Literature - History

Literature - History

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Literature of Japan

Japanese writing was initially heavily influenced by Chinese writing.

By the fourth century Japan developed its own rich literature. Between the 4th-8th century an antholgy of 4,500 poems were developed. Japanese poetry expressed its themes with great simplicity. Early Japanese poems included thirty-one syllables .
One of the major literary acheivements of Japan was the writing of the novel The Tale of Genji. It was written by Murasaki Shikibu around the year 1,000 and tells the tale of the golden age of the court of Fujiwara. It traces the loves and life of the court courtier.
Another well known Japanese novel is The Tale of Heike, which tells the tale of warfare between rival clans in 12th century Japan.

All Nobel Prizes in Literature

The Nobel Prize in Literature has been awarded 113 times to 117 Nobel Laureates between 1901 and 2020. Click on the links to get more information.

The Nobel Prize in Literature 2021

The 2021 Nobel Prize in Literature has not been awarded yet. It will be announced on Thursday 7 October, 13:00 CEST at the earliest.

The Nobel Prize in Literature 2020

Louise Glück “for her unmistakable poetic voice that with austere beauty makes individual existence universal”.

The Nobel Prize in Literature 2019

Peter Handke “for an influential work that with linguistic ingenuity has explored the periphery and the specificity of human experience”

The Nobel Prize in Literature 2018

Olga Tokarczuk “for a narrative imagination that with encyclopedic passion represents the crossing of boundaries as a form of life”

The Nobel Prize in Literature 2017

Kazuo Ishiguro “who, in novels of great emotional force, has uncovered the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world”

The Nobel Prize in Literature 2016

Bob Dylan “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition”

The Nobel Prize in Literature 2015

Svetlana Alexievich “for her polyphonic writings, a monument to suffering and courage in our time”

The Nobel Prize in Literature 2014

Patrick Modiano “for the art of memory with which he has evoked the most ungraspable human destinies and uncovered the life-world of the occupation”

The Nobel Prize in Literature 2013

Alice Munro “master of the contemporary short story”

The Nobel Prize in Literature 2012

Mo Yan “who with hallucinatory realism merges folk tales, history and the contemporary”

The Nobel Prize in Literature 2011

Tomas Tranströmer “because, through his condensed, translucent images, he gives us fresh access to reality”

The Nobel Prize in Literature 2010

Mario Vargas Llosa “for his cartography of structures of power and his trenchant images of the individual’s resistance, revolt, and defeat”

The Nobel Prize in Literature 2009

Herta Müller “who, with the concentration of poetry and the frankness of prose, depicts the landscape of the dispossessed”

The Nobel Prize in Literature 2008

Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio “author of new departures, poetic adventure and sensual ecstasy, explorer of a humanity beyond and below the reigning civilization”

The Nobel Prize in Literature 2007

Doris Lessing “that epicist of the female experience, who with scepticism, fire and visionary power has subjected a divided civilisation to scrutiny”

The Nobel Prize in Literature 2006

Orhan Pamuk “who in the quest for the melancholic soul of his native city has discovered new symbols for the clash and interlacing of cultures”

The Nobel Prize in Literature 2005

Harold Pinter“who in his plays uncovers the precipice under everyday prattle and forces entry into oppression’s closed rooms”

The Nobel Prize in Literature 2004

Elfriede Jelinek “for her musical flow of voices and counter-voices in novels and plays that with extraordinary linguistic zeal reveal the absurdity of society’s clichés and their subjugating power”

The Nobel Prize in Literature 2003

John M. Coetzee “who in innumerable guises portrays the surprising involvement of the outsider”

The Nobel Prize in Literature 2002

Imre Kertész “for writing that upholds the fragile experience of the individual against the barbaric arbitrariness of history”

The Nobel Prize in Literature 2001

Sir Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul “for having united perceptive narrative and incorruptible scrutiny in works that compel us to see the presence of suppressed histories”

The Nobel Prize in Literature 2000

Gao Xingjian “for an æuvre of universal validity, bitter insights and linguistic ingenuity, which has opened new paths for the Chinese novel and drama”

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1999

Günter Grass “whose frolicsome black fables portray the forgotten face of history”

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1998

José Saramago who with parables sustained by imagination, compassion and irony continually enables us once again to apprehend an elusory reality”

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1997

Dario Fo “who emulates the jesters of the Middle Ages in scourging authority and upholding the dignity of the downtrodden”

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1996

Wislawa Szymborska “for poetry that with ironic precision allows the historical and biological context to come to light in fragments of human reality”

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1995

Seamus Heaney “for works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth, which exalt everyday miracles and the living past”

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1994

Kenzaburo Oe “who with poetic force creates an imagined world, where life and myth condense to form a disconcerting picture of the human predicament today”

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1993

Toni Morrison “who in novels characterized by visionary force and poetic import, gives life to an essential aspect of American reality”

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1992

Derek Walcott “for a poetic oeuvre of great luminosity, sustained by a historical vision, the outcome of a multicultural commitment”

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1991

Nadine Gordimer “who through her magnificent epic writing has – in the words of Alfred Nobel – been of very great benefit to humanity”

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1990

Octavio Paz “for impassioned writing with wide horizons, characterized by sensuous intelligence and humanistic integrity”

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1989

Camilo José Cela “for a rich and intensive prose, which with restrained compassion forms a challenging vision of man’s vulnerability”

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1988

Naguib Mahfouz “who, through works rich in nuance – now clear-sightedly realistic, now evocatively ambiguous – has formed an Arabian narrative art that applies to all mankind”

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1987

Joseph Brodsky “for an all-embracing authorship, imbued with clarity of thought and poetic intensity”

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1986

Wole Soyinka “who in a wide cultural perspective and with poetic overtones fashions the drama of existence”

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1985

Claude Simon “who in his novel combines the poet’s and the painter’s creativeness with a deepened awareness of time in the depiction of the human condition”

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1984

Jaroslav Seifert “for his poetry which endowed with freshness, sensuality and rich inventiveness provides a liberating image of the indomitable spirit and versatility of man”

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1983

William Golding “for his novels which, with the perspicuity of realistic narrative art and the diversity and universality of myth, illuminate the human condition in the world of today”

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1982

Gabriel García Márquez “for his novels and short stories, in which the fantastic and the realistic are combined in a richly composed world of imagination, reflecting a continent’s life and conflicts”

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1981

Elias Canetti “for writings marked by a broad outlook, a wealth of ideas and artistic power”

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1980

Czeslaw Milosz who with uncompromising clear-sightedness voices man’s exposed condition in a world of severe conflicts”

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1979

Odysseus Elytis “for his poetry, which, against the background of Greek tradition, depicts with sensuous strength and intellectual clear-sightedness modern man’s struggle for freedom and creativeness”

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1978

Isaac Bashevis Singer “for his impassioned narrative art which, with roots in a Polish-Jewish cultural tradition, brings universal human conditions to life”

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1977

Vicente Aleixandre “for a creative poetic writing which illuminates man’s condition in the cosmos and in present-day society, at the same time representing the great renewal of the traditions of Spanish poetry between the wars”

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1976

Saul Bellow “for the human understanding and subtle analysis of contemporary culture that are combined in his work”

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1975

Eugenio Montale “for his distinctive poetry which, with great artistic sensitivity, has interpreted human values under the sign of an outlook on life with no illusions”

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1974

Eyvind Johnson “for a narrative art, far-seeing in lands and ages, in the service of freedom”

Harry Martinson “for writings that catch the dewdrop and reflect the cosmos”

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1973

Patrick White “for an epic and psychological narrative art which has introduced a new continent into literature”

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1972

Heinrich Böll “for his writing which through its combination of a broad perspective on his time and a sensitive skill in characterization has contributed to a renewal of German literature”

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1971

Pablo Neruda “for a poetry that with the action of an elemental force brings alive a continent’s destiny and dreams”

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1970

Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn “for the ethical force with which he has pursued the indispensable traditions of Russian literature”

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1969

Samuel Beckett “for his writing, which – in new forms for the novel and drama – in the destitution of modern man acquires its elevation”

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1968

Yasunari Kawabata “for his narrative mastery, which with great sensibility expresses the essence of the Japanese mind”

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1967

Miguel Angel Asturias “for his vivid literary achievement, deep-rooted in the national traits and traditions of Indian peoples of Latin America”

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1966

Shmuel Yosef Agnon “for his profoundly characteristic narrative art with motifs from the life of the Jewish people”

Nelly Sachs“for her outstanding lyrical and dramatic writing, which interprets Israel’s destiny with touching strength”

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1965

Mikhail Aleksandrovich Sholokhov “for the artistic power and integrity with which, in his epic of the Don, he has given expression to a historic phase in the life of the Russian people”

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1964

Jean-Paul Sartre “for his work which, rich in ideas and filled with the spirit of freedom and the quest for truth, has exerted a far-reaching influence on our age”

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1963

Giorgos Seferis “for his eminent lyrical writing, inspired by a deep feeling for the Hellenic world of culture”

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1962

John Steinbeck “for his realistic and imaginative writings, combining as they do sympathetic humour and keen social perception”

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1961

Ivo Andric “for the epic force with which he has traced themes and depicted human destinies drawn from the history of his country”

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1960

Saint-John Perse “for the soaring flight and the evocative imagery of his poetry which in a visionary fashion reflects the conditions of our time”

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1959

Salvatore Quasimodo “for his lyrical poetry, which with classical fire expresses the tragic experience of life in our own times”

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1958

Boris Leonidovich Pasternak “for his important achievement both in contemporary lyrical poetry and in the field of the great Russian epic tradition”

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1957

Albert Camus “for his important literary production, which with clear-sighted earnestness illuminates the problems of the human conscience in our times”

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1956

Juan Ramón Jiménez “for his lyrical poetry, which in Spanish language constitutes an example of high spirit and artistical purity”

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1955

Halldór Kiljan Laxness “for his vivid epic power which has renewed the great narrative art of Iceland”

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1954

Ernest Miller Hemingway “for his mastery of the art of narrative, most recently demonstrated in The Old Man and the Sea, and for the influence that he has exerted on contemporary style”

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1953

Sir Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill “for his mastery of historical and biographical description as well as for brilliant oratory in defending exalted human values”

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1952

François Mauriac “for the deep spiritual insight and the artistic intensity with which he has in his novels penetrated the drama of human life”

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1951

Pär Fabian Lagerkvist “for the artistic vigour and true independence of mind with which he endeavours in his poetry to find answers to the eternal questions confronting mankind”

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1950

Earl (Bertrand Arthur William) Russell “in recognition of his varied and significant writings in which he champions humanitarian ideals and freedom of thought”

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1949

William Faulkner “for his powerful and artistically unique contribution to the modern American novel”

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1948

Thomas Stearns Eliot “for his outstanding, pioneer contribution to present-day poetry”

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1947

André Paul Guillaume Gide “for his comprehensive and artistically significant writings, in which human problems and conditions have been presented with a fearless love of truth and keen psychological insight”

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1946

Hermann Hesse “for his inspired writings which, while growing in boldness and penetration, exemplify the classical humanitarian ideals and high qualities of style”

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1945

Gabriela Mistral “for her lyric poetry which, inspired by powerful emotions, has made her name a symbol of the idealistic aspirations of the entire Latin American world”

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1944

Johannes Vilhelm Jensen “for the rare strength and fertility of his poetic imagination with which is combined an intellectual curiosity of wide scope and a bold, freshly creative style”

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1943

No Nobel Prize was awarded this year. The prize money was with 1/3 allocated to the Main Fund and with 2/3 to the Special Fund of this prize section.

