what is british literature

What Is British Literature?

Often referred to as UK literature, British literature primarily refers to all literature produced by British authors from the United Kingdom, which includes England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales, the Channel Islands, and Isle of Man. British literature includes works in Old, Middle, and Modern English, each of which represents a different period. British literature also includes early works written in Gaelic, Welsh, and Latin.

British literature has come to possess different characteristics over the years. People can fully appreciate it by learning the different types of literature that came to play in its history. UK literature is often divided into British works in Latin, early Celtic literature composed in the UK, Old English works, Middle English works, and Modern English compositions. There are only a few surviving early UK literature texts. Celts mostly made use of oral literature, and Henry VIII’s razing of monasteries caused the obliteration of much of the world’s literary treasures.

Old English works were written between 450 and 1066. Probably the most famous Old English work is Beowulf . The oldest original texts of British literary works came from this period, including "The Hymn of Creation" by the poet Cædmon.

John Locke was a British author during the Restoration Period.

Works written in Middle English were composed between 1066 and 1485. This historical period began when William the Conqueror successfully united factions in England, particularly the Normans and the Saxons, and when the Domesday Book was created. Examples of the best-known works in this period are The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer and Le Morte d’Arthur by Thomas Malory.

Jane Austen was said to have been influenced by the English moors.

The Modern English era is comprised of all literary works composed by British authors beginning in the early 16th century and onward. This period can be further categorized into different types of literature. The Renaissance period is considered to have lasted from 1500 to 1660, and is best remembered for works written by William Shakespeare . During this period, sonnets and effusive forms of British poetry also rose in popularity, such as the ones written by Thomas Wyatt and Edmund Spenser.

British literature includes works written by William Shakespeare.

Other periods making up the Modern English era include the Restoration Age, the Romantic Period, the Victorian Period, and all later periods. Gothic novels also became extremely popular in this era, particularly in the 18th century. Notable authors in this era include John Locke of the Restoration Period, Sir Walter Scott and John Keats of the Romantic Period, Alfred Lord Tennyson and Jane Austen of the Victorian Period, and Agatha Christie of the 20th century.

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Discussion Comments

This was interesting. I am very interested in learning more.

@umbra21 - We actually don't realize what an amazing time we live in. Once literature would have been the province of only the rich and those sponsored by the rich. Now writing can be done by anyone, and more importantly, it can be published by anyone, through the e-readers.

I'm not one of those who thinks that we should entirely do away with publishing houses. They have been finding and polishing the gems of modern British literature for a couple of hundred years now. Most of the time, if they say you're no good, you're probably no good.

But you aren't absolutely beholden to them to get your name out there. Maybe you'll only ever sell a couple of hundred copies and they don't care to invest in that. Fine. You can now sell those couple of hundred on your own.

@Irontoenail - It seems like literature back then was almost as much about the art of bookmaking as anything else. Which makes sense, since each book had to be made by hand, so you'd want it to look as nice as possible.

A lot of books of poetry and things back then were actually commissioned, which is why they were often so elaborate and so religious.

The idea was to make a book that you could show to people, to show off how pious and rich you were. They would even make gold leaf illustrations and bind them in different materials.

I don't know how good the actual writing would have been in most of these though, since I doubt most of the people who were asking them to be made cared so much about the substance of the work. They just wanted another pretty bauble.

When I was studying creative writing at university level we had a special guest speaker who was the head of English Literature at the university come and talk to us about older forms of fiction.

He was completely fluent in Old and Middle English and he read sections of the Canterbury Tales and Beowulf to us. It sounded absolutely incredible. He also showed us some of the beautiful pictures that monks once copied into the margins of the books that they transcribed.

You can actually look up on Youtube people reciting Old English poetry and there are quite a few good tribute films of Beowulf with the poem read out in the original language and the subtitles in English.

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John Locke was a British author during the Restoration Period.

A Brief Overview of British Literary Periods

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Old English (Anglo-Saxon) Period (450–1066)

Middle english period (1066–1500), the renaissance (1500–1660), the neoclassical period (1600–1785), the romantic period (1785–1832), the victorian period (1832–1901), the edwardian period (1901–1914), the georgian period (1910–1936), the modern period (1914–), the postmodern period (1945–).

what is british literature

  • Ph.D., English Language and Literature, Northern Illinois University
  • M.A., English, California State University–Long Beach
  • B.A., English, Northern Illinois University

Although historians have delineated the eras of British literature in different ways over time, common divisions are outlined below. 

The term Anglo-Saxon comes from two Germanic tribes: the Angles and the Saxons. This period of literature dates back to their invasion (along with the Jutes) of Celtic England circa 450. The era ends in 1066 when Norman France, under William, conquered England.

Much of the first half of this period—prior to the seventh century, at least—had oral literature. A lot of the prose during this time was a translation of something else or otherwise legal, medical, or religious in nature; however, some works, such as Beowulf  and those by period poets Caedmon and Cynewulf, are important.

The Middle English period sees a huge transition in the language, culture, and lifestyle of England and results in what we can recognize today as a form of “modern” (recognizable) English. The era extends to around 1500. As with the Old English period , much of the Middle English writings were religious in nature; however, from about 1350 onward, secular literature began to rise. This period is home to the likes of Chaucer , Thomas Malory, and Robert Henryson. Notable works include "Piers Plowman" and "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight." 

Recently, critics and literary historians have begun to call this the “Early Modern” period, but here we retain the historically familiar term “Renaissance.” This period is often subdivided into four parts, including the Elizabethan Age (1558–1603), the Jacobean Age (1603–1625), the Caroline Age (1625–1649), and the Commonwealth Period (1649–1660). 

The Elizabethan Age was the golden age of English drama. Some of its noteworthy figures include Christopher Marlowe, Francis Bacon, Edmund Spenser, Sir Walter Raleigh, and, of course, William Shakespeare. The Jacobean Age is named for the reign of James I. It includes the works of John Donne, Shakespeare, Michael Drayton, John Webster, Elizabeth Cary, Ben Jonson, and Lady Mary Wroth. The King James translation of the Bible also appeared during the Jacobean Age. The Caroline Age covers the reign of Charles I (“Carolus”). John Milton, Robert Burton, and George Herbert are some of the notable figures.

Finally, the Commonwealth Period was so named for the period between the end of the English Civil War and the restoration of the Stuart monarchy. This is the time when Oliver Cromwell, a Puritan, led Parliament, who ruled the nation. At this time, public theaters were closed (for nearly two decades) to prevent public assembly and to combat moral and religious transgressions. John Milton and Thomas Hobbes’ political writings appeared and, while drama suffered, prose writers such as Thomas Fuller, Abraham Cowley, and Andrew Marvell published prolifically.

The Neoclassical period is also subdivided into ages, including The Restoration (1660–1700), The Augustan Age (1700–1745), and The Age of Sensibility (1745–1785). The Restoration period sees some response to the puritanical age, especially in the theater. Restoration comedies (comedies of manner) developed during this time under the talent of playwrights like William Congreve and John Dryden. Satire, too, became quite popular, as evidenced by the success of Samuel Butler. Other notable writers of the age include Aphra Behn, John Bunyan, and John Locke.

The Augustan Age was the time of Alexander Pope and Jonathan Swift, who imitated those first Augustans and even drew parallels between themselves and the first set. Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, a poet, was prolific at this time and noted for challenging stereotypically female roles. Daniel Defoe was also popular. 

The Age of Sensibility (sometimes referred to as the Age of Johnson) was the time of Edmund Burke, Edward Gibbon, Hester Lynch Thrale, James Boswell, and, of course, Samuel Johnson. Ideas such as neoclassicism, a critical and literary mode, and the Enlightenment, a particular worldview shared by many intellectuals, were championed during this age. Novelists to explore include Henry Fielding, Samuel Richardson, Tobias Smollett, and Laurence Sterne as well as the poets William Cowper and Thomas Percy.

The beginning date for the Romantic period is often debated. Some claim it is 1785, immediately following the Age of Sensibility. Others say it began in 1789 with the start of the French Revolution , and still others believe that 1798, the publication year for William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s book Lyrical Ballads is its true beginning.

The time period ends with the passage of the Reform Bill (which signaled the Victorian Era) and with the death of Sir Walter Scott. American literature has its own Romantic period , but typically when one speaks of Romanticism, one is referring to this great and diverse age of British literature, perhaps the most popular and well-known of all literary ages.

This era includes the works of such juggernauts as Wordsworth, Coleridge, William Blake, Lord Byron, John Keats, Charles Lamb, Mary Wollstonecraft, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Thomas De Quincey, Jane Austen , and Mary Shelley . There is also a minor period, also quite popular (between 1786–1800), called the Gothic era . Writers of note for this period include Matthew Lewis, Anne Radcliffe, and William Beckford.

This period is named for the reign of Queen Victoria, who ascended to the throne in 1837, and it lasts until her death in 1901. It was a time of great social, religious, intellectual, and economic issues, heralded by the passage of the Reform Bill, which expanded voting rights. The period has often been divided into “Early” (1832–1848), “Mid” (1848–1870) and “Late” (1870–1901) periods or into two phases, that of the Pre-Raphaelites (1848–1860) and that of Aestheticism and Decadence (1880–1901).

The Victorian period is in strong contention with the Romantic period for being the most popular, influential, and prolific period in all of English (and world) literature. Poets of this time include Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Christina Rossetti, Alfred Lord Tennyson, and Matthew Arnold, among others. Thomas Carlyle, John Ruskin, and Walter Pater were advancing the essay form at this time. Finally, prose fiction truly found its place under the auspices of Charles Dickens, Charlotte and Emily Bronte, Elizabeth Gaskell, George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans), Anthony Trollope, Thomas Hardy, William Makepeace Thackeray, and Samuel Butler. 

This period is named for King Edward VII and covers the period between Victoria’s death and the outbreak of World War I. Although a short period (and a short reign for Edward VII), the era includes incredible classic novelists such as Joseph Conrad, Ford Madox Ford, Rudyard Kipling, H.G. Wells, and Henry James (who was born in America but spent most of his writing career in England); notable poets such as Alfred Noyes and William Butler Yeats ; and dramatists such as James Barrie, George Bernard Shaw, and John Galsworthy.

The Georgian period usually refers to the reign of George V (1910–1936) but sometimes also includes the reigns of the four successive Georges from 1714–1830. Here, we refer to the former description as it applies chronologically and covers, for example, the Georgian poets, such as Ralph Hodgson, John Masefield, W.H. Davies, and Rupert Brooke.

Georgian poetry today is typically considered to be the works of minor poets anthologized by Edward Marsh. The themes and subject matter tended to be rural or pastoral in nature, treated delicately and traditionally rather than with passion (like was found in the previous periods) or with experimentation (as would be seen in the upcoming modern period). 

The modern period traditionally applies to works written after the start of World War I . Common features include bold experimentation with subject matter, style, and form, encompassing narrative, verse, and drama. W.B. Yeats’ words, “Things fall apart; the center cannot hold,” are often referred to when describing the core tenet or “feeling” of modernist concerns.

Some of the most notable writers of this period include the novelists James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Aldous Huxley, D.H. Lawrence, Joseph Conrad, Dorothy Richardson, Graham Greene, E.M. Forster, and Doris Lessing; the poets W.B. Yeats, T.S. Eliot, W.H. Auden, Seamus Heaney, Wilfred Owens, Dylan Thomas, and Robert Graves; and the dramatists Tom Stoppard, George Bernard Shaw, Samuel Beckett, Frank McGuinness, Harold Pinter, and Caryl Churchill.

New Criticism also appeared at this time, led by the likes of Woolf, Eliot, William Empson, and others, which reinvigorated literary criticism in general. It is difficult to say whether modernism has ended, though we know that postmodernism has developed after and from it; for now, the genre remains ongoing.

The postmodern period begins about the time that World War II ended. Many believe it is a direct response to modernism. Some say the period ended about 1990, but it is likely too soon to declare this period closed. Poststructuralist literary theory and criticism developed during this time. Some notable writers of the period include Samuel Beckett , Joseph Heller, Anthony Burgess, John Fowles, Penelope M. Lively, and Iain Banks. Many postmodern authors wrote during the modern period as well. 

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English Literature: A Very Short Introduction

English Literature: A Very Short Introduction

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English Literature: A Very Short Introduction considers such diverse topics as the birth of the novel, the brilliance of English comedy, the deep Englishness of landscape poetry, and the ethnic diversity of Britain's Nobel literature laureates. English literature is known for its major literary movements such as Romanticism and Modernism, and influential authors including Chaucer, Donne, Johnson, Wordsworth, Austen, Dickens, and Woolf. The study of English literature brings up fascinating questions. Why does literature matter? How does narrative work? What is distinctly English about English literature? How do literary texts change as they are transmitted from writer to reader?

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British Literature from 1660 to Today: Enlightenment

  • Enlightenment
  • Romanticism
  • Early Texts
  • Franken-culture
  • 20th Century

Early Seventeenth Century

The earlier seventeenth century, and especially the period of the English Revolution (1640–60), was a time of intense ferment in all areas of life — religion, science, politics, domestic relations, culture. That ferment was reflected in the literature of the era, which also registered a heightened focus on and analysis of the self and the personal life. However, little of this seems in evidence in the elaborate frontispiece to Michael Drayton's long "chorographical" poem on the landscape, regions, and local history of Great Britain (1612), which appeared in the first years of the reign of the Stuart king James I (1603–1625). The frontispiece appears to represent a peaceful, prosperous, triumphant Britain, with England, Scotland, and Wales united, patriarchy and monarchy firmly established, and the nation serving as the great theme for lofty literary celebration. Albion (the Roman name for Britain) is a young and beautiful virgin wearing as cloak a map featuring rivers, trees, mountains, churches, towns; she carries a scepter and holds a cornucopia, symbol of plenty. Ships on the horizon signify exploration, trade, and garnering the riches of the sea. In the four corners stand four conquerors whose descendants ruled over Britain: the legendary Brutus, Julius Caesar, Hengist the Saxon, and the Norman William the Conqueror, "whose line yet rules," as Drayton's introductory poem states.

Yet this frontispiece also registers some of the tensions, conflicts, and redefinitions evident in the literature of the period and explored more directly in the topics and texts in this portion of the NTO Web site. It is Albion herself, not King James, who is seated in the center holding the emblems of sovereignty; her male conquerors stand to the side, and their smaller size and their number suggest something unstable in monarchy and patriarchy. Albion's robe with its multiplicity of regional features, as well as the "Poly" of the title, suggests forces pulling against national unity. Also,  Poly-Olbion  had no successors: instead of a celebration of the nation in the vein of Spenser's  Faerie Queene  or  Poly-Olbion  itself, the great seventeenth-century heroic poem,  Paradise Lost,  treats the Fall of Man and its tragic consequences, "all our woe."

