of the monarchy, and, finally, the victory of Parliament, landed Protestantism, and the moneyed interests.
Jacobean literature begins with the drama, including some of Shakespeare's greatest, and darkest, plays. The dominant literary figure of James's reign was Ben JonsonJonson, Ben,
1572–1637, English dramatist and poet, b. Westminster, London. The high-spirited buoyancy of Jonson's plays and the brilliance of his language have earned him a reputation as one of the great playwrights in English literature.
..... Click the link for more information. , whose varied and dramatic works followed classical models and were enriched by his worldly, peculiarly English wit. His satiric dramas, notably the great Volpone (1606), all take a cynical view of human nature. Also cynical were the horrific revenge tragedies of John FordFord, John,
1586–c.1640, English dramatist, b. Devonshire. He went to London to study law but was never called to the bar. The early part of his playwriting career was taken up with collaborations, primarily with Dekker.
..... Click the link for more information. , Thomas MiddletonMiddleton, Thomas,
1580–1627, English dramatist, b. London, grad. Queen's College, Oxford, 1598. His early plays were chiefly written in collaboration with Dekker, Drayton, and others.
..... Click the link for more information. , Cyril TourneurTourneur, Cyril
, 1575?–1626, English dramatist and poet. Little is known of his life. The Transformed Metamorphosis (1600), an allegorical satire, was his first published work.
..... Click the link for more information. , and John WebsterWebster, John,
1580?–1634, English dramatist, b. London. Although little is known of his life, there is evidence that he worked for Philip Henslowe, collaborating with such playwrights as Dekker and Ford.
..... Click the link for more information. (the best poet of this grim genre). Novelty was in great demand, and the possibilities of plot and genre were exploited almost to exhaustion. Still, many excellent plays were written by men such as George ChapmanChapman, John,
1774–1845, American pioneer, more familiarly known as Johnny Appleseed, b. Massachusetts. From Pennsylvania—where he had sold or given saplings and apple seeds to families migrating westward—he traveled c.
..... Click the link for more information. , the masters of comedy Thomas DekkerDekker, Thomas,
c,1570–1632, English dramatist and pamphleteer. Little is known of his life except that he frequently suffered from poverty and served several prison terms for debt. He began his literary career c.1598 working for Philip Henslowe.
..... Click the link for more information. and Philip MassingerMassinger, Philip
, 1583–1640, English dramatist, b. Salisbury. He studied at Oxford (1602–6) but left without a degree, apparently to go to London to write plays. A prolific writer, Massinger wrote more than 40 plays (often in collaboration).
..... Click the link for more information. , and the team of Francis BeaumontBeaumont, Francis
, 1584?–1616, English dramatist. Born of a distinguished family, he studied at Oxford and the Inner Temple. His literary reputation is linked with that of John Fletcher, with whom he began collaborating about 1606.
..... Click the link for more information. and John FletcherFletcher, John,
1579–1625, English dramatist, b. Rye, Sussex, educated at Cambridge. A member of a prominent literary family, he began writing for the stage about 1606, first with Francis Beaumont, with whom his name is inseparably linked, later with Massinger and others.
..... Click the link for more information. . Drama continued to flourish until the closing of the theaters at the onset of the English Revolution in 1642.
The foremost poets of the Jacobean era, Ben Jonson and John DonneDonne, John
, 1572–1631, English poet and divine. He is considered the greatest of the metaphysical poets. Life and Works
Reared a Roman Catholic, Donne was educated at Oxford, Cambridge, and Lincoln's Inn.
..... Click the link for more information. , are regarded as the originators of two diverse poetic traditions—the Cavalier and the metaphysical (see Cavalier poetsCavalier poets,
a group of English poets associated with Charles I and his exiled son. Most of their work was done between c.1637 and 1660. Their poetry embodied the life and culture of upper-class, pre-Commonwealth England, mixing sophistication with naïveté,
..... Click the link for more information. and metaphysical poetsmetaphysical poets,
name given to a group of English lyric poets of the 17th cent. The term was first used by Samuel Johnson (1744). The hallmark of their poetry is the metaphysical conceit (a figure of speech that employs unusual and paradoxical images), a reliance on
..... Click the link for more information. ). Jonson and Donne shared not only a common fund of literary resources, but also a dryness of wit and precision of expression. Donne's poetry is distinctive for its passionate intellection, Jonson's for its classicism and urbane guidance of passion.
Although George HerbertHerbert, George,
1593–1633, one of the English metaphysical poets. Of noble family, he was the brother of Baron Herbert of Cherbury. He was graduated from Cambridge.
..... Click the link for more information. and Donne were the principal metaphysical poets, the meditative religious poets Henry VaughanVaughan, Henry
, 1622–95, one of the English metaphysical poets. Born in Breconshire, Wales, he signed himself Silurist, after the ancient inhabitants of that region. After leaving Oxford, where he did not take a degree, he turned to the study of law.
..... Click the link for more information. and Thomas TraherneTraherne, Thomas
, 1636?–1674, English poet and prose writer, one of the metaphysical poets. He was schooled at Brasenose College, Oxford, and was chaplain to the Lord Keeper from 1667 until his death.
..... Click the link for more information. were also influenced by Donne, as were Abraham CowleyCowley, Abraham
, 1618–67, one of the English metaphysical poets. He published his first volume of verse, Poetical Blossoms (1633), when he was 15. While a student at Cambridge, Cowley wrote three plays and began the scriptural epic Davideis
..... Click the link for more information. and Richard CrashawCrashaw, Richard
, 1612?–1649, one of the English metaphysical poets. He was graduated from Cambridge in 1634 and remained there as a fellow at Peterhouse until the Puritan uprising, when he fled to the Continent (1643).
..... Click the link for more information. . The greatest of the Cavalier poets was the sensuously lyrical Robert HerrickHerrick, Robert,
1591–1674, English poet, generally considered the greatest of the Cavalier poets. Although he was born in London, he spent most of his childhood in Hampton. In 1607 he became apprenticed to his uncle, jeweler to the king, and remained in London until 1613.
..... Click the link for more information. . Such other Cavaliers as Thomas CarewCarew, Thomas,
1595?–1639?, English author, one of the Cavalier poets. Educated at Merton College, Oxford, he had a short diplomatic career on the Continent, then returned to England and became a favorite of Charles I and a court official.
..... Click the link for more information. , Sir John SucklingSuckling, Sir John,
1609–42, one of the English Cavalier poets. He was educated at Cambridge and Gray's Inn. An accomplished gallant, he was given to all the extravagances of the court of Charles I. He was a prolific lover, a sparkling wit, and an excessive gamester.
..... Click the link for more information. , and Richard LovelaceLovelace, Richard,
1618–1657?, one of the English Cavalier poets. He was the son of a Kentish knight and was educated at Oxford. In 1642 he was briefly imprisoned for having presented to Parliament a petition for the restoration of the bishops.
..... Click the link for more information. were lyricists in the elegant Jonsonian tradition, though their lyricism turned political during the English Revolution. Although ranked with the metaphysical poets, the highly individual Andrew MarvellMarvell, Andrew
, 1621–78, one of the English metaphysical poets. Educated at Cambridge, he worked as a clerk, traveled abroad, and returned to serve as tutor to Lord Fairfax's daughter in Yorkshire.
..... Click the link for more information. partook of the traditions of both Donne and Jonson.
Among the leading prose writers of the Jacobean period were the translators who produced the classic King James Version of the Bible (1611) and the divines Lancelot AndrewesAndrewes, Lancelot
, 1555–1626, Anglican divine, bishop of Chichester (1605), Ely (1609), and Winchester (1619). One of the most learned men of his time (his knowledge encompassed 16 centuries of Christian culture and he knew 15 modern and six ancient languages), he was
..... Click the link for more information. , Jeremy TaylorTaylor, Jeremy,
1613–67, English bishop and theological and devotional writer. He was distinguished as a preacher and as the author of some of the most noted religious works in English.
..... Click the link for more information. , and John Donne. The work of Francis BaconBacon, Francis,
1561–1626, English philosopher, essayist, and statesman, b. London, educated at Trinity College, Cambridge, and at Gray's Inn. He was the son of Sir Nicholas Bacon, lord keeper to Queen Elizabeth I.
..... Click the link for more information. helped shape philosophical and scientific method. Robert BurtonBurton, Richard,
1925–84, British actor, b. Pontrhydfen, Wales; his original name was Richard Jenkins. A dark, introspective actor with a splendid speaking voice, Burton specialized in portraying conflicted, frequently tormented, men.
..... Click the link for more information. 's Anatomy of Melancholy (1621) offers a varied, virtually encyclopedic view of the moral and intellectual preoccupations of the 17th cent. Like Burton, Sir Thomas BrowneBrowne, Sir Thomas,
1605–82, English author and physician, b. London, educated at Oxford and abroad, knighted (1671) by Charles II. His Religio Medici, in which Browne attempted to reconcile science and religion, was written about 1635.
..... Click the link for more information. sought to reconcile the mysteries of religion with the newer mysteries of science. Izaak WaltonWalton, Izaak,
1593–1683, English writer. He wrote one of the most famous books in the English language, The Compleat Angler; or, the Contemplative Man's Recreation.
