THE ANGLO-SAXON PERIOD
Although the Anglo-Saxon were converted to Christianity, the theme of their heroic poem The Song of Beowulf deals with the strong and courageous pagan hero Beowulf. It was composed after 700 A.D. and is preserved in the well-known Cotton Manuscript. The King of Wessex Alfred the Great (849-901) was as well a writer. He wanted to educate his people and so translated the Ecclesiastical History of England written in Latin by Venerable Bede.
THE PERIOD AFTER
A rapid development of the English language ( Middle English) began in the middle of 14. Century and was encouraged by feelings of nationalism connected with the Hundred Years` War.
The conception of King Arthur as a knightly Christian hero of the Celts first appeared in the History of the Kings of Britain by Geoffrey of Monmouth (1100-1154).
LITERATURE IN THE 14TH AND 15TH CENTURIES
The historical background is formed by the continual wars with France. The unrest that followed in England led to the outbreak of civil war 1455. It was a dynastic struggle between the House of York and House of Lancaster. All over Europe in the 14th century the practices of the Roman Catholic Church faced strong criticism. The leading figure in England was John Wycliffe (1320-1384). He translated the whole Bible into English.
Geoffrey Chaucer (1345-1400) had the Renaissance way of thinking. He was a poet, diplomat, a soldier and scholar. His literary mastery culminated in his most appreciated work The Canterbury Tales. Chaucer’s realism influenced future developments in English literature, with the increasing interest in depicting individual characters.
RENAISSANCE AND HUMANIST
Prose: The Tudor period in England (1585-1603) was distinguished by a flowering of arts and literature. The literature should both “teach and delight” as Sir Philip Sidney proclaimed in his Defense of Poesie, the first book of literary criticism in Engl. literature.
Poetry: Lyric poetry in the 16th century in England was at first strongly influenced by Italian poets, in particular by Francesco Petrarch.
Drama: William Shakespeare (1564-1616) was born in Stratford-upon-Avon. He wrote 37 plays at all.
Categories: comedies - The Merry Wives Of Windsor
Much Ado About Nothing
As You Like It
What You Will
tragedies - Macbeth
historical plays - Henry VI
romances- Cymbeline, King of Britain, The Winter’s Tale,The Tempest
Ben Jonson (1572-1637) is known for his brilliant comedies Volpone or the Fox, The Alchemist and Bartolomew Fayre
The civil war ended the greatest period in the history of English drama. LITERATURE IN THE 17TH CENTURY
1. Puritanism in English Literature - John Milton (1608-1674) participated actively in the struggle for the victory of Puritanism. To Parliament he addressed one of his famous works, Areopagitica, a speech defending the necessity of an uncensored press. His masterpiece Paradise Lost. The main hero in this complicated epic Adam, representing humanity as whole in a general sense. 2. Poetry- Metaphysical Poets: John Donne (1572-1631) was rediscovered and widely read in modern times.
LITERATURE IN THE 18TH CENTURY
It is the century of the Enlightenment, the “Age of Reason”. All branches of science were developed, and this resulted in great technical progress.
The Rise of the Novel: The first novels were published in series to test their popularity among the readers and then they were published as books.
Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) was a sharp and embittered satirist and critic of English society. His most popular work is Gulliver’s Travels a fictional book of travel.
Daniel Defoe (1660-1731) published in 1719 Robinson Crusoe, which is still one of the most popular books, especially among children. LITERATURE IN THE 19TH CENTURY - ROMANTICISM AND REALISM
It can be characterized by rapid economic development in Britain. The Queen Victoria came to the throne. In is the “Victorian Age”. But Victorian England is also remembered for growing social discrepancies in towns. These change and social tensions are later reflected in the realistic prose.
Romanticism - George Gordon, lord Byron (1788-1824) became famous overnight after publishing two cantos of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage in 1812 and was lionized in London society. Byron’s works are concerned with the freedom of individuals as well as nations. The Prisoner of Chillon (1816) was inspired by the imprisonment of Bonnivard, who revolted, along with other patriots in Geneva, against the Duke of Savoy in the 15th century in order to establish a free republic.
Prose- Mary Shelley (1797-1851) wrote Frankenstein or the Modern Prometheus. It tells the story of a genuine inventor, suffering from isolation and misunderstanding.
Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832) is considered the first English great author of historical novels. He showed interest in folk ballads. His best known romantic poem is The Lady of the Lake(1810).