The first topic here, "Gender, Family, Household: Seventeenth-Century Norms and Controversies," provides important religious, legal, and domestic advice texts through which to explore cultural assumptions about gender roles and the patriarchal family. It also invites attention to how those assumptions are modified or challenged in the practices of actual families and households; in tracts on transgressive subjects (cross-dressing, women speaking in church, divorce); in women's texts asserting women's worth, talents, and rights; and especially in the upheavals of the English Revolution.

[Click on image to enlarge]

*From The Norton Anthology of English Literature

Age of Reason

The enlightenment  the age of reason  the neo-classical era  (1660-1788).

      -  This period goes by the names "the Enlightenment," "the Age of Reason," and "the Neo-Classical Age."

       - There was a great turning away from religion as primary way of life.

       - People had been caught up in religious schism and sometimes outright warfare from 1534, the year Henry VIII split away from the Catholic church, until the Glorious Revolution of 1589.  England now turned its attention to politics and scientific/logical analysis & reason.

       - belief had been based on authority; restoration brought the scientific method.

       -  scientific method  - beliefs should be proven through repeated experiments.  Until now, one was to trust the pronouncements of some authority.  In religion, you accepted the dictates of the church; in science, you would turn to a recognized authority like Aristotle, Ptolemy, etc.  Your own experience could mislead you.  The Wife of Bath trusted experience over authority, but she was wrong to do so.  In this era, she would be right.

Newton  discovered the laws of gravity, motion, & created a new branch of mathematics - calculus.

A valid experiment would be repeatable.  Thus others who turned telescopes toward the skies should observe the same things Copernicus & Galileo did.

       - people wanted proof; did not want to accept an idea as true just because some person of authority said.

       - British Constitution changed when Charles II took the throne; he realized (unlike his father who believed in Divine Right of Kings) that  Parliament ruled

       - parties and political factions became stable and more permanent

            -  Tories  : King's party; conservative & Anglican

            -  Whigs  : represented $ from rising middle class; Puritans (Protestant Revolution had economical effect) 


We can divide the era into three sub-periods. 

  • 1660-1700 Restoration Literature
  • Dryden was the main literary figure of this period.  He wrote in the modes popular in that time - verse, comedy, tragedy, hero plays, ode, satire, translation, & critical essay.  The style of the time is less ornate than before, with a more plain, straightforward approach.  
  • 1700-1745 The Augustan period
  • The literature of this era is "chiefly a literature of wit, concerned with civilizatino and social relationships, and consequently, it is critical and in some degree moral or satiric" (Abrams 832).  It is called the Augustan period because the golden era of Roman writing was under the Emperor Augustus.  This period tried to emulate the earlier one.    
  • 1745-1785 The Samuel Johnson period
  • This was a period of intense prose writing.  Earlier periods had tended to produce great poetry, but not great poetry so much.    

Enlightenment Terms

Theology- the study of god

Humanist- the study of humans

Deists- believe god did not interfere, the watch is the universe

Orderly State- great state of being (chain- going to god)

King- enforcers rules of god   

Samuel Johnson

Rasselas  on-line text  from  Jack Lynch

Notes on  Rasselas

Ecclesiastes 1-2

Introduction to Johnson's  Dictionary  from  Icons of England

Notes on Johnson's  Preface  to Shakespeare Links

The Samuel Johnson Sound Bite Page  

Mid Seventeenth Century

  • John Bunyan (1628 -1688): Topic Page English preacher and writer, noted particularly for his allegory The Pilgrim's Progress (1678).
  • John Dryden (1631 - 1700): Topic Page English poet and dramatist. He is noted for his satirical verse and for his use of the heroic couplet.
  • John Evelyn (1620 - 1706): Topic Page English writer whose Diary, published in 1818, is a valuable historical record of his times.
  • Thomas Hobbes (1588 - 1679): Topic Page Hobbes was born at Westport (now a part of Malmesbury), Wiltshire on 5 April 1588. He died 4 December 1679 at Hardwick, Derbyshire.
  • John Locke (1632 - 1704): Topic Page Locke was born on 29 August 1632 at Wrington, Somerset, into a Puritan family of the minor gentry.
  • John Milton (1608 - 1674): Topic Page English poet. His early works, notably L'Allegro and Il Penseroso (1632), the masque Comus (1634), and the elegy Lycidas (1637), show the influence of his Christian humanist education and his love of Italian Renaissance poetry.
  • Samuel Pepys (1633 - 1703): Topic Page English diarist and naval administrator. His diary, which covers the period 1660-69, is a vivid account of London life through such disasters as the Great Plague, the Fire of London, and the intrusion of the Dutch fleet up the Thames.

British Literature through the Ages

  • British Literature Through the Ages Textbook Understand the broad timeline of the development of the English Language and literature

Genesis 1-3, King James Version


John Milton's Paradise Lost


Excerpt on Psalm 8 and Milton's Paradise Lost

Paradise Lost, Lines 723-852


John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress

Notes on Pilgrim's Progress

Excerpts from  Pilgrim's Progress

"Christian Flees"

"The Valley of Humiliation"

"The Valley of the Shadow of Death"

"Vanity Fair"

"Giant Despair"

"Good man Little-faith"

"The Heavenly City"

The text of  Pilgrim's Progress  in various formats  from the  Christian Classics Ethereal Library

Principles of Biblicas Exegesis  from  The Catholic Encyclopedia

Principles of Biblical Interpretation: Three Views  from  First Things: A Journal of Religion and Public Life      Illustration of Little-faith being robbed  from   Bunyan Ministries

Alexander Pope's The Rape of the Lock

The Rape of the Lock   Lines 1136-1154

Jonathan Swift's A Modest Proposal

A Modest Proposal

Historical Notes

  • (1049) ~ He has a beneficial idea acquired from an American.  It turnes out that he is proposing cannibalism.  He is using irony to make people see the logical conclusion to their attitudes toward the Irish.
  • (1050) ~ let’s you know who he’s really attacking – landlords. They have devoured the Irish.  He computes in very dispassionate terms the costs & benefits of eating babies.  Only in places like this does he let his anger show through.  Such cracks is the facade are necessary, or people will think the satirist is really making such a proposal.
  • Problem is in Ireland. 17 th  Century, Cromwell invaded because they were Catholic and England Protestant. Obtained surface control.  After the Glorious Revolution, William of Orange quelled a rebellion.  This is why the Catholic Irish hate orange.
  • Landowners were in England; exploited all profits, leaving little money for Irish
  • Whigs also took advantage of cheap labor.
  • (1049 & 1052) ~ women compared to cattle ("constant breeders." Hint that he is not serious.
  • (1049)  His Proposal. ~ 20,000 babes would be preserved. Other 100,000 would be sold for meat. Baby skin could be used to make fine gloves.  Of course, he doesn't really want this to happen, but in the 20th century, the Germans did make gloves, lampshades, etc., with the skins of their victims.
  • (1052-1053) ~ This is his actual proposal. He has in mind several steps to take that would relieve the suffering of the Irish.  Rest of story is to show British upper class the damage they are causing.
  • (1054)  He claims to have no personal interest in profiting from his proposal - his children are too old to be sold as food.  Obviously, the real meaning is that he doesn't have to worry about his children being eaten, so he does have an interest in the proposal.

Eighteenth Century

  • Daniel Defoe (1660 - 1731): Topic Page English novelist, journalist, spymaster, and pamphleteer, noted particularly for his novel Robinson Crusoe (1719). His other novels include Moll Flanders (1722) and A Journal of the Plague Year (1722).
  • Henry Fielding (1707 - 1754): Topic Page English novelist and dramatist, noted particularly for his picaresque novel Tom Jones (1749) and for Joseph Andrews (1742), which starts as a parody of Richardson's Pamela: also noted as an enlightened magistrate and a founder of the Bow Street runners (1749).
  • Thomas Gray (1716 - 1771): Topic Page British poet considered a forerunner of English romanticism. His most famous work is Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard (1751).
  • Samuel Richardson (1689 - 1761): Topic Page English writer whose epistolary novels include Pamela (1740), often considered the first modern English novel, and Clarissa Harlowe (1747-1748).
  • Tobias Smollett (1721 - 1771): Topic Page British writer known for his adventure novels, such as Roderick Random (1748) and Peregrine Pickle (1751).
  • Ann Radcliffe (1764 - 1823): Topic Page British novelist, noted for her Gothic romances The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) and The Italian (1797).
  • Horace Walpole (1717 - 1797): Topic Page British writer and historian whose correspondence and memoirs provide valuable information about his era. He wrote The Castle of Otranto (1764), considered the first Gothic novel in English.

The Restoration and the 18th Century

The period between 1660 and 1785 was a time of amazing expansion for England — or for "Great Britain," as the nation came to be called after an Act of Union in 1707 joined Scotland to England and Wales. Britain became a world power, an empire on which the sun never set. But it also changed internally. The world seemed different in 1785. A sense of new, expanding possibilities — as well as modern problems — transformed the daily life of the British people, and offered them fresh ways of thinking about their relations to nature and to each other. Hence literature had to adapt to circumstances for which there was no precedent. The topics in this Restoration and Eighteenth Century section of Norton Topics Online review crucial departures from the past — alterations that have helped to shape our own world.

[Click on image to enlarge]

*From The Norton's Anthology of English Literature

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British literature

Literature from the united kingdom / from wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, dear wikiwand ai, let's keep it short by simply answering these key questions:.

Can you list the top facts and stats about British literature?

Summarize this article for a 10 year old

British literature is literature from the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland , the Isle of Man , and the Channel Islands . This article covers British literature in the English language . Anglo-Saxon ( Old English ) literature is included, and there is some discussion of Latin and Anglo-Norman literature, where literature in these languages relate to the early development of the English language and literature . There is also some brief discussion of major figures who wrote in Scots , but the main discussion is in the various Scottish literature articles.

The article Literature in the other languages of Britain focuses on the literatures written in the other languages that are, and have been, used in Britain. There are also articles on these various literatures: Latin literature in Britain , Anglo-Norman , Cornish , Guernésiais , Jèrriais , Latin , Manx , Scottish Gaelic , Welsh , etc.

Irish writers have played an important part in the development of literature in England and Scotland , but though the whole of Ireland was politically part of the United Kingdom from January 1801 to December 1922, it can be controversial to describe Irish literature as British. For some this includes works by authors from Northern Ireland .

The United Kingdom publishes more books per capita than any other country in the world. [1]

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19th Century British Literature

The nineteenth century, like no other single century before or since, was for the inhabitants of the British Isles an era of change. The general population would nearly triple while some twenty million Britons--driven by desire and, in many cases, desperation--emigrated to destinations across the globe.  A vast internal migration at the same time turned villages and towns into large cities and made London the world’s most populous urban center. And while various scientific enterprises disclosed the need to gauge the earth’s history by factors of tens of millions of years, the rise of electrified, steam-powered systems for transport and communication were said to annihilate barriers of space and time. The size of the planet, many observed, seemed to shrink even as astronomers and physicists began to imagine an expanding universe of infinite scope. 

These transformations were only the backdrop for further social change born in class conflict and various demands for equality before the law. As industrialization in general accelerated forms of material production, writers expressed their creativity in experimental, innovative literary forms. Narratives of self-invention achieved prominence while tradition was mined in an effort to adjust to the disorienting advent of modernity.  Popular genres—notably the domestic novel and a new colloquial poetry of everyday life—would gain influence and prestige. But democratic and demotic literary manifestations would also be echoed and betrayed by authoritarian and hieratic notions of cultural authority.

In our teaching and research in Romanticism, we consider how the national epic and the romance tradition (as part of an alternative “classicism” as well as an interest in pre-modern England) are revised, and revived, often with proto-psychoanalytic and politically hegemonic undercurrents. In studies of the novel, as the century progresses, we are interested in the widening of readership and reading communities within an expanding public for the consumption of print media of all kinds.  Other areas of emphasis include novel theory, Victorian material culture, book history (Who reads what and why? Who prevents whom from reading what and why?), the literary consequences of growing religious liberty, and the increasing dialogue between assertions of aesthetic value and notions of national or personal vitality.

Faculty Experts

Guinn Batten

William McKelvy


Department of English Language and Literature, The University of Chicago

British Literature

In the field of British Literature, as in the English Department as a whole, we encourage a combination of skills: historical rigor, conceptual imagination, interdisciplinary agility, and close attention to the echoes and recesses of literary language. Our faculty include experts in every field of British literature and intellectual history from the seventh century to the twenty-first. In addition to these literary periods, we have powerful clusters in other areas that combine the resources of Departmental and other University faculty, brought together by faculty-graduate student workshops, centers, committees, and institutes in which we are actively involved. For example, students will find rich resources in medieval studies; poetry and poetics; theater and performance studies; race, politics, and culture; gender studies; literary and aesthetic theory; colonial, post-colonial, and transnational studies (in conjunction with centers for  South Asian ,  East Asian ,  Middle Eastern , and  Latin American  studies). Many faculty members in British Literature also work in American Literature as well as in Black Studies and colonial and postcolonial literature and culture (e.g. Caribbean).  We also have a thriving program in Creative Writing , in which many of our faculty, graduate students, and English majors participate.

Of particular interest to students working in British literature and culture is the University's  Nicholson Center for British Studies , which offers an annual lecture series and several year-long dissertation research fellowships as well as short term research grants for students who need to do research in Britain. Our undergraduate program in London, coordinated through the Study Abroad office, employs one graduate student as a program assistant in the fall term each year.  Other University resources for students in British literature and culture include the  Center for Gender Studies ; the  Center for the Study of Race, Politics, and Culture ; and the  Franke Institute for the Humanities . All these regularly sponsor lectures, conferences, symposia, workshops, and exhibitions, and also offer doctoral and post-doctoral fellowships.