..... Click the link for more information. , author of The Compleat Angler (1653), produced a number of graceful biographies of prominent writers. Thomas HobbesHobbes, Thomas
, 1588–1679, English philosopher, grad. Magdalen College, Oxford, 1608. For many years a tutor in the Cavendish family, Hobbes took great interest in mathematics, physics, and the contemporary rationalism.
..... Click the link for more information. wrote the most influential political treatise of the age, Leviathan (1651).
The Jacobean era's most fiery and eloquent author of political tracts (many in defense of Cromwell's government, of which he was a member) was also one of the greatest of all English poets, John MiltonMilton, John,
1608–74, English poet, b. London, one of the greatest poets of the English language. Early Life and Works
The son of a wealthy scrivener, Milton was educated at St. Paul's School and Christ's College, Cambridge.
..... Click the link for more information. . His Paradise Lost (1667) is a Christian epic of encompassing scope. In Milton the literary and philosophical heritage of the Renaissance merged with Protestant political and moral conviction.
With the restoration of the English monarchy in the person of Charles II, literary tastes widened. The lifting of Puritan restrictions and the reassembling of the court led to a relaxation of restraints, both moral and stylistic, embodied in such figures as the Earl of RochesterRochester, John Wilmot, 2d earl of,
1647–80, English poet and courtier, b. Ditchley, Oxfordshire. Most notorious and dissolute of the Restoration rakes, he lost the favor of Charles II on several occasions because
..... Click the link for more information. . Restoration comedy reveals both the influence of French farcefarce,
light, comic theatrical piece in which the characters and events are greatly exaggerated to produce broad, absurd humor. Early examples of farce can be found in the comedies of Aristophanes, Plautus, and Terence.
..... Click the link for more information. (the English court spent its exile in France) and of Jacobean comedycomedy,
literary work that aims primarily to provoke laughter. Unlike tragedy, which seeks to engage profound emotions and sympathies, comedy strives to entertain chiefly through criticism and ridicule of man's customs and institutions.
..... Click the link for more information. . It generously fed the public's appetite for broad satire, high style, and a licentiousness that justified the worst Puritan imaginings. Such dramatists as Sir George EtheregeEtherege, Sir George
, 1636–1692, English dramatist. His witty, licentious comedies—The Comical Revenge; or, Love in a Tub (1664) and She Wou'd If She Cou'd (1668)—set the tone of the Restoration comedy of manners that Congreve was to continue.
..... Click the link for more information. , William WycherleyWycherley, William
, 1640?–1716, English dramatist, b. near Shrewsbury. His first comedy, Love in a Wood (1671), was a huge success and won him the favor of the duchess of Cleveland, mistress of Charles II.
..... Click the link for more information. , and William CongreveCongreve, William,
1670–1729, English dramatist, b. near Leeds, educated at Trinity College, Dublin, and studied law in the Middle Temple. After publishing a novel of intrigue, Incognita
..... Click the link for more information. created superbly polished high comedy. Sparkling but not quite so brilliant were the plays of George FarquharFarquhar, George
, 1678–1707, Irish dramatist, b. Londonderry (now Derry), Ireland. After his short career as an actor ended when he severely wounded a fellow actor in a stage duel, he wrote (1698) his first comedy, Love and a Bottle.
..... Click the link for more information. , Thomas ShadwellShadwell, Thomas,
1642?–1692, English dramatist and poet. His plays, written in the tradition of Jonson's comedy of humours, are distinguished for their realistic pictures of London life and for their frank and witty dialogue.
..... Click the link for more information. , and Sir John VanbrughVanbrugh, Sir John
, 1664–1726, English dramatist, architect, soldier, and adventurer, b. London, of Flemish descent. In 1686 he obtained a commission in the army. He was arrested for espionage in 1690 and spent two years in a French prison.
..... Click the link for more information. .
John DrydenDryden, John,
1631–1700, English poet, dramatist, and critic, b. Northamptonshire, grad. Cambridge, 1654. He went to London about 1657 and first came to public notice with his Heroic Stanzas (1659), commemorating the death of Oliver Cromwell.
..... Click the link for more information. began as a playwright but became the foremost poet and critic of his time. His greatest works are satirical narrative poems, notably Absalom and Achitophel (1681), in which prominent contemporary figures are unmistakably and devastatingly portrayed. Another satiric poet of the period was Samuel ButlerButler, Samuel,
1612–80, English poet and satirist. During the Puritan Revolution he served Sir Samuel Luke, a noted officer of Cromwell. After the restoration of Charles II, he wrote his famous mock-heroic poem Hudibras (pub.
..... Click the link for more information. , whose Hudibras (1663) satirizes Puritanism together with all the intellectual pretensions of the time. During the Restoration Puritanism or, more generally, the Dissenting tradition, remained vital. The most important Dissenting literary work was John BunyanBunyan, John
, 1628–88, English author, b. Elstow, Bedfordshire. After a brief period at the village free school, Bunyan learned the tinker's trade, which he followed intermittently throughout his life. Joining the parliamentary army in 1644, he served until 1647.
..... Click the link for more information. 's Pilgrim's Progress (1675), an allegorical prose narrative that is considered a forerunner of the novel. Lively and illuminating glimpses of Restoration manners and mores are provided by the diaries of Samuel PepysPepys, Samuel
, 1633–1703, English public official, and celebrated diarist, b. London, grad. Magdalene College, Cambridge, 1653. In 1656 he entered the service of a relative, Sir Edward Montagu (later earl of Sandwich), whose secretary he became in 1660.
..... Click the link for more information. and John EvelynEvelyn, John
, 1620–1706, English diarist and miscellaneous writer. Although of royalist sympathies, he took little active part in the civil war. After 1652 he lived as a wealthy country gentleman at Sayes Court, Deptford, where he cultivated his garden and wrote on
..... Click the link for more information. .
The Eighteenth Century
The Glorious Revolution of 1688 firmly established a Protestant monarchy together with effective rule by Parliament. The new science of the time, Newtonian physics, reinforced the belief that everything, including human conduct, is guided by a rational order. Moderation and common sense became intellectual values as well as standards of behavior.
These values achieved their highest literary expression in the poetry of Alexander PopePope, Alexander,
1688–1744, English poet. Although his literary reputation declined somewhat during the 19th cent., he is now recognized as the greatest poet of the 18th cent. and the greatest verse satirist in English.
..... Click the link for more information. . Pope—neoclassicist, wit, and master of the heroic couplet—was critical of human foibles but generally confident that order and happiness in human affairs were attainable if excesses were eschewed and rational dictates heeded. The brilliant prose satirist Jonathan SwiftSwift, Jonathan,
1667–1745, English author, b. Dublin. He is widely recognized as one of the greatest satirists in the English language. Early Life and Works
..... Click the link for more information. was not so sanguine. His "savage indignation" resulted in devastating attacks on his age in A Tale of a Tub (1704), Gulliver's Travels (1726), and A Modest Proposal (1729).
Middle-class tastes were reflected in the growth of periodicals and newspapers, the best of which were the Tatler and the Spectator produced by Joseph AddisonAddison, Joseph,
1672–1719, English essayist, poet, and statesman. He was educated at Charterhouse, where he was a classmate of Richard Steele, and at Oxford, where he became a distinguished classical scholar.
..... Click the link for more information. and Sir Richard SteeleSteele, Sir Richard,
1672–1729, English essayist and playwright, b. Dublin. After studying at Charterhouse and Oxford, he entered the army in 1694 and rose to the rank of captain by 1700. His first book, a moral tract entitled The Christian Hero, appeared in 1701.
..... Click the link for more information. . The novels of Daniel DefoeDefoe or De Foe, Daniel
, 1660?–1731, English writer, b. London. Early Life and Works
The son of a London butcher, and educated at a Dissenters' academy, he was typical of the new kind of man
..... Click the link for more information. , the first modern novels in English, owe much to the techniques of journalism. They also illustrate the virtues of merchant adventure vital to the rising middle class. Indeed, the novel was to become the literary form most responsive to middle-class needs and interests.
The 18th cent. was the age of town life with its coffeehouses and clubs. One of the most famous of the latter was the Scriblerus ClubScriblerus Club,
English literary group formed about 1713 to satirize "all the false tastes in learning." Among its chief members were Arbuthnot, Gay, Thomas Parnell, Pope, and Swift. Meetings of the club were discontinued after 1714.
..... Click the link for more information. , whose members included Pope, Swift, and John GayGay, John,
1685–1732, English playwright and poet, b. Barnstaple, Devon. Educated at the local grammar school, he was apprenticed to a silk mercer for a brief time before commencing his literary career in London.
..... Click the link for more information. (author of The Beggar's Opera). Its purpose was to defend and uphold high literary standards against the rising tide of middle-class values and tastes. Letters were a popular form of polite literature. Pope, Swift, Horace WalpoleWalpole, Horace or Horatio, 4th earl of Orford,
1717–97, English author; youngest son of Sir Robert Walpole.
