A brief history of English literature
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Introduction Literary forms Old English, Middle English and Chaucer Tudor lyric poetry Renaissance drama Metaphysical poetry Epic poetry Restoration comedy Prose fiction and the novel
Romanticism Victorian poetry The Victorian novel Modern literature Writers outside mainstream movements Literature and culture Recent and future trends Evaluating literature Add to this page
This study guide is intended for GCE Advanced and Advanced
Supplementary (A2 and AS) level students in the UK, who are taking exams
or modules in English literature. It should be most useful right at the start of
the course, or later as a resource for exercises in revision, and to help you
reflect on value judgements in literary criticism. It may also be suitable for
university students and the general reader who is interested in the history of
literature. This guide reflects a view of literature which is sometimes
described as canonical, and sometimes as a Dead White European Male view.
That is, I have not especially sought to express my own value judgements but
to reflect those which are commonly found in printed guides by judges whose
views command more respect than mine.
I hope that students who visit this page will take issue with the summary
comments here, or discuss them with their peers. But young readers will not
thank teachers for leaving them in the dark about established critical opinion
or the canon of English literature. (If you doubt that there is a canon, look at
the degree course structure for English literature in a selection of our most
prestigious universities.) Students who recognize that they have little or no
sense of English literary culture have often asked me to suggest texts for them
to study - this guide may help them in this process. This is NOT a tutorial, in
the sense of a close reading of any text. And it is not very interesting to read
from start to finish. I hope, rather, that it will be used as a point of reference or
way in to literature for beginners. You will soon see if it is not for you.
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And while I have made a selection from the many authors who deserve study,
I have throughout presented them in a chronogical sequence. At the end I
consider briefly questions of genre and literary value. I have not attempted to
record the achivements of writers in other languages, though these include
some of the greatest and most influential writers of all time, such as Dante
Alighieri, Leo Tolstoy, Franz Kafka and Bertolt Brecht. Happily, examiners of
Advanced level literature have allowed students, in recent years, to study
these foreign authors, in translation, in independent extended literary studies.
Please use the hyperlinks in the table above to navigate this page. If you have
any comments or suggestions to make about this page, please e-mail me by
clicking on this link.