English Literature summary



English Literature summary


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English Literature summary




Old-English Literature

The Anglo-Saxons brought from their homes on the continent stories, which they told repeatedly from one generation to the next. Their first literature was preserved in their memories and was passed to later generations orally.

When talking about the Anglo-Saxons, we must mention the story of Beowulf (6th century). This great epic poem is a high point of Anglo-Saxon literature.


6th – 8th century

The first known writers were Caedmon and Venerable Bede.

Caedmon lived in the 6th century – he wrote religious poetry. In the 8th century the greatest figure was Venerable Bede, who wrote Caedmon’s biography – history of the English Church.


9th century

Alfred the Great translated a number of Latin works. He devoted his time to improving the education of common people. This period will finish with the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle – perhaps the most important prose work in Old English. It is the wok of monks in various monasteries and record of people in England from 9th to 10th century.


Middle English Literature (1066 – 1485)

This period is connected with William the Conqueror.

William Langland – a satirist who protested against social injustice especially in his work “The Vision of Piers the Plowman”.

Geoffrey of Monmouth – is considered the real author of Arthurian legends. He wrote History of Britons, where he deals with king Arthur, his knights and the round table.

John Wycliffe – professor at Oxford University. The Bible was translated under his leadership by many scholars.

Geoffrey Chaucer – represents poetry. He is considered to be the greatest poet of England. His well-known work is The Canterbury Tales, which is a collection of stories told by pilgrims on the way to Becket’s shrine – it remained unfinished. The source of Chaucer’s tales can be found in the Decameron. Chaucer and his realism influenced future development in English literature.


15th century

Literature seems to be quite old-fashioned comparing to Chaucer’s works.

The year 1477 is linked with William Caxton, who set up the first English printing press, where the works of English and French authors were published.


16th century

Renaissance (connected with the House of Tudor)

It was a period of new learning; scholars lead people to believe in their own reason and senses.

Humanists: Erasmus (of Dutch origin) travelled all over Europe, spreading the new ideas and he had big impact on Thomas More, who wrote the Utopia in Latin. It was an imaginary country, where people were equal, without wars, all were educated, worked 6 hours a day.

Roger Ascham – he had influence on Elisabeth I – he was her tutor, responsible for her education.

Philosophy: Francis Bacon

Elizabethan drama: she supported art and artists

Christopher Marlowe – wrote Dr. Faustus – a story used by German poet Goethe in Faust


William Shakespeare – the greatest personality of English renaissance and the Elizabethan age. We can even say he has been the greatest so far.

  • 1st period: these works are marked by youthful dreams – The Merchant of Venice, Taming of the Shrew, A Midsummer night’s dream, Romeo and Juliet – a romantic tragedy.
  • 2nd period: romantic comedies and chronicles – The Merry Wives of Windsor, two plays about king Henry IV. He wrote also for the Globe theatre – Much Ado about Nothing, As You Like It.
  • 3rd period: marked by depression – wrote tragedies and some of his best plays – Julius Caesar, Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, Macbeth.
  • 4th period: marked by the place of warmth – A Winter’s Tale.


His contemporary – Ben Johnson invented a genre called comedy of humour.


17th century

This period is connected with the Stuarts and it is a century of advance (Newton, Bacon, Lock).

John Milton supported the ideas of Puritanism. His masterpiece is Paradise Lost – the revolt of Satan against heaven and God. Later he wrote Paradise Regained.

John Bunyan spoke for common people in his works; he joined a Baptist group (spent 12 years in prison). He wrote Pilgrim’s Progress – the best syllabus of Protestantism. It is an allegory written in a way as if it was a dream.

1660 – 1700: the age of Dryden – a fine poet, lyric poet, satiric, critic; well known for his poetic plays, political satires and literary criticism. He is often called the father of English prose. (asi by malo byt poetry, neviem, či som sa pomýlila ja, alebo profka, alebo je naozaj aj otcom anglickej prózy).

Heroic play – All for Love: he retells Shakespeare’s story Anthony and Cleopatra; Absolom and Achitophel – he exposed intrigues, disloyalty, produced the best of his satires.

He selected contemporary themes for his poetry.

This period is called 3-John period: John Milton, John Bunyan, John Dryden.


18th century

It is called the age of reason, a century of prosperity and stability of the English middle class. Western development of the society and economy, journalism, drama, novels developed very much. Literature became popular among the middle class – the first authors immerged from these circles.

Journalism: first periodicals were published – Richard Steele, Joseph Edison – the Tatler (3 times a week), later on the Spectator was founded and it reached a higher literary level than the Tatler.

Poetry: greatest poet was Alexander Pope, who wrote beautiful classical poetry – he was a poet of his age.

The elegant society of the 18th century flowered in the writings of Swift, Defoe and Fielding. Novels became the main literary genre.

Jonathan Swift: born in Dublin, had a very sharp tongue and even sharper pen. His masterpiece is Gulliver’s travels – a satire on humanity in general. Swift’s satire is directed against politics in the English kingdom, corrupt courts, armies, bad politicians and judges.

Daniel Defoe: the founder of English fiction. In Robinson Crusoe he describes the adventures of a shipwrecked sailor. Crusoe embodies the qualities which the middle class needed in capitalist competition – he was energetic, skillful, hard working.

Samuel Richardson: Pamela (written in the form of a letter) and Virtue rewarded – these two works can be regarded as the first novel in English on psychological development of characters. He wrote his works in the form of letters.

Fielding: his masterpiece is Tom Jones – a new kind of hero: handsome, brave and generous, with heart in the right place, instincts not always in his control.

Early novelists: Tobias Smalet, Lawrence Stern – they mixed satire and sentiment.

Oliver Goldsmith – the Vicar of Bakerfield

Robert Burns – he is considered to be a great songwriter.

Sheridan – wrote comedies: The School for Scandal, which is a brilliant satire on life in fashionable society.


19th century – Romanticism

A group of poets named Lake Poets: they adopted this name because they wrote poetry in the Lake District.

W. Wordsworth, Colridge, Taylor, Walter Scott looked for models in the English and Italian renaissance and Middle Ages.

Poetry: Percy B. Shelly, J. Keats

Prose: Walter Scott – historical novel Ivanhoe – it is a reconstruction of Middle Ages and renaissance.

