english literature textbook

english literature textbook

Exploring the Rich Tapestry of English Literature

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1. Introduction to English Literature

Each brick in the wall of English literature is a square of shared heritage, the making of a particular literary pleasure, naturally, but an accumulation more as well an intense repository of centuries of experiments. As we encounter a series of relatively literate characters, and then understand an ancient tradition of humanist thinking, matter-of-factly exploited and challenged, we shall feel our perspective change. We shall learn to approach English literature more respectfully, more interested, perhaps even unsure about what it might have to tell us. The focus here is reading through original or translated texts, by examining the process of their creation and perception. We take ideas and morals from novels and plays not as lectures or sermons but as shared experiences, from fragments and traces of personality, present and past, a context for living originally, and in our own imaginations. Textual analysis is not about searching for secret “clues” nor trying to grasp the exact and full intentions of the author. It is about approaching the text (in whichever language one reads it) in its own right and nature over centuries of changing personalities and their ideas of aesthetic and moral truth.

The prime reason for reading and studying literature is most simply fiction, to learn, enjoy, and interpret life through the medium of written novels. If you are embarking on such an encounter for the first time, or approaching the novels of English writers for the fiftieth, you will find much in this discussion to deepen and widen your understanding of what you read. Literature helps us make sense of our world through emotion and intellect, through imagination and experience. Through novels, we can directly encounter a moment in each writer’s experience and long vision of human experience. Novels are the champions of different characters from different ancient and modern time periods. We will learn about the literary and socio-political, economic and personal constraints within Mary Shelley’s character and intellectual struggle. We will see how familiar was the idea of the sonnet, the octave-and-sestet. We will be able to compare and contrast Nabokov’s mastery of language with other examples that show didactic directive.

2. Key Literary Movements and Periods

The Metaphysical poets were known for their often bold and unexpected imagery, complex themes, and paradoxical argument. One reason why literary historians find it helpful to classify different periods and styles is that ideas about literature do not occur in a social and cultural vacuum. This, in turn, affects what later readers experience, that is, what they understand literature to be. Renaissance scholars such as Sir Philip Sidney considered their age to be a new golden age of literature. A prominent aesthetic theory in England in the 18th century, most famously expounded by Joseph Addison and Richard Steele, is mostly concerned with drama and the genre of the essay.

Apart from the universal appeal of the novel in England, other important developments in English literature are often associated with particular periods and movements. ‘Elizabethan’ or ‘Shakespearean’ drama dominated the late 16th and early 17th centuries. The ‘Metaphysical’ movement of the mid-17th century is chiefly associated with poets John Donne and Andrew Marvell; this was followed by the ‘Restoration’ age in the late 17th and 18th centuries. The ‘Romantic’ movement in the early 19th century, responsible for new attitudes to beauty and nature, inspired poets such as William Wordsworth and William Blake, and novelists such as Jane Austen and the Brontes. The early 20th century was a flowering of ‘Modernist’ literature.

3. Prominent British Authors and Their Works

The chief British writers and their principal works that are included in our study are: (i) William Shakespeare (1564-1616): Hamlet, Macbeth, Othello, King Lear, Julius Caesar, Antony & Cleopatra (ii) John Milton (1608-74): Paradise Lost (iii) Robert Burns (1759-96): Poems and Songs (iv) Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834): The Rime of the Ancient Mariner; Christabel (v) John Keats (1795-1821): Hyperion; The Eve of St. Agnes; Ode to a Nightingale; La Belle Dame sans Merci (vi) Charles Dickens (1812-70): The Adventures of Oliver Twist; David Copperfield; A Tale of Two Cities (vii) Thomas Hardy (1840-1928): Tess of the d’Urbervilles; Jude the Obscure; Far from the Madding Crowd; The Mayor of Casterbridge (viii) Walpole Horace (1717-97): The Castle of Otranto (ix) Mary Shelley (1797-1851): Frankenstein (x) John Galsworthy (1867-1933) – The Forsyte Saga

In this section, we shall examine some of the outstanding writers with a view to drawing attention to their most valuable contributions and to awakening interest in the study of their works. The British nation can look back with pride to the galaxy of literary geniuses that have come and gone, men and women who have thrown luster on the civilization of their country, century after century. In no other nation of the world do we find a similar list of authors who have, in so enduring a manner, enriched the store of English literature. The greatness and richness of English literature are such that, in the space of a single unit like this, specific treatment of any British author is out of the question. Indeed, an encyclopedia containing innumerable volumes will not suffice for the comprehensive treatment of an author like Shakespeare, let alone the many other celebrities that we shall be examining here together. Our purpose, then, is to provide a brief account of the authors to guide students at the senior secondary and higher levels in making a systematic study of English literature.

Prominent British writers and their works

4. Analyzing Themes and Symbols in English Literature

The inherent importance of society prompts man to protect himself from the problems by which a community is surrounded. To keep his society and own life suitable, man depends on the problems contrary to which exists are the values. His biggest effort becomes the search for the physical and social values. Moreover, he does not simply try to keep his society suitable, but at the same time, he works for the happiness of his society’s members. Literature is a way of understanding the life that surrounds us. Literary fiction introduces people and places one has never known. Works of literature may be so much more than interesting stories. The writer may have thoughts to express about mankind and the society by providing a tangible subject for thought or discussion. These ideas can be questionable about our social way of life. An author might be expressing themes and his thoughts in various ways. In a work of literature, writers may discuss problems and suggest solutions. The story an author tells and the characters whom he has created embody his main ideas or tenets.

Themes are the fundamental ideas explored in a literary work. The complexity of themes in literature derives from the close connection between it and the development of the society in which it takes place. In general, literature reflects the latest thoughts of an age; thereby, it becomes one of the best indications of the patterns of man’s thinking and imagination. Themes in literature change, develop, and transform as the society transforms. In this respect, different strength levels of themes force us to look for the necessary weighty problem of literature. Different kinds of themes make the literary pieces worthy of name. Some primary points of themes in literature are presented as follows: Literature is a mirror in which society is clearly seen. Society is the literature reader’s primary concern. In this respect, it might be said that literature and the state of society are inseparable pieces of a whole.

5. The Influence of English Literature on Global Culture

Indian students read Shakespeare and his literary gems, Shelley’s fascinating melodious ‘Ode to the West Wind’, Keats’ sensuous descriptive poetry, classic creations of Eliot, Charlie’s attractive narrative “David Copperfield”, masterpiece of Thomas Hardy’s ‘Tess of the d’Urbervilles’. Criticism of T. S. Eliot and F. R. Leavis and compass the inspiring and powerful writing of Huxley, Galsworthy, Priestley, Auden, Spender, Byron, Tennyson, Browning, Hopkins, or Bronte. Not to speak of poetry of Blake, Shelley, Byron, and the fictional world of Jane Austen and George Orwell, D. H. Lawrence are studied and researched. Dickens’ comprehensive novel ‘David Copperfield’ or Scott’s narrative together with nursery rhymes since the age of four or five. In fact, the world of English literature is something enormous; it is both at the same time, a trap and an education.

Literature has always been a source of inspiration and sustenance for a nation, but it has, in fact, passed on the treasures that it has to the world at large. English literature is a storehouse of its own literary traditions, and it reflects the moral, political, philosophical, and cultural values of a particular nation and also of the world at large. It has traversed myriad porches of tradition and has told the story of evolution and change. Writers of England have reflected their confronting relationships, their confrontations with society and its values in their works of art, which encompass all depths of feeling, subtleties of relationships, and intricacies of character, and their preoccupations with universal values, ethics, and existential dilemmas.

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