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British literature refers to literature associated with the United Kingdom, Isle of Man and Channel Islands. This includes literatures from England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. By far the largest part of British literature has been written in the English language, with English literature developing into a global phenomenon, because of its use in the former colonies of Britain. In addition the story of British literature involves writings in Anglo-Norman, Anglo-Saxon, Cornish, Guernésiais, Jèrriais, Latin, Manx, Scots, Scottish Gaelic, Welsh and other languages. Literature in Northern Ireland includes writings in English, Irish and Ulster Scots. Irish writers have played an important part in the development of literature in England and Scotland, but though the whole of Ireland was politically part of the United Kingdom between January 1801 and December 1922, it is controversial to describe Irish literature as British. For some this includes works by authors from Northern Ireland. Also, because of the creation of the Republic of Ireland, the term the Isles is used instead of the British Isles.
Definitions of 'British literature' are bound up with historical shifts of British identity. Changing consciousness of English national identity, Scottish national identity, Welsh nationalism, and the effects of British imperialism have altered interpretations of how the literatures of the Isles have interacted. The impact of Irish nationalism, that led to the partition of the island of Ireland in 1921, means that literature of the Republic of Ireland is not considered to be British, although the identity of literature from Northern Ireland, as part of the literature of the United Kingdom, may fall within the overlapping identities of Irish and British literature, where "the naming of the territory has always been, in literary, geographical or historical contexts, a politically charged activity".
Welsh literature in English (previously called Anglo-Welsh literature) is the works written in the English language by Welsh writers, especially if their subject matter relates to Wales. It has been recognised as a distinctive entity only since the 20th century. The need for a separate identity for this kind of writing arose because of the parallel development of modern Welsh-language literature.
The use of the label "Celtic fringe" as applied to non-English, or traditionally non-English-speaking, territories to marginalise these cultures has been analysed as a colonial attitude, and the literatures of Ireland, Scotland and Wales may be studied through the methodology of postcolonialism. However, Britain's legacy survives around the world, as a shared history of British presence and cultural influence in the Commonwealth of Nations has produced a substantial body of writing in English and many other languages.
Chroniclers such as Bede (672/3–735), with his Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum, and Gildas (c. 500–570), with his De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae, were figures in the development of indigenous Latin literature, mostly ecclesiastical, in the centuries following the withdrawal of the Roman Empire around the year 410.
Adomnán's (627/8–704) most important work is the Vita Columbae, a hagiography of Columba, and the most important surviving work written in early medieval Scotland. It is a vital source for knowledge of the Picts, as well as an insight into the life of Iona Abbey and the early medieval Gaelic monk. The vita of Columba contains a story that has been interpreted as the first reference to the Loch Ness Monster.
Written just after or possibly contemporarily with Adomnán's Vita Columbae, the Vita Sancti Cuthberti (c. 699–705) is the first piece of Northumbrian Latin writing and the earliest piece of English Latin hagiography.
The Historia Brittonum composed in the 9th century is traditionally ascribed to Nennius. It is the earliest source which presents King Arthur as a historical figure, and is the source of several stories which were repeated and amplified by later authors.
Latin continued in use as a language of learning long after the Reformation had established the vernaculars as liturgical languages for the élites. In Scotland, Latin as a literary language thrived into the 17th century as Scottish writers writing in Latin were able to engage with their audiences on an equal basis in a prestige language without feeling hampered by their less confident handling of English.
Utopia is a work of fiction and political philosophy by Thomas More (1478–1535) published in 1516. The book, written in Latin, is a frame narrative primarily depicting a fictional island society and its religious, social and political customs.
New Atlantis is a utopian novel by Sir Francis Bacon (1561–1626), published in Latin (as Nova Atlantis) in 1624 and in English in 1627. In this work, Bacon portrayed a vision of the future of human discovery and knowledge, expressing his aspirations and ideals for humankind. The novel depicts the creation of a utopian land where "generosity and enlightenment, dignity and splendour, piety and public spirit" are the commonly held qualities of the inhabitants of the mythical Bensalem. The plan and organisation of his ideal college, Salomon's House (or Solomon's House), envisioned the modern research university in both applied and pure sciences.
Scotsman George Buchanan (1506–1582) was the Renaissance writer from the Isles who had the greatest international reputation, being considered the finest Latin poet since classical times. As he wrote mostly in Latin, his works travelled across Europe as did he himself.
Philosopher Thomas Hobbes' Elementa Philosophica de Cive (1642–1658) was in Latin. However, things were changing and by about 1700 the growing movement for the use of national languages (already found earlier in literature and the Protestant religious movement) had reached academia, and an example of the transition is Isaac Newton's writing career, which began in New Latin and ended in English: Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica in Latin Opticks, 1704, in English.
Gaelic language and literature from Ireland became established in the West of Scotland between the 4th and 6th centuries. Until the development of Scottish Gaelic literature with a distinct identity, there was a shared literary culture between Gaelic-speaking Ireland and Scotland. The literary Gaelic language used in Scotland that was inherited from Irish is sometimes known as Classical Gaelic. The Hiberno-Scottish mission from the 6th century spread Christianity and established monasteries and centres of writing. Gaelic literature in Scotland includes a celebration, attributed to the Irish monk Adomnán, of the Pictish King Bridei's (671–93) victory over the Northumbrians at the Battle of Dun Nechtain (685). Pictish, the now extinct Brythonic language spoken in Scotland, has left no record of poetry, but poetry composed in Gaelic for Pictish kings is known. By the 9th century, Gaelic speakers controlled Pictish territory and Gaelic was spoken throughout Scotland and used as a literary language. However, there was great cultural exchange between Scotland and Ireland, with Irish poets composing for Scottish or Pictish patrons, and Scottish poets composing for Irish patrons. The Book of Deer, a 10th-century Latin Gospel Book with early-12th-century additions in Latin, Old Irish and Scottish Gaelic, is noted for containing the earliest surviving Gaelic writing from Scotland.
In Medieval Welsh literature the period before 1100 is known as the period of Y Cynfeirdd ("The earliest poets") or Yr Hengerdd ("The old poetry"). It roughly dates from the birth of the Welsh language until the arrival of the Normans in Wales towards the end of the 11th century. Y Gododdin is a medieval Welsh poem consisting of a series of elegies to the men of the Britonnic kingdom of Gododdin and its allies who, according to the conventional interpretation, died fighting the Angles of Deira and Bernicia at a place named Catraeth in c. AD 600. It is traditionally ascribed to the bard Aneirin, and survives only in one manuscript, known as the Book of Aneirin. The poem is recorded in a manuscript of the second half of the 13th century, and it has been dated to anywhere between the 7th and the early 11th centuries. The text is partly written in Middle Welsh orthography and partly in Old Welsh. The early date would place its oral composition to soon after the battle, presumably in the Hen Ogledd ("Old North") in what would have been the Cumbric variety of Brythonic. Others consider it the work of a poet in medieval Wales, composed in the 9th, 10th or 11th century. Even a 9th-century date would make it one of the oldest surviving Welsh works of poetry.
The name Mabinogion is a convenient label for a collection eleven prose stories collated from two medieval Welsh manuscripts known as the White book of Rhydderch (Llyfr Gwyn Rhydderch) (c. 1350) and the Red Book of Hergest (Llyfr Coch Hergest) (1382–1410). They are written in Middle Welsh, the common literary language between the end of the eleventh century and the fourteenth century. They include the four tales that form Pedair Cainc y Mabinogi ("The Four Branches of the Mabinogi"). The tales draw on pre-Christian Celtic mythology, international folktale motifs, and early medieval historical traditions. While some details may hark back to older Iron Age traditions, each of these tales is the product of a highly developed medieval Welsh narrative tradition, both oral and written. Lady Charlotte Guest in the mid-19th century was the first to publish English translations of the collection, popularising the name "Mabinogion" at the same time.
No Cornish literature survives from the Primitive Cornish period (c. 600–800 AD). The earliest written record of the Cornish language, dating from the 9th century, is a gloss in a Latin manuscript of the Consolation of Philosophy, which used the words ud rocashaas. The phrase means "it (the mind) hated the gloomy places".
From the 8th to the 15th centuries, Vikings and Norse settlers and their descendents colonised parts of what is now modern Scotland. Some Old Norse poetry survives relating to this period. The Orkneyinga saga (also called the History of the Earls of Orkney) is a historical narrative of the history of the Orkney Islands, from their capture by the Norwegian king in the ninth century onwards until about 1200. 20th-century poet George Mackay Brown was influenced by the saga, notably for his 1973 novel Magnus. The Icelandic Njáls saga includes actions taking place in Orkney and Wales. Besides these Icelandic sagas a few examples, sometimes fragmentary, of Norse poetry composed in Scotland survive. Among the runic inscriptions at Maeshowe is a text identified as irregular verse. Scandinavian cultural contacts in the Danelaw also left legacies in literature. Höfuðlausn or the "Head's Ransom" is a skaldic poem attributed to Egill Skalla-Grímsson in praise of king Eirik Bloodaxe in the kingdom of Northumbria.
Old English literature, or Anglo-Saxon literature, encompasses the surviving literature written in Old English in Anglo-Saxon England, in the period after the settlement of the Saxons and other Germanic tribes in England, as the Jutes and the Angles, c.450, after the withdrawal of the Romans, and "ending soon after the Norman Conquest" in 1066; that is, c. 1100–50. These works include genres such as epic poetry, hagiography, sermons, Bible translations, legal works, chronicles, riddles, and others. In all there are about 400 surviving manuscripts from the period. The earliest surviving work of literature in Old English is Caedmon's Hymn, which was probably composed between 658-680.
Nearly all Anglo-Saxon authors are anonymous: twelve are known by name from Medieval sources, but only four of those are known by their vernacular works to us today with any certainty: Caedmon, Bede, Alfred the Great, and Cynewulf. Cædmon is the earliest English poet whose name is known. Cædmon's only known surviving work is Cædmon's Hymn, probably dating from the late 7th century. The poem is one of the earliest attested examples of Old English and is, with the runic Ruthwell Cross and Franks Casket inscriptions, one of three candidates for the earliest attested example of Old English poetry. It is also one of the earliest recorded examples of sustained poetry in a Germanic language. The Wanderer is an Old English poem preserved only in an anthology known as the Exeter Book, a manuscript dating from the late 10th century. It counts 115 lines of alliterative verse. As often the case in Anglo-Saxon verse, the composer and compiler are anonymous, and within the manuscript the poem is untitled. The Wanderer conveys the meditations of a solitary exile on his past glories as a warrior in his lord's band of retainers, his present hardships and the values of forbearance and faith in the heavenly Lord.
The epic poem Beowulf is the most famous work in Old English, and has achieved national epic status in England, despite not being set in England. A hero of the Geats, Beowulf battles three antagonists: Grendel, Grendel's mother, and a Dragon. The only surviving manuscript is the Nowell Codex. The precise date of the manuscript is debated, but most estimates place it close to the year 1000.
Chronicles contained a range of historical and literary accounts; one notable example is the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. This is a collection of annals in Old English chronicling the history of the Anglo-Saxons. Nine manuscripts survive in whole or in part, though not all are of equal historical value and none of them is the original version. The oldest seems to have been started towards the end of Alfred's reign in the 9th century, while the most recent was written at Peterborough Abbey in 1116. Almost all of the material in the Chronicle is in the form of annals, by year; the earliest are dated at 60 BC (the annals' date for Caesar's invasions of Britain), and historical material follows up to the year in which the chronicle was written, at which point contemporary records begin. These manuscripts collectively are known as the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.
Battle of Maldon is the name given to an Old English poem of uncertain date celebrating the real Battle of Maldon of 991, at which the Anglo-Saxons failed to prevent a Viking invasion. Only 325 lines of the poem are extant; both the beginning and the ending are lost.
The Anglo-Saxons were converted to Christianity after their arrival in England. A popular poem, The Dream of the Rood, was inscribed upon the Ruthwell Cross. Judith is a retelling of the story found in the Latin Bible's Book of Judith of the beheader of the Assyrian general Holofernes. The Old English Martyrology is a Mercian collection of hagiographies. Ælfric of Eynsham was a prolific 10th-century writer of hagiographies and homilies.
Old English poetry falls broadly into two styles or fields of reference, the heroic Germanic and the Christian. The most popular and well-known understanding of Old English poetry continues to be alliterative verse. The system is based upon accent, alliteration, the quantity of vowels, and patterns of syllabic accentuation. It consists of five permutations on a base verse scheme; any one of the five types can be used in any verse. The system was inherited from and exists in one form or another in all of the older Germanic languages.
Several Old English poems are adaptations of late classical philosophical texts. The longest is a 10th-century translation of Boethius' Consolation of Philosophy contained in the Cotton manuscript Otho A.vi. The Metres of Boethius are a series of Old English alliterative poems adapted from the Latin metra of the Consolation of Philosophy soon after the prose translation.
The linguistic diversity of the islands in the medieval period, with each of the languages producing literatures at various times which contributed to the rich variety of artistic production, made British literature distinctive and innovative.
Latin literature circulated among the educated classes. Gerald of Wales's most distinguished works are those dealing with Wales and Ireland, with his two late-12th-century books in Latin on his beloved Wales the most important: Itinerarium Cambriae and Descriptio Cambriae which tell us much about Welsh history and geography.
Following the Norman Conquest of 1066, the development of Anglo-Norman literature in the Anglo-Norman realm introduced literary trends from Continental Europe such as the chanson de geste. However, the indigenous development of Anglo-Norman literature was precocious in comparison to continental Oïl literature: Geoffrey Gaimar produced the earliest rhymed chronicle; Benedeit, the earliest adventure narrative inspired by Celtic sources; Jordan Fantosme, the earliest eyewitness historiography; Philippe de Thaun, the earliest scientific literature.
Religious literature continued to enjoy popularity. Hagiographies continued to be written, adapted and translated: for example, The Life of Saint Audrey, Eadmer's contemporary biography of Anselm of Canterbury, and the South English Legendary.
The Roman de Fergus was the earliest piece of non-Celtic vernacular literature to come from Scotland. As the Norman nobles of Scotland assimilated to indigenous culture they commissioned Scots versions of popular continental romances, for example: Launcelot o the Laik and The Buik o Alexander.
While chroniclers such as William of Malmesbury and Henry of Huntingdon attempted to weave such historical information they had access to into coherent narratives, other writers took more creative approaches to their material.
Geoffrey of Monmouth was one of the major figures in the development of British history and the popularity for the tales of King Arthur. He is best known for his chronicle Historia Regum Britanniae (History of the Kings of Britain) of 1136, which spread Celtic motifs to a wider audience, including accounts of Arthur's father Uther Pendragon, wizard Merlin, and sword Caliburnus (named as Excalibur in some manuscripts of Wace).
Culhwch and Olwen is a Welsh tale about a hero connected with Arthur and his warriors, and is the longest of the surviving Welsh prose tales. It is perhaps the earliest extant Arthurian tale and one of Wales' earliest extant prose texts.
The 12th-century poet Wace (c. 1110 – after 1174), who was born in Jersey and brought up in mainland Normandy, is considered the founder of Jersey literature and contributed to the development of the Arthurian legend in British literature. His Brut showed the interest of Norman patrons in the mythologising of the new English territories of the Anglo-Norman realm by building on Geoffrey of Monmouth's History, and introduced King Arthur's Round Table to literature. His Roman de Rou placed the Dukes of Normandy within an epic context.
The Prophecy of Merlin is a 12th-century poem written in Latin hexameters by John of Cornwall, which he claimed was based or revived from a lost manuscript in the Cornish language. Marginal notes on Cornish vocabulary are among the earliest known writings in the Cornish language.
At the end of the 12th century, Layamon's Brut adapted Wace to make the first English language work to discuss the legends of Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. It was also the first historiography written in English since the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.
The Chronicle of the Kings of Alba is a short chronicle of the Kings of Alba. It was written in Hiberno-Latin but displays some knowledge of contemporary Middle Irish orthography and probably put together in the early 13th century by the man who wrote de Situ Albanie. The original text was without doubt written in Scotland, probably in the early 11th century, shortly after the reign of Kenneth II, the last reign it relates. It is possible that more Middle Irish literature was written in medieval Scotland than is often thought, but has not survived because the Gaelic literary establishment of eastern Scotland died out before the 14th century. Thomas Owen Clancy has argued that the Lebor Bretnach, the so-called "Irish Nennius", was written in Scotland, and probably at the monastery in Abernethy, but this text survives only from manuscripts preserved in Ireland. Other literary work that has survived includes that of the prolific poet Gille Brighde Albanach. About 1218, Gille Brighde wrote a poem – Heading for Damietta – on his experiences of the Fifth Crusade. The major corpus of Medieval Scottish Gaelic poetry, The Book of the Dean of Lismore was compiled by the brothers James and Donald MacGregor in the early decades of the sixteenth century. Beside Scottish Gaelic verse it contains a large number of poems composed in Ireland as well verse and prose in Scots and Latin. The subject matter includes love poetry, heroic ballads and philosophical pieces. It also is notable for containing poetry by at least four women.
Early English Jewish literature developed after the Norman Conquest with Jewish settlement in England. Berechiah ha-Nakdan is known chiefly as the author of a 13th-century set of over a hundred fables, called Mishle Shualim, (Fox Fables), which are derived from both Berachyah's own inventions and some borrowed and reworked from Aesop's fables, the Talmud, and the Hindus. The collection also contains fables conveying the same plots and morals as those of Marie de France. The development of Jewish literature in mediaeval England ended with the Edict of Expulsion of 1290.
In the later medieval period a new form of English now known as Middle English evolved. This is the earliest form which is comprehensible to modern readers and listeners, albeit not easily. Middle English Bible translations, notably Wycliffe's Bible, helped to establish English as a literary language. Wycliffe's Bible is the name now given to a group of Bible translations into Middle English that were made under the direction of, or at the instigation of, John Wycliffe. They appeared over a period from approximately 1382 to 1395. These Bible translations were the chief inspiration and chief cause of the Lollard movement, a pre-Reformation movement that rejected many of the distinctive teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. In the early Middle Ages, most Western Christian people encountered the Bible only in the form of oral versions of scriptures, verses and homilies in Latin (other sources were mystery plays, usually conducted in the vernacular, and popular iconography). Though relatively few people could read at this time, Wycliffe's idea was to translate the Bible into the vernacular, saying "it helpeth Christian men to study the Gospel in that tongue in which they know best Christ's sentence". Although unauthorised, the work was popular and Wycliffite Bible texts are the most common manuscript literature in Middle English and over 250 manuscripts of the Wycliffite Bible survive.
Piers Plowman (written c. 1360–1387) or Visio Willelmi de Petro Plowman (William's Vision of Piers Plowman) is a Middle English allegorical narrative poem by William Langland. It is written in unrhymed alliterative verse divided into sections called "passus" (Latin for "step"). Piers is considered by many critics to be one of the early great works of English literature along with Chaucer's Canterbury Tales and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight during the Middle Ages.
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a late-14th-century Middle English alliterative romance. It is one of the better-known Arthurian stories, of an established type known as the "beheading game". Developing from Welsh, Irish and English tradition Sir Gawain highlights the importance of honour and chivalry. It is an important poem in the romance genre, which typically involves a hero who goes on a quest that tests his prowess. "Preserved in the same manuscript with Sir Gawayne were three other poems, now generally accepted as the work of its author. These are two alliterative poems of moral teaching, Patience and Purity, and an intricate elegiac poem, Pearl. The author of Sir Gawayne and the other poems is frequently referred to as 'the Pearl Poet.' " The English dialect of these poems from the Midlands is markedly different from that of the London-based Chaucer and though influenced by French in the scenes at court in Sir Gawain, there are in the poems also has many dialect words, often of Scandinavian origin, that belonged to northwest England.
Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1343 – 1400), known as the Father of English literature, is widely considered the greatest English poet of the Middle Ages and was the first poet to have been buried in Poet's Corner of Westminster Abbey. Among his many works, which include The Book of the Duchess, the House of Fame, the Legend of Good Women and Troilus and Criseyde. Chaucer is best known today for The Canterbury Tales, a collection of stories written in Middle English (mostly written in verse although some are in prose), that are presented as part of a story-telling contest by a group of pilgrims as they travel together on a journey from Southwark to the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral. The prize for this contest is a free meal at the Tabard Inn at Southwark on their return. Chaucer is a crucial figure in developing the legitimacy of the vernacular, Middle English, at a time when the dominant literary languages in England were French and Latin. The first recorded association of Valentine's Day with romantic love is in Chaucer's Parlement of Foules of 1382.