Specific Areas of Study

  • Renaissance
  • 18th Century British/ Romanticism
  • 19th and 20th Century British and Anglophone Literature
  • Empire, colonialism and postcolonialism
  • Transnational Modernism
  • Post-1945 Literature and Culture
  • Irish Literature and Culture
  • Digital humanities
  • Drama and Performance studies
  • Poetry and Poetics
  • Literature, Film and Media studies
  • Literary and Cultural Theory
  • Psychoanalysis and Affect Studies
  • Race and Gender Studies
  • Literature and philosophy
  • Animal and posthuman studies
  • Ecocriticism and environmental studies
  • Literature and visual culture
  • Poetry and song

Faculty Members

Timothy Campbell

Timothy Campbell

Jim Chandler

James Chandler

Alexis Chema

Alexis Chema


Maud Ellmann

Frances Ferguson

Frances Ferguson

Rachel Galvin

Rachel Galvin

Elaine Hadley

Elaine Hadley

Tim Harrison

Timothy Harrison


Elizabeth Helsinger

Heather Keenleyside

Heather Keenleyside


Loren Kruger

Ellen MacKay

Ellen MacKay

Josephine McDonagh

Josephine McDonagh

Mark Miller

Mark Miller

W J T Mitchell

W. J. T. Mitchell

Benjamin Morgan

Benjamin Morgan

John Muse

Noémie Ndiaye

Julie Orlemanski photo credit Jason Smith

Julie Orlemanski

Lawrence Rothfield

Lawrence Rothfield


Lisa Ruddick

Benjamin A. Saltzman

Benjamin A. Saltzman

Joshua Scodel

Joshua Scodel


Richard Strier

Christopher Taylor

Christopher Taylor

von Nolcken

Christina von Nolcken


John Wilkinson

Henry Buhl Library

  • British Literature

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British Literature Through History

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British Literature I Anthology: From the Middle Ages to Neoclassicism and the Eighteenth Century

(17 reviews)

what is british literature

Bonnie J. Robinson

Laura J. Getty

Copyright Year: 2018

ISBN 13: 9781940771281

Publisher: University of North Georgia Press

Language: English

Formats Available

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Reviewed by Stephen Hamrick, Professor, Bemidji State University on 5/16/23

The textbook provides a good sense of comprehensiveness; although some things are missing ( Margery of Kempe, Lady Mary Wroth's poetry & prose), the text provides sufficient coverage. What is missing can be added with some effort. read more

Comprehensiveness rating: 3 see less

The textbook provides a good sense of comprehensiveness; although some things are missing ( Margery of Kempe, Lady Mary Wroth's poetry & prose), the text provides sufficient coverage. What is missing can be added with some effort.

Content Accuracy rating: 5

The overview/contexts provided present a reasonable and accurate sense of both the historical and literary contexts.

Relevance/Longevity rating: 5

The medieval and early modern texts provided cover the range of texts available and thus will remain relevant.

Clarity rating: 5

The text is written in lucid, accessible prose, and provides adequate context for any jargon/technical terminology used. Medieval texts, which often give students great difficulty, have sufficent aparatus/translation to be useful and accessible. Gawain and the Green Knight, however, lacks such translation.

Consistency rating: 5

The text provides clear consistency; the reading questions in particular make connections that allow students to note consistent, seminal patterns in early British Literature.

Modularity rating: 5

The textbooks provides logical and clear points of separation and/or sections; this will allow for clear modules and distinct unit within the early British survey.

Organization/Structure/Flow rating: 5

Organized largely chronologically, the text provides a standard periodization as remains dominant in both British and American teaching contexts.

Interface rating: 5

The text is free of significant interface issues, including navigation problems, distortion of images/charts, and any other display features that may distract or confuse the reader. The bookmarks in the pdf work well and correspond precisely to the included page numbers.

Grammatical Errors rating: 5

The text introduces no grammatical errors.

Cultural Relevance rating: 5

As much as is possible for a British literature collection, the text uses a range of examples that engage a variety of races, ethnicities, and backgrounds, including Aphra Behn and Olaudah Equiano.

Although the collection leaves out some important women writers, the choices it makes include a focus on women and gender in a fashion that reflects both the state of literary criticism and classroom demographics. Overall a B+.

Reviewed by Shandi Wagner, Assistant Professor, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College on 9/30/22

The anthology does a good job of covering the periods and including some women writers as well as a writer of color (Equiano). There were some texts whose absence I noted, such as those by Margery Kempe and Eliza Haywood, but no anthology can be... read more

The anthology does a good job of covering the periods and including some women writers as well as a writer of color (Equiano). There were some texts whose absence I noted, such as those by Margery Kempe and Eliza Haywood, but no anthology can be completely comprehensive. What I missed even more, though, was a lack of cultural context. Introductions focused more on historical events than on cultural context such as social/class structure, gender roles, values and mores, etc. This lack of cultural context continued in the texts themselves with the absence of annotations. However, I did appreciate the Reading and Review Questions provided at the end of each text.

I noticed no inaccuracies.

The content is up-to-date and unlikely to need updating. The anthology includes literary works that have been accepted as significant, and the introductions and contextual material is quite general (and therefore unlikely to require updates as scholarship progresses).

Clarity rating: 2

While the introductions are clearly written, the clarity of the literary texts, in particular those of the medieval period, is questionable. Unlike most anthologies for early British literature, no explanatory annotations (contextual or translational) have been included to assist students in understanding these texts that are written in cultural contexts very different from our own. In addition, some of the texts, such as _Sir Gawain and the Green Knight_, are not translated into (more) modern English; as that text is presented in the book, I could not ask my students to read it.

Consistency rating: 4

The introductions are relatively consistent, although length and depth of introductions to individual authors and texts varies somewhat.

Modularity rating: 4

The sections are set up by traditional time periods which work well for creating modules. The interface allows for navigation by section headings, including authors with subheadings for the individual texts and the review questions. However, there are large sections of text (of about 100 pages) in some selections where there is no breakdown of the subsections or navigation options other than scrolling, which would be problematic for assigning to students. For instance, the selections from _The Canterbury Tales_ is not broken down into the individual tales and prologues for navigation or even as a preview in the TOC; readers must scroll through the hundred pages to see what is offered and find page numbers for reference.

The text is well organized by period.

Interface rating: 4

The navigation interface worked well except in those areas where the navigation to subsections was unavailable (as detailed above under modularity).

Grammatical Errors rating: 4

There is a rather glaring typo in the heading for Section 4, which lists the years for the eighteenth century as 1603-1688 (the same years as Section 3). This is incorrect in both the TOC and in the section heading itself (as well as the navigation label). Other than that, I noticed no issues.

There is nothing cultural insensitive or offensive.

what is british literature

Reviewed by David Sweeten, Assistant Professor of Early British Literature, Eastern New Mexico University on 11/1/21

This text provides a wide range of good texts, but there are some odd omissions. Including Julian of Norwich is great for facilitating discussion on female mystics, but what about Margery Kempe? We have some solid Middle English selections, but... read more

Comprehensiveness rating: 4 see less

This text provides a wide range of good texts, but there are some odd omissions. Including Julian of Norwich is great for facilitating discussion on female mystics, but what about Margery Kempe? We have some solid Middle English selections, but why exclude The Vision of Piers the Plowman or John Gower? Further, the readings from Chaucer are also somewhat limited. An anthology by nature will inevitably exclude some texts, but some of the choices here are rather strange.

Content Accuracy rating: 3

The front matter to texts is generally accurate, although it is a bit more brief in some areas than others. There is a larger issue, however, of citation in the front matter. At times the editors in these prefaces are relying on other scholarship but their citations are slim, if present, and do not consistently guide students or instructors to resources for more in-depth study. More strange, however, is that texts provided in translation provide no attribution of the translator. For Beowulf the editors appear to be using Leslie Hall’s translation, but attribute her work nowhere in this book. This same lack of attribution carries through to each of the Old English, the Middle English translations, and the selections from Marie de France. This lack is troubling both from the intellectual property issues it raises as well as the vital importance that translation can be in interpreting a text, instructors and students alike often needing to consult both the translation and the original in their own work. On this front, the authors are also not consistent on providing sources for where the version of the texts they are using come from, leading to further questions over how trustworthy some of this work is.

Relevance/Longevity rating: 4

The texts themselves will not undergo significant change, but their scholarship will and, from what has been provided, has. What to include in introducing a text is a tricky subject, as too much information can be as functionally ineffective as too little, but there are times in this text where more context would be beneficial and should reflect more current research. For example, discussion of the structure of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight does not include current textual scholarship, especially that of Kathryn Kerby-Fulton, and some of the discussion could use more current scholarship than Putter (1996) and Tolkien (1967).

Clarity rating: 4

The text of the introductory material is generally clear and well written. There is work to include a range of sociohistorical contexts and how various movements matter. The material can be a bit brief at times, however, and more clear sourcing of this content would be very welcome.

The above discussion about consistency of textual choices notwithstanding, the introductory material of the anthology is consistent period to period and text to text. While more coverage in some areas would be beneficial, a similar attention to detail has been applied to each.

The text can be modularly divided by period to meet specific needs. There is some reference to other sections, but this is done to establish context and doesn’t necessitate that readers will have read these other sections as well.

Topics are clearly presented, and the front matter of each section works to situate the respective sociohistorical contexts within British literary history.

There is a clear table of contents that helps guide through the text.

There are a few small issues but generally the text is consistent on grammar.

Cultural Relevance rating: 4

The text here is no insensitive of offensive, although the focus of this can, at times, be oriented to somewhat glance over sensitive topics. For example, Great Britain’s role and history in the slave trade is not thoroughly discussed, which is odd in key places such as Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko. The most that gets discussed on this front is a side statement: “Britain saw increased prosperity particularly through commercial trade—that included slave trading—colonial expansion, and industrial progress culminating in the factory system” (2122). Certainly what to included and not include in such a work is difficult, but the larger impacts of the slave trade are more vital to the historical context here than has been covered.

In sum, this anthology has a great deal of useful context and information, but the consistency in the sourcing and provided information makes for some difficulty in utilizing the anthology in the classroom. The instructor can provide additional context, as is necessary for any anthology, but the lack of clear source raises questions about what is here and where the instructor or students can go for more in-depth reading.

Reviewed by Terry Lindvall, Professor, Virginia Wesleyan University on 3/29/21

This digital anthology offers the potential delight of a full banquet of tasty readings. The range of British Literature: Middle Ages to the Eighteenth Century and Neoclassism encourages old curmudgeons with its full plate of nourishing dishes.... read more

This digital anthology offers the potential delight of a full banquet of tasty readings. The range of British Literature: Middle Ages to the Eighteenth Century and Neoclassism encourages old curmudgeons with its full plate of nourishing dishes. However, one rues that the menu does not include some neglected favorites. Where is that wondrous allegory of William Langland with his dream and seven deadly sins? Where is that first English autobiography of the wildly mystical Margery Kempe? Where is that most significant literary publication of Tyndale’s or King James’ Bible? Or, for that matter, the sublime phrases of Thomas Cranmer’s Book of Common Prayer? And why not, instead of so many John Donne and Robert Herrick poems, substitute the humble, but very accessible, poetry of George Herbert? Where are bits of the Wesley brothers, especially any hymns of Charles (and any of Cowper and Newton’s Olney hymns—one short sermon of John’s would suffice)? Why Moll Flanders over Robinson Crusoe? And then, with a wink and a bit of mischief, where is that classic flyting of Dunbar and friends? (I can understand, but not enjoy, the exclusion of that Scottish makar, Robbie Burns, but he would add such spice to the gathering.) Nevertheless, such a work revives a worthwhile history that slips away while publishers print more ephemeral works. (PS. For what it is worth, one other reviewer recommended Swift’s “The Lady’s Dressing Room” to balance Like Montagu’s response and I concur.) I applaud the merry inclusion of comic literature (e.g. Chaucer and Swift) with the pious and solemn. Third, the succinct introductions provide basic instructional historical context and literary insight into the readings. While one wishes for more explanation of literary allusions, such an encyclopedic addition would be too cumbersome. (Such will be the responsibility of the individual professor.) Adding the review questions supplies both a focus for the introductory student and a gentle prompt to think critically. One of the better notations is Tolkien’s riddles connected to the Exeter bits like “The Bookworm”. Finally, a glossary, vocabulary aids, and relevant footnotes would be helpful for students, as with Latin phrases, this line from Beowulf: “Oft Scyld the Scefing from scathers in numbers”, or the Middle English of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. I do think that a brief identification of “Key Terms” might work to the book’s advantage. So, too, an index and dates of publication would be quite useful.

As far as I read, the content of the introductory material and the translations appear remarkably accurate. However, the challenge of using the best translations is problematic, noting the dilemma of accessible texts and copyright issues.

In an era in which historical literature wanes, the relevance of this material looms greatly. Its longevity has already been demonstrated by its inclusion. Its relevance, in a culture tainted by chronological snobbery, is crucial to correct our intellectual myopia.

The introductions to each period provide solid and manageable material, without adding the academic nuances regarding each text. As such, students can access the larger picture and be prepared to have an enjoyable first meeting with the writings. However, there are “foreign” language phrases throughout that students may stumble over or ignore. Can one clarify or translate them for the readers. Nevertheless, the reflective questions enable confused students to gain a clearer perspective on what it is they just read.

The structure of the anthology is blessedly consistent. Its framework follows a logical and chronological order as clear as bread crumbs on a path into a dense forest. The unit Introductions and the Recommended Readings allow the students to get her bearings and proceed with a map in their cluttered minds.

The modularity works well for an introductory text. It doesn’t complicate what graduate programs will. It integrates various literary genres into a recognizable time period, suggesting links among the texts.

Organization/Structure/Flow rating: 4

As a firm advocate of historical chronology, rather than genre or topic, I celebrate the organizational flow. For students to learn that writers stand on the shoulders of other writers, that originality is grounded in imitation as much as inspiration, is foundational for learning (and for humility). One can easily learn where one stands. However, with other reviewers, I would murmur, complain, and grumble over the lack of line numbers for the poetical texts. Such navigational aids enhance teaching and learning. To enable close readings with students, one must be able to guide them directly to the verse in question.

Interface rating: 3

Students who are very adept at navigating all manner of digital material will find the interface quite slow and frustrating. The difficulty is in transferring from one writing to another, as the collection seemingly requires one to return to the Table of Contents. Scrolling takes much longer than clicking to a particular page. Perhaps a link like the “Find” on one’s Word documents might enable them to traverse an interactive world of literature more efficiently. But as a Luddite, I can only see the problem and not know how to fix it.

I looked and looked, but found no grammatical errors or editing mistakes, except in any Anglo-Saxon or Medieval writings where everything is misspelled (hah).

The criteria of cultural relevance are overdetermined and too often introduce a fundamentalist dogma. The inquisitive and imaginative students will find more about their world by attending to these historical texts than in taking another identity formation course, where the Procrustean bed of significance tends to be ideologically driven and reductionistic. Cultural context for these writing, particularly in their religious Zeitgeist, would open up the readings so that students could contrast the postmodern milieu with this Western tradition. These works actually show a diversity of thought and style that seems sorely lacking in contemporary writings.