Jane Austin – in her works we can find realistic tendencies in romantic period: Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility

Elizabeth Gaskell – used criticism in Mary Barton – reveals the poverty of the workers and a desperate struggle for existence.


Victorian period

End of romanticism – critical realism.

It was a period of advance in many areas – inventions, science, commerce, industry, finance, etc.

The problems created by these advances occupied the deepest thought of Victorian writers in poetry, essays, particularly in novels.

Among the best writer of this period belong the Brontë sisters who revealed in their novels the dark side of the English society and protested against everything that was inhuman and cruel. There were 3 of them: Emily (Wuthering Heights), Charlotte (Jane Eyre) – both dealt with moral and psychological problems, Anne (2 novels, but she’s not very famous).

The most typical representative of the English social criticism is:

Charles Dickens, who described lives of poor people in England in the 19th century – his stories are partly autobiographical, because he was poor as a child. He wrote Little Dorrit, David Copperfield, The Pickwick Papers, Great Expectations, Oliver Twist, etc.

William Thackeray wrote novels against snobbery and hypocrisy: Vanity Fair, in which he compares carriers of 2 different characters.

The Book of Snobs – a satirical panorama of English social and political life.

Thomas Hardy – link period between the Victorian era and modern times. He was influenced by Zola. His masterpiece is Tess of D’Uberville, where he concentrates mostly on inner personal life, the struggle of the people living in the country.

Oscar Wilde – a poet, novelist, essay and storywriter famous for his witty and brilliant dialogues; his best comedy is The Importance of Being Earnest. His stories include The Happy Prince, The Selfish Giant. He wrote only 1 novel: Picture of Dorian Gray.

Adventure themes appear in works of R. L. Stevenson, whose best novel is The Treasure Island.

Poetry: a well known, great official poet during the reign of queen Victoria: Alfred Tenausson.

Modern criticism was represented by Robert Browning – Pipa Passes. His wife, Elizabeth Barrett Browning also wrote poetry – she protested against the practice of employing children in factories and mines: The Cry of the Children, Sonnets from the Portuguese – most powerful of her poems on love.


20th century

Prose in the 1st half of the 20th century was represented by Joseph Conrad, who was of Polish origin. He created characters of various nationalities. He also wrote short stories and novels about the sea and exotic countries from his own experience – Lord Jim.

Rudyard Kipling – born in India. He was a master of both short story and short novel – he was awarded a Nobel Prize as the 1st British author. His best-known works are The Jungle Book and The 2nd Jungle Book.

John Galsworthy – a critical novelist, who wrote The Forsyte Saga. It is a description of the decay of Victorian middle class.

Aldous Huxley represents the intellectual stream. He wrote The Brave New World – it is a kind of sci-fi, but not typical, a kind of satire.

A group of authors who tried to explore inner aspects of human lives:

Virginia Woolf – people seen from many different angles, she disclosed inner lives of her heroes totally – with understanding and intelligence: To the Lighthouse, Mrs. Dalloway.

James Joyce – his novels are disclosing the inner state of mind of characters. He wrote a collection of short stories – Dubliners; novels Ulysses, Odysseus.

Graham Greene – most successful with his literary study of crime, guilt, morality. Divides his works into entertainment (detective stories, thrillers) and novels (The Power and the Glory).

Archibald Chronin – depicts private lives of his heroes: The Citadel – life of a doctor in a coal mining area in Scotland.

The English novel since WW II: many were disillusioned and there appeared a group of writers called Angry Young Men. Their central figures are antiheroes – disgusted young men looking for their place in the society, reject many things, object to many things and disillusioned men show their anger directed against the establishment.

John Braine – Room at the Top (a struggle of a young educated man who wants a carrier).

John Waine – Hurry on Down (a satirical novel – a graduate of Oxford is looking for a job, but can’t find any).

John Osborne – Look Back in Anger was a turning point in English drama.

Kingsley Amis – novel Lucky Jim: a lecturer at a small university goes through many funny situations.


Modern drama of the 20th century

The first playwright G. B. Shaw, who was born in Dublin, attacked the whole society with his criticism – historical themes are found in Caesar and Cleopatra, his first play Widower’s Houses display open the discussion of prostitution, criticism of middle class and its hypocrisy – he was awarded a Nobel Prize. He excels in writing witty interesting dialogues.

T. S. Elliot: Thomas Sterns – especially poetic drama, the first historical play about T. Becket – Murder in the Cathedral. Philosophical comedies – The Cocktail Party, Family Reunion. A Nobel Prize winner.

Writer and playwright William Somerset Mourn – short stories – revived the comedy of manners – e.g. Our Betters; best drama – The Circle.

Shaw O’Casey – Irish dramatist, his plays mix tragedy and comedy, depicted tragic women characters – wrote a play Juno and the Peacock.

John Millington Singe – he presented Irish heroes, ordinary country people struggling for their happiness – The Playboy of the Western world, The Shadow of the Glen.

Harold Pinter – 1930 – represents the drama of absurd. He wrote stage dramas: The Caretaker, The Homecoming; influenced by Kafka, Samuel Beckett.


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English Literature summary






The time period of about 500-1100 AD in British history was characterized by foreign invasions and internal struggles. This resulted in the mixing of several races, tongues and cultures. After the Romans departed from the British Isles in 407 AD, Germanic tribes – Angles, Jutes and Saxons – moved north to Scandinavia and from there to Britain. Only the legendary King Arthur defeated the Saxons in  5th century and for about a decade halted their advance. At the end of 6th century, the Anglo-Saxons accepted Christianity, which gave rise of some religious writings. After the reign of King Alfred the Great  (871-900) , who stopped the invasion of Vikings, his greatgrandson  Edward took over the throne. He had no descendants and therefore a power struggle between Harold and William of Normandy started. William´s victory over Harold at the battle of Hastings in 1066 led to the Norman conquest and occupation of England, which then opened a new chapter in British history. The language of this whole period (500-1100) is known as Old English. It had been established as a literary language by the end of the Old English period.


Old English Literature consists of poetry, prose, charms/zaříkadla, riddles, maxims/rčení, proverbs and various wisdom sayings.

