British Literature1) The Middle Ages
The oldest literature monument of the Anglo-Saxon period is the old Germanic legend about Beowulf. This heroic poem is about the strong and courageous
pagan hero Beowulf.
is a professor of Oxford University. With his students he translated the whole Bible into English. He influenced Master John Huss and our Hussite
movement very much.
2) The Renaissance and Humanism
Geoffrey Chaucer: Cantebury Tales – brilliant portrait of 30 pilgrims who travel to Canterbury and they were saying stories each other, each one
said four stories. But in fact there are only 23 tales.
William Shakespeare: is the biggest author of this period.
Christopher Marlowe: might became another Shakespeare but he had been killed. However he lived only a short life, he wrote many plays – The Tragical
History of Doctor Faustus, The Jew of Malta, perhaps he also wrote Henry VI, which Shakespeare revised and completed.
Sir Thomas More: He wrote Utopia – a vision of Imaginary Island with perfectly organised society.
3) 17th Century
John Milton: is the main figure of this period. His masterpiece is Paradise Lost, which is about the revolt of Satan against Heaven and God.
4) 18th Century
In the 18th century there is a big development of the society and economy, journalism, novels and drama developed very much. Literature became very
Jonathan Swith: was a sharp critic. He wrote satirical pamphlets on all unfair events in British society. His most popular work is Gullivers Travels
– allegory of Lemuel Gulliver's travelling thorough imaginary countries. He criticises politics in England, kingdoms, armies, bad politicians etc.
He visits four quite different worlds. The first one is country called Lillipyt, where the people are six inches high, the second country is
Brobdingnag, which is inhabited by giants. The third are Laputa and Lgado – philosophers and science, and the fourth one is with Yahoos, disgusting
beasts in the shape of men.
Henry Fielding: journalist, lawyer and playwright. He wrote a realistic novel Tom Johnes, where he described the life in the 18th century England.
Fielding is considered as the founder of the Modern English novel.
Daniel Defoe: was a politician, traveller and journalist. His most famous work is Robinson Crusoe. Robinson shipwrecked on a lonely island; he
represents the qualities, which the middle class needed in capitalist competition to be successful.
Sir Walter Scott: is a founder of historical novel. He draw the themes for his romantic novels from old folk ballads, especially from Scottish
history. Ivanhoe is from the period of Richard the Lionhearted. The other novels are Waverley, Kenilworth and so on.
The romantic period is known especially for its poetry ; the best English romantic poets are:
Samuel Coleridge: his masterpiece is The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner – a beautiful ballad about the mariner who shot the albatross and because of
this the whole ship is cursed. The mariner is the only one who survives and his penalty is to travel from land to land with suffering soul.
Lord George Gordon Byron: represent revolutionary romanticism – unhappy and usually lonely heroes fight for freedom and their fight ends in vain.
Byron was a son of nobleman. He was physically disabled from hid birth. His main work is Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage. The Hero travels all over
Europe and make comments of the hypocritical society and unfairness in life.
Pervy Bysshe Shelly: represents also as a Byron revolutionary romanticism. His greatest work is Prometheus Unbound, based on an old Greek legend about
Prometheus who steals fire from Olympus to give it to People.
6) Victorian Age (Critical Realism) – 19th century:
Victorian Age produced great novels criticising various evils of prosperous but imperialistic society. Among the best authors of this period
Emily Bronte: Wuthering Hights
Charlotte Bronte: Jane Eyre
both of them dealt with moral and psychological problems.
Charles Dickens: described truly the life of poor people in England. He himself suffered in his childhood and his bitter experience can be found in
his works. Among his major novels belong Little Dorrit, David Copperfild, The Pickwick Papers, Great Expectations, Oliver Twist, Christmas Carol –
see enclosed paper.
The First Half of The 20th Century
William Makepeace Thackeray: he wrote novels against snobbery and hypocrisy. His main novel is Vanity Fair.
Thomas Hardy: together with D. H. Lewrence represents the naturalistic trend in literature. He understands hard life of common people, hates hypocrisy
and brutal egoism of the rich, his work is ironical and pessimistic.