The multilingual nature of the audience for literature in the 14th century can be illustrated by the example of John Gower (c. 1330 – October 1408). A contemporary of William Langland and a personal friend of Geoffrey Chaucer, Gower is remembered primarily for three major works, the Mirroir de l'Omme, Vox Clamantis, and Confessio Amantis, three long poems written in Anglo-Norman, Latin and, Middle English respectively, which are united by common moral and political themes.
Women writers were also active, such as Marie de France in the 12th century and Julian of Norwich in the early 14th century. Julian's Revelations of Divine Love (circa 1393) is believed to be the first published book written by a woman in the English language. Margery Kempe (c. 1373 – after 1438) is known for writing The Book of Margery Kempe, a work considered by some to be the first autobiography in the English language, which chronicles, to some extent, her extensive pilgrimages to various holy sites in Europe and Asia.
Dafydd ap Gwilym (c. 1315/1320 – c. 1350/1370), is regarded as one of the leading Welsh poets and amongst the great poets of Europe in the Middle Ages. His main themes were love and nature. The influence of wider European ideas of courtly love, as exemplified in the troubadour poetry of Provençal, is seen as a significant influence on his poetry. He was an innovative poet who was responsible for popularising the metre known as the "cywydd" and first to use it for praise. But perhaps his greatest innovation was to make himself the main focus of his poetry. By its very nature, most of the work of the traditional Welsh court poets kept their own personalities far from their poetry, whereas Dafydd ap Gwilym's poems are full of his own feelings and experiences.
Since at least the 14th century, poetry in English has been written in Ireland and by Irish writers abroad.
From c. 1100 until c. 1600 Welsh poetry can be divided roughly into two distinct periods: the period of the Poets of the Princes (Beirdd y Tywysogion, also called Y Gogynfeirdd) who worked before the loss of Welsh independence in 1282 and the Poets of the Nobility (Beirdd yr Uchelwyr) who worked from 1282 until the period of the English incorporation of Wales in the 16th century. The earliest poem in English by a Welsh poet (Ieuan ap Hywel Swrdwal's Hymn to the Virgin) dates from about 1470. The Latin and English poem Flen flyys written around 1475, is chiefly famous for containing in coded form the first known written usage in English of a particular profane term in the English language. A cywydd attributed to Tudur Penllyn (fl. c. 1420 – 1490) is written in alternate Welsh and English sections, and depicts the poet attempting to seduce an unwilling Englishwoman, exploiting their mutual incomprehension for comic effect.
Among the earliest Lowland Scots literature is Barbour's Brus (14th century). Whyntoun's Kronykil and Blind Harry's Wallace date from the 15th century. From the 13th century much literature based around the royal court in Edinburgh and from the 14th century at the University of St Andrews, which was founded early in that century. Major writers from the 15th century include Henrysoun, Dunbar, Douglas and Lyndsay. The works of Chaucer had an influence on Scottish writers. Robert Henryson's (c. 1460–1500) most famous work is the narrative poem The Testament of Cresseid, which imagines a tragic fate for Cressida, in the medieval story of Troilus and Criseyde, which was left untold in Geoffrey Chaucer's version. Henryson's cogent psychological drama makes the poem a major works of northern renaissance literature. The poem was written in Middle Scots; a modern English translation by Seamus Heaney was published in 2004. For the Scottish Literary Renaissance in the mid-twentieth century, Dunbar was a touchstone. Many tried to imitate his style, and "high-brow" subject matter, such as Hugh MacDiarmid and Sydney Goodsir Smith. As MacDiarmid himself said, they had to go "back to Dunbar". Gavin Douglas (c. 1474 – September 1522) was a Scottish bishop, makar and translator. Although he had an important political career, it is for his poetry that he is now chiefly remembered. His principal pioneering achievement was the Eneados (1553), a full and faithful vernacular translation of the Aeneid of Virgil and the first successful example of its kind in any Anglic language. Sir David Lyndsay of the Mount, (also spelled Lindsay) (c. 1490 – c. 1555) was a Scottish poet whose works reflect the spirit of the Renaissance.
In the Cornish language Passhyon agan Arloedh ("The Passion of our Lord"), a poem of 259 eight-line verses written in 1375, is one of the earliest surviving works of Cornish literature. The most important work of literature surviving from the Middle Cornish period is An Ordinale Kernewek ("The Cornish Ordinalia"), a 9000-line religious drama composed around the year 1400. The longest single surviving work of Cornish literature is Bywnans Meriasek (The Life of Meriasek), a play dated 1504, but probably copied from an earlier manuscript.
Le Morte d'Arthur, is Sir Thomas Malory's 15th-century compilation of some French and English Arthurian romances, was among the earliest books printed in England, printed by Caxton in 1485. It was popular and influential in the later revival of interest in the Arthurian legends.
In the Middle Ages, drama in the vernacular languages of Europe may have emerged from religious enactments of the liturgy. Mystery plays were presented on the porch of the cathedrals or by strolling players on feast days. Miracle and mystery plays, along with moralities and interludes, later evolved into more elaborate forms of drama, such as was seen on the Elizabethan stages. Another form of medieval theatre was the mummers' plays, a form of early street theatre associated with the Morris dance, concentrating on themes such as Saint George and the Dragon and Robin Hood. These were folk tales re-telling old stories, and the actors travelled from town to town performing these for their audiences in return for money and hospitality.
Mystery plays and miracle plays (sometimes distinguished as two different forms, although the terms are often used interchangeably) are among the earliest formally developed plays in medieval Europe. Medieval mystery plays focused on the representation of Bible stories in churches as tableaux with accompanying antiphonal song. They developed from the 10th to the 16th century, reaching the height of their popularity in the 15th century before being rendered obsolete by the rise of professional theatre. The name derives from mystery used in its sense of miracle, but an occasionally quoted derivation is from misterium, meaning craft, a play performed by the craft guilds.
There are four complete or nearly complete extant English biblical collections of plays from the late medieval period; although these collections are sometimes referred to as "cycles," it is now believed that this term may attribute to these collections more coherence than they in fact possess. The most complete is the York cycle of forty-eight pageants. They were performed in the city of York, from the middle of the fourteenth century until 1569. There are also the Towneley plays of thirty-two pageants, once thought to have been a true 'cycle' of plays and most likely performed around the Feast of Corpus Christi probably in the town of Wakefield, England during the late Middle Ages until 1576. The Ludus Coventriae (also called the N Town plays" or Hegge cycle), now generally agreed to be a redacted compilation of at least three older, unrelated plays, and the Chester cycle of twenty-four pageants, now generally agreed to be an Elizabethan reconstruction of older medieval traditions. Besides the Middle English drama, there are three surviving plays in Cornish known as the Ordinalia.
These biblical plays differ widely in content. Most contain episodes such as the Fall of Lucifer, the Creation and Fall of Man, Cain and Abel, Noah and the Flood, Abraham and Isaac, the Nativity, the Raising of Lazarus, the Passion, and the Resurrection. Other pageants included the story of Moses, the Procession of the Prophets, Christ's Baptism, the Temptation in the Wilderness, and the Assumption and Coronation of the Virgin. In given cycles, the plays came to be sponsored by the newly emerging Medieval craft guilds.
Having grown out of the religiously based mystery plays of the Middle Ages, the morality play is a genre of Medieval and early Tudor theatrical entertainment, which represented a shift towards a more secular base for European theatre. In their own time, these plays were known as "interludes", a broader term given to dramas with or without a moral theme. Morality plays are a type of allegory in which the protagonist is met by personifications of various moral attributes who try to prompt him to choose a Godly life over one of evil. The plays were most popular in Europe during the 15th and 16th centuries.
The Somonyng of Everyman (The Summoning of Everyman) (c. 1509–19), usually referred to simply as Everyman, is a late-15th-century English morality play. Like John Bunyan's allegory Pilgrim's Progress, Everyman (1678) examines the question of Christian salvation through the use of allegorical characters. The play is the allegorical accounting of the life of Everyman, who represents all mankind. In the course of the action, All the characters are also allegorical, each personifying an abstract idea such as Fellowship, (material) Goods, and Knowledge and the conflict between good and evil is dramatised by the interactions between characters.
The English Renaissance and the Renaissance in Scotland date from the late 15th century to the early 17th century. Italian literary influences arrived in Britain: the sonnet form was introduced into English by Thomas Wyatt in the early 16th century, and developed by Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, (1516/1517 – 1547), who also introduced blank verse into England, with his translation of Virgil's Aeneid in c. 1540. Chaucerian, classical and French literary language continued to influence Scots literature up until the Reformation, and Latin remained an important literary language in Scotland in the 17th century, long after its literary importance in England had waned. The Complaynt of Scotland shows the interplay of language and ideas between the kingdoms of Scotland and England in the years leading up to the 1603 Union of the Crowns. During the Jacobean debate on the Union, a tradition of prophetic literature going back to the Prophetiae Merlini was invoked. The Whole Prophesie of Scotland of 1603 treated Merlin's prophecies as authoritative. Sir William Alexander, writing in praise of King James, invoked the prophetic tradition and dated it to 300 years before the king's birth (the middle of the 13th century). This timing tied it to the Scottish writer, Thomas the Rhymer. The use of "Great Britain" as a title of the kingdom as united by James was considered to reference Brutus of Troy, of the Anglo-Welsh traditional foundation myth. A mythological consonance was seen by some at the time between what were different traditions.
The spread of printing affected the transmission of literature across the Isles. The first book printed in English, William Caxton's own translation of Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye, was printed abroad in 1473, to be followed by the establishment of the first printing press in England in 1474. The establishment of a printing press in Scotland under royal patent from James IV in 1507 made it easier to disseminate Scottish literature. The first printing press in Ireland followed later in 1551. Although the first book in Welsh to be printed was produced by John Prise in 1546, restrictions on printing meant that only clandestine presses, such as that of Robert Gwyn who published Y Drych Cristionogawl in 1586/1587, could operate in Wales until 1695. The first legal printing press to be set up in Wales was in 1718 by Isaac Carter. The first printed work in Manx dates from 1707: a translation of a Prayer Book catechism in English by Bishop Thomas Wilson. Printing arrived even later in other parts of the Isles: the first printing press in Jersey was set up by Mathieu Alexandre in 1784. The earliest datable text in Manx (preserved in 18th-century manuscripts), a poetic history of the Isle of Man from the introduction of Christianity, dates to the 16th century at the latest.
In the late fifteenth century, Scots prose began to develop as a genre and to demonstrate classical and humanist influences as the Renaissance reached Scotland. The first complete surviving work includes John Ireland's The Meroure of Wyssdome (1490). There were also prose translations of French books of chivalry that survive from the 1450s, including The Book of the Law of Armys and the Order of Knychthode and the treatise Secretum Secretorum, an Arabic work believed to be Aristotle's advice to Alexander the Great.
The landmark work in the reign of James IV of Scotland was Gavin Douglas's Eneados, the first complete translation of a major classical text in an Anglian language, finished in 1513. Its reception however was overshadowed by the Flodden defeat that same year, and the political instability that followed in the kingdom.
Scotsman George Buchanan (1506–1582) was the Renaissance writer from the Isles who had the greatest international reputation, being considered the finest Latin poet since classical times. As he wrote mostly in Latin, his works travelled across Europe as did he himself. His Latin paraphrases of the Hebrew Psalms (composed while Buchanan was imprisoned by the Inquisition in Portugal) remained in print for centuries and were used into the 19th century for the purposes of studying Latin. His two original plays, Jepthes and Baptistes, are the earliest extant plays of substance written by a Scot and were influential on the development of French and Portuguese drama.
The overlapping Elizabethan era (1558–1603: the reign of Queen Elizabeth I of England) and Jacobean era (1567–1625: the reign of King James VI of Scotland, who also inherited the crown of England in 1603 as James I) saw the development of Britishness in literature. Since 1541, monarchs of England had also styled their Irish territory as a Kingdom, while Wales became more closely integrated into the Kingdom of England under Henry VIII. In anticipation of James VI's expected inheritance of the English throne, court masques in England were already developing the new literary imagery of a united "Great Britain", sometimes delving into Roman and Celtic sources. William Camden's Britannia, a county-by-county description of Great Britain and Ireland, was an influential work of chorography: a study relating landscape, geography, antiquarianism, and history. Britannia came to be viewed as the personification of Britain, in imagery that was developed during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.
In the later 16th century, English poetry was characterised by elaboration of language and extensive allusion to classical myths. Edmund Spenser (1555–99) was the author of The Faerie Queene, an epic poem and fantastical allegory celebrating the Tudor dynasty and Elizabeth I. The works of Sir Philip Sidney (1554–1586) a poet, courtier and soldier, include Astrophel and Stella, The Defence of Poetry, and The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia. Poems intended to be set to music as songs, such as by Thomas Campion, became popular as printed literature was disseminated more widely in households (see English Madrigal School). Jane Lumley (1537–1578) was the first person to translate Euripides into English. Her translation of Iphigeneia at Aulis is the first known dramatic work by a woman in English.
During the reign of Elizabeth I (1558–1603) and then James I (1603–25), in the late 16th and early 17th century, a London-centred culture, that was both courtly and popular, produced great poetry and drama. The English playwrights were intrigued by Italian model: a conspicuous community of Italian actors had settled in London. The linguist and lexicographer John Florio (1553–1625), whose father was Italian, was a royal language tutor at the Court of James I, and a possible friend and influence on William Shakespeare, had brought much of the Italian language and culture to England. He was also the translator of Montaigne into English. The earliest Elizabethan plays include Gorboduc (1561), by Sackville and Norton, and Thomas Kyd's (1558–94) revenge tragedy The Spanish Tragedy (1592). Highly popular and influential in its time, The Spanish Tragedy established a new genre in English literature theatre, the revenge play or revenge tragedy. Its plot contains several violent murders and includes as one of its characters a personification of Revenge. The Spanish Tragedy was often referred to, or parodied, in works written by other Elizabethan playwrights, including William Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, and Christopher Marlowe. Many elements of The Spanish Tragedy, such as the play-within-a-play used to trap a murderer and a ghost intent on vengeance, appear in Shakespeare's Hamlet. Thomas Kyd is frequently proposed as the author of the hypothetical Ur-Hamlet that may have been one of Shakespeare's primary sources for Hamlet.
William Shakespeare stands out in this period as a poet and playwright as yet unsurpassed. Shakespeare was not a man of letters by profession, and probably had only some grammar school education. He was neither a lawyer, nor an aristocrat as the "university wits" that had monopolised the English stage when he started writing. But he was very gifted and versatile, and he surpassed "professionals" as Robert Greene who mocked this "shake-scene" of low origins. Shakespeare wrote plays in a variety of genres, including histories, tragedies, comedies and the late romances, or tragicomedies. His early classical and Italianate comedies, like A Comedy of Errors, containing tight double plots and precise comic sequences, give way in the mid-1590s to the romantic atmosphere of his greatest comedies. A Midsummer Night's Dream is a witty mixture of romance, fairy magic, and comic lowlife scenes. Shakespeare's next comedy, the equally romantic Merchant of Venice, can be problematic because of how it portrays Shylock, a vengeful Jewish moneylender. The wit and wordplay of Much Ado About Nothing, the charming rural setting of As You Like It, and the lively merrymaking of Twelfth Night complete Shakespeare's sequence of great comedies. After the lyrical Richard II, written almost entirely in verse, Shakespeare introduced prose comedy into the histories of the late 1590s, Henry IV, parts 1 and 2, and Henry V. His characters become more complex and tender as he switches deftly between comic and serious scenes, prose and poetry, and achieves the narrative variety of his mature work. This period begins and ends with two tragedies: Romeo and Juliet, the famous romantic tragedy of sexually charged adolescence, love, and death; and Julius Caesar—based on Sir Thomas North's 1579 translation of Plutarch's Parallel Lives—which introduced a new kind of drama. In the early 17th century, Shakespeare wrote the so-called "problem plays", Measure for Measure, Troilus and Cressida, and All's Well That Ends Well, as well as a number of his best known tragedies, including Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth, King Lear and Anthony and Cleopatra. The plots of Shakespeare's tragedies often hinge on such fatal errors or flaws, which overturn order and destroy the hero and those he loves. In his final period, Shakespeare turned to romance or tragicomedy and completed three more major plays: Cymbeline, The Winter's Tale and The Tempest, as well as the collaboration, Pericles, Prince of Tyre. Less bleak than the tragedies, these four plays are graver in tone than the comedies of the 1590s, but they end with reconciliation and the forgiveness of potentially tragic errors. Some commentators have seen this change in mood as evidence of a more serene view of life on Shakespeare's part, but it may merely reflect the theatrical fashion of the day. Shakespeare collaborated on two further surviving plays, Henry VIII and The Two Noble Kinsmen, probably with John Fletcher.
Shakespeare also popularised the English sonnet which made significant changes to Petrarch's model. A collection of 154 by sonnets, dealing with themes such as the passage of time, love, beauty and mortality, were first published in a 1609 quarto entitled SHAKE-SPEARES SONNETS.: Never before imprinted. (although sonnets 138 and 144 had previously been published in the 1599 miscellany The Passionate Pilgrim). The first 17 poems, traditionally called the procreation sonnets, are addressed to a young man urging him to marry and have children to immortalise his beauty by passing it to the next generation. Other sonnets express the speaker's love for a young man; brood upon loneliness, death, and the transience of life; seem to criticise the young man for preferring a rival poet; express ambiguous feelings for the speaker's mistress; and pun on the poet's name. The final two sonnets are allegorical treatments of Greek epigrams referring to the "little love-god" Cupid.
Other important figures in Elizabethan theatre include Christopher Marlowe (1564–1593), Thomas Dekker (c. 1572 – 1632), John Fletcher (1579–1625) and Francis Beaumont (1584–1616). Marlowe's subject matter is different from Shakespeare's as it focuses more on the moral drama of the renaissance man than any other thing. Marlowe was fascinated and terrified by the new frontiers opened by modern science. Drawing on German lore, he introduced the story of Faust to England in his play Doctor Faustus (c. 1592), a scientist and magician who is obsessed by the thirst of knowledge and the desire to push man's technological power to its limits. He acquires supernatural gifts that even allow him to go back in time and wed Helen of Troy, but at the end of his twenty-four years' covenant with the devil he has to surrender his soul to him. Beaumont and Fletcher are less-known, but they may have helped Shakespeare write some of his best dramas, and were popular at the time. One of Beaumont and Fletcher's chief merits was that of realising how feudalism and chivalry had turned into snobbery and make-believe and that new social classes were on the rise. Beaumont's comedy, The Knight of the Burning Pestle (1607), satirises the rising middle class and especially of those nouveaux riches who pretend to dictate literary taste without knowing much literature at all.
After Shakespeare's death, the poet and dramatist Ben Jonson (1572–1637) was the leading literary figure of the Jacobean era. Jonson's aesthetics hark back to the Middle Ages and his characters embody the theory of humours. According to this contemporary medical theory, behavioural differences result from a prevalence of one of the body's four "humours" (blood, phlegm, black bile, and yellow bile) over the other three; these humours correspond with the four elements of the universe: air, water, fire, and earth. However, the stock types of Latin literature were an equal influence. Jonson therefore tends to create types or caricatures. However, in his best work, characters are "so vitally rendered as to take on a being that transcends the type". He is a master of style, and a brilliant satirist. Jonson's famous comedy Volpone (1605 or 1606) shows how a group of scammers are fooled by a top con-artist, vice being punished by vice, virtue meting out its reward. Other major plays by Jonson are Epicoene (1609), The Alchemist (1610), and Bartholomew Fair (1614).
A popular style of theatre during Jacobean times was the revenge play, which had been popularised earlier in the Elizabethan era by Thomas Kyd (1558–94), and then subsequently developed by John Webster (1578–1632) in the 17th century. Webster's most famous plays are The White Devil (1612) and The Duchess of Malfi (1613). Other revenge tragedies include The Changeling written by Thomas Middleton and William Rowley, The Atheist's Tragedy by Cyril Tourneur, first published in 1611, Christopher Marlow's The Jew of Malta, The Revenge of Bussy D'Ambois by George Chapman, The Malcontent (c. 1603) of John Marston and John Ford's 'Tis Pity She's a Whore. Besides Hamlet, other plays of Shakespeare's with at least some revenge elements, are Titus Andronicus, Julius Caesar and Macbeth.