Old English Poetry

     Included long epic heroic poems.

Beowulf  /´beiouwulf/ is the best-known and best preserved Old English verse. It is the epic poem of over 3000 verses from about 10th century. Its author is unknown.

Old English Prose

Prose developed later than poetry – in the 9th century – and was influenced by Latin, the language of church and the educated..

King Alfred´s Works

King Alfred the Great, one of the most significant rulers of the first millenium, made his kingdom into a cultural centre. He translated many works from Latin, especially in the areas of religion, history and philosophy. This was the foundation of the written national language. His works lacked originality, and were more instructive and educational than artistic and beautiful.




Known as the Middle Ages/Dark Ages, this period started with the Norman conquest of Britain. William the Conqueror established a strict feudal system in which he reigned supreme. After his death, during the reign of king John, the church supported by the growing middle class united in a rebellion against him due to his increasing taxes. The  King was forced to sign Magna Carta Libertatum (Great Charter of Liberties) in 1215,  which limited his power. The 13th century also brought significant cultural development, including the founding of church universities in Oxford (1249) and Cambridge (1280). The 14th century was a stormy time in British history. The feudal system was gradually disintegrating, the official use of French also came to an end in favour of English in an  altered form, now called Middle English. Conflicts with France culminated in the long and exhausting Hundred Years´ War (1337-1453). The Black Death epidemic decimated the working population. The 15th century was characterized by power struggles between two ruling families, the House of

 Lancaster and the House of York – known as the Wars of the Roses. The Battle of Bosworth



in 1485, where King Richard III was killed, closed the medieval period of feudalism and the Middle English Literary period.

Geoffrey Chaucer was the greatest and most influential of the medieval poets.


Geoffrey Chaucer (1340-1400)

Is considered the founder of the English language of the time and is the most prominent poet of the Middle Ages. He has been compared with Dante as the last poet of the Middle Ages and the first poet of the coming Renaissance. Chaucer´s writing was influenced by French literature. As a son of a wealthy London wine seller, Chaucer had contact with all strata of his time, from the lowest to the king´s court. He was buried in Westminster Abbey as the first in what became known as the Poets´Corner.

The Canterbury Tales, an unfinished collection of comic and moral stories is probably his best-known work. Pilgrims tell stories while travelling to a religious shrine (svatyně) in Canterbury.




The turn of the 15th century was a period of revival and new development in art and literature. It was also a time of the development of modern English. In  1476, William Caxton set up the first printing press in England. This increased demand for reading materials and led to growth in people´s literacy. Italy was the main source of Renaissance influence. People sought to free themselves from the restrictions and limiting philisophies of the Middle Ages and were turning to the cultures of ancient Rome and Greece with their pagan /peig n/ joys, materialistic values, and unlimited indulging of physical pleasures. The human body was celebrated , human dignity, unlimited ability, and reason were emphasized. Renaissance means rebirth. At this time, old humanistic ideas were reborn, emphasizing the free development of the individual and humanity as a whole. A cultural revolution occured. On the other hand, mass movement of poor farmers and the city poor, as well as the middle classes, together with the work of Luther, the Hussite and others, led to a continent- wide reformation. In England, King Henry VIII ,(reigned 1509-1547), himself led the reformation with his personal conflict with Vatican. After his death the reformation slowed down and many reformers were put to death under the rule of HenryVIII´s daugher, Mary I, „Bloody Mary“, and her husband Philip II of the Habsburgs, who were fanatically against the reforms. During the reign of Elizabeth I (1558-1603), the last Tudor monarch, literature and art revived. During this period, called the Elizabethan Age, English Renaissance reached its climax, the greatest drama and poetry were produced. The period was also marked by scientific exploration, great seamanship, and overseas colonization. On the other hand during this period England´s population doubled, prices greatly rose, and social relations in society were transformed. New industrial, agricultural, and commercial developments took place. Crime soared, class conflicts grew, the poor were continuously oppressed, and the doubts about further development of the society began to be reflected in the drama and literature. Comedies turned into tragedies, illusions were crushed.


16th Century Prose – Sir Thomas Moore, Sir Philip Sidney, John Lyly, Sir Walter Raleigh 

Sir Thomas Moore was a man of high education and a keen humanistic thinker. His Utopia and The History of King Richard III are his most significant works written in both English and Latin and unfinished.



Sir Walter Raleigh /r :li/ was a poet, historian, businessman, soldier and explorer. At first he was a favourite of Queen Elizabeth I, but later fell into disfavour. He wrote History of the World showing the cruelty and corruption of monarchs.

16th Century Poetry

     New poetic forms were developed in this period. The most important are sonnet/sonet/ and lyric/lyrická píseň/. Other genres include the epyllion or little epic/malý epos/ and the satire. Francis Beaumont, Christopher Marlowe, and William Shakespeare are among the producers of epyllia. Other significant poets include John Skelton, Thomas Wyatt and Henry Howard.

Elizabethan Theatre

During the rule of Queen Elizabeth I (1558-1603) the theatre was the focal point of the age, in many ways a part of public life and also the most democratic cultural institution of the time. Until the first permanent playhouse was built in London, drama had been performed in the streets, homes, universities, and palaces. In 1599, the Globe Theatre was built where Shakespeare´s plays were performed. While many earlier playwrights were amateurs, the first generation of professional playwrights in England was known as the university wits. The best known from among them are Christopher Marlowe, Robert Greene, and Thomas Kyd. Above all others dramatists stands William Shakespeare, a genius and unequaled poet.


Christopher Marlowe Tamburlaine the Great

                                          The Tragical History of Dr. Faustus

                                          Edward II


William Shakespeare (1564-1616)

Shakespeare´s early works include histories, different types of comedies, and tragedies.

                                    - Two Gentlemen of Verona

                                       Henry VI ( Part 1,2 and 3)

                                       Richard III

                                       Comedy of Errors

                                        The Taming of the Shrew

                                        Romeo and Juliet

The middle period includes a mixture of comedies and historical plays.