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1942

No Nobel Prize was awarded this year. The prize money was with 1/3 allocated to the Main Fund and with 2/3 to the Special Fund of this prize section.

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1941

No Nobel Prize was awarded this year. The prize money was with 1/3 allocated to the Main Fund and with 2/3 to the Special Fund of this prize section.

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1940

No Nobel Prize was awarded this year. The prize money was with 1/3 allocated to the Main Fund and with 2/3 to the Special Fund of this prize section.

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1939

Frans Eemil Sillanpää “for his deep understanding of his country’s peasantry and the exquisite art with which he has portrayed their way of life and their relationship with Nature”

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1938

Pearl Buck “for her rich and truly epic descriptions of peasant life in China and for her biographical masterpieces”

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1937

Roger Martin du Gard “for the artistic power and truth with which he has depicted human conflict as well as some fundamental aspects of contemporary life in his novel-cycle Les Thibault

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1936

Eugene Gladstone O’Neill “for the power, honesty and deep-felt emotions of his dramatic works, which embody an original concept of tragedy”

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1935

No Nobel Prize was awarded this year. The prize money was with 1/3 allocated to the Main Fund and with 2/3 to the Special Fund of this prize section.

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1934

Luigi Pirandello “for his bold and ingenious revival of dramatic and scenic art”

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1933

Ivan Alekseyevich Bunin “for the strict artistry with which he has carried on the classical Russian traditions in prose writing”

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1932

John Galsworthy “for his distinguished art of narration which takes its highest form in The Forsyte Saga

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1931

Erik Axel Karlfeldt “The poetry of Erik Axel Karlfeldt”

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1930

Sinclair Lewis “for his vigorous and graphic art of description and his ability to create, with wit and humour, new types of characters”

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1929

Thomas Mann “principally for his great novel, Buddenbrooks, which has won steadily increased recognition as one of the classic works of contemporary literature”

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1928

Sigrid Undset “principally for her powerful descriptions of Northern life during the Middle Ages”

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1927

Henri Bergson “in recognition of his rich and vitalizing ideas and the brilliant skill with which they have been presented”

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1926

Grazia Deledda “for her idealistically inspired writings which with plastic clarity picture the life on her native island and with depth and sympathy deal with human problems in general”

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1925

George Bernard Shaw “for his work which is marked by both idealism and humanity, its stimulating satire often being infused with a singular poetic beauty”

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1924

Wladyslaw Stanislaw Reymont “for his great national epic, The Peasants

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1923

William Butler Yeats “for his always inspired poetry, which in a highly artistic form gives expression to the spirit of a whole nation”

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1922

Jacinto Benavente “for the happy manner in which he has continued the illustrious traditions of the Spanish drama”

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1921

Anatole France “in recognition of his brilliant literary achievements, characterized as they are by a nobility of style, a profound human sympathy, grace, and a true Gallic temperament”

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1920

Knut Pedersen Hamsun “for his monumental work, Growth of the Soil

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1919

Carl Friedrich Georg Spitteler “in special appreciation of his epic, Olympian Spring

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1918

No Nobel Prize was awarded this year. The prize money was allocated to the Special Fund of this prize section.

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1917

Karl Adolph Gjellerup “for his varied and rich poetry, which is inspired by lofty ideals”

Henrik Pontoppidan “for his authentic descriptions of present-day life in Denmark”

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1916

Carl Gustaf Verner von Heidenstam “in recognition of his significance as the leading representative of a new era in our literature”

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1915

Romain Rolland “as a tribute to the lofty idealism of his literary production and to the sympathy and love of truth with which he has described different types of human beings”

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1914

No Nobel Prize was awarded this year. The prize money was allocated to the Special Fund of this prize section.

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1913

Rabindranath Tagore “because of his profoundly sensitive, fresh and beautiful verse, by which, with consummate skill, he has made his poetic thought, expressed in his own English words, a part of the literature of the West”

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1912

Gerhart Johann Robert Hauptmann “primarily in recognition of his fruitful, varied and outstanding production in the realm of dramatic art”

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1911

Count Maurice (Mooris) Polidore Marie Bernhard Maeterlinck “in appreciation of his many-sided literary activities, and especially of his dramatic works, which are distinguished by a wealth of imagination and by a poetic fancy, which reveals, sometimes in the guise of a fairy tale, a deep inspiration, while in a mysterious way they appeal to the readers’ own feelings and stimulate their imaginations”

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1910

Paul Johann Ludwig Heyse “as a tribute to the consummate artistry, permeated with idealism, which he has demonstrated during his long productive career as a lyric poet, dramatist, novelist and writer of world-renowned short stories”

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1909

Selma Ottilia Lovisa Lagerlöf “in appreciation of the lofty idealism, vivid imagination and spiritual perception that characterize her writings”

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1908

Rudolf Christoph Eucken “in recognition of his earnest search for truth, his penetrating power of thought, his wide range of vision, and the warmth and strength in presentation with which in his numerous works he has vindicated and developed an idealistic philosophy of life”

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1907

Rudyard Kipling “in consideration of the power of observation, originality of imagination, virility of ideas and remarkable talent for narration which characterize the creations of this world-famous author”

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1906

Giosuè Carducci “not only in consideration of his deep learning and critical research, but above all as a tribute to the creative energy, freshness of style, and lyrical force which characterize his poetic masterpieces”

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1905

Henryk Sienkiewicz “because of his outstanding merits as an epic writer”

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1904

Frédéric Mistral “in recognition of the fresh originality and true inspiration of his poetic production, which faithfully reflects the natural scenery and native spirit of his people, and, in addition, his significant work as a Provençal philologist”

José Echegaray y Eizaguirre “in recognition of the numerous and brilliant compositions which, in an individual and original manner, have revived the great traditions of the Spanish drama”

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1903

Bjørnstjerne Martinus Bjørnson “as a tribute to his noble, magnificent and versatile poetry, which has always been distinguished by both the freshness of its inspiration and the rare purity of its spirit”

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1902

Christian Matthias Theodor Mommsen “the greatest living master of the art of historical writing, with special reference to his monumental work, A history of Rome

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1901

Sully Prudhomme “in special recognition of his poetic composition, which gives evidence of lofty idealism, artistic perfection and a rare combination of the qualities of both heart and intellect”

To cite this section
MLA style: All Nobel Prizes in Literature. Nobel Prize Outreach AB 2021. Fri. 18 Jun 2021. <>

About the Nobel Prize organisation

The Nobel Foundation

Tasked with a mission to manage Alfred Nobel's fortune and has ultimate responsibility for fulfilling the intentions of Nobel's will.

The prize-awarding institutions

For more than a century, these academic institutions have worked independently to select Nobel Laureates in each prize category.

Nobel Prize outreach activities

Several outreach organisations and activities have been developed to inspire generations and disseminate knowledge about the Nobel Prize.

331 William Wordsworth – “The World Is Too Much With Us”

As the world struggles to emerge from a global pandemic, Jacke takes a look at our relationship with nature, turning to William Wordsworth’s classic sonnet “The World Is Too Much With Us” to see if its concerns are applicable today.

Help support the show at or (We appreciate it!) Find out more at,, or by following Jacke and Mike on Twitter at @thejackewilson and @literatureSC. Or send an email to [email protected]

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The first works in Bengali, appeared between 10th and 12th centuries C.E. [2] It is generally known as the Charyapada and are 47 mystic hymns composed by various Buddhist monks, namely Luipada, Kanhapada, Kukkuripada, Chatilpada, Bhusukupada, Kamlipada, Dhendhanpada, Shantipada and Shabarapada amongst others. The manuscript was discovered on a palm leaf in the Nepal Royal Court Library in 1907 by the Bengali linguist Haraprasad Shastri. Due to the language of these manuscripts only being partially understood, they were classified by Shastri with the name Sandhya Bhasha (সন্ধ্যা ভাষা), meaning dusk language.

Early medieval/Transitional (1200-1350) Edit

This period is considered to be the time in which many common proverbs and rhymes first emerged. The Bengali alphabet became a lot like what it currently is. Ramai Pandit and Halayudh Misra were notable writers of this period. [3]

Pre-Chaitanya (1350-1500) Edit

Muslim writers were exploring different themes through narratives and epics such as religion, culture, cosmology, love and history often taking inspiration from or translating Arabic and Persian literary works such as the Thousand and One Nights and the Shahnameh. [4] The literary romantic tradition saw poems by Shah Muhammad Sagir on Yusuf and Zulaikha, as well as works of Sabirid Khan. The Dobhashi culture introduced Arabic and Persian vocabulary into Bengali texts to illustrate Muslim stories. Epic poetry included Nabibangsha by Syed Sultan, Janganama by Abdul Hakim and Rasul Bijoy by Shah Barid. [5]

Chandidas was the celebrated Hindu lyrical poet of this period, famed for translating Jayadeva's work from Sanskrit to Bengali and for producing thousands of poems dedicated to the love between Radha and Krishna such as the Shreekrishna Kirtana. Majority of Hindu writers in this period drew inspiration from a popular Maithili language Vaishnavite poet known as Vidyapati. Maladhar Basu's Sri Krishna Vijaya, which is chiefly a translation of the 10th and 11th cantos of the Bhagavata Purana, is the earliest Bengali narrative poem that can be assigned to a definite date. [6] Composed between 1473 and 1480 C.E., it is also the oldest Bengali narrative poem of the Krishna legend. [7] [6] The Ramayana, under the title of Sri Rama Panchali, was translated by Krittibas Ojha. [8]

Chaitanya era (1500-1700) Edit

Bengali literature flourished in Arakan following its reconquest. It was home to prominent writers patronised in the Arakan royal court such as Alaol, who wrote Padmavati, as well as Daulat Qazi, Dawlat Wazir Bahram Khan, Quraishi Magan Thakur who wrote Chandravati and Maradan who wrote Nasirnama. Qazi was the first poet under the court patronage. He started writing Satimayna O Lorchandrani, considered to be the first Bengali romance. Teamwork was common in the court, and Alaol finished off Qazi's romance as the latter had died before managing to complete it. [14]

Michael Madhusudan Datta's first epic Tilottama Sambhab Kabya published in 1860 was the first Bengali poem written in blank verse. Bankim Chandra Chatterjee was considered one of the leading Bengali novelists and essayists of the 19th century. He also wrote Vande Mataram, the national song of India, which appears in his novel Anandamath (1882). [15] In the 1880s, Chatterjee critically analysed Hindu scriptures such as the Bhagavad Gita as well as the problems of Krishnaism from a historical perspective in his Dharmatattva and Krishna Charitra. [15]

Romesh Chunder Dutt and Mir Mosharraf Hossain are notable for their works of fiction. Girish Chandra Ghosh and Dwijendralal Ray were prominent playwrights of the time, whereas Akshay Kumar Boral and Ramendra Sundar Tribedi are famous for their influential essays. Rassundari Devi authored the first full-fledged autobiography in modern Bengali literature in 1876. [16]

The Pre-Tagore era also saw an undercurrent of popular literature which was focused on daily life in contemporary Bengal. The prose style, as well as the humour in these works, were often crass, blunt and accessible. A masterpiece in this regard was "Hutom Pechar Naksha" (The Sketch of the Owl) written by Kaliprasanna Singha, and satirically depicts "Babu" culture in 19th century Kolkata. Other notable works in this regard are "Alaler Ghorer Dulal" (The Spoilt Brat) by Peary Chand Mitra, "Ramtanu Lahiri o tatkalin Banga shamaj" (Ramtanu Lahiri & contemporary Bengali society) by Shibnath Shastri<ref>, and "Naba Babu Bilas" & "Naba Bibi Bilas" by Bhabanicharan Bandopadhyay. These books arguably portrayed contemporary Bengali dialect and popular society effectively, and also incorporated now-extinct music genres such as Khisti, Kheur and Kabiyal gaan by stalwarts like Rupchand Pakhi and Bhola Moyra. Books like these have become rarer since the emergence of Tagore culture, and the burgeoning preference for literary elegance and refinement in Bengali society. [17]

Bankim Chandra Chatterjee's first novel Durgeshnandini was considered a benchmark in the history of Bengali literature. [15]

Ancient Rome

The history of Roman literature begins around the 3rd century BC. It reached its "Golden Age" during the rule of Augustus and the early part of the Roman Empire. The Romans wrote a lot of poetry and history. They also wrote letters and made a lot of formal speeches.