The Tragedy of Mariam, the Fair Queen of Jewry, a closet drama written by Elizabeth Tanfield Cary (1585–1639) and first published in 1613, was the first original play in English known to have been written by a woman. Elizabeth Melville (1582[?] – 1640) is the earliest known Scottish woman writer to have her work appear in print. Melville first published Ane Godlie Dreame, a Calvinist dream-vision poem which describes the religious experience of a woman active in the Scottish Reformation, in 1603 in Scots, and then translated it into English, probably the following year.
George Chapman (?1559-?1634) was a successful playwright who produced comedies (his collaboratiion on Eastward Hoe led to his brief imprisonment in 1605 as it offended the King with its anti-Scottish sentiment), tragedies (most notably Bussy D'Ambois) and court masques (The Memorable Masque of the Middle Temple and Lincoln's Inn), but who is remembered chiefly for his translation in 1616 of Homer's Iliad and Odyssey into English verse. This was the first ever complete translation of either poem into the English language. The translation had a profound influence on English literature and inspired the sonnet On First Looking into Chapman's Homer from John Keats. The highly popular tale of the Trojan War had previously only been available to English readers only in Medieval epic retellings, such as Caxton's Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye.
David Lyndsay's Ane Pleasant Satyre of the Thrie Estaitis (1552), is a surviving example of a Scots dramatic tradition in the period that has otherwise largely been lost. James Wedderburn is recorded as having written anti-Catholic tragedies and comedies in Scots around 1540 before being forced to flee into exile. Although the propaganda value of drama in the Scottish Reformation was important, the Kirk hardened its attitude to such public entertainments. In 1599 James VI had to intervene to overturn a prohibition on attending performances by a visiting theatre troupe from England. Scottish drama did not succeed in becoming a popular artform in the face of religious opposition and the absence of King and court after 1603. As with drama in England, only a small proportion of plays written and performed were actually published, and the smaller production in Scotland meant that a much less significant record of Scottish drama remains to us. The ribald verse play in Scots, Philotus, is known from an anonymous edition published in London in 1603.
At the end of the 16th century, James VI of Scotland founded the Castalian Band, a group of makars and musicians in the court, based on the model of the Pléiade in France. The courtier and makar Alexander Montgomerie was a leading member. Ane Schort Treatise conteining some Reulis and Cautelis to be observit and eschewit in Scottis poesie is a treatise to describe and propose the ideal standard for poets, written in 1584 by the 19-year-old James VI of Scotland and first published in Edinburgh. However this Scottish cultural centre was lost after the 1603 Union of the Crowns when James shifted his court to London. From 1603, London was the unrivalled cultural capital of the Isles.
Petrarchan and English influence also spread to Scotland, where William Drummond of Hawthornden's pastoral poetry evoked a stable, ordered classicism in contrast to what he criticised as a desire by poets to transform everything with "metaphysical Ideas and Scholastical Quiddities". This has been taken as the earliest labelling of Metaphysical poets. Drummond of Hawthornden has been described as the "most accomplished poet to write in English in seventeenth-century Scotland".
The Renaissance in Wales was marked by humanism and scholarship. The Welsh language, its grammar and lexicography, was studied for the first time and biblical studies flourished. Welsh writers such as John Owen and William Vaughan wrote in Latin or English to communicate their ideas outside Wales, but the humanists were unsuccessful in opening the established practices of professional Welsh poets to Renaissance influences. From the Reformation until the 19th century most literature in the Welsh language was religious in character. Morgan Llwyd's Llyfr y Tri Aderyn ("The Book of the Three Birds") (1653) took the form of a dialogue between an eagle (representing secular authority, particularly Cromwell); a dove (representing the Puritans); and a raven (representing the Anglican establishment).
While historically Welsh literature in English might be said to begin with the fifteenth-century bard Ieuan ap Hywel Swrdwal, well into the nineteenth century English was spoken by few in Wales. The only significant Welsh poet in this period writing in English was George Herbert (1593–1633) from Montgomeryshire, though some see him as clearly belonging to the English tradition.
Drama in Wales as a literary tradition dates to morality plays from north-east Wales in the second half of the 15th century. The development of Renaissance theatre in England did not have great influence in Wales as the gentry found different forms of artistic patronage. One surviving example of Welsh literary drama is Troelus a Chresyd, an anonymous adaptation from poems by Henrysoun and Chaucer dating to around 1600. With no urban centres to compare to England to support regular stages, morality plays and interludes continued to circulate in inn-yard theatres and fairs, supplemented by visiting troupes performing English repertoire.
Philosopher Sir Francis Bacon (1561–1626) wrote the utopian novel New Atlantis, and coined the phrase "Knowledge is Power". Francis Godwin's 1638 The Man in the Moone recounts an imaginary voyage to the moon and is now regarded as the first work of science fiction in English literature.
Besides Shakespeare the major poets of the early 17th century included the Metaphysical poets John Donne (1572–1631) and George Herbert (1593–1633). Influenced by continental Baroque, and taking as his subject matter both Christian mysticism and eroticism, Donne's metaphysical poetry uses unconventional or "unpoetic" figures, such as a compass or a mosquito, to reach surprise effects. For example, in "Valediction: Forbidding Mourning", one of Donne's Songs and Sonnets, the points of a compass represent two lovers, the woman who is home, waiting, being the centre, the farther point being her lover sailing away from her. But the larger the distance, the more the hands of the compass lean to each other: separation makes love grow fonder. The paradox or the oxymoron is a constant in this poetry whose fears and anxieties also speak of a world of spiritual certainties shaken by the modern discoveries of geography and science, one that is no longer the centre of the universe.
The Book of Common Prayer and the Authorized King James Version of the Bible have been hugely influential. The King James Bible, one of the biggest translation projects in the history of English up to this time, was started in 1604 and completed in 1611. It represents the culmination of a tradition of Bible translation into English from the original languages that began with the work of William Tyndale (previous translations into English had relied on the Vulgate). It became the standard Bible of the Church of England, and some consider it one of the greatest literary works of all time.
The earliest surviving examples of Cornish prose are Pregothow Treger (The Tregear Homilies) a set of 66 sermons translated from English by John Tregear 1555–1557.
In 1567 William Salesbury's Welsh translations of the New Testament and Book of Common prayer were published. William Morgan's translation of the whole Bible followed in 1588 and remained the standard Welsh Bible until well into the 20th century.
The first Irish translation of the New Testament was begun by Nicholas Walsh, Bishop of Ossory, continued by John Kearney (Treasurer of St Patrick's, Dublin), his assistant, and Dr. Nehemiah Donellan, Archbishop of Tuam, and finally completed by William O'Domhnuill (William Daniell, Archbishop of Tuam in succession to Donellan). Their work was printed in 1602. The work of translating the Old Testament was undertaken by William Bedell (1571–1642), Bishop of Kilmore, who completed his translation within the reign of Charles the First. However, it was not published until 1685, in a revised version by Narcissus Marsh (1638–1713), Archbishop of Dublin.
The Book of Common Order was translated into Scottish Gaelic by Séon Carsuel (John Carswell), Bishop of the Isles, and printed in 1567. This is considered the first printed book in Scottish Gaelic though the language resembles classical Irish. The Irish translation of the Bible dating from the Elizabethan period was in use in Scotland until the Bible was translated into Scottish Gaelic. James Kirkwood (1650–1709) promoted Gaelic education and attempted to provide a version of William Bedell's Bible translations into Irish, edited by his friend Robert Kirk (1644–1692), which failed, though he did succeed in publishing a Psalter in Gaelic (1684).
The Book of Common Prayer was translated into French by Jerseyman Jean Durel, later Dean of Windsor, and published for use in the Channel Islands in 1663 as Anglicanism was established as the state religion after the Stuart Restoration.
The Book of Common Prayer and Bible were translated into Manx in the 17th and 18th centuries. The printing of prayers for the poor families was projected by Thomas Wilson in a memorandum of Whit-Sunday 1699, but was not carried out until 30 May 1707, the date of issue of his Principles and Duties of Christianity ... in English and Manks, with short and plain directions and prayers, 1707. This was the first book published in Manx, and is often styled the Manx Catechism. The Gospel of St. Matthew was translated, with the help of his vicars-general in 1722 and published in 1748 under the sponsorship of his successor as bishop, Mark Hildesley. The remaining Gospels and the Acts were also translated into Manx under his supervision, but not published. Hildesley printed the New Testament and the Book of Common Prayer, translated, under his direction, by the clergy of the diocese, and the Old Testament was finished and transcribed in December 1772, at the time of the bishop's death. The Manx Bible established a standard for written Manx. A tradition of Manx carvals, religious songs or carols, developed. Religious literature was common, but secular writing much rarer.
The Metaphysical poets continued writing in this period. Both John Donne and George Herbert died after 1625, but there was a second generation of metaphysical poets, consisting of Andrew Marvell (1621–1678), Thomas Traherne (1636 or 1637–1674) and Henry Vaughan (1622–1695). Another important group of poets at this time were the Cavalier poets. They were an important group of writers, who came from the classes that supported King Charles I during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms (1639–51). (King Charles reigned from 1625 and was executed 1649). The best known of the Cavalier poets are Robert Herrick, Richard Lovelace, Thomas Carew, and Sir John Suckling. They "were not a formal group, but all were influenced" by Ben Jonson. Most of the Cavalier poets were courtiers, with notable exceptions. For example, Robert Herrick was not a courtier, but his style marks him as a Cavalier poet. Cavalier works make use of allegory and classical allusions, and are influence by Latin authors Horace, Cicero, and Ovid.
John Milton (1608–74) is one of the greatest English poets, who wrote at a time of religious flux and political upheaval. He is generally seen as the last major poet of the English Renaissance, though his major epic poems were written in the Restoration period, including. Paradise Lost (1671). Among the important poems Milton wrote during this period are L'Allegro, 1631; Il Penseroso, 1634; Comus (a masque), 1638; and Lycidas, (1638). His later major works are: Paradise Regained, 1671; Samson Agonistes, 1671. Milton's works reflect deep personal convictions, a passion for freedom and self-determination, and the urgent issues and political turbulence of his day. Writing in English, Latin, and Italian, he achieved international renown within his lifetime, and his celebrated Areopagitica (1644), written in condemnation of pre-publication censorship, is among history's most influential and impassioned defences of free speech and freedom of the press. William Hayley's 1796 biography called him the "greatest English author", and he remains generally regarded "as one of the preeminent writers in the English language".
Thomas Urquhart (1611–1660), a Scottish Royalist, translated Rabelais' Gargantua and Pantagruel into English, a translation that has achieved its "own creative identity", and has been described as "the greatest Scottish translation since Gavin Douglas's Eneados". According to legend, Urquhart died in a fit of laughter on receiving news of the Restoration of Charles II.
The Restoration of the monarchy in 1660 launched a fresh start for literature, both in celebration of the new worldly and playful court of the king, and in reaction to it. Theatres in England reopened after having been closed during the protectorship of Oliver Cromwell, Puritanism lost its momentum, and the bawdy "Restoration comedy" became a recognisable genre. In addition, women were allowed to perform on stage for the first time. The Mercurius Caledonius, founded in Edinburgh in 1660 by the playwright Thomas Sydserf, was Scotland's first newspaper. Sydserf was behind the establishment in Edinburgh of the first regular theatre in Scotland, and his 1667 play Tarugo's Wiles: or, The Coffee-House, based on a Spanish play, was produced in London to amazement that a Scot could write such excellent English. He was also among the first to translate Cyrano de Bergerac into English; his Σεληναρχία, or the Government of the World in the Moon (1659). Scottish poet John Ogilby, who was the first Irish Master of the Revels, had established the Werburgh Street Theatre, the first theatre in Ireland, in the 1630s. It was closed by the Puritans in 1641. The Restoration of the monarchy in Ireland enabled Ogilby to resume his position as Master of the Revels and open the first Theatre Royal in Dublin in 1662 in Smock Alley. In 1662 Katherine Philips went to Dublin where she completed a translation of Pierre Corneille's Pompée, produced with great success in 1663 in the Smock Alley Theatre, and printed in the same year both in Dublin and London. Although other women had translated or written dramas, her translation of Pompey broke new ground as the first rhymed version of a French tragedy in English and the first English play written by a woman to be performed on the professional stage. Aphra Behn (one of the women writers dubbed "The fair triumvirate of wit") was a prolific dramatist and one of the first English professional female writers. Her greatest dramatic success was The Rover (1677).
Behn's depiction of the character Willmore in The Rover and the witty, poetry-reciting rake Dorimant in George Etherege's The Man of Mode (1676) are seen as a satire on John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester (1647–1680), an English libertine poet, and a wit of the Restoration court. His contemporary Andrew Marvell described him as "the best English satirist", and he is generally considered to be the most considerable poet and the most learned among the Restoration wits. His A Satyr Against Reason and Mankind is assumed to be a Hobbesian critique of rationalism. Rochester's poetic work varies widely in form, genre, and content. He was part of a "mob of gentlemen who wrote with ease", who continued to produce their poetry in manuscripts, rather than in publication. As a consequence, some of Rochester's work deals with topical concerns, such as satires of courtly affairs in libels, to parodies of the styles of his contemporaries, such as Sir Charles Scroope. He is also notable for his impromptus, Voltaire, who spoke of Rochester as "the man of genius, the great poet", admired his satire for its "energy and fire" and translated some lines into French to "display the shining imagination his lordship only could boast".
John Dryden (1631–1700) was an English poet, literary critic, translator, and playwright who dominated the literary life of Restoration England to such a point that the period came to be known in literary circles as the Age of Dryden. He established the heroic couplet as a standard form of English poetry by writing successful satires, religious pieces, fables, epigrams, compliments, prologues, and plays with it; he also introduced the alexandrine and triplet into the form. In his poems, translations, and criticism, he established a poetic diction appropriate to the heroic couplet. Dryden's greatest achievements were in satiric verse in works like the mock-heroic MacFlecknoe (1682). W. H. Auden referred to him as "the master of the middle style" that was a model for his contemporaries and for much of the 18th century. The considerable loss felt by the English literary community at his death was evident from the elegies that it inspired. Alexander Pope (1688–1744) was heavily influenced by Dryden, and often borrowed from him; other writers in the 18th century were equally influenced by both Dryden and Pope.
Iain Lom (c. 1624 – c. 1710) was a Royalist Scottish Gaelic poet appointed poet laureate in Scotland by Charles II at the Restoration. He delivered a eulogy for the coronation, and remained loyal to the Stuarts after 1688, opposing the Williamites and later, in his vituperative Oran an Aghaidh an Aonaidh, the 1707 Union of the Parliaments. Though Ben Jonson had been poet laureate to James I in England, this was not then a formal position and the formal title of Poet Laureate, as a royal office, was first conferred by letters patent on John Dryden in 1670. The post then became a regular British institution.
Diarists John Evelyn (1620–1706) and Samuel Pepys (1633–1703) depicted everyday London life and the cultural scene of the times. Their works are among the most important primary sources for the Restoration period in England, and consists of eyewitness accounts of many great events, such as the Great Plague of London (1644–5), and the Great Fire of London (1666). Cín Lae Uí Mhealláin is an account of the Irish Confederate Wars which "reflected the Ulster Catholic point of view" written by Tarlach Ó Mealláin. James Melville's diary is written in a vigorous, fresh style, and is especially direct in its descriptions of Scottish contemporaries and an original authority for the period, written with much naïveté, and revealing an attractive personality.
Described as "an account of the progress of the Confederate war from the outbreak of rebellion in 1641 until February 1647" its text "reflected the Ulster Catholic point of view."
The publication of The Pilgrim's Progress (Part I:1678; 1684), established the Puritan preacher John Bunyan (1628–88) as a notable writer. Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress is an allegory of personal salvation and a guide to the Christian life. Bunyan writes about how the individual can prevail against the temptations of mind and body that threaten damnation. The book is written in a straightforward narrative and shows influence from both drama and biography, and yet it also shows an awareness of the grand allegorical tradition found in Edmund Spenser.
Nicholas Boson (1624–1708) wrote three significant texts in Cornish, Nebbaz gerriau dro tho Carnoack (A Few Words about Cornish) between 1675 and 1708; Jowan Chy-an-Horth, py, An try foynt a skyans (John of Chyannor, or, The three points of wisdom), published by Edward Lhuyd in 1707, though written earlier; and The Dutchess of Cornwall's Progress, partly in English, now known only in fragments. The first two are the only known surviving Cornish prose texts from the 17th century.
In Scotland, after the 17th century, anglicisation increased, though Lowland Scots was still spoken by the vast majority of the population, and Scottish Gaelic by a minority. At the time, many of the oral ballads from the borders and the North East were written down. Writers of the period include Robert Sempill (c. 1595 – 1665), Lady Wardlaw and Lady Grizel Baillie.
The late 17th, early 18th century (1689–1750) in English literature is known as the Augustan Age. Writers at this time "greatly admired their Roman counterparts, imitated their works and frequently drew parallels between" contemporary world and the age of the Roman emperor Augustus (27 AD – BC 14) (see Augustan literature (ancient Rome) ). Some of the major writers in this period were John Dryden (1631–1700), Jonathan Swift (1667–1745), William Congreve, (1670–1729), Joseph Addison (1672–1719), Richard Steele (1672–1729), Alexander Pope (1688–1744), Henry Fielding (1707–54), Samuel Johnson (1709–84).
The Union of the Parliaments of Scotland and England in 1707 to form a single Kingdom of Great Britain and the creation of a joint state by the Acts of Union had little impact on the literature of England nor on national consciousness among English writers. The situation in Scotland was different: the desire to maintain a cultural identity while partaking of the advantages offered by the English literary market and English literary standard language led to what has been described as the "invention of British literature" by Scottish writers. English writers, if they considered Britain at all, tended to assume it was merely England writ large; Scottish writers were more clearly aware of the new state as a "cultural amalgam comprising more than just England". James Thomson's "Rule Britannia!" is an example of the Scottish championing of this new national and literary identity. With the invention of British literature came the development of the first British novels, in contrast to the English novel of the 18th century which continued to deal with England and English concerns rather than exploring the changed political, social and literary environment. Tobias Smollett (1721–71) was a Scottish pioneer of the British novel, exploring the prejudices inherent within the new social structure of Britain through comic picaresque novels. His The Adventures of Roderick Random (1748) is the first major novel written in English to have a Scotsman as hero, and the multinational voices represented in the narrative confront Anglocentric prejudices only two years after the Battle of Culloden. The Expedition of Humphry Clinker (1771) brings together characters from the extremes of Britain to question how cultural and linguistic differences can be accommodated within the new British identity, and influenced Charles Dickens. Richard Cumberland wrote patriotic comedies depicting characters taken from the "outskirts of the empire," and intended to vindicate the good elements of the Scots, Irish, and colonials from English prejudice. His most popular play, "The West Indian" (1771) was performed in North America and the West Indies. It was the first English language play known to have been staged in Jersey (on 5 May 1792).; Boden translated it into German, and Goethe acted in it at the Weimar court.
In prose, the earlier part of the period was overshadowed by the development of the English essay. Joseph Addison and Richard Steele's The Spectator established the form of the British periodical essay, inventing the pose of the detached observer of human life who can meditate upon the world without advocating any specific changes in it. Periodical essays bloomed into journalistic writings; such as Samuel Johnson's "Reports of the Debates of the Senate of Lilliput", titled to disguise the actual proceeding of parliament as it was illegal for any Parliamentary Reports to be reproduced in print. However, this was also the time when the English novel, first emerging in the Restoration, developed into a major art form. Daniel Defoe turned from journalism and writing criminal lives for the press to writing fictional criminal lives with Roxana and Moll Flanders.
Edward Cave created the first general-interest magazine in 1731 with The Gentleman's Magazine. He was the first to use the term "magazine" on the analogy of a military storehouse of varied material. The Daily Courant, first published on 11 March 1702 in Fleet Street, was the first British daily newspaper. The News Letter is one of Northern Ireland's main daily newspapers and is the oldest English language general daily newspaper still in publication in the world, having first been printed in 1737. The Press and Journal is a daily regional newspaper serving the northern counties of Scotland including the cities of Aberdeen and Inverness. Established in 1747, it is Scotland's oldest daily newspaper. (see also History of British newspapers)
The English pictorial satirist and editorial cartoonist William Hogarth (1697–1764) has been credited with pioneering Western sequential art. His work ranged from realistic portraiture to comic strip-like series of pictures called "modern moral subjects". Much of his work satirises contemporary politics and customs.