..... Click the link for more information. , and Thomas GrayGray, Thomas,
1716–71, English poet. He was educated at Eton and Peterhouse, Cambridge. In 1739 he began a grand tour of the Continent with Horace Walpole. They quarreled in Italy, and Gray returned to England in 1741.
..... Click the link for more information. were masters of the form, and letters make up the chief literary output of Lady Mary Wortley MontaguMontagu, Lady Mary Wortley,
1689–1762, English author, noted primarily for her highly descriptive letters. She was the daughter of the first duke of Kingston. In 1712 she married Edward Wortley Montagu, who became ambassador to Turkey in 1716.
..... Click the link for more information. and Lord ChesterfieldChesterfield, Philip Dormer Stanhope, 4th earl of,
1694–1773, English statesman and author. A noted wit and orator, his long public career, begun in 1715, included an ambassadorship to The Hague (1728–32), a
..... Click the link for more information. . The novels of Samuel RichardsonRichardson, Samuel,
1689–1761, English novelist, b. Derbyshire. When he was 50 and a prosperous printer, Richardson was asked to compose a guide to letter writing.
..... Click the link for more information. , including the influential Clarissa (1747), were written in epistolary form. With the work of Richardson, Fanny BurneyBurney, Fanny,
later Madame D'Arblay
, 1752–1840, English novelist, daughter of Charles Burney, the composer, organist, and music scholar. Although she received no formal education, she read prodigiously and had the benefit of conversation with her father's
..... Click the link for more information. , Henry FieldingFielding, Henry,
1707–54, English novelist and dramatist. Born of a distinguished family, he was educated at Eton and studied law at Leiden. Settling in London in 1729, he began writing comedies, farces, and burlesques, the most notable being Tom Thumb
..... Click the link for more information. , Tobias SmollettSmollett, Tobias George
, 1721–71, Scottish novelist. After studying at Glasgow he came to London in 1739. Failing to get his tragedy The Regicide produced, he shipped as a surgeon's mate in the British navy the following year.
..... Click the link for more information. , and Laurence SterneSterne, Laurence
, 1713–68, English author, b. Ireland. Educated at Cambridge, he entered the Anglican church and was given the living of Sutton-in-the-Forest, Yorkshire, in 1738, where he remained until 1759.
..... Click the link for more information. the English novel flourished.
Probably the most celebrated literary circle in history was the one dominated by Samuel Johnson. It included Joshua ReynoldsReynolds, Sir Joshua,
1723–92, English portrait painter, b. Devonshire. Long considered historically the most important of England's painters, by his learned example he raised the artist to a position of respect in England.
..... Click the link for more information. , David GarrickGarrick, David,
1717–79, English actor, manager, and dramatist. He was indisputably the greatest English actor of the 18th cent., and his friendships with Diderot, Samuel Johnson, Oliver Goldsmith, and other notables who made up "The Club" resulted in detailed records of
..... Click the link for more information. , Edmund BurkeBurke, Edmund,
1729–97, British political writer and statesman, b. Dublin, Ireland. Early Writings
After graduating (1748) from Trinity College, Dublin, he began the study of law in London but abandoned it to devote himself to writing.
..... Click the link for more information. , Oliver GoldsmithGoldsmith, Oliver,
1730?–1774, Anglo-Irish author. The son of an Irish clergyman, he was graduated from Trinity College, Dublin, in 1749. He studied medicine at Edinburgh and Leiden, but his career as a physician was quite unsuccessful.
..... Click the link for more information. , and James BoswellBoswell, James,
1740–95, Scottish author, b. Edinburgh; son of a distinguished judge. At his father's insistence the young Boswell reluctantly studied law. Admitted to the bar in 1766, he practiced throughout his life, but his true interest was in a literary career and in
..... Click the link for more information. , whose biography of Johnson is a classic of the genre. Other great master prose writers of the period were the historian Edward GibbonGibbon, Edward,
1737–94, English historian, author of The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. His childhood was sickly, and he had little formal education but read enormously and omnivorously.
..... Click the link for more information. and the philosopher David HumeHume, David
, 1711–76, Scottish philosopher and historian. Educated at Edinburgh, he lived (1734–37) in France, where he finished his first philosophical work, A Treatise of Human Nature (1739–40).
..... Click the link for more information. . Dr. Johnson, who carried the arts of criticism and conversation to new heights, both typified and helped to form mid-18th-century views of life, literature, and conduct. The drama of the 18th cent. failed to match that of the Restoration. But Oliver Goldsmith and Richard Brinsley SheridanSheridan, Richard Brinsley,
1751–1816, English dramatist and politician, b. Dublin. His father, Thomas Sheridan, was an actor and teacher of elocution and his mother, Frances Sheridan, published two novels and a successful play.
..... Click the link for more information. rose above the prevalent "weeping comedy"—whose sentimentalism infected every literary genre of the period—to achieve polished comedy in the Restoration tradition.
Among the prominent poets of the 18th cent. were James ThomsonThomson, James,
1700–1748, Scottish poet. Educated at Edinburgh, he went to London, took a post as tutor, and became acquainted with such literary celebrities as Gay, Arbuthnot, and Pope.
..... Click the link for more information. , who wrote in The Seasons (1726) of nature as it reflected the Newtonian concept of order and beauty, and Edward YoungYoung, Edward,
1683–1765, English poet and dramatist. After a disappointing political life he took holy orders about 1724, serving for a time as the royal chaplain before becoming rector of Welwyn in 1730.
..... Click the link for more information. , whose Night Thoughts (1742) combined melancholy and Christian apologetics. Anticipations of romanticismromanticism,
term loosely applied to literary and artistic movements of the late 18th and 19th cent. Characteristics of Romanticism
Resulting in part from the libertarian and egalitarian ideals of the French Revolution, the romantic movements had in common only a
..... Click the link for more information. can be seen in the odes of William CollinsCollins, William,
1721–59, English poet. He was one of the great lyricists of the 18th cent. While he was still at Oxford he published Persian Ecologues (1742), which was written when he was 17.
..... Click the link for more information. , the poems of Thomas Gray, and the Scots lyrics of Robert BurnsBurns, Robert,
1759–96, Scottish poet. Life
The son of a hard-working and intelligent farmer, Burns was the oldest of seven children, all of whom had to help in the work on the farm.
..... Click the link for more information. . The work of William BlakeBlake, William,
1757–1827, English poet and artist, b. London. Although he exerted a great influence on English romanticism, Blake defies characterization by school, movement, or even period.
..... Click the link for more information. , the first great romantic poet, began late in the 18th cent. Blake is unique: poet, artist, artisan, revolutionist, and visionary prophet.
In prose fiction, departures from social realism are evident in the Gothic romances of Horace Walpole, Anne RadcliffeRadcliffe, Ann (Ward),
1764–1823, English novelist, b. London. The daughter of a successful tradesman, she married William Radcliffe, a law student who later became editor of the English Chronicle.
..... Click the link for more information. , "Monk" LewisLewis, Matthew Gregory,
1775–1818, English author, b. London. In addition to his writing he pursued a diplomatic career and served for a time in Parliament. He was often called "Monk" Lewis from the title of his extravagant Gothic romance The Monk
..... Click the link for more information. , Charles MaturinMaturin, Charles Robert
, 1782–1824, Irish author. A minister by vocation, he wrote novels in the manner of the Gothic horror tale of Ann Ward Radcliffe. They include The Fatal Revenge (1807), The Milesian Chief (1812), and his masterpiece
..... Click the link for more information. , and others. These works catered to a growing interest in medievalism, northern antiquities, ballads, folklore, chivalry, and romance, also exploited in two masterpieces of forgery—the Ossian poems of James MacphersonMacpherson, James,
1736–96, Scottish author. Educated at Aberdeen and Edinburgh, he spent his early years as a schoolmaster. In later life he held a colonial secretaryship in West Florida (1764–66), and he was a member of Parliament from 1780 until his death.
..... Click the link for more information. and the "medieval" Rowley poems of Thomas ChattertonChatterton, Thomas,
1752–70, English poet. The posthumous son of a poor Bristol schoolmaster, he was already composing the "Rowley Poems" at the age of 12, claiming they were copies of 15th-century manuscripts at the Church of St. Mary Redcliffe, Bristol.
..... Click the link for more information. .
The Romantic Period
At the turn of the century, fired by ideas of personal and political liberty and of the energy and sublimity of the natural world, artists and intellectuals sought to break the bonds of 18th-century convention. Although the works of Jean Jacques RousseauRousseau, Jean Jacques
, 1712–78, Swiss-French philosopher, author, political theorist, and composer. Life and Works
Rousseau was born at Geneva, the son of a Calvinist watchmaker.
..... Click the link for more information. and William GodwinGodwin, William,
1756–1836, English author and political philosopher. A minister in his youth, he was, however, plagued by religious doubts and gave up preaching in 1783 for a literary career.
..... Click the link for more information. had great influence, the French Revolution and its aftermath had the strongest impact of all. In England initial support for the Revolution was primarily utopian and idealist, and when the French failed to live up to expectations, most English intellectuals renounced the Revolution. However, the romantic vision had taken forms other than political, and these developed apace.