To summarize my review, I am grateful for a lucid and compelling anthology that follows a chronological structure. The breadth of offerings is most commendable (other than my own peculiar biases mentioned at the beginning—where are the hymns and the wild flytings?) and forms a solid foundation for the student of British history and literature.

I believe that a more fluid interface with internal links, an addition of line numbers for poetic texts, footnotes that clarify particularly obscure allusions and semantic differences,

One other recommendation concerns the visual aspect of the text (the pictures are dull). What might provide a welcome break to the readings is a germane image or illustration (maps are fine, but don’t provoke the imagination as much as a dramatic painting). For example, in dealing with Lady Montagu and Alexander Pope, include the fair use image of William Powell Frith’s “The Rejected Poet” (1863), to put flesh onto the word. Or include the illustrated frontispiece for works by Spenser (such as Knight Redcross) or Dryden—rather than their portraits. And think of all the potential dramatic images for Milton’s Paradise Lost! Let an image of Beelzebub wake up the student. This is a visual generation and such vivid works will work wonders on them.

Nevertheless, I commend the authors of this open-source anthology for the vision and labor of compiling such an inviting and accessible (and less expensive) work. For full disclosure, I have assessed this anthology according to a specialized criteria: namely, how does it fit with a study of British literature and religion and how does it expand the usual selections, as presented in Alistair McGrath’s Christian Literature: An Anthology? I am impressed with its range from its initial offering of the The Dream of the Rood through The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, much of which contributes to my courses. And, of course, the opportunity to reduce the cost for students under enormous debt, is a main advantage.

Reviewed by Toby Widdicombe, Professor, University of Alaska Anchorage on 11/2/20, updated 1/10/21

No index. A glossary is much needed. I would have liked an anthology with more authors and fewer selections from each. Key terms without adequate definition right there is sort of like a vocab list w/o definitions. read more

No index. A glossary is much needed. I would have liked an anthology with more authors and fewer selections from each. Key terms without adequate definition right there is sort of like a vocab list w/o definitions.

Content Accuracy rating: 4

I found no glaring errors in the headnotes.

It's hard not to be relevant with material that peters out at the end of the C18th! That said, I appreciated the effort to include less well-known voices and marginalized authors (women in particular).

I would have liked much more extensive headnotes and period discussions. That said, what we have works quite well with students.

I saw no inconsistencies in the anthology.

Modularity rating: 2

I would have liked a book with greater modularity. There are really only major period breaks and little attention paid to genre or region.

Yes to the extent that a decision was made to have chronology dominate.

Very good in this regard.

The headnotes are well written and lucid.

I would have liked much more attention paid to cultural context, but it is not culturally insensitive.

I enjoyed the frequent use of illustrations although the captions are rather unimaginative. This is almost as good an anthology as the Norton (for example) in terms of depth and much superior in readability. I have used this book in Brit. Lit. before and will do so again until/unless I come up with my own. Some of the translations are not the best, but that, I know, becomes a question of what is available free.

Reviewed by Christina Angel, Senior Lecturer, Metropolitan State University of Denver on 7/15/20

This textbook is easily comparable to the Norton and other similar anthologies for a survey course. What is especially useful here are the headnotes and recommended reading lists, as well as the follow up questions at the ends of readings, which... read more

Comprehensiveness rating: 5 see less

This textbook is easily comparable to the Norton and other similar anthologies for a survey course. What is especially useful here are the headnotes and recommended reading lists, as well as the follow up questions at the ends of readings, which other similar anthologies generally lack in this subject. The early and middle medieval works are in modern English, which is also appropriate for a lower-division survey, where there may not be time to teach even rudimentary Middle English, and certainly no time to cover Anglo-Saxon. Any pieces missing from the anthology, like any other, could be easily supplemented elsewhere, and the addition of female voices is appreciated.

Headnotes and questions provide concise but helpful direction to the student, and the carefully chosen information sections are accurate. The text seems to be geared to the student experiencing these sometimes challenging periods of literature for the first time, and this makes the text accessible. The choices of the modern English translations of the medieval texts is also apt.

Since the textbook covers older literature, it would be easy to say that relevance doesn't change much; however, the textbook is up to date with our current conceptions of these time periods and the literature associated with them. Important to note is the inclusion of female authors of the periods, which is often omitted in older anthologies of this type. The text's strong nod to diversity (such as it was in early canonical literature of Europe) is well represented here, giving a current presentation and understanding of the periods.

As I mentioned above, the clarity of the headnotes is worth noting here; they are both brief and full of helpful context and information for the reader, with a clear intent of introducing the new student to the time period and historical moment of the text, as well as structural and thematic nuance.

The text is quite consistent throughout in providing notes and structure that is predictable for the student, no matter where they are in the book, or what section they jump into. The nature of an anthology is to provide a similar experience no matter where the student starts reading, because it's not possible to read the entire book in one course. This book achieves that well.

Because of the very nature of anthologies, it's necessarily modular, but as I mentioned above, it is consistently organized and students should be able to have a great experience with the text no matter where they encounter it.

Organization is also a mostly given structure here, as the texts are necessarily placed in chronological order, but the text does a good job of breaking up the groups of texts into meaningful literary movement and historical contexts. This is extremely useful for the survey course in early British Literature, which tends to move students through big sections of history in only a single semester.

The text is easy to access, read, and navigate.

The book is well edited and clear; no immediate errors were found.

As I mentioned above, this time period of literature lacks the kind of diversity overall that contemporary students are often looking for, but the text does cover what diversity is there, particularly female voices in early and middle medieval texts.

I would use this text in my British Literature survey before turning to an expensive physical textbook in future. All of the main texts are here, it provides excellent context and makes the pieces accessible for the new-to-these-texts student. The choices of modern English translation of the early texts are also good and

Reviewed by Kim Gainer, Professor, Radford University on 7/8/20

Since this is an anthology that covers earlier English literature, the students need help with vocabulary, but there are no aids accompanying the texts of readings. There is not even a glossary at the end (although that would be much less useful... read more

Since this is an anthology that covers earlier English literature, the students need help with vocabulary, but there are no aids accompanying the texts of readings. There is not even a glossary at the end (although that would be much less useful than notes accompanying the text). For example, even in the Chaucer section, where the spelling and to a certain extent the language is modernized, definitions of archaic terms would be helpful. Certainly such definitions would be absolutely vital for Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, which is presented in the Middle English. There are lists of undefined Key Terms at the end of each section, but these lists are not guides to the vocabulary in the readings. The lack of vocabulary aids alone would prevent me from assigning this text. Note on modernization of language: The Canterbury Tales in the original Middle English are much easier for my students to read than Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. It seems odd that the selections from The Canterbury Tales are modernized while Gawain is presented in Middle English--and, again, with no vocabulary aids.

The introductions to each reading are accurate and useful if (no doubt necessarily) somewhat slender. For example, one introduction gives one sentence to the fact that "Ubi Sunt Qui Ante Nos Fuerunt?" can be placed within a literary tradition. It is unfortunate, however, that there are no contextual notes provided alongside the readings themselves to build upon such hints, for example, a comment on the relevant passages in Beowulf and The Wanderer or on later poems that catalog and comment on how ephemeral material being can be, such as Raleigh’s “The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd.” Because this is an anthology of earlier English literature, the texts are filled references to events and literary allusions that will go over the heads of students without more apparatus than is provided in this anthology.

The selections are of major works from the canon of earlier English literature. While the canon has evolved over time, these readings likely will continue to be assigned. The organization follows the customary breakdown into literary periods that, again, is unlikely to change anytime soon.

Clarity rating: 3

The introductions to the literary eras and the individual readings are clear. I would only wish, as I indicated in earlier comments, that there were an expanded literary apparatus. That fact results in there being less than "adequate context."

Occasional departures from consistency of framework, such as sometimes a "Bibliography" being provided, other times "Recommended Readings," and other times nothing at all.

As a literature anthology, it is inherently modular.

The book is organized by recognized literary periods, and within those, authors and texts. This organization makes it suitable for most literature survey courses.

You can click from the table of contents to a section, but there are otherwise no internal links allowing you to navigate within the book. It is basically a print text converted into a PDF and uploaded. The textbook is 2971 pages in length, and other than clicking on a link to get to the beginning of I section, I had to scroll to get anywhere--turning the pages of a print book is actually a quicker way to navigate to a specific page than scrolling through a lengthy PDF. Something else that I would call a navigation issue is the lack of line numbers in poems. In discussions and logs, my students are required to ground arguments in specifics, including citations to line numbers. Discussions, for example, would quickly get bogged down if my students were not able to rapidly direct their classmates to the lines that they wish to rely on to support their interpretations.

There are no issues with grammar, spelling, or punctuation.

The includes numerous selections from woman writers/a woman's point of view from the periods covered: Wife's Lament, Marie de France, Julian of Norwich, Queen Elizabeth, Mary Herbert, Aemilia Lanyer, Margaret Cavendish, Aphra Behn, Anne Finch, and Lady Mary Wortley Montagu. The anthology also includes excerpts from the narrative written by the enslaved, then-freed African Olaudah Equiano. The inclusion of Behn's Oroonoko would support discussions of issues of race and colonialism; similarly, excerpts from Daniel Defoe's Moll Flanders would support discussions of issues of gender and class.

The selection and organization are suitable for an undergraduate survey course in earlier English literature. It would be helpful for student comprehension if words and allusions were glossed, and it would be easier to use the textbook (1) if there were internal links and (2) if poems were provided with line numbers.

Reviewed by Michael Torregrossa, Adjunct Faculty-English,, Bristol Community College on 6/30/20

There is a good assortment of texts here from both male and female writers of the periods covered here. I liked that each selection had a short introduction by the editors, some illustration, and some questions to get the reader thinking deeper... read more

There is a good assortment of texts here from both male and female writers of the periods covered here. I liked that each selection had a short introduction by the editors, some illustration, and some questions to get the reader thinking deeper about the text. Overall, these reminded me of apparatus in primary/secondary school readers, so I think the continuity might help the student feel comfortable with the textbook. I did especially like that the contents pages were hyperlinked to selections in the text itself. I feel the average teacher might find much value here, but I do have some serious reservations with the overall effective of this edition. (There is also no index to the book, and any glossary is limited to three short word lists given without any attempt to define those terms.)

I'm a medievalist, so I was most interested in the material on medieval literature. The selections were comparable to those in the Norton Anthology, with the notable omissions of William Langland and Margery Kempe and the inclusion of only a small section from Thomas Malory. However, I did have some notable concerns with editorial practices related to the unit (and book) as a whole. First, I don't see any bibliographic references for the texts (or any text in the book, for that matter). Where are these reproduced from? One World Lit text in the Open Textbook Library had a bibliography that noted it used out-dated, publicly-accessible versions of its text. That seems the case here as well. Some of the translations sound very archaic and not modern. Second, in a text that seems designed to promote accessibly, why are the Middle English selections not translated or, at least, modernized? (Sir Gawain and the Green Knight in Middle English is especially foreign looking.) I wouldn't expect non-English majors to read these texts in the original. Why do the editors? Lastly, I don't see any glossing or notes to any selection (either here or elsewhere in the book), something usually found in anthologies designed for students. What level of education and comprehension are we assuming for readers of this book? This also further limits its use as a teaching tool because the instructor also wouldn't have any resources to answer student questions.

Content Accuracy rating: 2

I don't see any specific issues with factual accuracy or deliberate bias in what I reviewed, and, again, I think most instructors would find the book of value to them and their students. However, the introductions are short and could probably be bettered by contributions from experts in the period, text, or writer to give the reader a better ability to engage the text with regards to current debates about the work. More critical, I think, is the issue of the texts themselves and the ability to see them as "accurate". As noted, I feel the translations and editions used are out-dated for a twenty-first-century textbook, and, to me, that impacts the accuracy and comprehension of the individual texts and the potential for missing out on more recent interpretations and ideas about each text. In addition, not knowing the origin of the version of each text used also concerns me. Too often students gravitate towards such freely-accessible editions to save money. I would hope that an anthology designed as specifically open-access would do better in its selection and commission of versions towards adopting better/more accurate texts (like Norton does). Otherwise, this is no better than something my students might cobble together.

Relevance/Longevity rating: 2

Again, while the selection is relevant, given the corpus/canon, I don't feel the versions of the texts are relevant for today's readers. I'm probably in the minority here, but this is always my big concern with open access. If you use an older edition or translation of a literary text, then that ignores all of the history of scholarship produced since then. I don't know where these versions come from, but the World Lit text I looked at was using items as old as the 1860s. That's a long way from 2020. I fear these versions could be as old.

I feel clarity is greatly impacted by the concerns addressed earlier, and I would hope these issues would bother others as well. The materials by the editors are clear and contemporary, but the texts themselves are not. Versions used appear antiquated and are sometimes inaccessible to the average student reader. We're not asking our students to read the Old English texts here in Old English, so why is Middle English chosen in place of translated texts? (I think the Norton Anthology also has some issues with this, but, as far as I know, it's version of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight has always been a translation.) Also, without any glossing or notes, students may not fully comprehend the texts, whether medieval, early modern, or modern.

Consistency rating: 3

I suppose I would say the book is consistent; although, that consistency is its often biggest drawback. The layout and design are similar section to section and unit to unit, but issues with the origins of each specific edition of the texts used and lack of support are also reoccurring.

Modularity rating: 3

The book does not appear entirely modular to me in the way that other open-access books can be. I do find value in its aids to navigation using the links in the contents pages. Yet, I also notice that sections run together on the page, like other common anthologies, rather than separate each selection to an entirely discrete section of its own, which might be done since a ebook doesn't need to conserve paper. Finally, there is no way to disassemble the book, but one might refer students to the specific links given in the contents pages to effectively pull the book apart.

No concerns with organization. The contents are mostly chronological, as expected in this type of textbook.

No notable issues with the interface as observed in the online version.

No noticeable grammar issues with the content original to this textbook. The literary selections vary greatly with respect to the language of 2020, and, while that might be an expected issue, that might reduce the ability of a reader or teacher to comprehend the texts included.

No notable issues with cultural content. The selections are mostly conservative and in-line with the standard canon of British literature for these eras. Not knowing the sources of the versions chosen, I can't comment directly on the content as insensitive, offensive, or not; however, I suspect an older version of the texts included might have more potential issues than a more recent translation or edition, such as included in the Norton Anthology. Future editions of this textbook might also offer greater "variety of races, ethnicities, and backgrounds," as best applicable to each period. I would also urge the editors to replace older translations and/or editions of the texts already included with more recent ones (or newly commissioned ones) and provide more critical apparatus that could allow students to create greater cultural awareness about each text.