The English novel has generally been seen as beginning with Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe (1719) and Moll Flanders (1722), though John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress (1678) and Aphra Behn's, Oroonoko (1688) are also contenders, while earlier works such as Sir Thomas Malory's Morte d'Arthur, and even the "Prologue" to Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales have been suggested. The rise of the novel as an important literary genre is generally associated with the growth of the middle class in England. Other major 18th-century British novelists are Samuel Richardson (1689–1761), author of the epistolary novels Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded (1740) and Clarissa (1747–48); Henry Fielding (1707–54), who wrote Joseph Andrews (1742) and The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling (1749).
Anglo-Irish literature achieved an ambiguous independence in the 18th century with the emergence of writers such as Jonathan Swift, whose important early novel Gulliver's Travels (1726, amended 1735) is both a satire of human nature, as well as a parody of travellers' tales like Robinson Crusoe.
Although documented history of Irish theatre began at least as early as 1601, the earliest Irish dramatists of note were William Congreve (1670–1729), one of the most interesting writers of Restoration comedies and author of The Way of the World (1700) and playwright, George Farquhar (?1677–1707), The Recruiting Officer (1706). Anglo-Irish drama in the 18th century also includes Charles Macklin (?1699–1797), and Arthur Murphy (1727–1805).
The age of Augustan drama was brought to an end by the censorship established by the Licensing Act 1737. After 1737, authors with strong political or philosophical points to make would no longer turn to the stage as their first hope of making a living, and novels began to have dramatic structures involving only normal human beings, as the stage was closed off for serious authors. Prior to the Licensing Act 1737, theatre was the first choice for most wits. After it, the novel was.
The most outstanding poet of the age is Alexander Pope (1688–1744), whose major works include: The Rape of the Lock (1712; enlarged in 1714); a translation of the Iliad (1715–20); a translation of the Odyssey (1725–26); The Dunciad (1728; 1743). Since his death, Pope has been in a constant state of re-evaluation. His high artifice, strict prosody, and, at times, the sheer cruelty of his satire were an object of derision for the Romantic poets, and it was not until the 1930s that his reputation was revived. Pope is now considered the dominant poetic voice of his century, a model of prosodic elegance, biting wit, and an enduring, demanding moral force. The Rape of the Lock and The Dunciad are masterpieces of the mock-epic genre.
Ellis Wynne's Gweledigaetheu y Bardd Cwsc ('Visions of the Sleeping Bard'), first published in London in 1703, is regarded as a Welsh language classic. It is generally said that no better model exists of such 'pure' idiomatic Welsh, before writers had become influenced by English style and method.
A mover in the classical revival of Welsh literature in the 18th century was Lewis Morris, one of the founders in 1751 of the Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion, a Welsh literary society in London – at that time the most important centre of Welsh publishing. He set out to counter the trend among patrons of Welsh literature to turn towards English culture. A writer himself, he circulated prose and poetry in Welsh composed by himself and, to the extent they were satirical, influenced by Swift. He attempted to recreate a classic school of Welsh poetry with his support for Goronwy Owen and other Augustans. Goronwy Owen, when young, had written poetry in Welsh and Latin and returned to the classical tradition in 1751 with the intention of establishing new ideals for Welsh poetry: no longer fawning on patrons but adopting the manner of Horace to express Christian behaviour. His plans for a Miltonic epic were never achieved, but influenced the aims of eisteddfodau competitions through the 19th century.
In the Scots-speaking areas of Ulster there was traditionally a considerable demand for the work of Scottish poets, often in locally printed editions. These included Alexander Montgomerie's The Cherrie and the Slae in 1700, over a decade later an edition of poems by Sir David Lindsay, and nine printings of Allan Ramsay's The Gentle shepherd between 1743 and 1793.
The Habbie stanza was developed as a Scottish poetic form.
The Scottish Gaelic Enlightenment figure Alasdair mac Mhaighstir Alasdair compiled the first secular book in Scottish Gaelic to be printed: Leabhar a Theagasc Ainminnin (1741), a Gaelic-English glossary. The second secular book in Scottish Gaelic to be published was his poetry collection Ais-Eiridh na Sean Chánoin Albannaich (The Resurrection of the Ancient Scottish Language). His lexicography and poetry was informed by his study of old Gaelic manuscripts, an antiquarian interest which also influenced the orthography he employed. As an observer of the natural world of Scotland and a Jacobite rebel, Alasdair mac Mhaighstir Alasdair was the most overtly nationalist poet in Gaelic of the 18th century. His Ais-Eiridh na Sean Chánoin Albannaich was reported to have been burned in public by the hangman in Edinburgh. He was influenced by James Thomson's The Seasons as well as by Gaelic "village poets" such as Iain Mac Fhearchair (John MacCodrum). As part of the oral literature of the Highlands, few of the works of such village poets were published at the time, although some have been collected since.
Scottish Gaelic poets produced laments on the Jacobite defeats of 1715 and 1745. Mairghread nighean Lachlainn and Catriona Nic Fhearghais are among woman poets who reflected on the crushing effects on traditional Gaelic culture of the aftermath of the Jacobite uprisings. A consequent sense of desolation pervaded the works of Scottish Gaelic writers such as Dughall Bochanan which mirrored many of the themes of the graveyard poets writing in England. A legacy of Jacobite verse was later compiled (and adapted) by James Hogg in his Jacobite Reliques (1819).
The first printed Jèrriais literature appears in the first newspapers following the introduction of the printing press at the end of the 18th century. The earliest identified dated example of printed poetry in Jèrriais is a fragment by Matchi L'Gé (Matthew Le Geyt 1777–1849) dated 1795.
The second half of the 18th century is sometimes called the "Age of Johnson". Samuel Johnson (1709–1784), often referred to as Dr Johnson, was an English author who made lasting contributions to English literature as a poet, essayist, moralist, literary critic, biographer, editor and lexicographer. Johnson has been described as "arguably the most distinguished man of letters in English history". He is also the subject of "the most famous single work of biographical art in the whole of literature": James Boswell's Life of Samuel Johnson (1791). His early works include the poems "London" and "his most impressive poem" "The Vanity of Human Wishes" (1749). Both poems are modelled on Juvenal's satires. After nine years of work, Johnson's A Dictionary of the English Language was published in 1755; it had a far-reaching effect on Modern English and has been described as "one of the greatest single achievements of scholarship." This work brought Johnson popularity and success. Until the completion of the Oxford English Dictionary 150 years later, Johnson's was viewed as the pre-eminent British dictionary. His later works included essays, an influential annotated edition of William Shakespeare's plays (1765), and the widely read tale Rasselas (1759). In 1763, he befriended James Boswell, with whom he later travelled to Scotland; Johnson described their travels in A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland (1786). Towards the end of his life, he produced the massive and influential Lives of the Most Eminent English Poets (1779–81), a collection of biographies and evaluations of 17th- and 18th-century poets. Through works such as the "Dictionary, his edition of Shakespeare, and his Lives of the Poets in particular, he helped invent what we now call English Literature".
The second half of the 18th century saw the emergence of three major Irish authors Oliver Goldsmith (1728–1774), Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1751–1816) and Laurence Sterne (1713–68). Goldsmith settled in London in 1756, where he published the novel The Vicar of Wakefield (1766), a pastoral poem The Deserted Village (1770) and two plays, The Good-Natur'd Man 1768 and She Stoops to Conquer 1773. This latter was a huge success and is still regularly revived. Sheridan was born in Dublin into a family with a strong literary and theatrical tradition. The family moved to England in the 1750s. His first play, The Rivals 1775, was performed at Covent Garden and was an instant success. He went on to become the most significant London playwright of the late 18th century with plays like The School for Scandal and The Critic. Both Goldsmith and Sheridan reacted against the sentimental comedy of the 18th-century theatre, writing plays closer to the style of Restoration comedy. Sterne published his famous novel Tristram Shandy in parts between 1759 and 1767.
The sentimental novel or the novel of sensibility is a genre which developed during the second half of the 18th century. It celebrates the emotional and intellectual concepts of sentiment, sentimentalism, and sensibility. Sentimentalism, which is to be distinguished from sensibility, was a fashion in both poetry and prose fiction beginning in the eighteenth century in reaction to the rationalism of the Augustan Age. Sentimental novels relied on emotional response, both from their readers and characters. They feature scenes of distress and tenderness, and the plot is arranged to advance emotions rather than action. The result is a valorisation of "fine feeling," displaying the characters as a model for refined, sensitive emotional effect. The ability to display feelings was thought to show character and experience, and to shape social life and relations. Among the most famous sentimental novels in English are Samuel Richardson's Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded (1740), Oliver Goldsmith's Vicar of Wakefield (1766), Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy (1759–67), Sentimental Journey (1768), Henry Brooke's The Fool of Quality (1765–70), Henry Mackenzie's The Man of Feeling (1771) and Maria Edgeworth's Castle Rackrent (1800).
Another novel genre also developed in this period. In 1778, Frances Burney (1752–1840) wrote Evelina, one of the first novel's of manners. Social behaviour in public and private settings accounts for much of the plot of Evelina. This is mirrored in other novels that were particularly popular at the beginning of the 19th century, especially those of Jane Austen. Fanny Burney's novels' indeed "were enjoyed and admired by Jane Austen".
The period of intellectual and scientific accomplishments in Scotland in the latter part of the 18th century has been called the Scottish Enlightenment. Important early works were David Hume's (1711–76) Treatise on Human Nature (1738) and Essays, Moral and Political (1741). Adam Smith (1723–90) was another important philosopher in Scotland at this time, author of the first modern work of economics, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776). Smith is cited as the "father of modern economics" and is still among the most influential thinkers in the field of economics today. Scottish Common Sense Realism is another important school of philosophy that originated in the ideas of Scottish philosophers Thomas Reid (1710–96), Adam Ferguson (1723–1816) and Dugald Stewart (1753–1828) during the 18th-century Scottish Enlightenment. Scottish philosophy was dominated by Scottish Common Sense Realism, which shared some characteristics with Romanticism, and it would be a major influence on the development of one of the most important offshoots of Romanticism in New England, Transcendentalism, particularly in the writing of Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–82).
The Encyclopædia Britannica was first published between 1768 and 1771 in Edinburgh. In part, it was conceived in reaction to the French Encyclopédie of Denis Diderot and Jean le Rond d'Alembert (published 1751–1772), which had been inspired by Chambers's Cyclopaedia (first edition 1728). The Britannica was primarily a Scottish enterprise; it is one of the most enduring legacies of the Scottish Enlightenment.
The demand for the works of Scottish poets in the Scots-speaking areas of Ulster continued in the second half of the 18th century with nine printings of Allan Ramsay's The Gentle shepherd between 1743 and 1793, and an edition of Robert Burns' poetry in 1787, the same year as the Edinburgh edition, followed by reprints in 1789, 1793 and 1800. Among other Scottish poets published in Ulster were James Hogg and Robert Tannahill. In 1780, Dumfries poet John Mayne makes note of pranks at Halloween; "What fearfu' pranks ensue!", as well as the supernatural associated with the night, "Bogies" (ghosts). Robert Burns' 1785 poem Halloween is recited by Scots at Halloween, and Burns was influenced by Mayne's composition.
Some 60 to 70 volumes of Ulster rhyming weaver poetry were published between 1750 and 1850, the peak being in the decades 1810 to 1840. These weaver poets, such as James Orr (1770–1816), looked to Scotland for their cultural and literary models and were not simple imitators but clearly inheritors of the same literary tradition following the same poetic and orthographic practices; it is not always immediately possible to distinguish traditional Scots writing from Scotland and Ulster.
The graveyard poets were a number of pre-Romantic English poets, writing in the 1740s and later, whose works are characterised by their gloomy meditations on mortality, "skulls and coffins, epitaphs and worms" in the context of the graveyard. To this was added, by later practitioners, a feeling for the 'sublime' and uncanny, and an interest in ancient English poetic forms and folk poetry. They are often considered precursors of the Gothic genre. The poets include; Thomas Gray (1716–71), whose Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard (1751) is "the best known product of this kind of sensibility"; William Cowper (1731–1800); Christopher Smart (1722–71); Thomas Chatterton (1752–70); Robert Blair (1699–1746), author of The Grave (1743), "which celebrates the horror of death"; and Edward Young (1683–1765), whose The Complaint, or Night Thoughts on Life, Death and Immortality (1742–45), is another "noted example of the graveyard genre". Other precursors of Romanticism are the poets James Thomson (1700–48) and James Macpherson (1736–96), the Gothic novel and the novel of sensibility. Significant foreign influences were the Germans Goethe, Schiller and August Wilhelm Schlegel and French philosopher and writer Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–78). Edmund Burke's A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (1757) is another important influence. The changing landscape, brought about by the industrial and agricultural revolutions, with the expansion of the city and depopulation of the countryside, was another influences on the growth of the Romantic movement in Britain. The poor condition of workers, the new class conflicts and the pollution of the environment, led to a reaction against urbanism and industrialisation and a new emphasis on the beauty and value of nature.
Also foreshadowing Romanticism was Gothic fiction, in works such as Horace Walpole's 1764 novel The Castle of Otranto. The Gothic fiction genre combines elements of horror and romance. The pioneering gothic novelist Ann Radcliffe introduced the brooding figure of the gothic villain which later developed into the Byronic hero. Her most popular and influential work, The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794), is frequently cited as the archetypal Gothic novel. Vathek (1786) by William Beckford, and The Monk (1796) by Matthew Lewis, were other notable early works in both the gothic and horror genres. Iolo Morganwg, founder of the Gorsedd, first came to public notice in 1789 when he produced Barddoniaeth Dafydd ab Gwilym, a collection of the poetry of the 14th-century Dafydd ap Gwilym. Included in this edition was a large number of previously unknown poems by Dafydd that he claimed to have discovered; these poems are regarded as Williams' first literary forgeries. In 1794 he published some of his own poetry, which was later collected in the two-volume Poems, Lyric and Pastoral. Essentially his only genuine work, it proved quite popular.
Although William Williams Pantycelyn was claimed by Saunders Lewis as the first poet of the Romantic movement, and Iolo Morganwg's antiquarian enthusiasms fed an appetite elsewhere for Romantic ideas, a true movement of Romanticism in Welsh literature only developed in the 19th century when it overlapped with Aestheticism.
James Macpherson (1736–96) was the first Scottish poet to gain an international reputation. Claiming to have found poetry written by the ancient bard Ossian, he published translations that acquired international popularity, being proclaimed as a Celtic equivalent of the Classical epics. Fingal, written in 1762, was speedily translated into many European languages, and its appreciation of natural beauty and treatment of the ancient legend has been credited more than any single work with bringing about the Romantic movement in European, and especially in German literature, through its influence on Johann Gottfried von Herder and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. It was also popularised in France by figures that included Napoleon. Eventually it became clear that the poems were not direct translations from the Gaelic, but flowery adaptations made to suit the aesthetic expectations of his audience. Both Robert Burns (1759–96) and Walter Scott (1771–1832) were highly influenced by the Ossian cycle.
Robert Burns (1759–1796) was a pioneer of the Romantic movement, and after his death he became a cultural icon in Scotland. As well as writing poems, Burns also collected folk songs from across Scotland, often revising or adapting them. His Poems, chiefly in the Scottish Dialect was published in 1786. Among poems and songs of Burns that remain well known across the world are, "Auld Lang Syne"; "A Red, Red Rose"; "A Man's A Man for A' That"; "To a Louse"; "To a Mouse"; "The Battle of Sherramuir"; "Tam o' Shanter" and "Ae Fond Kiss".
The importance of translation in spreading the influence of English literature to other cultures of the islands can be exemplified by the abridged Manx version of Paradise Lost by John Milton published in 1796 by Thomas Christian. The influence also went the other way as Romanticism discovered inspiration in the literatures and legends of the Celtic countries of the islands. The Ossian hoax typifies the growth of this interest.
The interest in Celtic bards such as the supposed Ossian inspired a reaction in England that saw Shakespeare being termed "the Bard" or the "Bard of Avon". The 1769 Shakespeare Jubilee was an example of what was derisively called bardolatry as Shakespeare was held up as an example of transcendent genius, the ideal of the Romantic poet.
Romanticism was an artistic, literary, and intellectual movement that originated in Europe toward the end of the 18th century. Various dates are given for the Romantic period in British literature, but here the publishing of Lyrical Ballads in 1798 is taken as the beginning, and the crowning of Queen Victoria in 1837 as its end, even though, for example, William Wordsworth lived until 1850 and William Blake published before 1798. The writers of this period, however, "did not think of themselves as 'Romantics' ", and the term was first used by critics of the Victorian period.
The Romantic period was one of major social change in England, because of the depopulation of the countryside and the rapid development of overcrowded industrial cities, that took place in the period roughly between 1750 and 1850. The movement of so many people in England was the result of two forces: the Agricultural Revolution, that involved the Enclosure of the land, drove workers off the land, and the Industrial Revolution which provided them employment, "in the factories and mills, operated by machines driven by steam-power". Indeed Romanticism may be seen in part as a reaction to the Industrial Revolution, though it was also a revolt against aristocratic social and political norms of the Age of Enlightenment, as well a reaction against the scientific rationalisation of nature. The French Revolution was an especially important influence on the political thinking of many of the Romantic poets.
The landscape is often prominent in the poetry of this period, so that it the Romantics, especially perhaps Wordsworth, are often described as 'nature poets'. However, the longer Romantic 'nature poems' have a wider concern because they are usually meditations on "an emotional problem or personal crisis".
The poet, painter, and printmaker William Blake (1757–1827) was one of the first of the English Romantic poets. Largely disconnected from the major streams of the literature of the time, Blake was generally unrecognised during his lifetime, but is now considered a seminal figure in the history of both the poetry and visual arts of the Romantic Age. Considered mad by contemporaries for his idiosyncratic views, Blake is held in high regard by later critics for his expressiveness and creativity, and for the philosophical and mystical undercurrents within his work. Among his most important works are Songs of Innocence (1789) and Songs of Experience (1794) "and profound and difficult 'prophecies' " such as Visions of the Daughters of Albion (1793), The First Book of Urizen (1794), Milton (1804–?11), and "Jerusalem: the Emanation of the Giant Albion" (1804–?20).
After Blake, among the earliest Romantics were the Lake Poets, a small group of friends, including William Wordsworth (1770–1850), Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772–1834), Robert Southey (1774–1843) and journalist Thomas de Quincey (1785–1859). However, at the time Walter Scott (1771–1832) was the most famous poet. Scott achieved immediate success with his long narrative poem The Lay of the Last Minstrel in 1805, followed by the full epic poem Marmion in 1808. Both were set in the distant Scottish past.
The early Romantic Poets brought a new emotionalism and introspection, and their emergence is marked by the first romantic manifesto in English literature, the "Preface" to Lyrical Ballads (1798). In it Wordsworth discusses what he sees as the elements of a new type of poetry, one based on the "real language of men" and which avoids the poetic diction of much 18th-century poetry. Here, Wordsworth gives his famous definition of poetry, as "the spontaneous overflow of powerful emotions recollected in tranquility" which "takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility." The poems in Lyrical Ballads were mostly by Wordsworth, although Coleridge contributed the long "Rime of the Ancient Mariner", a tragic ballad about the survival of one sailor through a series of supernatural events on his voyage through the south seas which involves the slaying of an albatross. Coleridge is also especially remembered for "Kubla Khan", "Frost at Midnight", "Dejection: an Ode", "Christabel" and his major prose work Biographia Literaria. His critical work, especially on Shakespeare, was highly influential, and he helped introduce German idealist philosophy to English-speaking culture. Coleridge and Wordsworth, along with Thomas Carlyle, were a major influence, through Emerson, on American transcendentalism. Among Wordsworth's most important poems, are "Michael", "Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey", "Resolution and Independence", "Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood" and the long, autobiographical, epic The Prelude. The Prelude was begun in 1799 but published posthumously in 1850.
