British Literary History


Main Author - Wordsworth

1789 - 1837

Most famous for writing and compiling "Lyrical Ballads", with his friend Samuel Coleridge, Wordsworth was Poet Laureate of England and was largely influential as a writer of the Romantic Era. Whether copied by him or retorted against, he was revered and referred to by many other authors, not just from the Romantic Era, but through the modern day.

Main Author - Tennyson

1837 - 1870

Tennyson is largely being granted the honor of representing the Victorian Era because he succeeded Wordsworth as Poet Laureate in 1850, and because his poems in some ways formed a bridge between the Romantic and Victorian eras, still being highly involved in nature, becoming almost existentialist in parts. Tennyson wrote "In Memoriam" and "Crossing the Bar", among many other poems. While later poets received more recognition posthumously, such as Robert Browning, many Victorian poets are held up in comparison to Tennyson to measure their influence.

Main Author - Wilde

1870 - 1901

Oscar Wilde gets some of the credit for being influential during the Victorian Era, because he was perhaps the most influential of the Aesthetic Movement. This was a reaction against stuffy, proper Victorian writings which had come before. Wilde was very famous for his plays such as "The Importance of Being Earnest" and for his lavish lifestyle.

Main Author - Joyce

1901 - 2013

James Joyce receives the distinction as a main author as well, because his fiction writing revolutionized the conventions of the time. Joyce removed his writings from the traditional novel form, following stream of consciousness and by his last novel, not even being written in proper English. The minimalist writings of Samuel Beckett largely had to do with his interactions working with Joyce. Joyce's status as an Anglo-Irish citizen is also important, as it marks the struggle many had to reconcile their Irish blood with the English tradition under which many wrote.

Main Author - Eliot

1901 - 1945

T.S. Eliot felt strongly about the Modernist movement, rebelling against previous conventions of art, writing that he wished to "[blow] away dead ideas and worn-out notions." His poems such as "The Wasteland" and "The Love Story of J. Alfred Prufrock" are staples of what we consider "Modern" poetry.


These are the three major divisions from our class - the Romantic Era, the Victorian Era, and the Modern

Romantic Era

1789 - 1837

Characterized by "the Sublime", Romantic Period art, poetry, and fiction embraced freedom, invention and spontaneity. Emotion, passion, and expression were emphasized.

Victorian Era

1837 - 1901

Early Victorian Period

1837 - 1848

Pre-Raphaelite/Middle Victorian Period

1848 - 1870

Aesthetic/Late Victorian Period

1870 - 1901

20th Century and After

1901 - 2013


1901 - 1945


1945 - 2013

Important Dates

These dates provide context to some of the works that were produced. Historically, these dates were significant in the moods and lives of writers.

Glorious Revolution


American Revolution


Storming of the Bastille


Pamphlet War

1789 - 1791

Large debates about whether or not England should support Revolution. The Pamphlet War included figures such as Price, Burke, Wollstonecraft, and Paine.

War between France and England

1793 - 1802

French Reign of Terror

1793 - 1794

Napoleonic Wars

1803 - 1815



End of the Napoleonic Wars

Peterloo Massacre


Passenger Rail opens


Great Reform Bill


Coronation of Queen Victoria




Dante Gabriel Rosetti, William Holman Hung, and John Everett Millais form the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood, focused on the beauty in art.

Great Exhibition


Darwin, Origin of Species


Darwin's ideas were very influential, and were echoed by others such as Arnold.

First Transatlantic Cable


Death of Queen Victoria


First mass-produced car


World War I

1914 - 1918

Vote to woman 30+


Stock market crash


World War II

1939 - 1945

Battle of Britain


Same year that France fell, and the war became more severe in the UK.

India and Pakistan gain independence


The British Empire is crumbling further, leading to a sort of identity crisis for some English citizens.

Britain enters European Common Market


Fall of Berlin Wall


Tiananmen Square demonstration in Beijing


Fall of the Soviet Union


Influential Writers

The people who wrote and the works they produced

William Blake

1757 - 1827

Songs of Innocence & Experience
Works were not mass produced, but were hand carved.