                                    - A Midsummer Night´s Dream

                                       The Merry Wives of Windsor

                                       Much Ado about Nothing

                                       The Twelfth Night

                                        As You Like It

                                        The Merchant of Venice

                                        Henry IV (Part 1 and 2)

                                        Richard II

                                        Henry V

In his climax works (1600-1608) the events take place in a short time but there are long-term psychological processes in the hearts of the main characters.

                                     - Julius Ceasar


                                        King Lear


                                        Measure for Measure / Půjčka za oplátku /



Shakespeare´s late works (1608-1613) consist of four romances

                                          -  Pericles


                                             The Winter´s Tale

                                              Te Tempest /Bouře/

They are based on fairy-tale fantasy, utopian visions and miraculous solutions of conflicts.

Altogether, Shakespeare wrote 39 plays as well as a collection of 154 sonnets.





Elizabeth I died without leaving an  heir /e /r// to the throne. Her nephew, James VI of Scotland, of the House of Stuart (the son of her cousin Mary Stuart) became the successor. The Stuarts ruled England for most of the time till 1714. The 17th in England was a time of great social change and revolution. Scotland and England were united under one king, now James I (reigned 1603-1625). James´s accepting the Anglican faith brought him opposition from both the Catholics and the Puritans. It was during his reign (in 1620), that the most devoted of the Puritans left for America to seek religious freedom. Financial problems brought James into conflict with the Parliament. During the reign of James´s son, Charled I (reigned 1625-1649), a civil war broke out between the king´s army and the Parliament. The king was beheaded and the country was ruled by the Puritan Parliament with Oliver Cromwell as Lord Protector of the Commonwealth. The Puritans enforced a strict moral code which halted /ho:ltid/ cultural and literary development. Theatres were closed, entertainment was condemned, and only education and science were supported. The year 1660 brought restoration of the monarchy under Charles II.


Early Stuart Prose

Significant writers  of the era of early Stuart prose were Sir Thomas Browne, Jeremy Taylor, Sir Francis Bacon.


Restoration Prose

Two opposing sides – the Royalists and the now defeated Republicans – each expressed their feelings and points of view about the events of the previous two decades.

John Bunyan, Samuel Pepys /pi:ps/, John Locke


Early Stuart Poetry

John Donne and the Methaphysical Poets – adressing matters beyond the physical senses

Ben Johnson and the Cavalier Poets – wrote social verse, shared values of civilized behaviour and respect for others.


Restoration Poetry

A group of poets known as court wits.

John Milton, John Dryden and others.

John Milton (1608-1674) supported the revolution. He wrote on the subjects of education, free speech, free press and the defence of the republic.


Restoration Drama

The restoration of the monarchy brought a counter-reaction against the strict moral code



imposed by the Puritans. The court was indulging in total immorality. Their relaxed morality was reflected in works of the Restoration playwrights.

George Etherege, William Wycherley, William Congreve, Thomas Otway, John Dryden.





The 18th was the time of The Industrial Revolution. Many people moved from the country into cities to find work. This was also  a time when  Britain acquired  additional colonies in Canada, America and the Carribean as a result of a seven-year colonial war with France. Explorations of James Cook extended British domination to Australia, New Zealand,  and islands in the South Pacific. However though the American War of Independence (1776-1783), Britain lost her colonies in America. The whole period of the 18th century  is known as the Enlightment or the Age of Reason. Reason was contrasted with ignorance, emotion, superstition, prejudice and uncritical acceptance of authority. God´s control and authority over the world was no longer seen as absolute. Political prose and satire is represented by for example writers Daniel Defoe, Jonathan Swift.


Daniel Defoe (1660-1731) was a businessman and a practical thinker about day-to-day life. He experienced several bankruptcies and was persecuted for his outspoken ideas against the government. As a journalist he produced a magazine, Review.

The Poor Man´s Plea/ Chudákova obhajoba


Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) – prose satirist and poet.

His best and most famous work of satire /s etai /r// is Gulliver´s Travels – It describes four voyages that Lemuel Gulliver, trained as a ship doctor, makes to strange countries. He finds himself among fantasizes people and animals. In the first part of the book, Gulliver is in Lilliput (island) among dwarfs /dwo:fs/. The second pictures him among giants. The third part shows Gulliver in several strange kingdoms. In the fourth part, Gulliver is on an island inhabited by wise  and gentle horses, as well as savage, stupid animals who look and act like human beings obsessed with power and riches. Through his experiences, Gulliver ends up totally rejecting the social relationships and the institutions of the aristocratic-bourgeois establishment.


Development of the Novel

The novel followed on from political fiction as well as from a new interest in, and the exploration of, human nature, thinking and perception. The main novelists of the 18th century were: Daniel Defoe, Samuel Richardson, Henry Fielding and Lawrence Sterne and others.


Daniel Defoe – Robinson Crusoe

                          A Journal of the Plaque Year /Deník morového roku/

                          Moll Flandres                                                                             etc.


Samuel Richardson – Pamela or Virtue Rewarded /Pamela aneb odměněná ctnost/          etc.


Henry Fielding – The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling – his greatest work pictures the various aspects of English contemporary life from smiles to tears.  




English Literature summary






In the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th century the industrial revolution was continuing. New technological inventions led to a faster pace of life. The living standard rose for the middle class but workers in big cities lived in almost inhuman conditions. In this time of revolutionary changes, the romantic movement brought a counter reaction. Passion was emphasized over reason, imagination and inspiration over logic.


Pre-Romantic Poetry

The Pre-romantics were a group of poets who represented a bridge between Classicism and Romanticism. The main pre-romantic poets were Robert Burns andWilliam Blake.


Robert Burns (1759-1796)

Was a typical folk singer and composer of folk songs and poems.Through his literary works, he became the greatest song writer in Britain and one of the world´s famous lyric writers. He also became the national poet of Scotland. The strongest themes of his lyrics are protests against society´s injustices. He often wrote about real experiences and real people.

The Jolly Beggars/ Veselí žebráci.


William Blake (1757-1827)

Blake had great imagination, was a self-learner in poetry, but was very well educated and talented.

Songs of Innosence /Písničky nevinnosti

Songs of Experience /Písničky zkušenosti


Romanticism and the Lake Poets

Nature, the human soul and spirit were being seen anew. Romanticism was an artistic expression of man´s feelings of newfound freedom. It included a rich development of metaphors and symbols. The Romantics looked for beauty in man.