Robert Southey (1774–1843) was another of the so-called "Lake Poets", and Poet Laureate for 30 years from 1813 to his death in 1843. Although his fame has been long eclipsed by that of his contemporaries and friends William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. His most enduring contribution to literary history is perhaps the children's classic, The Story of the Three Bears, the basis of the original Goldilocks story. Thomas De Quincey (1785–1859) was an English essayist, best known for his Confessions of an English Opium-Eater (1821), an autobiographical account of his laudanum and its effect on his life. William Hazlitt (1778–1830), friend of both Coleridge and Wordsworth, is another important essayist at this time, though today he is best known for his literary criticism, especially Characters of Shakespeare's Plays (1817–18).
The second generation of Romantic poets includes Lord Byron (1788–1824), Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792–1822) and John Keats (1795–1821). Byron, however, was still influenced by 18th-century satirists and was, perhaps the least 'romantic' of the three, preferring "the brilliant wit of Pope to what he called the 'wrong poetical system' of his Romantic contemporaries". Byron achieved enormous fame and influence throughout Europe with works exploiting the violence and drama of their exotic and historical settings. Goethe called Byron "undoubtedly the greatest genius of our century". However, despite the success of Childe Harold and other works, Byron was forced to leave England for good in 1816 and seek asylum on the Continent, because, among other things, of his alleged incestuous affair with his half-sister Augusta Leigh. Between 1819 and 1824 Byron published his unfinished epic satire Don Juan, which, though initially condemned by the critics, "was much admired by Goethe who translated part of it"
Though John Keats shared Byron and Shelley's radical politics, "his best poetry is not political". but is especially noted for its sensuous music and imagery, along with a concern with material beauty and the transience of life. Among his most famous works are: "The Eve of St Agnes", "Ode to Psyche", "La Belle Dame sans Merci", "Ode to a Nightingale", "Ode on a Grecian Urn", "Ode on Melancholy", "To Autumn" and the incomplete Hyperion, a 'philosophical' poem in blank verse, which was "conceived on the model of Milton's Paradise Lost ". Keats has always been regarded as a major Romantic "and his stature as a poet has grown steadily through all changes of fashion". In 1882, Swinburne wrote in the Encyclopædia Britannica that "the Ode to a Nightingale, [is] one of the final masterpieces of human work in all time and for all ages". More recently critic Helen Vendler stated the odes "are a group of works in which the English language find ultimate embodiment". Keats' letters "are among the finest in English" and important "for their discussion of his aesthetic ideas", including 'negative capability' ".
Percy Shelley, famous for his association with Keats and Byron, was the third major romantic poet of the second generation. Generally regarded as among the finest lyric poets in the English language, Shelley is perhaps best known for poems such as Ozymandias, Ode to the West Wind, To a Skylark, Music, When Soft Voices Die, The Cloud, The Masque of Anarchy and Adonaïs, an elegy written on the death of Keats. Shelley's early profession of atheism, in the tract "The Necessity of Atheism", led to his expulsion from Oxford and branded him as a radical agitator and thinker, setting an early pattern of marginalisation and ostracism from the intellectual and political circles of his time. His close circle of admirers, however, included the most progressive thinkers of the day, including his future father-in-law, philosopher William Godwin. A work like Queen Mab (1813) reveal Shelley, "as the direct heir to the French and British revolutionary intellectuals of the 1790s. Shelley became an idol of the next three or four generations of poets, including important Victorian and Pre-Raphaelite poets such as Robert Browning, and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Shelley's influential poem The Masque of Anarchy (1819) calls for nonviolence in protest and political action. It is perhaps the first modern statement of the principle of nonviolent protest. Mahatma Gandhi's passive resistance was influenced and inspired by Shelley's verse, and Gandhi would often quote the poem to vast audiences.
Mary Shelley (1797–1851) is remembered as the author of Frankenstein (1818), an important Gothic novel, as well as being an early example of science fiction. The plot of this is said to have come from a waking dream she had, in the company of Percy Shelley, Lord Byron, and John Polidori, following a conversation about galvanism and the feasibility of returning a corpse or assembled body parts to life, and on the experiments of the 18th-century natural philosopher and poet Erasmus Darwin, who was said to have animated dead matter. Sitting around a log fire at Byron's villa, the company also amused themselves by reading German ghost stories, prompting Byron to suggest they each write their own supernatural tale.
Another important poet in this period was John Clare (1793–1864), Clare was the son of a farm labourer, who came to be known for his celebratory representations of the English countryside and his lamentation for the changes taking place in rural England. Between 1820 and 1841 Clare published for collections of poems. His poetry underwent a major re-evaluation in the late 20th century and he is often now considered to be among the most important 19th-century poets. His biographer Jonathan Bate states that Clare was "the greatest labouring-class poet that England has ever produced. No one has ever written more powerfully of nature, of a rural childhood, and of the alienated and unstable self".
George Crabbe (1754–1832) was an English poet who, during the Romantic period, wrote "closely observed, realistic portraits of rural life [...] in the heroic couplets of the Augustan age". Lord Byron who was an admirer of Crabbe's poetry, described him as "nature's sternest painter, yet the best". Modern critic Frank Whitehead has said that "Crabbe, in his verse tales in particular, is an important–indeed, a major–poet whose work has been and still is seriously undervalued." Crabbe's works include The Village (1783), Poems (1807), The Borough (1810), and his poetry collections Tales (1812) and Tales of the Hall (1819).
Major novelists in this period were the Englishwoman Jane Austen (1775–1817) and the Scotsman Sir Walter Scott (1771–1832), while Gothic fiction of various kinds also flourished. Austen's works satirise the novels of sensibility of the second half of the 18th century and are part of the transition to 19th-century realism. Her plots, though fundamentally comic, highlight the dependence of women on marriage to secure social standing and economic security. Austen brings to light the hardships women faced, who usually did not inherit money, could not work and where their only chance in life depended on the man they married. She reveals not only the difficulties women faced in her day, but also what was expected of men and of the careers they had to follow. This she does with wit and humour and with endings where all characters, good or bad, receive exactly what they deserve. Austen's work brought her little personal fame and only a few positive reviews during her lifetime, but the publication in 1869 of her nephew's A Memoir of Jane Austen introduced her to a wider public, and by the 1940s she had become accepted as a major writer. The second half of the 20th century saw a proliferation of Austen scholarship and the emergence of a Janeite fan culture. Austen's works include Pride and Prejudice (1813) Sense and Sensibility (1811), Mansfield Park (1814), Emma (1815) and Persuasion (1818).
The most important British novelist at the beginning of the early 19th century was Sir Walter Scott, who was not only a highly successful British novelist, but "the greatest single influence on fiction in the 19th century [...] [and] a European figure". Scott's novel writing career was launched in 1814 with Waverley, often called the first historical novel, and was followed by Ivanhoe. The Waverley Novels, including The Antiquary, Old Mortality, The Heart of Midlothian, and whose subject is Scottish history, are now generally regarded as Scott's masterpieces. He was one of the most popular novelist of the era and his historical romances inspired a generation of painters, composers, and writers throughout Europe, including Franz Schubert, Felix Mendelssohn and J. M. W. Turner. His novels also inspired many operas, of which the most famous are Lucia di Lammermoor (1835) by Donizetti and Bizet's, La jolie fille de Perth, The Fair Maid of Perth (1867). However, Austen is today widely read and the source for films and television series, while Scott is neglected.
Ewen MacLachlan (Gaelic: Eoghan MacLachlainn) (1775–1822) was a Scots poet of this period who translated the first eight books of Homer's Iliad into Scottish Gaelic. He also composed and published his own Gaelic Attempts in Verse (1807) and Metrical Effusions (1816), and contributed greatly to the 1828 Gaelic–English Dictionary.
It was in the Victorian era (1837–1901) that the novel became the leading literary genre in English. Women played an important part in this rising popularity both as authors and as readers. Monthly serialising of fiction encouraged this surge in popularity, due to a combination of the rise of literacy, technological advances in printing, and improved economics of distribution. Charles Dickens' Pickwick Papers, was published in twenty parts between April 1836 and November 1837. Both Dickens and Thackeray frequently published this way. However, the standard practice of publishing three volume editions continued until the end of the 19th century. Circulating libraries, that allowed books to be borrowed for an annual subscription, were a further factor in the rising popularity of the novel.
Although London, as imperial capital, was the pre-eminent centre for literature and publishing, the pluricentric nature of British culture and the growing sophistication of provincial towns and cities as rapid industrialisation progressed meant that literature developed in the provinces. The Lake Poets (William Wordsworth and S. T. Coleridge), the Brontës, George Eliot and Elizabeth Gaskell are all figures who strengthened the provincial trend in the literature of England, examining questions of Englishness at the same time as other writers of the Isles were exploring the conflicts of their own non-English identities.
The 1830s and 1840s saw the rise of social novel, that "arose out of the social and political upheavals which followed the Reform Act of 1832". This was in many ways a reaction to rapid industrialisation, and the social, political and economic issues associated with it, and was a means of commenting on abuses of government and industry and the suffering of the poor, who were not profiting from England's economic prosperity. Stories of the working class poor were directed toward middle class to help create sympathy and promote change. An early example is Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist (1837–38). Other significant early example of this genre are Sybil, or The Two Nations, a novel by Benjamin Disraeli (1804–81) and Charles Kingsley's (1819–75) Alton Locke (1849).
Charles Dickens (1812–70) emerged on the literary scene in the late 1830s and soon became probably the most famous novelist in the history of British literature. One of his most popular works to this day is A Christmas Carol (1843). Dickens fiercely satirised various aspects of society, including the workhouse in Oliver Twist, the failures of the legal system in Bleak House, the dehumanising effect of money in Dombey and Son and the influence of the philosophy of utilitarianism in factories, education etc., in Hard Times. However some critics have suggested that Dickens' sentimentality blunts the impact of his satire. In more recent years Dickens has been most admired for his later novels, such as Dombey and Son (1846–48), Bleak House (1852–53) and Little Dorrit (1855–57), Great Expectations (1860–1), and Our Mutual Friend (1864–65). An early rival to Dickens was William Makepeace Thackeray (1811–63), who during the Victorian period ranked second only to him, but he is now much less read and is known almost exclusively for Vanity Fair (1847). In that novel he satirises whole swaths of humanity while retaining a light touch. It features his most memorable character, the engagingly roguish Becky Sharp.
The Brontë sisters, Emily, Charlotte and Anne, were other significant novelists in the 1840s and 1850s. Their novels caused a sensation when they were first published but were subsequently accepted as classics. They had written compulsively from early childhood and were first published, at their own expense, in 1846 as poets under the pseudonyms Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell. The following year the three sisters each published a novel. Charlotte Brontë's (1816–55) work was Jane Eyre, which is written in an innovative style that combines naturalism with gothic melodrama, and broke new ground in being written from an intensely first-person female perspective. Emily Brontë's (1818–48) novel was Wuthering Heights and, according to Juliet Gardiner, "the vivid sexual passion and power of its language and imagery impressed, bewildered and appalled reviewers," and led the Victorian public and many early reviewers to think that it had been written by a man. Even though it received mixed reviews when it first came out, and was often condemned for its portrayal of amoral passion, the book subsequently became an English literary classic. The third Brontë novel of 1847 was Anne Brontë's (1820–49) Agnes Grey, which deals with the lonely life of a governess. Anne Brontë's second novel, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1848), is perhaps the most shocking of the Brontës' novels. In seeking to present the truth in literature, Anne's depiction of alcoholism and debauchery was profoundly disturbing to 19th-century sensibilities. Charlotte Brontë's Shirley was published in 1849, Villette in 1853, and The Professor in 1857.
Elizabeth Gaskell (1810–65) was also a successful writer and her first novel, Mary Barton, was published anonymously in 1848. Gaskell's North and South contrasts the lifestyle in the industrial north of England with the wealthier south. Even though her writing conforms to Victorian conventions, Gaskell usually frames her stories as critiques of contemporary attitudes, and her early works focused on factory work in southeast Lancashire. She always emphasised the role of women, with complex narratives and dynamic female characters.
Anthony Trollope's (1815–82) was one of the most successful, prolific and respected English novelists of the Victorian era. Some of his best-loved works are set in the imaginary west country county of Barsetshire, including The Warden (1855) and Barchester Towers (1857). Trollope's novels portray the lives of the landowning and professional classes of early Victorian England. Henry James suggested that Trollope's greatest achievement was "great apprehension of the real", and that "what made him so interesting, came through his desire to satisfy us on this point".
George Eliot's (Mary Ann Evans (1819–80) first novel Adam Bede was published in 1859, and she was a major novelist of the mid-Victorian period. Her works, especially Middlemarch 1871-2), are important examples of literary realism, and are admired for their combination of high Victorian literary detail, with an intellectual breadth that removes them from the narrow geographic confines they often depict, that has led to comparisons with Tolstoy. While her reputation declined somewhat after her death, in the 20th century she was championed by a new breed of critics, most notably by Virginia Woolf, who called Middlemarch "one of the few English novels written for grown-up people". Various film and television adaptations of Eliot's books have also introduced her to a wider readership.
George Meredith (1828–1909) is best remembered for his novels The Ordeal of Richard Fevered (1859) and The Egotist (1879). "His reputation stood very high well into" the 20th century but then seriously declined.
Victor Hugo spent 18 years in exile in the Channel Islands, 1852–1870. He completed Les Misérables in Guernsey and Les Travailleurs de la mer was written and set in Guernsey and has been described as "the finest British novel written in French". Hugo used some of Guernsey poet George Métivier's work as material in his novels.
An interest in rural matters and the changing social and economic situation of the countryside is seen in the novels of Thomas Hardy (1840–1928). A Victorian realist, in the tradition of George Eliot, he was also influenced both in his novels and poetry by Romanticism, especially by William Wordsworth. Charles Darwin is another important influence on Thomas Hardy. Like Charles Dickens he was also highly critical of much in Victorian society, though Hardy focused more on a declining rural society. While Hardy wrote poetry throughout his life, and regarded himself primarily as a poet, his first collection was not published until 1898, so that initially he gained fame as the author of such novels as, Far from the Madding Crowd (1874), The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886), Tess of the d'Urbervilles (1891), and Jude the Obscure (1895). He ceased writing novels following adverse criticism of this last novel. In novels such as The Mayor of Casterbridge and Tess of the d'Urbervilles Hardy attempts to create modern works in the genre of tragedy, that are modelled on the Greek drama, especially Aeschylus and Sophocles, though in prose, not poetry, fiction, not a play, and with characters of low social standing, not nobility. Another significant late-19th-century novelist is George Robert Gissing (1857–1903), who published 23 novels between 1880 and 1903. His best-known novel is New Grub Street (1891). Also in the late 1890s, the first novel of Polish-born immigrant Joseph Conrad, (1857–1924), an important forerunner of modernist literature, was published. Conrad's Heart of Darkness was published in 1899, a symbolic story within a story, or frame narrative, about the journey to the Belgian Congo by an Englishman called Marlow. This was followed by Lord Jim in 1900.
Ulster Scots was used in the narrative by Ulster novelists such as W. G. Lyttle (1844–1896). By the middle of the 19th century the Kailyard school of prose had become the dominant literary genre, overtaking poetry. This was a tradition shared with Scotland which continued into the early 20th century. The Scottish authors; Robert Louis Stevenson, William Alexander, Sir James M. Barrie, and George MacDonald, also wrote in Lowland Scots or used it in dialogue.
The Welsh novel in English starts with "The Adventures and Vagaries of Twm Shon Catti" (1828) by T. J. Ll. Prichard, and novelists following him developed two important genres: the industrial novel and the rural romance. Serial fiction in Welsh had been appearing from 1822 onwards, but the work to be recognisable as the first novel in Welsh was William Ellis Jones' 1830 "Y Bardd, neu y Meudwy Cymreig". This was a moralistic work, as were many of the productions of the time. The first major novelist in the Welsh language was Daniel Owen (1836–1895), author of works such as Rhys Lewis (1885) and Enoc Huws (1891).
The first novel in Scottish Gaelic was John MacCormick's Dùn-Àluinn, no an t-Oighre 'na Dhìobarach, which was serialised in the People's Journal in 1910, before publication in book form in 1912. The publication of a second Scottish Gaelic novel, An t-Ogha Mòr by Angus Robertson, followed within a year.
There are early European examples of short stories published separately between 1790 and 1810, but the first true collections of short stories appeared between 1810 and 1830 in several countries around the same period. The first short stories in the United Kingdom were gothic tales like Richard Cumberland's "remarkable narrative" "The Poisoner of Montremos" (1791). Major novelists like Sir Walter Scott and Charles Dickens also wrote some short stories.
Literary magazines first began to appear in the early part of the 19th century, mirroring an overall rise in the number of books, magazines and scholarly journals being published at that time. Critics Francis Jeffrey, Henry Brougham and Sydney Smith founded the Edinburgh Review in 1802. Other British reviews of this period included the Westminster Review (1824), The Spectator (1828) and Athenaeum (1828).
Welsh writers in English have favoured the short story form over the novel for two main reasons: in a society lacking sufficient wealth to support professional writers, the amateur writer was able to spare time only for short bursts of creativity; and, like poetry, it concentrated linguistic delight and exuberance. However, the genre did not develop in these writers much beyond its origin in rural sketches. Satire was avoided, and, since the main market was London publishers, the short stories tended to focus on the eccentricities (as seen from a metropolitan viewpoint) of Welsh life.
The short story in Welsh only developed as a serious literary form in the early years of the 20th century, as writers absorbed European and American models and moved on from the moralistic parables that were typical of the Nonconformist press that had grown up in the 19th century. Daniel Owen's last book Straeon y Pentan ("Tales of the hearth", 1895) served as the pattern for the short story form that became a codified part of the competitions at the National Eisteddfod at the start of the 20th century.
Important developments occurred in genre fiction in this era.
Sir John Barrow's descriptive 1831 account of the Mutiny on the Bounty immortalised the Royal Navy ship HMS Bounty and her people. The legend of Dick Turpin was popularised when the 18th-century English highwayman's exploits appeared in the novel Rookwood in 1834.
Although pre-dated by John Ruskin's The King of the Golden River in 1841, the history of the modern fantasy genre is generally said to begin with George MacDonald, the influential author of The Princess and the Goblin and Phantastes (1858). William Morris was a popular English poet who also wrote several fantasy novels during the latter part of the nineteenth century. Wilkie Collins' epistolary novel The Moonstone (1868), is generally considered the first detective novel in the English language, while The Woman in White is regarded as one of the finest sensation novels. H. G. Wells's (1866–1946) writing career began in the 1890s with science fiction novels like The Time Machine (1895), and The War of the Worlds (1898) which describes an invasion of late Victorian England by Martians, and Wells is seen, along with Frenchman Jules Verne (1828–1905), as a major figure in the development of the science fiction genre. He also wrote realistic fiction about the lower middle class in novels like Kipps (1905) and The History of Mr Polly (1910).
Penny dreadful publications were an alternative to mainstream works, and were aimed at working class adolescents, introducing the infamous Sweeney Todd. The premier ghost story writer of the 19th century was the Irish writer Sheridan Le Fanu. His works include the macabre mystery novel Uncle Silas 1865, and his Gothic novella Carmilla 1872, tells the story of a young woman's susceptibility to the attentions of a female vampire. The vampire genre fiction began with John William Polidori's "The Vampyre" (1819). This short story was inspired by the life of Lord Byron and his poem The Giaour. An important later work is Varney the Vampire (1845), where many standard vampire conventions originated: Varney has fangs, leaves two puncture wounds on the neck of his victims, and has hypnotic powers and superhuman strength. Varney was also the first example of the "sympathetic vampire", who loathes his condition but is a slave to it. Bram Stoker, yet another Irish writer, was the author of seminal horror work Dracula and featured as its primary antagonist the vampire Count Dracula, with the vampire hunter Abraham Van Helsing his arch-enemy. Dracula has been attributed to a number of literary genres including vampire literature, horror fiction, gothic novel and invasion literature.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes is a brilliant London-based "consulting detective", famous for his intellectual prowess, skilful use of astute observation, deductive reasoning and forensic skills to solve difficult cases. Holmes' archenemy Professor Moriarty, is widely considered to be the first true example of a supervillain, while Sherlock Holmes has become a by-word for a detective. Conan Doyle wrote four novels and fifty-six short stories featuring Holmes, from 1880 up to 1907, with a final case in 1914. All but four Conan Doyle stories are narrated by Holmes' friend, assistant, and biographer, Dr John H. Watson.