What language did they use?

Latin was the main language used for writing during Ancient Rome. Greek was also a popular language because it was used by so many people in the eastern portion of the Roman empire.

What did the Romans write on?

Important documents were written on papyrus scrolls (made from the papyrus plant in Egypt) or on parchment (pages made from animal skin). They wrote with a metal pin that they dipped in ink. For more temporary day-to-day writing they used a wax tablet or thin pieces of wood.

  • Virgil (70 BC to 19 BC) - Virgil is known for writing the epic poem the Aeneid. The Aeneid tells the story of a Trojan hero named Aeneas. It incorporates many historic events in the history of Rome.
  • Horace (65 BC 8 BC) - Horace is known for a collection of lyric poems called the Odes. Other works of Horace include Satires and Epistles.
  • Ovid (43 BC to 17 AD) - Ovid's most famous work was the epic Metamorphoses. It tells the history of the world from creation to when Julius Caesar was made a god. Ovid was also famous for writing love poems.

Speeches and Rhetoric

The art of rhetoric (the ability to speak in public and persuade others) was considered an important skill in Ancient Rome. Many Roman statesmen wrote down their ideas and speeches. The writings of some of these men had a major impact on the use of the Latin language and Roman literature. The most famous of these men was Cicero who wrote letters, speeches, and works on philosophy. Cicero's ideas eventually got him killed when he spoke out against Mark Antony.

Roman literature also includes many writers who recorded the history of Rome. The most famous Roman historian was Livy. Livy wrote 142 volumes of history that covered events from the founding of Rome up to the reign of Augustus. Other important historians include Pliny the Elder, Sallust, Tacitus, and Quintus Fabius Pictor.

After conquering the Greeks, the Romans became interested in philosophy. The most popular school of philosophy with the Romans was stoicism. Stoicism taught that the universe was very ordered and rational. It said that everyone, regardless of their wealth and position, should always try to do their best. These ideas appealed to the Romans. Famous Roman philosophers include Seneca, Cicero, and the Emperor Marcus Aurelius.

The Romans are famous for keeping lots of written records. It was how they kept their large empire so organized. They had records on every Roman citizen including things like age, marriages, and military service. They also kept written records of wills, legal trials, and all the laws and decrees made by the government.

History is Literature

Writing history with skill and verve is not a distasteful exercise.

‘It is important for the historian not only to write, but to write well.’ Thus ran a particularly controversial essay title which was recently put to history students sitting their Finals at one of our most ancient universities. This question provoked what might at first glance seem a surprising level of controversy.

The literary merits of non-fiction are obvious and frequently rewarded. The Belarusian writer Svetlana Alexievich, who was awarded the 2015 Nobel Prize in Literature for her work documenting the Soviet Union and its latter-day emotional after-effects, which the committee called ‘a monument to suffering and courage in our time’, is testament to that. And she is not the first historian of sorts to win the prize Winston Churchill was similarly honoured in 1953 for what was described as ‘his mastery of historical and biographical description’ (in addition to the obvious: his ‘brilliant oratory in defending exalted human values’).

But though the literary and the historical can co-exist, should they? Should the writers of history make conscious decisions about their work on the basis of little more than style? I would humbly suggest that the answer to both of those questions is yes – and that the writing of history would be greatly improved – both in quality and reach – if more people thought so too.

Take Niall Ferguson, for example. The Pity of War, his controversial reassessment of the First World War, met with both rapturous praise and protracted criticism when it was first published. Much of the negative reaction to the book could be justified on entirely scholarly grounds. Some did not care for his unorthodox conclusions, while others did not think they were adequately supported by the facts. Yet more scholars took issue with his use of the counterfactual to elucidate tricky historical questions to them his mode of analysis was little more than a parlour game. There are legitimate historical defences of his work too, but the point I wish to make is this: a great deal of the criticism Ferguson received seemed to be based on little more than a dislike of his tone.

Here was a young, energetic historian writing a bold, revisionist work, but all many could think to say in criticism was that he did so in an entirely unbecoming manner. His writing seemed too showy, too glib – too much like journalism. But there was something that these critics had overlooked: the effect of Ferguson’s book on those who operated outside of academic circles.

Ferguson’s book was one of the first works of ‘serious history’ I ever read, and its effect on me was electrifying. Irrespective of his arguments (which, it must be said, were dynamic and exciting in and of themselves), the book was elegantly and engagingly written it seemed like a literary achievement – and that was true regardless of all that was said about its historical merits.

And examples of literary history are hardly new: Edward Gibbon’s magisterial History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire would be the lesser without his luxurious prose style and ironic wit and Lord Macaulay – himself a favourite of Churchill’s – would not have achieved the cultural prominence he did without the wide circulation of his literary and poetic talents.

This category could include Peter Pomerantsev, whose book Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible – a beautifully written examination of modern Russia and its turbulent recent past – is on the longlist for this year’s Samuel Johnson Prize. It is not strictly history, but Pomerantsev’s narrative – which contains thoughtful, thorough examinations of Russian archetypes he met during his time in the country, as well as a brilliant exposition of the ways in which the Putin government controls domestic media and politics – is still essential for understanding Russia’s recent past. Other examples of history as literature include Sebastian Faulks’ The Fatal Englishmen, a compelling triple biography of bright young things who never made it to middle age, and Helen Macdonald’s H is for Hawk, an emotionally raw memoir of coping with grief combined with an experimental biography of T. H. White. All of these books exhibit noteworthy literary merit each attracts a wider audience than a more conventional historical work would and each ought to be embraced and emulated for those very reasons.

Increased attention on writing well will not debase the nature of historical writing it will not debase the currency. Well-written is not the same, necessarily, as popular – and certainly not equivalent to populist. (Though there do need to be elements of both within the discourse for it to function effectively. I was once posed the question of whether the world would be better if all books of a historical nature were written, at the very lowest level, for undergraduates. The point the questioner was trying to make – and it is an especially valid one – is that without popular history, soon there would be no new generations of undergraduates at all.)

Writing history with skill and verve is not a distasteful exercise. Instead it can inspire young minds, advance new and provocative ways of thinking about the world, and assist in the production of that which may approach true literature. It can reignite old memories, revitalise and revolutionise form and genre – and, as the Nobel Committee has wisely chosen to acknowledge this year, it can do great good for society at large on a truly magnificent scale.

James Snell is a writer at Harry's Place and Left Foot Forward. . @James_P_Snell

Why Study History and Literature?

In the following excerpt from the concluding chapter of What Do Our 17-Year-Olds Know? Diane Ravitch and Chester E. Finn Jr. discuss the importance of history and literature in the American high-school curriculum.

The book draws on findings from the first national assessment of students’ knowledge of those subjects. The authors report the results of the test and offer recommendations based on the conclusions those results suggest.

We urge the study of history and literature because we believe they are important. It is not simply because they are repositories for our cultural heritage, nor is it merely that they help us understand the past. Those who study these subjects become more knowledgeable, more perceptive, and more intelligent by doing so. They learn about the forces, individuals, trends, and events that shaped the present they discover from their own experience the power of novels, poems, plays, and stories to move, delight, entertain, inform, shock, and reveal us to ourselves.

History and literature are the essential studies of the humanities because they interpret for us the human experience. To the extent that we are knowledgeable about these subjects, we are better able to communicate with one another. And the more knowledgeable we are, the more complicated are the discussions that we can have together. Paradoxically, the broader our shared background knowledge, the better able we are to argue, debate, and disagree with one another.

But will we all possess a sufficiency of that shared knowledge, or will it become the near-exclusive property of the more fortunate among us? Remember that not all members of the 17-year-old generation are equally at risk. Some of them possess a decent reservoir of knowledge of history and literature, and those who do tend (with significant exceptions) to be the children of the well educated, the well employed, the well motivated, and the well off.

It is a pattern as old as civilization: A society’s elites nearly always strive to ensure that their sons and daughters acquire enough of the knowledge, the cultural lore, and the intellectual traits associated with success in that society. And while success in American society--be it gauged in terms of wealth, prestige, public office, scholarly distinction, social status, or whatever--does not automatically follow from being well versed in such subjects as history and literature, one’s prospects are certainly enhanced by being “culturally literate.” Hence we can take for granted that the elites will continue to do their best to equip their own children with this knowledge and to send them to schools that furnish substantial quantities of it. But neither our culture, our politics, our civic life, nor our principles of equal opportunity can be satisfactorily maintained if most youngsters enter adulthood with little knowledge of this kind.

It is on that conviction that we base our reply to all who inspect the evidence in this book and conclude that the students did better than might have been expected, that they did reasonably well, that they did well enough, that the proverbial glass is a bit more than half full. It is not just that the complacency of this attitude irks us it is the elitism lurking within it that the citizens of a democracymust not condone. We cannot settle for an education system that imparts “passable” amounts of important knowledge to its more fortunate students while the majority learn less than the minimum required for successful participation in the society they are about to enter.

Nor need we be fatalistic about this distribution of knowledge. It is not adventitious. It is within the capacity of adults--educators, parents, librarians, television producers, and all the rest--to take the steps by which all our youngsters learn enough to participate in selecting our leaders, in shaping our culture, in renewing our civic life, and in discussing and resolving the important issues before us. One premise of our democratic society, as Jefferson recognized two centuries ago, is that, for it truly to succeed, all its members must have an education that will “enable every man to judge for himself what will secure or endanger his freedom.” We believe that this remains a valid premise now and for the future.

We hope it is clear’ that we do not make a case for a single, immutable body of knowledge that is to be transmitted from one generation to the next like an uncut diamond. Both history and literature are shaped and transformed by the social context in which they are studied. As a nation and a people, we continually add to, reconsider, and redefine the history that we study, because we tell a story to ourselves about who we are and how we got that way. Others who disagree with the consensus version write conflicting interpretations, and these are often so persuasive that in time they change the way we see the past.

In this way, history changes, as it is revised by new discoveries, fresh interpretations, and altered understandings of what American society is, has been, and should be.

Literature changes, too, as new writers add their contributions and emerge as important voices in the American dialogue. Our conceptions of literature also are changed by the discovery of writers whose works were ignored when they wrote but whose voices now seem prophetic, speaking to our own time with an urgency that was neglected during their lifetimes.

No one can know everything. It is possible to spend a lifetime studying history or literature without reading every important book or learning about every significant event. The most we can hope for in the years of formal schooling is that students learn to tell the important from the unimportant that they know enough about literature to distinguish for themselves what is fine and what is dross that they know enough about history to inform themselves about the vital connections between the present and the past that they cultivate a desire to learn more and that they acquire a foundation of knowledge on which to build for the rest of their lives.

This is a tall order. We do not think it is an impossible order. Nor do we think it is beyond the capacity of our educating institutions. Certainly it is not beyond the capacities of our 17-year-olds.