William Wordsworth

1770 - 1850

Lyrical Ballads was produced in 1798, Wordsworth became Poet Laureate from 1843-1850, and the Prelude to Lyrical Ballads was published posthumously in 1850.


1772 - 1834

Coleridge, good friends with Wordsworth and involved in the production of Lyrical Ballads, wrote "Kubla Kahn" in 1797 (published 1816), and "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner", opening poem in Lyrical Ballads.

Jane Austen

1775 - 1817

Wrote six novels, her first being Northanger Abbey in the 1790s, but not published until after her death.

Lord Byron

1788 - 1824

Lord Byron was famous for the invention of the "Byronic Hero", as featured in his works such as "Manfred" and "Don Juan"


1792 - 1822

Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote "Ode to the West Wind", "To Wordsworth", "Ozymandius" and "Defense of Poetry"


1794 - 1821

Keats was famous for his Odes, the concept of the Chameleon Poet

Mary Shelley

1797 - 1851

Author of "Frankenstein" and the short story "The Mortal Immortal", she was the daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft and William Goldwin, and the wife of Percy Shelley.

E. B. Browning

1806 - 1861

"Aurora Leigh" in 1857, epic poem, verse novel. Famous for her "Sonnets from the Portuguese" (1850) which she wrote during her courtship with Robert Browning.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson

1809 - 1892

Poet Laureate from 1850 to 1892, incredibly musical poetry. Wrote "In Memoriam"

Elizabeth Gaskell

1810 - 1865

Pioneer of industrial fiction and regional fiction, as well as a writer of ghost stories.

Robert Browning

1812 - 1889

Most famous for his practice of the Dramatic Monologue, and regarded as a "missing link" in poetic history between Keats's "Chameleon Poet" and T.S. Eliot's escape from himself. Famous works include "Porphyria's Lover" and "My Last Duchess".

Matthew Arnold

1822 - 1888

Wrote poetry such as "Dover Beach" but was more famous for his poetic criticism, and use of "Touchstones".

Christina Rosetti

1830 - 1894

A Christian writer in the Pre-Raphaelite circle (her brother Dante largely led the group), famous for writing poems such as "Goblin Market" and "Up-Hill".

Thomas Hardy

1840 - 1928

Novelist and poet.


1844 - 1889

A poet famous for use of Inscape, Instress,and Sprung Rhythm.

Oscar Wilde

1854 - 1900

Great satirist and leader of the Aesthetic Movement - "Wilde laughed the Victorian age to death"

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

1859 - 1930

Most famous for writing "Sherlock Holmes" stories, but wrote in many other genres as well (fantasy, sci-fi, drama, poetry, historical novel, romance, non-fiction).

William Butler Yeats

1865 - 1939

Wrote both very romantic poetry ("The Lake Isle of Innisfree") and modern poetry ("The Second Coming"). An Anglo-Irish man, who had to work out the tension between his English and Irish influences.

James Joyce

1882 - 1941

Joyce wrote four books, "Dubliners" (1914), "Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man" (1916), "Ulysses" (1922) and "Finnegan's Wake" (1939). The "arguably most important fiction writer of the century" liked to keep things obscure, each book getting harder to understand or further from the typical novel form.

T.S. Eliot

1888 - 1965

The most stereotypical choice of a "Modern" poet, writer of modernist manifesto, said art was not an expression of personality or a turning loose of emotion, but an extinction, or escape of personality.

George Orwell

1903 - 1950

Socialist ideas, wrote "Animal Farm" and "Shooting an Elephant", both of which were highly politically charged.

Samuel Beckett

1906 - 1989

Major writer in the genre "theater of the absurd", highly minimalist, his writing followed some of the trends such as surrealism, existentialism, naturalism, and stream of consciousness.

Dylan Thomas

1914 - 1953

Highly celebrated Welsh poet, most famous for "Do Not Go Gentle Into that Good Night", a villainelle. Used themes of life and death and used the Bible, Welsh folklore, and Freud to inform his poetry.

Philip Larkin

1922 - 1985

Part of "The Movement", straight forward writing acting against the romanticized poetry of the 1940s and 50s.

Seamus Heaney

1939 - 2013

Winner of the Nobel prize (2005), lecturer, poet and scholar (translated Beowulf)