As noted at the outset, I think I'm probably in the minority in downgrading aspects of this textbook and critiquing it so harshly. The Norton Anthology is an admirable work, but students today don't like (or can't afford) to pay for their textbooks. I see this book as one attempt at an option, but, to receive my praise and recommendation, the editors of this (and other similar anthologies) need to think more critically about the specific versions of the texts they use and/or at least be more transparent in their origin. There also needs to be more effort made to aid students and teachers in comprehending and enjoying the literature they are reading through translation and/or modernization, glossing, notations, and more critical apparatus.

Reviewed by Susan Dauer, Professor, Valencia College on 6/1/20, updated 6/9/20

I am pleased to see such a wide variety of work, including not only excerpts but full texts. This book contains everything from riddles and poems to plays and a novel. The notes are readable, and the discussion questions are written for students... read more

I am pleased to see such a wide variety of work, including not only excerpts but full texts. This book contains everything from riddles and poems to plays and a novel. The notes are readable, and the discussion questions are written for students to think about works individually and in comparison with other texts. My comment here is a 4 rather than a 5 because the lists of key terms are just that: lists. If you are going to tell students in a preliminary class that these are the main terms they need to understand, then there should be a definition with the term or clicking on it should take back to the relevant information. Students can do a search for the term, but if they use a shorthand (I typed "heroic" rather than "heroic couplet," for example.), they might be confused by their results.

I checked the elements I am most familiar with, the selections from the medieval period. I did not see anything that looked to be in error. The notes are clear and concise. There are some interesting comparisons that would spark student interest (The Lord of the Rings and The Wanderer, for example).

There is one glaring typo. The dates (1603-1688) for Part 3 are repeated for Part 4 ["Part 4: Neoclassicism and the Eighteenth Century (1603-1688)"] despite the fact that the section title says "Eighteenth Century." I admit that this make me (probably unfairly) wonder what other small errors I might have missed.

This is a text meant for students learning the first half of British Literature. The texts themselves will not become dated. However, I noted that most of the works suggested for additional reading were from books from roughly the middle of the twentieth century. I am not sure how easily available to students these would be.

The notes are clear and concise. The reading and review questions address a variety of issues.

The four major units each start with Outcomes and end with relevant terms. Each section contains a variety of readings and similar treatment in terms of notes and reading questions.

A syllabus for British Literature could be set up in a variety of ways using this text. An instructor could use the primary sources with or without assigning the additional resources. More familiar texts can be paired with lesser known works. A day's assignment might be several short works, such as Medieval lyrics, or a work might be divided over several day, a Shakespearean play or Swift's novel.

This text moves smoothly through time from the early Middle Ages to the Eighteenth Century (There is an error with the dates for the last section, as noted above).

Bookmarks, if a reader knows how to use them, make this an easier text to maneuver through than it may first appear.

Although I did not read every word, I did not notice any typos other than the problem listed above with the dates in the section title.

This is a tricky question for a work such as this one. This a work focusing on the early period of literature in England. For the most part, this means the works will be those written by the authors of the time and place: white men. There is a good effort to include works by women, and the last selection is actually a slave narrative by Oloudah Equiano.

I think I've said everything above.

Reviewed by Sharon Grindle, Senior Instructor, Colorado State University on 12/25/19

The Table of Contents and introductory materials are excellent, and cover much the same ground as the comparable Norton Anthology; an index would make this text more accessible for a survey class making choices on which pieces to emphasize. read more

The Table of Contents and introductory materials are excellent, and cover much the same ground as the comparable Norton Anthology; an index would make this text more accessible for a survey class making choices on which pieces to emphasize.

I especially appreciate the contextualization of selected pieces in the chapter overviews, with more biographical and publishing detail provided in the selection preface.

One of the most common student complaints about this kind of survey course is its emphasis on white male authors, and I see that echoed in these textual selections and their contextualizing material. Kempe is notably absent, as is the infamous exchange between Swetnam and Speght. I also find the review questions on material such as Queen Elizabeth's speeches to emphasize content more than context or challenging the canon.

The text is straightforward and accessible, and constructed with student access in mind.

While I'll admit to not closely reading the entirety of this comprehensive anthology, it seems consistent in both tone and content. I may revise this element of my review as I teach with it.

This is a necessary component of designing this sort of text, and well executed.

There are elements of thematic organization within the larger chronological divisions.

No problems I noticed here.

Cultural Relevance rating: 3

Per what I already said about diversity of authorship and contextual notes: I do think this book could work harder to include a full range of early British authorship. This is an easier project with the later survey courses, but Britain was not a monolith before the Tudor period, and certainly isn't afterward.

Reviewed by Rachael Hammond , Lecturer, Shenandoah University on 7/31/19

Overall, the textbook delivers a solid and thoughtful compilation of works representing the time periods of this anthology topic. As some others have noted, Kempe could certainly be included. Some other topics and authors that could enrich the... read more

Overall, the textbook delivers a solid and thoughtful compilation of works representing the time periods of this anthology topic.

As some others have noted, Kempe could certainly be included. Some other topics and authors that could enrich the text might be: a more diverse selection of the Anglo-Saxon/Medieval poems, especially those that might present more surprising depictions of family and social relationships or relevance of the natural world ("Get Up and Bar the Door," "Deor, " "Seafarer," "Sir Patrick Spens," etc.).

I was surprised not to see more emphasis on ballads, as well, especially since they can add an important pivot to the second anthology. But, more importantly, some students might take only the early British Literature course. In this case, they might not really learn much about this important poem form, its origins, and its great influence on poetry and music to this day.

While the AS Chronicles are mentioned in recommended reading, they could be included, as well. In particular, some samples can be especially engaging to students and helpful for appreciating the scientific knowledge level and general mindsets of the times.

I also agree with some reviewers that Sidney could be more extensively included.

In addition, the editors might also consider including samples of Chretien de Troyes, in counterpoint to Marie de France, and perhaps William Langland, to highlight genre diversity of the Alliterative Revival.

Including another work by the Gawain-Poet/ Pearl-Poet could also strengthen this anthology.

Including more narrative poem sampling of Shakespeare could be thought-provoking, for both appreciating the Bard's range of skill and contrasting other authors' approaches to allegory, etc.

If including these suggested pieces is too cumbersome, perhaps they could be more prominently mentioned in the recommendations lists (they seem to lean more toward secondary sources).

In contrast, the amount of Herrick seemed unexpectedly extensive (though an e-book seems a good place to be more robust than scant).

The text includes a nice selection of riddles, a nice surprise given that too many anthologies seem to marginalize them.

The book seems generally well-edited and thoughtful. The unit and author introductions are quite strong. They are clear and full of solid, factual information.

The content seems solid and up-to-date. The overall structure is chronological--which is a clear, logical, and standard approach.

In some ways the sequencing within a unit might be improved if works of the same genre were placed back-to-back (such as placing a mystery play just before a morality play sample, for more explicit juxtaposition). That said, an ebook is easily navigated, and a professor should segue the course readings, as appropriate.

The unit introductions show great care in making the information easy to digest, whether a student is an English major or not. This book could also serve nicely for an honors high school course.

The comprehension questions and terms lists are also solid and helpful.

The text is logically structured. It follows chronological order. The terms are clarified within the introductory prose portions of the units. The follow up in the terms sections, at the unit ends, also supports student learning.

The text flows logically. Again, the chronological approach essentially provides a very logical order for teachers and students alike.

That said, a professor could also, with ease, approach the material through genre or thematic approaches without trouble. This text connects, rather than separates, the Anglo-Saxon and Medieval eras.

The material is generally provided in manageable portions.

The chronological sequencing makes for a very clear organization. The readings are sandwiched between clear introductions on the front end and reading comprehension and terms on the back end. The sequencing facilitates easy teacher planning and comfortable student learning.

Delineating the AS and Medieval portions a bit more clearly could help students who get overwhelmed, especially when tackling older versions of the English language. Doing more with side by sides (original and modern translations) could also help struggling students, for instance, in tackling the Gawain piece.

The interface is generally clear. The table of contents is standard and easy to use. An index would be a nice addition, however.

The images included are helpful, especially the maps. Including more images of actual places and illuminated manuscripts could help decrease student reading fatigue. Many students are acclimated to reading on screens, but they are perhaps accustomed to more breaks from text.

The headers are solid and logical, but transforming from a two-part to a three-part header could be very helpful. Right now the headers include the book title and unit name. Including the title of the work could be very helpful for students new to ebooks or for people in a hurry to get to a specific reading without bouncing back to the table of contents to find an actual page number to "hunt on."

Generally quite strong! -Maybe just a few glitches (punctuation of play titles sorts of things).

Overall, the text is solid. Editors might consider the placement of the last author, to avoid appearing as a "tack on." Perhaps some of the Shakespeare readings could add more to this area, as well. While the included comedy is a great reading for gender relations and communication studies, some of his other works could also address racial or religious depictions of the times more directly. Perhaps mining Chaucer a bit more thoroughly could also bolster this area, as well. Some ballads also deliver insights especially into the expectations and experiences of females of the medieval period.

Overall, an impressive book! The text could certainly serve quite well as a main text for an early British Literature course.

Reviewed by Carolyn Whitson, Professor of English, Minnesota State Metropolitan State University on 6/26/19

The book has some moments of deep comprehensiveness (Venerable Bede is presented exhaustively, with several chapters on details of political and theological minutiae that I have a hard time imagining being read in its entirety in a survey course),... read more

The book has some moments of deep comprehensiveness (Venerable Bede is presented exhaustively, with several chapters on details of political and theological minutiae that I have a hard time imagining being read in its entirety in a survey course), and at other times it seems to do "greatest hits," to the point of sacrificing breadth. We have a goodly amount of Chaucer, but no Margery Kempe or Caxton or male mystics, only a bit of Marie de France. "British Literature" seems narrowly construed--more writings of British explorers and colonizers/colonists would be helpful here. It's nice to see Equiano included at the end, but he feels tacked on, rather than integrated.

The text gives sound, general overview in the essays on the periods and the authors, but doesn't venture much. Compared to the standards in the field (the Norton, the Oxford, and Longman anthologies), the introductory features are quite brief, and avoid wading into current areas of interest among scholars. So, it's easy to be accurate when there isn't much level of detail.

I believe the anthology is constructed to be a standard for a number of years, mainly by following the deepest treads in the road. The introductory essays in the anthology could have been written at any time since 1985. There is acknowledgement of women authors, and one author of color, but other anthologies are more up-to-date and representative of the variety of authors in the period. I would use this for the classics in it, but would have to supplement if I were to teach a survey more in line with today's understanding of the discipline.

The introductory essays are quite clear and to the point. I really wish, however, that there were more guiding footnotes to the primary sources, as you find in the standard anthologies in the field. Where I am a little puzzled is in some of the choices for translations of the primary materials: I'm happy to see the Chaucer passages streamlined into more modern spellings and translations rather than just splatting out the Middle English for students to sink or swim in, but why does the version of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight have such scant consideration--it contains thorns and yoghs and "v"s used instead of "u"s, all with no guidance to the student about these things. This is completely out of character in comparison to other Middle English materials in the section. Because the Gawain poet uses a different dialect from Chaucer, and the Middle English Lyrics are translated to only have gestures toward "thou" and "speaketh," this seems very uneven in terms of clarity of text to students.

Please see my comments under Clarity. The choices for translations in the medieval section are not very consistent in their style of English and syntax, which I think would be quite frustrating to students. As well, the complexity/depth of the study questions vary greatly throughout the anthology. In some, like the Venerable Bede section, they seem more like reading checks than heuristics leading the students to a deeper level of understanding of the content.

As an anthology, this text is imminently modular. In fact, its chief virtue is its modularity. I would use this anthology as a free source for some of its better-presented texts: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Chaucer, Milton. But, for these very same authors, there are dedicated scholarly websites with much better supportive apparatus, so perhaps it would be better to say that there are sufficient modules in the aggregate that I would choose this text for the student to give her/him one document file as a source for several of these pieces.

Yes, this is clearly organized, but the nature of the genre makes this almost a given. The anthology is organized chronologically. It consistently has a general introductory essay to the period, and then a briefer intro for the specific primary sources. I wish that on the pages themselves the headers would tell the student where, specifically, in the anthology they are (instead of "Middle Ages" and page number, why not "Middle Ages, Author"?). As an ebook, the table of contents function is pretty rudimentary.

This is, as noted above, an effective, rudimentary organization of materials. There are very few bells or whistles, just the occasional link out to a website, some nice wiki-commons images of authors and frontispieces of manuscripts. The table of contents is basic. Not much innovative is ventured, so this functions effectively.

Yes, this anthology is well-proofread and the authors are professionals in their use of the English language.

The anthology is the embodiment of inoffensiveness. It makes a sincere effort at gender balance, has one author of color at the very end of the book, and is mum on any cultural issues that are hot-button topics today. It's not bad, but it is not as conscientious or detailed on these issues as the standard texts in the field are (the Longman, the Norton, Oxford and Cambridge). Any instructor with a commitment to reflecting current scholarship on these texts will have to bring their own training to bear on the anthology.

This is a fine free resource for instructors wishing to save students money, and who have their own pedagogical materials to supplement what is offered here to introduce the primary sources. The study questions in particular are suitable for high school or freshman students, but do not assist an instructor in giving an in-depth presentation of this very rich and complex subject matter. It is a workman-like anthology, and will allow the instructor to re-allocate student expenses to a few smaller, specific books for a course which otherwise would have been invested in an expensive industry-standard anthology.

Reviewed by Christina Francis, Associate Professor, Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania on 3/13/19

I was surprised to see a lack of any sonnets from Sidney, Spenser, or Shakespeare in the Tudor section of the anthology. In the 18th century section, I would have included Swift's "the Lady's Dressing Room," especially because Montagu's reply is... read more

I was surprised to see a lack of any sonnets from Sidney, Spenser, or Shakespeare in the Tudor section of the anthology. In the 18th century section, I would have included Swift's "the Lady's Dressing Room," especially because Montagu's reply is included.

I like the abbreviated lists of recommended readings and the learning objectives for each section. The questions for discussion could also be helpful.

While I have not combed through the textbook with a fine-toothed comb, I can say that perhaps a bit more work on consistency could happen. For example, within the Chaucer section the dream vision about birds is titled at least three different ways: Parlement of Fowles, Parliament of Birds, and Parliament of Fowles.

Another issue that may fall under accuracy is language, especially with the medieval texts. For example, the frontispiece on Chaucer does not discuss language at all related to the text. Clearly the texts have been translated to some extent but not fully, so this does not accurately represent the original piece. Some disclaimers about translation choices should be made. My sense from just glancing at the opening lines of the 'General Prologue' is that some words have regularized spelling, others have been fully translated into modern English, and still others are left alone or misspelled. Since there are no line glosses to clarify word meanings, this adds to the difficulty of reading this text in a classroom.