The Lost World literary genre was inspired by real stories of archaeological discoveries by imperial adventurers. H. Rider Haggard wrote one of the earliest examples, King Solomon's Mines in 1885. Contemporary European politics and diplomatic manoeuvrings informed Anthony Hope's swashbuckling Ruritanian adventure novels The Prisoner of Zenda 1894, and Rupert of Hentzau, 1898.
F. Anstey's comic novel Vice Versa 1882, sees a father and son magically switch bodies. Satirist Jerome K. Jerome's Three Men in a Boat 1889, is a humorous account of a boating holiday on the river Thames. Grossmith brothers George & Weedon's Diary of a Nobody 1892, is also considered a classic work of humour.
Literature for children developed as a separate genre. Some works become internationally known, such as those of Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and its sequel Through the Looking-Glass. Adventure novels, such as those of Robert Louis Stevenson (1850–94), are generally classified as for children. Stevenson's Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886), depicts the dual personality of a kind and intelligent physician who turns into a psychopathic monster after imbibing a drug intended to separate good from evil in a personality. His Kidnapped (1886) is a fast-paced historical novel set in the aftermath of the Jacobite rising of 1745, and Treasure Island 1883, is the classic pirate adventure. At the end of the Victorian era and leading into the Edwardian era, Beatrix Potter was an author and illustrator, best known for her children's books, which featured animal characters. In her thirties, Potter published The Tale of Peter Rabbit in 1902. Potter eventually went on to publish 23 children's books and become a wealthy woman. Another classic of the period is Anna Sewell's animal novel Black Beauty.
In the latter years of the 19th century, precursors of the modern picture book were illustrated books of poems and short stories produced by English illustrators Randolph Caldecott, Walter Crane, and Kate Greenaway. These had a larger proportion of pictures to words than earlier books, and many of their pictures were in colour. Some British artists made their living illustrating novels and children's books, include Arthur Rackham, Cicely Mary Barker, W. Heath Robinson, Henry J. Ford, John Leech, and George Cruikshank.
The leading poets during the Victorian period were Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809–1892), Robert Browning (1812–89), Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806–61), and Matthew Arnold (1822–88). The poetry of this period was heavily influenced by the Romantics, but also went off in its own directions. Particularly notable was the development of the dramatic monologue, a form used by many poets in this period, but perfected by Browning. Literary criticism in the 20th century gradually drew attention to the links between Victorian poetry and modernism.
Tennyson was Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom during much of Queen Victoria's reign. He was described by T. S. Eliot, as "the greatest master of metrics as well as melancholia", and as having "the finest ear of any English poet since Milton". Browning main achievement was in dramatic monologues such as "My Last Duchess", "Andrea del Sarto" and "The Bishop Orders his Tomb", which were published in his two-volume Men and Women in 1855. In his introduction to the Oxford University Press edition of Browning's Poems 1833–1864, Ian Jack comments, that Thomas Hardy, Rudyard Kipling, Ezra Pound and T S Eliot "all learned from Browning's exploration of the possibilities of dramatic poetry and of colloquial idiom". Tennyson was also a pioneer in the use of the dramatic monologue, in "The Lotus-Eaters" (1833), "Ulysses" (1842), and '"Tithonus" (1860). While Elizabeth Barrett Browning was the wife of Robert Browning she had established her reputation as a major poet before she met him. Her most famous work is the sequence of 44 sonnets "Sonnets from the Portuguese" published in Poems (1850). Matthew Arnold's reputation as a poet has declined in recent years and he is best remembered now for his critical works, like Culture and Anarchy (1869), and his 1867 poem "Dover Beach". This poem depicts a nightmarish world from which the old religious verities have receded. It is sometimes held up as an early, if not the first, example of the modern sensibility. The influence of William Wordsworth, both in ideas and in diction, is unmistakable in Arnold's best poetry, and Arnold has been seen as a bridge between Romanticism and Modernism, because of his use of symbolic landscapes was typical of the Romantic era, while his sceptical and pessimistic perspective was typical of the Modern era.
Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828–1882) was a poet, illustrator, painter and translator. He founded the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in 1848 with William Holman Hunt and John Everett Millais, and was later to be the main inspiration for a second generation of artists and writers influenced by the movement, most notably William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones. Rossetti's art was characterised by its sensuality and its medieval revivalism. Poetry and image are closely entwined in Rossetti's work and he frequently wrote sonnets to accompany his pictures. He also illustrated poems by his sister Christina Rossetti such as Goblin Market.
While Arthur Clough (1819–61) was a more minor figure of this era, he has been described as "a fine poet whose experiments in extending the range of literary language and subject were ahead of his time".
George Métivier published Rimes Guernesiaises, a collection of poems in Guernésiais and French in 1831 and Fantaisies Guernesiaises in 1866. Métivier's poems had first appeared in newspapers from 1813 onward, but he spent time in Scotland in his youth where he became familiar with the Scots literary tradition although he was also influenced by Occitan literature. The first printed anthology of Jèrriais poetry, Rimes Jersiaises, was published in 1865.
In the second half of the century, English poets began to take an interest in French Symbolism. The moral earnestness of the 1840s and 1850s expressed in the industrial novel sparked a reaction against the idea that art should advance a moral agenda. Aestheticism responded with a concern for formal values, virtuoso manipulation of a wide range of poetic forms, both established and revived, and open disrespect for Christian doctrines and sexual respectability. Algernon Charles Swinburne's 1866 collection Poems and Ballads revived classical metres and evoked extreme sexual passion. A major innovation of Aesthetic writing was the importance of the poem or prose poem composed in response to a work of visual art, blurring the distinction between art criticism and ekphrasis. Two groups of poets emerged in the 1890s: the Yellow Book poets who adhered to the tenets of Aestheticism, including Oscar Wilde and Arthur Symons and the Rhymers' Club group, that included Ernest Dowson, Lionel Johnson and William Butler Yeats. Irishman Yeats went on to become an important modernist in the 20th century. Also in the 1890s A. E. Housman (1859–1936) published at his own expense A Shropshire Lad, a cycle of 63 poems, because he could not find a publisher. At first selling slowly, it rapidly became a lasting success, and its appeal to English musicians had helped to make it widely known before World War I, when its themes struck a powerful chord with English readers. The poems' wistful evocation of doomed youth in the English countryside, in spare language and distinctive imagery, appealed strongly to late Victorian and Edwardian taste. Housman wrote most of them while living in Highgate, London, before ever visiting that part of Shropshire (about thirty miles from his birthplace), which he presented in an idealised pastoral light, as his 'land of lost content'. Though A. E. Housman was born in the Victorian era and first published in the 1890s, his poetry only really became known in the 20th century. He published a further highly successful collection, Last Poems, in 1922, while a third volume, More Poems, was published posthumously in 1936. A Shropshire Lad has been in print continuously since May 1896.
The nonsense verse of Edward Lear, along with the novels and poems of Lewis Carroll, is regarded as a precursor of surrealism. In 1846 Lear published A Book of Nonsense, a volume of limericks that went through three editions and helped popularise the form. In 1865 The History of the Seven Families of the Lake Pipple-Popple was published, and in 1867 his most famous piece of nonsense, The Owl and the Pussycat, which he wrote for the children of his patron Edward Stanley, 13th Earl of Derby. Many other works followed. Lewis Carroll wrote the poems "The Hunting of the Snark" and "Jabberwocky".
Denys Corbet published collections of Guernésiais poems Les Feuilles de la Forêt (1871) and Les Chànts du draïn rimeux (1884), and also brought out an annual poetry anthology 1874–1877, similar to Augustus Asplet Le Gros's annual in Jersey 1868–1875.
Increased literacy in rural and outlying areas and wider access to publishing through, for example, local newspapers encouraged regional literary development as the 19th century progressed. Some writers in lesser-used languages and dialects of the islands gained a literary following outside their native regions, for example William Barnes (1801–86) in Dorset, George Métivier (1790–1881) in Guernsey and Robert Pipon Marett (1820–84) in Jersey.
Writers of comic verse included the dramatist, librettist, poet and illustrator W. S. Gilbert (1836–1911), who is best known for his fourteen comic operas produced in collaboration with the composer Sir Arthur Sullivan, of which the most famous include H.M.S. Pinafore, The Pirates of Penzance and one of the most frequently performed works in the history of musical theatre, The Mikado.
The so-called "Cranken Rhyme" produced by John Davey of Boswednack, one of the last people with some traditional knowledge of the language, may be the last piece of traditional Cornish literature.
John Ceiriog Hughes desired to restore simplicity of diction and emotional sincerity and do for Welsh poetry what Wordsworth and Coleridge did for English poetry.
For much of the first half of the 19th century, drama in London and provincial theatres was restricted by a licensing system to the Patent theatre companies, and all other theatres could perform only musical entertainments (although magistrates had powers to license occasional dramatic performances). By the early 19th century, however, music hall entertainments had become popular, and provided a loophole in the restrictions on non-patent theatres in the genre of melodrama which did not contravene the Patent Acts, as it was accompanied by music. The passing of the Theatres Act 1843 removed the monopoly on drama held by the Patent theatres, enabling local authorities to license theatres as they saw fit, and also restricted the Lord Chamberlain's powers to censor new plays. The 1843 Act did not apply to Ireland where the power of the Lord Lieutenant to license patent theatres enabled control of stage performance analogous to that exercised by the Lord Chamberlain in Great Britain.
Drama did not achieve importance as a genre in the 19th century until the end of the century, and then the main figures were Irish-born. Irish playwright Dion Boucicault (1820–90), was an extremely popular writer of comedies who achieved success on the London stage (London Assurance, 1841). In the last decade of the century major playwrights emerged, including George Bernard Shaw (1856–1950) (Arms and the Man, 1894) and Oscar Wilde (1854–1900) (The Importance of Being Earnest, 1895). Both these writers lived mainly in England and wrote in English, with the exception of some works in French by Wilde.
The development of Irish literary culture was encouraged in the late 19th and early 20th century by the Irish Literary Revival (see also The Celtic Revival), which was supported by William Butler Yeats (1865–1939), Augusta, Lady Gregory, and John Millington Synge (The Playboy of the Western World, 1907). The Revival stimulated a new appreciation of traditional Irish literature. This was a nationalist movement that also encouraged the creation of works written in the spirit of Irish, as distinct from British culture. While drama was an important component of this movement, it also included prose and poetry.
Ernest Rhys was seen as the leading Welsh member of the Celtic Revival and his poetry and translations were held in high regard at the time, not least by Yeats. However posterity remembers him best as the shaper and first editor of the Everyman's Library, which brought affordable classics to a wide reading public.
The year 1922 marked a significant change in the relationship between Great Britain and Ireland, with the setting up of the Irish Free State in the predominantly Catholic South, while the predominantly Protestant Northern Ireland remained part of the United Kingdom. This separation also leads to questions as to what extent Irish writing prior to 1922 should be treated as a colonial literature. There are also those who question whether the literature of Northern Ireland is Irish or British. Nationalist movements in Britain, especially in Wales and Scotland, also significantly influenced writers in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
The transformation of the British Empire into a Commonwealth of Nations has given rise to the concept of British and Commonwealth literature used for literary prizes such as the Booker Prize. Questions of identity have been raised, notably in 1994 when James Kelman's How Late It Was, How Late became the first (and only, as of 2012) Scottish novel to win the Booker Prize. Simon Jenkins, a columnist for The Times, called the award "literary vandalism." In his acceptance speech, Kelman countered the criticism and decried its basis as suspect, making the case for the culture and language of "indigenous" people outside of London. "...the gist of the argument amounts to the following, that vernaculars, patois, slangs, dialects, gutter-languages etc. might well have a place in the realms of comedy (and the frequent references to Billy Connolly or Rab C. Nesbitt substantiate this) but they are inferior linguistic forms and have no place in literature. And a priori any writer who engages in the use of such so-called language is not really engaged in literature at all."
Irish poetry and prose has redefined itself against British literature, and moves to political independence in Scotland are leading to a redefinition of the relationship between English literature and other literatures that have historically been defined in association with it.
By the end of the twentieth century further political devolution had taken place in the UK, and both Scotland and Wales now have their own parliaments, together with more control over their internal matters, though far from full independence.
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From around 1910 the Modernist movement began to influence British literature. While their Victorian predecessors had usually been happy to cater to mainstream middle-class taste, 20th-century writers often felt alienated from it, so responded by writing more intellectually challenging works or by pushing the boundaries of acceptable content.
Vorticism was a short-lived modernist movement in British art and poetry of the early 20th century, based in London but international in make-up and ambition. The movement was announced in 1914 in the first issue of BLAST, which contained its manifesto. It was co-founded and edited by Wyndham Lewis (1882–1957), the English painter and author. His novels include Tarr (1918) and the trilogy The Human Age (1928 and 1955) set in the afterworld.
In the late 19th century and early 20th century, Welsh literature began to reflect the way the Welsh language was increasingly becoming a political symbol. Two important literary nationalists were Saunders Lewis (1893–1985) and Kate Roberts (1891–1985), both of whom began publishing in the 1920s. Saunders Lewis was above all a dramatist. His earliest published play was Blodeuwedd (The woman of flowers) (1923–25, revised 1948). Other notable plays include Buchedd Garmon (The life of Germanus) (radio play, 1936) and several others after the war. Lewis also published two novels, Monica (1930) and Merch Gwern Hywel (The daughter of Gwern Hywel) (1964) and two collections of poems. In addition he was a historian, literary critic, and a founder of the Welsh National Party in 1925 (later known as Plaid Cymru). Kate Roberts' first volume of short stories, O gors y bryniau ("From the swamp of the hills"), appeared in 1925 but perhaps her most successful book of short stories is Te yn y grug ("Tea in the heather") (1959), a series of stories about children. As well as short stories Roberts also wrote novels, perhaps her most famous being Traed mewn cyffion ("Feet in chains") (1936) which reflected the hard life of a slate quarrying family. Kate Roberts' and Saunders Lewis's careers continued after World War II and they both were among the foremost Welsh-language authors of the twentieth century.
The experiences of the First World War were reflected in the work of war poets such as Wilfred Owen, Rupert Brooke, Isaac Rosenberg, Edmund Blunden and Siegfried Sassoon. Dòmhnall Ruadh Chorùna was a Scottish Gaelic poet who served in the First World War, and as a war poet described the use of poison gas in his poem Òran a' Phuinnsuin ("Song of the Poison"). His poetry is part of oral literature, as he himself never learnt to read and write in his native language. Welsh poet Hedd Wyn, who was killed in World War I although producing comparatively few war poems as such, was later the subject of an Oscar-nominated Welsh film. In Parenthesis, an epic poem by David Jones first published in 1937, is a notable work of the literature of the First World War, that was influenced by Welsh traditions, despite Jones being born in England. In non-fiction prose T. E. Lawrence's (Lawrence of Arabia) autobiographical account in Seven Pillars of Wisdom of the Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Empire is important. Poetry reflecting life on the home-front was also published; Guernésiais writer Thomas Henry Mahy's collection Dires et Pensées du Courtil Poussin, published in 1922, contained some of his observational poems published in La Gazette de Guernesey during the war.
The end of the First World War saw a decline in the quantity of poetry published in Jèrriais and Guernésiais in favour of short-story-like newspaper columns in prose, some being collected in book or booklet form – this being a common genre in the Norman mainland.
Two Victorian poets who published little in the 19th century, Thomas Hardy (1840–1928) and Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844–89), have since come to be regarded as major poets. While Hardy first established his reputation the late 19th century with novels, he also wrote poetry throughout his career. However he did not publish his first collection until 1898, so that he tends to be treated as a 20th-century poet. Hardy lived well into the third decade of the twentieth century, an important transitional figure between the Victorian era and the 20th century, but because of the adverse criticism of his last novel, Jude the Obscure, in 1895, from that time Hardy concentrated on publishing poetry. Gerard Manley Hopkins's Poems were posthumously published in 1918 by Robert Bridges (1844–1930, Poet Laureate from 1913). Hopkins' poem "The Wreck of the Deutschland", written in 1875, first introduced what Hopkins called "sprung rhythm." As well as developing new rhythmic effects, Hopkins "was also very interested in ways of rejuvenating poetic language" and frequently "employed compound and unusual word combinations". Several twentieth-century poets, including W. H. Auden, Dylan Thomas, and American Charles Wright, "turned to his work for its inventiveness and rich aural patterning".
Free verse and other stylistic innovations came to the forefront in this era, with which T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound were especially associated. T. S. Eliot (1888–1965) was born American, migrated to England in 1914, at the age of 25, and was naturalised as a British subject in 1927 at the age of 39. He was "arguably the most important English-language poet of the 20th century." He produced some of the best-known poems in the English language, including "The Waste Land" (1922) and Four Quartets (1935–1942). He is also known for his seven plays, particularly Murder in the Cathedral (1935). He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1948. Eliot's friend Ezra Pound (1885–1972), an American expatriate, made important contributions of British literature during his residence in London. He was responsible for the publication in 1915 of Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock", but more important was the major editing that he did on the "The Waste Land".
The Georgian poets like Rupert Brooke, Walter de la Mare (1873–1956), John Masefield (1878–1967, Poet Laureate from 1930) maintained a more conservative approach to poetry by combining romanticism, sentimentality and hedonism, sandwiched as they were between the Victorian era, with its strict classicism, and Modernism, with its strident rejection of pure aestheticism. Edward Thomas (1878–1917) is sometimes treated as another Georgian poet.
A duality of character in the literature of Scotland came to be characterised as Caledonian Antisyzygy – a self-imposed critical discourse about how to forge a model of homogenous national Scottish culture out of a heterogenous patchwork of language communities and national loyalties. In the early 20th century in Scotland, a renaissance in the use of Lowland Scots occurred, its most vocal figure being Hugh MacDiarmid whose A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle (1926), is widely regarded as one of the most important long poems in 20th-century Scottish literature. Other contemporaries were Douglas Young, Sydney Goodsir Smith, Robert Garioch and Robert McLellan. The revival produced verse and other literature, including the plays for which Robert McLellan is best known.
James Pittendrigh Macgillivray (1856–1938) and Lewis Spence (1874–1955) looked back to what they regarded as a Golden Age of Middle Scots literature, partly as a political gesture to revive the style that prevailed when Scotland was a sovereign nation under the Stuarts. Such experimentation with archaising language for poetic effect did not found a new direction for literature in Scots, but their willingness to play with Mediaeval poetic language had an influence by stimulating debate and stimulating new ways of experimenting with Scots as a literary language.
A somewhat diminished tradition of vernacular Ulster Scots poetry survived into the 20th century in the work of poets such as Adam Lynn, author of the 1911 collection Random Rhymes frae Cullybackey, John Stevenson (died 1932), writing as "Pat M'Carty", and John Clifford (1900–1983) from East Antrim.
With the revival of Cornish there have been newer works written in the language. In the first half of the 20th century poetry was the focus of literary production in Cornish. The epic poem Trystan hag Isolt by A. S. D. Smith (1883–1950) reworked the Tristan and Iseult legend. Peggy Pollard's 1941 play Beunans Alysaryn was modelled on the 16th-century saints' plays. John Hobson Matthews wrote several poems, such as the patriotic "Can Wlascar Agam Mamvro" ("Patriotic Song of our Motherland"). Robert Morton Nance (1873–1959) created a body of verse, such as "Nyns yu Marow Myghtern Arthur" ("King Arthur is not Dead").
In the 1930s the Auden Group, sometimes called simply the Thirties poets, was an important group of politically left-wing writers, that included W. H. Auden (1907–73), Louis MacNeice (1907–63), Cecil Day-Lewis (1904–72, Poet Laureate from 1968), and Stephen Spender (1909–95). Auden was a major poet who had a similar influence on subsequent poets as W. B. Yeats and T. S. Eliot had had on earlier generations. Others associated with this group were novelist and playwright Christopher Isherwood (1904–86), and sometimes, novelist Edward Upward (1903–2009), and poet and novelist Rex Warner (1905–86).
