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English Literature: Brief Introduction


English literature has been marked out as insular for a long time. Some scholars have been arguing that no single novel completed by English authors attains the universality of “War and Peace” by Leo Tolstoy or “Madame Bovary” by Gustave Flaubert. It should be noted that during the Middle Ages, Old English literature of the conquered Saxons was dominated by the Anglo-Norman and Latin writings, which were foreign in origin. In the majority of cases, Norman invaders and churchmen expressed their views and ideas in these literary works. Such a combination gave birth to a subtle and flexible linguistic instrument utilized by one of the best-known English literature authors – Geoffrey Chaucer – and later enhanced by William Shakespeare. It is worth stressing that during the Renaissance epoch, the renewed attention towards Classical learning and its values had a significant influence not only on English literature but also on other arts. The points of view of Augustan literary tradition were evident in the 18th century. A revamped reverence for Classical antiquity was observed in the 19th century, which significantly shaped the literature of the British Isles. So, it can be stated that the main literary impacts originated from the foreign source, specifically the lands of the Mediterranean basin.

Later, the Decadents of the 19th century and then the Modernists of the 20th century were inspired by continental European representatives and different movements. In the late 20th century, the novel approach referred to as structuralism, which came from France and Germany, encouraged the study and examination of English literature. The additional remarkable impact was predetermined by deconstructionist analysis introduced by Jacques Derrida, a French philosopher.

Further, the historical imperial activities that the British Empire committed in different parts of the world continued inspiring the themes of English literature. Eventually, English literature has been spread throughout various lands, not only the English-speaking states, but also all other countries where English is applied as a second language.

In general, it’s wrong to state that English literature is insular. It’s just separated from diverse continental European traditions across the La Manche Channel. It is dominating in all the conventional and popular categories of the lists of booksellers: Shakespeare is known all over the world as an amazing dramatist; English poetry, particularly of such authors as Lord Byron, John Keats, and Percy Shelley, has been translated assiduously across continents; people don’t stop admiring its eloquence and richness of figurative language. Humor in English literature has been considered difficult or even sometimes impossible for foreigners to comprehend. A remarkable heritage of travel sea writings proves that English insularity is just a myth; historical, biographical, and autobiographical opuses brilliantly reflect the spirit of Englishness; and though children’s literature, essays, journals, and fantasy are regarded as minor literary genres, they all embody the exceptional achievements of English literature. Even philosophical writings are of great literary value; profound ideas of such English thinkers and philosophers as John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, David Hume, Bertrand Russell and John Stuart Mill are also combined with the linguistic grace, which easily surpasses French and Greek academics.

Each expert working at frequently did a meticulous research on William Shakespeare when completing the assignments of literature department students. Indeed, he is one of the most sophisticated major authors in the history of English literature. But are you acquainted with other outstanding English writers? Could you name just a few best English authors on the spot? Experiencing difficulties? So, in order to help you, we would like to introduce some fascinating representatives of English literature. We have chosen different writers from different epochs in order to present the most popular genres of literature.

Jane Austen (1775 – 1817)

If you search for the website devoted to Jane Austen, you will come across the statement that Jane Austen is regarded as one of the best-loved and known writers of many famous visitors and residents of Bath. Many people not only in the UK but also in other parts of the world consider Jane Austen one the greatest and most fascinating English novelists, as well as one of the most outstanding English women of all the epochs. “Pride and Prejudice”, “Emma”, and “Sense and Sensibility” are considered Austen’s masterpieces.

William Blake (1757-1827)

During his life, William Blake was not highly admired either as a skilled poet or an exceptional painter by his contemporaries. It should be noted that William Blake has been recognized as a significant English artist and author only after his death. Why was Blake disregarded? As it always happens to one-of-a-kind authors, he was much ahead of the time he lived in, so his points of view and his unique poetic style couldn’t be properly comprehended and evaluated. The majority of his contemporaries considered him crazy because of his behavior and unusual embodiment of his ideas. Besides his revolutionary spiritual ideas, Blake was deemed eccentric as he tried to promote the concept of free love, which was unacceptable for his time.

