View Full Version : English Literature Class (1)

22-09-2010, 06:11 PM
Assalam Alaikum

In this post I am briefly giving the background information about English literature. Its the details of different literary periods and some prominent names of that age. As any literature, in English too, the specific historical, social and psychological background helps understanding writings of that time and the timeless value of certain pieces.

The Beginning: Old English Period

"Beowulf" is widely considered as the first mark able literary piece of English Language. The fire marked manuscript present in British Museum is considered about 900 years old. But the language is as old as of 8th or 9th century. This is called Anglo-Saxon or the Old-English Period (450-1050).

Old English was a mixture of different tribal languages like Saxon, Celtic or Norman etc. Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, which was prepared by King Alfred from an older record in the ninth century and other records of tales of folk heroes and the ancient riddles, charms and invocations to earth and sky are good evidences of this. It is almost impossible to understand without special language study background. Here is an example of Invocation to earth and sky:

Hal wes thu, Folde. fira moder!
Hail to thee, Earth, thou mother of men!

Middle English Period

Although too many different dialects and cultures took part in the formation of English, two of them were most distinctive: Anglo Saxon(mainly England) and Norman-French(mainly north France) . Anglo Saxon Literature was about ideals of personal strength, stern heroes cherishing their ideals of honor and profoundness of life and its main sources were biblical stories and pagan legends. Norman-French descriptions on the other hand take life as a happy adventure and fancifully interested in romantic tales and exuberance of youth. Being close to Franco-Latin civilization they brought steaks of nationalism too. This was the beginning of Anglo-Norman or Middle-English Period(1066-1350)

Around Fifteenth Century, poems of Chaucer and printing press of Caxton try to exalt the Midland(England) above all other dialects and established it as the literary Language of England. Today we begin study of English Literature with Chaucer, but many literary types were already established before his time like metrical romance (romantic poetry mainly dealing with religion, chivalry and love) rhyming chronicles, travel stories, translations, plays, fables, satires, ballads. hymns. lyrics and lullabies, religious and devotion book.

Age of Reformation

After early English period, there was a Reformation period. Introduction of printing press and all kind of knowledge flow from different areas of Europe and Asia made it an incubation period for later development of literature. Most popular book of that age is Book of Common Prayers, that left a lasting impression. This era is also marked as dark age of literature, because the influence Pope and church held in those times was affecting every thing including literature.


From the early 16th century to the early 17th century English literature went through a notable change. This was the age of knowledge and flourishing literature and sometimes called the age of Shakespeare or the Elizabethan era. Drama was redeveloped as a literary genre of the time. Being affected by Italian Renaissance and Miracle plays of old English period, it became more expressive, powerful language while giving voice to Political turbulence and violence of that time.

William Shakespeare stands out in this period as a poet and playwright. his greatest plays: Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, Othello, King Lear, Macbeth, Antony and Cleopatra, and The Tempest, are the classics of English literature. Shakespeare also popularized the English sonnet which became a very popular and widely appreciated form of poetry in early 17th century.

Jacobean literature

Dramatist after Shakespeare took on the comedy, sometimes harking back on Old English times. Parody of Upper Class activities and formation of Cliches, death of Knighthood and new social formation were the subject of that time. But this time was affecting poetry very differently.

The paradoxes and contrast were common in this poetry. As spiritual certainties were being shaken and man was not the center of universe anymore, modern discoveries of geography and science were creating fear and anxiety among the pagan believers. This was time of metaphysical poetry. Taking their subject matter both Christian mysticism and eroticism, metaphysical poetry uses unconventional figures to create effects. Another important style was of Baroque poetry. Baroque style was lofty, sweeping, epic, and religious. Many of these poets wrote poetry for the Catholic counter-Reformation in order to establish a feeling of supremacy and mysticism. This was also an attempt to win Protestant groups back toward Catholicism.

Caroline and Cromwellian literature

The turbulent years of the mid-17th century saw a flourishing of political literature in English. Pamphlets written by sympathizers of every faction in the English civil war ran from vicious personal attacks and different forms of propaganda, to high-minded schemes to reform the nation. Of the latter type, Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes would prove to be one of the most important works of British political philosophy. The period also saw a flourishing of news books, initial form of British newspaper, with journalists such as Henry Muddiman, Marchamont Needham, and John Birkenhead representing the views and activities of the contending parties. T

he frequent arrests of authors and the suppression of their works, with the consequence of foreign or underground printing, led to the proposal of a licensing system. The Areopagitica, a political pamphlet by John Milton, was written in opposition to licensing and is regarded as one of the most eloquent defenses of press freedom ever written.

