British literature

Timeline:

Old English Literature (500-1000)

Middle English Literature (1100-1485)

The Renaissance (1485-1603)

Restoration Literature (1603-1700)

18th century literature (1700-1780)

Romantic Literature (1780-1832)

Victorian Literature (1832-1901)

Before and during WW1 (1901-1918)

Between the Wars and during WW2 (1918-1945)

Post-World War 2 and Post-Modern Literature (since 1945)

 

Beowulf is the oldest and best-preserved Old English verse. It is an epic poem of over 3000 verses written between the 8th and the 10th  century. Its author is unknown. The story is set in Scandinavia around 500-600 AD. The work glorifies heroism and bravery.

Geoffrey Chaucer (1340-1400) is the best-known poet of the Middle English period. His works are ironic, realistic and humorous, they also contain social criticism.

The Canterbury Tales – an unfinished collection of comic and moral stories. Pilgrims tell stories while travelling to a religious shrine in Canterbury.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616)

He wrote 37 plays (tragedy -R+J; Hamlet; Othello, comedy -Twelfth night; As you like it, historical -Richard the III.;Henry V.)

Daniel Defoe (1660-1731)

Robinson Crusoe (1719) was his first book and it quickly became very popular. It is based on the adventures of a Scottish sailor, Alexander Selkirk, who spent over 4 years on a deserted island.

Lord George Gordon Byron (1788-1824)

His poetry is full intense feelings – love, hatred, anger. He was a fighter for injustice and against oppression. He led an expedition to Greece to fight against Turkish occupation. Byron died of malaria shortly after his 36th birthday.

Childe Harold´s Pilgrimage – the main hero is a bitter, moody and melancholic person, which is typical for Romantic poetry

Don Juan – a satiric poem

Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832) was interested in Scottish history, he began collecting Scottish ballads. His most famous work Ivanhoe (1819) takes place in the medieval age of knights under the reign of King Richard the Lionheart.

Rob Roy (1817) – about a Scottish outlaw (later a folk hero)

 

Mary Shelley (1797-1851) – the author of Frankenstein(1818), one of the best-known Gothic novels

Jane Austen (1775-1817) is usually considered the first great woman novelist. Her novels take place in rural England at the turn of the 19th century, she describes everyday life of the higher middle classes. The main theme in her works is marriage.

Sense and Sensibility (1811)

Pride and Prejudice (1813)

Charles Dickens (1812-1870) found inspiration for his novels in his own life. When his father got into debt, his whole family was put into debtors´ prison and Charles had to work in a shoe-polish factory.

In his works Dickens expresses his criticism of society, injustice, or cruel working conditions.

The Pickwick Papers

Oliver Twist

David Copperfield (1849)

A Christmas Carol

Great Expectations

 

Charlotte Bronte (1816-1855) – her most successful novel, Jane Eyre (1847), is largely autobiographical. It describes the life of a poor and unattractive girl who is brought up by a cruel aunt and sent to a harsh school. Later Jane takes a job as a governess in Mr Rochester´s house. They fall in love but it turns out he already has a wife ….

Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)  was one of the most famous and controversial writers of his time. He liked to shock his audience and his witty sayings are often quoted. As he said: “An idea that is not dangerous is unworthy of being called an idea at all.” He was a member of the Aestheticism art movement, which believed that art is important only when it is beautiful, and his work explored the relationship between truth and beauty.

Wilde used the theme of beauty and decadence in his only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray. It tells a story of a handsome young man who trades his soul with his own painting. As the painting gets older and uglier every day, the man stays young, beautiful but eventually becomes immoral.

However, Wilde wasn’t only famous for novels; he also wrote poetry, plays and fairy tales. His best plays are comedies about manners.

Plays: The Importance of Being Earnest

An Ideal Husband

Fairy tales: The Happy Prince and Other Stories

Poems: The Ballad of Reading Gaoul – Wilde´s homosexual relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas led to the writer´s sentence of two years’ hard labour in prison.  There he saw a man being hanged for the murder of his wife.

 

George Orwell (1903-1950)

Animal Farm (1945) – an animal fable satirizing the revolutionary movement in the former USSR

Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) – a portrait of a totalitarian society. The world is divided among three constantly warring superpowers. Only military and police techniques are developed – science, culture and other aspects of human life are at a standstill. People are divided into three castes. Rebellion against this lifestyle leads to torture, brainwashing,  and finally to the betrayal of one´s own values.

 

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