British Literary Periods
Time Span, Terms, Movements, Examples
Beowulf 600-1200 Old English (Anglo-Saxon)
Geoffrey 1200-1500 Middle English
1500-1660 The English Renaissance
Humanist Era Thomas 1500-Tudor Period
More, John 1558
High Edmund 1558-Elizabethan
Renaissance Spenser, 1603 Period
Shakespeare Mannerist Style Shakespeare, 1603-Jacobean
(1590-1640) John Donne, 1625 Period
other styles: George Metaphysical Herbert,
Devotional Emilia Poets Lanyer
John Ford, 1625- Caroline Period John Milton 1649
Baroque Style, Milton, 1649-The
and later, Andrew 1660 Commonwealth
Rococo StyleMarvell, & The
John Dryden 1660-The 1700 Restoration
The Alexander 1700-The Eighteenth
Enlightenment; Pope, 1800 Century
Neoclassical Period; Jonathan
Swift, The Augustan
The Age of William 1785-Romanticism
Early, Middle Charles 1830-Victorian
and Late Dickens, 1901 Period
Victorian George Eliot,
The Edwardian G.M. 1901-Modern Period
Era Hopkins, 1960
(1901-1910); H.G. Wells,
D.H. The Georgian Lawrence, Era
T.S. Eliot (1910-1914)
1960- Ted Hughes, Postmodern Doris and
Lessing, John Contemporary
Fowles, Don Period
The English Augustan Age derives its name from the brilliant literary period of Vergil and Ovid under the Roman emperor Augustus (27 B.C. - A.D. 14). In English literature, the Augustan Age, 1700 - 1745, refers to literature with the predominant characteristics of refinement, clarity, elegance, and balance of judgment. Well-known writers of the Augustan Age include Jonathan Swift, Alexander Pope, and Daniel Defoe. A significant contribution of this time period included the release of the first English novels by Defoe, and the "novel of character," Pamela, by Samuel Richardson in 1740.
During the Age of Sensibility, literature reflected the worldview of Enlightenment and began to emphasize instinct and feeling, rather than judgment and restraint. A growing sympathy for the Middle Ages during the Age of Sensibility sparked an interest in medieval ballads and folk literature. Another name for this period is the Age of Johnson because the dominant authors of this period were Samuel Johnson and his literary and intellectual circle. This period also produced some of the greatest early novels of the English language, including Richardson's Clarissa (1748) and Henry Fielding's Tom Jones (1749).
The Romantic Period of English literature began in the late 18th century and lasted until
approximately 1832. In general, Romantic literature can be characterized by its personal nature, its strong use of feeling, its abundant use of symbolism, and its exploration of nature and the supernatural. In addition, the writings of the Romantics were considered innovative based on their belief that literature should be spontaneous, imaginative, personal, and free. The Romantic Period produced a wealth of authors including Samuel Taylor Coleridge, William Wordsworth, Jane Austen, and Lord Byron.
It was during the Romantic Period that Gothic literature was born. Traits of Gothic literature are dark and gloomy settings and characters and situations that are fantastic, grotesque, wild, savage, mysterious, and often melodramatic. Two of the most famous Gothic novelists are Anne Radcliffe and Mary Shelley.
The Victorian Period of English literature began with the accession of Queen Victoria to the
throne in 1837, and lasted until her death in 1901. Because the Victorian Period of English literature spans over six decades, the year 1870 is often used to divide the era into "early Victorian" and "late Victorian." In general, Victorian literature deals with the issues and problems of the day. Some contemporary issues that the Victorians dealt with include the social, economic, religious, and intellectual issues and problems surrounding the Industrial Revolution, growing class tensions, the early feminist movement, pressures toward political and social reform, and the impact of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution on philosophy and religion. Some of the most recognized authors of the Victorian era include Alfred Lord Tennyson, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, her husband Robert, Matthew Arnold, Charles Dickens, Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot, and Thomas Hardy.
Within the Victorian Period, two other literary movements, that of The Pre-Raphaelites (1848-1860) and the movement of Aestheticism and Decadence (1880-1900), gained prominence. In 1848, a group of English artists, including Dante Gabriel Rossetti, formed the "Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood." It was the aim of this group to return painting to a style of truthfulness, simplicity, and religious devotion that had reigned prior to Raphael and the high Italian Renaissance. Rossetti and his literary circle, which included his sister Christina, incorporated these ideals into their literature, and the result was that of the literary Pre-Raphaelites.
The Aestheticism and Decadence movement of English literature grew out of the French
movement of the same name. The authors of this movement encouraged experimentation and held the view that art is totally opposed "natural" norms of morality. This style of literature opposed the dominance of scientific thinking and defied the hostility of society to any art that was not useful or did not teach moral values. It was from the movement of Aestheticism and Decadence that the phrase art for art's sake emerged. A well-known author of the English Aestheticism and Decadence movement is Oscar Wilde.
The Edwardian Period is named for King Edward VII and spans the time from Queen
Victoria's death (1901) to the beginning of World War I (1914). During this time, the British Empire was at its height and the wealthy lived lives of materialistic luxury. However, four fifths of the English population lived in squalor. The writings of the Edwardian Period reflect and comment on these social conditions. For example, writers such as George Bernard Shaw and
H.G. Wells attacked social injustice and the selfishness of the upper classes. Other writers of the time include William Butler Yeats, Joseph Conrad, Rudyard Kipling, Henry James, and E.M. Forster.
The Georgian Period refers to the period of British Literature that is named for the reign of George V (1910-36). Many writers of the Edwardian Period continued to write during the Georgian Period. This era also produced a group of poets known as the Georgian poets. These writers, now regarded as minor poets, were published in four anthologies entitled Georgian Poetry, published by Edward Marsh between 1912 and 1922. Georgian poetry tends to focus on rural subject matter and is traditional in technique and form.
The Modern Period applies to British literature written since the beginning of World War I in 1914. The authors of the Modern Period have experimented with subject matter, form, and style and have produced achievements in all literary genres. Poets of the period include Yeats, T.S. Eliot, Dylan Thomas, and Seamus Heaney. Novelists include James Joyce, D.H. Lawrence, and Virginia Woolf. Dramatists include Noel Coward and Samuel Beckett.
Following World War II (1939-1945), the Postmodern Period of British Literature developed. Postmodernism blends literary genres and styles and attempts to break free of modernist forms. While the British literary scene at the turn of the new millennium is crowded and varied, the authors still fall into the categories of modernism and postmodernism. However, with the passage of time the Modern era may be reorganized and expanded.