A version of this article appeared in the September 09, 1987 edition of Education Week as Why Study History and Literature?

A Brief History of English Literature

The Old English language or Anglo-Saxon is the earliest form of English. The period is a long one and it is generally considered that Old English was spoken from about A.D. 600 to about 1100. Many of the poems of the period are pagan, in particular Widsith and Beowulf.

The greatest English poem, Beowulf is the first English epic. The author of Beowulf is anonymous. It is a story of a brave young man Beowulf in 3182 lines. In this epic poem, Beowulf sails to Denmark with a band of warriors to save the King of Denmark, Hrothgar. Beowulf saves Danish King Hrothgar from a terrible monster called Grendel. The mother of Grendel who sought vengeance for the death of her son was also killed by Beowulf. Beowulf was rewarded and became King. After a prosperous reign of some forty years, Beowulf slays a dragon but in the fight he himself receives a mortal wound and dies. The poem concludes with the funeral ceremonies in honour of the dead hero. Though the poem Beowulf is little interesting to contemporary readers, it is a very important poem in the Old English period because it gives an interesting picture of the life and practices of old days.

The difficulty encountered in reading Old English Literature lies in the fact that the language is very different from that of today. There was no rhyme in Old English poems. Instead they used alliteration.

Besides Beowulf, there are many other Old English poems. Widsith, Genesis A, Genesis B, Exodus, The Wanderer, The Seafarer, Wife’s Lament, Husband’s Message, Christ and Satan, Daniel, Andreas, Guthlac, The Dream of the Rood, The Battle of Maldon etc. are some of the examples.

Two important figures in Old English poetry are Cynewulf and Caedmon. Cynewulf wrote religious poems and the four poems, Juliana, The Fates of the Apostles, Christ and Elene are always credited with him. Caedmon is famous for his Hymn.

Alfred enriched Old English prose with his translations especially Bede’s Ecclesiastical History. Aelfric is another important prose writer during Old English period. He is famous for his Grammar, Homilies and Lives of the Saints. Aelfric’s prose is natural and easy and is very often alliterative.


Middle English Literature

Geoffrey Chaucer
Poet Geoffrey Chaucer was born circa 1340 in London, England. In 1357 he became a public servant to Countess Elizabeth of Ulster and continued in that capacity with the British court throughout his lifetime. The Canterbury Tales became his best known and most acclaimed work. He died in 1400 and was the first to be buried in Westminster Abbey’s Poet’s Corner.

Chaucer’s first major work was ‘The Book of the Duchess’, an elegy for the first wife of his patron John of Gaunt. Other works include ‘Parlement of Foules’, ‘The Legend of Good Women’ and ‘Troilus and Criseyde’. In 1387, he began his most famous work, ‘The Canterbury Tales’, in which a diverse group of people recount stories to pass the time on a pilgrimage to Canterbury.

William Langland, (born c. 1330—died c. 1400), presumed author of one of the greatest examples of Middle English alliterative poetry, generally known as Piers Plowman, an allegorical work with a complex variety of religious themes. One of the major achievements of Piers Plowman is that it translates the language and conceptions of the cloister into symbols and images that could be understood by the layman. In general, the language of the poem is simple and colloquial, but some of the author’s imagery is powerful and direct.


In Europe, as in Greece, the drama had a distinctly religious origin. The first characters were drawn from the New Testament, and the object of the first plays was to make the church service more impressive, or to emphasize moral lessons by showing the reward of the good and the punishment of the evil doer. In the latter days of the Roman Empire the Church found the stage possessed by frightful plays, which debased the morals of a people already fallen too low. Reform seemed impossible the corrupt drama was driven from the stage, and plays of every kind were forbidden. But mankind loves a spectacle, and soon the Church itself provided a substitute for the forbidden plays in the famous Mysteries and Miracles.


In France the name miracle was given to any play representing the lives of the saints, while the mystère represented scenes from the life of Christ or stories from the Old Testament associated with the coming of Messiah. In England this distinction was almost unknown the name Miracle was used indiscriminately for all plays having their origin in the Bible or in the lives of the saints and the name Mystery, to distinguish a certain class of plays, was not used until long after the religious drama had passed away.

The earliest Miracle of which we have any record in England is the Ludus de Sancta Katharina, which was performed in Dunstable about the year 1110. It is not known who wrote the original play of St. Catherine, but our first version was prepared by Geoffrey of St. Albans, a French schoolteacher of Dunstable. Whether or not the play was given in English is not known, but it was customary in the earliest plays for the chief actors to speak in Latin or French, to show their importance, while minor and comic parts of the same play were given in English.

For four centuries after this first recorded play the Miracles increased steadily in number and popularity in England. They were given first very simply and impressively in the churches then, as the actors increased in number and the plays in liveliness, they overflowed to the churchyards but when fun and hilarity began to predominate even in the most sacred representations, the scandalized priests forbade plays altogether on church grounds. By the year 1300 the Miracles were out of ecclesiastical hands and adopted eagerly by the town guilds and in the following two centuries we find the Church preaching against the abuse of the religious drama which it had itself introduced, and which at first had served a purely religious purpose. But by this time the Miracles had taken strong hold upon the English people, and they continued to be immensely popular until, in the sixteenth century, they were replaced by the Elizabethan drama.

The early Miracle plays of England were divided into two classes: the first, given at Christmas, included all plays connected with the birth of Christ the second, at Easter, included the plays relating to his death and triumph. By the beginning of the fourteenth century all these plays were, in various localities, united in single cycles beginning with the Creation and ending with the Final Judgment. The complete cycle was presented every spring, beginning on Corpus Christi day and as the presentation of so many plays meant a continuous outdoor festival of a week or more, this day was looked forward to as the happiest of the whole year.

Probably every important town in England had its own cycle of plays for its own guilds to perform, but nearly all have been lost. At the present day only four cycles exist (except in the most fragmentary condition), and these, though they furnish an interesting commentary on the times, add very little to our literature. The four cycles are the Chester and York plays, so called from the towns in which they were given the Towneley or Wakefield plays, named for the Towneley family, which for a long time owned the manuscript and the Coventry plays, which on doubtful evidence have been associated with the Grey Friars (Franciscans) of Coventry. The Chester cycle has 25 plays, the Wakefield 30, the Coventry 42, and the York 48. It is impossible to fix either the date or the authorship of any of these plays we only know certainly that they were in great favor from the twelfth to the sixteenth century. The York plays are generally considered to be the best but those of Wakefield show more humor and variety, and better workmanship. The former cycle especially shows a certain unity resulting from its aim to represent the whole of man’s life from birth to death. The same thing is noticeable in Cursor Mundi, which, with the York and Wakefield cycles, belongs to the fourteenth century.

After these plays were written according to the general outline of the Bible stories, no change was tolerated, the audience insisting, like children at “Punch and Judy,” upon seeing the same things year after year. No originality in plot or treatment was possible, therefore the only variety was in new songs and jokes, and in the pranks of the devil. Childish as such plays seem to us, they are part of the religious development of all uneducated people. Even now the Persian play of the “Martyrdom of Ali” is celebrated yearly, and the famous “Passion Play,” a true Miracle, is given every ten years at Oberammergau.


The second or moral period of the drama is shown by the increasing prevalence of the Morality plays. In these the characters were allegorical personages,–Life, Death, Repentance, Goodness, Love, Greed, and other virtues and vices. The Moralities may be regarded, therefore, as the dramatic counterpart of the once popular allegorical poetry exemplified by the Romance of the Rose. It did not occur to our first, unknown dramatists to portray men and women as they are until they had first made characters of abstract human qualities. Nevertheless, the Morality marks a distinct advance over the Miracle in that it gave free scope to the imagination for new plots and incidents. In Spain and Portugal these plays, under the name auto, were wonderfully developed by the genius of Calderon and Gil Vicente but in England the Morality was a dreary kind of performance, like the allegorical poetry which preceded it.

To enliven the audience the devil of the Miracle plays was introduced and another lively personage called the Vice was the predecessor of our modern clown and jester. His business was to torment the “virtues” by mischievous pranks, and especially to make the devil’s life a burden by beating him with a bladder or a wooden sword at every opportunity. The Morality generally ended in the triumph of virtue, the devil leaping into hell-mouth with Vice on his back.

The best known of the Moralities is “Everyman,” which has recently been revived in England and America. The subject of the play is the summoning of every man by Death and the moral is that nothing can take away the terror of the inevitable summons but an honest life and the comforts of religion. In its dramatic unity it suggests the pure Greek drama there is no change of time or scene, and the stage is never empty from the beginning to the end of the performance. Other well-known Moralities are the “Pride of Life,” “Hyckescorner,” and “Castell of Perseverance.” In the latter, man is represented as shut up in a castle garrisoned by the virtues and besieged by the vices.

Like the Miracle plays, most of the old Moralities are of unknown date and origin. Of the known authors of Moralities, two of the best are John Skelton, who wrote “Magnificence,” and probably also “The Necromancer” and Sir David Lindsay (1490-1555), “the poet of the Scotch Reformation,” whose religious business it was to make rulers uncomfortable by telling them unpleasant truths in the form of poetry. With these men a new element enters into the Moralities. They satirize or denounce abuses of Church and State, and introduce living personages thinly disguised as allegories so that the stage first becomes a power in shaping events and correcting abuses.


It is impossible to draw any accurate line of distinction between the Moralities and Interludes. In general we may think of the latter as dramatic scenes, sometimes given by themselves (usually with music and singing) at banquets and entertainments where a little fun was wanted and again slipped into a Miracle play to enliven the audience after a solemn scene. Thus on the margin of a page of one of the old Chester plays we read, “The boye and pigge when the kinges are gone.” Certainly this was no part of the original scene between Herod and the three kings. So also the quarrel between Noah and his wife is probably a late addition to an old play. The Interludes originated, undoubtedly, in a sense of humor and to John Heywood (1497?-1580?), a favorite retainer and jester at the court of Mary, is due the credit for raising the Interlude to the distinct dramatic form known as comedy.

Heywood’s Interludes were written between 1520 and 1540. His most famous is “The Four P’s,” a contest of wit between a “Pardoner, a Palmer, a Pedlar and a Poticary.” The characters here strongly suggest those of Chaucer. Another interesting Interlude is called “The Play of the Weather.” In this Jupiter and the gods assemble to listen to complaints about the weather and to reform abuses. Naturally everybody wants his own kind of weather. The climax is reached by a boy who announces that a boy’s pleasure consists in two things, catching birds and throwing snowballs, and begs for the weather to be such that he can always do both. Jupiter decides that he will do just as he pleases about the weather, and everybody goes home satisfied.

All these early plays were written, for the most part, in a mingling of prose and wretched doggerel, and add nothing to our literature. Their great work was to train actors, to keep alive the dramatic spirit, and to prepare the way for the true drama.



After the death of Geoffrey Chaucer in 1400, a century has gone without great literary outputs. This period is known as Barren Age of literature.

Even though there are many differences in their work, Sir Thomas Wyatt and the Earl of Surrey are often mentioned together. Sir Thomas Wyatt introduced the Sonnet in England whereas Surrey wrote the first blank verse in English.

Thomas Wyatt followed the Italian poet Petrarch to compose sonnets. In this form, the 14 lines rhyme abbaabba (8) + 2 or 3 rhymes in the last six lines.

The Earl of Surrey’s blank verse is remarkable. Christopher Marlow, Shakespeare, Milton and many other writers made use of it.

Tottel’s Songs and Sonnets (1557) is the first printed anthology of English poetry. It contained 40 poems by Surrey and 96 by Wyatt. There were 135 by other authors. Some of these poems were fine, some childish.