Other forms of literature written during this period are usually ascribed political subtexts, or their authors are grouped along political lines. The cavalier poets, active mainly before the civil war, owed much to the earlier school of metaphysical poets.

Restoration literature

Restoration literature includes both Paradise Lost and the Earl of Rochester's Sodom, The Country Wife Pilgrim's Progress. This era marked the founding of the Royal Society, beginning of the literary criticism from Dryden, and the first newspapers.

most important poetic form of the era was satire. In general, publication of satire was done anonymously. There were great dangers in being associated with a satire. A consequence of this anonymity is that a great many poems, some of them of merit, are unpublished and largely unknown.

Novel and journalism flourished in this age. Even the drama was redeveloped and restructured according to the new social set up with mixed audience from all wakes of life. An existing tradition of Romance fiction in France and Spain was popular in England. The "Romance" was considered a feminine form.

Augustan literature

The term Augustan literature roughly summarize the poets and authors of the period from 1689 - 1750. Literature of that time drawing inspiration from past glory and Gothic culture, reflects a transition from rough and ready literature to highly political and highly polished literature. The literature of the period is overtly political and thoroughly aware of critical dictates for literature. It is an age of exuberance and scandal, of enormous energy and inventiveness and outrage, that reflected an era when English, Scottish, and Irish people found themselves in the midst of an expanding economy, lowering barriers to education, and the stirrings of the Industrial Revolution.

Age of Enlightenment (18th century)

Its called the Age of Sensibility or Enlightenment, and literature of this period reflected the worldview knowledge and reason.Writings marked a rational and scientific approach to religious, social, political, and economic issues that promoted a secular view of the world and a general sense of progress and perfectibility. Led by the philosophers who were inspired by the discoveries of the previous century (Newton) and the writings of Descartes, Locke and Bacon.

They sought to discover and to act upon universally valid principles governing humanity, nature, and society. They variously attacked spiritual and scientific authority, dogmatism, intolerance, censorship, and economic and social restraints. They considered the state the proper and rational instrument of progress. The extreme rationalism and skepticism of the age led naturally to deism; the same qualities played a part in bringing the later reaction of romanticism. The Encyclopédie of Denis Diderot epitomized the spirit of the age.


This age was all about rediscovering the beauty and value of nature and human soul. New inventions of that time created a boom of industrialism with the expansion of the city, and the consequent depopulation of the countryside as a result of the enclosures, or privatization of pastures. Most peasants poured into the city to work in the new factories.

"This abrupt change is revealed by the change of meaning in five key words: industry (once meaning "creativity"), democracy (once disparagingly used as "mob rule"), class (from now also used with a social connotation), art (once just meaning "craft"), culture (once only belonging to farming)."

But the poor condition of workers, the new class-conflicts and the pollution of the environment causes a reaction to urbanization and industrialization prompting poets to tend more and more to nature, abundant in all sort of wisdom, and the only solution to the ugliness caused by machines.

In the first generation, Coleridge's super human reality and Wordsworth's down to earth characters both stirred the imagination and take reader away from urban scenes.

The "Second generation" of Romantic poets includes Lord Byron, Percy B Shelley, Mary Shelley and John Keats. Byron, however, was still influenced by 18th-century satirists.

Victorian literature

It was in the Victorian era (1837–1901) that the novel became the leading form of literature in English. Most writers were now more concerned to meet the tastes of a large middle class reading public than to please aristocratic patrons. The best known works of the era include the emotionally powerful works of the Brontë sisters; Charles Dickens widely popular novels, the satire Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray; the realist novels of George Eliot; and Anthony Trollope's insightful portrayals of the lives of the landowning and professional classes. Also, literature for children developed as a separate genre.

Charles Dickens wrote vividly about London life and the struggles of the poor in a light comic fashion which was acceptable to readers of all classes. His early works such as the Pickwick Papers are masterpieces of comedy. Later his works became darker, without losing his art of drawing characters with very powerful strokes.

The Bronte sisters were English writers of the 1840s and 1850s. Their novels caused a sensation when they were first published and were subsequently accepted into the canon of great English literature.

However the most popular novelist of the era was Sir Walter Scott (Ivanhoe), whose grand historical romances inspired a generation of painters, composers, and writers throughout Europe. Jane Austen voiced the women her time and wryly focused on practical social issues, especially marriage and choosing the right partner in life, with love being above all else. She started a genre that is still followed today.


English literary modernism grew out of a general sense of disillusionment with Victorian era attitudes of certainty, conservatism, and objective truth. The movement was greatly influenced by the ideas of Romanticism, Karl Marx's political writings, and the psychoanalytic theories of subconscious - Sigmund Freud. The continental art movements of Impressionism, and later Cubism, were also important inspirations for modernist writers.