In Lyrical Ballads (1798 and 1800), a watershed in literary history, William WordsworthWordsworth, William,
1770–1850, English poet, b. Cockermouth, Cumberland. One of the great English poets, he was a leader of the romantic movement in England. Life and Works
In 1791 he graduated from Cambridge and traveled abroad.
..... Click the link for more information. and Samuel Taylor ColeridgeColeridge, Samuel Taylor,
1772–1834, English poet and man of letters, b. Ottery St. Mary, Devonshire; one of the most brilliant, versatile, and influential figures in the English romantic movement.
..... Click the link for more information. presented and illustrated a liberating aesthetic: poetry should express, in genuine language, experience as filtered through personal emotion and imagination; the truest experience was to be found in nature. The concept of the Sublime strengthened this turn to nature, because in wild countrysides the power of the sublime could be felt most immediately. Wordsworth's romanticism is probably most fully realized in his great autobiographical poem, "The Prelude" (1805–50). In search of sublime moments, romantic poets wrote about the marvelous and supernatural, the exotic, and the medieval. But they also found beauty in the lives of simple rural people and aspects of the everyday world.
The second generation of romantic poets included John KeatsKeats, John,
1795–1821, English poet, b. London. He is considered one of the greatest of English poets.
The son of a livery stable keeper, Keats attended school at Enfield, where he became the friend of Charles Cowden Clarke, the headmaster's son, who encouraged his
..... Click the link for more information. , Percy Bysshe ShelleyShelley, Percy Bysshe
, 1792–1822, English poet, b. Horsham, Sussex. He is ranked as one of the great English poets of the romantic period. A Tempestuous Life
..... Click the link for more information. , and George Gordon, Lord ByronByron, George Gordon Noel Byron, 6th Baron
, 1788–1824, English poet and satirist. Early Life and Works
He was the son of Capt. John ("Mad Jack") Byron and his second wife, Catherine Gordon of Gight.
..... Click the link for more information. . In Keats's great odes, intellectual and emotional sensibility merge in language of great power and beauty. Shelley, who combined soaring lyricism with an apocalyptic political vision, sought more extreme effects and occasionally achieved them, as in his great drama Prometheus Unbound (1820). His wife, Mary Wollstonecraft ShelleyShelley, Mary Wollstonecraft,
1797–1851, English author; daughter of William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft. In 1814 she fell in love with the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, accompanied him abroad, and after the death of his first wife in 1816 married him.
..... Click the link for more information. , wrote the greatest of the Gothic romances, Frankenstein (1818).
Lord Byron was the prototypical romantic hero, the envy and scandal of the age. He has been continually identified with his own characters, particularly the rebellious, irreverent, erotically inclined Don Juan. Byron invested the romantic lyric with a rationalist irony. Minor romantic poets include Robert SoutheySouthey, Robert
, 1774–1843, English author. Primarily a poet, he was numbered among the so-called Lake poets. While at Oxford he formed (1794) a friendship with Coleridge and joined with him in a plan for an American utopia along the Susquehanna River that was never
..... Click the link for more information. —best-remembered today for his story "Goldilocks and the Three Bears"—Leigh HuntHunt, Leigh
(James Henry Leigh Hunt) , 1784–1859, English poet, critic, and journalist. He was a friend of the eminent literary men of his time, and his home was the gathering place for such notable writers as Hazlitt, Lamb, Keats, and Shelley.
..... Click the link for more information. , Thomas MooreMoore, Thomas,
1779–1852, Irish poet, b. Dublin. He achieved prominence in his day not only for his poetry but also for his love of Ireland and personal charm. A lawyer, he was for a time registrar of the admiralty court in Bermuda.
..... Click the link for more information. , and Walter Savage LandorLandor, Walter Savage,
1775–1864, English poet and essayist, educated at Oxford. After a quarrel with his father, he went to live in Wales, where he wrote the epic poem Gebir (1798). The middle and most productive years of his life were spent in Italy.
..... Click the link for more information. .
The romantic era was also rich in literary criticism and other nonfictional prose. Coleridge proposed an influential theory of literature in his Biographia Literaria (1817). William Godwin and his wife, Mary WollstonecraftWollstonecraft, Mary
, 1759–97, English author and feminist, b. London. She was an early proponent of educational equality between men and women, expressing this radical opinion in Thoughts on the Education of Daughters (1786).
..... Click the link for more information. , wrote ground–breaking books on human, and women's, rights. William HazlittHazlitt, William,
1778–1830, English essayist. The son of a reform-mindeed Unitarian minister, he abandoned the idea of entering the clergy and took up painting, philosophy, and later journalism.
..... Click the link for more information. , who never forsook political radicalism, wrote brilliant and astute literary criticism. The master of the personal essay was Charles LambLamb, Charles,
1775–1834, English essayist, b. London. He went to school at Christ's Hospital, where his lifelong friendship with Coleridge began. Lamb was a clerk at the India House from 1792 to 1825.
..... Click the link for more information. , whereas Thomas De QuinceyDe Quincey, Thomas
, 1785–1859, English essayist. In 1802 he ran away from school and tramped about the country, eventually settling in London. His family soon found him and entered him (1803) in Worcester College, Oxford, where he developed a deep interest in German
..... Click the link for more information. was master of the personal confession. The periodicals Edinburgh Review and Blackwood's Magazine, in which leading writers were published throughout the century, were major forums of controversy, political as well as literary.
Although the great novelist Jane AustenAusten, Jane
, 1775–1817, English novelist. The daughter of a clergyman, she spent the first 25 years of her life at "Steventon," her father's Hampshire vicarage. Here her first novels, Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, and Northanger Abbey,
..... Click the link for more information. wrote during the romantic era, her work defies classification. With insight, grace, and irony she delineated human relationships within the context of English country life. Sir Walter ScottScott, Sir Walter,
1771–1832, Scottish novelist and poet, b. Edinburgh. He is considered the father of both the regional and the historical novel. Early Life and Works
After an apprenticeship in his father's law office Scott was admitted (1792) to the bar.
..... Click the link for more information. , Scottish nationalist and romantic, made the genre of the historical novel widely popular. Other novelists of the period were Maria EdgeworthEdgeworth, Maria,
1767–1849, Irish novelist; daughter of Richard Lovell Edgeworth. She lived practically her entire life on her father's estate in Ireland. Letters for Literary Ladies (1795), her first publication, argued for the education of women.
..... Click the link for more information. , Edward Bulwer-LyttonBulwer-Lytton, Edward George Earle Lytton, 1st Baron Lytton,
1803–73, English novelist. The son of Gen.
..... Click the link for more information. , and Thomas Love PeacockPeacock, Thomas Love,
1785–1866, English novelist and poet. He was employed by the East India Company from 1819 to 1856, serving as its chief examiner the final 20 years.
..... Click the link for more information. , the latter noted for his eccentric novels satirizing the romantics.
The Victorian Age
The Reform Bill of 1832 gave the middle class the political power it needed to consolidate—and to hold—the economic position it had already achieved. Industry and commerce burgeoned. While the affluence of the middle class increased, the lower classes, thrown off their land and into the cities to form the great urban working class, lived ever more wretchedly. The social changes were so swift and brutal that Godwinian utopianism rapidly gave way to attempts either to justify the new economic and urban conditions, or to change them. The intellectuals and artists of the age had to deal in some way with the upheavals in society, the obvious inequities of abundance for a few and squalor for many, and, emanating from the throne of Queen Victoria (1837–1901), an emphasis on public rectitude and moral propriety.
The Victorian era was the great age of the English novel—realistic, thickly plotted, crowded with characters, and long. It was the ideal form to describe contemporary life and to entertain the middle class. The novels of Charles Dickens, full to overflowing with drama, humor, and an endless variety of vivid characters and plot complications, nonetheless spare nothing in their portrayal of what urban life was like for all classes. William Makepeace Thackeray is best known for Vanity Fair (1848), which wickedly satirizes hypocrisy and greed.
Emily Brontë's (see BrontëBrontë
, family of English novelists, including Charlotte Brontë, 1816–55, English novelist, Emily Jane Brontë, 1818–48, English novelist and poet, and Anne Brontë, 1820–49, English novelist.
..... Click the link for more information. , family) single novel, Wuthering Heights (1847), is a unique masterpiece propelled by a vision of elemental passions but controlled by an uncompromising artistic sense. The fine novels of Emily's sister Charlotte Brontë, especially Jane Eyre (1847) and Villette (1853), are more rooted in convention, but daring in their own ways. The novels of George EliotEliot, George,
pseud. of Mary Ann or Marian Evans,
1819–80, English novelist, b. Arbury, Warwickshire.
..... Click the link for more information. (Mary Ann Evans) appeared during the 1860s and 70s. A woman of great erudition and moral fervor, Eliot was concerned with ethical conflicts and social problems. George MeredithMeredith, George,
1828–1909, English novelist and poet. One of the great English novelists, Meredith wrote complex, often comic yet highly cerebral works that contain striking psychological character studies.
