Protohistory The history of the world is the memory of the past experience of Homo sapiens sapiens around the world, as that experience has been preserved, largely in written records.
It should be most useful right at the start of the course, or later as a resource for exercises in revision, and to help you reflect on value judgements in literary criticism.
It may also be suitable for university students and the general reader who is interested in the history of literature. This guide reflects a view of literature which is sometimes described as canonical, and sometimes as a Dead White European Male view.
That is, I have not especially sought to express my own value judgements but to reflect those which are commonly found in printed guides by judges whose views command more respect than mine. I hope that students who visit this page will take issue with the summary comments here, or discuss them with their peers.
But young readers will not thank teachers for leaving them in the dark about established critical opinion or the canon of English literature. If you doubt that there is a canon, look at the degree course structure for English literature in a selection of our most prestigious universities.
Students who recognize that they have little or no sense of English literary culture have often asked me to suggest texts for them to study - this guide may help them in this process.
This is NOT a tutorial, in the sense of a close reading of any text. And it is not very interesting to read from start to finish. I hope, rather, that it will be used as a point of reference or way in to literature for beginners. You will soon see if it is not for you.
Back to top And while I have made a selection from the many authors who deserve study, I have throughout presented them in a chronogical sequence. At the end I consider briefly questions of genre and literary value.
I have not attempted to record the achivements of writers in other languages, though these include some of the greatest and most influential writers of all time, such as Dante Alighieri, Leo Tolstoy, Franz Kafka and Bertolt Brecht. Happily, examiners of Advanced level literature have allowed students, in recent years, to study these foreign authors, in translation, in independent extended literary studies.
Please use the hyperlinks in the table above to navigate this page. If you have any comments or suggestions to make about this page, please e-mail me by clicking on this link. The typographic conventions of this page are red for emphasis and the names of authors when first mentioned, and when they appear outside of the section which relates to their historic period.
Brown type is used in place of italic for titles of works. The screen fonts display in such a way that neither true italic nor bold are very pleasant to read. If you find the text size too small, you can increase it, using the text size item in the view menu of your browser.
Back to top Literary forms Literary forms such as the novel or lyric poem, or genres, such as the horror-story, have a history. In one sense, they appear because they have not been thought of before, but they also appear, or become popular for other cultural reasons, such as the absence or emergence of literacy.
In studying the history of literature or any kind of artyou are challenged to consider what constitutes a given form, how it has developed, and whether it has a future. Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe is a long work of prose fiction, but critics do not necessarily describe it as a novel.
Why might this be? Knowing works in their historical context does not give easy answers, but may shed more or less light on our darkness in considering such questions. Old English, Middle English and Chaucer Old English English, as we know it, descends from the language spoken by the north Germanic tribes who settled in England from the 5th century A.
They had no writing except runes, used as charms until they learned the Latin alphabet from Roman missionaries.
The earliest written works in Old English as their language is now known to scholars were probably composed orally at first, and may have been passed on from speaker to speaker before being written. Old English literature is mostly chronicle and poetry - lyric, descriptive but chiefly narrative or epic.
By the time literacy becomes widespread, Old English is effectively a foreign and dead language. And its forms do not significantly affect subsequent developments in English literature. With the scholarly exception of the 19th century poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins, who finds in Old English verse the model for his metrical system of "sprung rhythm".
Ideas and themes from French and Celtic literature appear in English writing at about this time, but the first great name in English literature is that of Geoffrey Chaucer? Chaucer introduces the iambic pentameter line, the rhyming couplet and other rhymes used in Italian poetry a language in which rhyming is arguably much easier than in English, thanks to the frequency of terminal vowels.
Some of Chaucer's work is prose and some is lyric poetry, but his greatest work is mostly narrative poetry, which we find in Troilus and Criseyde and The Canterbury Tales.
Other notable mediaeval works are the anonymous Pearl and Gawain and the Green Knight probably by the same author and William Langlands' Piers Plowman.All Classes Subject to Change. Use the Schedule Options to search other terms and filter results.
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