In 1609, a collection of Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets was printed. These sonnets were addressed to one “Mr. W.H.”. The most probable explanation of the identity of “W.H.” is that he was William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke.

Other people mentioned in the sonnets are a girl, a rival poet, and a dark-eyed beauty. Shakespeare’s two long poems, Venus and Adonis, The Rape of Lucrece are notable.

One of the most important poets of Elizabethan period is Edmund Spenser (1552-1599). He has been addressed “the poets’ poet”. His pastoral poem, The Shepeard’s Calendar (1579) is in 12 books, one for each month of the year. Spenser’s Amoretti, 88 Petrarchan sonnets clebrates his progress of love. The joy of his marriage with Elizabeth Boyle is expressed in his ode Epithalamion. His Prothalamion is written in honour of the double marriage of the daughters of the Earl of Worester. Spenser’s allegorical poem, The Faerie Queene is his greatest achievement. Spenser invented a special metre for The Faerie Queene. The verse has nine lines and the rhyme plan is ababbcbcc. This verse is known as the ‘Spenserian Stanza’.

Sir Philip Sidney is remembered for his prose romance, Arcadia. His critical essay Apology for Poetry, sonnet collection Astrophel and Stella are elegant.

Michael Drayton and Sir Walter Raleigh are other important poets of Elizabethan England. Famous Elizabethan dramatist Ben Jonson produced fine poems also.

The University Wits John Lyly, Thomas Kyd, George Peele, Thomas Lodge, Robert Green, Christopher Marlow, and Thomas Nash also wrote good number of poems. John Lyly is most widely known as the author of prose romance entitled Euphues. The style Lyly used in his Euphues is known as Euphuism. The sentences are long and complicated. It is filled with tricks and alliteration. Large number of similes are brought in.

John Donne’s works add the beauty of Elizabethan literature. He was the chief figure of Metaphysical Poetry. Donne’s poems are noted for its originality and striking images and conceits. Satires, Songs and Sonnets, Elegies, The Flea, A Valediction: forbidding mourning, A Valediction: of weeping etc. are his famous works.

Sir Francis Bacon is a versatile genius of Elizabethan England. He is considered as the father of English essays. His Essays first appeared in 1597, the second edition in 1612 and the third edition in 1625. Besides essays, he wrote The Advancement of Learning, New Atlantis and History of Henry VII.

Bacon’s popular essays are Of Truth, Of Friendship, Of Love, Of Travel, Of Parents and Children, Of Marriage and Single Life, Of Anger, Of Revenge, Of Death, etc.

Ben Jonson’s essays are compiled in The Timber or Discoveries. His essays are aphoristic like those of Bacon. Jonson is considered as the father of English literary criticism.

Many attempts were carried out to translate Bible into English. After the death of John Wycliff, William Tyndale tried on this project. Coverdale carried on the work of Tyndale. The Authorized Version of Bible was published in 1611.



The English dramas have gone through great transformation in Elizabethan period. The chief literary glory of the Elizabethan age was its drama. The first regular English comedy was Ralph Roister Doister written by Nicholas Udall. Another comedy Gammar Gurton’s Needle is about the loss and the finding of a needle with which the old woman Gammar Gurton mends clothes.

The first English tragedy was Gorboduc, in blank verse. The first three acts of Gorboduc writtern by Thomas Norton and the other two by Thomas Sackville.

The University Wits contributed hugely for the growth of Elizabethan drama. The University Wits were young men associated with Oxford and Cambridge. They were fond of heroic themes. The most notable figures are Christopher Marlow, Thomas Kyd, Thomas Nash, Thomas Lodge, Robert Greene, and George Peele.

Christopher Marlow was the greatest of pre-Shakespearean dramatist. Marlow wrote only tragedies. His most famous works are Edward II, Tamburlaine the Great, The Jew of Malta, The Massacre at Paris, and Doctor Faustus. Marlow popularized the blank verse. Ben Jonson called it “the mighty line of Marlow”.

Thomas Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy is a Senecan play. It resembles Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Its horrific plot gave the play a great and lasting popularity.

The greatest literary figure of English, William Shakespeare was born at Stratford-on-Avon on April 26, 1564. He did odd jobs and left to London for a career. In London, he wrote plays for Lord Chamberlain’s company. Shakespeare’s plays can be classified as the following

1.The Early Comedies: in these immature plays the plots are not original. The characters are less finished and the style lacks the genius of Shakespeare. They are full of wit and word play. Of this type are The Comedy of Errors, Love’s Labour’s Lost, and The Two Gentlemen of Verona.

2.The English Histories: These plays show a rapid maturing of Shakespeare’s technique. His characterization has improved. The plays in this group are Richard II, Henry IV and Henry V.

3. The Mature Comedies: The jovial good humour of Sir Toby Belch in Twelfth Night, the urban worldywise comedy of Touchstone in As You Like It, and the comic scenes in The Merchant of Venice, Much Ado About Nothing etc. are full of vitality. They contain many comic situations.

4.The Sombre Plays: In this group are All’s Well that Ends Well, Measure for Measure, and Trolius and Cressida. These plays show a cynical attitude to life and are realistic in plot.

5. The Great Tragedies: Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth, and King Lear are the climax of Shakespeare’s art. These plays stand supreme in intensity of emotion, depth of psychological insight, and power of style.

6. The Roman Plays: Julius Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra, Coriolanus etc. follow the great tragic period. Unlike Marlow, Shakespeare is relaxed in the intensity of tragedy.

7. The Last Plays: The notable last plays of Shakespeare are Cymbeline, The Winter’s Tale, and The Tempest.

The immense power and variety of Shakespeare’s work have led to the idea that one man cannot have written it all yet it must be true that one man did. Thus Shakespeare remains as the greatest English dramatist even after four centuries of his death.

Other dramatist who flourished during the Elizabethan period is Ben Jonson. He introduced the “comedy of humours’’, which portrays the individual as dominated by one marked characteristic. He is best known for his Every Man in his Humour. Other important plays of Jonson are Every Man out of his Humour, Volpone or the Fox, and The Alchemist,

John Webster’s The White Devil and The Duchess of Malfi are important Elizabethan dramas. Thomas Dekker, Thomas Middleton, Thomas Heywood, Beaumont and Fletcher etc. are other noted Elizabethan playwrights.


John Milton and His Time

John Milton (1608- 1674) was born in London and educated at Christ’s College, Cambridge. After leaving university, he studied at home. Milton was a great poet, polemic, pamphleteer, theologian, and parliamentarian. In 1643, Milton married a woman much younger than himself. She left Milton and did not return for two years. This unfortunate incident led Milton to write two strong pamphlets on divorce. The greatest of all his political writings is Areopagitica, a notable and impassioned plea for the liberty of the press.

Milton’s early poems include On Shakespeare, and On Arriving at the Age of Twenty-three. L’Allegro(the happy man and Il Penseroso (the sad man) two long narrative poems. Comus is a masque written by Milton when he was at Cambridge.

His pastoral elegy Lycidas is on his friend, Edward King who drowned to death on a voyage to Ireland. Milton’s one of the sonnets deals with the theme of his blindness.

Milton is remembered for his greatest epic poem Paradise Lost. Paradise Lost contained twelve books and published in 1677. Milton composed it in blank verse. Paradise Lost covers the rebellion of Satan(Lucifer) in heaven and his expulsion. Paradise Lost contains hundreds of remarkable lines. Milton coined many words in this poem.

Paradise Regained and Samson Agonistes are other two major poems of Milton.

Milton occupies a central position in English literature. He was a great Puritan and supported Oliver Cromwell in the Civil War. He wrote many pamphlet in support of parliament.


Milton’s period produced immense lyric poetry. These lyrical poets dealt chiefly with love and war.

Richard Lovelace’s Lucasta contains the best of his shorter pieces. His best known lyrics, such as To Althea, from Prison and To Lucasta, going in the Wars, are simple and sincere.

Sir John Suckling was a famous wit at court. His poems are generous and witty. His famous poem is Ballad upon a Wedding.

Robert Herrick wrote some fresh and passionate lyrics. Among his best known shorter poems are To Althea, To Julia, and Cherry Ripe.

Philip Massinger and John Ford produced some notable in this period.

Many prose writers flourished during Milton’s age. Sir Thomas Browne is the best prose writer of the period. His ReligioMedici is a curious mixture of religious faith and scientific skepticism. Pseudodoxia Epidemica, or Vulgar Errors is another important work.

Thomas Hobbes’s Leviathan, Thomas Fuller’s The History of the Holy War are other important prose works during this period. Izaac Walton’s biography of John Donne is a very famous work of Milton’s period. His Compleat Angler discusses the art of river fishing.



The Restoration of Charles II (1660) brought about a revolution in English literature. With the collapse of the Puritan Government there sprang up activities that had been so long suppressed. The Restoration encouraged levity in rules that often resulted in immoral and indecent plays.

John Dryden (1631-1700)

Dryden is the greatest literary figure of the Restoration. In his works, we have an excellent reflection of both the good and the bad tendencies of the age in which he lived. Before the Restoration, Dryden supported Oliver Cromwell. At the Restoration, Dryden changed his views and became loyal to Charles II. His poem Astrea Redux (1660) celebrated Charles II’s return.

Dryden’s Annus Mirabilis(Miracle Year) describes the terrors of Great Fire in London in 1666. Dryden appeared as the chief literary champion of the monarchy in his famous satirical allegory, Abasalom and Achitophel. John Dryden is now remembered for his greatest mock-heroic poem, Mac Flecknoe. Mac Flecknoe is a personal attack on his rival poet Thomas Shadwell.

Dryden’s other important poems are Religio Laici, and The Hind and the Panther.

John Dryden popularized heroic couplets in his dramas. Aurengaxebe, The Rival Ladies, The Conquest of Granada, Don Sebastian etc. are some of his famous plays.

His dramatic masterpiece is All for Love. Dryden polished the plot of Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra in his All for Love.

As a prose writer, Dryden’s work, An Essay on Dramatic Poesie is worth mentioning.

John Bunyan’s greatest allegory, The Pilgrim’s Progress, The Holy War,

Comedy of Manners

Restoration period produced a brilliant group of dramatists who made this age immortal in the history of English literature. These plays are hard and witty, comic and immoral. It was George Etheredge who introduced Comedy of Manners. His famous plays are She Would if She Could, The Man of Mode and Love in a Tub.

William Congreve is the greatest of Restoration comedy writers. His Love for Love, The Old Bachelor, The Way of the World and The Double Dealer are very popular.

William Wycherley is another important Restoration comedy playwright. His Country Wife, and Love in a Wood are notable plays.

Sir John Vanbrugh’s best three comedies are The Provoked Wife, The Relapse and The Confederacy.


ENGLISH POETS, 1660-1798

ALEXANDER POPE (1688-1744)

Alexander Pope was the undisputed master of both prose and verse. Pope wrote many poems and mock-epics attacking his rival poets and social condition of England. His Dunciad is an attack on dullness. He wrote An Essay on Criticism (1711) in heroic couplets. In 1712, Pope pubished The Rape of the Lock, one of the most brilliant poems in English language. It is a mock-heroic poem dealing with the fight of two noble families.

An Essay on Man, Of the Characters of Women, and the translation of Illiad and Odyssey are his other major works.

Oliver Goldsmith wrote two popular poems in heroic couplets. They are The Traveller and The Deserted Village.

James Thompson is remembered for his long series of descriptive passages dealing with natural scenes in his poem The Seasons. He wrote another important poem The Castle of Indolence.