For his novels, he took themes from Scottish history ( Jacobitism period) - Waverly, Rob Roy, The Heart of Midlothian.
Jane Austin (1775-1817) depicts the quiet everyday life of relatively rich and prosperous people, mostly from country gentry. Her novel Pride and Prejudice (1813) is especially popular for its humorous and detailed depiction of typical characters.
Realism and Naturalism in the English Novel:
Brontë sisters protest against everything that is inhuman and cruel. They stand up for the right of everyone to love and to have a respectable position in society.
Emily (1818-1848) in her only novel Wuthering Heights (1847)succeeded in creating a passionate world full of mystery and dark, stormy scenes that match the gloomy atmosphere of the Yorkshire moors.
Charlotte (1816-1855) wrote the realistic novel Jane Eyre (1847) is based on her own experiences as a governess. She defends the right of an intelligent woman to respectable occupation.
Charles Dickens (1812-1870) is one of the best narrators of his period well as one of the most versatile and amusing masters in creating authentic characters. He feels sympathy and understanding for the weak and poor, represented by innocent children. Oliver Twist (1837-38) is the life-story of a poor orphan. In David Copperfield (1850) he attacks the poor educational system in England. Dickens is known as an author of many short stories, the best A Christmas Carol in Prose(1843).
Oscar Wilde (1856-1900) wrote under the French influence The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891). His essay De Profundis consist of autobiographical notes from prison, with growing interest in serious problems of human existence. He wrote several comedies with witty dialogues: Lady Windermere’s Fan, An Ideal Husband full of shrewd observations of people’s behavior and manners.
Lewis Carroll (1832-98) wrote two books for children: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking-Glass (1872)
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930) is called the father of English detective story. He wrote novels and stories about a genuine detective Sherlock Holmes.
Drama: George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) wrote his best known play Pygmalion in year 1912. It is the story of a poor flower girl who rises in society thanks intelligence and ambition. LITERATURE IN THE 20TH CENTURY
After participation in World War I., the position of the British Empire was strengthened. The Reform Act of 1918 gave the voting right to women over the age of thirty, in 1928 the voting age was reduced to twenty-one. After World War II Britain lost the colonies. The USA strengthened its position as an economic and financial power in the post-war world.
The Education Act of 1944 opened the former conservative universities and cultural institutions to people from lower social levels. These social, political and cultural changes were undoubtedly reflected in British literature.
PROSE IN THE FIRST HALF- TRADITION AND MODERNISM
Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936) represents the “literature of deed”, with his belief in man’s activity and optimistic views of the future. His The Jungle book (1894) and The second Jungle Book (1895) are widely popular as children’s reading.
John Galsworthy (1867-1933) wrote a wide range of realistic novels showing his critical attitudes towards the English upper middle-class. He wrote The Forsyte Saga (1906), popular series of novels about the Forsytes, an upper middle-class family. He analyses the egoism based on property that is corrupting his characters.
Arnold Bennet ( 1867-1931) was one of the most popular authors between the world wars. His best is The Old Wives` Tale (1908) about the development, ambitions and lost illusions of two sisters. It ends in a pessimistic way.
Herbert George Wells (1866-1946) is considered the father of the genre of science-fiction novel in English. In his books he invented a new form of scientific romance. His famous are The Time Machine (1895), which took the reader into the past and future, The War of the Worlds (1898) and The First Men in the Moon (1901) to distant planets, Invisible Man (1897) and A Modern Utopia (1905), a romance in which he describes a reasonable and honest society.
MODERNISM is represented by a wide range of streams and tendencies, reveals an escape from established literary traditions and conventions. At the beginning, modernist novelists turned their attention to new realities of the individual’s conscious and subconscious mind. In the second decade, the ideas of the great psychologist Sigmund Freaud began to influence the novelists.
James Joyce (1882-1941) is a Irish writer. The world of Dublin is his only subject. He felt disgusted by the narrow life of the middle-class Dubliners, full of sentimental hypocrisy. In a collection of short stories, Dubliners, he shows typical signs of the lives of Dubliners. The most autobiographical was A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916) a story of Stephen Dedalus, the portrait follows his development from childhood till the moment, when he realizes that he will be a writer. The novel Ulysses (1914-21) shows Joyce’s Ulysses, Leopold Bloom, wandering around Dublin in the course of one day. All the characters and events correspond to the characters and events of the ancient Greek myth.