..... Click the link for more information. produced comic novels noted for their psychological perception. Another novelist of the late 19th cent. was the prolific Anthony TrollopeTrollope, Anthony
, 1815–82, one of the great English novelists. After spending seven unhappy years in London as a clerk in the general post office, he transferred (1841) to Ireland and became post-office inspector; he held various positions in the postal service until his
..... Click the link for more information. , famous for sequences of related novels that explore social, ecclesiastical, and political life in England.
Thomas HardyHardy, Thomas,
1840–1928, English novelist and poet, b. near Dorchester, one of the great English writers of the 19th cent.
The son of a stonemason, he derived a love of music from his father and a devotion to literature from his mother.
..... Click the link for more information. 's profoundly pessimistic novels are all set in the harsh, punishing midland county he called Wessex. Samuel ButlerButler, Samuel,
1835–1902, English author. He was the son and grandson of eminent clergymen. In 1859, refusing to be ordained, he went to New Zealand, where he established a sheep farm and in a few years made a modest fortune.
..... Click the link for more information. produced novels satirizing the Victorian ethos, and Robert Louis StevensonStevenson, Robert Louis,
1850–94, Scottish novelist, poet, and essayist, b. Edinburgh. Handicapped from youth by delicate health, he struggled all his life against tuberculosis. He studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1875, but he never practiced.
..... Click the link for more information. , a master of his craft, wrote arresting adventure fiction and children's verse. The mathematician Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, writing under the name Lewis CarrollCarroll, Lewis,
pseud. of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson,
1832–98, English writer, mathematician, and amateur photographer, b. near Daresbury, Cheshire (now in Halton).
..... Click the link for more information. , produced the complex and sophisticated children's classics Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking Glass (1871). Lesser novelists of considerable merit include Benjamin DisraeliDisraeli, Benjamin, 1st earl of Beaconsfield
, 1804–81, British statesman and author. He is regarded as the founder of the modern Conservative party.
..... Click the link for more information. , George GissingGissing, George
, 1857–1903, English novelist. His promising future as a scholar was curtailed by his expulsion from Owens College (later the Univ. of Manchester) because of his association with a young prostitute whom he later married.
..... Click the link for more information. , Elizabeth Gaskell, and Wilkie CollinsCollins, Wilkie
(William Wilkie Collins), 1824–89, English novelist. Although trained as a lawyer, he spent most of his life writing. He produced some 30 novels, the best known of which are two mystery stories, The Woman in White (1860) and The Moonstone
..... Click the link for more information. . By the end of the period, the novel was considered not only the premier form of entertainment but also a primary means of analyzing and offering solutions to social and political problems.
Among the Victorian masters of nonfiction were the great Whig historian Thomas MacaulayMacaulay, Thomas Babington, 1st Baron,
1800–1859, English historian and author, b. Leicestershire, educated at Cambridge. After the success of his essay on Milton in the Edinburgh Review (Aug.
..... Click the link for more information. and Thomas CarlyleCarlyle, Thomas,
1795–1881, English author, b. Scotland. Early Life and Works
Carlyle studied (1809–14) at the Univ. of Edinburgh, intending to enter the ministry, but left when his doubts became too strong.
..... Click the link for more information. , the historian, social critic, and prophet whose rhetoric thundered through the age. Influential thinkers included John Stuart MillMill, John Stuart,
1806–73, British philosopher and economist. A precocious child, he was educated privately by his father, James Mill. In 1823, abandoning the study of law, he became a clerk in the British East India Company, where he rose to become head of the examiner's
..... Click the link for more information. , the great liberal scholar and philosopher; Thomas Henry HuxleyHuxley, Thomas Henry,
1825–95, English biologist and educator, grad. Charing Cross Hospital, 1845. Huxley gave up his own biological research to become an influential scientific publicist and was the principal exponent of Darwinism in England.
..... Click the link for more information. , a scientist and popularizer of Darwinian theory; and John Henry, Cardinal NewmanNewman, SaintJohn Henry,
1801–90, English churchman, theologian, and writer, cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church, one of the founders of the Oxford movement, b. London. Newman was canonized in 2019 by Pope Francis.
..... Click the link for more information. , who wrote earnestly of religion, philosophy, and education. The founders of Communism, Karl MarxMarx, Karl,
1818–83, German social philosopher, the chief theorist of modern socialism and communism. Early Life
Marx's father, a lawyer, converted from Judaism to Lutheranism in 1824.
..... Click the link for more information. and Friedrich EngelsEngels, Friedrich
, 1820–95, German socialist; with Karl Marx, one of the founders of modern Communism (see communism). The son of a wealthy Rhenish textile manufacturer, Engels took (1842) a position in a factory near Manchester, England, in which his father had an
..... Click the link for more information. , researched and wrote their books in the free environment of England. The great art historian and critic John RuskinRuskin, John,
1819–1900, English critic and social theorist. During the mid-19th cent. Ruskin was the virtual dictator of artistic opinion in England, but Ruskin's reputation declined after his death, and he has been treated harshly by 20th-century critics.
..... Click the link for more information. also concerned himself with social and economic problems. Matthew ArnoldArnold, Matthew,
1822–88, English poet and critic, son of the educator Dr. Thomas Arnold.
Arnold was educated at Rugby; graduated from Balliol College, Oxford in 1844; and was a fellow of Oriel College, Oxford in 1845.
..... Click the link for more information. 's theories of literature and culture laid the foundations for modern literary criticism, and his poetry is also notable.
The preeminent poet of the Victorian age was Alfred, Lord TennysonTennyson, Alfred Tennyson, 1st Baron
, 1809–92, English poet. The most famous poet of the Victorian age, he was a profound spokesman for the ideas and values of his times.
..... Click the link for more information. . Although romantic in subject matter, his poetry was tempered by personal melancholy; in its mixture of social certitude and religious doubt it reflected the age. The poetry of Robert BrowningBrowning, Robert,
1812–89, English poet. His remarkably broad and sound education was primarily the work of his artistic and scholarly parents—in particular his father, a London bank clerk of independent means.
..... Click the link for more information. and his wife, Elizabeth Barrett BrowningBrowning, Elizabeth Barrett,
1806–61, English poet, b. Durham. A delicate and precocious child, she spent a great part of her early life in a state of semi-invalidism. She read voraciously—philosophy, history, literature—and she wrote verse.
..... Click the link for more information. , was immensely popular, though Elizabeth's was more venerated during their lifetimes. Browning is best remembered for his superb dramatic monologues. Rudyard KiplingKipling, Rudyard,
1865–1936, English author, b. Bombay (now Mumbai), India. Educated in England, Kipling returned to India in 1882 and worked as an editor on a Lahore paper.
..... Click the link for more information. , the poet of the empire triumphant, captured the quality of the life of the soldiers of British expansion. Some fine religious poetry was produced by Francis ThompsonThompson, Francis,
1859–1907, English poet. His poetry, usually on religious subjects, is noted for its brilliant imagery and sonorous language. He was educated for the Roman Catholic priesthood at Ushaw College but in 1877 entered Owens College, Manchester, to study
..... Click the link for more information. , Alice MeynellMeynell, Alice (Thompson)
, 1847–1922, English poet and essayist. She spent most of her youth in Italy. Converted to Roman Catholicism in 1872, she wrote much on religious subjects.
..... Click the link for more information. , Christina RossettiRossetti, Christina Georgina
, 1830–94, English poet; daughter of Gabriele Rossetti and sister of Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Publication of some of her poems in her brother William's magazine the Germ was her only contribution to Pre-Raphaelite activities.
..... Click the link for more information. , and Lionel JohnsonJohnson, Lionel Pigot,
1867–1902, British poet and critic, b. Broadstairs, Kent, educated at Oxford. He lived an ascetic, scholarly life in London, converting to Roman Catholicism in 1891.
..... Click the link for more information. .
In the middle of the 19th cent. the so-called Pre-RaphaelitesPre-Raphaelites
, brotherhood of English painters and poets formed in 1848 in protest against what they saw as the low standards and decadence of British art. The principal founders were D. G. Rossetti, W.
..... Click the link for more information. , led by the painter-poet Dante Gabriel RossettiRossetti, Dante Gabriel
, 1828–82, English poet and painter; son of Gabriele Rossetti and brother of Christina Rossetti. He attended the Royal Academy and studied painting briefly with Ford Madox Brown. In 1848 he became acquainted with W.
..... Click the link for more information. , sought to revive what they judged to be the simple, natural values and techniques of medieval life and art. Their quest for a rich symbolic art led them away, however, from the mainstream. William MorrisMorris, William,
1834–96, English poet, artist, craftsman, designer, social reformer, and printer. He has long been considered one of the great Victorians and has been called the greatest English designer of the 19th cent.
..... Click the link for more information. —designer, inventor, printer, poet, and social philosopher—was the most versatile of the group, which included the poets Christina Rossetti and Coventry PatmorePatmore, Coventry Kersey Dighton,
1823–96, English poet. Patmore's first poetry, published in 1844, led to an assistant librarianship (1846–65) at the British Museum.
..... Click the link for more information. .