While modernism was to become an important literary movement in the early decades of the new century, there were also many fine writers who, like Thomas Hardy, were not modernists. Novelists include: Rudyard Kipling (1865–1936), who was also a successful poet; H. G. Wells (1866–1946); John Galsworthy (1867–1933), (Nobel Prize in Literature, 1932), whose novels include The Forsyte Saga (1906–21); Arnold Bennett (1867–1931) author of The Old Wives' Tale (1908); G. K. Chesterton (1874–1936); E.M. Forster (1879–1970). The most popular British writer of the early years of the 20th century was arguably Rudyard Kipling, a highly versatile writer of novels, short stories and poems, and to date the youngest ever recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature (1907). Kipling's works include The Jungle Books (1894–95), The Man Who Would Be King and Kim (1901), while his inspirational poem "If—" (1895) is a national favourite and a memorable evocation of Victorian stoicism, regarded as a traditional British virtue. Kipling's reputation declined during his lifetime but more recently postcolonial studies has "rekindled an intense interest in his work, viewing it as both symptomatic and critical of imperialist attitudes". H. G. Wells was a highly prolific author who is now best known for his work in the science fiction genre. His most notable science fiction works include The War of the Worlds, The Time Machine, The Invisible Man and The Island of Doctor Moreau, all written in the 1890s. Other novels include Kipps (1905) and Mr Polly (1910). Strongly influenced by his Christian faith, G. K. Chesterton was a prolific and hugely influential writer with a diverse output. His best-known character is the priest-detective Father Brown, who appeared only in short stories, while The Man Who Was Thursday published in 1908 is arguably his best-known novel. Of his nonfiction, Charles Dickens: A Critical Study (1906) has received some of the broadest-based praise. However, unlike these other authors, Forster's work is "frequently regarded as containing both modernist and Victorian elements". Forster's A Passage to India 1924, reflected challenges to imperialism, while his earlier works such as A Room with a View (1908) and Howards End (1910), examined the restrictions and hypocrisy of Edwardian society in England.
Writing in the 1920s and 1930s Virginia Woolf was an influential feminist, and a major stylistic innovator associated with the stream-of-consciousness technique. Her novels include Mrs Dalloway 1925, To the Lighthouse 1927, Orlando 1928, The Waves 1931, and A Room of One's Own 1929, which contains her famous dictum; "A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction". Woolf and E. M. Forster were members of the Bloomsbury Group, an enormously influential group of associated English writers, intellectuals, philosophers and artists.
Other early modernists were Dorothy Richardson (1873–1957), whose novel Pointed Roof (1915), is one of the earliest example of the stream of consciousness technique and D. H. Lawrence (1885–1930), who wrote with understanding about the social life of the lower and middle classes, and the personal life of those who could not adapt to the social norms of his time. Sons and Lovers 1913, is widely regarded as his earliest masterpiece. There followed The Rainbow 1915, though it was immediately seized by the police. and its sequel Women in Love published 1920. Lawrence attempted to explore human emotions more deeply than his contemporaries and challenged the boundaries of the acceptable treatment of sexual issues, most notably in Lady Chatterley's Lover, which was privately published in Florence in 1928. However, the unexpurgated version of this novel was not published until 1959.
An important development, beginning really in the 1930s and 1940s, was a tradition of working class novels that were actually written by writers who had a working-class background. Among these were coal miner Jack Jones, James Hanley, whose father was a stoker and who also went to sea as a young man, and other coal miner authors' Lewis Jones from South Wales and Harold Heslop from County Durham.
An essayist and novelist, George Orwell's works are considered important social and political commentaries of the 20th century, dealing with issues such as poverty in The Road to Wigan Pier (1937) and Down and Out in Paris and London (1933), the exploration of colonialism in Burmese Days (1934), and in the 1940s his satires of totalitarianism included Animal Farm (1945). Orwell's works were often semi-autobiographical and in the case of Homage to Catalonia, wholly. Malcolm Lowry published in the 1930s, but is best known for Under the Volcano (1947). Evelyn Waugh satirised the "bright young things" of the 1920s and 1930s, notably in A Handful of Dust, and Decline and Fall, while Brideshead Revisited 1945, has a theological basis, aiming to examine the effect of divine grace on its main characters. Aldous Huxley (1894–1963) published his famous dystopia Brave New World in 1932, the same year as John Cowper Powys's A Glastonbury Romance. In 1938 Graham Greene's (1904–91) first major novel Brighton Rock was published.
Irish playwrights George Bernard Shaw (1856–1950) and J. M. Synge (1871–1909) were influential in British drama. Shaw's career as a playwright began in the last decade of the nineteenth century, while Synge's plays belong to the first decade of the twentieth century. Synge's most famous play, The Playboy of the Western World, "caused outrage and riots when it was first performed" in Dublin in 1907. George Bernard Shaw turned the Edwardian theatre into an arena for debate about important political and social issues, like marriage, class, "the morality of armaments and war" and the rights of women. In the 1920s and later Noël Coward (1899–1973) achieved enduring success as a playwright, publishing more than 50 plays from his teens onwards. Many of his works, such as Hay Fever (1925), Private Lives (1930), Design for Living (1932), Present Laughter (1942) and Blithe Spirit (1941), have remained in the regular theatre repertoire. In the 1930s W. H. Auden and Christopher Isherwood co-authored verse dramas, of which The Ascent of F6 (1936) is the most notable, that owed much to Bertolt Brecht. T. S. Eliot had begun this attempt to revive poetic drama with Sweeney Agonistes in 1932, and this was followed by The Rock (1934), Murder in the Cathedral (1935) and Family Reunion (1939). There were three further plays after the war.
Emma Orczy (Baroness Orczy)'s The Scarlet Pimpernel was originally a highly successful play in 1905. The novel The Scarlet Pimpernel was published soon after the play opened and was an immediate success. Orczy gained a following of readers in Britain and throughout the world. The popularity of the novel, which recounted the adventures of a member of the English gentry in the French Revolutionary period, encouraged her to write a number of sequels for her "reckless daredevil" over the next 35 years. The play was performed to great acclaim in France, Italy, Germany and Spain, while the novel was translated into 16 languages. Subsequently, the story has been adapted for television, film, a musical and other media. Her stories about Lady Molly of Scotland Yard were an early example of a female detective as main character. Her character The Old Man in the Corner was among the earliest armchair detectives to be created.
John Buchan wrote adventure novels Prester John (1910) and four telling the adventures of Richard Hannay, of which the first, The Thirty-Nine Steps (1915) is the best known. Novels featuring a gentleman adventurer were popular between the wars, exemplified by the series of H. C. McNeile with Bulldog Drummond 1920, and Leslie Charteris, whose many books chronicled the adventures of Simon Templar, alias The Saint.
The medieval scholar M. R. James wrote highly regarded ghost stories in contemporary settings.
In 1908, Kenneth Grahame wrote the children's classic The Wind in the Willows and the Scouts founder Robert Baden-Powell's first book Scouting for Boys was published. Classics of children's literature include A. A. Milne's collection of books about a fictional bear he named Winnie-the-Pooh, who inhabits Hundred Acre Wood. Prolific children's author Enid Blyton chronicled the adventures of a group of young children and their dog in The Famous Five. T. H. White wrote the Arthurian fantasy The Once and Future King, the first part being The Sword in the Stone 1938. Mary Norton wrote The Borrowers, featuring tiny people who borrow from humans. Inspiration for Frances Hodgson Burnett's novel The Secret Garden, was the Great Maytham Hall Garden in Kent. Hugh Lofting created the character Doctor Dolittle who appears in a series of twelve books, while Dodie Smith's The Hundred and One Dalmatians featured the villainous Cruella de Vil.
This was called the Golden Age of Detective Fiction. Agatha Christie, a writer of crime novels, short stories and plays, is best remembered for her 80 detective novels and her successful West End theatre plays. Christie's works, particularly those featuring the detectives Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple, made her one of the most important and innovative writers in the development of the genre. Her most influential novels include The Murder of Roger Ackroyd 1926 (one of her most controversial novels, its innovative twist ending had a significant impact on the genre), Murder on the Orient Express 1934, Death on the Nile 1937 and And Then There Were None 1939. Other female writers dubbed "Queens of crime" include Dorothy L. Sayers (gentleman detective, Lord Peter Wimsey), Margery Allingham (Albert Campion – supposedly created as a parody of Sayers' Wimsey,) and New Zealander Ngaio Marsh (Roderick Alleyn). Georgette Heyer created the historical romance genre, and also wrote detective fiction.
A major work of science fiction, from the early 20th century, is A Voyage to Arcturus by Scottish writer David Lindsay, first published in 1920. It combines fantasy, philosophy, and science fiction in an exploration of the nature of good and evil and their relationship with existence. It has been described by critic and philosopher Colin Wilson as the "greatest novel of the twentieth century", and was a central influence on C. S. Lewis's Space Trilogy. Also J. R. R. Tolkien said he read the book "with avidity", and praised it as a work of philosophy, religion, and morality. It was made widely available in paperback form when published as one of the precursor volumes to the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series in 1968.
From the early 1930s to late 1940s, an informal literary discussion group associated with the English faculty at the University of Oxford, were the "Inklings". Its leading members were the major fantasy novelists; C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien. Lewis is known for The Screwtape Letters 1942, The Chronicles of Narnia and The Space Trilogy, while Tolkien is best known as the author of The Hobbit 1937, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion.
It was anticipated that the outbreak of war in 1939 would produce a literary response equal to that of the First World War. The Times Literary Supplement went so far as to pose the question in 1940: "Where are the war-poets?"
Keith Douglas (1920–1944) was noted for his war poetry during World War II and his wry memoir of the Western Desert Campaign, Alamein to Zem Zem. He was killed in action during the invasion of Normandy. Alun Lewis (1915–1944), born in South Wales, was one of the best-known English-language poets of the war Alun Llywelyn-Williams wrote in Welsh from the soldier's viewpoint, and R. Meirion Roberts from the viewpoint of a chaplain. Caradog Prichard's 'Rwyf Innau'n Filwr Bychan (1943), a journal in Welsh, provided an account of military life from a supporter of the war, although a minority of Welsh nationalist writers produced works in opposition to the war.
Sidney Keyes was the most important and prolific of the Second World War poets. David Gascoyne, a surrealist poet of the 1930s, developed Christian imagery, while Edith Sitwell's Still Falls the Rain evoked the Blitz. Denton Welch (1915–1948) produced minutely observed portraits of the English countryside during the war.
Fair Stood the Wind for France was a 1944 novel by H. E. Bates who was commissioned into the RAF solely to write short stories as the Air Ministry realised that the populace was less concerned with facts and figures about the war than it was with reading about those who were fighting it.
The German military occupation of the Channel Islands 1940–1945 encouraged increased use of the vernacular languages among those who remained in the islands, but the German censorship permitted little original writing to be published. Within the restrictions, Les Chroniques de Jersey, the only surviving French language newspaper in the Islands, republished considerable quantities of older Jèrriais literature for purposes of morale and the assertion of identity. The post-Liberation social changes meant, however, that vernacular literature in the Channel Islands has never regained the situation it had enjoyed previously.
The Second World War has remained a theme in British literature. Later works of note include: Atonement, Ian McEwan's Booker Prize shortlisted 2001 novel; Charlotte Gray, a 1999 novel by Sebastian Faulks; and Empire of the Sun, J. G. Ballard's 1984 novel drawing extensively on his wartime experiences.
Though some have seen modernism ending by around 1939, with regard to English literature, "When (if) modernism petered out and postmodernism began has been contested almost as hotly as when the transition from Victorianism to modernism occurred". In fact a number of modernists were still living and publishing in the 1950s and 1960, including T. S. Eliot, Dorothy Richardson and John Cowper Powys. Furthermore Northumberland poet Basil Bunting, born in 1901, published little until Briggflatts in 1965.
The attitude of the post-war generation of Welsh writers in English towards Wales differs from the previous generation, in that they were more sympathetic to Welsh nationalism and to the Welsh language. The change can be linked to the nationalist fervour generated by Saunders Lewis and the burning of the Bombing School on the Lleyn Peninsula in 1936, along with a sense of crisis generated by World War II. In poetry R. S. Thomas (1913–2000) was the most important figure throughout the second half of the twentieth century, beginning with The Stones of the Field in 1946 and concluding with No Truce with the Furies (1995). R. S. Thomas was an Anglican priest who was noted for his nationalism, spirituality and deep dislike of the anglicisation of Wales. In fiction the major figure in the second half of the twentieth century was Emyr Humphreys (1919). Humphreys' first novel The Little Kingdom was published in 1946; and during his long writing career he has published over twenty novels, including a sequence of seven novels, The Land of the Living, which surveys the political and cultural history of twentieth-century Wales. His most recent work is the collection of short stories, The Woman in the Window (2009). Another Welsh novelist of the post-Second-World-War era was Raymond Williams (1921–88). Born near Abergavenny, Williams continued the earlier tradition of writing from a left-wing perspective on the Welsh industrial scene in his trilogy: Border Country (1960), Second Generation (1964), and The Fight for Manod (1979). Contemporary novelists in Welsh include Mihangel Morgan (1955– ) and Fflur Dafydd (1978– ).
A new writer after the war was the popular novelist in Welsh Islwyn Ffowc Elis (1924–2004) (also a winner of the crown at the 1947 National Eisteddfod). He made his debut as a novelist in 1953 with Cysgod y Cryman (translated into English as Shadow of the Sickle). He produced novels in a range of genres, including the first science fiction novel in Welsh.
George Orwell's satire of totalitarianism, Nineteen Eighty-Four, was published in 1949. An essayist and novelist, Orwell's works are important social and political commentaries of the 20th century. One of the most influential novels of the immediate post-war period was William Cooper's naturalistic Scenes from Provincial Life, a conscious rejection of the modernist tradition.
Graham Greene's works span the 1930s to the 1980s. He was a convert to Catholicism and his novels explore the ambivalent moral and political issues of the modern world. He combined serious literary acclaim with broad popularity in novels such as Brighton Rock (1938), The Power and the Glory (1940), The Heart of the Matter (1948) and A Burnt-Out Case (1961), The Human Factor (1978).
Other novelists writing in the 1950s and later were: Anthony Powell whose twelve-volume cycle of novels A Dance to the Music of Time, is a comic examination of movements and manners, power and passivity in English political, cultural and military life in the mid-20th century; Kingsley Amis who is best known for his academic satire Lucky Jim 1954; Nobel Prize laureate William Golding whose allegorical novel Lord of the Flies 1954, shows how culture created by man fails, using, as an example, a group of British schoolboys marooned on a deserted island who try to govern themselves with disastrous results; Edward Blishen whose first best-selling book Roaring Boys 1955, is an honest account of teaching in a London secondary modern school in the 1950s (followed by a sequel This Right Soft Lot 1969), and whose most famous work is The God Beneath the Sea, a children's novel based on Greek mythology, written in collaboration with Leon Garfield and published in 1970 (illustrated by Charles Keeping with a sequel The Golden Shadow 1973); philosopher Iris Murdoch who was a prolific writer of novels dealing with sexual relationships, morality, and the power of the unconscious, including Under the Net 1954. Scottish novelist Muriel Spark pushed the boundaries of realism: her first novel, The Comforters (1957) concerns a woman who becomes aware that she is a character in a novel; The Ballad of Peckham Rye (1960) has a character who, in line with a tradition of Scottish literature, is literally the devil incarnate. The narrator of her most famous novel, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1961), at times takes the reader briefly into the main action's distant future, to see the various fates that befall its characters.
Anthony Burgess is especially remembered for his dystopian novel A Clockwork Orange 1962, set in the not-too-distant future, which was made into a film (1971] by Stanley Kubrick. Mervyn Peake (1911–68) published his Gothic fantasy Gormenghast trilogy between 1946 and 1959.
One of Penguin Books' most successful publications in the late 20th century was Richard Adams's heroic fantasy Watership Down (1972). Evoking epic themes, it recounts the odyssey of a group of rabbits seeking to establish a new home. John Fowles's The French Lieutenant's Woman (1969) played with the nature of fiction, with its narrator who freely admits the fictive nature of the story he relays, and its alternative endings.
Angela Carter (1940–1992) was a novelist and journalist, known for her feminist, magical realism, and picaresque works. Writing from the 1960s until the 1980s, her novels include, The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman 1972, and Nights at the Circus 1984. Margaret Drabble (1939– ) is a novelist, biographer and critic, who published from the 1960s into the 21st century. Her older sister, A. S. Byatt (1936– ) is best known for Possession 1990.
The Book of Ebenezer Le Page was published in 1981 after the death of its author G.B. Edwards (1899–1976). Edwards rejected the Guernsey mainstream literary traditions of the sea, heroic adventure, romance and exoticism. The author's use of Guernsey English and exploration of a personal journey against a background of rapid social change in Guernsey were among factors that led to the novel's high critical reception.
Salman Rushdie is among a number of post Second World War writers from former British colonies who permanently settled in Britain. Rushdie achieved fame with Midnight's Children (1981), that was awarded both the James Tait Black Memorial Prize and Booker Prize later that year, and was named Booker of Bookers in 1993. His most controversial novel The Satanic Verses (1989) was inspired in part by the life of Muhammad. Doris Lessing from Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), published her first novel The Grass is Singing in 1950, after immigrating to England. She initially wrote about her African experiences. Lessing soon became a dominant presence in the English literary scene, publishing frequently, and won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2007. Other works by her include a sequence of five novels collectively called Children of Violence (1952–69), The Golden Notebook (1962), The Good Terrorist (1985), and a sequence of five science fiction novels the Canopus in Argos: Archives (1979–1983). V. S. Naipaul (1932– ) was another immigrant, born in Trinidad, who wrote A House for Mr Biswas (1961) and A Bend in the River (1979). Naipaul won the Nobel Prize in Literature. Also from the West Indies is George Lamming (1927– ) who wrote In the Castle of My Skin (1953), while from Pakistan came Hanif Kureshi (1954–), a playwright, screenwriter, filmmaker, novelist and short story writer. His novel The Buddha of Suburbia (1990) won the Whitbread Award for the best first novel, and was also made into a BBC television series. Kazuo Ishiguro (1954– ) was born in Japan, but his parents immigrated to Britain when he was six. Ishiguro wrote historical novels in the first-person narrative style. His works include, The Remains of the Day 1989, Never Let Me Go 2005. Scotland has in the late 20th century produced several important novelists, including James Kelman who like Samuel Beckett can create humour out of the most grim situations. How Late it Was, How Late, 1994, won the Booker Prize that year; A. L. Kennedy whose 2007 novel Day was named Book of the Year in the Costa Book Awards. In 2007 she won the Austrian State Prize for European Literature; Alasdair Gray whose Lanark: A Life in Four Books (1981) is a dystopian fantasy set in his home town Glasgow.
Highly anglicised Lowland Scots is often used in contemporary Scottish fiction, for example, the Edinburgh dialect of Lowland Scots used in Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh to give a brutal depiction of the lives of working class Edinburgh drug users. But'n'Ben A-Go-Go is a 2000 cyberpunk novel entirely in Scots by Matthew Fitt, notable for using as many of the different varieties of Scots as possible, including many neologisms – imagining how Scots might develop by 2090. In Northern Ireland, James Fenton's poetry, at times lively, contented, wistful, is written in contemporary Ulster Scots. The poet Michael Longley (born 1939) has experimented with Ulster Scots for the translation of Classical verse, as in his 1995 collection The Ghost Orchid. Philip Robinson's (born 1946) writing has been described as verging on "post-modern kailyard". He has produced a trilogy of novels, as well as story books for children, and two volumes of poetry.
Martin Amis (1949) is one of the most prominent British novelists of the end of the 20th, beginning of the 21st century. His best-known novels are Money (1984) and London Fields (1989). Pat Barker (1943–) has won many awards for her fiction. English novelist and screenwriter Ian McEwan (1948– ) is a highly regarded writer whose works include The Cement Garden (1978) and Enduring Love (1997), which was made into a film. In 1998 McEwan won the Man Booker Prize with Amsterdam. Atonement (2001) was made into an Oscar-winning film. This was followed by Saturday (2005), and Solar (2010). McEwan was awarded the Jerusalem Prize in 2011. Alex Garland's works include The Beach 1996, Giles Foden wrote The Last King of Scotland 1998, and Joanne Harris's most notable work is Chocolat 1999.
A few novels have been published in Cornish since the last decades of the 20th century, including Melville Bennetto's An Gurun Wosek a Geltya (The Bloody Crown of the Celtic Countries) in 1984; subsequently Michael Palmer published Jory (1989) and Dyroans (1998).
