english literature booklist

english literature booklist

Exploring the Rich Tapestry of English Literature: A Comprehensive Booklist

1. Introduction to English Literature

The great body of Middle English literature was written after the Norman Conquest (1066) – after the English language spread from the south to the north and became the common language of the people, the language of administration and literature. After a period of adjustment, English came into its own, along with French. The aristocrats continued to read and write in French, but increasingly they wrote in the English vernacular. Characteristics of medieval literature were useful knowledge and didactic purpose; books were directed at those who could read but were unacquainted with classical Greek and Roman thought. Poetry was closely related to music and included rhymed as well as alliterative verse. Ballads, lyric songs, and narrative poems were sung in the courts and castles and performed in the streets and fields. Dramatic plays produced during church services and frescoes on cathedral, abbey, and church walls also contributed to the foundations of English literature. Literature still ranks as a vital part of liberal arts courses, leading students to self-awareness and knowledge. English writers’ experience of life enriches readers’ understanding and enjoyment of major works, the central pinnacle of the literary canon and of literature itself. English literature boomed when self-expression became supreme in the Renaissance. Art and literature truly came into their own. As readers’ tastes became more diverse in nature and scope, writers explored new fields with greater freedom of expression.

English literature encompasses a wide range of literary works written in the English language by poets, novelists, essayists, biographers, and autobiographers, playwrights, philosophers, historians, theologians, and those who wrote them in languages used in Anglo-Saxon England, Middle English, and Chaucer’s time (c. AD 449-1400), as well as in Latin, Welsh, and Norman French. The great treasure of early works is relatively small, consisting of a few poems (e.g., “Beowulf” (Anglo-Saxon), the “Canterbury Tales,” “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight”), courtly romances (Marie de France), and religious writings. The works written in Latin have received much scholarly attention, but most are for advanced students.

2. Key Periods and Movements in English Literature

Each period covered by this comprehensive list has its own succinct introduction. The lists for individual periods are confined to literature in English by British authors, but they do include some translations, particularly in the medieval periods. There are also brief discussions, after the bibliography section, concerning literature in English produced in each of these times and in several other areas, including newborn literatures, which develop their own character as they distinguish themselves from their colonial parent.

1. The Old English Period where the dominant figure is Beowulf. 2. The Middle English Period is dominated by Christian, Alliterative, and love poetry, led by North, the Gawain poet, Julian of Norwich, and Chaucer. 3. The Early Modern Period is a time of great changes, characterized by the Renaissance stimulus and response, the Wycliffite translation and Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, the explosive emergence of Elizabethan drama led by Kyd (the Ur-Hamlet), Sydney, Greene, Marlowe, Peele, Edwardes, Nashe, Chapman, Beaumont and Fletcher, and Jonson, as well as the giant figures of the period, Spenser in poetry and Shakespeare in the theatre, with his key plays Hamlet, King Lear, Macbeth, and Othello, and the innovative Paradise Lost coming, respectively, at the beginning and the end of this period. 4. The Long Eighteenth Century, which is a time of continuous development and growth, is subdivided into Early and Late periods with Dryden, Pope, Swift, and Johnson through to Cowper and the Gothic novelists at one end, and Goldsmith, Sheridan, and Burns through to the pre-Romantics and lesser Gothic writers, like Maturin, at the other. 5. The Romantic Period is one of the most influential and active in the production of English literature with the Romantics Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Shelley, and Keats. Jane Austen is also influential during this period. 6. The Early Victorian Period with a reaction against Romanticism a general feature, but with poetry, led by Tennyson, carrying it out for a committed core of talented and innovative poets such as Arnold, Hopkins, and Rossetti, while the novel develops with Dickens, Thackeray, and the Brontës in one direction, and Wilkie Collins, Trollope, and Mrs. Gaskell in the other. 7. The Late Victorian Period exhibits extraordinary variety and talent in almost all the poetry and the still burgeoning novel. Its leading novelists include Hardy, George Eliot, Stevenson, Kipling, Conrad, Bennett, Shaw, and Wells, and its poets are Tennyson, Browning, and the all-important Hopkins, with Swinburne, Matthew Arnold, and Rossetti also writing notable poetry, while Wilde develops the sophisticated poetic-drama form, and his wicked poetic, dramatic epigrams. 8. The Edwardian Period and the First World War are periods marked by the emergence of modernist writers such as Pound, Eliot, Lewis, Lawrence, Joyce, and Woolf.

