A History of British Literature

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THE PERIODS OF BRITISH
LITERATURE
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Old English
Middle English
The Renaissance
Neoclassical Period
(Enlightenment/Age of Reason)
Romantics
Victorian Era
Edwardian Period
Modernism
Postmodernism and Contemporary
OLD ENGLISH 680-1066
 Around 450, Germanic tribes-Angles, Saxons, and Jutes-began the invasion of Britain..
 By 600, Anglo-Saxons conquer
the Britons
• language becomes more
Germanic and is unrecognizable
as modern English
 Beowulf (please see next slide) is an
example of this language
OLD ENGLISH TEXT
Hwæt. We Gardena in geardagum,
LO, praise of the prowess of people-kings
þeodcyninga, þrym gefrunon,
of spear-armed Danes, in days long sped,
hu ða æþelingas ellen fremedon.
we have heard, and what honor the athelings
won!
Oft Scyld Scefing sceaþena/ þreatum,
Oft Scyld the Scefing from squadroned foes,
MIDDLE ENGLISH 10661500
 Language – The MOST significant shift in
language occurs at this time. Language
shifts from unrecognizable, to
decipherable (see next slide).
 Works frequently of a religious content
 Written for performance at court or for
festivals
 Literature often contains a long
composition describing the life and
adventures of a noble hero
 Theme – loyalty to king and his lord
• Arthurian Legend: King Arthur and his
Knights of the Round Table
• Geoffrey Chaucer: The Canterbury Tales
MIDDLE ENGLISH TEXT
Wan that
Aprille with
his sure-es
so-tut
The drewgt
of march
hath pearsaid to the
row-tuh
When
April with
his showers sweet
with fruit
The drought
of March
has pierced
into the
root
THE RENAISSANCE (15001660)
 “Renaissance” means “Rebirth”-Rebirth of interest in the Greek and
Latin classics
 This is one of the greatest times of
expansion for Britain.
 Focus on the individual
 Cultivation of human potential
through proper education; focus on
individual consciousness and the
Interior mind
 Concern with the refinement of the
language and the development of a
national, vernacular literature
THE RENAISSANCE
 Noted authors during this time were
Christopher Marlowe and William
Shakespeare
 Marlowe:
 The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus
 Shakespeare
• Romeo and Juliet
• Hamlet
• A Midsummer Night’s Dream
NEO-CLASSICS AND
ENLIGHTENMENT 1660-1785
 Reaction to the expansiveness of the
Renaissance in the direction of order
and restraint.
 Emphasized classical ideals of
rationality and control (human
nature is constant through time).
 Art should reflect the universal
commonality of human nature. (“All
men are created equal.”)
 Reason is emphasized as the highest
faculty (Deism).
NEOCLASSIC NOTED AUTHORS
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John Locke
John Milton (Paradise Lost)
Alexander Pope (Essay on Man)
Jonathon Swift (Gulliver’s Travels)
Henry Fielding (Tom Jones)
Daniel Defoe (Robinson Crusoe)
Jane Austen (Sense and Sensibility, Emma,
Pride and Prejudice)
ROMANTIC PERIOD
(1785-1830)
 Poetry is the common form of
writing.
 Reaction against the scientific
rationality of Neoclassicism and
the Industrial Revolution.
 Emphasized individuality,
intuition, imagination, idealism,
nature (as opposed to society &
social order).
 Elevation of the common man.
 Mystery and the supernatural
ROMANTIC NOTED AUTHORS
 Robert Burns (“To a Mouse”)
 William Blake (Songs of Innocence, Songs
of Experience)
 William Wordsworth (Lyrical Ballads)
 Samuel Taylor Coleridge (“Kubla Kahn”)
 Lord Byron (“Don Juan”)
 Percy Bysshe Shelley (“Ozymandias”)
 John Keats (“Ode on a Grecian Urn”)
VICTORIAN ERA
(1830-1901)
 Named for the reign of Queen
Victoria, Britain’s longest reigning
monarch.
 Britain is at the height of its power
during this era. This is as a result
of Imperialism (acquisition of as
much foreign territory as possible
– often through force or coercion).
 British society extremely class
conscious.
 Generally emphasized realistic
portrayals of common people,
sometimes to promote social
change.
LITERATURE AND THE VICTORIANS
 The novel is the dominant form of
literature during this time period.
 Victorian literature was notable for the
creation of atypical heroes. This was a
response to Imperialism and fear about
the following:
•
•
•
•
change
instability
fluctuation of beliefs
assimilation
VICTORIANS, CONT.
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Charles Dickens (Great Expectations)
Thomas Hardy (Tess of the D’Ubervilles)
Rudyard Kipling (Jungle Book)
Lewis Carroll (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland)
Charlotte Brontë (Jane Eyre)
Emily Brontë (Wuthering Heights)
Alfred, Lord Tennyson (In Memoriam)
Robert Browning (“My Last Duchess”)
Oscar Wilde (The Importance of Being Earnest)
EDWARDIAN PERIOD 1901-1914
 Named for King Edward.
 Some see as a continuation of Victorian
Period; however, the status quo is
increasingly threatened.
 Distinction between literature and
popular fiction.
 Joseph Conrad (Lord Jim, Heart of
Darkness), H.G. Wells (War of the
Worlds), E.M. Forster (A Room with a
View, A Passage to India), George Bernard
Shaw (Major Barbara)
MODERN (1914-1945)
 Reaction against the values which led to
WWI.
 If previous values are invalid, art is a
tool to establish new values (Pound:
“Make it new”).
 Writers experiment with form.
 Form and content reflect the confusion
and vicissitudes of modern life.
 Expositions and resolutions are
omitted; themes are implied rather
than stated.
 Dystopian is a common theme – born out of
a fear of totalitarian power post WWI
MODERN PERIOD
Poetry:
 T.S. Eliot (The Waste Land)
 W.B. Yeats (The Wanderings of Oisin
and Other Poems, The Swans at Coole)
Fiction:
 James Joyce (Dubliners)
 D.H. Lawrence (The Rainbow)
 Virginia Woolf (To the Lighthouse).
POST-MODERN PERIOD (1945-?)
 Period begins with the end of World War II
 Influenced by Freud, Sartre, Camus, Derrida,
and Foucault.
 Deconstruction: Text has no inherent
meaning; meaning derives from the tension
between the text’s ambiguities and
contradictions revealed upon close reading.
(Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead)
 Some believe it leads directly to the countercultural revolution of the 1960s.
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