´Lake Poets´ - William Wordsworth, Samuel Coleridge and Robert Southey – are spoken of as the first generation of romantic poets.


Romantic Revolt Poets

The new generation of romantic poets ( Byron, Shelley and Keats /ki:ts/ )  left London for Greece and Italy.

Lord George Gordon Byron (1788-1824)

His poetry is full of intense feelings such as love, satirical anger. Later his feelings extended to English workers, oppressed people. This made him a respected poet and a leader of the young romantic generation.

Childe Harold´s Pilgrimage /Childe Haroldova pouť describes his two-year travel.

Byron was a fighter for justice, he left England for Italy, then led an expedition to Greece to fight against Turkish occupants. There he died of malaria.

Don Juan – his original work and masterpiece. Byron´s revolutionary ideas against oppression and despotism became an inspiration to many greatest poets who followed him.


Percy Bysshe Shelley a lyric poet who influenced many later writers, for example Thomas Hardy and George Bernard Shaw.

Queen Mab

John Keats (1795-1821)

Differed from Byron and Shelley in having a lower class background, but shared their anti-church and anti-monarchy ideals. His literary career lasted only 5 years. He died of tuberculosis in Italy at the age of 25. He wrote poetry, sonnets and superb letters.


Romantic Prose

The greatest romantic novelists were Walter Scott with his historical novels, and Jane Austen with her domestic novels /s románem rodinného života/.


Horace Walpole and Other Gothic Writers

Horace Walpole was the founder of the Gothic novel, which was characterized by sensational and exotic stories from the Middle Ages and supernatural beasts and events. The Gothic novel responded to the contemporary reality of capitalism and colonialism through an escape into fantasy.


Sir Walter Scott

His first true historical novel was Waverley about Scottish manners and customs. His most famous work , Ivanhoe takes place in the medieval age of knights under the reign of King Richard the Lion-Hearted. Scott was ispired by Shakespeare in this  themes.


Jane Austen (1775-1817)

Is usually considered the first great woman novelist. She lived in the country, her novels take place in higher middle class or nobility in the country, where life is orderly and prosperous, and biggest events are visits, games, balls and weddings.

Sense and Sensibility shows the conflict between the Enlightenment cult of reason and the new cult of feelings.

Northanger Abbey

Pride and Prejudice pictures both the pride and  the prejudice in a man and a woman, and shows the resulting conflict between reason and feelings.


Mansfield Park/Mansfieldské sídlo

Persuasion/ Přemlouvání



The reign of Queen Victoria (1837-1901) was a time of climax for the British Empire. The living standard of everyone rose as a result of the wealth. The British people acquired a new feeling of national pride, self-confidence. The second half of the 19th century brought reforms in education. New universities were founded. Towards the end of the century, state primary schools were built and free education became compulsory for all children. In response to the changes and the great rise to power that Britain had experienced, self-consciousness and introspection (vědomí vlastního já a sebepozorování) were reflected in literature. Other trends in literature included two kinds of counter-reaction to the rapid industrialization and its accompanying social problems. The aesthetic movement –art for art´s sake (umění pro umění) – Oscar Wilde and critical realistic novelists, on the other hand. During Queen Victoria´s   


Reign, two significant works were published. Charles Darwin´s Origin of Species helped to undermine traditional religious beliefs and values. Marx and Engels, who at that time lived in London, published their Communist Manifesto, which later led to workers´revolutions throughout Europe. The desire for a socially just society led many   writers to entertain the idea of a socialist system (G.B.Shaw, H.G.Wells and others.) In 1906 the Labour Party became an official party in Parliament and the significant opposition to Liberals was formed.

In response to the negative, dehumanizing forces in the world, the Romantics resorted to idealizations, escapes, nostalgia, or individual protests. The events were also expressed in an objective and true picturing of reality – realism. In addition, people hoped reality could be changed, hence critical realism. The social novel became the main genre. The most  significant critical realists include Charles Dickens, William M. Thackeray, Elizabeth Gaskell, The Bronte Sisters and others.


Charles Dickens (1812-1870) found ispiration for his novels in his own experiences. His father got into debt and the whole family was placed in a jail.

Sketches by ´BOZ´- his pseudonym

Some of his novels were written as monthly installments in a magazine, for example

The Pickwick Papers /Kronika Pickwickova klubu/

Oliver Twist – the cruel fate of a poor orphan – one of the hundreds of thousands in England.

American Notes

A Christmas Carol /Vánoční koleda

David Copperfield – a fictional autobiography, the whole story is told by David in the first person

Bleak House /Ponurý dům

A Tale of Two Cities

/Povídka o dvou městech

Great Expectations /Nadějné vyhlídky

Dickens´s strength and greatness is in expressing his bitterness against society´s injusticies through humour, satire, and irony.


William Makepeace Thackeray

Came from a wealthy family and attacked especially the snobbish rich and the aristocracy.

The Memoirs of Barry Lyndon /Barry Lyndon

Vanity Fair /Jarmark marnosti is subtitled  ´a novel without a hero´. It´s really hard to find one person not corrupted by the pursuit of money, prestige, position, and the good life. He was too much a part of it to rebel against it and therefore he described it with bitter irony and sarcasm.

Mrs. Perkins´s Ball and The Rose and the King  are sad stories, shorter works.


The Bronte Sisters

Charlotte (1816-1855), Emily (1818-1848), and Anne (1820-1849)

Charlotte´s most successful novel became Jane Eyre which is largely autobiographical. It describes the life of a poor and unattractive girl, Jane, who is brought up by a cruel aunt and sent to a harsh school. She later takes a job in a rich man´s home who falls in love with her. When she finds he has a wife, she leaves. In the end, the mad wife sets fire, is herself killed in the flames, and her husband is blinded. Upon learning this, Jane returns and marries him. The novel supported the equality between men and women and female dignity regardless of class.



Emily became famous with her work Wuthering Heights/ Na větrné hůrce, a romantic masterpiece which is the story of passion, love and  revenge.

Anne wrote Agnes Grey/Anežka Greyová and

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall/ Nájemce z Wildfell Hall a shocking account of a marriage with a man who has got severe alcohol problem.


