Chapter 1 The Old English （Anglo-Saxon）Period·Beowulf·The Middle English Period Beowulf·The Middle English Period
Chapter 2 Chaucer·The Pre Elizabethan Period·More
Chapter 3 The Elizabethan Age·Spenser·Sidney·Marlowe
Chapter 4 Shakespeare·Bacon·Jonson·King James' Bible
Chapter 5 The 17th Century·Donne·Milton·Dryden·Bunyan·The Restoration Theater
Chapter 6 The Classic Age·Pope·Johnson·Gray·Goldsmith·Sheridan
Chapter 7 Movement toward Romanticism·Thomson·Young·Cowper, Crabbe·Blake·Bums
Chapter 8 18th-Century Fiction·Swift·Defoe·Richardson·Fielding·Sterne·Smollett
Chapter 9 The Romantic Period·Wordsworth·Coleridge·Scott·Austen
Chapter 10 Byron·Shelley·Keats
Chapter 11 The Victorian Period·Victorian Prose·Carlyle·Mill·Newman
Chapter 12 Victorian Fiction·Dickens·Thackeray
Chapter 13 Charlotte and Emily Bronte·Meredith
Chapter 14 George Eliot·Trollope·Butler
Chapter 15 Hardy·Gissing·Moore·Wilde·Stevenson
Chapter 16 Victorian Poetry·Tennyson·Browning·Arnold
Chapter 17 Clough·Hopkins·Edward Fitzgerald's Rubaiyat·The Aesthetic Movement
Chapter 18 Victorian Drama·Shaw·Wilde
Chapter 19 The Early 20th Century·The Edwardians·The Georgians·The War Poets
Chapter 20 The 1920s·Woolf·Joyce
Chapter 21 Lawrence·Yeats·Imagism·T. S. Eliot
Chapter 22 Poetry of the 1930s·Auden·The Audenic Group·Thomas·Empson
Chapter 23 Fiction of the 1930s·Huxley·OrweU·Waugh·Greene·Isherwood
Chapter 24 Postwar Poetry
Chapter 25 Postwar Fiction
Chapter 26 Postwar Drama
Notes and References
This book is a general survey of English literature. It is based on my decades of reading, teaching, and research experience in this literature and my acquaintance with the general tenor of the available literary criticism on it.
The general layout of the book roughly follows the critical notion that the major authors get the lion's share of the space while the lesser lights settle for less or nothing. The 26 chapters here offer a sketch of the major writers with some mention of those, though minor in stature, who have made a scratch on the rock of time in their way. Thus the survey discusses the Old English and Medieval English periods in two chapters, focusing on Beowulf and Chaucer; the Elizabethan period in another two, highlighting Christopher Marlowe and Shakespeare (as the great age is basically one of poetry and verse drama and the figure of Shakespeare towers so far above all the rest); the whole of the 17th century in one chapter, with Donne and Milton as the primary interests; the Classic 18th century in three, two on poetry and one on fiction, with Pope, Gray, Blake, and Burns in verse and Swift, Defoe, and Fielding in fiction taking up most of the coverage, and the Romantic period in two, centering on Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Keats. The Victorian period is a preeminent phase of English literary history, hi which many writers distinguish themselves in many divisions of literature. They vie vehemently for attention, and none seems able to overshadow the others. So this period takes up eight chapters, with Dickens, George Eliot, and Hardy in fiction, Tennyson, Browning, and Arnold in poetry, and Shaw in drama making a greater claim on time in the discussions.
Medieval Literature: A Brief Introduction4
The date that even a child of three in England is supposed to know is 1066, the year of the conquest of England by the French-speaking Normans. It was the year in which the Normans came under William the Conqueror, and the last Anglo-Saxon King Harold died with an arrow shot through his eye at the battle of Hastings. It was also the year that marked the beginning of the Middle English or Anglo-Norman period (1066-1400). The Norman line of kings sat on the throne for some 90 years and gave place to the Angevin kings (or the Plantangenets) in 1154. King Henry II and his descendants stayed in power for 245 years until they were superseded by the House of Lancaster in 1399 when the last of the Plantangenets, Richard II, was dethroned. This happened just one year before Chaucer died. Regarding this period there are a few occurrences of historic magnitude that should be kept in mind:
(1) The Establishment of the Feudal System: William the Conqueror did this effectively within a short space of time. He grabbed Anglo-Saxon land by force and gave it to his nobles and followers. These became lords of manors demanding allegiance from their Anglo-Saxon serfs and owed it to their immediate superiors. The hierarchy was a multi-tiered degradation with the king at the top keeping all the power in his hands. The relative peace that followed brought power and wealth and made the milieu congenial to the growth of art and literature.
(2) The 1381 Peasant Uprising: Within the system the nobles and the aristocrats had all the power and privileges while the serfs remained as wretched as ever. The widespread disaffection led eventually to the peasants' revolt in 1381 which was led by Wat Tyler of Kent and Jack Straw of Essex. 100,000 people marched on London, destroyed manor-houses, burnt court papers—records of their bondage, and demanded the abolition of serf slavery and a general pardon. Though it was eventually put down, serfdom died out gradually.
(3) The Completion of the Domesday Book (1086): Though undertaken as a tax-book or rent-roll to provide the king with an estimate of his resources, the Domesday Book serves also as a historical record of Anglo-Saxon institutions, customs, and way of life which would have otherwise been lost to time.