what is english literature

what is english literature

Exploring the Rich Tapestry of English Literature

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1. Introduction to English Literature

Literature is a term used to describe written or spoken material. In the broadest sense, the term is used to refer to all written and spoken information, be it scientific, journalistic, philosophical, brochures, or speeches. When the word is applied this way, it is often used in the plural, as in “We have a large (or small) amount of literature on this field.” The second and narrower use of the word describes a body of written work that includes those things usually studied in universities.

English literature is a window into the culture, social concerns, and history of all English-speaking peoples. As well as capturing the flavor of times long past or indeed not long gone, much can be learned about the society we now live in and the future we are discovering. It is unprecedented among languages, stretching from the “European pearls” of the 8th-century monk Caedmon and continuing to the interminable range of contemporary English literature as it is written. It also offers an abundance of opportunities for communicative oral and written activities while developing skills, knowledge, and understanding.

2. Major Periods and Movements in English Literature

Medieval literature in Europe was predominantly heroic and religious. The period in English literature from about 1066-1500 may be called the Christian Middle Ages. Although there are passages of vigorous humanism in Old English heroic and didactic literature (lying at the foundations of English national consciousness), in general, pre-12th-century literature (the classic works) is thoroughly heroic. The period from the late 14th to the early 16th centuries, on the contrary, is interesting in marked changes visible in intellectual, artistic, moral, and ideological topics of the period’s definitive literature.

Since the term English literature refers to creative works (prose, poetry, and plays) originating in England, we will explore the rich tapestry of literary traditions in English that are representative of important periods and movements. A period in literary history signifies a cluster of meaning and ideas shared by a community of writers who have also shared a primary set of literary norms and a set of genres. A movement is a group of writers sharing a common set of concerns, beliefs, and thematic and formal devices coupled with a universal set of practices and conventions observable in various literary genres, chief among them are the novel, the short story, poetry, and drama. These shared elements may, however, color the creative work of individual writers in very diverse ways. The terms period and movement are useful for an attempt to group the close affinities and at the same time the vast differences between or among writers of a particular time.

3. Key Themes and Motifs in English Literature

However, English Literature serves another purpose, which is not so frequently discussed. It serves as a vehicle for teaching right and wrong, and for this in particular, all men may gain a lesson.

A study of certain recurring themes, motifs, sometimes-cryptic allusions, and non sequiturs to which English Literature frequently refers, and the reasons for choosing certain repertoire is interesting in itself, but may also be instrumental in widening interests and simplifying the personal advance of deeper into the subject. For many personal reasons, such as a limited knowledge of historical and geographical facts, personal likes and dislikes, prejudices, and individuals’ experiences and character, English Literature may serve as a demonstration of individual idiosyncrasies for all students. The finding out of such individual characteristics should be a most rewarding task to anyone involved in English Literature.

In English Literature, we meet with ideas of a wide cross-section of people of various academic attainments and training, yet we find the majority of these same people encountered through a language which is both written and oral and in a variety of cultures.

Various individuals take different aspects of what they have learned from English Literature as their main interest, yet it is probable that the aggregate picture of these interests will show many similarities. The main master key to any interest is the meanings of words, for to understand ideas in discussion we must understand the words which contain them. With this in mind, English Literature presents us with a most interesting picture.

4. Prominent Authors and Their Works

In due course, Matthew Arnold caught up with changing trends in literary studies, advocating much value in classics. John Ruskin, a contemporary of Matthew Arnold, also came to be noted for his various works in the field of art and aesthetics. Writers such as Ruskin, Matthew Arnold, and SW Fowler were chiefly responsible for changing trends in literary criticism and studies. They also demanded liberal arts education from universities. English literature presents a wide spectrum, and many voices have enriched it. The discussion here is limited to a few important figures and by no means is exhaustive. The best way to appreciate English literature is to read it, enjoying the beauty of the language and the variety of its themes.

As literary writing progressed from the Romantic era to the Age of Realism, a number of noteworthy writers emerged. Among these, some became the epitome of literary eminence. William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge are well known for their message that poetry should speak in the language of the rustic and common man. Jane Austen became famous for her novels written from a woman’s viewpoint. Sir Walter Scott wrote extensively on Scottish themes, drawing his interest in legends and romance that became the hallmark of historical novels that followed him. Novelists of the Victorian period were William Thackeray, Elizabeth Gaskell, Charles Dickens, and William M. Thackeray. English literature has its stock of humorists too, like Charles Dickens, Anthony Trollope, Thomas De Quincey, William Makepeace Thackeray, and others. Another major literary voice of that time was John Ruskin.

5. The Influence of English Literature on Culture and Society

The impact on individual authors of major social, political, and scientific upheavals such as the two World Wars or the conflicts over nuclear power gives further evidence of the fluidity of the culture-energy relationship. Literature provides an invaluable window on the past through which we can view, interpret, and understand our history and social evolution. This is the poetic function of poetry at its height. Nor is the arrow one way. A culture high on its literary achievements becomes fertile ground for scientific and technological progress. The Greek civilization made as swift progress in the fields of philosophy and history as in the field of war and conquest. The biographies of the poets very often reflect the customs and traditions and conditions of the age in which they lived. The dialogue and speeches of the characters represent the thought of the writer as well as the thought of the times in which they lived.

The far-reaching influence of English literature can be directly seen in the works of poets, novelists, dramatists, and essayists. It has been quoted and referred to in thousands of ways, reflecting the values and concerns of its times and often playing a part in making history. The Bible is one of the most familiar examples; it has been used and referred to in hundreds of ways. Dante, Milton, and Shakespeare’s works often serve as great cultural storehouses. In more recent times, we can simply note that George Bernard Shaw, W. B. Yeats, George Orwell, Dylan Thomas, Christopher Isherwood, and T. S. Eliot have influenced society and are influenced by society. Yeats and Eliot were leaders of a reactionary movement in poetry. Shaw and Orwell were reformist writers and researchers. Isherwood and Thomas were novelists of social life. The novels of Dr. Shivani or Charles Dickens are another case in point.

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