His final work with fictional form, Finnegans Wake, is a dream sequence with complex multiple levels of symbolism. D.H.Lawrence (1882-1941) saw sexual desires and fantasies as integral parts of consciousness. His first important novel was Sons and Lovers (1913). It is an autobiographical book, it reflects his own close relationship with his mother and his alienation from his father. After this, he created an intense and heavily symbolic prose. In the novel Lady Chetterley’s Lover (1928) became Lawrence notorious and the book was banned till 1959.
George Orwell (1903-1950) was an important prosaist, essayist and journalist. His famous books are the political allegories of Stalinism, Animal Farm(1945) and the anti-utopian Nineteen-Eighty -Four (1949), in which he describes England under a dictatorship of mechanized bureaucracy. Animal Farm is a modern fable. Orwell satirizes the events of the Russian revolution and the subsequent rise to power of the communist dictatorship. His revolutionary doctrine “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others” is known all over the world.
Archibald Joseph Cronin (1896-1983) wrote novels and short stories in the tradition of English critical realism. The Citadel (1934), a novel about the life of an ambitious doctor in a coal-mining area in Scotland.
Agatha Christie (1891-1976) called “The Queen of the Detective Story” wrote excellent detective stories. She wrote the famous detective play The Mousetrap(1952) and it is still running today. POETRY IN THE FIRST HALF OF THE 20TH CENTURY
In the beginning so called “Georgian Poets” dominated the English literary scene. Such as A.E. Housman, W.H. Davies, J. Masefield, W. Owen or R. Graves.
Rupert Brooke (1887-1915) was a naval officer who died in the war. The most famous of his five war sonnets written in 1914, The Soldier, seemed to express the whole nation’s determination and patriotic idealism in the war.
Dylan Thomas (1914-1953) was the greatest poet of the forties. He devoted his entire life to poetry. Thomas wrote about one hundred poems, published in Eighteen Poems (1934), Twenty-five poems (1936), Death and Entrances(1946) and Collected Poems (1952). He also wrote essays and short stories. In 1953 he wrote a film script The Doctor and the Devil.
PROSE AFTER WORLD WAR II
The social and cultural conditions in English society have radically changed after the war. In the 1950s, the generation of young authors appeared on the English literary scene. These writers were later labeled “Angry Young Men”.
They wanted to present contemporary life and a new type of hero. This “anti-hero” belonged to the generation of disillusioned and discontented young intellectuals, usually of working-class origin, who were strongly opposed to the establishment.
John Wain (1925) became popular with his first novel Hurry on Down (1953) a mock-picaresque story about a typical young man of his generation. Charles Lumley feels rootless and on his way down through various jobs, he is making fun of any established social designation. One of his best novels, A Winter in the Hills (1970) is placed in Wales. A middle-aged philologist realizes his former selfishness, feels personal and social guilt. John Brain (1922-1986) tries in his first novel Room at the Top (1957) to reveal the forces which regulate the fate of a young man in a class society. His novels end in a resigned compromise.
Graham Greene (1904-1991) is one of the best known modern novelists. He wrote detective stories or thrillers such as The Confidential Agent (1939) and The Ministry of Fear(1943).His serious novels are known The Power and the Glory (1940), The Quiet American (1956) and Monsignor Quixote (1982). The central questions in Greene’s books are usually problems of evil. His characters are complicated anti-heroes, they are both just and unhappy.
Apart from the realistic novels of the 1950s, a growing tendency to fantasy, myth and fable appeared in works of several post-war novelists.
William Golding (1911-1993) writes his novels in the form of moral fables exploring the evil in man beneath the surface of civilization. His first allegorical novel, Lord of the Flies (1954) was inspired by R.M. Ballantyne’s. Most of those shipwrecked boys quickly relapse into savagery. This novel is in fact a decaying fly-blown corpse of parachutist, evoking horror and fear in the boy’s mind. Golding’s picture of human society is pessimistic and hopeless. Other novels are: Pincher Martin (1956), Free Fall (1959), The Spire (1964) and Rites of Passage (1980).