Due to the nature of the literature contained within this textbooks, the works contained within will never become out of date or obsolete. With a textbook such as this, the question is really about what may be excluded or included. For example, should more short prose pieces that give cultural context or more women writers be included? This is really a question of what you want you class to accomplish, and may be easily added to class content without much difficulty.

The textbook materials, the frontispieces for each reading, seem to be clearly written.

One of my biggest issues with this text is the lack of line numbers. Since most of the content is poetry, and presumably students would have to use these works in their writing, there is no easy way to direct readers to close reading of sections of the poem except by page numbers; this is inadequate for working with poetry, especially if students are expected to quote from works in their writing for a class.

Another glaring absence is footnotes throughout. While I understand that footnotes are editorial in nature, there are works for which these are fairly crucial, such as Milton's 'Paradise Lost.'

The structure and presentation of texts seems to be consistent.

The way the texts are sub-sectioned makes a lot of sense. I particularly like the division of the Tudor from the early 17th century materials. However, I would have liked to see the Middle Ages similarly sub-sectioned. This is an even longer swath of time with very distinct markers that separate the Anglo-Saxon materials from the High and Late Middle Ages.

It does seem like works would be easily extracted to build a smaller, more tailored anthology for a class. However, I could recommend that any new work start on a new page, so that extraction becomes even easier. For example, If I only wanted to extract "The Dream of the Rood," I would get the beginning of Beowulf on the last page. Since this is an electronic text, I don't believe there should be a concern for white space left on pages.

The sequencing of the works is logical and works well. When a work is excerpted, I would suggest that the textbook needs to indicate which selections are included. For example, 'Paradise Lost' is a very long work, but unless I scroll through the whole section, I would have no way of knowing that a particular book or portion of a book was not included in this anthology, as it is not indicated in the Table of Contents.

I appreciate the ability to move from the Table of Contents directly to a text by clicking on the title. However, other potential navigation functions beyond Go To # would be helpful: it's a large text which means a lot of scrolling (the scrolling enhances of the difficulty of close reading, as there are no line numbers to help readers get to precisely where they might want to be in a poem).

I did not notice an egregious number of errors.

This is a difficult thing for this course material to accomplish well. It's difficult to move away from a class with texts mostly written by old white men. However, the content does include text written by women for every period covered.

I appreciate the work that this book demonstrates, and I also appreciate the use of images throughout to help illustrate relevant concepts, individuals, etc.

Reviewed by Christopher Fee, Professor, Gettysburg College on 3/11/19

The range of texts offered in this compilation is relatively good, with some notable exceptions: Margery Kemp, for example, is traditionally taught in tandem with Julian of Norwich; although all anthologies must make difficult choices in this... read more

The range of texts offered in this compilation is relatively good, with some notable exceptions: Margery Kemp, for example, is traditionally taught in tandem with Julian of Norwich; although all anthologies must make difficult choices in this regard, it is notable when such a strong woman’s voice is excised from a collection already top-heavy with men. In general, however, the compilers make a good effort at providing a useful range of authors and texts. The editions selected were chosen, evidently, because they are not protected by copyright, which is a double-edged sword: It is extremely valuable to offer such texts for free to students, of course, but out-of-date translations and editions do not benefit from recent scholarship, however, and may contain language and embody preconceptions that could prove problematic if presented to students without any sort of context. The apparent lack of a glossary, index, or marginal glosses is a particularly troubling aspect of this text, especially as regards the earlier selections; while it is true that Chaucer may be read without notes or glosses, it’s not always easy, and it could prove very difficult indeed for Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, which is often taught in translation specifically because the dialect is much more difficult than that of Chaucer for a modern reader. While the inclusion of a Middle English version of Sir Gawain could be laudable given the appropriate editorial apparatus to provide support to students, as it is presented in this compilation, many readers may find it close to unintelligible. Even Shakespeare, it should be noted, is generally taught in editions with helpful notes and margin glosses, and it is notable when these are entirely absent. It would seem most fair, in any case, to make all the original publication data of each included text readily available, as it is, for example, in the Norton editions. The manuscript illustration provided for Sir Gawain is a case in point of the weak attempt to identify the source of images. These may be freely available for use, but that is no reason not to inform students of the ultimate source of a given image, in that particular case MS. Cotton Nero AX f. 94, if memory serves. The introductory materials attempt a solid if elementary overview, and the suggested reading seems solid in most cases. The review questions are relatively helpful, as well, if not particularly challenging.

No obvious errors in fact leap out at the reader.

The selection of texts will likely stand the test of time for some years, although the editorial commentary, the suggested readings, and the review questions may more quickly become dated.

The editorial text is clear and entirely accessible; some of the earlier selections, however, would greatly benefit from marginal glosses and footnotes to benefits students who one would generally assume to have little conversance with earlier forms of English.

The entire work is logically and consistently arranged, and the editorial writing seems to have been conceived of as a coherent whole.

This compilation is arranged very much along the lines of a classic literary anthology, and should present no obstacles in that regard to either instructors or students.

From the perspective of one trained in traditional methods of teaching literature in a period-based fashion, this compilation is organized intuitively; this is not to say that such collections cannot be criticized on this basis, but merely to acknowledge that the compilers seem to have had the needs of the traditional survey course in mind when they designed this text.

The text seems free of major navigational, distortion, or display problems; that said, it is not particularly easy to move around in quickly, and the reader may find that jumping around from place to place in a given text or from text to text is most easily done by returning to the Table of Contents, which is interactive. The lack of line numbers for poetry is close to a fatal flaw in terms of in-class rapid navigation of texts, however, and seems an odd omission for a classroom teacher to make: In a day and age of multiple electronic versions of texts on phones and other screens as well as on paper, line numbers become the one anchor point bringing together many class discussions. Even when the translations and editions differ, everyone in a class can find the same place quickly, and indeed, the adroit instructor may use to her advantage such differences to engage students in productive discussions of the nature and implicit biases of various versions of a given text.

The text seems free of major obvious grammatical or typographical errors.

The text makes a reasonable attempt at inclusiveness; as compared to other anthologies, it is reasonably successful in this attempt, and is not overtly offensive or insensitive in any obvious way, although the employment of older, out-of-copyright editions is always a bit risky in this regard.

In short, this collection is an admirable and useful attempt to provide an open-source anthology for traditional surveys of early British literature. Its shortcomings include a lack of helpful footnotes and glosses for earlier forms of English, a lack of full and obvious attribution of the editions used as sources, a lack of line numbers for poetry, and a functional but clunky interface.

Reviewed by Alexis Butzner, Instructor, Chemeketa Community College on 3/2/19

The editors have done an admirable job of selecting key authors from each period, though some notables absences remain (for instance, significant female authors like Margery Kempe, Lady Mary Wroth, Katherine Phillips). The choice to include full... read more

The editors have done an admirable job of selecting key authors from each period, though some notables absences remain (for instance, significant female authors like Margery Kempe, Lady Mary Wroth, Katherine Phillips). The choice to include full versions of most provided texts is bold and often helpful, as in the case of the provided novels. However, it might not be the most useful for students—it is unlikely that undergraduates in a literature survey would gain more from reading the entirety of Bede’s Ecclesiastical History than they would from all seeing a wider range of early modern sonnets or medieval folk and fairy tale traditions. Similarly, the editors claim the importance of authors (like Francis Bacon) and texts (such as the King James Bible, which they refer to as “the most important publication of the age”) in chapter introductions without including them in the anthology.

No obvious errors in content.

The anthologized works tend to be important and will not themselves go out of date. However, recommended reading lists for each chapter are dated and often limited in scope. For instance, the list provided for the medieval period skews heavily toward Arthuriana; only one recommended text focuses on Old English literature (and is a primary text with an outdated apparatus), and most other texts are historical rather than critical. The list provided for the chapter titled “The Tudor Age” is also out of date, with the latest inclusion having been published in 1996—the only theoretical/critical angle presented is psychoanalysis, and the last book published on playgoing is Andrew Gurr’s 1987 Playgoing in Shakespeare’s London, which, while important, has been followed up by two more volumes from Gurr himself (in 1996 and 2000), as well as other important work by David Scott Kastan, Jean E. Howard, and Mary Bly. The editors also curiously choose to refer to the period as the “Renaissance,” though that term has been superseded by “Early Modern” for most scholars. The list provided for “The Seventeenth Century: The Age of Revolution” lacks several key texts that explore and discuss the period as an “age of revolution.” In a subsequent edition, updates to this would be relatively easy, and it would be simple to keep updating it for student use in effective ways.

Clarity rating: 1

In many ways, the editors are more compilers than true editors. They present versions of selected texts that are no longer under copyright--and thus tend to not reflect modern usage--without any additional apparatus to guide students. While useful for ensuring the affordability of the textbook, this poses a significant problem. No vocabulary is defined, and no assistance is provided to aid in comprehension. Poetic lines are not numbered, making accurate citation of longer texts nearly difficult.

Translations of Old English are unattributed (and themselves use vocabulary that students would find difficult, but which are not defined) and students are given no clear notion of the original language (except in well-chosen images).

The editors include an unattributed translation of Marie de France by Eugene Mason (1954) which Peggy Maddox has demonstrated offers a “false impression...of Marie’s story” – and one which comes from an author who declares himself unconcerned with textual fidelity in translation (“Ravishing Marie: Eugene Mason’s Translation of Marie de France’s Breton Lai of Lanval” Translation Review 61.1 (2002): 31-40).

The chosen version of The Canterbury Tales seems to follow a version published, by D. Laing Purves, in 1874 “in nineteenth-century garb” for the “popular perusal” of an Edinburgh audience. This renders “Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote / The droghte of Marche lath perced to the roote” into “When that Aprilis, with his showers swoot, / The drought of March hath pierced to the root” this seemingly minor change has the consequence of making a reading of the original Middle English impossible, of making discussions of poetic meter difficult, and of not improving the comprehensibility of the language for modern students.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is the first text presented in its original Middle English. Unfortunately, the introduction to the text offers no indication of how students might attempt to read the difficult orthographical differences in the text, and again, there is no apparatus with definitions, translations or explanations.

As the texts move toward more recognizable English, the lack of an apparatus is less of an issue (though it would still be helpful in many cases), but for the early texts it makes for an impossible task for the undergraduate student.

Textual introductions are inconsistent: some feel like solid scholarly overviews of the texts, with relevant context and even (occasionally) references to scholarship; others are cursory and fail to define basic terms (“morality play”) for students.

The choice to label each time period a “chapter” makes for cumbersome reading and confusing learning outcomes. The outcomes listed in each chapter would require students to read and retain every work included in the anthology, which is unlikely to reflect how such anthologies are used. Similarly, the lists of key terms at the end of each chapter sometimes reflect names or terms quickly glossed over in the introductions, and sometimes reflect or concepts within texts themselves, but in any case would be difficult to fully define.

The text is organized chronologically, which is a standard and logical choice for an anthology of this type.

The text is presented in a clean and relatively easy to use interface. Students using the full PDF may experience difficulty in scrolling between sections, as the text jumped around during normal use.

The text contains no obvious grammatical errors. However, in multiple locations, the final section, which spans “Neoclassicism and the Eighteenth Century” is accorded the date range of 1603-1688, reusing the dates from the previous section on the seventeenth century.

The editors have endeavored to include a variety of authors where possible, a task which is difficult in some of the periods covered in the anthology. However some gaps remain, as in the first three “chapters” (through 1688), where other important female authors might have been included.

Many of the study questions are leading and filled with assumptions that could press students toward particular interpretations or prevent them from independent considerations, and these questions often rely on having read other texts in the anthology.

Ultimately, this is a solid compilation of previously-edited open-source texts, but it would fail to serve the needs of most undergraduates (even with significant additional material provided by a professor with content knowledge). The anthology could live up to its potential if revised in a way that updated the recommended readings to be more comprehensive and more recent, and if it provided significant textual apparati to help students in the comprehension of texts and the accurate understanding of their structural features.

Reviewed by Terry Riley, Professor of English, Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania on 1/26/19

The selection is comprehensive: predictable but extensive, at about twice the length of the corresponding volume in the Norton Anthology series. There is no index nor any glossaries. read more

The selection is comprehensive: predictable but extensive, at about twice the length of the corresponding volume in the Norton Anthology series. There is no index nor any glossaries.

Historical and literary introductions are accurate, clear, and up-to-date. Learning objectives and questions for discussion are useful if not exciting. I saw no evidence of bias.

These are all classic texts, and they will be relevant for a long time. Updates should be easy.

The introductions and other apparatus provided by the editors is clear and jargon-free, appropriate for college and senior high school students.

The book is laid out consistently.

I think students would get used to navigating the text is fairly short order. One moves from the table of contents either by using the hot links or by entering a page number at the bottom of the page; likewise one learns, or one can be shown, to go back to the table of contents by entering "iii" at the bottom of the page. One problem is that the reader can't "page around" as is possible with a paper book. This difficulty could be mitigated by putting the author's name and/or title of the work at the top of each page.

Organization is chronological, as is traditional with historical surveys.

No navigation problems as such, though as noted above there is a learning curve. No problems with the clarity of the images.

No grammatical errors.

No offenses.

The introductions to each major chapter are useful, but they can't cover enough of vocabulary and cultural context. Early modern English is full of words that look like modern English but have different meanings or connotations. Many young people today have little knowledge of the cultural and social structures of Medieval and Renaissance Europe. The import of such passages as The earl had had terror: comfort he got for it, Waxed ’neath the welkin, world-honor gained from Beowulf would be lost on most 21st century readers. The book lacks those footnotes and glosses that make the Nortons and the Longmans reader friendly. There are ways of compensating (e.g., the teacher could provide the glosses in some other medium). One would need to use the book to see if there are any problems that a one-time examination did not reveal. I have covered my few reservations here, and will add only that a British Lit I teacher who wishes to spare her students $50 - $100 ought to try this volume.

Reviewed by Jennifer Black, Lecturer, Boise State University on 1/4/19

This anthology contains a good collection of major texts from British literature from the Middle Ages to the 18th Century. Most of the most commonly-taught texts are included, along with helpful introductory essays for each section and... read more

This anthology contains a good collection of major texts from British literature from the Middle Ages to the 18th Century. Most of the most commonly-taught texts are included, along with helpful introductory essays for each section and explanations preceding each text. There are also relevant images that accompany many of the texts, which add a nice visual element to the anthology. A major strength of the anthology is that it includes the full text of several major works, including Beowulf, Doctor Faustus, two Shakespeare plays, Gulliver's Travels, etc., as well as excerpts of many other long texts. This anthology doesn't have quite the breadth of the Norton or Longman print editions, but it has a sufficient number and variety of texts for any British Literature survey course. The table of contents provides an effective index to the textbook's content.