Edward Young produced a large amount of literary work of variable quality. The Last Day, The Love of Fame, and The Force of Religion are some of them.

Robert Blair’s fame is chiefly dependent on his poem The Grave. It is a long blank verse poem of meditation on man’s morality.

Thomas Gray (1716-1771) is one of the greatest poets of English literature. His first poem was the Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College. Then after years of revision, he published his famous Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard. Its popularity had been maintained to the present day. Other important poems of Thomas Gray are Ode on a Favourite Cat, The Bard and The Progress of Poesy.

William Blake (1757-1827) is both a great poet and artist. His two collections of short lyrics are Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience. His finest lyric is The Tiger.

Robert Burns is known as the national poet of Scotland. A Winter Night, O My Love is like a Red Red Rose, The Holy Fair etc. are some of his major poems.

William Cowper, William Collins, and William Shenstone are other notable poets before the Romanticism.



DANIEL DEFOE (1659-1731)

Daniel Defoe wrote in bulk. His greatest work is the novel Robinson Crusoe. It is based on an actual event which took place during his time. Robinson Crusoe is considered to be one of the most popular novels in English language. He started a journal named The Review. His A Journal of the Plague Year deals with the Plague in London in 1665.

Sir Richard Steele and Joseph Addison worked together for many years. Richard Steele started the periodicals The Tatler, The Spectator, The Guardian, The English Man, and The Reader. Joseph Addison contributed in these periodicals and wrote columns. The imaginary character of Sir Roger de Coverley was very popular during the eighteenth century.

Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) is one of the greatest satirists of English literature. His first noteworthy book was The Battle of the Books. A Tale of a Tub is a religious allegory like Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. His longest and most famous work is Gulliver’s Travels. Another important work of Jonathan Swift is A Modest Proposal.

Dr. Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) is very much famous for his Dictionary (1755). The Vanity of Human Wishes is a longish poem by him. Johnson started a paper named The Rambler. His The Lives of the Poets introduces fifty-two poets including Donne, Dryden, Pope, Milton, and Gray. Most of the information about Johnson is taken from his friend James Boswell’s biography Life of Samuel Johnson.

Edward Gibbon is famous for the great historical work, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. His Autobiography contains valuable material concerning his life.

Edmund Burke is one of the masters of English prose. He was a great orator also. His speech On American Taxation is very famous. Revolution in France and A Letter to a Noble Lord are his notable pamphlets.

The letters of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, Earl of Chesterfield, Thomas Gray and Cowper are good prose works in Eighteenth century literature.

The Birth of English Novel

The English novel proper was born about the middle of the eighteenth century. Samuel Richardson (1689-1761) is considered as the father of English novel. He published his first novel Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded in 1740. This novel is written in the form of letters. Thus Pamela is an ‘epistolary novel’. The character Pamela is a poor and virtuous woman who marries a wicked man and afterwards reforms her husband. Richardson’s next novel Clarissa Harlowe was also constructed in the form of letters. Many critics consider Clarissa as Richardson’s masterpiece. Clarissa is the beautiful daughter of a severe father who wants her to marry against her will. Clarissa is a very long novel.

Henry Fielding (1707-1754) is another important novelist. He published Joseph Andrews in 1742. Joseph Andrews laughs at Samuel Richardson’s Pamela. His greatest novel is Tom Jones. Henry Fielding’s last novel is Amelia.

Tobias Smollett wrote a ‘picaresque novel’ titled The Adventures of Roderick Random. His other novels are The Adventures of Ferdinand and Humphry Clinker.

Laurence Sterne is now remembered for his masterpiece Tristram Shandy which was published in 1760. Another important work of Laurence Sterne is A Sentimental journey through France and Italy. These novels are unique in English literature. Sterne blends humour and pathos in his works.

Horace Walpole is famous both as a letter writer and novelist. His one and only novel The Castle of Otranto deals with the horrific and supernatural theme.

Other ‘terror novelists’ include William Beckford and Mrs Ann Radcliffe.



The main stream of poetry in the eighteenth century had been orderly and polished, without much feeling for nature. The publication of the first edition of the Lyrical Ballads in 1798 came as a shock. The publication of Lyrical Ballads by William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge was the beginning of the romantic age. They together with Southey are known as the Lake Poets, because they liked the Lake district in England and lived in it.

William Wordsworth ((1770-1850) was the poet of nature. In the preface to the second edition of the Lyrical Ballads, Wordsworth set out his theory of poetry. He defined poetry as “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings and emotions”. His views on poetical style are the most revolutionary.

In his early career as a poet, Wordsworth wrote poems like An Evening Walk and Descriptive Sketches. The Prelude is the record of his development as a poet. It is a philosophical poem. He wrote some of the best lyric poems in the English language like The Solitary Reaper, I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud, Ode on the Itimations of Immorality, Resolution and Independence etc. Tintern Abbey is one of the greatest poems of Wordsworth.

Samuel Tylor Coleridge (1772-1814) wrote four poems for The Lyrical Ballads. The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is the most noteworthy. Kubla Khan, Christabel, Dejection an Ode, Frost at Midnight etc. are other important poems. Biographia Literaria is his most valuable prose work. Coleridge’s lectures on Shakespeare are equally important.

Lord Byron’s Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage was based on his travels. Don Juan ranks as one of the greatest of satirical poems. The Vision of Judgment is a fine political satire in English.

PB Shelley (1792-1822) was a revolutionary figure of Romantic period. When Shelley was studying at Oxford, he wrote the pamphlet The Necessity of Atheism which caused his expulsion from the university. Queen Mab, The Revolt of Islam and Alastor are his early poems. Prometheus Unbound is a combination of the lyric and the drama. Shelley wrote some of the sweetest English lyrics like To a Skylark, The Cloud, To Night etc. Of his many odes, the most remarkable is Ode to the West Wind. Adonais is an elegy on the death of John Keats.

John Keats (1795-1821) is another great Romantic poet who wrote some excellent poems in his short period of life. His Isabella deals with the murder of a lady’s lover by her two wicked brothers. The unfinished epic poem Hyperion is modelled on Milton’s Paradise Lost. The Eve of St Agnes is regarded as his finest narrative poem. The story of Lamia is taken from Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy. Endymion, Ode to a Nightingale, Ode on a Grecian Urn, Ode to Psyche, Ode on Melancholy and Ode to Autumn are very famous. His Letters give give a clear insight into his mind and artistic development.

Robert Southey is a minor Romantic poet. His poems, which are of great bulk, include Joan of Arc, Thalaba, and The Holly-tree. 4



Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809-92) is a chief figure of later nineteenth century poetry. His volume of Poems contain notable poems like The Lady of Shalott, The Lotos-Eaters, Ulysses, Morte d’ Arthur.The story ofMorte d’ Arthur is based on Thomas Malory’s poemMorte d’ Arthur. In Memoriam(1850) caused a great stir when it first appeared. It is a very long series of meditations upon the death of Arthur Henry Hallam, Tennyson’s college friend, who died at Vienna in 1833. In Memoriam is the most deeply emotional, and probably the greatest poetry he ever produced. Maud and Other Poems was received with amazement by the public. Idylls of the King, Enoch Arden, Haroldetc. are his other works.

Robert Browning (1812-89) is an English poet and playwright whose mastery of dramatic monologues made him one of the foremost Victorian poets. He popularized ‘dramatic monologue’. The Ring and the Book is an epic-length poem in which he justifies the ways of God to humanity Browning is popularly known by his shorter poems, such as Porphyria’s Lover, Rabbi Ben Ezra, How They Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix, and The Pied Piper of Hamelin. He married Elizabeth Barrett, another famous poet during the Victorian period. Fra Lippo Lippi Andrea Del Sarto and My Last Duchess are famous dramatic monologues.

Matthew Arnold (1822-1888) was an English poet and cultural critic who worked as an inspector of schools. He was the son of Thomas Arnold, the famed headmaster of Rugby School. Arnold is sometimes called the third great Victorian poet, along with Alfred Lord Tennyson and Robert Browning.
Arnold valued natural scenery for its peace and permanence in contrast with the ceaseless change of human things. His descriptions are often picturesque, and marked by striking similes. Thyrsis, Dover Beach and The Scholar Gipsy are his notable poems.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti was an English poet, illustrator, painter and translator in the late nineteenth century England. Rossotti’s poems were criticized as belonging to the ‘Fleshy School’ of poetry. Rossetti wrote about nature with his eyes on it.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning, wife of Robert Browning wrote some excellent poems in her volume of Sonnets from the Portuguese.

AC Swinburne followed the style of Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Swinburne’s famous poems works are Poems and Ballads and tristram of Lyonesse.

Edward Fitzgerald translated the Rubaiyat of the Persian poet Omar Khayyam. Fitzgerald’s translation is loose and did not stick too closely to the original.

Rudyard Kipling and Francis Thompson also wrote some good poems during the later nineteenth century.

Chapter 11

Nineteenth Century Novelists (Victorian Novelists)

Jane Austen 1775-1817 is one of the greatest novelists of nineteenth century English literature. Her first novel Pride and Prejudice (1813) deals with the life of middle class people. The style is smooth and charming. Her second novel Sense and Sensibility followed the same general lines of Pride and Prejudice. Northanger Abbey, Emma, Mansfield Park, and Persuasion are some of the other famous works. Jane Austen’s plots are skillfully constructed. Her characters are developed with minuteness and accuracy.

Charles Dickens (1812-1870) is considered as one of the greatest English novelists. Dickens has contributed some evergreen characters to English literature. He was a busy successful novelist during his lifetime. The Pickwick Papers and Sketches by Boz are two early novels. Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickleby , David Copperfield, Hard Times, A Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations are some of the most famous novels of Charles Dickens. No English novelists excel Dickens in the multiplicity of his characters and situations. He creates a whole world people for the readers. He sketched both lower and middle class people in London.

William Makepeace Thackeray was born in Calcutta and sent to England for education. William Thackeray is now chiefly remembered for his novel The Vanity Fair. While Dickens was in full tide of his success, Thackeray was struggling through neglect and contempt to recognition. Thackeray’s genius blossomed slowly. Thackeray’s characters are fearless and rough. He protested against the feeble characters of his time. The Rose and the Ring, Rebecca and Rowena, and The Four Georges are some of his works.

The Brontës
Charlotte, Emily, and Anne were the daughters of an Irish clergy man Patrick Brontë, who held a living in Yorkshire. Charlotte Brontës first novel, The Professor failed to find a publisher and only appeared after her death. Jane Eyre is her greatest novel. the plot is weak and melodramatic. This was followed by Shirley and Villette. Her plots are overcharged and she is largely restricted to her own experiments.

Emily Brontë wrote less than Charlottë. Her one and only novel Wuthering Heights (1847) is unique in English literature. It is the passionate love story of Heathcliff and Catherine.

Anne Bronte’s two novels, Agnes Grey and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall are much inferior to those of her sisters, for she lacks nearly all their power and intensity.

George Eliot (1819-1880) is the pen-name of Mary Ann Evans. Adam Bede was her first novel. Her next novel, The Mill on the Floss is partly autobiographical. Silas Marner is a shorter novel which gives excellent pictures of village life. Romola, Middle March and Daniel Deronda are other works of George Eliot.

Thomas Hardy (1840-1928) published his first work Desperate Remedies anonymously. Under the Greenwood Tree, one of the lightest and most appealing of his novels established him as a writer. It was set in the rural area he was soon to make famous as Wessex. Far From the Madding Crowd is a tragi-comedy set in Wessex. The rural background of the story is an integral part of the novel, which reveals the emotional depths which underlie rustic life. The novel, The Return of the Native is a study of man’s helplessness before the mighty Fate. The Mayor of Casterbridge also deals with the theme of Man versus Destiny. Tess of the D’Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure aroused the hostility of conventional readers due to their frank handling of sex and religion. At the beginning Tess of the D’Urbervilles was rejected by the publishers. The outcry with the publication of Jude the Obscure led Hardy in disgust to abandon novel writing. Thomas Hardy’s characters are mostly men and women living close to the soil.