At the turn of the 19th century, literary streams such as aestheticism emphasized artistic beauty over the ugliness of capitalistic industrialization, the violence and hypocrisy of the rulling class. The principles of this so called aesthetic movement were that art should serve only itself, and that its only goal was to arouse feelings of beauty, enjoyment, and hapiness. Oscar Wilde was  the most remarkable person among aestheticians. Finally, despite the condition of society, much of Victorian literature contains humorous or comic elements. ( Dickens, Thackeray, Lewis Carroll, Jerome K. Jerome etc.)


Lewis Carroll Alice´s Adventures in Wonderland / Alenka v říši divů

                            Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There / Za zrcadlem

Jerome K. Jerome – Three Men in a Boat

                                    Three Men on a Bummel /Tři muži na toulkách


George Eliot – built on the objectively realistic style of Jane Austen with precise characterizations and ironical or gently satirical undertones.


Thomas Hardy – first successful novel Far from the Madding Crowd, best-known are

his tragic novels –Tess of the D´Urbervilles, Jude the Obscure/Neblahý Juda       etc.

In the last thirty years of his life, Hardy wrote and published a vast amount of poetry.


 Robert Louis Stevenson – travelled a lot, but suffered from poor health.

Treasure Island

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde / Podivný případ dr. Jekylla a pana Hyda which traces the good and evil side of human nature in one person.


Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)

Wilde´s personal life pictured the motto´art for art´s sake´ . He purposely tried to shock the bourgeoisie and protest against Puritan hypocrisy. He was punished by two years jail with hard labour for his homosexual relationship. It led to his downfall, he died fairly young, broken, without money. Wilde´s writing is varied, and original, full of freshness, wit, and imagination. He wrote poems, short stories and fairy tales.

The Happy Prince and Other Tales

The ballad of the Reading Gaol /džeil//Balada o žaláři v Readingu

He wrote only one novel: The Picture of Dorian Gray. The theme is similar to Stevenson´s  Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde – the good and evil of human nature. The novel is full of hidden symbols and meanings. He also wrote a number of plays: A Woman of No Importance /Bezvýznamná žena, The Importance of Being Earnest/ Jak je důležité míti Filipa, and An Ideal Husband/ Ideální manžel. His comedies reaped great success with their ironical and satirical look at the high London society.


Victorian Poetry


Elizabeth Barrett Browning Sonnets from the Portuguese


Robert Browning – The Ring and the Book





The death of Queen Victoria confirmed that a franker and less inhibited era had begun. During the Edwardian period, many of the Victorian ideals of morality, spiritual values, hard

 work and a sense of responsibility slowly disappeared. The living standard increased for many, but not for workers and the lower classes. Women demanded voting rights and finally

received them in 1918.

Between 1908 and 1914, the spirit   of modernism started  taking root. It led to the rejection of traditional forms and introduction of experimentation. London and other European cities became full of new thoughts and ideas of the American writer Ezra Pound and others. Modernism celebrated man´s freedom from the bontage of tradition, superstition, and religion. World War I, however, rudely finished this excitement by making the Anglo-American modernists painfully aware of the great difference between their ideals and the chaos of the time.

At the beginning of the 20th century, several writers continued to write realistic novels and plays of social criticism. These were Arnold Bennet, John Galsworthy and Somerset Maugham/mo:m/.

Other important prose writers of this period are Joseph Conrad who wrote psychological novels, H.G.Wells who became famous for science-fiction works and G.K. Chesterton who wrote detective stories. Significant contributions were also made by Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930), best known for his Sherlock Holmes detective stories.


Arnold Bennet – Grand Babylon Hotel

                              The Old Wives´Tale/Povídačky                                                 etc.

John Galsworthy – The Man of Property/ Vlastník, later became part of the trilogy The Forsyte Saga. The sequels are In Chancery/V pasti and To Let/ K pronajmutí.


Joseph Conrad – came from a Polish family, spent a lot of years travelling to many parts of the world.

                 The Nigger of the ´ Narcissus´

                  Lord Jim

                  Heart of Darkness



E.M. Forster /Edward Morgan Forster/ (1879-1970)

                  A Passage to India/Cesta do Indie


H.G.Wells /Herbert George Wells/ (1866-1946)

G.K.Chesterton /Gilbert Keith Chesterton/ (1874-1936)

Henry James (1843-1916) was an American, but decided to live permanently in England. Mentioned in American Literature

             The Portrait of a Lady





Poets of the Early 1900s.


Thomas Hardy (1840-1928) – discussed as a novelist, wrote nearly one thousand poems.


Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936) – born in India, spent much of his adult life there. He wrote poems and short stories.

              The Jungle Book

               The Second Jungle Book

The first English writer to receive The Nobel Prize for Literature in 1907.


Early 20th- Century Drama


George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) was born in Dublin, settled in London and became a self-learner by spending much of his time in the British Museum library. Shaw became a tireless critic of capitalism.

Social comedies Widower´s Houses/ Vdovcovy domy

                            Mrs. Warren´s Profession/ Živnost paní Warrenové


                            Pygmalion                                                                                        etc.

After Shakespeare, Shaw created the most significant and entertaining English drama. Shaw won The Nobel Prize for Literature in 1925.


William Butler Yeats/jeits/ ! (1865-1939) influential Irish playwright and poet. He wrote his plays mainly in verse. In 1923, Yeats won The Nobel Prize for Literature.


J.M. Synge/John Millington Synge/sin/ (1871-1909) wrote prose and plays about farmers, shepherds and fishermen. Like other Irish writers of his time, he dealt with heroism .



English Literature summary






Post-war Britain had as its head King George V. (1910-1936), originally of the Hanover dynasty. In 1917 he was forced, because of strong anti-German feelings, to change the name of the dynasty to the house of Windsor.

The 1920s was a time of economic ups and downs and large unemployment. In 1929 government had to deal with the economic crisis caused by the New York stock market crash. In 1931 a national coalition  government was established, which modified the concept of the British Empire as an institution. Its new name became The British Commonwealth of Nations.

In 1936 King George V. died and was succeeded by his son, Edward VIII., but only for a few months. Edward was forced to abdicate due to his marriage. His brother, George VI., took over the throne and reigned till 1952.