J.R.R. Tolkien (1892-1973) wrote the most widely-read post-war fantasy Lord of the Rings (1954-55). It is an extraordinary combination of adventure story mixed with Nordic and Arthurian legend. His first fantasy novel was The Hobbit (1937). In the 1960s was the “Tolkien cult” very intensive. POSTMODERNISM IN THE MODERN BRITISH PRODE
The term postmodernism is used to refer to changes, developments and tendencies which have taken place in literature, art, music, architecture and philosophy.
It is connected with various experimental techniques. Another aspect is the gradual exploring of the relationship between reality and fiction.
John Fowles (1926) in his novels often reflects tension between reality and fiction and he thinks about the nature of fiction. His novel The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1969) is set in Victorian England in 1867 and its basic plot deals with the love affair between Charles Smithson, a modern Victorian gentleman, and a mysterious Sarah Woodruff, who is supposed to be the mistress of a French Lieutenant. At the end, he even offers to his readers three alternative endings. He was also the author of poems and essays.
Ian McEwan (1948) was promoted as one of the most talented writers after publishing his first book First Love, Last Rites (1975). He presents various types of sexual perversions. The Innocent (1990) is a kind of spy-novel with horror elements. He also published the collection of short stories Between the Sheets (1975).
POETRY AFTER WORLD WAR II
Another circle of young Cambridge poets called “The Group” appeared around the magazine Delta as the reaction to “The Movement” in late fifties. It was later called “Poetry Workshop”. The most original were Ted Hughes, Peter Redgrove, Peter Porter and Alan Brownjohn. The term “Underground Poets” was applied to a number of British poets active from the late 1950s to the 1970s. They were anti-war, non-traditional and experimental. “Liverpool Poets” was a group of poets native to the city of Liverpool. Their recitals were witty, they used slang and robust images.
Seamus Heaney (1939) was confronted with the Irish political situation and Ulster Roman Catholicism. His later collections Wintering Out (1972), North (1975) and Field Work are aimed at the themes of Irish mythology, the past and the present. Field Work offers an elegiac meditation on the crisis in Ulster and its consequences. His work is considered the best poetic achievement not only in Ulster but also in British poetry of the last decades. DEVELOPMENT OF ENGLISH DRAMA
The first decades of the twentieth century are not very influential in the English drama. The commercial theatres offered plays that followed conventional plots.
T.S.Eliot wanted to revive poetic drama in which the poetic vision affected radically the whole structure of the play.
HE wrote a couple of plays - Murder in the Cathedral (1935) a historical play in verse about T.Beckett, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the philosophical comedies The Family Reunion (1939) and The Coctail Party (1950).
The beginning of the twentieth century brought the culmination of the Irish National Renaissance, the movement of reestablishing Irish national culture and language. The Abbey Theatre was opened.
John Millington Synge (1871-1909) represented Irish contemporary heroes, ordinary country people. He wrote comedies - The Shadow of the Glen (1903) and a one-act drama Riders to the Sea (1904).
Sean O`Casey (1880-1964) is the representing the younger generation of Irish dramatists. His plays mix tragedy and comedy. His characters are mainly tragic women-characters-Irish urban or peasant women caught in a political struggle they are not responsible for. Plays: The Shadow of a Gunman (1923) and The Plough and the Stars (1926).
John Osborne (1929-1994) wrote the play Look Back in Anger, staged by English Stage Company. He was one of the group known as “Angry Young Men”. This play deals with the alienation of a young man from the social conventions of middle-class society. Jimmy Porter became a prototype of a man who is in permanent opposition to everything which represents the old hypocritical establishment. Others are The Entertainer (1957), Luther (1961). Samuel Beckett (1906-1989) was the main representative of “The Theatre of the Absurd”. His first novel was experimental Murphy (1938), then Malone Dies (1951) and The Unnameable (1953). His most famous play was Waiting for Godot (1952). This made him famous as a witty and powerful playwright. He influenced a younger generation of English dramatists such as Harold Pinter and Tom Stoppard.
Joe Orton (1933-1967) wrote “sick comedies” with intricate, subtle plots. He displays very sick jokes, paradoxical situations and open demonstrations of sexuality. His first play was Entertaining Mr. Sloane (1964), brother and sister come to an agreement to take turns in sleeping with the young man who has just murdered their father. The others were Loot (1965) and What the Butler Saw (1969).
In the late 1960s many small alternative theatres, “The Fringe” appeared. They offered a more experimental approach to theatre. The growth of the radio and the television play has made drama financially attractive to many writers. Even many famous dramatists write successful plays for radio and television.