The information in the textbook is mostly accurate, and the texts included are free from errors or typos. The texts represent the most familiar versions of these literary works, and the language is generally true to the original sources. There doesn't seem to be information included about translators of texts, especially middle English texts (like Beowulf), nor about which variants of texts are being used (e.g., quarto or folio versions of Shakespeare plays). So that is a significant weakness of the textbook, but the overall accuracy of the texts is sufficient for an introductory survey course.

The content of the textbook appears to be up-to-date and focuses on widely-accepted facts and interpretations of the various texts. Most of the information that might need to be updated appears in the introductory materials for each text, so it would be easy to locate and revise if needed.

The text does not appear to include many footnotes or explanations for obscure terms. The language for the introductory materials is very clear and comprehensible, but there are very few helps for students in understanding the primary texts included in the anthology. Students using this text would need access to a very good dictionary or online tools to help decipher some of the more challenging texts.

The structure and layout of the textbook is nicely consistent, which makes the book easy to navigate. There is a lack of consistency in the editing, since some texts retain early modern spellings and others have been modernized, so that might be a barrier for students. For instance, the passages from Spenser retain his archaic spellings, but Shakespeare's sonnets are presented in modern orthography, so students might get a false impression of the original language of the texts. Overall, however, the book is consistent enough for an introductory course.

The modularity of the text is generally strong. The texts are organized by authors and titles, but also include subheadings and other tools for keeping track of where you are in a large book. It would be nice to have some line numbers to use for reference, especially in texts where they were included in the original (like Paradise Lost).

The organization of the text is clear and understandable. The texts follow a general chronological order and are grouped together by author. The organization follows the standard format used in most British literature anthologies.

There are no noticeable interface issues. The images are clear, the texts are easy to read, the fonts are consistent, and the navigation is straightforward. Hyperlinks from the table of contents to the various sections of the textbook are a helpful feature of the book.

The book appears to have been carefully edited, so there are no noticeable grammatical errors. The writing in the introductory materials for each text is clear and professional. The only grammatical issue is the lack of consistency in editing between texts from different authors and periods.

The text makes a good faith effort to be culturally inclusive, to the extent that an anthology of early British literature can be. There are several female authors included, as well as a few from different races and social classes. There is certainly room for a little more diversity in the texts included, like perhaps adding some broadside ballads, but there has clearly been an effort to make this text inclusive.

This is a very helpful anthology for anyone teaching the first half of the British literature survey course. I especially appreciate the editorial materials included in the anthology, as well as the images that help provide a cultural context for the text. I hope to see more footnotes and line numbers in the next iteration of the text; at the very least, it would be helpful to have links to supplementary materials to explain some of the textual variants not represented in the anthology. But overall, this is a great resource for students beginning their study of British literature.

Table of Contents

Part 1: The Middle Ages

  • 1.1 Learning Outcomes
  • 1.2 Introduction
  • 1.3 Recommended Reading
  • 1.4 The Dream of the Rood
  • 1.5 Beowulf
  • 1.7 The Wanderer
  • 1.8 The Wife's Lament
  • 1.9 The Venerable Bede
  • 1.10 Anglo-Saxon Riddles
  • 1.11 Marie de France
  • 1.12 Middle English Lyrics
  • 1.13 Geoffrey Chaucer
  • 1.14 Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
  • 1.15 Julian of Norwich
  • 1.16 The Second Shepherds' Play
  • 1.17 Sir Thomas Malory
  • 1.18 Everyman
  • 1.19 Key Terms

Part Two: The Tudor Age (1485-1603)

  • 2.1 Learning Outcomes
  • 2.2 Introduction
  • 2.3 Recommended Reading
  • 2.4 Thomas More
  • 2.5 Thomas Wyatt
  • 2.6 Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey
  • 2.7 Queen Elizabeth
  • 2.8 Edmund Spenser
  • 2.9 Sir Walter Raleigh
  • 2.10 Sir Philip Sidney
  • 2.11 Mary (Sidney) Herbert, Countess of Pembroke
  • 2.12 Christopher Marlowe
  • 2.13 William Shakespeare
  • 2.14 Key Terms

Part 3: The Seventeenth Century: The Age of Revolution (1603-1688)

  • 3.1 Learning Outcomes
  • 3.2 Introduction
  • 3.3 Recommended Reading
  • 3.4 John Donne
  • 3.5 Aemilia Lanyer
  • 3.6 Ben Jonson
  • 3.7 Robert Herrick
  • 3.8 Andrew Marvell
  • 3.9 Margaret Cavendish, the Duchess of Newcastle
  • 3.10 John Milton
  • 3.11 John Dryden
  • 3.12 Samuel Pepys
  • 3.13 Key Terms

Part 4: Neoclassicism and the Eighteenth Century (1603-1688)

  • 4.1 Learning Outcomes
  • 4.2 Introduction
  • 4.3 Recommended Reading
  • 4.4 Aphra Behn
  • 4.5 William Congreve
  • 4.6 Daniel Defoe
  • 4.7 Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilsea
  • 4.8 Jonathan Swift
  • 4.9 Alexander Pope
  • 4.10 Henry Fielding
  • 4.11 Lady Mary Wortley Montagu
  • 4.12 Samuel Johnson
  • 4.13 James Boswell
  • 4.14 Olaudah Equiano
  • 4.15 Key Terms

Ancillary Material

  • Submit ancillary resource

About the Book

The University of North Georgia Press and Affordable Learning Georgia bring you British Literature I: From the Middle Ages to Neoclassicism and the Eighteenth Century . Featuring over 50 authors and full texts of their works, this anthology follows the shift of monarchic to parliamentarian rule in Britain, and the heroic epic to the more egalitarian novel as genre.

  • Original introductions to The Middle Ages; The Sixteenth Century: The Tudor Age; The Seventeenth Century: The Age of Revolution; and Neoclassicism and the Eighteenth Century
  • Over 100 historical images
  • Instructional Design, including Reading and Review Questions and Key Terms
  • Forthcoming ancillary with open-enabled pedagogy, allowing readers to contribute to the project

This textbook is an Open Access Resource. It can be reused, remixed, and reedited freely without seeking permission.

About the Contributors

Bonnie J. (B.J.) Robinson , Ph.D., is the Director of the University of North Georgia Press and a professor of English at the University of North Georgia. She has published scholarly works on late Victorian literature and Creative Writing pedagogy and served on the editorial boards of Turn-of-the-Century Women, The Walter Pater Newsletter, and The William Morris Newsletter. Dr. Robinson has won several publishing grants, including a National Endowment for the Humanities digital start-up grant on digital publishing in the Humanities.

Laura J. Getty , Ph.D., is a professor of English at the University of North Georgia. She received her Ph.D. in Comparative Literature at The Pennsylvania State University, and her areas of specialization are medieval literature, world literature, and mythology. Dr. Getty was the editor-in-chief of Compact Anthology of World Literature and a contributing editor for World Literature I: Beginnings to 1650 , both with the UNG Press.

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The 25 greatest British novels

what is british literature

BBC Culture contributor Jane Ciabattari polled 82 book critics from outside the UK, to pick Britain’s best novels ever – this is what some had to say about the top choices.

What are the greatest British novels ever written? In search of a collective critical assessment, BBC Culture contributor Jane Ciabattari polled 82 book critics, from Australia to Zimbabwe, Beirut to Seoul – but not the UK. We asked each to name the 10 greatest British novels ever published, with their top pick receiving 10 points in the tabulation. This list includes no nonfiction, no plays, no narrative or epic poems (no Paradise Lost or Beowulf), no short story collections (no Morte D’Arthur) – novels only, by British authors (no James Joyce). Here are the top 25. (Credit: Getty Images)

What makes a ‘Great British Novel’?

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A.P Beswick found success as an author through Booktok

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Omid Scobie on Newsnight

Royal race row naming not publicity stunt - author

Omid Scobie denies in a BBC interview claims a version of his book deliberately identified two royals.

Sophie Hannah

Cambridge author writes new Hercule Poirot novel

Crime writer Sophie Hannah has penned Hercule Poirot Silent Night, a murder mystery based in Norfolk.

The Booker shortlisted novels 2023 piled up

Find out about the Booker Prize winner and nominees

Discover the six novels that were in the running for the prestigious literary award.

Evolution @Vanderbilt

Twenty years of understanding genetics in literature and society.

Posted by flickaj on Monday, December 4, 2023 in featured .

By Andy Flick, Evolutionary Studies scientific coordinator

Jay Clayton , William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of English, first received funding from the National Institutes of Health to study genetics in literature, film and popular culture in 2003. According to the application, this first grant funded, “a working group of scholars in literature, film, and media studies to examine the representation of genetics in literary and popular culture.”

what is british literature

Twenty years later, it seems that Clayton has been extremely successful in developing a thorough understanding of this topic. In 2017, a group of researchers at Vanderbilt started the NIH-funded Genetic Privacy and Identity in Community Settings (GetPreCiSe) .

According to Clayton, “this grant brought together a transdisciplinary working group at Vanderbilt to articulate best practices for genetic privacy in the age of big data.”

Understanding how society views genetics has long been of interest to Clayton. In 2007, he published a single-authored paper (“ Victorian Chimeras, or, What Literature Can Contribute to Genetics Policy Today ”) about the passing of guidelines from the Institute of Medicine regarding DNA splicing. He showed how H. G. Wells had predicted such scientific developments in 1896 and foreshadowed some of the ethical concerns. He noted how several people, speaking at the guideline-development meeting, referenced scientific fictions including centaurs, minotaurs, and mermaids.

Since the GetPreCiSe program started, Clayton has showcased his commitment to mentorship by working with dozens of trainees under the program’s umbrella.

According to Department of English chair, Jennifer Fay, “Clayton coordinates a research group varying in size between eight to twelve undergraduates, graduate students, and postdocs who work on multiple projects. Under Clayton’s mentorship, numerous graduate students and undergraduates in the humanities have published as first-authors peer-reviewed papers (totaling more than 20 published to date).”

His work looks in depth at single pieces, like the Orphan Black series, single genres, like medical dramas, and even all genres of movies and television over the past 100 years.

Much of Clayton’s work is in the field of genetic privacy and he uses movies like the Blade Runner series to illustrate and study the intricacies of privacy. Along with first author Kendra Oliver (Ph.D. ‘16) and co-author Stephanie Higgs (MA ‘10, Ph.D. ‘16), the team published an article titled, “The End of Genetic Privacy in the Blade Runner Canon.” The team found that the Blade Runner series portrays a potential future where private information is collected and exploited with little regard for personal privacy rights, reflecting real-world trends.

When asked about the negative depictions of genetics in film, Clayton said, “some of the scary ways genetic data are handled in Blade Runner 2049 are easy to imagine coming to pass in our own society. Both the government and private corporations maintain vast databases that correlate every person’s DNA with their health record, consumer habits, driver’s license, criminal record, political and religious views, and more. Of course, the movie also has many science fiction elements too, like human clones created for work in toxic environments and off-world slave colonies!”

Additionally, Clayton was the senior author on a research paper in early 2023 titled, “ Autonomy and bioethics in fan responses to Orphan Black ,” which was co-authored by undergraduate researchers Ayden Eilmus (first author, BA, ‘21) and Avery Bradley (BA, ‘23). The TV show, Orphan Black , has unique engagement with its fanbase which encouraged online responses and fan-generated content, offering a distinct perspective on the portrayal of science and bioethical implications in the series. The team found that fans of the show actively participated in the process of interpreting and contemplating bioethical aspects, revealing a dynamic connection between how science is depicted in media and how viewers interpret its implications in the real world.

Along with first-author Lauren Furman (BA, ‘20), Clayton published a piece titled, “Genetics in Television Medical Dramas.” This study looks at American medical dramas on primetime television, which have been popular since the 1950s. These shows have gradually incorporated genetics into their storyline, with a significant increase in the number of episodes involving genetics since 2010. The pair found medical dramas increasingly focus on helping their characters manage genetic conditions. More illnesses are being attributed to genetics which is enabling in-depth exploration of genetic nuances and shaping viewers’ understanding of these issues in healthcare and society.

Clayton then took the research one step further with graduate student Ethan Gibbons (Ph.D., ‘22) and undergraduate researcher Isaac Stovall (BA, ‘21) to 100 years of television and movies across genres. Clayton and Gibbons were featured in a video created by Vanderbilt University Communications and Marketing and a story from Evolutionary Studies about the changing views on genetics in film and television. See the story to learn more about how popular format entertainment has evolved its use and understanding of genetics.

what is british literature

Clayton recently published an open access book, “ Literature, Science, and Public Policy: From Darwin to Genomics .” This book explores the role and changing voices of literature surrounding important scientific developments and how those changes influence public policy.

A quote in the final chapter reads, “[b]ut there is one pragmatic function of literature that this book has urged us to embrace, and that is the role that literature might play in dialogues about the values our societies hold dear at a time when the world needs such voices more than ever.”

The interplay of the arts and sciences is as important now as ever before. In fact, Evolutionary Studies is working with the Art Center at Vanderbilt to host artist residencies in labs. Clayton’s expertise in understadning and interpreting literature, television, and films as the role they play in society with an eye toward bioethics and the sciences is vitally important in supporting this development.

Fay added, “The very topic of Jay’s research brings together the spirit of ‘art + science.’ And his approach also highlights the ways that faculty, undergraduate and graduate research can be not only mutually rewarding, but equally productive. I am astonished at the research output of this project.”

Tags: Arts and Science , Arts and Science Research , Clayton , English , evolution , featured , genetics

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The 13 best novels (and 2 best short story collections) of 2023

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We hold these truths about year-end lists to be self-evident: 1) Taste is always subjective and thank the gods of criticism for that; and 2) a good list can be the first draft of posterity. The 15 selections below include some notable names but leave out many who received more hoopla on release. What’s left is a sampling of fiction at its best: revelatory stories of often invisible lives in Jamel Brinkley ‘s “Witness”; wild cross-genre inventions by Ed Park , Lauren Groff and Victor LaValle that make a beautiful hash of history; gems about love and loss by established masters Yiyun Li and Alice McDermott ; an alternate telling of George Orwell’s “1984” that arguably bests the original. You’d better read up now, because 2024 is looking pretty good too.