Algernon Charles SwinburneSwinburne, Algernon Charles,
1837–1909, English poet and critic. His poetry is noted for its vitality and for the music of its language. After attending Eton (1849–53) and Oxford (1856–60) he settled in London on an allowance from his father.
..... Click the link for more information. began as a Pre-Raphaelite but soon developed his own classically influenced, sometimes florid style. A. E. HousmanHousman, A. E.
(Alfred Edward Housman) , 1859–1936, English poet and scholar, whose verse exerted a strong influence on later poets. He left Oxford without a degree because he had failed his final examinations.
..... Click the link for more information. and Thomas Hardy, Victorian figures who lived on into the 20th cent., share a pessimistic view in their poetry, but Housman's well-constructed verse is rather more superficial. The great innovator among the late Victorian poets was the Jesuit priest Gerard Manley HopkinsHopkins, Gerard Manley,
1844–89, English poet, educated at Oxford. Entering the Roman Catholic Church in 1866 and the Jesuit novitiate in 1868, he was ordained in 1877. Upon becoming a Jesuit he burned much of his early verse and abandoned the writing of poetry.
..... Click the link for more information. . The concentration and originality of his imagery, as well as his jolting meter ("sprung rhythm"), had a profound effect on 20th-century poetry.
During the 1890s the most conspicuous figures on the English literary scene were the decadentsdecadents,
in literature, name loosely applied to those 19th-century, fin-de-siècle European authors who sought inspiration, both in their lives and in their writings, in aestheticism and in all the more or less morbid and macabre expressions of human emotion.
..... Click the link for more information. . The principal figures in the group were Arthur SymonsSymons, Arthur
, 1865–1945, English poet and critic. A leader of the symbolists in England, Symons interpreted French decadent poetry to the English through translations, criticism, and his own imitative poems.
..... Click the link for more information. , Ernest DowsonDowson, Ernest Christopher
, 1867–1900, English poet. He attended Queens College, Oxford, but left in 1888 without taking a degree. Dowson's life was tragic. In 1894 his father died, and his mother committed suicide six months later.
..... Click the link for more information. , and, first among them in both notoriety and talent, Oscar WildeWilde, Oscar
(Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde), 1854–1900, Irish author and wit, b. Dublin. He is most famous for his sophisticated, brilliantly witty plays, which were the first since the comedies of Sheridan and Goldsmith to have both dramatic and literary merit.
..... Click the link for more information. . The Decadents' disgust with bourgeois complacency led them to extremes of behavior and expression. However limited their accomplishments, they pointed out the hypocrisies in Victorian values and institutions. The sparkling, witty comedies of Oscar Wilde and the comic operettas of W. S. Gilbert and Sir Arthur Sullivan were perhaps the brightest achievements of 19th-century British drama.
The Early Twentieth Century
Irish drama flowered in the early 20th cent., largely under the aegis of the Abbey TheatreAbbey Theatre,
Irish theatrical company devoted primarily to indigenous drama. W. B. Yeats was a leader in founding (1902) the Irish National Theatre Society with Lady Gregory, J. M. Synge, and A. E. (George Russell) contributing their talents as directors and dramatists.
..... Click the link for more information. in Dublin (see Irish literary renaissanceIrish literary renaissance,
late 19th- and early 20th-century movement that aimed at reviving ancient Irish folklore, legends, and traditions in new literary works. The movement, also called the Celtic renaissance, was in part the cultural aspect of a political movement that was
..... Click the link for more information. ). John Millington SyngeSynge, John Millington
, 1871–1909, Irish poet and dramatist, b. near Dublin, of Protestant parents. He was an important figure in the Irish literary renaissance. As a young man he studied music in Germany and later lived in Paris, where he wrote literary criticism.
..... Click the link for more information. , William Butler YeatsYeats, W. B.
(William Butler Yeats), 1865–1939, Irish poet and playwright, b. Dublin. The greatest lyric poet Ireland has produced and one of the major figures of 20th-century literature, Yeats was the acknowledged leader of the Irish literary renaissance.
..... Click the link for more information. , and Sean O'CaseyO'Casey, Sean
, 1884–1964, Irish dramatist, one of the great figures of the Irish literary renaissance. A Protestant, he grew up in the slum district of Dublin and was active in various socialist movements and in the rebellions for Irish independence.
..... Click the link for more information. all wrote on Irish themes—mythical in Yeats's poetic drama, political in O'Casey's realistic plays. Also Irish, George Bernard ShawShaw, George Bernard,
1856–1950, Irish playwright and critic. He revolutionized the Victorian stage, then dominated by artificial melodramas, by presenting vigorous dramas of ideas. The lengthy prefaces to Shaw's plays reveal his mastery of English prose.
..... Click the link for more information. wrote biting dramas that reflect all aspects of British society. In fact, many of the towering figures of 20th-century English literature were not English; Shaw, Yeats, Joyce, O'Casey, and Beckett were Irish, Dylan Thomas was Welsh, T. S. Eliot was born an American, and Conrad was Polish.
Poetry in the early 20th cent. was typified by the conventional romanticism of such poets as John MasefieldMasefield, John
, 1878–1967, English poet. He went to sea as a youth and later spent several years in the United States. In 1897 he returned to England and was on the staff of the Manchester Guardian.
..... Click the link for more information. , Alfred NoyesNoyes, Alfred
, 1880–1958, English poet, best known for his poems "The Highwayman" and "The Barrel-Organ." His first volume of verse, Loom of Years, appeared in 1902.
..... Click the link for more information. , and Walter de la Marede la Mare, Walter
, 1873–1956, English poet and novelist. For many years he worked in the accounting department of the Anglo-American Oil Company. Much of his verse and prose shows delight in imaginative excursions into the shadowed world between the real and the unreal.
..... Click the link for more information. and by the experiments of the imagistsimagists,
group of English and American poets writing from 1909 to about 1917, who were united by their revolt against the exuberant imagery and diffuse sentimentality of 19th-century poetry.
..... Click the link for more information. , notably Hilda DoolittleDoolittle, Hilda,
pseud. H. D.,
1886–1961, American poet, b. Bethlehem, Pa., educated at Bryn Mawr. After 1911 she lived abroad, marrying Richard Aldington in 1913.
..... Click the link for more information. (H. D.), Richard AldingtonAldington, Richard
, 1892–1962, English poet and novelist. While studying at the Univ. of London, he became acquainted with Ezra Pound and H. D. (Hilda Doolittle), whom he married in 1913.
..... Click the link for more information. , Herbert ReadRead, Sir Herbert,
1893–1968, English poet and critic. His studies at the Univ. of Leeds were interrupted by World War I, in which he served with a Yorkshire regiment. After the war he completed his education.
..... Click the link for more information. , and D. H. LawrenceLawrence, D. H.
(David Herbert Lawrence), 1885–1930, English author, one of the primary shapers of 20th-century fiction. Life
The son of a Nottingham coal miner, Lawrence was a sickly child, devoted to his refined but domineering mother, who insisted upon his
..... Click the link for more information. . The finest poet of the period was Yeats, whose poetry fused romantic vision with contemporary political and aesthetic concerns. Though the 19th-century tradition of the novel lived on in the work of Arnold BennettBennett, Arnold
(Enoch Arnold Bennett), 1867–1931, English novelist and dramatist. One of the great 20th-century English novelists, Bennett is famous for his realistic novels about the "Five Towns," an imaginary manufacturing district in northern England.
..... Click the link for more information. , William Henry HudsonHudson, William Henry,
1841–1922, English author and naturalist, b. Quilmes, Argentina, of American parents. He spent his childhood on the pampas but developed a heart condition and finally emigrated to England in 1874.
..... Click the link for more information. , and John GalsworthyGalsworthy, John
, 1867–1933, English novelist and dramatist. Winner of the 1932 Nobel Prize in Literature, he is best remembered for his series of novels tracing the history of the wealthy Forsyte family from the 1880s to the 1920s.
..... Click the link for more information. , new writers like Henry JamesJames, Henry,
1843–1916, American novelist and critic, b. New York City. A master of the psychological novel, James was an innovator in technique and one of the most distinctive prose stylists in English.
He was the son of Henry James, Sr.
..... Click the link for more information. , H. G. WellsWells, H. G.
(Herbert George Wells), 1866–1946, English author. Although he is probably best remembered for his works of science fiction, he was also an imaginative social thinker, working assiduously to remove all vestiges of Victorian social, moral, and religious
..... Click the link for more information. , and Joseph ConradConrad, Joseph,
1857–1924, English novelist, b. Berdichev, Russia (now Berdychiv, Ukraine), originally named Jósef Teodor Konrad Walecz Korzeniowski. Born of Polish parents, he is considered one of the greatest novelists and prose stylists in English literature.
..... Click the link for more information. expressed the skepticism and alienation that were to become features of post-Victorian sensibility.