Mary Shelley, the wife of Romantic poet PB Shelley is now remembered as a writer of her famous novel of terror, Frankestein. Frankestein can be regarded as the first attempt at science fiction. The Last Man is Mary Shelley’s another work.

Edgar Allan Poe was a master of Mystery stories. Poe’s powerful description of astonishing and unusual events has the attraction of terrible things. Some of his major works are The Mystery of Marie Roget, The Murders in the Rue Morgue, The Fall of the House of Usher and The Mystery of Red Death.

Besides poetry collections like The Lady of the Last Ministrel, Marmion, The Lady of the Lake, and The Lord of the Isles, Sir Walter Scott produced enormous number of novels. Waverly, Old Mortality, The Black Dwarf, The Pirate, and Kenilworth are some of them. He was too haste in writing novels and this led to the careless, imperfect stories. He has a great place in the field of historical novels.

Frederick Marryat’s sea novels were popular in the nineteenth century. His earliest novel was The Naval Officer. All his best books deal with the sea. Marryat has a considerable gift for plain narrative and his humour is entertaining. Peter Simple, Jacob Faithful and Japhet in Search of His Father are some of his famous works.

R.L. Stevenson’s The Treasure Island, George Meredith’s The Egoist, Edward Lytton’s The Last Days of Pompeii, Charles Reade’s Mask and Faces, Anthony Trollope’s The Warden, Wilkie Collins’s The Moonstone, Joseph Conard’s Lord Jim, Nathaniel Hawthrone’s The Scarlet Letter etc. are some of other famous works of nineteenth century English literature.

Chapter 12

Other Nineteenth Century Prose

Charles Lamb is one of the greatest essayists of nineteenth century. Lamb started his career as a poet but is now remembered for his well-known Essays of Elia. His essays are unequal in English. He is so sensitive and so strong. Besides Essays of Elia, other famous essays are Dream Children and Tales from Shakespeare. His sister, Mary Lamb also wrote some significant essays.

William Hazlitt’s reputation chiefly rests on his lectures and essays on literary and general subjects. His lectures, Characters of Shakespeare’s Plays, The English Poets and The English Comic Writers are important.

Thomas De Quincey’s famous work is Confessions of an English Opium Eater. It is written in the manner of dreams. His Reminiscences of the English Lake Poets contain some good chapters on Wordsworth and Coleridge.

Thomas Carlyle is another prose writer of nineteenth century. His works consisted of translations, essays, and biographies. Of these the best are his translation of Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship, his The Life of Schiller, and his essays on Robert Burns and Walter Scott.

Thomas Macaulay (Lord Macaulay) wrote extensively. He contributed for The Encyclopedia of Britannica and The Edinburgh Review. His History of England is filled with numerous and picturesque details.

Charles Darwin is one of the greatest names in modern science. He devoted almost wholly to biological and allied studies. His chief works are The Voyage of the Beagle, Origin of Species, and The Descent of Man.

John Ruskin’s works are of immense volume and complexity. His longest book is Modern Painters. The Seven Lamps of Architecture, and The Stones of Venice expound his views on artistic matters. Unto this Last is a series of articles on political economy.

Samuel Butler, the grandson of Dr. Samuel Butler was inspired by the Darwinian theory of evolution. Evolution Old and New, Unconcious Memory, Essays on Life, Art and Science, The Way of All Flesh etc. rank him as one of the greatest prose writers of ninteenth century. He was an acute and original thinker. He exposed all kinds of reliogious, political, and social shams and hypocrisies of his period.

Besides being a great poet, Mathew Arnold also excelled as an essayist. His prose works are large in bulk and wide in range. Of them all his critical essays are probably of the greatest value. Essays in Criticism, Culture and Anarchy, and Literature and Dogma have permanent value.

Lewis Carroll, another prose writer of ninteenth century is now remembered for her immortal work, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Ever since its publication, this novel continues to be popular among both the children and adult readers.

Chapter 13 Twentieth-century novels and other prose

The long reign of Queen Victoria ended in 1901. There was a sweeping social reform and unprecedented progress. The reawakening of a social conscience was found its expression in the literature produced during this period.

Rudyard Kipling was born in Bombay but soon moved to Lahore. He worked as a news reporter in Lahore. Kipling was a prolific and versatile writer. His insistent proclamation of the superiority of the white races, his support for colonization, his belief in the progress and the value of the machine etc. found an echo on the hearts of many of his readers. His best-known prose works include Kim, Life’s Handicap, Debits and Credits, and Rewards and Fairies. He is now chiefly remembered for his greatest work, The Jungle Book.

E.M Forster wrote five novels in his life time. Where Angels Fear to Tread has well-drawn characters. Other novels are The Longest Journey, A Room with a View, Howards End, and A Passage to India. A Passage to India is unequal in English in its presentation of the complex problems which were to be found in the relationship between English and native people in India. E.M Forster portrayed the Indian scene in all its magic and all its wretchedness.

H.G Wells began his career as a journalist. He started his scientific romances with the publication of The Time Machine. The Invisible Man, The War of the Worlds, The First Men in the Moon and The Food of the Gods are some of his important science romances. Ann Veronica, Kipps and The History of Mr Polly are numbered among his sociological novels.

D.H Lawrence was a striking figure in the twentieth century literary world. He produced over forty volumes of fiction during his period. The White Peacock is his earliest novel. The largely autobiographical and extremely powerful novel was Sons and Lovers. It studies with great insight the relationship between a son and mother. By many, it is considered the best of all his works. Then came The Rainbow, suppressed as obscene, which treats again the conflict between man and woman. Women in Love is another important work. Lady Chatterley’s Lover is a novel in which sexual experience is handled with a wealth of physical detail and uninhibited language. Lawrence also excelled both as a poet and short story writer.

James Joyce is a serious novelist, whose concern is chiefly with human relationships- man in relation to himself, to society, and to the whole race. He was born in Dublin, Ireland. His first work, Dubliners, is followed by a largely autobiographical novel A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. It is an intense account of a developing writer. The protagonist of the story, Stephen Dedalus is James Joyce himself. The character Stephen Dedalus appears again in his highly complex novel, Ulysses published in 1922. Joyce’s mastery of language, his integrity, brilliance, and power is noticeable in his novel titled Finnefan’s Wake.

Virginia Woolf famed both as a literary critic and novelist. Her first novel, The Voyage Out is told in the conventional narrative manner. A deeper study of characters can be found in her later works such as Night and Day, Jacob’s Room, To the Lighthouse, Mrs. Dalloway and Orlando. In addition to her novels, Virginia Woolf wrote a number of essays on cultural subjects. Woolf rejected the conventional concepts of novel. She replaced emphasis on incident, external description, and straight forward narration by using the technique “Stream of Consciousness”. James Joyce and Virginia Woolf popularized this writing technique.

George Orwell became a figure of outstanding importance because of Animal Farm. It is a political allegory on the degeneration of communist ideals into dictatorship. Utterly different was Nineteen Eighty-Four on the surveillance of state over its citizen. Burmese Days and The Road to Wigan Pier are other works.

William Golding deals with man’s instinct to destroy what is good, whether it is material or spiritual. His best known novel is Lord of the Flies. The Scorpion God, The Inheritors and Free Fall are other notable works.

Somerset Maugham was a realist who sketched the cosmopolitan life through his characters. The Moon and Sixpence, Mrs. Craddock and The Painted Veil are some of his novels. His best novel is Of Human Bondage. It is a study in frustration, which had a strong autobiographical element.

Kingsly Amis’s Lucky Jim, Take a Girl like You, One Fat Englishman, and Girl are notable works in the twentieth century.

Chapter 14

Twentieth Century Drama

After a hundred years of insignificance, drama again appeared as an important form in the twentieth century. Like the novelists in the 20 th century, most of the important dramatists were chiefly concerned with the contemporary social scene. Many playwrights experimented in the theatres. There were revolutionary changes in both the theme and presentation.

John Galsworthy was a social reformer who showed both sides of the problems in his plays. He had a warm sympathy for the victims of social injustice. Of his best-known plays The Silver Box deals with the inequality of justice, Strife with the struggle between Capital and Labour, Justice with the meaninglessness of judiciary system.

George Bernard Shaw is one of the greatest dramatists of 20 th century. The first Shavian play is considered to be Arms and the Man. It is an excellent and amusing stage piece which pokes fun at the romantic conception of the soldier. The Devil’s Disciple, Caesar and Cleopatra, and The Man of Destiny are also noteworthy. Man and Superman is Shaw’s most important play which deals the theme half seriously and half comically. Religion and social problems are again the main topics in Major Barbara. The Doctor’s Dilemma is an amusing satire. Social conventions and social weaknesses were treated again in Pygmalion, a witty and highly entertaining study of the class distinction. St Joan deals with the problems in Christianity. The Apple Cart, Geneva, The Millionaire, Too True to be Good and On the Rocks are Shaw’s minor plays.

J M Synge was the greatest dramatist in the rebirth of the Irish theatre. His plays are few in number but they are of a stature to place him among the greatest playwrights in the English language. Synge was inspired by the beauty of his surroundings, the humour, tragedy, and poetry of the life of the simple fisher-folk in the Isles of Aran. The Shadow of the Glen is a comedy based on an old folktale, which gives a good romantic picture of Irish peasant life. It was followed by Riders to the Sea, a powerful, deeply moving tragedy which deals with the toll taken by the sea in the lives of the fisher-folk of the Ireland. The Winker’s Wedding and The Well of the Saints are other notable works.

Samuel Beckett, the greatest proponent of Absurd Theatre is most famous for his play, Waiting for Godot. It is a static representation without structure or development, using only meandering, seemingly incoherent dialogue to suggest despair of a society in the post-World War period. Another famous play by Beckett is Endgame.

Harold Pinter was influenced by Samuel Beckett. His plays are quite short and set in an enclosed space. His characters are always in doubt about their function, and in fear of something or someone ‘outside’. The Birthday Party, The Dumb Waiter, A Night Out, The Homecoming and Silence are his most notable plays.

James Osborne’s Look Back in Anger gave the strongest tonic to the concept of Angry Young Man. Watch it Come Down, A Portrait of Me, Inadmissible Evidence etc. are his other major works.

T.S Eliot wrote seven dramas. They are Sweeney Agonistes, The Rock, Murder in the Cathedral, The Family Reunion, The Cocktail Party, The Confidential Clerk and The Elder Statesman.

Juno and the Paycock, The Plough and the Stars, and The Silver Tassie marked Sean O’Casey out as the greatest new figure in the inter-War years. His own experience enabled him to study the life of the Dublin slums with the warm understanding.

Another leading playwright of 20 th century was Arnold Wesker. Wesker narrated the lives of working class people in his plays. Roots, Chicken Soup with Barley and I’m Talking about Jerusalem are his famous works.

Bertolt Brecht, J.B Priestley, Somerset Maugham, Christopher Fry, Peter Usinov, Tom Stoppard, Bernard Kops, Henry Livings, Alan Bennett et al are other important playwrights of twentieth century English literature.