Best of 2023

Our critics and reporters select their favorite TV shows, movies, albums, songs, books, theater, art shows and video games of the year.

Mark Athitakis’ five best novels of the year

"The New Life," by Tom Crewe

The New Life By Tom Crewe Scribner: 400 pages, $28

Inspired by the story of John Addington Symonds and Havelock Ellis, two British scholars of homosexuality in a deeply homophobic Victorian era, Crewe’s debut is by turns lusty, elegant and deeply informed by history. (A substantial subplot involves Oscar Wilde ’s trial and imprisonment in the 1890s for “indecency.”) It’s a must-read for any fan of LGBTQ literature in general (and Alan Hollinghurst in particular), but its plea to “give abnormal love the same chance as normal love” is set in a story in which all romances are a touch quirky and kinky.

"Loot," by Tania James

Loot By Tania James Knopf: 305 pages, $28

James’ third novel and brilliant anticolonial critique (also a National Book Award longlist nominee) deploys a large cast of British and Indian characters. But its protagonist is a machine: an automaton of a tiger attacking a British soldier, built by an Indian artisan in the late 1700s. More than just a work of art — or a metaphor for an oppressed people’s revenge fantasy — the contraption becomes a bargaining chip in a desperate bid by Indian royalty to fend off British conquest. We know how that worked out, but James’ prismatic view of various players around the device is a revelatory, funny, richly detailed study of the ways colonialism worms its way into language, art and relationships.

An illustration of of musical notes bursting open a pop up book that shows NYC's skyline.

From Madonna to Barbra Streisand, it was the year music took over books

This year saw the formation of a new supergroup: books broke news about Madonna, Sly Stone, Lou Reed, Ella Fitzgerald, Barbra Streisand and even Bob Dylan.

Dec. 5, 2023

'Lone Women,' by Victor LaValle

Lone Women By Victor LaValle One World: 282 pages, $27

LaValle has built his career on genre mashups , tinkering with science fiction and horror tropes to explore race and relationships. ( An adaptation of his 2017 novel, “The Changeling,” debuted on Apple TV+ this fall.) “Lone Women,” his fifth novel, is his most audacious feat of stylistic blurring, using the western (we’re in 1910s Montana), crime story (Who burned down the farmhouse our hero has escaped?), racial study (its heroine is a Black woman on a very white frontier) and horror (What’s that rattling in the steamer trunk?). Unabashedly violent and plainly allegorical, the novel assembles an intriguing array of monsters, real and psychological, to provide a fresh take on familiar American mythologies.

"Same Bed Different Dreams," by Ed Park

Same Bed Different Dreams By Ed Park Random House: 544 pages, $30

Park’s mind-bending second novel is in large part an alternative history of Korea, enveloping radicals, assassins, politicians and more. (The story reimagines a secret “Korean Provisional Government.”) But Park also weaves in plot threads involving big tech and science fiction, and like a particularly feverish Philip K. Dick or Thomas Pynchon yarn, “Bed” is constantly questioning the nature of the reality we think we know. For all its far-flung experimentalism, though, the book is rooted in beautifully rendered characters, whose tales of separation and division mirror Korea’s own complex history.

"Commitment," by Mona Simpson

Commitment By Mona Simpson Knopf: 417 pages, $30

Simpson’s rich, melancholy family saga turns on the fates of three Southern California siblings trying to enter adulthood just as their mother’s worsening mental illness risks making them perpetual children. If the eldest son becomes an architect, can he build something that looks like safety? If the daughter becomes an artist, can she conjure up something that makes her mother whole? How much of what we inherit is in our genes, and how much is hand-me-down trauma? Simpson has been a deft observer of family dysfunction since her 1986 debut, “ Anywhere but Here ,” and “Commitment” is her at her best, keenly attuned to the pull family members have on each other — and how that pull changes over time.

A collage of Merle Dandridge, Alex Edelman, Joshua Bitton and Erika Soto in William Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing."

Entertainment & Arts

The year in theater: A time of struggle but with enough brilliance to sustain us

Alex Edelman’s ‘Just for Us,’ the genius of Stephen Sondheim and a Tony Award for the Pasadena Playhouse were among the highlights of Los Angeles theater in 2023.

Dec. 4, 2023

Hillary Kelly’s five best novels of the year

"Mild Vertigo," by Mieko Kanai

Mild Vertigo By Mieko Kanai, translated by Polly Barton New Directions: 192 pages, $17

Sing me the song of the housewife! An ode to laundry baskets and durable flooring, washed windows and the slick purity of the Western-style kitchen. “Mild Vertigo’s” first chapter concludes with an ode to the running faucet: Natsumi, the woman at the center of this Tokyo-set novel, “kept staring at it, and falling, again for some unknown reason, into a kind of trance.” If all this sounds intolerably retro, pay closer attention. Natsumi isn’t necessarily discontent, but she studies herself like a researcher in a lab. And as she roams her apartment complex, gossiping with neighbors and stalking the grocery store aisles, the novel turns into a brilliant example of “the literature of things,” an examination of how we revel in the domestic stuff of life. If the home is the center of our lives, Kanai seems to ask, why not put it at the center of our books?

"The Vaster Wilds," by Lauren Groff

The Vaster Wilds By Lauren Groff Riverhead: 272 pages, $28

Towering chestnuts, ice floes “squealing” as they break, “yellow and black birds diving into the grasses,” native people coated in “paint a half inch thick”: This is what a young runaway sees when she flees the desolation of the Jamestown Colony in winter 1610 and heads into the primeval American forest. Groff’s second foray into the historical novel ( her first,” Matrix,” about a community of nuns in 12th-century France, marked an extraordinary shift) is a close encounter with nature and a gonzo achievement of narration: The girl — sometimes called Zed, sometimes Lamentations — spends the entirety of the novel alone, battling the life-giving but punishing world and her own faith in a shape-shifting God. Groff keeps the tension high and the language ornate in this otherworldly rumination on what our planet might feel like if we believed in the divinity of nature.

'Biography of X,' by Catherine Lacey

Biography of X By Catherine Lacey FSG: 416 pages, $28

X is a novelist, a performance artist, a shape-shifter, and perhaps a con. She’s David Bowie and Marina Abramovic and entirely herself. Her name is a mark of absence and presence at the same time. She’s fictional, but Lacey animates her so fully that I’m half-convinced she might be alive out there somewhere. “ Biography of X ” is written from the point of view of X’s widow, CM, who is just as confused and curious as the reader about who her dead wife really was. And it charts X’s maneuvers through an alternate United States, where the religious right has turned the South into a kind of North Korea, and an art world that is just as obsessed with appearances as our own. This novel burns hot and never fades: It’s a new icon as amorphous and magnetic as X.

An illustration representing women saving Hollywood.

The year women saved Hollywood

Winning the box office, playing record-setting concert tours, rallying striking unions, shaking up TV: Women ruled pop culture in 2023.

"Terrace Story," by Hillary Leichter

Terrace Story By Hilary Leichter Ecco: 208 pages, $28

I’ve heard “Terrace Story” described as a parable about real estate, which may be true, but come on, people, think bigger. In this palate-expander for narration, a young woman named Stephanie discovers that she can stretch space with her mind. Her first target, at least as far as we know, is the apartment of her financially struggling colleague Annie: Stephanie “adds” a terrace and then promptly locks Annie out of it — and into a different dimension. The story unfolds from there like a long hallway connected to a series of wildly disparate rooms. We learn about Annie’s parents’ fractured marriage, Stephanie’s isolated adolescence and a suburban space colony. The push is about what can grow in the space between the real and the imagined; Leichter has stitched together a narrative that purposely, beautifully, doesn’t quite hang together, one where raw emotion rubs up against fantastical possibility.

"Love and Missed," by Susie Boyt

Loved and Missed By Susie Boyt NYRB: 208 pages, $18

Finally, a novel as happy as it is compelling, as beautiful as it is realistic. Admittedly, the premise sounds grim: Schoolteacher Ruth informally adopts her granddaughter Lily, rescuing her from her mother’s drug den and setting out to raise her right. Their life together is tinged with the absence of Lily’s mother, who only occasionally appears, thin-armed and scabby. But oh, the lightness and pleasure of Lily and Ruth, their keen companionship over tea and toast, quick trips to the seaside, plimsolls by the door. What keeps it so buoyant is Boyt’s glistening prose; like a candle in front of a mirror, it casts light in every direction. “The thick swoon of [love] ...,” she writes, “No dilution, everything directly beamed heat and light. Synchronised breathing, warm tessellated limbs.” This is the rare novel that brings equal amounts of solace and joy.

Bethanne Patrick’s five best fiction works of the year

"Wednesday's Child," by Yiyun Li

Wednesday’s Child: Stories By Yiyun Li FSG: 256 pages, $27

Released in September, this winner of the 2022 PEN/Malamud Award for short fiction lives up to its honors. Li’s characters endure so much pain — whether through grief, disdain, loss or anger — but her cool, often detached style turns that pain into an object, something solid to consider. One character notes that everyone tells a man threatening suicide that “he had many reasons to live. ... They would not accept it if he said that he had many reasons to die.” The author, who lost a loved one to suicide, knows that pain doesn’t follow neat trajectories — any more than her short stories seek easy endings.

A photo illustrations of art by Maxwell Hendler, Barbara T. Smith, and Keith Haring.

The 10 most memorable museum exhibitions of 2023

When 2023 began to unfold, pandemic-induced art museum cancellations and postponements seemed to be behind us, as programming mostly caught up. Here are 10 memorable exhibitions from the year.

'Take What You Need,' by Idra Novey

Take What You Need By Idra Novey Viking: 256 pages, $28

When Leah learns that her onetime stepmother Jean has left her a house full of ungainly steel sculptures, she travels back to the Southern Alleghenies with her family to assess her inheritance. Alternating between Leah’s present-day narration and Jean’s recent-past musings, the novel faces the truth about modern Appalachia, where needs of all kinds go unfulfilled and misunderstood. Jean has little education or sophistication but creates a world of her own through reading back issues of Artforum and by teaching herself how to weld. Leah, and readers, will slowly recognize Jean’s gifts.

'Witness,' by Jamel Brinkley

Witness By Jamel Brinkley FSG: 240 pages, $27

At first you’re reading the stories in Brinkley’s second collection and you think: “Look at that.” You gasp in sorrow, sympathy, even horror. Then you understand the trick of it, which is not a trick the author plays but instead the trick the truth plays on you: Reading these stories, you are no longer a detached observer, held back at a comfortable distance from human suffering. You’re a witness — to loneliness (the title story), hauntings (“Arrows”), abuse (“The Happiest House on Union Street”). You cannot pretend you didn’t see or understand, especially not when you’re reading prose as spare, elegant and thoughtful as Brinkley’s , the kind of writing that imagines an entire world while being inextricably part of our own.

"Julia," by Sandra Newman

Julia By Sandra Newman Mariner: 400 pages, $30

George Orwell ’s classic novel “1984” has long been shorthand for fear of a totalitarian future, but when Orwell’s son Richard Blair gave the greenlight to Newman (“The Heavens,” “The Men,” etc.) to write the authorized retelling of that novel, he must have known the story would be transformed. Newman’s version centers Julia, Winston Smith’s lover, and gives her a backstory, a surname (Worthing) and a motivation for getting involved with the furtive erstwhile protagonist in the first place. The resulting revision, which belongs on the very short bookshelf of posthumous spinoffs that equal or exceed the original, blazes a bleak, high-wire, ultimately hopeful arc toward a future that might allow for more than blind allegiance to Big Brother and a blind betrayal of those we love.

An illustration of a video game controller wire spiraling around an eye.

This year’s most poignant and powerful narratives were in video games

In 2023 the most mature, poignant and thoughtful narratives were in video games. Games such as ‘Venba,’ ‘Thirsty Suitors’ and ‘Super Mario Bros. Wonder’ showed the importance of play-driven narratives.

"Absolution," by Alice McDermott

Absolution By Alice McDermott FSG: 336 pages, $28

In her ninth novel, McDermott has an Irish-American protagonist as she always does. And as she always does, McDermott uses that character to illuminate an aspect of contemporary American life. Here, Patricia Kelly, a lovely young woman married to an ambitious Naval Intelligence officer, finds herself in early 1960s Saigon, where military and business interests keep a stranglehold over all social life and trailing spouses sometimes channel their unfulfilled ambitions in difficult and even dangerous ways. Without a single scene of jungle combat, “Absolution” eviscerates the systems behind the Vietnam War.

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  • Taylor Swift: Harvard's Version

Taylor Swift Course Crimson

In 2009, you couldn’t go anywhere without hearing Taylor Swift’s “You Belong with Me” on the radio, in grocery stores, and on TV. Harvard English professor Stephanie L. Burt ’94 still remembers the first time she heard it, describing it as so much “better” and “more compelling” than all the other pop songs that were playing at the time.

Fourteen years later, and Burt is still a diehard Swiftie. Her interest in Swift has followed her to the classroom. Next semester, Harvard’s English Department will debut the course “Taylor Swift and Her World,” taught by Burt. In this class, students will earn college credit for their deep dives into Swift’s lyrics, music, and influence, dissecting her catalog and reading a host of authors Burt finds relevant to understanding Swift’s artistry. Note: Contrary to the quotation included in the article, Professor Burt commented, "I do want to teach niche courses. But I don't want to teach only niche courses."  You can read more from  The Harvard Crimson   here . 

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  1. British literature

    British literature is literature from the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man, and the Channel Islands. It covers various genres and languages, including Old English, Anglo-Saxon, Latin, and Scots. It also includes works by Irish writers who have influenced British literature. Learn about the history, identity, and figures of British literature.

  2. English literature

    Learn about the body of written works produced in the English language by inhabitants of the British Isles from the 7th century to the present, covering drama, poetry, fiction, autobiography, and more. Explore the history, authors, and facts of English literature with Britannica.

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    Often referred to as UK literature, British literature primarily refers to all literature produced by British authors from the United Kingdom, which includes England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales, the Channel Islands, and Isle of Man. British literature includes works in Old, Middle, and Modern English, each of which represents a different ...

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    Page ID. 134556. Anonymous. LibreTexts. Thumbnail: Old book bindings at the Merton College library. (CC BY-SA 3.0; Tom Murphy VII via Wikipedia ). This page titled British Literature Through History is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Anonymous. PLEASE NOTE: This book is currently in draft form ...

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    Next semester, Harvard's English Department will debut the course "Taylor Swift and Her World," taught by Burt. In this class, students will earn college credit for their deep dives into Swift's lyrics, music, and influence, dissecting her catalog and reading a host of authors Burt finds relevant to understanding Swift's artistry.