World War I created a profound sense of crisis in English culture. Much of the writing of the 1930s was bleak and pessimistic, communicating the feelings of emptiness, tiredness, helplessness, and exhaustion.


Experimental Prose


The most noticeable innovation in prose was the technique of the stream of consciousness. The first attemps at this were made by Lawrence Sterne and George Meredith, followed at the beginning of the 20th century by Henry James. However, it was only after World War I, that many novelists left the traditional storytelling and replaced it with a stream of subjective emotions. Four experimental writers made a contribution in this period.


James Joyce (1882-1941)

An Irishman who spent his adult life on the continent of Europe. He knew 15 languages. He wrote poetry „Chamber Music“

„A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man“ has strong biographical traits.

„Ulysses“ depicts the experiences and fantasies of various men and women in Dublin.

„The Exiles“/Vyhnanci

Joyce can be considered a genius as far as  parody, irony, and satire. He did not bring the novel to a higher level, but similarly to Sterne, created an antithesis to the traditional novel of the time.

Finnegan´s Wake / Plačky nad Finneganem – his last work is partly a poem in prose, partly a novel, partly drama, yet really none of these. There is no storytelling with dialogues and a plot, just a stream of associations, word plays, sound effects, and nonsense sayings. The whole story is a dream with no logic, grammar, or ethics, and features many people, times, and places. Others built on his stream of consciousness technique, especially  the American writer William Faulkner.


Virginia Woolf (1882-1941)

Woolf established a home in Bloomsbury, a part of London, where other writers and artists met to discuss intellectual questions. The Bloomsbury group, as they became known, set themselves above the hypocrisy and aimed to be  uncompromisingly honest in personal and artistic life.

Mrs. Dalloway



To the Lighthouse

Short stories

During the cruel World War II years, Virginia Woolf who from time to time had suffered from depression, ended her life in a river.


D.H.Lawrence (David Herbert Lawrence 1885-1930)

Sons and Lovers

The Rainbow

Lady Chatterley´s Lover  etc.


Satire and Social Criticism


George Orwell (1903-1950)

Animal farm, an animal fable satirizing the revolutionary movement and development in the former USSR.

Nineteen Eighty-Four, a frightening portrait of a totalitarian society

Coming Up For Air/Nadechnout se


Evelyn Waugh /wo:/

His first novel Decline and Fall/ Sestup a pád, compares the fall of the Roman Empire to the disintegration of English society after World War I

Black Mischief/Černá postava

Vile Bodies/Křehké nádoby

The Loved One/Drazí zesnulí

A Handful of Dust/Hrst prachu


J.B.Pristley (John Boynton Priestley 1894 -1984)

The Good Companions/Dobří kamarádi etc.



Female Writers



Some of the well-known female writers of this period are


Dame Agatha Christie (1890-1976) „First Lady of crime“


Wrote about 100 works, most of them detective novels, collections of mystery stories, and suspense and detective plays. She contributed to the development og the classical English detective story started by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and G.K.Chesterton.. She created  two unique detective characters: Hercule Poirot, a Belgian private investigator and Miss Jane Marple, an elderly spinster with intuition and good knoledge of people.

The Murder Of Roger Ackroyd/Vražda milionáře Ackroyda

Hallowe´en Party/Viděla jsem vraždu

Peril at End house/Hercule Poirot zasahuje

Murder on the Orient Express

The Unexpected Guest

Ten Little Niggers

Appointment with Death

The Body in the Library

The Mouse Trap – the most successful play                                               etc.


Dorothy Sayers (1893-1957)

She wrote detective fiction and later religious works

Whose Body ?/Vražda žádá metodu

Strong Poison/Podivné námluvy Lorda Petra

Murder Must Advertise/Vražda potřebuje reklamu

The Nine Taylors/Devět hran                                                                       etc.



Post-World War I Poetry


T.S.Eliot, Dylan Thomas, Richard Aldington and others


T.S.Eliot Thomas Stearns Eliot (1888-1865)

Born in St. Louis, Missouri, settled in England. Despite being an American, he had great influence on English poetry. He ranks among the most important poets of the 1900s. He supported the monarchy and the Anglican Church and so his prestige grew so that he became a gentle, non-aggressive dictator of literary taste. In 1948 he received both The Order of Merit and the Nobel Prize.

The Waste Land/Pustina

Murder in the Cathedral

Prufrock and Other Observations/ Pru:frok/



Dylan Thomas (1914-1953)

A Welsh poet, who wrote some of the most passionate verse in modern literature. He gained great popularity through public readings of his works in Great Britain and the US.



Post World War I Drama


Sean O´Casey/keisi/ (1880-1964) – born in England, became a significant playwright next to Shaw after World War I

The Shadow of a Gunman – a part of a Dublin trilogy dealing with the struggles of the Irish

                                                 against the British in 20s and 30s of the 20th century.

Cock-a-Doodle Dandy/Kykyryký and

The Drums of Father Ned are his comedies.






The post – war period in Britain was initially a time of hopes, which however, for the most part, did not come true. The Empire gradually disintegrated as one colony after another gained indepedence. Britain has lost most of its influence and the USA was becoming the main political actor on the world scene. With the disintegration of the Empire, many immigrants came to Britain in the 1950s, especially from the Caribbean and Pakistan. In 1952, the most significant event for a long time to come was the coronation of a new queen, Elizabeth II. In 1960s there were attempts by Britain to join the EEC (Common Market), but for many years they were vetoed by France. The 60s was also a time of protests by the beat generation and renewed unrest in Northern Ireland. At the beginning of 1973, Britain did finally join the Common market. In 1990s progress has also been made with peace negotiations in Northern Ireland and Wales formed its own Parliament after more than 400 years of English rule. In general, the period since World War II has been characterized by post-modern thinking. Much of literature, written at a time when traditional religious and moral values have all been vanished, expresses base human behaviour and passions- all kinds of sexual extremes, perversions, violence and horror. At the same time, writers have conveyed feelings of senselessness in life, hopelessness, and despair. Many pre-World War II writers continued writing after the war and some into the present. These include prose writers Orwell, Waugh, Priestley, Christie, Eliot,  Casey,  and others. Along with them a number of young writers have also come to the fore and developed new styles.