Chapter 15 Twentieth Century Poetry

The greatest figure in the poetry of the early part of the Twentieth century was the Irish poet William Butler Yeats. Like so many of his contemporaries, Yeats was acutely conscious of the spiritual barrenness of his age. W.B Yeats sought to escape into the land of ‘faery’ and looked for his themes in Irish legend. He is one of the most difficult of modern poets. His trust was in the imagination and intuition of man rather than in scientific reasoning. Yeats believed in fairies, magic, and other forms of superstition. He studied Indian philosophy and Vedas. An Irish Seaman Foresees His Death, The Tower, The Green Helmet etc. are his major poems.

With possible excepion of Yeats, no twentieth century poet has been held in such esteem by his fellow-poets as T.S Eliot. Eliot’s first volume of verse, Prufrock and Other Observations portrays the boredom, emptiness, and pessimism of its days. His much discussed poem The Waste Land(1922) made a tremendous impact on the post-War generation, and it is considered one of the important documents of its age. The poem is difficult to understand in detail, but its general aim is clear. The poem is built round the symbols of drought and flood, representing death and rebirth. The poem progresses in five movements, “The Burial of the Dead”, “The Game of the Chess”, “The Fire Sermon”, “Death by Water”, and “What the Thunder Said”. Eliot’s poem Ash Wednesday is probably his most difficult. Obscure images and symbols and the lack of a clear, logical structure make the poem difficult.

W.H Auden was an artist of great virtuosity, a ceaseless experimenter in verse form, with a fine ear for the rhythm and music of words. He was modern in tone and selection of themes. Auden’s later poems revealed a new note of mysticism in his approach to human problems. He was outspokingly anti-Romantic and stressed the objective attitude.

Thomas Hardy began his career as a poet. Though he was not able to find a publisher, he continued to write poetry. Hardy’s verses consist of short lyrics describing nature and natural beauty. Like his novels, the poems reveal concern with man’s unequal struggle against the mighty fate. Wessex Poems, Winter Words, and Collected Poems are his major poetry works.

G.M Hopkins is a unique figure in the history of English poetry. No modern poet has been the centre of more controversy or the cause of more misunderstanding. He was very unconventional in writing technique. He used Sprung-rhythm, counterpoint rhythm, internal rhythms, alliteration, assonance, and coinages in his poems.

Dylan Thomas was an enemy of intellectualism in verse. He drew upon the human body, sex, and the Old Testament for much of his imagery and complex word-play. His verses are splendidly colourful and musical. Appreciation of landscape, religious and mystical association, sadness and quietness were very often selected as themes for his verses.

Sylvia Plath and her husband Ted Hughes composed some brilliant poems in the 20 th century. Plath’s mental imbalance which brought her to suicide can be seen in her poetry collections titled Ariel, The Colossus, and Crossing the Water. Ted Hughes was a poet of animal and nature. His major collection of poetry are The Hawk in the Rain, Woodwo, Crow, Crow Wakes and Eat Crow.

R.S Thomas, Philip Larkin, Kingsley Amis, Peter Porter, Seamus Heaney et al are also added the beauty of 20 th century English poetry.

War Poets

The First World War brought to public notice many poets, particularly among the young men of armed forces, while it provided a new source of inspiration for writers of established reputation. Rupert Brooke, Slegfried Sassoon, and Wilfred Owen are the major War poets. Rupert Brooke’s famous sonnet “If I should die, think only this of me” has appeared in so many anthologies of twentieth century verse. Brooke turned to nature and simple pleasures for inspiration. Sassoon wrote violent and embittered poems. Sassoon painted the horrors of life and death in the trenches and hospitals. Wilfred Owen was the greatest of the war poets. In the beginning of his literary career, Owen wrote in the romantic tradition of John Keats and Lord Tennyson. Owen was a gifted artist with a fine feeling for words. He greatly experimented in verse techniques.

How much does history influence literature, or vice versa?

History and literature are interlinked as subjects. The “zeitgeist effect” in writing demonstrates how aptly and narrowly a historical period can define a work, whether it is the suppression of Caliban in The Tempest read post-colonially to mimic the suppression of native people during British world colonisation, or the politics of Russian high society characterised in the underhandedness of characters such as Anna herself in Anna Karenina. Furthermore, the literature produced by a society is often reflective of the values of that society. This is especially prevalent in popular literature, such as Shakespeare, who wrote commercially, and in the orally relayed epic poems of Homer.

Firstly, the impact of history on literature can be seen in the prevalence of historic events in especially modern plays and novels. Recently written dramas, such as Peter Whelan’s The Accrington Pals or Phil Porter’s The Christmas Truce, rely on the historical event and atmosphere of WWI as the basis of their narratives. The inclusion of history in drama, especially in plays such as The Christmas Truce which ran through the Royal Shakespeare Company, influence a wide range of people, and are useful particularly in an educational sense. This educational aspect comes purely from the historical aspect of the literature, and as the event of World War I has been highly significant in the past year, given the centenary, the influence of history in most aspects of education has perhaps become more pronounced. Furthermore, popular literature could also be said to have taken a more historical slant. Sebastian Faulks’ Birdsong focuses wholly on WWI and the effects of war, and has sold more than 20 million copies. Hilary Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell series, currently comprising of Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies, has sold more than a million copies, and is based on an intense level of historical research. So historical events and the study of history influence literature heavily, primarily through broadening the range of topics for writing beyond the modern day and extending the understanding of a popular audience of this new topic. However, the influence of a society on writing is also undeniable, therefore the way we view literature has to be filtered by the society in which it was written.

Therefore, the literature we read influences our view of history as it acts as a filter or a mouthpiece for the past. For instance, in ancient literature, Homer’s Iliad gives evidence of heroic values of the time in the characters of Achilles and Hector. Homer’s portrayal of these characters in a variety of sympathetic lights, such as the scene between Hector and Andromache in Book VI reminding the audience of Hector’s role as a father figure and family man. Furthermore, through the reinforcement of ideas of ownership relating to honour – Achilles’ feelings of shame when Agamemnon takes Briseis from him, for example – gives a potential contextual detail on the standards of heroes in an ancient society. The Iliad is also significant in studying the role of women in an ancient society, as they mainly appear as homemakers (mother and wife figures in Andromache and Hecuba), vessels for emotion (the grief of the slave girls upon Patroclus’ death) or a link with the immortal sphere (the role of women in praying to Athene in Book VI). The Iliad as a surviving piece of ancient composition demonstrates the fact that literature, particularly when regarding ancient societies, provides a way into the history and values of that era, shown here in the heroic values and views of women. So, literature often influences the view of history we hold in a modern, retrospective light. Furthermore, events in the literary sphere can also influence the way societies in history are viewed. For instance, the majority of publications throughout the ages are sourced from white, European, usually wealthy men. Hence post-colonial and feminist readings of literature serve to provide the viewpoint of minorities, and along with a new historicist reading, interlinks history and literature to take the latter in the context of the former. The marginalisation of female writers, notably through their publication under male pseudonyms (George Eliot [Mary Ann Evans], Currer, Acton and Ellis Bell [the Brontë sisters]) shows that this trend in literature gives some cause to study the stance of women in, for example, the Romantic literary scene.

In conclusion, history and literature influence one another to a great extent. The influence of history on literature varies. Modern writers, such as Mantel and Whelan, look back on historical events and significant people, in order to bring them into the present and make them relatable to a modern audience. Others, such as Faulks, look to investigate the significance of events such as World War I, or an experience of trench warfare, on a population of people through a comparison of the world before, after and during the event. However, the impact of literature on history is less diffuse. Literature acts as a prism through which a time period can be viewed, and allows the values of a time to be mirrored through their own, often unwitting, presentation of themselves. The symbiotic relationship between the two areas of study provides a synoptic approach to historical study, providing both a reflection and an analysis of the values, events and significance of history, and those existing in these periods of time.

History and Literature

Program Category: MA Programs
Program Director: Greg Mann​
Associate Director: cv2003 [at] (Christine Valero)
Admissions Coordinator: Sarah Wadlinger
Degree Programs: Full-time in Paris: fall, spring, and summer: Free-standing MA

The MA in History and Literature trains students in historical approaches to the study of literature and in the interpretation of texts for the study of history. It is taught at Reid Hall, Columbia's campus in Paris.

As a Columbia degree taught in France, the MA in History and Literature offers an attractive and unusual combination of Ivy League and European academics. The curriculum is designed, administered, and primarily part taught by Columbia faculty. It therefore reflects the intellectual values and standards of Columbia University. The program starts with the premise that literature and history owe their current forms to many past developments that both separated them and leave much common ground for interconnections. It introduces students to the main critical and theoretical debates at the intersection between history and literature, including the narrative qualities of historical writing, the linguistic turn in history, and the tension between history and theory within the literary field. An important part of the program is the consideration of literature itself as a field of moral, philosophical, sociological, and historical knowledge. Students develop a sophisticated awareness of theoretical and methodological issues. They also acquire the philological tools required for the interpretation of texts in print or manuscript form.

Paris has exceptional collections of rare books and historical archives, housed at the Bibliothèque nationale de France, the Biblothèque mazarine, and the Archives nationales de France. The Institut mémoires de l'édition contemporaine, located in Normandy, is easily accessible from Paris. In addition, the national libraries and archives of France's neighboring countries are a few hours away by fast train. Students also have access to the courses and seminars of France's top two graduate schools in the humanities and social sciences: the Ecole normale supérieure and the Ecole des hautes études en sciences sociales. Practical training in textual analysis includes hands-on sessions conducted at the Bibliothèque nationale de France and the Archives nationales de France.

We expect many students to have an interest in French history and literature or in the French-speaking world beyond Europe. We also welcome students who wish to conduct comparative study and work on materials in other modern European languages, Latin, Hebrew, or Arabic. Courses are taught in English or French written work is normally done in English.

The program provides sound footing for applications to professional schools in law, international affairs, journalism, or medicine. Graduates may seek positions in the United States or Europe in the diplomatic service, business, finance and banking, journalism, publishing, editing and translating, art and cultural organizations, international NGOs, and academic administration. The degree is also a valuable credential for students seeking admission to a doctoral program in history or literature.

Special Admissions Requirements:

In addition to the requirements listed below, all students must submit one transcript showing courses and grades per school attended, a statement of academic purpose, a writing sample, and three letters of recommendation.

All international students whose native language is not English or whose undergraduate degree is from an institution in a country whose official language is not English must submit scores of the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or IELTS.

For more information, refer to our Admissions Information and Frequently Asked Questions pages.

The program invites applications from students who have, or will have received by the time of enrollment, a baccalaureate in any field within the humanities or social sciences, granted by a college or university of recognized standing. Prospective students should also have at least two years of college French or proficiency at the equivalent level, indicating an ability to read primary and secondary sources in French and to take part in class discussions conducted in French.

Applicants who have not been enrolled in an academic program for some time may submit letters from supervisors or colleagues in positions of responsibility.

While the program is housed at Columbia's campus in Paris, applicants submit material through the GSAS online application system and its procedures as managed by the Admissions Office of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences in New York. Applications sent by email or in paper copy will not be accepted.

Priority Deadline for Fall Admission: Friday, January 22, 2021
Final Consideration Deadline for Fall Admission: Thursday, May 6, 2021
Resume Requirement: Yes
Writing Sample: Yes
Writing Sample Number of Pages: 10-15
GRE General: Optional
Degree Programs: Full Time
Free-Standing: Yes
Letter of Recommendation: 3

Applicants who wish to be considered for funding are strongly encouraged to apply by the early deadline date, January 22. Please contact info.mahili [at] ( ) for questions about HILI fellowship funding and application information.

All applicants who submit prior to January 22 will receive a decision by late February.

Watch the video: Literary Periods (August 2022).