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Timeline of British Literature

This is a brief overview of literature from the major time periods of British
literacy history. This is just to give students an overall context.

Anglo-Saxon Period (449-1066)

Most of the storytelling in this time period was of the oral tradition. There are
few written manuscripts that still survive. The major themes of this time were
praise of heroes who triumph in battle and religious/moral instruction. The
predominant genre in this time period was epic poetry.

Work: Beowulf*

Medieval Period (1066-1485)

This was the time of knights and their ladies fair. The chivalric code of honor
was very important to literature of this time, and romances became popular.
Religion was still a major reason for literature, as well, and plays that
instructed the illiterate masses in moral codes, called morality plays, were
produced. One of the major genres of this period was the folk ballad.

Author: Geoffrey Chaucer*

The Renaissance (1485-1660)

This time period marks a shift in literature from a focus on religion and the
afterlife to human life on earth. Two of the most popular themes of the time
were love and human potential. Genres in use at this time included
metaphysical poetry, sonnets, and drama written in verse.

Authors: William Shakespeare*, John Donne, Christopher Marlowe, and


Andrew Marvell

The Restoration (1660-1798)

The Restoration was a time where the emphasis was on rules, reason, and
logic. This is the time period of grammarians, the men who created many of the
grammar rules that are still in use today. During this time some of the
predominant genres were: satire, essays and novels.

Authors: Alexander Pope*, Daniel Defoe*, Jonathan Swift*, Samuel Johnson,


Romanticism (1798-1832)

The major theme of the Romantic period was nature. The Romantics saw
patterns and meaning in the natural world around them. This was a time of
lyrical ballad. Also, the Romantic period brought to popularity the gothic
horror novel.

Authors: Jane Austen*, Mary Shelley, William Blake*, William Wordsworth*,


Dorothy Wordsworth, Samuel Coleridge*, Lord Byron*, Percy Shelley*, John
Keats*

The Victorian Period (1832-1900)

It was in this time period that the novel began its rise in popularity. The
availability of cheap paper made mass publication possible. Serialized novels
and magazines were popular with the masses. Contrived plot twists such as
strained coincidences and romantic triangles were often utilized. This time
period also saw a heightened conflict between the rich and the poor. In poetry
elegies were extremely popular.

Authors: Charles Dickens*, Thomas Hardy, Rudyard Kipling, Robert Louis


Stevenson*, George Eliot, Oscar Wilde*, Alfred Lord Tennyson, The Bronte
Sisters

The Modern/Postmodern Period of Literature (1900-1980)

This era indicated the loss of the hero in literature. One of the major themes
was technology’s destruction of society. Poetry began to be written in a style
called free verse. Many novelists began writing in a style called stream of
consciousness. Many works from this time period contain “epiphanies.”

Authors: James Joyce*, Joseph Conrad, D.H. Lawrence*, Dylan Thomas*,


George Orwell*, William Butler Yeats*, Virginia Woolf*