World War I shook England to the core. As social mores were shaken, so too were artistic conventions. The work of war poets like Siegfried SassoonSassoon, Siegfried,
1886–1967, English poet and novelist. A heroic and decorated officer in World War I, he nonetheless expressed his conviction of the brutality and waste of war in grim, forceful, realistic verse—The Old Huntsman (1917), Counter-Attack
..... Click the link for more information. and Wilfred OwenOwen, Wilfred,
1893–1918, English poet, b. Oswestry, Shropshire. He served as a company commander in the Artist's Rifles during World War I and was killed in France on Nov. 4, 1918, one week before the armistice.
..... Click the link for more information. , the latter killed in the war (as were Rupert BrookeBrooke, Rupert,
1887–1915, English poet. At the outbreak of World War I he joined the Royal Naval Division, served at Antwerp, and was in the Dardanelles expedition when he died of blood poisoning at the island of Skíros.
..... Click the link for more information. and Isaac RosenbergRosenberg, Isaac,
1890–1918, English poet, b. Bristol. He studied painting at the Slade School (1911–14) and had an exhibition of his work at the Whitechapel Gallery.
..... Click the link for more information. ), was particularly influential. Ford Madox FordFord, Ford Madox,
1873–1939, English author; grandson of Ford Madox Brown. He changed his name legally from Ford Madox Hueffer in 1919. The author of over 60 works including novels, poems, criticism, travel essays, and reminiscences, Ford also edited the
..... Click the link for more information. 's landmark tetralogy, Parade's End, is perhaps the finest depiction of the war and its effects. The new era called for new forms, typified by the work of Gerard Manley Hopkins, first published in 1918, and of T. S. EliotEliot, T. S.
(Thomas Stearns Eliot), 1888–1965, American-British poet and critic, b. St. Louis, Mo. One of the most distinguished literary figures of the 20th cent., T. S. Eliot won the 1948 Nobel Prize in Literature. He studied at Harvard, the Sorbonne, and Oxford.
..... Click the link for more information. , whose long poem The Waste Land (1922) was a watershed in both American and English literary history. Its difficulty, formal invention, and bleak antiromanticism were to influence poets for decades.
Equally important was the novel Ulysses, also published in 1922, by the expatriate Irishman James JoyceJoyce, James,
1882–1941, Irish novelist. Perhaps the most influential and significant novelist of the 20th cent., Joyce was a master of the English language, exploiting all of its resources.
..... Click the link for more information. . Although his books were controversial because of their freedom of language and content, Joyce's revolutions in narrative form, the treatment of time, and nearly all other techniques of the novel made him a master to be studied, but only intermittently copied. Though more conventional in form, the novels of D. H. Lawrence were equally challenging to convention; he was the first to champion both the primitive and the supercivilized urges of men and women.
Sensitivity and psychological subtlety mark the superb novels of Virginia WoolfWoolf, Virginia,
1882–1941, English novelist and essayist, b. Adeline Virgina Stephen; daughter of Sir Leslie Stephen. A successful innovator in the form of the novel, she is considered a significant force in 20th-century fiction.
..... Click the link for more information. , who, like Dorothy RichardsonRichardson, Dorothy M.,
1882–1957, English novelist. Her important work is Pilgrimage (12 vol., 1915–38; omnibus ed. 1938), a novel that records in great detail the inner experience of one woman.
..... Click the link for more information. , experimented with the interior forms of narration. Woolf was the center of the brilliant Bloomsbury groupBloomsbury group,
name given to the literary group that made the Bloomsbury area of London the center of its activities from 1904 to World War II. It included Lytton Strachey, Virginia Woolf, Leonard Woolf, E. M.
..... Click the link for more information. , which included the novelist E. M. ForsterForster, E. M.
(Edward Morgan Forster), 1879–1970, English author, one of the most important British novelists of the 20th cent. After graduating from Cambridge, Forster lived in Italy and Greece. During World War I he served with the International Red Cross in Egypt.
..... Click the link for more information. , the biographer Lytton StracheyStrachey, Lytton
(Giles Lytton Strachey), 1880–1932, English biographer and critic, educated at Cambridge. He was one of the leading members of the Bloomsbury group. Strachey is credited with having revolutionized the art of writing biography.
..... Click the link for more information. , and many important English intellectuals of the early 20th cent. Aldous HuxleyHuxley, Aldous Leonard,
1894–1963, English author; grandson of Thomas Henry Huxley, brother of Sir Julian Huxley, and half-brother of Sir Andrew Huxley. Educated at Eton and Oxford, he traveled widely and during the 1920s lived in Italy.
..... Click the link for more information. and Evelyn WaughWaugh, Evelyn Arthur St. John
, 1903–66, English writer, considered the greatest satirist of his generation. Educated at Oxford, he was briefly an art student and a teacher but spent much of his time traveling. He served with distinction in World War II.
..... Click the link for more information. satirized the group and the period, while Katharine MansfieldMansfield, Katherine,
1888–1923, British author, b. New Zealand, regarded as one of the masters of the short story. Her original name was Kathleen Beauchamp. A talented cellist, she did not turn to literature until 1908.
..... Click the link for more information. and Elizabeth BowenBowen, Elizabeth
, 1899–1973, Anglo-Irish novelist, b. Dublin. In impeccable prose she treated love and frustration through studies of complex psychological relationships.
..... Click the link for more information. captured their flavor in fiction.
Moved by the Great Depression, the rise of fascism, and English policies of appeasement, many writers and intellectuals sought solutions in the politics of the left—or the right. Wyndham LewisLewis, Wyndham
(Percy Wyndham Lewis) , 1886–1957, English author and painter, born on a ship on the Bay of Fundy. With Ezra Pound, he was cofounder and editor of Blast (1914–15), a magazine connected with vorticism.
..... Click the link for more information. satirized what he thought was the total dissolution of culture in Apes of Gods (1930). George OrwellOrwell, George,
pseud. of Eric Arthur Blair,
1903–50, British novelist and essayist, b. Bengal, India. He is best remembered for his scathingly satirical and frighteningly political novels, Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four.
..... Click the link for more information. fought with the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War. The experience left him profoundly disillusioned with Communism, a feeling he eloquently expressed in such works as Animal Farm (1946) and Nineteen Eighty-four (1949). The poets W. H. AudenAuden, W. H.
(Wystan Hugh Auden) , 1907–73, Anglo-American poet, b. York, England, educated at Oxford. A versatile, vigorous, and technically skilled poet, Auden ranks among the major literary figures of the 20th cent.
..... Click the link for more information. , Christopher IsherwoodIsherwood, Christopher
, 1904–86, British-American author. After the appearance of his first novel, All the Conspirators (1928), Isherwood went to Germany. The four years he spent there furnished him with the material for what are probably his best novels,
..... Click the link for more information. , Stephen SpenderSpender, Sir Stephen,
1909–95, English poet and critic, b. London. His early poetry—like that of W. H. Auden, C. Day Lewis, and Louis MacNeice, with whom he became associated at Oxford—was inspired by social protest.
..... Click the link for more information. , and C. Day LewisDay Lewis, C.
(Cecil Day Lewis), 1904–72, English author, b. Ireland. While he was still at Oxford, he became associated with a group of leftist poets led by W. H. Auden. After graduation he taught at various schools until 1935 and then decided to devote himself to writing.
..... Click the link for more information. all proclaimed their leftist respective political commitments, but the pressing demands of World War II superseded these long-term ideals.
The Postwar Era to the Present
After the war most English writers chose to focus on aesthetic or social rather than political problems; C. P. SnowSnow, C. P.
(Charles Percy Snow, Baron Snow of Leicester), 1905–80, English author and physicist. Snow had an active, varied career, including several important positions in the British government.
..... Click the link for more information. was perhaps the notable exception. The novelists Henry GreenGreen, Henry,
pseud. of Henry Vincent Yorke,
1905–73, English novelist. Born to an aristocratic family, he was the longtime managing director of his family's industrial engineering business in London.
..... Click the link for more information. , Ivy Compton-BurnettCompton-Burnett, Dame Ivy
, 1892–1969, English novelist. Educated at the Univ. of London, she lived quietly in London for most of her life. She was named a Dame Commander of the British Empire in 1967.
..... Click the link for more information. , Joyce CaryCary, Joyce
(Arthur Joyce Lunel Cary), 1888–1957, English author. From 1910 to 1920 he served as an administrator and soldier in Nigeria. Several of his early works, including Mister Johnson (1939), reflect his African experiences.
..... Click the link for more information. , and Lawrence DurrellDurrell, Lawrence
, 1912–90, British author, b. India, of Irish parents. Durrell traveled widely, often serving in diplomatic positions; most of his works are set in exotic locations and convey an extraordinary sense of place.
..... Click the link for more information. , and the poets Robert GravesGraves, Robert Ranke,
1895–1985, English poet, novelist, and critic; son of Alfred Percival Graves. He established his reputation with Good-bye to All That (1929), an outspoken book on his war experiences.
..... Click the link for more information. , Edwin MuirMuir, Edwin,
1887–1959, British author, b. Orkney Islands, Scotland. He moved with his family to Glasgow in 1901, where he remained for 18 years. In 1919 he went to London and joined the staff on the New Age.