Although literary modernism reached its peak between the First and Second World Wars, the earliest examples of the movement's attitudes appeared in the mid to late 19th century. Gerard Manley Hopkins, A. E. Housman, and the poet and novelist Thomas Hardy represented a few of the major early modernists writing in England during the Victorian period.

The first decades of the 20th century saw several major works of modernism published, including the seminal short story collection Dubliners by James Joyce, Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, and the poetry and drama of William Butler Yeats.

Important novelists between the World Wars included Virginia Woolf, E. M. Forster, Evelyn Waugh, P.G. Wodehouse and D. H. Lawrence. T. S. Eliot was the preeminent English poet of the period. Across the Atlantic writers like William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, and the poets Wallace Stevens and Robert Frost developed a more American take on the modernist aesthetic in their work.

Perhaps the most contentiously important figure in the development of the modernist movement was the American poet Ezra Pound. Credited with "discovering" both T. S. Eliot and James Joyce, whose stream of consciousness novel Ulysses is considered to be one of the 20th century's greatest literary achievements. Pound also advanced the cause of imagism and free verse.

Post-modern literature

The term Postmodern literature is used to describe certain tendencies in post-World War II literature. Apparently it is a continuation of the experiments of the modernist period such as fragmentation, paradox, questionable narrators, etc., But in fact its a reaction against Enlightenment ideas implicit in Modernist literature. Postmodern literature, like postmodernism as a whole, is difficult to define because of individual genius worked in their own way. But nihilism, absurdity and parody, and questioning the very existence are some important topics.

This course is discussing Modern and Post Modern Literature, therefore we will discuss these periods and its effects on Writers of its time in more details.

sources: wikipedia

22-09-2010, 06:55 PM
Literary Genres

English Literature can be devided in to these major areas. Fiction, Non Fiction, Semi-fiction

Narrative literary works which are produced by the imagination and is not necessarily based on fact. There are many different types of fiction depending on the way to tell the story.

Non Fiction
The works that mostly deal with the Facts and figures are non fiction. Opinion is also used in these writings but real purpose is to convey facts about a topic.

Semi-fiction is the fictional description based on a true story. It may be the retelling of a true story with only the names changed. Sometimes a real incident is presented with significant additions and subtractions from the true story in order to make it more suitable for storytelling.

Then there are sub categories. Following is a brief detail of these categories.

Fairy Tales
Historic Fiction
Poetic Novels
Realistic Fiction
Science Fiction
Short Story

New developments in fiction

Fan Fiction
collaborative Fiction

Book report
Creative nonfiction
Design document
Literary criticism
Science book
Scientific paper
User manual

Here is a brief description of some types of Fiction.

Drama: Stories composed in verse or prose, usually for theatrical performance, where conflicts and emotion are expressed through dialogue and action.
Fable: Narration demonstrating a useful truth, especially in which animals speak as humans; legendary, supernatural tale.
Folklore: The songs, stories, myths, and proverbs of a people or "folk" as handed down by word of mouth.
Fairy Tale: Story about fairies or other magical creatures, usually for children.
Fantasy: Fiction with strange or other worldly settings or characters; fiction which invites suspension of reality.
Historical Fiction: Story with fictional characters and events in a historical setting.
Horror: Fiction in which events evoke a feeling of dread in both the characters and the reader.
Humor: Fiction full of fun, fancy, and excitement, meant to entertain; but can be contained in all genres
Legend: Story, sometimes of a national or folk hero, which has a basis in fact but also includes imaginative material.
Novels: Full length stories with plot and theme and characters, action develops and goes to
Poetic Novels: Full-length novels with plot, subplot, theme, major and minor characters, in which the narrative is presented through poetry, usually the blank verse.
Mystery: Fiction dealing with the solution of a crime or the unraveling of secrets.
Mythology: Legend or traditional narrative, often based in part on historical events, that reveals human behavior and natural phenomena by its symbolism; often pertaining to the actions of the gods.
Poetry: Verse and rhythmic writing with imagery that creates emotional responses.
Realistic Fiction: Story that can actually happen and is true to life.
Science Fiction: Story based on impact of actual, imagined, or potential science, usually set in the future or on other planets.
Short Story: Fiction of such brevity that it supports no subplots.

29-09-2010, 06:44 AM
Present teacher.
it was easy n interesting lecture.

29-09-2010, 07:15 AM
Great Rameesa, Now you can check out the class 2. Hopefully you will enjoy that one too.

29-09-2010, 12:06 PM
i am also present.

30-09-2010, 12:45 AM
thanks Rafia u have explained it in a very simple way that its easy now to differentiate between different genres.

30-09-2010, 05:34 AM
welcome girls. enjoy.