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Periods of English Literature

A Note on the Naming of Periods:



Periods in literature are named for rulers, historical events, intellectual or political or religious movements, or artistic styles. Most literary periods therefore have multiple names. What's worse, some of these names are debated. Is the later 17th Century the Baroque era? The term baroque is an intractable term derived from art criticism, though it may usefully be applicable to some writers as well. Is the early 17th Century the Shakespearean era? Is it the Mannerist era? How widely do we wish to apply the term Elizabethan period? Other questions arise. Does Romanticism begin with Wordsworth? With Blake? In addition, Romanticism has various dates according to the national literature we refer to. In the separate art forms -- music, painting, and even some literary genres -- the dates may vary yet more. Recent histories of literature and the latest Norton Anthology of English Literature offer the latest examples of terms applied to literary periods. My best advice is to use the relatively neutral names that refer to monarchs, political periods, and whole centuries. Then when you wish to emphasize what you are talking about, rather than by habitual use of the terms, use the more specialized artistic and intellectual adjectives. In the following table, I attempt to categorize some of the references generally used by English and American students of English literature, and to provide examples of chief works or authors for each period. I've avoided simply naming the Centuries, and I've not taken terms like Victorian to refer merely to the rulers -- although I do prefer to date Queen Victoria's death, with the changes it symbolized, as the start of the Modern era. Whereas Queen Victoria ruled from 1837 until her death in 1901, many scholars select 1830 as the beginning of the Victorian Period, and for two good reasons. In 1830, the world's first public railway system opened between Liverpool and Manchester, enhancing the trade and industrial development particular to the Victorian era. Also in that year, the Reform Parliament opened, which was to pass the Reform Bill of 1832, a bill which would far increase the power of the English middle class and thereby affect British class structure. This list is far less detailed than it might be, and omits details for periods surrounding the Renaissance.



Time Span, Terms, Movements, Examples
600-1200 Old English (Anglo-Saxon) Beowulf
1200-1500 Middle English Geoffrey Chaucer
1500-1660 The English Renaissance
1500-1558 Tudor Period Humanist Era Thomas More, John Skelton
1558-1603 Elizabethan Period High Renaissance Edmund Spenser,

Sir Philip Sidney,

William Shakespeare

1603-1625 Jacobean Period Mannerist Style (1590-1640) other styles: Metaphysical Poets; Devotional Poets Shakespeare, John Donne, George Herbert,

Emilia Lanyer

1625-1649 Caroline Period John Ford, John Milton
1649-1660 The Commonwealth & The Protectorate Baroque Style, and later, Rococo Style Milton, Andrew Marvell, Thomas Hobbes
1660-1700 The Restoration John Dryden
1700-1800 The Eighteenth Century The Enlightenment; Neoclassical Period;

The Augustan Age

Alexander Pope,

Jonathan Swift,

Samuel Johnson

1785-1830 Romanticism The Age of Revolution William Wordsworth,

S.T. Coleridge, Jane Austen,

the Brontës

1830-1901 Victorian Period Early, Middle and Late Victorian Charles Dickens, George Eliot, Robert Browning, Alfred, Lord Tennyson
1901-1960 Modern Period The Edwardian Era

(1901-1910);

The Georgian Era

(1910-1914)

G.M. Hopkins,

H.G. Wells, James Joyce, D.H. Lawrence,

T.S. Eliot

1960- Postmodern and Contemporary Period

Ted Hughes, Doris Lessing, John Fowles, Don DeLillo, A.S. Byatt




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 Last modified: 1/12/2000
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