Experimental Prose


John Fowles (b. 1926 )

     The Collector/Sběratel

     The Magus/Mág

     The French Lieutenant´s Woman/ Francouzova milenka                                             etc.


Iris Murdoch (1919-1999) born in Dublin, studied and taught philisophy at Oxford.

    Her first novel was Under the Net/Pod sítí

     An Unofficial Rose

     The Bell

     The Sand Castle/Hrad z písku                                                                                        etc.


Humour, Satire and Protest


Also known as the Angry Young Men: Kinsley Amis, John Wain, John Braine, David Lodge, Alan Sillitoe.

Malcolm Bradbury followed K. Amis as far as the campus novel.

Sir Kingsley Amis (1922-1995)

One of the creators (together with David Lodge) of a new genre, the campus novel/universitní román.

     I Want It Now/Chci to hned

     The Egyptologists

     Lucky Jim

     One Fat Englishman

     The Green man

     The Anti-Death Leaque/ Liga proti smrti

He was knighted in 1990.


David Lodge ( b. 1935 )

     Changing Places/ Hostující profesoři

     The British Museum is Falling Down/Den zkázi v Britském muzeu

     How Far Can You Go ?

     Paradise News


Alan Sillitoe (b. 1928 )

     Saturday Night and Sunday Morning

     Key to the Door

     The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner                                                     etc.


Malcolm Bradbury (1932-2000)

     Eating People is Wrong/ Jíst lidi je neslušné

     Stepping Westward/Cesta na západ                                                                       etc.


Anthony Burgess (1917-1993)

     A Clockwork Orange/Mechanický pomeranč, a study of violence and evil in society, made into a movie by Stanley Kubrick in 1972.


Female Writers


Doris Lessing

Born in Iran but grew up in Zimbabwe (former South Rhodesia).

     The Grass is Singing/Tráva zpívá – a powerful study of a white woman´s obsession with her black servant.

     The Children of Violence

     The Golden Notebook

     A Man and Two Women – stories


Dame Daphne du Maurier

     Jamaica Inn



    My Cousin Rachel

    The Birds a short story made into a famous horror by Alfred Hitchcock

    The House on the Strand/Dům na pobřeží


Other Trends In The Post-War Novel


Sir William Golding (1911-1993)

Wrote works with strong moral accents

     The Lord of the Flies – brought him the greatest fame.

     Darkness Visible

     The Inheritors

     The Double Tongue

     The Spire/Věž


Graham Greene( 1904-1991)

A novelist, playwright, essayist, critic.

     Stamboul Train/Orient-Express

     Our Man in Havana

     The Power and the Glory

     The Quiet American

     The Ministry of Fear


A.C.Clarke( Arthur Charles Clarke)

    2001: A Space Odyssey –was made into a movie

    2010: Odyssey Two

    2061: Odyssey Three   futuristic novels.


Arthur Hailey

Wrote relaxation literature.



J.R.R.Tolkien (John Ronald Revel Tolkien 1892-1973)

He taught English as a university professor, expert on Aglo-Saxon literature, epic and folklore.

    The Hobbit

    The Lord of the Rings (3 volumes)


Roald Dahl(1916-1990) – is known for children´s books.

     The Gremlins/Skřítkové

     Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

     My Uncle Oswald

     James and the Giant Peach


     The Witches – stories


James Herriot (1916-1995) a veterinary doctor, started writing his experiences at the age of fifty.



All Creatures Great and Small/To by se zvěrolékaři stát nemělo

All Things Bright and Beautiful/Když se zvěrolékař ožení

The Lord God Made Them All/Zvěrolékař opět v jednom kole


Salman Rushdie (b.1947) born in India, immigrated to Britain in 1965.

    The Satanic Verses /Satanské verše in this novel he is addressing religion, particularly Islam. As a result of a death sentense proclaimed by Khomeini/Chomejní) on Rushdie in 1989, he was forced into hiding.


Significant Poets


Among others Philip Larkin, Peter Porter, Seamus Heaney /šejms hi:ni/ b. 1939 was awarded The Nobel Prize for literature in 1995.


Drama Of The Angry Young Men

As already mentioned a number of young writers expressed their discontent with traditional English politics, education, and literature. Three groups (waves) of playwrights influenced the theatre in the 1950s., 1960s, and 1970s, and brought post-war drama from convention and illusions into the sharp light of reality.

John Osborne (1929-1994) became the leader of the Angry Young Men.

     Look Back in Anger/Ohlédni se v hněvu


Tom Stoppard (b. 1937) born in Czechoslovakia, grew up in Singapore, finally settled in England. He built on or parodied the works of Shakespeare and Shaw/Absurd´s theatre´s basic themes/.

    Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

    Shakespeare in Love


Theatre Of The Absurd And Other Drama Trends

In the 1950s, a wave of the Theatre of the Absurd spilled from France to England. The main representatives were Samuel Beckett and Harold Pinter.


Samuel Beckett(1906-1989) originally Irish, lived in France and wrote in French and English. His examples were James Joyce and Marcel Proust.


      Waiting for Godot


     Happy days         are his best known plays

Beckett also wrote several novels, short stories, he received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1969.


Harold Pinter

     The Caretaker/Správce

     The Homecoming/Návrat domů


Alan Ayckbourn/eikbo:n/ (b. 1939)

     How the Other Half Loves/Kdes to byl v noci ?


Peter Shaffer(b.1926)

Wrote plays picturing a pair of men that are in competition with each other.

     Equus – a psychoanalyst and his patient

     Amadeus – the official composer of the Emperor´s court in Vienna, Salieri, and the much more talented Amadeus Mozart. Amadeus was made into a movie by Milos Forman.


Popular Literature of Late 1990s


Irvine Welsh – Ecstasy



J.K.Rowling – Harry Potter and the Philosopher Stone

                          Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

                          Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban                           etc.

Frederick Forsyth – The Phantom of Manhattan

                                    The Day of the Jackal


                                     The Fist of God                                                                etc.

Helen Fielding – Bridget Jones´ Diary

Terry Pratchett – Equal Rights

                               The Colour of Magic

                               The Dark Side of the Sun




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