Geoffrey Chaucer (1343-1400)

Geoffrey Chaucer is considered one of the greatest poets of all times. His masterpieces have, for many centuries, been adapted for different performances on theatrical stages. The features of original characters observed and described by Chaucer many centuries ago can easily be found in people living today. While epochs change, human beings stay the same. His famous works are “The House of Fame”, “Troilus and Criseyde”, “The Legend of Good Women”, and” The Book of the Duchess”. Of course, we won’t forget “The Canterbury Tales”. It’s amusing to discuss it during your classes.

Charles Dickens (1812-1870)

Charles Dickens was an extraordinary and exceptional man. Many people are pretty aware of his literary talent and numerous masterpieces, but the writer did not limit himself to literature only as he was also a social critic. Dickens is the creator of such classic novels as “Oliver Twist”, “Great Expectations”, “David Copperfield”, “Bleak House”, “A Tale of Two Cities”, and many others. By the way, do you know that his novella “A Christmas Carol” is one of the most beloved books read at Christmas Eve in the whole world?

John Donne (1572-1631)

This knight of the pen is widely recognized as one of the most outstanding and original authors who ever lived. He is both a gifted poet and a skilled writer. His life was like a bright adventure full of different colors and shades, and his masterpieces embody splendid feats of the English language. John Donne is regarded as the founder of the ‘Metaphysical Poetry.’

George Eliot (1819-1880)

George Eliot was the pseudonym of Mary Ann Evans. She created some of the most significant classic masterpieces of the Victorian era, such as “Adam Bede”, “The Mill on the Floss”, “Romola”, “Silas Marner”, “Daniel Deronda”, “Felix Holt”, and, of course, “Middlemarch”. The contribution that Eliot did to the development of English culture and literature is significant and undeniable. Her novels were considered essentially political and outstanding. If you have some spare time, read “Middlemarch”. This masterpiece is worth your attention!

John Milton (1608-1674)

The English language is always referred to as ‘the language of Milton and Shakespeare.’ The poetry of Milton has been considered the ideal of the poetic expression and creativity in the English language for a few centuries. Milton’s masterpiece “Paradise Lost” reached heights in the history of English poetry tradition. His ideas and views on heaven, paradise, and hell, Adam and Eve, God and Satan, the good and the evil have been influencing many generations.

George Orwell (1903-1950)

George Orwell was the pseudonym of Eric Blair, the 20th-century author who became famous for his dystopian fiction and his profound views related to social injustice. Besides writing books, satirizing totalitarian societies and their detrimental global influence, he was fond of journalism and literary criticism. The reading public usually discusses his main literary achievements – a dystopian novel “Nineteen Eighty-Four” and an allegorical novella “Animal Farm”. These two books are considered one of the most fascinating and influential masterpieces of modern literature of the 20th century. However, his social commentary and essays on literature, politics, and culture, as well as his personal contemplations of the Spanish Civil War embodied in a non-fiction work “Homage to Catalonia” are no less important and life-changing, especially for the Digital Age we live in.

Harold Pinter (1930-2008)

It is worth stressing that Harold Pinter was the winner of 2005 Nobel Prize in Literature. Pinter predominantly worked as playwright and director, writing various screenplays for films and television shows. He is stated to be one of the most influential English playwrights of the 20th century. Like Charles Dickens or George Orwell, Pinter was not only one of the leading writers of his time, but also a talented political campaigner.

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There are many other outstanding English poets and writers who also deserve to be included in the above list as they significantly contributed to the establishment, development, and prosperity of not only English literature but also world literature. Such authors as James Joyce, Jonathan Swift, William Butler Yeats, Oscar Wilde, Walter Scott and many others are just few who are worth mentioning.

The United Kingdom has been culturally rich for ages. No wonder its literary tradition has become dominant in the world. It is evident and proven that British literature has its own styles, unique characteristics, and traditions, which make it stand out from creative legacies of other countries.

We hope that the above-presented piece of information about English literature and its famous representatives will help you form your opinion on the British creative heritage and develop exquisite bibliophilic tastes. One more piece of advice – find some time and read at least one of the books by the mentioned authors. We guarantee that you will never regret spending your precious time on reading!

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