..... Click the link for more information. , Louis MacNeiceMacNeice, Louis
, 1907–63, Irish poet b. Belfast. Educated at Oxford, he became a classical scholar and teacher and later was a producer and traveled the world for the British Broadcasting Corporation.
..... Click the link for more information. , and Edith SitwellSitwell,
English literary family, one of the most celebrated literary families of the 20th cent. Its members included Dame Edith Sitwell, 1887–1964, English poet and critic, Sir Osbert Sitwell, 1892–1969, English author, and
..... Click the link for more information. tended to cultivate their own distinctive voices. Other novelists and playwrights of the 1950s, often called the angry young menangry young men,
term applied to a group of English writers of the 1950s whose heroes share certain rebellious and critical attitudes toward society. This phrase, which was originally taken from the title of Leslie Allen Paul's autobiography, Angry Young Man
..... Click the link for more information. , expressed a deep dissatisfaction with British society, combined with despair that anything could be done about it.
While the postwar era was not a great period of English literature, it produced a variety of excellent critics, including William EmpsonEmpson, William,
1906–84, English critic and poet. His Seven Types of Ambiguity (1930), a study of the meanings of poetry, is a classic of modern literary criticism.
..... Click the link for more information. , Frank KermodeKermode, Sir Frank
, 1919–2010, English critic, b. Douglas, Isle of Man. Educated at Liverpool Univ. (grad. 1940) and a lieutenant in the Royal Navy during World War II, Kermode was one of the most distinguished critics of his generation.
..... Click the link for more information. , and F. R. LeavisLeavis, F. R.
(Frank Raymond Leavis) , 1895–1978, English critic and teacher. Leavis was one of the most influential literary critics of the 20th cent. A formidable controversialist, he combined close textual analysis with a commitment to moral seriousness and provided a
..... Click the link for more information. . The period was also marked by a number of highly individual novelists, including Kingsley AmisAmis, Sir Kingsley
, 1922–95, English novelist. He attended St. John's College, Oxford (B.A., 1949) and for some 20 years taught at Oxford, Swansea, and Cambridge and in the United States before he could afford to become a full-time writer.
..... Click the link for more information. , Anthony BurgessBurgess, Anthony
, 1917–93, English novelist, b. Manchester as John Anthony Burgess Wilson, grad. Manchester Univ., 1940. He taught school in England and in East Asia and pursued an early interest in music. His novels are marked by a surreal, darkly comic imagination.
..... Click the link for more information. , William GoldingGolding, William
(Sir William Gerald Golding), 1911–93, English novelist, grad. Oxford (B.A. 1934). Praised for his highly imaginative and original writings, Golding was basically concerned with the realm of ideas, the eternal nature of humanity, and the immaterial,
..... Click the link for more information. , Doris LessingLessing, Doris,
1919–2013, British novelist, b. Kermanshah, Persia (now Iran) as Doris May Tayler. Largely self-educated, she was brought up on a farm in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), and in 1949 moved to England, where her first novel, The Grass Is Singing
..... Click the link for more information. , Iris MurdochMurdoch, Dame Iris
(Dame Jean Iris Murdoch) , 1919–99, British novelist and philosopher, b. Dublin, Ireland, grad. Oxford (1942). In 1948 she was named lecturer in philosophy at Oxford, and in 1963 she was made an honorary fellow of St. Anne's College, Oxford.
..... Click the link for more information. , and Muriel SparkSpark, Dame Muriel,
1918–2006, Scottish novelist, b. Muriel Sarah Camberg. She lived in Edinburgh, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), London, New York, and Rome, and spent her last years in Tuscany.
..... Click the link for more information. . Anthony PowellPowell, Anthony
, 1905–2000, English novelist, grad. Eton and Baillol College, Oxford. A distinguished writer of social comedy, he is best known for his 12-volume novel sequence collectively entitled A Dance to the Music of Time,
..... Click the link for more information. and Richard HughesHughes, Richard,
1900–1976, English novelist. After graduating from Oxford in 1922, he helped found the Portmadoc Players and was for a time vice president of the Welsh National Theatre. In addition, he wrote several plays, notably The Sisters' Tragedy (1922).
..... Click the link for more information. continued to work in the expansive 19th-century tradition, producing a series of realistic novels chronicling life in England during the 20th cent.
Some of the most exciting work of the period came in the theater, notably the plays of John OsborneOsborne, John
(John James Osborne), 1929–94, English dramatist. He began his theatrical career as an actor and playwright in provincial English repertory theaters.
..... Click the link for more information. , Harold PinterPinter, Harold,
1930–2008, English dramatist. Born in Hackney in London's East End, the son of an English tailor of Eastern European Jewish ancestry, he studied at London's Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and Central School of Speech and Drama.
..... Click the link for more information. , Tom StoppardStoppard, Tom,
1937–, English playwright, b. Zlín, Czechoslovakia (now in the Czech Republic), as Tomas Straussler. During his childhood he and his family moved to Singapore, later (1946) settling in Bristol, England, where he became a journalist.
..... Click the link for more information. , David StoreyStorey, David
(David Malcolm Storey), 1933–, English novelist and playwright, b. Wakefield, Yorkshire. His first novel, This Sporting Life (1960), was a disguised autobiography about the brutalization of a man who has no choice other than to play Rugby league
..... Click the link for more information. , and Arnold WeskerWesker, Arnold,
1932–, English playwright, b. London. At various times he has been a carpenter's mate, a seed sorter, and a pastry cook. His plays Chicken Soup with Barley (1958), Roots (1958), and I'm Talking about Jerusalem
..... Click the link for more information. . Among the best postwar British authors were the Welsh poet Dylan ThomasThomas, Dylan
, 1914–53, Welsh poet, b. Swansea. An extraordinarily individualistic writer, Thomas is ranked among the great 20th-century poets. He grew up in Swansea, the son of a teacher, but left school at 17 to become a journalist and moved to London two years later.
..... Click the link for more information. and the Irish expatriate novelist and playwright Samuel BeckettBeckett, Samuel
, 1906–89, Anglo-French playwright and novelist, b. Dublin. Beckett studied and taught in Paris before settling there permanently in 1937. He wrote primarily in French, frequently translating his works into English himself.
..... Click the link for more information. . Thomas's lyricism and rich imagery reaffirmed the romantic spirit, and he was eventually appreciated for his technical mastery as well. Beckett, who wrote many of his works in French and translated them into English, is considered the greatest exponent of the theater of the absurd. His uncompromisingly bleak, difficult plays (and novels) depict the lonely, alienated human condition with compassion and humor.
Other outstanding contemporary poets include Hugh MacDiarmidMacDiarmid, Hugh
, pseud. of Christopher Murray Grieve,
1892–1978, Scottish poet and critic, b. Langholm, Dumfrieshire. Passionately devoted to Communism and to Scottish independence from England, he was a founder of the Scottish Nationalist Party in 1928.
..... Click the link for more information. , the leading figure of the Scottish literary renaissance; Ted HughesHughes, Ted
(Edward James Hughes), 1930–98, English poet, b. Mytholmyroyd, Yorkshire, studied Cambridge. Hughes's best poetry focuses on the unsentimental within nature.
..... Click the link for more information. , whose harsh, postapocalyptic poetry celebrates simple survival, and Seamus HeaneyHeaney, Seamus
(Seamus Justin Heaney) , 1939–2013, Irish poet, one of the finest contemporary English poets, b. Londonderry (now Derry), Northern Ireland, grad. Queen's Univ., Belfast (B.A., 1961).
..... Click the link for more information. , an Irish poet who is hailed for his exquisite style. Novelists generally have found as little in the Thatcher and Major eras as in the previous period to inspire them, but the work of Margaret DrabbleDrabble, Margaret,
1939–, English novelist, b. Sheffield, Yorkshire; sister of A. S. Byatt. Drabble's rigorous and unsentimentally realistic vision of an England split between traditional values and contemporary desires is apparent in such works as The Millstone
..... Click the link for more information. , John FowlesFowles, John,
1926–2005, English writer, b. Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, grad. Oxford, 1950. A complex, cerebral writer and a superb storyteller, Fowles was interested in manipulating the novel as a genre.
..... Click the link for more information. , David LodgeLodge, David
(David John Lodge), 1935–, English novelist and critic, b. London, grad. University College, London (B.A. 1955, M.A. 1959) and the Univ. of Birmingham (Ph.D., 1967). Lodge taught at the Univ.
..... Click the link for more information. stands out, and the Scottish writer James Kelman stands out.
See A. Fowler, A History of English Literature (1987); The New Cambridge Bibliography of English Literature, ed. by G. Watson (4 vol., 1969–72); The Penguin Companion to English Literature, ed. by D. Daiches (1972); The Oxford Companion to English Literature, ed. by M. Drabble (1985); The Oxford Anthology of English Literature, ed. by F. Kermode and J. Hollander (2 vol., 1973); St. Martin's Anthologies of English Literature, ed. by M. Alexander et al. (5 vol., 1991); The Oxford English Literary History, vol. 2 by J. Simpson, 1350–1547, Reform and Cultural Revolution (2002), vol. 8 by P. Davis, 1830–1880, the Victorians (2002).