Oscar Wilde: He was born in Dublin, Ireland. His father was a well – known surgeon and his mother was a successful writer. After a comfortable
childhood, he decided to study classical literature in a College in Dublin. In 1874 he moved to a College in Oxford. After college he continued
writing poems and he moved to London. He publishes here his first book simply called Poems (Many literature professors criticised him, they said he
was not original, because he had used many words from other poets and writers). But in spite of this criticism he became more popular (he got a great
reputation for the way he dressed, for his intelligence and conversation skills). In 1884 he married Constance Lloyd and they had two boys. Wilde
wrote many stories for his children including The Happy Prince and The Canterville Ghost. The plays Oscar Wilde wrote after 1890 made him a legend. He
wrote 4 comedies: Lady Windermeres Fan, A Woman of no Importance, An Ideal Husband and his masterpiece The Importance of Being Ernest. He only
wrote one novel – The picture of Dorian Gray. In 1893 he wrote a play in French called Salomé. He was criticised by London society and even put to
prison (for 2 years) for homosexuality. The day he left prison he went directly to France and he never turned to England. He moved to Paris and
changed his name. He died suddenly in 1900. Oscar Wilde was influenced by the French theory of lart-pour-lart. He is also known for his fairy
tales – The happy prince, The nightingale and the Rose and the other.
The picture of Dorian Gray: Dorian Gray makes his life–style according to the rules of art. He loves the actress Sybil, because her speech in
theatre is something new. When he discovered, that her art is only average, he stopped to love her and Sybil committed suicide. He loves himself so
much that he doesn't grow old and his portrait grows old instead of him and it shows all his sins, although real Gray is still young and nice.
7) The first half of 20.century:
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: is the creator of Sherlock Holmes and he makes one of the grates detective story writers of all times.
Rudyard Kipling: was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature as a first British author. He wrote short stories about Indian, the sea, the jungle and
its animals – The Jungle Book, The Second Jungle Book.
John Galsworthy: he got the Nobel Prize in 1932, he was a critical novelist, dramatist and shortstory–writer. His most known book is Forsyte Saga
– describes upper middle class family.
James Joyce: he was born in Dublin, he wrote modern novels and experimental prose. Dubliners is a collection of short stories. His masterpiece is
Ulysses – they wander around Dublin in the course of one day (Homers Ulysses about 20 years) and all the characters in the book correspond to the
character of the legend.
Georg Bernard Shaw: is the most famous personality in drama of this period. He attacked the whole society. In his plays he criticises the false morals
of the society – Pygmalion (My Fair Lady), Mrs. Warrns Profession. He was awarded the Nobel Prize.
8) Contemporary literature:
A group called : Angry Young Men
John Wain: he expressed disillusionment and emptiness of intellectuals after W. W. II (as all angry young men – they are angry and dissatisfied with
the establishment, criticise snobs and people in power). He wrote e.g. The Young Visitors.
Kingsley Amis: the most famous member of this group. He is world famous for his Lucky Jim (the main character is Jim Dickson – a lecturer at one
William Golding: he was rewarded a Nobel Prize in 1983. His most known book is Lord of the Files – the story is set to the future, when an
air–crash leaves a group of young boys on an island. First they are happy without their parents and they try to form an ideal society, then they
form 2 groups and the end is full of barbarian bestiality.
J.R.R. Tolkien: based the stories of his fairy tale novels on his profound knowledge of old Germanic and Celtic myths. He created a fantasy world of
Middle-Earth where small hobbits seek happiness, goodness and live many adventures – Habbit, The Lord of The Rings.
George Orwell: wrote excellent novels criticising totalitarian society (Animal Farm, 1984).
Agatha Christie: is the most widely read author in the world. She is the queen of a detective story and wrote about 70 novels – The Murder of Roger
Ackroyd, Ten Little Niggers, Sleeping Murder, Curtain,...
Arthur C. Clarke: is a world-known science-fiction writer – 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Fountains of Paradise.
John Osborne – play Look Back in Anger – it was the beginning of the angry young men movement.
Samuel Beckett – a Nobel Prize winner in 1969, he is important both for drama and prose. His famous play is called Waiting for Godot.
Harold Pinter – is influenced by Kafka and Beckett, for example the plays: The Room, The Birthday Party.
The most successful play in history is Mouse Trap by A. Christie.
Pozn: His masterpiece is.... His most popular work is.... He wrote.... His most known book is.
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