In its long history, English literature has developed through a number of key periods and movements. The following is a brief overview of the most notable of these:

3. Major Authors and Their Works

Some major or popular works of the major authors are: – Margaret Atwood: The Handmaid’s Tale, Cat’s Eye – Jane Austen: Pride and Prejudice, Emma, Mansfield Park – James Baldwin: Another Country, The Fire Next Time – Saul Bellow: Herzog, Humboldt’s Gift – Elizabeth Bishop: Poems – E.M. Forster: A Passage to India, Howard’s End – Robert Frost: Poems – Graham Greene: The Heart of the Matter, Brighton Rock – Ernest Hemingway: The Sun Also Rises, For Whom the Bell Tolls – John Keats: Poems – D.H. Lawrence: Women in Love, The Rainbow – Sinclair Lewis: Babbitt, Main Street – Malcolm Lowry: Under the Volcano – Thomas Mann: Buddenbrooks, The Magic Mountain – Katherine Mansfield: Short Stories – Henry Miller: The Tropic of Cancer, The Tropic of Capricorn – Toni Morrison: Beloved, Sula – Vladimir Nabokov: Pale Fire, Pnin, Lolita – Eugene O’Neill: Long Day’s Journey into Night – George Orwell: Animal Farm, 1984 – Walker Percy: The Moviegoer – Harold Pinter: Plays – Edgar Allan Poe: Short stories, Detective Stories – Marcel Proust: Swann’s Way, Within a Budding Grove – P.B. Shelley: Poems – John Steinbeck: The Grapes of Wrath, East of Eden, Of Mice and Men – Italo Svevo: Confessions of Zeno – William Makepeace Thackeray: Vanity Fair – Gertrude Stein: Three Lives, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas – Elizabeth Von Arnim: The Enchanted April – Eudora Welty: The Optimist’s Daughter, Delta Wedding – Edith Wharton: The House of Mirth, The Age of Innocence – Oscar Wilde: The Picture of Dorian Gray, The Importance of Being Earnest – Grace Paley: Little Disturbances of Man – Frank O’Connor: Guests of the Nation – Nathaniel Hawthorne: The Scarlet Letter – Martin Amis: Rachel Papers, Dead Babies.

4. Themes and Symbolism in English Literature

Symbol is a concrete entity that represents an abstraction or an idea. It is anything which stands for something else. Often a word, a symbol has nothing of the kind of meaning that the word points to. It has its own existence in which it is a symbol then and there, and for our understanding, its visibility is the primary thing. The art in literature is the reader’s awareness of what the direct thing symbolizes, to perceive more than the direct statement. There is currently the word says, it must become a symbol by concretizing and mediating the ideas or abstractions to which it relates. The use of symbols as a part of their particular culture is characteristic of English literature. The question of symbolism really has to be explored to appreciate its implications. There are undoubtedly other approaches to literature that do not involve any intense inquiry into the meaning of certain symbols or objects used, but the utilization of symbolism, however, is characteristic and extensive enough to warrant special consideration.

Theme is the central idea of a work of literature. It is often closely tied to the time and place in which the work is set. The thematic patterns in a novel echo the patterns of a writer’s consciousness. Theme is the thread that binds a series of incidents together in a coherent whole. It is the general idea or insight about life that a writer wishes to express. It is generally not stated directly and will not be expressed in a single word, but must be stated as a complete sentence. Few works can ultimately be reduced to a singular theme. Like all works of art, literature is unified. There are elements in all works of literature that shape the surface meaning and the meaning below the surface.


5. Exploring Diversity in English Literature

In seeking to make mention of the particularly notable among the quite frankly great number of recently published ethnic literary works which are available to teachers of literature, I can only record my sincere admiration and respect for those instructors who keep pace, even in part, with the heated publishing market in Ethnic Literature. Through the achievement of the remarkable progress that such teachers make, the democratic educational values inherent in Ethnic Literature courses sometimes find their way ever so slightly into the mainstream culture. This inclusive and updated multicultural perspective has, for some of our students, resulted in attitudes toward writing and literature that were previously unimaginable.

Today, the question of a relevant, respect-worthy and challenging booklist for courses in Ethnic Literature is very widely debated. And not without cause. The benefits to be drawn from such a list of literary works by diverse authors are considerable. Ethnic Literature courses are often the only places where the literatures written by authors who have been marginalized in the mainstream culture appear. Further, many of these courses attract white students who have come to realize that they know very little about their own people and that the stereotypes under which they have grown up are just that and nothing more. The unfolding and subsequent examination of their world, those of their classmates and those of the authors whose works they share, enriches and deepens the level of discourse possible in the college curriculum. As in other trilogy courses, the deep readings in Ethnic Literature, a wide and varied sharing of responses, varied authors and cultural situations, and collaborative thematic examinations of the issues examined result in considerable learning gains.

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