An important cultural movement in the British theatre that developed in the late 1950s and early 1960s was Kitchen sink realism (or kitchen sink drama), art (the term itself derives from an expressionist painting by John Bratby), novels, film, and television plays. The term angry young men was often applied members of this artistic movement. It used a style of social realism which depicts the domestic lives of the working class, to explore social issues and political issues. The drawing room plays of the post war period, typical of dramatists like Terence Rattigan and Noël Coward were challenged in the 1950s by these Angry Young Men, in plays like John Osborne's Look Back in Anger (1956). Arnold Wesker and Nell Dunn also brought social concerns to the stage. Again in the 1950s the Theatre of the Absurd profoundly affected British dramatists, especially Irishman Samuel Beckett's play Waiting for Godot, which premiered in London in 1955 (originally En attendant Godot, 1952). Among those influenced were Harold Pinter (1930–2008), (The Birthday Party, 1958), and Tom Stoppard (1937– ) (Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead,1966). Pinter's works are often characterised by menace or claustrophobia, while those of Stoppard are notable for their high-spirited wit and the great range of intellectual issues which he tackles. Both Pinter and Stoppard continued to have new plays produced into the 1990s.
The Theatres Act 1968 abolished the system of censorship of the stage that had existed in Great Britain since 1737. In Jersey, public entertainment, including stage works, continues to be licensed by the Bailiff (advised by the Bailiff's Panel for the Control of Public Entertainment). The new freedoms of the London stage were tested by Howard Brenton's The Romans in Britain, first staged at the National Theatre during 1980, and subsequently the focus of an unsuccessful private prosecution in 1982.
Other playwrights whose careers began later in the century are: Caryl Churchill (Top Girls, 1982), Alan Ayckbourn (Absurd Person Singular, 1972), Michael Frayn (1933–) playwright and novelist, David Hare (1947– ), David Edgar (1948– ). Dennis Potter's most distinctive dramatic work was produced for television.
During the 1950s and 1960s many major British playwrights either effectively began their careers with the BBC, or had works adapted for radio. Most of playwright Caryl Churchill's early experiences with professional drama production were as a radio playwright and, starting in 1962 with The Ants, there were nine productions with BBC radio drama up until 1973 when her stage work began to be recognised at the Royal Court Theatre. Joe Orton's dramatic debut in 1963 was the radio play The Ruffian on the Stair, which was broadcast on 31 August 1964. Tom Stoppard's "first professional production was in the fifteen-minute Just Before Midnight programme on BBC Radio, which showcased new dramatists". John Mortimer made his radio debut as a dramatist in 1955, with his adaptation of his own novel Like Men Betrayed for the BBC Light Programme. But he made his debut as an original playwright with The Dock Brief, starring Michael Hordern as a hapless barrister, first broadcast in 1957 on BBC Radio's Third Programme, later televised with the same cast, and subsequently presented in a double bill with What Shall We Tell Caroline? at the Lyric Hammersmith in April 1958, before transferring to the Garrick Theatre. Mortimer is most famous for Rumpole of the Bailey a British television series which starred Leo McKern as Horace Rumpole, an ageing London barrister who defends any and all clients. It has been spun off into a series of short stories, novels, and radio programmes. Other notable radio dramatists included novelist Angela Carter. Novelist Susan Hill also wrote for BBC radio, from the early 1970s. Among the most famous works created for radio, are Dylan Thomas's Under Milk Wood (1954), Harold Pinter's A Slight Ache (1959) and Robert Bolt's A Man for All Seasons (1954).
While poets T. S. Eliot, W. H. Auden and Dylan Thomas were still publishing after 1945, new poets started their careers in the 1950s and 1960s including Philip Larkin (1922–85) (The Whitsun Weddings,1964) and Ted Hughes (1930–98, Poet Laureate from 1984) (The Hawk in the Rain, 1957). Northern Ireland has produced a number of significant poets, the most famous being Nobel prize winner Seamus Heaney, however, Heaney regarded himself as Irish and not British. There are many others who question whether the Literature of Northern Ireland is Irish or British. Others poets from Northern Ireland include Derek Mahon, Paul Muldoon, James Fenton, Michael Longley, and Medbh McGuckian. James Fenton's poetry, at times lively, contented, wistful, is written in contemporary Ulster Scots. The poet Michael Longley (born 1939) has experimented with Ulster Scots for the translation of Classical verse, as in his 1995 collection The Ghost Orchid.
As part of the Scottish Gaelic Renaissance, Sorley MacLean's (1911–96) work in Scottish Gaelic in the 1930s gave new value to modern literature in that language. However, while "most of his most important poetry had been written in the 1930s and 1940s, almost none of it was widely available" until the publication of Reothairt is Contraight/Spring Tide and Neap Tide: Selected Poems 1932–72, in 1977 and a Collected Poems in 1989. Iain Crichton Smith (1928–98) was more prolific in English but also produced much Gaelic poetry and prose, and also translated some of the work of Sorley Maclean from Gaelic to English, as well as some of his own poems originally composed in Gaelic. Much of his English language work was related to, or translated from, Gaelic equivalents. Modern Gaelic poetry has been most influenced by Symbolism, transmitted via poetry in English, and by Scots poetry. Traditional Gaelic poetry utilised an elaborate system of metres, which modern poets have adapted to their own ends. George Campbell Hay looks back beyond the popular metres of the 19th and 20th centuries to forms of early Gaelic poetry. Donald MacAuley's poetry is concerned with place and community. The following generation of Gaelic poets writing at the end of the 20th century lived in a bilingual world to a greater extent than any other generation, with their work most often accompanied in publication by a facing text in English. Such confrontation has inspired semantic experimentation, seeking new contexts for words, and going as far as the explosive and neologistic verse of Fearghas MacFhionnlaigh (1948– ). Scottish Gaelic poetry has been the subject of translation not only into English, but also into other Celtic languages: Maoilios Caimbeul and Màiri NicGumaraid have been translated into Irish, and John Stoddart has produced anthologies of Gaelic poetry translated into Welsh.
In the 1960s and 1970s Martian poetry aimed to break the grip of 'the familiar', by describing ordinary things in unfamiliar ways, as though, for example, through the eyes of a Martian. Poets most closely associated with it are Craig Raine and Christopher Reid. Martin Amis, an important novelist in the late twentieth and twentieth centuries, carried into fiction this drive to make the familiar strange. Another literary movement in this period was the British Poetry Revival, a wide-reaching collection of groupings and subgroupings that embraces performance, sound and concrete poetry. Leading poets associated with this movement include J. H. Prynne, Eric Mottram, Tom Raworth, Denise Riley and Lee Harwood. It reacted to the more conservative group called "The Movement".
The Mersey Beat poets were Adrian Henri, Brian Patten and Roger McGough. Their work was a self-conscious attempt at creating an English equivalent to the Beats. Many of their poems were written in protest against the established social order and, particularly, the threat of nuclear war. Ted Hughes was among poets whose work found roots in the speech patterns and dialects of Northern England: other notable poets from the north of England include Tony Harrison (1937 – ), who explores the medium of language and the tension between native dialect (in his case, that of working-class Leeds) and acquired language, and Simon Armitage.
In Welsh language poetry, Alan Llwyd came to prominence when he achieved the rare feat of winning both the Crown and the Chair at the 1973 National Eisteddfod and then repeated the feat in 1976. He also wrote the script for the Oscar-nominated Welsh-language film Hedd Wyn (1992) about the life of poet Hedd Wyn, who was killed in World War I.
In contemporary Cornish poetry, Tony Snell's work is heavily influenced by the early poetry of Wales and Brittany, and it was he who adapted the Welsh traethodl to Cornish. The bard Pol Hodge is another example of a poet writing in Cornish.
Amelia Perchard (1921–2012), one of Jersey's foremost contemporary writers, published many poems and produced one-act plays.
Geoffrey Hill (1932– ) has been considered to be among the most distinguished English poets of his generation, and on his 80th birthday was described in the House of Commons by Education Secretary, Michael Gove, as the United Kingdom's "greatest living poet". Although frequently described as a "difficult" poet, Hill has retorted that poetry supposed to be difficult can be "the most democratic because you are doing your audience the honour of supposing they are intelligent human beings". Charles Tomlinson (1927–) is another important English poet of an older generation, though "since his first publication in 1951, has built a career that has seen more notice in the international scene than in his native England; this may explain, and be explained by, his international vision of poetry". The critic Michael Hennessy has described Tomlinson as "the most international and least provincial English poet of his generation". His poetry has won international recognition and has received many prizes in Europe and the United States, including the 1993 Bennett Award from the Hudson Review; the New Criterion Poetry Prize, 2002; the Premio Internazionale di Poesia Ennio Flaiano, 2001; and the Premio Internazionale di Poesia Attilio Bertolucci, 2004.
In thriller writing, Ian Fleming created the character James Bond 007 in January 1952, while on holiday at his Jamaican estate, Goldeneye. Fleming chronicled Bond's adventures in twelve novels, including Casino Royale 1953, Live and Let Die 1954, Dr. No 1958, Goldfinger 1959, Thunderball 1961, The Spy Who Loved Me 1962, and nine short story works.
In contrast to the larger-than-life spy capers of Bond, John le Carré was an author of spy novels who depicted a shadowy world of espionage and counter-espionage, and his best known novel The Spy Who Came in from the Cold 1963, is often regarded as one of the greatest in the genre. Frederick Forsyth writes thriller novels, including The Day of the Jackal 1971, The Odessa File 1972, The Dogs of War 1974 and The Fourth Protocol 1984. Ken Follett writes spy thrillers, his first success being Eye of the Needle 1978, followed by The Key to Rebecca 1980, as well as historical novels, notably The Pillars of the Earth 1989, and its sequel World Without End 2007. Elleston Trevor is remembered for his 1964 adventure story The Flight of the Phoenix, while the thriller novelist Philip Nicholson is best known for Man on Fire. Peter George's Red Alert 1958, is a Cold War thriller.
War novels include Alistair MacLean thriller's The Guns of Navarone 1957, Where Eagles Dare 1968, and Jack Higgins' The Eagle Has Landed 1975. Patrick O'Brian's nautical historical novels feature the Aubrey–Maturin series set in the Royal Navy, the first being Master and Commander 1969.
The "father of Wicca" Gerald Gardner began propagating his own version of witchcraft in the 1950s. Having claimed to have been initiated into the New Forest coven in 1939, Gardner published his books Witchcraft Today 1954 and The Meaning of Witchcraft 1959, the foundational texts for the religion of Wicca. Ronald Welch's Carnegie Medal winning novel Knight Crusader is set in the 12th century and gives a depiction of the Third Crusade, featuring the Christian leader and King of England Richard the Lionheart.
John Wyndham wrote post-apocalyptic science fiction, his most notable works being The Day of the Triffids 1951, and The Midwich Cuckoos 1957. George Langelaan's The Fly 1957, is a science fiction short story. Science fiction novelist Arthur C. Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey, is based on his various short stories, particularly The Sentinel. His other major novels include Rendezvous with Rama 1972, and The Fountains of Paradise 1979. Brian Aldiss is Clarke's contemporary. Michael Moorcock, 1962) is a writer, primarily of science fiction and fantasy, who has also published a number of literary novels. He was involved with the 'New Wave' of science fiction writers "part of whose aim was to invest the genre with literary merit" Similarly J. G. Ballard (1930– ) "became known in the 1960s as the most prominent of the 'New Wave' science fiction writers". A later major figure in science fiction is Iain M. Banks who created a fictional anarchist, socialist, and utopian society the Culture. The novels that feature in it include Excession 1996, and Inversions 1998. He also publishes mainstream novels, including the highly controversial The Wasp Factory in 1984. Nobel prize winner Doris Lessing also published a sequence of five science fiction novels the Canopus in Argos: Archives between 1979 and 1983.
Roald Dahl rose to prominence with his children's fantasy novels, often inspired from experiences from his childhood, with often unexpected endings, and unsentimental, dark humour. Dahl was inspired to write Charlie and the Chocolate Factory 1964, featuring the eccentric candymaker Willy Wonka, having grown up near two chocolate makers in England who often tried to steal trade secrets by sending spies into the other's factory. His other works include James and the Giant Peach 1961, Fantastic Mr. Fox 1971, The Witches 1983, and Matilda 1988.
Boarding schools in literature are centred on older pre-adolescent and adolescent school life, and are most commonly set in English boarding schools. Popular school stories from this period include Ronald Searle's St Trinian's and his illustrations for Geoffrey Willans's Molesworth series, Jill Murphy's The Worst Witch, the Jennings series by Anthony Buckeridge (1912–2004).
Ruth Manning-Sanders collected and retold fairy tales, and her first work A Book of Giants contains a number of famous giants, notably Jack and the Beanstalk. Susan Cooper's The Dark Is Rising is a five-volume fantasy saga set in England and Wales. Raymond Briggs' children's picture book The Snowman 1978 has been adapted as an animation, shown every Christmas on British television, and for the stage as a musical. The Reverend. W. Awdry and son Christopher's The Railway Series features Thomas the Tank Engine. Margery Sharp's series The Rescuers is based on a heroic mouse organisation. The third Children's Laureate Michael Morpurgo published War Horse in 1982. The prolific children's author Dick King-Smith's novels include The Sheep-Pig 1984, and The Water Horse. Diana Wynne Jones wrote the young adult fantasy novel Howl's Moving Castle in 1986. Anthony Horowitz's Alex Rider series begins with Stormbreaker 2000.
J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter fantasy series is a sequence of seven novels that chronicle the adventures of the adolescent wizard Harry Potter. The series began with Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone in 1997 and ended with the seventh and final book Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in 2007; becoming the best selling book-series in history. The series has been translated into 67 languages, placing Rowling among the most translated authors in history. J.K. Rowling took part in a sequence of the 2012 Summer Olympics opening ceremony which celebrated British children's literature.
Terry Pratchett is best known for his Discworld series of comic fantasy novels, that begins with The Colour of Magic 1983, and includes Mort 1987, Hogfather 1996, and Night Watch 2002. Pratchett's other most notable work is the 1990 novel Good Omens.
Philip Pullman's fantasy trilogy His Dark Materials comprises Northern Lights 1995, The Subtle Knife 1997, and The Amber Spyglass 2000. It follows the coming-of-age of two children as they wander through a series of parallel universes against a backdrop of epic events.
Formerly an appointment for life, the appointment of the Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom is now made for a fixed term of 10 years, starting with Andrew Motion in 1999 as successor to Ted Hughes. Carol Ann Duffy succeeded Motion in the post in May 2009. A position of national laureate, entitled The Scots Makar, was established in 2004 by the Scottish Parliament. The first appointment was made directly by the Parliament in that year when Edwin Morgan received the honour The post of National Poet of Wales (Welsh: Bardd Cenedlaethol Cymru) was established in May 2005. The post is an annual appointment with the language of the poet alternating between English and Welsh.
In English literature, Zadie Smith's (1975– ) Whitbread Book Award winning novel White Teeth 2000, mixes pathos and humour, focusing on the later lives of two war time friends in London. Hilary Mantel's Booker Prize–winning novel Wolf Hall 2009, is set in the Tudor court of King Henry VIII. In 2012 Mantel became the first woman and the first British writer to win the Booker Prize twice, as the second part of her historical trilogy Bring Up the Bodies was awarded the prize. In 2004, David Mitchell's science fiction novel Cloud Atlas won the British Book Awards Literary Fiction Award.
Julian Barnes (1946– ) won the 2011 Man Booker Prize for his book The Sense of an Ending. Three of his earlier novels had been shortlisted for the Booker Prize: Flaubert's Parrot (1984), England, England (1998), and Arthur & George (2005). He has also written crime fiction under the pseudonym Dan Kavanagh. England, England explores English national identity, invented traditions, the creations of myths and the authenticity of history and memory. In 2011, Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James set the record as the fastest selling paperback of all time.
Contemporary writers in Scottish Gaelic include Aonghas MacNeacail, and Angus Peter Campbell who, besides two Scottish Gaelic poetry collections, has produced two Gaelic novels: An Oidhche Mus Do Sheol Sinn (2003) and Là a' Deanamh Sgeil Do Là (2004).
A collection of short stories P'tites Lures Guernésiaises (in Guernésiais with parallel English translation) by various writers was published in 2006.
There is some production of modern literature in Irish in Northern Ireland. Performance poet Gearóid Mac Lochlainn exploits the creative possibilities for poetry of "creolised Irish" in Belfast speech.
The perceived success and promotion of genre authors from Scotland provoked controversy in 2009 when James Kelman criticised, in a speech at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, the attention afforded to "upper middle-class young magicians" and "detective fiction" by the "Anglocentric" Scottish literary establishment. John Byrne was supportive, saying that there was "a danger of Scotland becoming known as the home of genre fiction". This was a reaction to the popularity of J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter and of Ian Rankin and other "Tartan Noir" authors.
The theatrical landscape has been reconfigured, moving from a single national theatre at the end of the 20th century to four as a result of the devolution of cultural policy. National theatre companies were founded in Scotland and Wales as complements to the Royal National Theatre in London: Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru (the Welsh language national theatre of Wales, founded 2003), National Theatre of Scotland (founded 2006), National Theatre Wales (the English language national theatre company of Wales, founded 2009). Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru attempts to shape a distinctive identity for drama in Welsh while also opening it up to outside linguistic and dramatic influences.
Translations are an important feature of the literatures of the regional languages of the islands, for example: Alice in Wonderland has been translated into Manx as Contoyryssyn Ealish ayns Cheer ny Yindyssyn by Brian Stowell (published in 1990), into Cornish as Alys in Pow an Anethow by Nicholas Williams (published in 2009), into Ulster Scots as Alice's Carrànts in Wunnerlan by Ann Morrison-Smyth, and the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam was translated into Jèrriais, from the English version by Edward FitzGerald, during the German Occupation by Frank Le Maistre, and into Scots by Rab Wilson (published in 2004). Reasons for translating into a lesser-used language range from demand from a public wanting to experience a familiar work in a more familiar voice to a desire to raise the status of the language by associating it with a recognised work of world literature. There is a paradox in the necessary openness of writers to literature in widely used languages that leads them to express national identity in a lesser-used language.
Since the 1920s a significant quantity of poetry has been translated into Scots, but the amount of prose translated lagged behind, with the exception of translations of classic plays undertaken since the 1940s and of contemporary drama since the 1980s. Alexander Hutchison has translated the poetry of Catullus into Scots, and in the 1980s Liz Lochhead (1947 – ; Scots Makar since 2011) produced a Scots translation of Tartuffe by Molière. The volume of translations rivals the production of new literature.
Translations have not been as important to the Scottish Gaelic literary tradition as to that in Scots, but of those writers who have undertaken translations, George Campbell Hay and William Neill are two noted exponents.
Translations played an important rôle in mediaeval Welsh literature bringing chansons de geste into popular literature and translations from Latin provided literary Welsh with new religious and philosophical vocabulary and laid the basis for a new formal register. Literary translations through the 19th and 20th centuries brought foreign influences to the attention of Welsh writers.
Original literature continues to be promoted by institutions such as the Eisteddfod in Wales or the Mod, in Scotland and by publishing organisations such as Ùr-sgeul, an independent publisher of new Scottish Gaelic prose, and the Welsh Books Council. The Royal Society of Edinburgh includes literature within its sphere of activity. Literature Wales is the Welsh national literature promotion agency and society of writers, which administers the Wales Book of the Year award. The imported eisteddfod tradition in the Channel Islands encouraged recitation and performance, a tradition that continues today.
Formed in 1949, the Cheltenham Literature Festival is the longest-running festival of its kind in the world. The Hay Festival in Wales attracts wide interest, and the Edinburgh International Book Festival is the largest festival of its kind in the world.
The Poetry Society publishes and promotes poetry, notably through an annual National Poetry Day. World Book Day is observed in Britain and the Crown Dependencies on the first Thursday in March annually.
British recipients of the Nobel Prize in Literature include Rudyard Kipling (1907), John Galsworthy (1932), T. S. Eliot (1948), Bertrand Russell (1950), Winston Churchill (1953), William Golding (1983), V. S. Naipaul (2001), Harold Pinter (2005) and Doris Lessing (2007).
Literary prizes for which writers from the United Kingdom are eligible include: