English literature


English literature

Introduction

      the body of written works produced in the English language by inhabitants of the British Isles (including Ireland) from the 7th century to the present day. The major literatures written in English outside the British Isles are treated separately under American literature, Australian literature, Canadian literature, and New Zealand literature.

      English literature has sometimes been stigmatized as insular. It can be argued that no single English novel attains the universality of the Russian writer Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace or the French writer Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary. Yet in the Middle Ages the Old English literature of the subjugated Saxons was leavened by the Latin (Latin literature) and Anglo-Norman writings (Anglo-Norman literature), eminently foreign in origin, in which the churchmen and the Norman conquerors expressed themselves. From this combination emerged a flexible and subtle linguistic instrument exploited by Geoffrey Chaucer and brought to supreme application by William Shakespeare. During the Renaissance the renewed interest in Classical learning and values had an important effect on English literature, as on all the arts; and ideas of Augustan literary propriety in the 18th century and reverence in the 19th century for a less specific, though still selectively viewed, Classical antiquity continued to shape the literature. All three of these impulses derived from a foreign source, namely the Mediterranean basin. The Decadents of the late 19th century and the Modernists of the early 20th looked to continental European individuals and movements for inspiration. Nor was attraction toward European intellectualism dead in the late 20th century, for by the mid-1980s the approach known as structuralism, a phenomenon predominantly French and German in origin, infused the very study of English literature itself in a host of published critical studies and university departments. Additional influence was exercised by deconstructionist analysis, based largely on the work of French philosopher Jacques Derrida.

      Further, Britain's past imperial activities around the globe continued to inspire literature—in some cases wistful, in other cases hostile. Finally, English literature has enjoyed a certain diffusion abroad, not only in predominantly English-speaking countries but also in all those others where English is the first choice of study as a second language.

      English literature is therefore not so much insular as detached from the continental European tradition across the Channel. It is strong in all the conventional categories of the bookseller's list: in Shakespeare it has a dramatist of world renown; in poetry, a genre notoriously resistant to adequate translation and therefore difficult to compare with the poetry of other literatures, it is so peculiarly rich as to merit inclusion in the front rank; English literature's humour has been found as hard to convey to foreigners as poetry, if not more so—a fact at any rate permitting bestowal of the label “idiosyncratic”; English literature's remarkable body of travel writings (nonfictional prose) constitutes another counterthrust to the charge of insularity; in autobiography, biography, and historical writing, English literature compares with the best of any culture; and children's literature, fantasy, essays (essay), and journals (journal), which tend to be considered minor genres, are all fields of exceptional achievement as regards English literature. Even in philosophical writings, popularly thought of as hard to combine with literary value, thinkers such as Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, David Hume, John Stuart Mill, and Bertrand Russell stand comparison for lucidity and grace with the best of the French philosophers and the masters of Classical antiquity.

      Some of English literature's most distinguished practitioners in the 20th century—from Joseph Conrad at its beginning to V.S. Naipaul and Tom Stoppard at its end—were born outside the British Isles. What is more, none of the aforementioned had as much in common with his adoptive country as did, for instance, Doris Lessing and Peter Porter (two other distinguished writer-immigrants to Britain), both having been born into a British family and having been brought up on British Commonwealth soil.

      On the other hand, during the same period in the 20th century, many notable practitioners of English literature left the British Isles to live abroad: James Joyce, D.H. Lawrence, Aldous Huxley, Christopher Isherwood, Robert Graves, Graham Greene, Muriel Spark, and Anthony Burgess. In one case, that of Samuel Beckett, this process was carried to the extent of writing works first in French and then translating them into English.

      Even English literature considered purely as a product of the British Isles is extraordinarily heterogeneous, however. Literature actually written in those Celtic tongues once prevalent in Cornwall, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales—called the “Celtic Fringe”—is treated separately (see Celtic literature). Yet Irish, Scots, and Welsh writers have contributed enormously to English literature even when they have written in dialect, as the 18th-century poet Robert Burns and the 20th-century Scots writer Alasdair Gray have done. In the latter half of the 20th century, interest began also to focus on writings in English or English dialect by recent settlers in Britain, such as Afro-Caribbeans and people from Africa proper, the Indian subcontinent, and East Asia.

      Even within England, culturally and historically the dominant partner in the union of territories comprising Britain, literature has been as enriched by strongly provincial writers as by metropolitan ones. Another contrast more fruitful than not for English letters has been that between social (social structure) milieus, however much observers of Britain in their own writings may have deplored the survival of class distinctions. As far back as medieval times, a courtly tradition in literature cross-fertilized with an earthier demotic one. Shakespeare's frequent juxtaposition of royalty in one scene with plebeians in the next reflects a very British way of looking at society. This awareness of differences between high life and low, a state of affairs fertile in creative tensions, is observable throughout the history of English literature.

Ed.

The Old English (Anglo-Saxon literature) period

Poetry
      The Angles, Saxons, and Jutes who invaded Britain in the 5th and 6th centuries brought with them the common Germanic metre; but of their earliest oral poetry, probably used for panegyric, magic, and short narrative, little or none survives. For nearly a century after the conversion of King Aethelberht I of Kent to Christianity about 600, there is no evidence that the English wrote poetry in their own language. But St. Bede the Venerable (Bede the Venerable, Saint), in his Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum (“Ecclesiastical History of the English People”), wrote that in the late 7th century Caedmon, an illiterate Northumbrian cowherd, was inspired in a dream to compose a short hymn in praise of the creation. Caedmon later composed verses based on Scripture, which was expounded for him by monks at Streaneshalch (now called Whitby), but only the "Hymn of Creation" survives. Caedmon legitimized the native verse form by adapting it to Christian themes. Others, following his example, gave England a body of vernacular poetry unparalleled in Europe before the end of the 1st millennium.

      Virtually all Old English poetry is written in a single metre, a four-stress line with a syntactical break, or caesura, between the second and third stresses, and with alliteration linking the two halves of the line; this pattern is occasionally varied by six-stress lines. The poetry is formulaic, drawing on a common set of stock phrases and phrase patterns, applying standard epithets to various classes of characters, and depicting scenery with such recurring images as the eagle and the wolf, which wait during battles to feast on carrion, and ice and snow, which appear in the landscape to signal sorrow. In the best poems such formulas, far from being tedious, give a strong impression of the richness of the cultural fund from which poets could draw. Other standard devices of this poetry are the kenning, a figurative name for a thing, usually expressed in a compound noun (e.g., swan-road used to name the sea); and variation, the repeating of a single idea in different words, with each repetition adding a new level of meaning. That these verse techniques changed little during 400 years of literary production suggests the extreme conservatism of Anglo-Saxon culture.

The major manuscripts
      Most Old English poetry is preserved in four manuscripts of the late 10th and early 11th centuries. The Beowulf manuscript (British Library) contains Beowulf, Judith, and three prose tracts; the Exeter Book (Exeter Cathedral) is a miscellaneous gathering of lyrics, riddles, didactic poems, and religious narratives; the Junius Manuscript (Caedmon manuscript) (Bodleian Library, Oxford)—also called the Caedmon manuscript, even though its contents are no longer attributed to Caedmon—contains biblical paraphrases; and the Vercelli Book (found in the cathedral library in Vercelli, Italy) contains saints' lives, several short religious poems, and prose homilies. In addition to the poems in these books are historical poems in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle; poetic renderings of Psalms 51–150; the 31 "Metres" included in King Alfred the Great (Alfred)'s translation of Boethius (Boethius, Anicius Manlius Severinus)'s De consolatione philosophiae (Consolation of Philosophy); magical, didactic, elegiac, and heroic poems; and others, miscellaneously interspersed with prose, jotted in margins, and even worked in stone or metal.

Problems of dating
      Few poems can be dated as closely as Caedmon's "Hymn." King Alfred's compositions fall into the late 9th century, and Bede composed his "Death Song" within 50 days of his death on May 25, 735. Historical poems such as "The Battle of Brunanburh" (Battle of Brunanburh, The) (after 937) and "The Battle of Maldon" (Battle of Maldon, The) (after 991) are fixed by the dates of the events they commemorate. A translation of one of Aldhelm's riddles is found not only in the Exeter Book but also in an early 9th-century manuscript at Leiden, Neth. And at least a part of "The Dream of the Rood" (Dream of the Rood, The) can be dated by an excerpt carved on the 8th-century Ruthwell Cross (in Dumfriesshire, Scot.). But in the absence of such indications, Old English poems are hard to date, and the scholarly consensus that most were composed in the Midlands and the North in the 8th and 9th centuries gave way to uncertainty during the last two decades of the 20th century. Many now hold that "The Wanderer," Beowulf, and other poems once assumed to have been written in the 8th century are of the 9th century or later. For most poems, there is no scholarly consensus beyond the belief that they were written between the 8th and the 11th centuries.

Religious verse
      If few poems can be dated accurately, still fewer can be attributed to particular poets. The most important author from whom a considerable body of work survives is Cynewulf, who wove his runic signature into the epilogues of four poems. Aside from his name, little is known of him; he probably lived in the 9th century in Mercia or Northumbria. His works include The Fates of the Apostles, a short martyrology; The Ascension (also called Christ II), a homily and biblical narrative; Juliana, a saint's passion set in the reign of the Roman emperor Maximian (late 3rd century AD); and Elene, perhaps the best of his poems, which describes the mission of St. Helena (Helena, Saint), mother of the emperor Constantine (Constantine I), to recover Christ's cross. Cynewulf's work is lucid and technically elegant; his theme is the continuing evangelical mission from the time of Christ to the triumph of Christianity under Constantine. Several poems not by Cynewulf are associated with him because of their subject matter. These include two lives of St. Guthlac and Andreas; the latter, the apocryphal story of how St. Andrew fell into the hands of the cannibalistic (and presumably mythical) Mermedonians, has stylistic affinities with Beowulf. Also in the “Cynewulf group” are several poems with Christ as their subject, of which the most important is "The Dream of the Rood (Dream of the Rood, The)," in which the cross speaks of itself as Christ's loyal thane and yet the instrument of his death. This tragic paradox echoes a recurring theme of secular poetry and at the same time movingly expresses the religious paradoxes of Christ's triumph in death and humankind's redemption from sin.

      Several poems of the Junius Manuscript are based on the Old Testament narratives Genesis, Exodus, and Daniel. Of these, Exodus is remarkable for its intricate diction and bold imagery. The fragmentary Judith of the Beowulf Manuscript stirringly embellishes the story from the Apocrypha of the heroine who led the Jews to victory over the Assyrians.

Elegiac and heroic verse
      The term elegy is used of Old English poems that lament the loss of worldly goods, glory, or human companionship. "The Wanderer" is narrated by a man, deprived of lord and kinsmen, whose journeys lead him to the realization that there is stability only in heaven. "The Seafarer" is similar, but its journey motif more explicitly symbolizes the speaker's spiritual yearnings. Several others have similar themes, and three elegies— "The Husband's Message," (Husband's Message, The) "The Wife's Lament," and "Wulf and Eadwacer" —describe what appears to be a conventional situation: the separation of husband and wife by the husband's exile.

       "Deor" (Deor) bridges the gap between the elegy and the heroic poem, for in it a poet laments the loss of his position at court by alluding to sorrowful stories from Germanic legend. Beowulf itself narrates the battles of Beowulf, a prince of the Geats (a tribe in what is now southern Sweden), against the monstrous Grendel, Grendel's mother, and a fire-breathing dragon. The account contains some of the best elegiac verse in the language, and, by setting marvelous tales against a historical background in which victory is always temporary and strife is always renewed, the poet gives the whole an elegiac cast. Beowulf also is one of the best religious poems, not only because of its explicitly Christian passages but also because Beowulf's monstrous foes are depicted as God's enemies and Beowulf himself as God's champion. Other heroic narratives are fragmentary. Of "The Battle of Finnsburh" and "Waldere" only enough remains to indicate that, when whole, they must have been fast-paced and stirring.

      Of several poems dealing with English history and preserved in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, the most notable is "The Battle of Brunanbur (Battle of Brunanburh, The)h," a panegyric on the occasion of King Athelstan's victory over a coalition of Norsemen and Scots in 937. But the best historical poem is not from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. "The Battle of Maldon (Battle of Maldon, The)," which describes the defeat of Aldorman Byrhtnoth and much of his army at the hands of Viking invaders in 991, discovers in defeat an occasion to celebrate the heroic ideal, contrasting the determination of many of Byrhtnoth's thanes to avenge his death or die in the attempt with the cowardice of others who left the field. Minor poetic genres include catalogs (two sets of "Maxims" and "Widsith," a list of rulers, tribes, and notables in the heroic age), dialogues, metrical prefaces and epilogues to prose works of the Alfredian period, and liturgical poems associated with the Benedictine Office.

Prose
 The earliest English prose work, the law code of King Aethelberht I of Kent, was written within a few years of the arrival in England (597) of St. Augustine of Canterbury (Augustine of Canterbury, Saint). Other 7th- and 8th-century prose, similarly practical in character, includes more laws, wills, and charters. According to Cuthbert, who was a monk at Jarrow, Bede at the time of his death had just finished a translation of the Gospel of St. John, though this does not survive. Two medical tracts, Herbarium and Medicina de quadrupedibus, very likely date from the 8th century.

Early translations into English
      The earliest literary prose dates from the late 9th century, when King Alfred, eager to improve the state of English learning, led a vigorous program to translate into English “certain books that are necessary for all men to know.” Alfred himself translated the Pastoral Care of St. Gregory I the Great (Gregory I, Saint), the Consolation of Philosophy of Boethius, the Soliloquies of St. Augustine of Hippo (Augustine, Saint), and the first 50 Psalms. His Pastoral Care is a fairly literal translation, but his Boethius is extensively restructured and revised to make explicit the Christian message that medieval commentators saw in that work. He revised the Soliloquies even more radically, departing from his source to draw from Gregory and St. Jerome, as well as from other works by Augustine. Alfred's prefaces to these works are of great historical interest.

      At Alfred's urging, Bishop Werferth of Worcester translated the Dialogues of Gregory; probably Alfred also inspired anonymous scholars to translate Bede's Historia ecclesiastica and Paulus Orosius (Orosius, Paulus)'s Historiarum adversum paganos libri vii (Seven Books of History Against the Pagans). Both of these works are much abridged; the Bede translation follows its source slavishly, but the translator of Orosius added many details of northern European geography and also accounts of the voyages of Ohthere the Norwegian and Wulfstan the Dane. These accounts, in addition to their geographical interest, show that friendly commerce between England and Scandinavia was possible even during the Danish wars. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle probably originated in Alfred's reign. Its earliest annals (beginning in the reign of Julius Caesar) are laconic, except the entry for 755, which records in detail a feud between the West Saxon king Cynewulf and the would-be usurper Cyneheard. The entries covering the Danish wars of the late 9th century are much fuller, and those running from the reign of Ethelred II to the Norman Conquest in 1066 (when the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle exists in several versions) contain many passages of excellent writing. The early 10th century is not notable for literary production, but some of the homilies in the Vercelli Book and the Blickling Manuscript (Scheide Library, Princeton University) may belong to that period.

Late 10th- and 11th-century prose
      The prose literature of the mid- to late 10th century is associated with the Benedictine Reform, a movement that sought to impose order and discipline on a monastic establishment that was thought to have grown lax. Aethelwold, bishop of Winchester and one of the leaders of the reform, translated the Rule of St. Benedict. But the greatest and most prolific writer of this period was his pupil Aelfric, a monk at Cerne and later abbot of Eynsham, whose works include three cycles of 40 homilies each (Catholic Homilies, 2 vol., and the Lives of the Saints), as well as homilies not in these cycles; a Latin grammar; a treatise on time and natural history; pastoral letters; and several translations. His Latin Colloquy, supplied with an Old English version by an anonymous glossarist, gives a fascinating glimpse into the Anglo-Saxon monastic classroom. Aelfric wrote with lucidity and astonishing beauty, using the rhetorical devices of Latin literature frequently but without ostentation; his later alliterative prose, which loosely imitates the rhythms of Old English poetry, influenced writers long after the Norman Conquest. Wulfstan, archbishop of York, wrote legal codes, both civil and ecclesiastical, and a number of homilies, including Sermo Lupi ad Anglos (“Wulf's Address to the English”), a ferocious denunciation of the morals of his time. To judge from the number of extant manuscripts, these two writers were enormously popular. Byrhtferth of Ramsey wrote several Latin works and the Enchiridion, a textbook on the calendar, notable for its ornate style. Numerous anonymous works, some of very high quality, were produced in this period, including homilies, saints' lives, dialogues, and translations of such works as the Gospels, several Old Testament books, liturgical texts, monastic rules, penitential handbooks, and the romance Apollonius of Tyre (translated from Latin but probably derived from a Greek original). The works of the Benedictine Reform were written during a few remarkable decades around the turn of the millennium. Little original work can be securely dated to the period after Wulfstan's death (1023), but the continued vigour of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle shows that good Old English prose was written right up to the Norman Conquest. By the end of this period, English had been established as a literary language with a polish and versatility unequaled among European vernaculars.

The early Middle English period

Poetry
      The Norman Conquest worked no immediate transformation on either the language or the literature of the English. Older poetry continued to be copied during the last half of the 11th century; two poems of the early 12th century— "Durham," which praises that city's cathedral and its relics, and "Instructions for Christians," a didactic piece—show that correct alliterative verse could be composed well after 1066. But even before the conquest, rhyme had begun to supplant rather than supplement alliteration in some poems, which continued to use the older four-stress line, although their rhythms varied from the set types used in classical Old English verse. A postconquest example is "The Grave," which contains several rhyming lines; a poem from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle on the death of William the Conqueror (William I), lamenting his cruelty and greed, has more rhyme than alliteration.

Influence of French (French literature) poetry
      By the end of the 12th century, English poetry had been so heavily influenced by French models that such a work as the long epic Brut (c. 1200) by Lawamon, a Worcestershire priest, seems archaic for mixing alliterative lines with rhyming couplets while generally eschewing French vocabulary. The Brut draws mainly upon Wace's Anglo-Norman Roman de Brut (1155; based in turn upon Geoffrey Of Monmouth's Historia regum Britanniae [History of the Kings of Britain]), but in Lawamon's hands the Arthurian story takes on a Germanic and heroic flavour largely missing in Wace. The Brut exists in two manuscripts, one written shortly after 1200 and the other some 50 years later. That the later version has been extensively modernized and somewhat abridged suggests the speed with which English language and literary tastes were changing in this period. The Proverbs of Alfred was written somewhat earlier, in the late 12th century; these proverbs deliver conventional wisdom in a mixture of rhymed couplets and alliterative lines, and it is hardly likely that any of the material they contain actually originated with the king whose wisdom they celebrate. The early 13th-century Bestiary mixes alliterative lines, three- and four-stress couplets, and septenary (heptameter) lines, but the logic behind this mix is more obvious than in the Brut and the Proverbs, for the poet was imitating the varied metres of his Latin source. More regular in form than these poems is the anonymous Poema morale in septenary couplets, in which an old man delivers a dose of moral advice to his presumably younger audience.

      By far the most brilliant poem of this period is The Owl and the Nightingale (written after 1189), an example of the popular debate genre. The two birds argue topics ranging from their hygienic habits, looks, and songs to marriage, prognostication, and the proper modes of worship. The nightingale stands for the joyous aspects of life, the owl for the sombre; there is no clear winner, but the debate ends as the birds go off to state their cases to one Nicholas of Guildford, a wise man. The poem is learned in the clerical tradition but wears its learning lightly as the disputants speak in colloquial and sometimes earthy language. Like the Poema morale, The Owl and the Nightingale is metrically regular (octosyllabic couplets), but it uses the French metre with an assurance unusual in so early a poem.

Didactic poetry
      The 13th century saw a rise in the popularity of long didactic poems presenting biblical narrative, saints' lives, or moral instruction for those untutored in Latin or French. The most idiosyncratic of these is the Ormulum by Orm, an Augustinian canon in the north of England. Written in some 20,000 lines arranged in unrhymed but metrically rigid couplets, the work is interesting mainly in that the manuscript that preserves it is Orm's autograph and shows his somewhat fussy efforts to reform and regularize English spelling. Other biblical paraphrases are Genesis and Exodus, Jacob and Joseph, and the vast Cursor mundi, whose subject, as its title suggests, is the history of the world. An especially popular work was the South English Legendary, which began as a miscellaneous collection of saints' lives but was expanded by later redactors and rearranged in the order of the church calendar. The didactic tradition continued into the 14th century with Robert Mannyng (Mannyng, Robert)'s Handling Sin, a confessional manual whose expected dryness is relieved by the insertion of lively narratives, and the Prick of Conscience, a popular summary of theology sometimes attributed to the mystic Richard Rolle.

      The earliest examples of verse romance, a genre that would remain popular through the Middle Ages, appeared in the 13th century. King Horn and Floris and Blauncheflour both are preserved in a manuscript of about 1250. King Horn, oddly written in short two- and three-stress lines, is a vigorous tale of a kingdom lost and regained, with a subplot concerning Horn's love for Princess Rymenhild. Floris and Blauncheflour is more exotic, being the tale of a pair of royal lovers who become separated and, after various adventures in eastern lands, reunited. Not much later than these is The Lay of Havelok the Dane, a tale of princely love and adventure similar to King Horn but more competently executed. Many more such romances were produced in the 14th century. Popular subgenres were “the matter of Britain” (Arthurian romances such as Of Arthour and of Merlin and Ywain and Gawain), “the matter of Troy” (tales of antiquity such as The Siege of Troy and King Alisaunder), and the English Breton lays (stories of otherworldly magic, such as Lai le Freine and Sir Orfeo, modeled after those of professional Breton storytellers). These relatively unsophisticated works were written for a bourgeois audience, and the manuscripts that preserve them are early examples of commercial book production. The humorous beast epic makes its first appearance in Britain in the 13th century with The Fox and the Wolf, taken indirectly from the Old French Roman de Renart. In the same manuscript with this work is Dame Sirith, the earliest English fabliau. Another sort of humour is found in The Land of Cockaygne, which depicts a utopia better than heaven, where rivers run with milk, honey, and wine, geese fly about already roasted, and monks hunt with hawks and dance with nuns.

The lyric
      The lyric was virtually unknown to Old English poets. Poems such as "Deor" and "Wulf and Eadwacer," which have been called lyrics, are thematically different from those that began to circulate orally in the 12th century and to be written down in great numbers in the 13th; these Old English poems also have a stronger narrative component than the later productions. The most frequent topics in the Middle English secular lyric are springtime and romantic love; many rework such themes tediously, but some, such as "Foweles in the frith" (13th century) and "Ich am of Irlaunde" (14th century), convey strong emotions in a few lines. Two lyrics of the early 13th century, "Mirie it is while sumer ilast" and "Sumer is icumen in," are preserved with musical settings, and probably most of the others were meant to be sung. The dominant mood of the religious lyrics is passionate: the poets sorrow for Christ on the cross and for the Virgin Mary, celebrate the “five joys” of Mary, and import language from love poetry to express religious devotion. Excellent early examples are "Nou goth sonne under wod" and "Stond wel, moder, ounder rode." Many of the lyrics are preserved in manuscript anthologies, of which the best is British Library manuscript Harley 2253 from the early 14th century. In this collection, known as the Harley Lyrics, the love poems, such as "Alysoun" and "Blow, Northern Wind," take after the poems of the Provençal troubadours but are less formal, less abstract, and more lively. The religious lyrics also are of high quality; but the most remarkable of the Harley Lyrics, "The Man in the Moon," far from being about love or religion, imagines the man in the Moon as a simple peasant, sympathizes with his hard life, and offers him some useful advice on how to best the village hayward (a local officer in charge of a town's common herd of cattle).

      A poem such as "The Man in the Moon" serves as a reminder that, although the poetry of the early Middle English period was increasingly influenced by the Anglo-Norman literature produced for the courts, it is seldom “courtly.” Most English poets, whether writing about kings or peasants, looked at life from a bourgeois perspective. If their work sometimes lacks sophistication, it nevertheless has a vitality that comes from preoccupation with daily affairs.

Prose
      Old English prose texts were copied for more than a century after the Norman Conquest; the homilies of Aelfric were especially popular, and King Alfred's translations of Boethius and Augustine survive only in 12th-century manuscripts. In the early 13th century an anonymous worker at Worcester supplied glosses to certain words in a number of Old English manuscripts, which demonstrates that by this time the older language was beginning to pose difficulties for readers.

      The composition of English prose also continued without interruption. Two manuscripts of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle exhibit very strong prose for years after the conquest, and one of these, the Peterborough Chronicle, continues to 1154. Two manuscripts of about 1200 contain 12th-century sermons, and another has the workmanlike compilation Vices and Virtues, composed about 1200. But the English language faced stiff competition from both Anglo-Norman (the insular dialect of French being used increasingly in the monasteries) and Latin, a language intelligible to speakers of both English and French. It was inevitable, then, that the production of English prose should decline in quantity, if not in quality. The great prose works of this period were composed mainly for those who could read only English—women especially. In the West Midlands the Old English alliterative prose tradition remained very much alive into the 13th century, when the several texts known collectively as the Katherine Group were written. St. Katherine, St. Margaret, and St. Juliana, found together in a single manuscript, have rhythms strongly reminiscent of those of Aelfric and Wulfstan. So to a lesser extent do Hali Meithhad (“Holy Maidenhood”) and Sawles Warde (“The Guardianship of the Soul”) from the same book, but newer influences can be seen in these works as well: as the title of another devotional piece, The Wohunge of Ure Lauerd (“The Wooing of Our Lord”), suggests, the prose of this time often has a rapturous, even sensual flavour, and, like the poetry, it frequently employs the language of love to express religious fervour.

      Further removed from the Old English prose tradition, though often associated with the Katherine Group, is the Ancrene Wisse (“Guide for Anchoresses,” also known as the Ancrene Riwle, or “Rule for Anchoresses”), a manual for the guidance of women recluses outside the regular orders. This anonymous work, which was translated into French and Latin and remained popular until the 16th century, is notable for its humanity, practicality, and insight into human nature but even more for its brilliant style. Like the other prose of its time, it uses alliteration as ornament, but it is more indebted to new fashions in preaching, which had originated in the universities, than to native traditions. With its richly figurative language, rhetorically crafted sentences, and carefully logical divisions and subdivisions, it manages to achieve in English the effects that such contemporary writers as John Of Salisbury and Walter Map (Map, Walter) were striving for in Latin.

      Little noteworthy prose was written in the late 13th century. In the early 14th century Dan Michel of Northgate produced in Kentish the Ayenbite of Inwit (“Prick of Conscience”), a translation from French. But the best prose of this time is by the mystic Richard Rolle (Rolle, Richard), the hermit of Hampole, whose English tracts include The Commandment, Meditations on the Passion, and The Form of Perfect Living, among others. His intense and stylized prose was among the most popular of the 14th century and inspired such later works as Walter Hilton (Hilton, Walter)'s Scale of Perfection, Julian of Norwich's Sixteen Revelations of Divine Love, and the anonymous Cloud of Unknowing.

Peter S. Baker

The later Middle English and early Renaissance periods
      One of the most important factors in the nature and development of English literature between about 1350 and 1550 was the peculiar linguistic situation in England at the beginning of the period. Among the small minority of the population that could be regarded as literate, bilingualism and even trilingualism were common. Insofar as it was considered a serious literary medium at all, English was obliged to compete on uneven terms with Latin and with the Anglo-Norman dialect of French widely used in England at the time. Moreover, extreme dialectal diversity within English itself made it difficult for vernacular writings, irrespective of their literary pretensions, to circulate very far outside their immediate areas of composition, a disadvantage not suffered by writings in Anglo-Norman and Latin. Literary culture managed to survive and in fact to flourish in the face of such potentially crushing factors as the catastrophic mortality of the Black Death (1347–51), chronic external and internal military conflicts in the form of the Hundred Years' War and the Wars of the Roses (Roses, Wars of the), and serious social, political, and religious unrest, as evinced in the Peasants' Revolt (1381) and the rise of Lollardism (Lollard) (centred on the religious teachings of John Wycliffe (Wycliffe, John)). All the more remarkable, then, was the literary and linguistic revolution that took place in England between about 1350 and 1400 and that was slowly and soberly consolidated over the subsequent 150 years.

Later Middle English poetry
The revival of alliterative (alliterative verse) poetry
      The most puzzling episode in the development of later Middle English literature is the apparently sudden reappearance of unrhymed alliterative poetry in the mid-14th century. Debate continues as to whether the group of long, serious, and sometimes learned poems written between about 1350 and the first decade of the 15th century should be regarded as an “alliterative revival” or rather as the late flowering of a largely lost native tradition stretching back to the Old English period. The earliest examples of the phenomenon, William of Palerne and Winner and Waster, are both datable to the 1350s, but neither poem exhibits to the full all the characteristics of the slightly later poems central to the movement. William of Palerne, condescendingly commissioned by a nobleman for the benefit of “them that know no French,” is a homely paraphrase of a courtly Continental romance, the only poem in the group to take love as its central theme. The poet's technical competence in handling the difficult syntax and diction of the alliterative style is not, however, to be compared with that of Winner and Waster's author, who exhibits full mastery of the form, particularly in descriptions of setting and spectacle. This poem's topical concern with social satire links it primarily with another, less formal body of alliterative verse, of which William Langland's Piers Plowman was the principal representative and exemplar. Indeed, Winner and Waster, with its sense of social commitment and occasional apocalyptic gesture, may well have served as a source of inspiration for Langland himself.

      The term alliterative revival should not be taken to imply a return to the principles of classical Old English versification. The authors of the later 14th-century alliterative poems either inherited or developed their own conventions, which resemble those of the Old English tradition in only the most general way. The syntax and particularly the diction of later Middle English alliterative verse were also distinctive, and the search for alliterating phrases and constructions led to the extensive use of archaic, technical, and dialectal words. Hunts, feasts, battles, storms, and landscapes were described with a brilliant concretion of detail rarely paralleled since, while the abler poets also contrived subtle modulations of the staple verse-paragraph to accommodate dialogue, discourse, and argument. Among the poems central to the movement were three pieces dealing with the life and legends of Alexander the Great, the massive Destruction of Troy, and the Siege of Jerusalem. The fact that all of these derived from various Latin sources suggests that the anonymous poets were likely to have been clerics with a strong, if bookish, historical sense of their romance “matters.” The “matter of Britain” was represented by an outstanding composition, the alliterative Morte Arthure, an epic portrayal of King Arthur's conquests in Europe and his eventual fall, which combined a strong narrative thrust with considerable density and subtlety of diction. A gathering sense of inevitable transitoriness gradually tempers the virile realization of heroic idealism, and it is not surprising to find that the poem was later used by Sir Thomas Malory (Malory, Sir Thomas) as a source for his prose account of the Arthurian legend, Le Morte Darthur (completed c. 1470).

      The alliterative movement would today be regarded as a curious but inconsiderable episode were it not for four other poems now generally attributed to a single anonymous author: the chivalric romance Sir Gawayne and the Grene Knight, two homiletic poems called Patience and Purity (or Cleanness), and an elegiac dream vision (dream allegory) known as Pearl, all miraculously preserved in a single manuscript dated about 1400. The poet of Sir Gawayne far exceeded the other alliterative writers in his mastery of form and style, and, though he wrote ultimately as a moralist, human warmth and sympathy (often taking comic form) are also close to the heart of his work. Patience relates the biblical story of Jonah as a human comedy of petulance and irascibility set off against God's benign forbearance. Purity imaginatively re-creates several monitory narratives of human impurity and its consequences in a spectacular display of poetic skill: the Flood, the destruction of Sodom, and Belshazzar's Feast. The poet's principal achievement, however, was Sir Gawayne, in which he used the conventional apparatus of chivalric romance to engage in a serious exploration of moral conduct in the face of the unknown. The hero, Gawain, a questing knight of Arthur's court, embodies a combination of the noblest chivalric and spiritual aspirations of the age, but, instead of triumphing in the conventional way, he fails when tested (albeit rather unfairly) by mysterious supernatural powers. No paraphrase can hope to recapture the imaginative resources displayed in the telling of the story and the structuring of the poem as a work of art. Pearl stands somewhat aside from the alliterative movement proper. In common with a number of other poems of the period, it was composed in stanzaic form, with alliteration used for ornamental effect. Technically, it is one of the most complex poems in the language, an attempt to work in words an analogy to the jeweler's art. The jeweler-poet is vouchsafed a heavenly vision in which he sees his pearl, the discreet symbol used in the poem for a lost infant daughter who has died to become a bride of Christ. She offers theological consolation for his grief, expounding the way of salvation and the place of human life in a transcendental and extra-temporal view of things.

      The alliterative movement was primarily confined to poets writing in northern and northwestern England, who showed little regard for courtly, London-based literary developments. It is likely that alliterative poetry, under aristocratic patronage, filled a gap in the literary life of the provinces caused by the decline of Anglo-Norman in the latter half of the 14th century. Alliterative poetry was not unknown in London and the southeast, but it penetrated those areas in a modified form and in poems that dealt with different subject matter.

      William Langland (Langland, William)'s long alliterative poem Piers Plowman begins with a vision of the world seen from the Malvern Hills in Worcestershire, where, tradition has it, the poet was born and brought up and where he would have been open to the influence of the alliterative movement. If what he tells about himself in the poem is true (and there is no other source of information), he later lived obscurely in London as an unbeneficed cleric. Langland wrote in the unrhymed alliterative mode, but he modified it in such a way as to make it more accessible to a wider audience by treating the metre more loosely and avoiding the arcane diction of the provincial poets. His poem exists in at least three and possibly four versions: A, Piers Plowman in its short early form, dating from the 1360s; B, a major revision and extension of A made in the late 1370s; C (1380s), a less “literary” version of B, apparently intended to bring its doctrinal issues into clearer focus; and Z, a conjectured version that calls into question the dating for A, B, and C. The poem takes the form of a series of dream visions dealing with the social and spiritual predicament of late 14th-century England against a sombre apocalyptic backdrop. Realistic and allegorical elements are mingled in a phantasmagoric way, and both the poetic medium and the structure are frequently subverted by the writer's spiritual and didactic impulses. Passages of involuted theological reasoning mingle with scatological satire, and moments of sublime religious feeling appear alongside forthright political comment. This makes it a work of the utmost difficulty, defiant of categorization, but at the same time Langland never fails to convince the reader of the passionate integrity of his writing. His bitter attacks on political and ecclesiastical corruption (especially among the friars) quickly struck chords with his contemporaries. Among minor poems in the same vein are Mum and the Sothsegger (c. 1399–1406) and a Lollard piece called Pierce the Ploughman's Creed (c. 1395). In the 16th century, Piers Plowman was issued as a printed book and was used for apologetic purposes by the early Protestants.

      Apart from a few late and minor reappearances in Scotland and the northwest of England, the alliterative movement was over before the first quarter of the 15th century had passed. The other major strand in the development of English poetry from roughly 1350 proved much more durable. The cultivation and refinement of human sentiment with respect to love, already present in earlier 14th-century writings such as the Harley Lyrics, took firm root in English court culture during the reign of Richard II (1377–99). English began to displace Anglo-Norman as the language spoken at court and in aristocratic circles, and signs of royal and noble patronage for English vernacular writers became evident. These processes undoubtedly created some of the conditions in which a writer of Chaucer's interests and temperament might flourish, but they were encouraged and given direction by his genius in establishing English as a literary language.

Chaucer and Gower
 Geoffrey Chaucer (Chaucer, Geoffrey), a Londoner of bourgeois origins, was at various times a courtier, a diplomat, and a civil servant. His poetry frequently (but not always unironically) reflects the views and values associated with the term courtly. It is in some ways not easy to account for his decision to write in English, and it is not surprising that his earliest substantial poems, the Book of the Duchess (c. 1370) and the House of Fame (1370s), were heavily indebted to the fashionable French courtly love poetry of the time. Also of French origin was the octosyllabic couplet used in these poems. Chaucer's abandonment of this engaging but ultimately jejune metre in favour of a 10-syllable line (specifically, iambic pentameter) was a portentous moment for English poetry. His mastery of it was first revealed in stanzaic form, notably the seven-line stanza (rhyme royal) of the Parliament of Fowls (c. 1382) and Troilus and Criseyde (c. 1385), and later was extended in the decasyllabic couplets of the prologue to the Legend of Good Women (1380s) and large parts of The Canterbury Tales (c. 1387–1400).

      Though Chaucer wrote a number of moral and amatory lyrics, which were imitated by his 15th-century followers, his major achievements were in the field of narrative poetry. The early influence of French courtly love poetry (notably the Roman de la Rose, which he translated) gave way to an interest in Italian literature. Chaucer was acquainted with Dante's writings and took a story from Petrarch for the substance of "The Clerk's Tale." Two of his major poems, Troilus and Criseyde and "The Knight's Tale," were based, respectively, on the Filostrato and the Teseida of Boccaccio (Boccaccio, Giovanni). The Troilus, Chaucer's single most ambitious poem, is a moving story of love gained and betrayed set against the background of the Trojan War. As well as being a poem of profound human sympathy and insight, it also has a marked philosophical dimension derived from Chaucer's reading of Boethius's De consolatione philosophiae, a work that he also translated in prose. His consummate skill in narrative art, however, was most fully displayed in The Canterbury Tales, an unfinished series of stories purporting to be told by a group of pilgrims journeying from London to the shrine of St. Thomas Becket (Becket, Saint Thomas) and back. The illusion that the individual pilgrims (rather than Chaucer himself) tell their tales gave him an unprecedented freedom of authorial stance, which enabled him to explore the rich fictive potentialities of a number of genres: pious legend (in "The Man of Law's Tale" and "The Prioress's Tale" ), fabliau ( "The Shipman's Tale," "The Miller's Tale," and "The Reeve's Tale" ), chivalric romance ( "The Knight's Tale" ), popular romance (parodied in Chaucer's “own” "Tale of Sir Thopas" ), beast fable ( "The Nun's Priest's Tale" and "The Manciple's Tale" ), and more—what the poet John Dryden (Dryden, John) later summed up as “God's plenty.”

      A recurrent concern in Chaucer's writings is the refined and sophisticated cultivation of love, commonly described by the modern expression courtly love. A French term of Chaucer's time, fine amour, gives a more authentic description of the phenomenon; Chaucer's friend John Gower (Gower, John) translated it as “fine loving” in his long poem Confessio amantis (begun c. 1386). The Confessio runs to some 33,000 lines in octosyllabic couplets and takes the form of a collection of exemplary tales placed within the framework of a lover's confession to a priest of Venus. Gower provides a contrast to Chaucer in that the sober and earnest moral intent behind Gower's writing is always clear, whereas Chaucer can be noncommittal and evasive. On the other hand, though Gower's verse is generally fluent and pleasing to read, it has a thin homogeneity of texture that cannot compare with the colour and range found in the language of his great contemporary. Gower was undoubtedly extremely learned by lay standards, and many Classical myths (especially those deriving from Ovid's Metamorphoses) make the first of their numerous appearances in English literature in the Confessio. Gower was also deeply concerned with the moral and social condition of contemporary society, and he dealt with it in two weighty compositions in French and Latin, respectively: the Mirour de l'omme (c. 1374–78; The Mirror of Mankind) and Vox clamantis (c. 1385; The Voice of One Crying).

Poetry after Chaucer and Gower

Courtly poetry
      The numerous 15th-century followers of Chaucer continued to treat the conventional range of courtly and moralizing topics, but only rarely with the intelligence and stylistic accomplishment of their distinguished predecessors. The canon of Chaucer's works began to accumulate delightful but apocryphal trifles such as "The Flower and the Leaf" and "The Assembly of Ladies" (both c. 1475), the former, like a surprising quantity of 15th-century verse of this type, purportedly written by a woman. The stock figures of the ardent but endlessly frustrated lover and the irresistible but disdainful lady were cultivated as part of the “game of love” depicted in numerous courtly lyrics. By the 15th century, vernacular literacy was spreading rapidly among both men and women of the laity, with the influence of French courtly love poetry remaining strong. Aristocratic and knightly versifiers such as Charles, duc d'Orléans (Orléans, Charles, duc d') (captured at Agincourt in 1415), his “jailer” William de la Pole, duke of Suffolk (Suffolk, William de la Pole, 1st Duke of, Marquess Of Suffolk, Earl Of Pembroke, Earl Of Suffolk), and Sir Richard Ros (translator of Alain Chartier's influential La Belle Dame sans merci) were widely read and imitated among the gentry and in bourgeois circles well into the 16th century.

      Both Chaucer and Gower had to some extent enjoyed royal and aristocratic patronage, and the active seeking of patronage became a pervasive feature of the 15th-century literary scene. Thomas Hoccleve (Hoccleve, Thomas), a minor civil servant who probably knew Chaucer and claimed to be his disciple, dedicated The Regiment of Princes (c. 1412), culled from an earlier work of the same name, to the future king Henry V. Most of Hoccleve's compositions seem to have been written with an eye to patronage, and, though they occasionally yield unexpected glimpses of his daily and private lives, they have little to recommend them as poetry. Hoccleve's aspiration to be Chaucer's successor was rapidly overshadowed, in sheer bulk if not necessarily in literary merit, by the formidable oeuvre of John Lydgate (Lydgate, John), a monk at the abbey of Bury St. Edmunds. Lydgate, too, was greatly stimulated at the prospects opened up by distinguished patronage and produced as a result a number of very long pieces that were greatly admired in their day. A staunch Lancastrian, Lydgate dedicated his Troy Book (1412–21) and Life of Our Lady to Henry V and his Fall of Princes (1431–38; based ultimately on Boccaccio's De casibus virorum illustrium) to Humphrey Plantagenet, duke of Gloucester. He also essayed courtly verse in Chaucer's manner (The Complaint of the Black Knight and The Temple of Glass), but his imitation of the master's style was rarely successful. Both Lydgate and Hoccleve admired above all Chaucer's “eloquence,” by which they meant mainly the Latinate elements in his diction. Their own painfully polysyllabic style, which came to be known as the “ aureate” style, was widely imitated for more than a century. In sum, the major 15th-century English poets were generally undistinguished as successors of Chaucer, and, for a significant but independent extension of his achievement, one must look to the Scottish courtly poets known as the makaris (makar) (“makers”), among whom were King James I of Scotland, Robert Henryson (Henryson, Robert), and William Dunbar (Dunbar, William).

      Lydgate's following at court gave him a central place in 15th-century literary life, but the typical concerns shown by his verse do not distinguish it from a great body of religious, moral, historical, and didactic writing, much of it anonymous. A few identifiable provincial writers turn out to have had their own local patrons, often among the country gentry. East Anglia may be said to have produced a minor school in the works of John Capgrave, Osbern Bokenam (Bokenam, Osbern), and John Metham, among others also active during the middle of the century. Some of the most moving and accomplished verse of the time is to be found in the anonymous lyrics and carols (songs with a refrain) on conventional subjects such as the transience of life, the coming of death, the sufferings of Christ, and other penitential themes. The author of some distinctive poems in this mode was John Audelay of Shropshire, whose style was heavily influenced by the alliterative movement. Literary devotion to the Virgin Mary was particularly prominent and at its best could produce masterpieces of artful simplicity, such as the poem "I sing of a maiden that is makeless [matchless]."

Popular and secular verse
      The art that conceals art was also characteristic of the best popular and secular verse of the period, outside the courtly mode. Some of the shorter verse romances, usually in a form called tail rhyme, were far from negligible: Ywain and Gawain, from the Yvain of Chrétien de Troyes; Sir Launfal, after Marie De France's Lanval; and Sir Degrevant. Humorous and lewd songs, versified tales, folk songs, ballads, and others form a lively body of compositions. Oral transmission was probably common, and the survival of much of what is extant is fortuitous. The manuscript known as the Percy Folio, a 17th-century antiquarian collection of such material, may be a fair sampling of the repertoire of the late medieval itinerant entertainer. In addition to a number of popular romances of the type satirized long before by Chaucer in "Sir Thopas," the Percy manuscript also contains a number of impressive ballads very much like those collected from oral sources in the 18th and 19th centuries. The extent of medieval origin of the poems collected in Francis J. Child (Child, Francis J)'s English and Scottish Popular Ballads (1882–98) is debatable. Several of the Robin Hood ballads undoubtedly were known in the 15th century, and the characteristic laconically repetitious and incremental style of the ballads is also to be seen in the enigmatic Corpus Christi Carol, preserved in an early 16th-century London grocer's commonplace book. In the same manuscript, but in a rather different vein, is The Nut-Brown Maid, an expertly managed dialogue-poem on female constancy.

Political verse
      A genre that does not fit easily into the categories already mentioned is political verse, of which a good deal was written in the 15th century. Much of it was avowedly and often crudely propagandist, especially during the Wars of the Roses, though a piece like the Agincourt Carol shows that it was already possible to strike the characteristically English note of insular patriotism soon after 1415. Of particular interest is the Libel of English Policy (c. 1436) on another typically English theme of a related kind: “Cherish merchandise, keep the admiralty, / That we be masters of the narrow sea.”

Later Middle English prose
      The continuity of a tradition in English prose writing, linking the later with the early Middle English period, is somewhat clearer than that detected in verse. The Ancrene Wisse, for example, continued to be copied and adapted to suit changing tastes and circumstances. But sudden and brilliant imaginative phenomena like the writings of Chaucer, Langland, and the author of Sir Gawayne are not to be found in prose. Instead came steady growth in the composition of religious prose of various kinds and the first appearance of secular prose in any quantity.

Religious prose
      Of the first importance was the development of a sober, analytical, but nonetheless impressive kind of contemplative or mystical prose, represented by Walter Hilton (Hilton, Walter)'s Scale of Perfection and the anonymous Cloud of Unknowing. The authors of these pieces certainly knew the more rugged and fervent writings of their earlier, 14th-century predecessor Richard Rolle, and to some extent they reacted against what they saw as excesses in the style and content of his work. It is of particular interest to note that the mystical tradition was continued into the 15th century, though in very different ways, by two women writers, Julian of Norwich and Margery Kempe (Kempe, Margery). Julian, often regarded as the first English woman of letters, underwent a series of mystical experiences in 1373 about which she wrote in her Sixteen Revelations of Divine Love, one of the foremost works of English spirituality by the standards of any age. Rather different religious experiences went into the making of The Book of Margery Kempe (c. 1432–36), the extraordinary autobiographical record of a bourgeoise woman, dictated to two clerks. The nature and status of its spiritual content remain controversial, but its often engaging colloquial style and vivid realization of the medieval scene are of abiding interest.

      Another important branch of the contemplative movement in prose involved the translation of Continental Latin texts. A major example, and one of the best-loved of all medieval English books in its time, is The Mirror of the Blessed Life of Jesus Christ (c. 1410), Nicholas Love's translation of the Meditationes vitae Christi, attributed to St. Bonaventure (Bonaventure, Saint). Love's work was particularly valued by the church as an orthodox counterbalance to the heretical tendencies of the Lollards (Lollard), who espoused the teachings of John Wycliffe (Wycliffe, John) and his circle. The Lollard movement generated a good deal of stylistically distinctive prose writing, though as the Lollards soon came under threat of death by burning, nearly all of it remains anonymous. A number of English works have been attributed to Wycliffe himself, and the first English translation of the Bible (biblical translation) to Wycliffe's disciple John Purvey, but there are no firm grounds for these attributions. The Lollard Bible, which exists in a crude early form and in a more impressive later version (supposedly Purvey's work), was widely read in spite of being under doctrinal suspicion. It later influenced William Tyndale (Tyndale, William)'s translation of the New Testament, completed in 1525, and, through Tyndale, the King James Version (1611).

Secular prose
      Secular compositions and translations in prose also came into prominence in the last quarter of the 14th century, though their stylistic accomplishment does not always match that of the religious tradition. Chaucer's "Tale of Melibeus" and his two astronomical translations, the Treatise on the Astrolabe and the Equatorie of the Planets, were relatively modest endeavours beside the massive efforts of John of Trevisa, who translated from Latin both Ranulf Higden (Higden, Ranulf)'s Polychronicon (c. 1385–87), a universal history, and Bartholomaeus Anglicus's De proprietatibus rerum (1398; “On the Properties of Things”), an encyclopaedia. Judging by the number of surviving manuscripts, however, the most widely read secular prose work of the period is likely to have been The Voyage and Travels of Sir John Mandeville, the supposed adventures of Sir John Mandeville (Mandeville, Sir John), knight of St. Albans, on his journeys through Asia. Though the work now is believed to be purely fictional, its exotic allure and the occasionally arch style of its author were popular with the English reading public down to the 18th century.

      The 15th century saw the consolidation of English prose as a respectable medium for serious writings of various kinds. The anonymous Brut chronicle survives in more manuscripts than any other medieval English work and was instrumental in fostering a new sense of national identity. John Capgrave (Capgrave, John)'s Chronicle of England (c. 1462) and Sir John Fortescue (Fortescue, Sir John)'s On the Governance of England (c. 1470) were part of the same trend. At its best, the style of such works could be vigorous and straightforward, close to the language of everyday speech, like that found in the chance survivals of private letters of the period. Best known and most numerous among letters are those of the Paston family (Paston Letters) of Norfolk, but significant collections were also left by the Celys of London and the Stonors of Oxfordshire. More-eccentric prose stylists of the period were the religious controversialist Reginald Pecock and John Skelton (Skelton, John), whose aureate translation of the Bibliotheca historica of Diodorus Siculus stands in marked contrast to the demotic exuberance of his verse.

      The crowning achievement of later Middle English prose writing was Sir Thomas Malory (Malory, Sir Thomas)'s cycle of Arthurian legends, which was given the title Le Morte Darthur by William Caxton when he printed his edition in 1485. There is still uncertainty as to the identity of Malory (Malory, Sir Thomas), who described himself as a “knight-prisoner.” The characteristic mixture of chivalric nostalgia and tragic feeling with which he imbued his book gave fresh inspiration to the tradition of writing on Arthurian themes. The nature of Malory's artistry eludes easy definition, and the degree to which the effects he achieved were a matter of conscious contrivance on his part is debatable. Much of Le Morte Darthur was translated from prolix French prose romances, and Malory evidently selected and condensed his material with instinctive mastery as he went along. At the same time, he cast narrative and dialogue in the cadences of a virile and natural English prose that matched the nobility of both the characters and the theme.

Middle English drama
      Because the manuscripts of medieval English plays were usually ephemeral performance scripts rather than reading matter, very few examples have survived from what once must have been a very large dramatic literature. What little survives from before the 15th century includes some bilingual fragments, indicating that the same play might have been given in English or Anglo-Norman, according to the composition of the audience. From the late 14th century onward, two main dramatic genres are discernible, the mystery, or Corpus Christi, cycles and the morality plays. The mystery plays (mystery play) were long cyclic dramas of the Creation, Fall, and Redemption of humankind, based mostly on biblical narratives. They usually included a selection of Old Testament episodes (such as the stories of Cain and Abel and of Abraham and Isaac) but concentrated mainly on the life and Passion of Jesus Christ. They always ended with the Last Judgment. The cycles were generally financed and performed by the craft guilds and staged on wagons in the streets and squares of the towns. Texts of the cycles staged at York (York plays), Chester (Chester plays), and Wakefield (Wakefield plays) and at an unstated location in East Anglia (the so-called N-Town plays) have survived, together with fragments from Coventry, Newcastle, and Norwich. Their literary quality is uneven, but the York (York plays) cycle (probably the oldest) has an impressively realized version of Christ's Passion by a dramatist influenced by the alliterative style in verse. The Wakefield (Wakefield plays) cycle has several particularly brilliant plays, attributed to the anonymous Wakefield Master, and his Second Shepherds' Play is one of the masterpieces of medieval English literature. The morality plays (morality play) were allegorical dramas depicting the progress of a single character, representing the whole of humankind, from the cradle to the grave and sometimes beyond. The other dramatis personae might include God and the Devil but usually consisted of personified abstractions, such as the Vices and Virtues, Death, Penance, Mercy, and so forth. A varied collection of the moralities is known as the Macro Plays (The Castle of Perseverance, Wisdom, Mankind), but the single most impressive piece is Everyman, an English rendering of a Dutch play on the subject of the coming of death. Both the mystery and morality plays were frequently revived and performed into the 21st century.

The transition from medieval to Renaissance
 The 15th century was a major period of growth in lay literacy, a process powerfully expedited by the introduction into England of printing by William Caxton (Caxton, William) in 1476. Caxton published Malory's Le Morte Darthur in the same year (1485) that Henry Tudor acceded to the throne as Henry VII, and the period from this time to the mid-16th century has been called the transition from medieval to Renaissance in English literature. A typical figure was the translator Alexander Barclay (Barclay, Alexander). His Eclogues (c. 1515), drawn from 15th-century Italian humanist sources, was an early essay in the fashionable Renaissance genre of pastoral (pastoral literature), while his rendering of Sebastian Brant (Brant, Sebastian)'s Narrenschiff as The Ship of Fools (1509) is a thoroughly medieval satire on contemporary folly and corruption. The Pastime of Pleasure (completed in 1506; published 1509) by Stephen Hawes (Hawes, Stephen), ostensibly an allegorical romance in Lydgate's manner, unexpectedly adumbrates the great Tudor theme of academic cultivation as a necessary accomplishment of the courtly knight or gentleman.

      The themes of education and good government predominate in the new humanist (humanism) writing of the 16th century, both in discursive prose (such as Sir Thomas Elyot (Elyot, Sir Thomas)'s The Book Named the Governor [1531] and Roger Ascham (Ascham, Roger)'s Toxophilus [1545; “Lover of the Bow”] and The Schoolmaster [1570]) and in drama (the plays of Henry Medwall (Medwall, Henry) and Richard Rastall). The preeminent work of English humanism, Sir Thomas More (More, Sir Thomas)'s Utopia (1516), was composed in Latin and appeared in an English translation in 1551. The most distinctive voice in the poetry of the time was that of John Skelton (Skelton, John), tutor to Henry VII's sons and author of an extraordinary range of writing, often in an equally extraordinary style. His works include a long play, Magnificence (1516), like his Bowge of Court (c. 1498) an allegorical satire on court intrigue; intemperate satirical invectives, such as Collyn Clout and Why Come Ye Not to Court? (both 1522); and reflexive essays on the role of the poet and poetry, in Speak, Parrot (written 1521) and The Garland of Laurel (1523). The first half of the 16th century was also a notable period for courtly lyric verse in the stricter sense of poems with musical settings, such as those found in the Devonshire Manuscript. This is very much the literary milieu of the “courtly makers” Sir Thomas Wyatt (Wyatt, Sir Thomas) and Henry Howard, earl of Surrey (Surrey, Henry Howard, Earl of), but, though the courtly context of much of their writing is of medieval origin, their most distinctive achievements look to the future. Poems such as Wyatt's "They flee from me" and "Whoso list to hunt" vibrate with personal feeling at odds with the medieval convention of anonymity, while Surrey's translations from the Aeneid introduce blank verse (unrhymed iambic pentameter) into English for the first time, providing an essential foundation for the achievements of Shakespeare and John Milton.

Richard Beadle

The Renaissance period: 1550–1660

Literature and the age
      In a tradition of literature remarkable for its exacting and brilliant achievements, the Elizabethan (Elizabethan literature) and early Stuart periods have been said to represent the most brilliant century of all. (The reign (Tudor, House of) of Elizabeth I began in 1558 and ended with her death in 1603; she was succeeded by the Stuart king James VI of Scotland, who took the title James I of England as well. English literature of his reign as James I, from 1603 to 1625, is properly called Jacobean.) These years produced a gallery of authors of genius, some of whom have never been surpassed, and conferred on scores of lesser talents the enviable ability to write with fluency, imagination, and verve. From one point of view, this sudden renaissance looks radiant, confident, heroic—and belated, but all the more dazzling for its belatedness. Yet, from another point of view, this was a time of unusually traumatic strain, in which English society underwent massive disruptions that transformed it on every front and decisively affected the life of every individual. In the brief, intense moment in which England assimilated the European Renaissance, the circumstances that made the assimilation possible were already disintegrating and calling into question the newly won certainties, as well as the older truths that they were dislodging. This doubleness, of new possibilities and new doubts simultaneously apprehended, gives the literature its unrivaled intensity.

Social conditions
      In this period England's population doubled; prices rocketed, rents followed, old social loyalties dissolved, and new industrial, agricultural, and commercial veins were first tapped. Real wages hit an all-time low in the 1620s, and social relations were plunged into a state of fluidity from which the merchant and the ambitious lesser gentleman profited at the expense of the aristocrat and the labourer, as satires and comedies current from the 1590s complain. Behind the Elizabethan vogue for pastoral poetry lies the fact of the prosperity of the enclosing sheep farmer, who sought to increase pasture at the expense of the peasantry. Tudor platitudes about order and degree could neither combat nor survive the challenge posed to rank by these arrivistes. The position of the crown, politically dominant yet financially insecure, had always been potentially unstable, and, when Charles I lost the confidence of his greater subjects in the 1640s, his authority crumbled. Meanwhile, the huge body of poor fell ever further behind the rich; the pamphlets of Thomas Harman (1566) and Robert Greene (Greene, Robert) (1591–92), as well as Shakespeare (Shakespeare, William)'s King Lear (1605–06), provide glimpses of a horrific world of vagabondage and crime, the Elizabethans' biggest, unsolvable social problem.

Intellectual and religious revolution
 The barely disguised social ferment was accompanied by an intellectual revolution, as the medieval synthesis collapsed before the new science, new religion, and new humanism. While modern mechanical technologies were pressed into service by the Stuarts to create the scenic wonders of the court masque, the discoveries of astronomers and explorers were redrawing the cosmos in a way that was profoundly disturbing:And freely men confess that this world's spent,
When in the planets, and the firmament
They seek so many new….

(John Donne, The First Anniversary, 1611)

      The majority of people were more immediately affected by the religious revolutions of the 16th century. A person in early adulthood at the accession of Elizabeth in 1558 would, by her death in 1603, have been vouchsafed an unusually disillusioning insight into the duty owed by private conscience to the needs of the state. The Tudor church hierarchy was an instrument of social and political control, yet the mid-century controversies over the faith had already wrecked any easy confidence in the authority of doctrines and forms and had taught people to inquire carefully into the rationale of their own beliefs (as John Donne (Donne, John) does in his third satire [c. 1596]). The Elizabethan ecclesiastical compromise was the object of continual criticism, from radicals both within (who desired progressive reforms, such as the abolition of bishops) and without (who desired the return of England to the Roman Catholic fold), but the incipient liberalism of individuals such as John Milton (Milton, John) and the scholar and churchman William Chillingworth was held in check by the majority's unwillingness to tolerate a plurality of religions in a supposedly unitary state. Nor was the Calvinist (Calvinism) orthodoxy that cradled most English writers comforting, for it told them that they were corrupt, unfree, unable to earn their own salvations, and subject to heavenly judgments that were arbitrary and absolute. Calvinism deeply affects the world of the Jacobean tragedies, whose heroes are not masters of their fates but victims of divine purposes that are terrifying yet inscrutable.

The race for cultural development
      The third complicating factor was the race to catch up with Continental developments in arts and philosophy. The Tudors needed to create a class of educated diplomats, statesmen, and officials and to dignify their court by making it a fount of cultural as well as political patronage. The new learning, widely disseminated through the Erasmian (after the humanist Desiderius Erasmus (Erasmus, Desiderius)) educational programs of such men as John Colet (Colet, John) and Sir Thomas Elyot (Elyot, Sir Thomas), proposed to use a systematic schooling in Latin authors and some Greek to encourage in the social elites a flexibility of mind and civilized serviceableness that would allow enlightened princely government to walk hand in hand with responsible scholarship. Humanism fostered an intimate familiarity with the classics that was a powerful incentive for the creation of an English literature of answerable dignity. It fostered as well a practical, secular piety that left its impress everywhere on Elizabethan writing. Humanism's effect, however, was modified by the simultaneous impact of the flourishing Continental cultures, particularly the Italian. Repeatedly, crucial innovations in English letters developed resources originating from Italy—such as the sonnet of Petrarch, the epic of Ludovico Ariosto, the pastoral of Jacopo Sannazzaro, the canzone, and blank verse—and values imported with these forms were in competition with the humanists' ethical preoccupations. Social ideals of wit, many-sidedness, and sprezzatura (accomplishment mixed with unaffectedness) were imbibed from Baldassare Castiglione (Castiglione, Baldassare)'s Il cortegiano, translated as The Courtyer by Sir Thomas Hoby (Hoby, Sir Thomas) in 1561, and Elizabethan court poetry is steeped in Castiglione's aristocratic Neoplatonism, his notions of universal proportion, and the love of beauty as the path to virtue. Equally significant was the welcome afforded to Niccolò Machiavelli (Machiavelli, Niccolò), whose lessons were vilified publicly and absorbed in private. The Prince, written in 1513, was unavailable in English until 1640, but as early as the 1580s Gabriel Harvey (Harvey, Gabriel), a friend of the poet Edmund Spenser (Spenser, Edmund), can be found enthusiastically hailing its author as the apostle of modern pragmatism. “We are much beholden to Machiavel and others,” said Francis Bacon (Bacon, Francis, Viscount Saint Alban (or Albans), Baron of Verulam), “that write what men do, and not what they ought to do.”

      So the literary revival occurred in a society rife with tensions, uncertainties, and competing versions of order and authority, religion and status, sex and the self. The Elizabethan settlement was a compromise; the Tudor pretense that the people of England were unified in belief disguised the actual fragmentation of the old consensus under the strain of change. The new scientific knowledge proved both man's littleness and his power to command nature; against the Calvinist idea of man's helplessness pulled the humanist faith in his dignity, especially that conviction, derived from the reading of Seneca and so characteristic of the period, of man's constancy and fortitude, his heroic capacity for self-determination. It was still possible for Elizabeth to hold these divergent tendencies together in a single, heterogeneous culture, but under her successors they would eventually fly apart. The philosophers speaking for the new century would be Francis Bacon, who argued for the gradual advancement of science through patient accumulation of experiments, and the skeptic Michel de Montaigne (Montaigne, Michel de) (his Essays translated from the French by John Florio [1603]), who denied that it was possible to formulate any general principles of knowledge.

      Cutting across all of these was the persistence of popular habits of thought and expression. Both humanism and Puritanism set themselves against vulgar ignorance and folk tradition, but, fortunately, neither could remain aloof for long from the robustness of popular taste. Sir Philip Sidney (Sidney, Sir Philip), in England's first Neoclassical literary treatise, The Defence of Poesie (written c. 1578–83, published 1595), candidly admitted that “the old song [i.e., ballad] of Percy and Douglas” would move his heart “more than with a trumpet,” and his Arcadia (final version published in 1593) is a representative instance of the fruitful cross-fertilization of genres in this period—the contamination of aristocratic pastoral with popular tale, the lyric with the ballad, comedy with romance, tragedy with satire, and poetry with prose. The language, too, was undergoing a rapid expansion that all classes contributed to and benefited from, sophisticated literature borrowing without shame the idioms of colloquial speech. An allusion in Shakespeare's Macbeth (1606–07) to heaven peeping “through the blanket of the dark” would become a “problem” only later, when, for instance, Samuel Johnson complained in 1751 that such words provoked laughter rather than awe. Johnson's was an age when tragic dignity implied politeness, when it was below the dignity of tragedy to mention so lowly an object as a blanket. But the Elizabethans' ability to address themselves to several audiences simultaneously and to bring into relation opposed experiences, emphases, and worldviews invested their writing with complexity and power.

Elizabethan poetry and prose
      English poetry and prose burst into sudden glory in the late 1570s. A decisive shift of taste toward a fluent artistry self-consciously displaying its own grace and sophistication was announced in the works of Spenser and Sidney. It was accompanied by an upsurge in literary production that came to fruition in the 1590s and 1600s, two decades of astonishing productivity by writers of every persuasion and calibre.

      The groundwork was laid in the 30 years from 1550, a period of slowly increasing confidence in the literary competence of the language and tremendous advances in education, which for the first time produced a substantial English readership, keen for literature and possessing cultivated tastes. This development was underpinned by the technological maturity and accelerating output (mainly in pious or technical subjects) of Elizabethan printing. The Stationers' Company, which controlled the publication of books, was incorporated in 1557, and Richard Tottel's Miscellany (1557) revolutionized the relationship of poet and audience by making publicly available lyric poetry, which hitherto had circulated only among a courtly coterie. Spenser was the first significant English poet deliberately to use print to advertise his talents.

Development of the English language
      The prevailing opinion of the language's inadequacy, its lack of “terms” and innate inferiority to the eloquent Classical tongues, was combated in the work of the humanists Thomas Wilson, Roger Ascham (Ascham, Roger), and Sir John Cheke (Cheke, Sir John), whose treatises on rhetoric, education, and even archery argued in favour of an unaffected vernacular prose and a judicious attitude toward linguistic borrowings. Their stylistic ideals are attractively embodied in Ascham's educational tract The Schoolmaster (1570), and their tonic effect on that particularly Elizabethan art, translation, can be felt in the earliest important examples, Sir Thomas Hoby's Castiglione (1561) and Sir Thomas North (North, Sir Thomas)'s Plutarch (1579). A further stimulus was the religious upheaval that took place in the middle of the century. The desire of reformers to address as comprehensive an audience as possible—the bishop and the boy who follows the plough, as William Tyndale (Tyndale, William) put it—produced the first true classics of English prose: the reformed Anglican Book of Common Prayer (1549, 1552, 1559); John Foxe (Foxe, John)'s Acts and Monuments (1563), which celebrates the martyrs, great and small, of English Protestantism; and the various English versions of the Bible, from Tyndale's New Testament (1525), Miles Coverdale (Coverdale, Miles)'s Bible (1535), and the Geneva Bible (1560) to the syncretic Authorized Version (King James Version) (or King James's Version, 1611). The latter's combination of grandeur and plainness is justly celebrated, even if it represents an idiom never spoken in heaven or on earth. Nationalism inspired by the Reformation motivated the historical chronicles of the capable and stylish Edward Hall (Hall, Edward) (1548), who bequeathed to Shakespeare the tendentious Tudor interpretation of the 15th century, and of Raphael Holinshed (Holinshed, Raphael) (1577).

      In verse, Tottel's much reprinted Miscellany generated a series of imitations and, by popularizing the lyrics of Sir Thomas Wyatt and the earl of Surrey, carried into the 1570s the tastes of the early Tudor court. The newer poets collected by Tottel and other anthologists include Nicholas Grimald (Grimald, Nicholas), Richard Edwardes, George Turberville (Turberville, George), Barnabe Googe, George Gascoigne (Gascoigne, George), Sir John Harington (Harington, Sir John), and many others, of whom Gascoigne is the most prominent. The modern preference for the ornamental manner of the next generation has eclipsed these poets, who continued the tradition of plain, weighty verse, addressing themselves to ethical and didactic themes and favouring the meditative lyric, satire, and epigram. But their taste for economy, restraint, and aphoristic density was, in the verse of Donne and Ben Jonson (Jonson, Ben), to outlive the cult of elegance. The period's major project was A Mirror for Magistrates (1559; enlarged editions 1563, 1578, 1587), a collection of verse laments, by several hands, purporting to be spoken by participants in the Wars of the Roses (Roses, Wars of the) and preaching the Tudor doctrine of obedience. The quality is uneven, but Thomas Sackville (Sackville, Thomas, 1st earl of Dorset)'s "Induction" and Thomas Churchyard (Churchyard, Thomas)'s "Legend of Shore's Wife" are distinguished, and the intermingling of history, tragedy, and political morality was to be influential on the drama.

      With the work of Sir Philip Sidney (Sidney, Sir Philip) and Edmund Spenser (Spenser, Edmund), Tottel's contributors suddenly began to look old-fashioned. Sidney epitomized the new Renaissance “universal man”: a courtier, diplomat, soldier, and poet whose Defence of Poesie includes the first considered account of the state of English letters. Sidney's treatise defends literature on the ground of its unique power to teach, but his real emphasis is on its delight, its ability to depict the world not as it is but as it ought to be. This quality of “forcibleness or energia” he himself demonstrated in his sonnet sequence of unrequited desire, Astrophel and Stella (written 1582, published 1591). His Arcadia, in its first version (written c. 1577–80), is a pastoral romance in which courtiers disguised as Amazons and shepherds make love and sing delicate experimental verses. The revised version (written c. 1580–84, published 1590; the last three books of the first version were added in 1593), vastly expanded but abandoned in mid-sentence, added sprawling plots of heroism in love and war, philosophical and political discourses, and set pieces of aristocratic etiquette. Sidney was a dazzling and assured innovator whose pioneering of new forms and stylistic melody was seminal for his generation. His public fame was as an aristocratic champion of an aggressively Protestant foreign policy, but Elizabeth had no time for idealistic warmongering, and the unresolved conflicts in his poetry—desire against restraint, heroism against patience, rebellion against submission—mirror his own discomfort with his situation as an unsuccessful courtier.

      Protestantism also loomed large in Spenser (Spenser, Edmund)'s life. He enjoyed the patronage of the earl of Leicester, who sought to advance militant Protestantism at court, and his poetic manifesto, The Shepherds Calendar (1579), covertly praised Archbishop Edmund Grindal, who had been suspended by Elizabeth for his Puritan sympathies. Spenser's masterpiece, The Faerie Queene (Faerie Queene, The) (1590–96), is an epic of Protestant nationalism in which the villains are infidels or papists, the hero is King Arthur, and the central value is married chastity.

 Spenser was one of the humanistically trained breed of public servants, and the Calendar, an expertly crafted collection of pastoral eclogues, both advertised his talents and announced his epic ambitions. The exquisite lyric gift that it reveals was voiced again in the marriage poems Epithalamion (1595) and Prothalamion (1596). With The Faerie Queene he achieved the central poem of the Elizabethan period. Its form fuses the medieval allegory with the Italian romantic epic; its purpose was “to fashion a gentleman or noble person in virtuous and gentle discipline.” The plan was for 12 books (6 were completed), focusing on 12 virtues exemplified in the quests of 12 knights from the court of Gloriana, the Faerie Queene, a symbol for Elizabeth herself. Arthur, in quest of Gloriana's love, would appear in each book and come to exemplify Magnificence, the complete man. Spenser took the decorative chivalry of the Elizabethan court festivals and reworked it through a constantly shifting veil of allegory, so that the knights' adventures and loves build into a complex, multileveled portrayal of the moral life. The verse, a spacious and slow-moving nine-lined stanza, and archaic language frequently rise to an unrivaled sensuousness.

      The Faerie Queene was a public poem, addressed to the queen, and politically it echoed the hopes of the Leicester circle for government motivated by godliness and militancy. Spenser's increasing disillusion with the court and with the active life, a disillusion noticeable in the poem's later books and in his bitter satire Colin Clouts Come Home Again (1591), voiced the fading of these expectations in the last decade of Elizabeth's reign, the beginning of that remarkable failure of political and cultural confidence in the monarchy. In the "Mutability Cantos," melancholy fragments of a projected seventh book (published posthumously in 1609), Spenser turned away from the public world altogether, toward the ambiguous consolations of eternity.

      The lessons taught by Sidney and Spenser in the cultivation of melodic smoothness and graceful refinement appear to good effect in the subsequent virtuoso outpouring of lyrics and sonnets. These are among the most engaging achievements of the age, though the outpouring was itself partly a product of frustration, as a generation trained to expect office or preferment but faced with courtly parsimony channeled its energies in new directions in search of patronage. For Sidney's fellow courtiers, pastoral and love lyric were also a means of obliquely expressing one's relationship with the queen, of advancing a proposal or an appeal.

Elizabethan lyric
      Virtually every Elizabethan poet tried his hand at the lyric; few, if any, failed to write one that is not still anthologized today. The fashion for interspersing prose fiction with lyric interludes, begun in the Arcadia, was continued by Robert Greene (Greene, Robert) and Thomas Lodge (Lodge, Thomas) (notably in the latter's Rosalynde [1590], the source for Shakespeare's As You Like It [c. 1598–1600]), and in the theatres plays of every kind were diversified by songs both popular and courtly. Fine examples are in the plays of Jonson, John Lyly (Lyly, John), George Peele (Peele, George), Thomas Nashe (Nashe, Thomas), and Thomas Dekker (Dekker, Thomas) (though all, of course, are outshone by Shakespeare's). The most important influence on lyric poetry, though, was the outstanding richness of late Tudor and Jacobean music (music, Western), in both the native tradition of expressive lute song, represented by John Dowland (Dowland, John) and Robert Johnson (Johnson, Robert), and the complex Italianate madrigal newly imported by William Byrd (Byrd, William) and Thomas Morley (Morley, Thomas). The foremost talent among lyricists, Thomas Campion (Campion, Thomas), was a composer as well as a poet; his songs (four Books of Airs, 1601–17) are unsurpassed for their clarity, harmoniousness, and rhythmic subtlety. Even the work of a lesser talent, however, such as Nicholas Breton (Breton, Nicholas), is remarkable for the suggestion of depth and poise in the slightest performances; the smoothness and apparent spontaneity of the Elizabethan lyric conceal a consciously ordered and laboured artifice, attentive to decorum and rhetorical fitness. These are not personal but public pieces, intended for singing and governed by a Neoplatonic aesthetic in which delight is a means of addressing the moral sense, harmonizing and attuning the auditor's mind to the discipline of reason and virtue. This necessitates a deliberate narrowing of scope—to the readily comprehensible situations of pastoral or Petrarchan hope and despair—and makes for a certain uniformity of effect, albeit an agreeable one. The lesser talents are well displayed in the miscellanies The Phoenix Nest (1593), England's Helicon (1600), and A Poetical Rhapsody (1602).

The sonnet sequence
      The publication of Sidney's Astrophel and Stella in 1591 generated an equally extraordinary vogue for the sonnet sequence, Sidney's principal imitators being Samuel Daniel (Daniel, Samuel), Michael Drayton (Drayton, Michael), Fulke Greville (Greville, Fulke, 1st Baron Brooke), Spenser, and Shakespeare; his lesser imitators were Henry Constable, Barnabe Barnes (Barnes, Barnabe), Giles Fletcher the Elder (Fletcher, Giles, the Elder), Lodge, Richard Barnfield, and many more. Astrophel had re-created the Petrarchan world of proud beauty and despairing lover in a single, brilliant stroke, though in English hands the preferred division of the sonnet into three quatrains and a couplet gave Petrarch's contemplative form a more forensic turn, investing it with an argumentative terseness and epigrammatic sting. Within the common ground shared by the sequences, there is much diversity. Only Sidney's sequence endeavours to tell a story, the others being more loosely organized as variations focusing on a central (usually fictional) relationship. Daniel's Delia (1592) is eloquent and elegant, dignified and high-minded; Drayton's Ideas Mirror (1594; much revised by 1619) rises to a strongly imagined, passionate intensity; Spenser's Amoretti (1595) celebrates, unusually, fulfilled sexual love achieved within marriage. Shakespeare's sonnets (published 1609) present a different world altogether, the conventions upside down, the lady no beauty but dark and treacherous, the loved one beyond considerations of sexual possession because he is male. The sonnet tended to gravitate toward correctness or politeness, and for most readers its chief pleasure must have been rhetorical, in its forceful pleading and consciously exhibited artifice, but, under the pressure of Shakespeare's urgent metaphysical concerns, dramatic toughness, and shifting and highly charged ironies, the form's conventional limits were exploded.

Other poetic styles
      Sonnet and lyric represent one tradition of verse within the period, that most conventionally delineated as Elizabethan, but the picture is complicated by the coexistence of other poetic styles in which ornament was distrusted or turned to different purposes; the sonnet was even parodied by Sir John Davies (Davies, Sir John) in his Gulling Sonnets (c. 1594) and by the Jesuit poet Robert Southwell (Southwell, Robert). A particular stimulus to experiment was the variety of new possibilities made available by verse translation, from Richard Stanyhurst's extraordinary Aeneid (1582), in quantitative hexameter and littered with obscure or invented diction, and Sir John Harington (Harington, Sir John)'s version of Ariosto's Orlando furioso (1591), with its Byronic ease and narrative fluency, to Christopher Marlowe (Marlowe, Christopher)'s blank verse rendering of Lucan's First Book (published 1600), probably the finest Elizabethan translation.

      The genre to benefit most from translation was the epyllion, or little epic. This short narrative in verse was usually on a mythological subject, taking most of its material from Ovid, either his Metamorphoses (English version by Arthur Golding, 1565–67) or his Heroides (English version by Turberville, 1567). This form flourished from Lodge's Scillaes Metamorphosis (1589) to Francis Beaumont (Beaumont, Francis)'s Salmacis and Hermaphroditus (1602) and is best represented by Marlowe's Hero and Leander (published 1598) and Shakespeare's Venus and Adonis (1593). Ovid's reputation as an esoteric philosopher left its mark on George Chapman (Chapman, George)'s Ovid's Banquet of Sense (1595) and Drayton's Endimion and Phoebe (1595), in which the love of mortal for goddess becomes a parable of wisdom. But Ovid's real attraction was as an authority on the erotic, and most epyllia treat physical love with sophistication and sympathy, unrelieved by the gloss of allegory—a tendency culminating in John Marston (Marston, John)'s The Metamorphosis of Pigmalion's Image (1598), a poem that has shocked tender sensibilities. Inevitably, the shift of attitude had an effect on style: for Marlowe the experience of translating (inaccurately) Ovid's Amores meant a gain for Hero and Leander in terms of urbanity and, more important, wit.

      With the epyllion comes a hint of the tastes of the following reign, and a similar shift of taste can be felt among those poets of the 1590s who began to modify the ornamental style in the direction of native plainness or Classical restraint. An astute courtier such as Davies might, in his Orchestra (1596) and Hymns of Astraea (1599), write confident panegyrics to the aging Elizabeth, but in Sir Walter Raleigh (Raleigh, Sir Walter)'s "Eleventh Book of the Ocean to Cynthia," a kind of broken pastoral eclogue, praise of the queen is undermined by an obscure but eloquent sense of hopelessness and disillusionment. For Raleigh, the complimental manner seems to be disintegrating under the weight of disgrace and isolation at court; his scattered lyrics—notably "The Lie," a contemptuous dismissal of the court—often draw their resonance from the resources of the plain style. Another courtier whose writing suggests similar pressures is Greville (Greville, Fulke, 1st Baron Brooke). His Caelica (published 1633) begins as a conventional sonnet sequence but gradually abandons Neoplatonism for pessimistic reflections on religion and politics. Other works in his sinewy and demanding verse include philosophical treatises and unperformed melodramas (Alaham and Mustapha) that have a sombre Calvinist tone, presenting man as a vulnerable creature inhabiting a world of unresolved contradictions:

Oh wearisome condition of humanity!
Born under one law, to another bound;
Vainly begot, and yet forbidden vanity,
Created sick, commanded to be sound.

(Mustapha, chorus)

      Greville was a friend of Robert Devereux, 2nd earl of Essex (Essex, Robert Devereux, 2nd earl of, Viscount Hereford, Lord Ferrers, Lord Bourchier), whose revolt against Elizabeth ended in 1601 on the scaffold, and other poets on the edge of the Essex circle fueled the taste for aristocratic heroism and individualist ethics. Chapman (Chapman, George)'s masterpiece, his translation of Homer (1598), is dedicated to Essex, and his original poems are intellectual and recondite, often deliberately difficult and obscure; his abstruseness is a means of restricting his audience to a worthy, understanding elite. Daniel (Daniel, Samuel), in his verse Epistles (1603) written to various noblemen, strikes a mean between plainness and compliment; his Musophilus (1599), dedicated to Greville, defends the worth of poetry but says there are too many frivolous wits writing. The cast of Daniel's mind is stoical, and his language is classically precise. His major project was a verse history (historiography) of The Civil Wars Between the Two Houses of Lancaster and York (1595–1609), and versified history is also strongly represented in Drayton (Drayton, Michael)'s Legends (1593–1607), Barons' Wars (1596, 1603), and England's Heroical Epistles (1597).

      The form that really set its face against Elizabethan politeness was the satire. Satire was related to the complaint, of which there were notable examples by Daniel (The Complaint of Rosamond, 1592) and Shakespeare (The Rape of Lucrece, 1594) that are dignified and tragic laments in supple verse. But the Elizabethans mistakenly held the term satire to derive from the Greek satyros, a satyr, and so set out to match their manner to their matter and make their verses snarl. In the works of the principal satirists, Donne (Donne, John) (five satires, 1593–98), Joseph Hall (Hall, Joseph) (Virgidemiarum, 1597–98), and Marston (Marston, John) (Certain Satires and The Scourge of Villainy, 1598), the denunciation of vice and folly repeatedly tips into invective, raillery, and sheer abuse. The versification of Donne's satires is frequently so rough as barely to be verse at all; Hall apologized for not being harsh enough, and Marston was himself pilloried in Jonson's play Poetaster (1601) for using ridiculously difficult language. “Vex all the world,” wrote Marston to himself, “so that thyself be pleased.” The satirists popularized a new persona, that of the malcontent who denounces his society not from above but from within. Their continuing attraction resides in their self-contradictory delight in the world they profess to abhor and their evident fascination with the minutiae of life in court and city. They were enthusiastically followed by Everard Guilpin, Samuel Rowlands, Thomas Middleton (Middleton, Thomas), and Cyril Tourneur (Tourneur, Cyril), and so scandalous was the flood of satires that in 1599 their printing was banned. Thereafter the form survived in Jonson's classically balanced epigrams and poems of the good life, but its more immediate impact was on the drama, in helping to create the vigorously skeptical voices that people The Revenger's Tragedy (1607) and Shakespeare's Hamlet (c. 1599–1601).

Prose styles, 1550–1600
      Prose was easily the principal medium in the Elizabethan period, and, despite the mid-century uncertainties over the language's weaknesses and strengths—whether coined and imported words should be admitted; whether the structural modeling of English prose on Latin writing was beneficial or, as Bacon would complain, a pursuit of “choiceness of phrase” at the expense of “soundness of argument”—the general attainment of prose writing was uniformly high, as is often manifested in contexts not conventionally imaginative or “literary,” such as tracts, pamphlets, and treatises. The obvious instance of such casual success is Richard Hakluyt (Hakluyt, Richard)'s Principal Navigations, Voyages, and Discoveries of the English Nation (1589; expanded 1598–1600), a massive collection of travelers' tales, of which some are highly accomplished narratives. William Harrison's gossipy, entertaining Description of England (1577), Philip Stubbes's excitable and humane social critique The Anatomy of Abuses (1583), Reginald Scot's anecdotal Discovery of Witchcraft (1584), and John Stow (Stow, John)'s invaluable Survey of London (1598) also deserve passing mention. William Kempe (Kempe, William)'s account of his morris dance from London to Norwich, Kempe's Nine Days' Wonder (1600), exemplifies a smaller genre, the newsbook (a type of pamphlet).

      The writers listed above all use an unpretentious style, enlivened with a vivid vocabulary; the early prose fiction, on the other hand, delights in ingenious formal embellishment at the expense of narrative economy. This runs up against preferences ingrained in the modern reader by the novel, but Elizabethan fiction is not at all novelistic and finds room for debate, song, and the conscious elaboration of style. The unique exception is Gascoigne (Gascoigne, George)'s "Adventures of Master F.J." (1573), a tale of thwarted love set in an English great house, which is the first success in English imaginative prose. Gascoigne's story has a surprising authenticity and almost psychological realism (it may be autobiographical), but even so it is heavily imbued with the influence of Castiglione.

      The existence of an audience for polite fiction was signaled in the collections of stories imported from France and Italy by William Painter (Painter, William) (1566), Geoffrey Fenton (1577), and George Pettie (1576). Pettie, who claimed not to care “to displease twenty men to please one woman,” believed his readership was substantially female. There were later collections by Barnaby Rich (1581) and George Whetstone (1583); historically, their importance was as sources of plots for many Elizabethan plays. The direction fiction was to take was established by John Lyly (Lyly, John)'s Euphues: The Anatomy of Wit (1578), which, with its sequel Euphues and His England (1580), set a fashion for an extreme rhetorical mannerism that came to be known as euphuism. The plot of Euphues—a rake's fall from virtue and his recovery—is but an excuse for a series of debates, letters, and speechifyings, thick with assonance, antithesis, parallelism, and balance and displaying a pseudoscientific learning. Lyly's style would be successful on the stage, but in fiction its density and monotony are wearying. The other major prose work of the 1570s, Sidney's Arcadia, is no less rhetorical (Abraham Fraunce (Fraunce, Abraham) illustrated his handbook of style The Arcadian Rhetoric [1588] almost entirely with examples from the Arcadia), but with Sidney rhetoric is in the service of psychological insight and an exciting plot. Dozens of imitations of Arcadia and Euphues followed from the pens of Greene, Lodge, Anthony Munday (Munday, Anthony), Emanuel Forde, and others; none has much distinction.

      Prose was to be decisively transformed through its involvement in the bitter and learned controversies of the 1570s and '80s over the reform of the English Church and the problems the controversies raised in matters of authority, obedience, and conscience. The fragile ecclesiastical compromise threatened to collapse under the demands for further reformation made by Elizabeth's more godly subjects, and its defense culminated in Richard Hooker (Hooker, Richard)'s Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity (eight books, 1593–1662), the first English classic of serious prose. Hooker's is a monumental work, structured in massive and complex paragraphs brilliantly re-creating the orotund style of Cicero (Cicero, Marcus Tullius). His air of maturity and detachment has recommended him to modern tastes, but no more than his opponents was he above the cut and thrust of controversy. On the contrary, his magisterial rhetoric was designed all the more effectively to fix blame onto his enemies, and even his account (in Books VI–VIII) of the relationship of church and state was deemed too sensitive for publication in the 1590s.

      More decisive for English fiction was the appearance of the “Martin Marprelate (Marprelate Controversy)” tracts of 1588–90. These seven pamphlets argued the Puritan case but with an un-Puritanical scurrility and created great scandal by hurling invective and abuse at Elizabeth's bishops with comical gusto. The bishops employed Lyly and Nash (Nashe, Thomas)e to reply to the pseudonymous Marprelate, and the consequence may be read in Nashe's prose satires of the following decade, especially Piers Penniless His Supplication to the Devil (1592), The Unfortunate Traveller (1594), and Nashe's Lenten Stuff (1599), the latter a pamphlet in praise of herring. Nashe's “extemporal vein” makes fullest use of the flexibility of colloquial speech and delights in nonsense, redundancy, and disconcerting shifts of tone, which demand an answering agility from the reader. His language is probably the most profusely inventive of all Elizabethan writers', and he makes even Greene's low-life pamphlets (1591–92), with their sensational tales from the underworld, look conventional. His only rival is Thomas Deloney (Deloney, Thomas), whose Jack of Newbury (1597), The Gentle Craft (1597–98), and Thomas of Reading (1600) are enduringly attractive for their depiction of the lives of ordinary citizens, interspersed with elements of romance, jest book, and folktale. Deloney's entirely convincing dialogue indicates how important for the development of a flexible prose must have been the example of a flourishing theatre in Elizabethan London. In this respect, as in so many others, the role of the drama was crucial.

Elizabethan and early Stuart drama
Theatre and society
      In the Elizabethan and early Stuart period, the theatre was the focal point of the age. Public life was shot through with theatricality—monarchs ruled with ostentatious pageantry, rank and status were defined in a rigid code of dress—while on the stages the tensions and contradictions working to change the nation were embodied and played out. More than any other form, the drama addressed itself to the total experience of its society. Playgoing was inexpensive, and the playhouse yards were thronged with apprentices, fishwives, labourers, and the like, but the same play that was performed to citizen spectators in the afternoon would often be restaged at court by night. The drama's power to activate complex, multiple perspectives on a single issue or event resides in its sensitivity to the competing prejudices and sympathies of this diverse audience.

      Moreover, the theatre (theatrical production) was fully responsive to the developing technical sophistication of nondramatic literature. In the hands of Shakespeare, the blank verse employed for translation by the earl of Surrey in the first half of the 16th century became a medium infinitely mobile between extremes of formality and intimacy, while prose encompassed both the control of Hooker and the immediacy of Nashe. This was above all a spoken drama, glorying in the theatrical energies of language. And the stage was able to attract the most technically accomplished writers of its day because it offered, uniquely, a literary career with some realistic prospect of financial return. The decisive event was the opening of the Theatre (Theatre, The), considered the first purpose-built London playhouse, in 1576, and during the next 70 years some 20 theatres more are known to have operated. The quantity and diversity of plays they commissioned are little short of astonishing.

Theatres in London and the provinces
 The London theatres were a meeting ground of humanism and popular taste. They inherited, on the one hand, a tradition of humanistic drama current at court, the universities, and the Inns of Court (collegiate institutions responsible for legal education). This tradition involved the revival of Classical plays and attempts to adapt Latin conventions to English, particularly to reproduce the type of tragedy, with its choruses, ghosts, and sententiously formal verse, associated with Seneca (Seneca, Lucius Annaeus) (10 tragedies by Seneca in English translation appeared in 1581). A fine example of the type is Gorboduc (1561), by Thomas Sackville (Sackville, Thomas, 1st earl of Dorset) and Thomas Norton, a tragedy based on British chronicle history that draws for Elizabeth's benefit a grave political moral about irresponsible government. It is also the earliest known English play in blank verse. On the other hand, all the professional companies performing in London continued also to tour in the provinces, and the stage was never allowed to lose contact with its roots in country show, pastime, and festival. The simple moral scheme that pitted virtues against vices in the mid-Tudor interlude was never entirely submerged in more sophisticated drama, and the Vice, the tricksy villain of the morality play, survives, in infinitely more amusing and terrifying form, in Shakespeare's Richard III (c. 1592–94). Another survival was the clown or the fool, apt at any moment to step beyond the play's illusion and share jokes directly with the spectators. The intermingling of traditions is clear in two farces, Nicholas Udall (Udall, Nicholas)'s Ralph Roister Doister (1553) and the anonymous Gammer Gurton's Needle (1559), in which academic pastiche is overlaid with country game; and what the popular tradition did for tragedy is indicated in Thomas Preston's Cambises, King of Persia (c. 1560), a blood-and-thunder tyrant play with plenty of energetic spectacle and comedy.

 A third tradition was that of revelry and masques, practiced at the princely courts across Europe and preserved in England in the witty and impudent productions of the schoolboy troupes of choristers who sometimes played in London alongside the professionals. An early play related to this kind is the first English prose comedy, Gascoigne's Supposes (1566), translated from a reveling play in Italian. Courtly revel reached its apogee in England in the ruinously expensive court masques staged for James I and Charles I, magnificent displays of song, dance, and changing scenery performed before a tiny aristocratic audience and glorifying the king. The principal masque writer was Ben Jonson (Jonson, Ben), the scene designer Inigo Jones (Jones, Inigo).

Professional playwrights
      The first generation of professional playwrights in England has become known collectively as the university wits. Their nickname identifies their social pretensions, but their drama was primarily middle class, patriotic, and romantic. Their preferred subjects were historical or pseudo-historical, mixed with clowning, music, and love interest. At times, plot virtually evaporated; George Peele (Peele, George)'s Old Wives' Tale (c. 1595) and Nashe's Summer's Last Will and Testament (1600) are simply popular shows, charming medleys of comic turns, spectacle, and song. Peele was a civic poet, and his serious plays are bold and pageantlike; The Arraignment of Paris (1584) is a pastoral entertainment, designed to compliment Elizabeth. Greene (Greene, Robert)'s speciality was comical histories, interweaving a serious plot set among kings with comic action involving clowns. In his Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay (1594) and James IV (1598), the antics of vulgar characters complement but also criticize the follies of their betters. Only Lyly, writing for the choristers, endeavoured to achieve a courtly refinement. His Gallathea (1584) and Endimion (1591) are fantastic comedies in which courtiers, nymphs, and goddesses make rarefied love in intricate, artificial patterns, the very stuff of courtly dreaming.

 Outshining all these is Christopher Marlowe (Marlowe, Christopher), who alone realized the tragic potential inherent in the popular style, with its bombast and extravagance. His heroes are men of towering ambition who speak blank verse of unprecedented (and occasionally monotonous) elevation, their “high astounding terms” embodying the challenge that they pose to the orthodox values of the societies they disrupt. In Tamburlaine the Great (two parts, published 1590) and Edward II (c. 1591; published 1594), traditional political orders are overwhelmed by conquerors and politicians who ignore the boasted legitimacy of weak kings; The Jew of Malta (c. 1589; published 1633) studies the man of business whose financial acumen and trickery give him unrestrained power; The Tragical History of Dr. Faustus (c. 1593; published 1604) depicts the overthrow of a man (Faust) whose learning shows scant regard for God. The main focus of all these plays is on the uselessness of society's moral and religious sanctions against pragmatic, amoral will. They patently address themselves to the anxieties of an age being transformed by new forces in politics, commerce, and science; indeed, the sinister, ironic prologue to The Jew of Malta is spoken by Machiavelli. In his own time Marlowe was damned as atheist, homosexual, and libertine, and his plays remain disturbing because his verse makes theatrical presence into the expression of power, enlisting the spectators' sympathies on the side of his gigantic villain-heroes. His plays thus present the spectator with dilemmas that can be neither resolved nor ignored, and they articulate exactly the divided consciousness of their time. There is a similar effect in The Spanish Tragedy (c. 1591) by Marlowe's friend Thomas Kyd (Kyd, Thomas), an early revenge tragedy in which the hero seeks justice for the loss of his son but, in an unjust world, can achieve it only by taking the law into his own hands. Kyd's use of Senecan conventions (notably a ghost impatient for revenge) in a Christian setting expresses a genuine conflict of values, making the hero's success at once triumphant and horrifying.

Shakespeare's works
      Above all other dramatists stands William Shakespeare (Shakespeare, William), a supreme genius whom it is impossible to characterize briefly. Shakespeare is unequaled as poet and intellect, but he remains elusive. His capacity for assimilation—what the poet John Keats (Keats, John) called his “negative capability”—means that his work is comprehensively accommodating; every attitude or ideology finds its resemblance there yet also finds itself subject to criticism and interrogation. In part, Shakespeare achieved this by the total inclusiveness of his aesthetic, by putting clowns in his tragedies and kings in his comedies, juxtaposing public and private, and mingling the artful with the spontaneous; his plays imitate the counterchange of values occurring at large in his society. The sureness and profound popularity of his taste enabled him to lead the English Renaissance without privileging or prejudicing any one of its divergent aspects, while he—as actor, dramatist, and shareholder in the Lord Chamberlain's players (Lord Chamberlain's Men)—was involved in the Elizabethan theatre at every level. His career (dated from 1589 to 1613) corresponded exactly to the period of greatest literary flourishing, and only in his work are the total possibilities of the Renaissance fully realized.

The early histories
  Shakespeare's early plays were principally histories and comedies. About a fifth of all Elizabethan plays were histories, but this was the genre that Shakespeare particularly made his own, dramatizing the whole sweep of English history from Richard II to Henry VII in two four-play sequences, an astonishing project carried off with triumphant success. The first sequence, comprising the three Henry VI (Henry VI, Part 2) plays (Henry VI, Part 1) and Richard III (1589–94), begins as a patriotic celebration of English valour against the French. But this is soon superseded by a mature, disillusioned understanding of the world of politics, culminating in the devastating portrayal of Richard III—probably the first “character,” in the modern sense, on the English stage—who boasts in Henry VI, Part 3 that he can “set the murtherous Machevil to school.” Richard III ostensibly monumentalizes the glorious accession of the dynasty of Tudor, but its realistic depiction of the workings of state power insidiously undercuts such platitudes, and the appeal of Richard's quick-witted individuality is deeply unsettling, short-circuiting any easy moral judgments. The second sequence— Richard II (1595–96), Henry IV, Part 1 and Part 2 (Henry IV, Part 2) (1596–98), and Henry V (1599)—begins with the deposing of a bad but legitimate king and follows its consequences through two generations, probing relentlessly at the difficult questions of authority, obedience, and order that it raises. (The earl of Essex's faction paid for a performance of Richard II on the eve of their ill-fated rebellion against Elizabeth in 1601.) In the Henry IV (Henry IV, Part 1) plays, which are dominated by the massive character of Falstaff (Falstaff, Sir John) and his roguish exploits in Eastcheap, Shakespeare intercuts scenes among the rulers with scenes among those who are ruled, thus creating a multifaceted composite picture of national life at a particular historical moment. The tone of these plays, though, is increasingly pessimistic, and in Henry V a patriotic fantasy of English greatness is hedged around with hesitations and qualifications about the validity of the myth of glorious nationhood offered by the Agincourt story. Through all these plays runs a concern for the individual and his subjection to historical and political necessity, a concern that is essentially tragic and anticipates greater plays yet to come. Shakespeare's other history plays, King John (1594–96) and Henry VIII (1613), approach similar questions through material drawn from Foxe's Actes and Monuments.

The early comedies
 The early comedies share the popular and romantic forms used by the university wits but overlay them with elements of elegant courtly revel and a sophisticated consciousness of comedy's fragility and artifice. These are festive comedies, giving access to a society vigorously and imaginatively at play. The plays of one group—The Comedy of Errors (Comedy of Errors, The) (c. 1589–94), The Taming of the Shrew (Taming of the Shrew, The) (c. 1589–94), The Merry Wives of Windsor (Merry Wives of Windsor, The) (c. 1597–98), and Twelfth Night (1600–01)—are comedies of intrigue, fast-moving, often farcical, and placing a high premium on wit. The plays of a second group—The Two Gentlemen of Verona (Two Gentlemen of Verona, The) (c. 1589–94), Love's Labour's Lost (1589–94), A Midsummer Night's Dream (Midsummer Night's Dream, A) (c. 1595–96), and As You Like It (1598–1600)—have as a common denominator a journey to a natural environment, such as a wood or a park, in which the restraints governing everyday life are released and the characters are free to remake themselves untrammeled by society's forms, sportiveness providing a space in which the fragmented individual may recover wholeness. All the comedies share a belief in the positive, health-giving powers of play, but none is completely innocent of doubts about the limits that encroach upon the comic space. In the four plays that approach tragicomedy—The Merchant of Venice (Merchant of Venice, The) (c. 1596–97), Much Ado About Nothing (1598–99), All's Well That Ends Well (1601–05), and Measure for Measure (1603–04)—festivity is in direct collision with the constraints of normality, with time, business, law, human indifference, treachery, and selfishness. These plays give greater weight to the less-optimistic perspectives on society current in the 1590s, and their comic resolutions are openly acknowledged to be only provisional, brought about by manipulation, compromise, or the exclusion of one or more major characters. The unique play Troilus and Cressida (c. 1601–02) presents a kind of theatrical no-man's-land between comedy and tragedy, between satire and savage farce. Shakespeare's reworking of the Trojan War pits heroism against its parody in a way that voices fully the fin-de-siècle sense of confused and divided individuality.

The tragedies (tragedy)
  The confusions and contradictions of Shakespeare's age find their highest expression in his tragedies. In these extraordinary achievements, all values, hierarchies, and forms are tested and found wanting, and all society's latent conflicts are activated. Shakespeare sets husband against wife, father against child, the individual against society; he uncrowns kings, levels the nobleman with the beggar, and interrogates the gods. Already in the early experimental tragedies Titus Andronicus (1589–94), with its spectacular violence, and Romeo and Juliet (1594–96), with its comedy and romantic tale of adolescent love, Shakespeare had broken away from the conventional Elizabethan understanding of tragedy as a twist of fortune to an infinitely more complex investigation of character and motive, and in Julius Caesar (1599) he begins to turn the political interests of the history plays into secular and corporate tragedy, as men fall victim to the unstoppable train of public events set in motion by their private misjudgments. In the major tragedies that follow, Shakespeare's practice cannot be confined to a single general statement that covers all cases, for each tragedy belongs to a separate category: revenge tragedy in Hamlet (c. 1599–1601), domestic tragedy in Othello (1603–04), social tragedy in King Lear (1605–06), political tragedy in Macbeth (1606–07), and heroic tragedy in Antony and Cleopatra (1606–07). In each category Shakespeare's play is exemplary and defines its type; the range and brilliance of this achievement are staggering. The worlds of Shakespeare's heroes are collapsing around them, and their desperate attempts to cope with the collapse uncover the inadequacy of the systems by which they rationalize their sufferings and justify their existence. The ultimate insight is Lear's irremediable grief over his dead daughter: “Why should a dog, a horse, a rat have life, / And thou no breath at all?” Before the overwhelming suffering of these great and noble spirits, all consolations are void, and all versions of order stand revealed as adventitious. The humanism of the Renaissance is punctured in the very moment of its greatest single product.

Shakespeare's later works
      In his last period Shakespeare's astonishingly fertile invention returned to experimentation. In Coriolanus (1608) he completed his political tragedies, drawing a dispassionate analysis of the dynamics of the secular state; in the scene of the Roman food riot (not unsympathetically depicted) that opens the play is echoed the Warwickshire enclosure riots of 1607. Timon of Athens (1605–08) is an unfinished spin-off, a kind of tragic satire. The last group of plays comprises the four romances— Pericles (c. 1606–08), Cymbeline (c. 1608–10), The Winter's Tale (Winter's Tale, The) (c. 1609–11), and The Tempest (Tempest, The) (1611)—which develop a long, philosophical perspective on fortune and suffering. (A final work, The Two Noble Kinsmen (Two Noble Kinsmen, The) [1613–14], was written in collaboration with John Fletcher (Fletcher, John).) In these plays Shakespeare's imagination returns to the popular romances of his youth and dwells on mythical themes—wanderings, shipwrecks, the reunion of sundered families, and the resurrection of people long thought dead. There is consolation here, of a sort, beautiful and poetic, but still the romances do not turn aside from the actuality of suffering, chance, loss, and unkindness, and Shakespeare's subsidiary theme is a sustained examination of the nature of his own art, which alone makes these consolations possible. Even in this unearthly context a subtle interchange is maintained between the artist's delight in his illusion and his mature awareness of his own disillusionment.

Playwrights after Shakespeare
      Shakespeare's perception of a crisis in public norms and private belief became the overriding concern of the drama until the closing of the theatres in 1642. The prevailing manner of the playwrights who succeeded him was realistic, satirical, and antiromantic, and their plays focused predominantly on those two symbolic locations, the city and the court, with their typical activities, the pursuit of wealth and power. “Riches and glory,” wrote Sir Walter Raleigh, “Machiavel's two marks to shoot at,” had become the universal aims, and this situation was addressed by city comedies and tragedies of state. Increasingly, it was on the stages that the rethinking of early Stuart (Stuart, House of) assumptions took place.

      On the one hand, in the works of Thomas Heywood (Heywood, Thomas), Thomas Dekker (Dekker, Thomas), John Day (Day, John), Samuel Rowley, and others, the old tradition of festive comedy was reoriented toward the celebration of confidence in the dynamically expanding commercial metropolis. Heywood (Heywood, Thomas) claimed to have been involved in some 200 plays, and they include fantastic adventures starring citizen heroes, spirited, patriotic, and inclined to a leveling attitude in social matters. His masterpiece, A Woman Killed with Kindness (1603), is a middle-class tragedy. Dekker (Dekker, Thomas) was a kindred spirit, best seen in his Shoemakers' Holiday (1599), a celebration of citizen brotherliness and Dick Whittington (Whittington, Dick)-like success; the play nevertheless faces squarely up to the hardships of work, thrift, and the contempt of the great. On the other hand, the very industriousness that the likes of Heywood viewed with civic pride became in the hands of Ben Jonson, George Chapman, John Marston, and Thomas Middleton a sign of self-seeking, avarice, and anarchy, symptomatic of the sicknesses in society at large.

      The crucial innovations in satiric comedy were made by Ben Jonson (Jonson, Ben), Shakespeare's friend and nearest rival, who stands at the fountainhead of what subsequently became the dominant modern comic tradition. His early plays, particularly Every Man in His Humour (1598) and Every Man Out of His Humour (1599), with their galleries of grotesques, scornful detachment, and rather academic effect, were patently indebted to the verse satires of the 1590s; they introduced to the English stage a vigorous and direct anatomizing of “the time's deformities,” the language, habits, and humours of the London scene. Jonson began as a self-appointed social legislator, socially conservative but intellectually radical, outraged by a society given over to inordinate appetite and egotism, and ambitious through his mammoth learning to establish himself as the privileged artist, the fearless and faithful mentor and companion to kings; but he was ill at ease with a court inclined in its masques to prefer flattery to judicious advice. Consequently, the greater satires that followed are marked by their gradual accommodations with popular comedy and by their unwillingness to make their implied moral judgments explicit: in Volpone (1606) the theatrical brilliance of the villain easily eclipses the sordid legacy hunters whom he deceives; Epicoene (1609) is a noisy farce of metropolitan fashion and frivolity; The Alchemist (1610) exhibits the conjurings and deceptions of clever London rogues; and Bartholomew Fair (1614) draws a rich portrait of city life parading through the annual fair at Smithfield, a vast panorama of a society given over to folly. In these plays, fools and rogues are indulged to the very height of their daring, forcing upon the audience both criticism and admiration; the strategy leaves the audience to draw its own conclusions while liberating Jonson's wealth of exuberant comic invention, virtuoso skill with plot construction, and mastery of a language tumbling with detailed observation of London's multifarious ephemera. After 1616 Jonson abandoned the stage for the court, but, finding himself increasingly disregarded, he made a hard-won return to the theatres. The most notable of his late plays are popular in style: The New Inn (1629), which has affinities with the Shakespearean romance, and A Tale of a Tub (1633), which resurrects the Elizabethan country farce.

Other Jacobean dramatists
      Of Jonson's successors in city comedy, Francis Beaumont (Beaumont, Francis), in The Knight of the Burning Pestle (1607), amusingly insults the citizenry while ridiculing its taste for romantic plays. John Marston (Marston, John) adopts so sharp a satirical tone that his comic plays frequently border on tragedy. All values are mocked by Marston's bitter and universal skepticism; his city comedy The Dutch Courtezan (1605), set in London, explores the pleasures and perils of libertinism. His tragicomedy The Malcontent (1604) is remarkable for its wild language and sexual and political disgust; Marston cuts the audience adrift from the moorings of reason by a dizzying interplay of parody and seriousness. Only in the city comedies of Thomas Middleton (Middleton, Thomas) was Jonson's moral concern with greed and self-ignorance bypassed, for Middleton presents the pursuit of money as the sole human absolute and buying and selling, usury, law, and the wooing of rich widows as the dominant modes of social interaction. His unprejudiced satire touches the actions of citizen and gentleman with equal irony and detachment; the only operative distinction is between fool and knave, and the sympathies of the audience are typically engaged on the side of wit, with the resourceful prodigal and dexterous whore. His characteristic form, used in Michaelmas Term (1605) and A Trick to Catch the Old One (1606), was intrigue comedy, which enabled him to portray his society dynamically, as a mechanism in which each sex and class pursues its own selfish interests. He was thus concerned less with characterizing individuals in depth than with examining the inequalities and injustices of the world that cause them to behave as they do. His The Roaring Girl (c. 1608) and A Chaste Maid in Cheapside (1613) are the only Jacobean comedies to rival the comprehensiveness of Bartholomew Fair, but their social attitudes are opposed to Jonson's; the misbehaviour that Jonson condemned morally as “humours” or affectation Middleton understands as the product of circumstance.

      Middleton's social concerns are also powerfully to the fore in his great tragedies, Women Beware Women (c. 1621) and The Changeling (1622), in which the moral complacency of men of rank is shattered by the dreadful violence they themselves have casually set in train, proving the answerability of all men for their actions despite the exemptions claimed for privilege and status. The hand of heaven is even more explicitly at work in the overthrow of the aristocratic libertine D'Amville in Cyril Tourneur (Tourneur, Cyril)'s The Atheist's Tragedy (c. 1611), where the breakdown of old codes of deference before a progressive middle-class morality is strongly in evidence. In The Revenger's Tragedy (1607), now generally attributed to Middleton, a scathing attack on courtly dissipation is reinforced by complaints about inflation and penury in the countryside at large. For more traditionally minded playwrights, new anxieties lay in the corrupt and sprawling bureaucracy of the modern court and in the political eclipse of the nobility before incipient royal absolutism. In Jonson's Sejanus (1603) Machiavellian statesmen abound, while George Chapman (Chapman, George)'s Bussy d'Ambois (1604) and Conspiracy of Charles, Duke of Byron (1608) drew on recent French history to chart the collision of the magnificent but redundant heroism of the old-style aristocrat, whose code of honour had outlived its social function, with pragmatic arbitrary monarchy; Chapman doubtless had the career and fate of Essex in mind. The classic tragedies of state are John Webster (Webster, John)'s, with their dark Italian courts, intrigue and treachery, spies, malcontents, and informers. His The White Devil (1612), a divided, ambivalent play, elicits sympathy even for a vicious heroine, since she is at the mercy of her deeply corrupt society, and the heroine in The Duchess of Malfi (1623) is the one decent and spirited inhabitant of her world, yet her noble death cannot avert the fearfully futile and haphazard carnage that ensues. As so often on the Jacobean stage, the challenge to the male-dominated world of power was mounted through the experience of its women.

The last Renaissance dramatists
      Already in the Jacobean period, signs of a politer drama such as would prevail after 1660 were beginning to appear. Simply in terms of productivity and longevity, the most successful Jacobean playwright was John Fletcher (Fletcher, John), whose ingenious tragicomedies and sometimes bawdy comedies were calculated to attract the applause of the emerging Stuart leisured classes. With plays such as The Faithful Shepherdess (1609 or 1610), Fletcher caught up with the latest in avant-garde Italianate drama, while his most dazzling comedy, The Wild Goose Chase (produced 1621, printed 1652), is a battle of the sexes set among Parisian gallants and their ladies; it anticipates the Restoration comedy of manners. Fletcher's successor in the reign of Charles I was James Shirley (Shirley, James), who showed even greater facility with romantic comedy and the mirroring of fashions and foibles. In The Lady of Pleasure (1635) and Hyde Park (1637), Shirley presented the fashionable world to itself in its favourite haunts and situations.

      However, the underlying tensions of the time continued to preoccupy the drama of the other major Caroline playwrights: John Ford (Ford, John), Philip Massinger (Massinger, Philip), and Richard Brome (Brome, Richard). The plays of Ford, the last major tragic dramatist of the Renaissance, focus on profoundly conservative societies whose values are in crisis. In 'Tis Pity She's a Whore (1633?), a seemingly typical middle-class family is destroyed by the discovery of incest. In The Broken Heart (1633?), a courtly society collapses under the pressure of hidden political maladies. Massinger, too, wrote some fine tragedies (The Roman Actor, 1626), but his best plays are comedies and tragicomedies preoccupied with political themes, such as The Bondman (1623), which deals with issues of liberty and obedience, and A New Way to Pay Old Debts (performed 1625, printed 1633), which satirizes the behaviour and outlook of the provincial gentry. The tradition of subversive domestic satire was carried down to the English Civil Wars in the plays of Brome, whose anarchic and popular comedies, such as The Antipodes (1640) and A Jovial Crew (produced 1641, printed 1652), poke fun at all levels of society and include caustic and occasionally libelous humour. The outbreak of fighting in 1642 forced the playhouses to close, but this was not because the theatre had become identified with the court. Rather, a theatre of complex political sympathies was still being produced. The crisis in which the playhouses had become embroiled had been the drama's preoccupation for three generations.

Early Stuart poetry and prose
      In the early Stuart period the failure of consensus was dramatically demonstrated in the political collapse of the 1640s and in the growing sociocultural divergences of the immediately preceding years. While it was still possible for the theatres to address the nation very much as a single audience, the court—with the Baroque style, derived from the Continent, that it encouraged in painting, masque, and panegyric—was becoming more remote from the country at large and was regarded with increasing distrust. In fact, a growing separation between polite and vulgar literature was to dispel many of the characteristic strengths of Elizabethan writing. Simultaneously, long-term intellectual changes were beginning to impinge on the status of poetry and prose. Sidney's defense of poetry, which maintained that poetry depicted what was ideally rather than actually true, was rendered redundant by the loss of agreement over transcendent absolutes; the scientist, the Puritan with his inner light, and the skeptic differed equally over the criteria by which truth was to be established. From the circle of Lucius Cary, Viscount Falkland (Falkland, Lucius Cary, 2nd Viscount of, Lord Carye), at Great Tew in Oxfordshire—which included poets such as Edmund Waller (Waller, Edmund), Thomas Carew (Carew, Thomas), and Sidney Godolphin (Godolphin, Sidney)—William Chillingworth argued that it was unreasonable for any individual to force his opinions onto any other, while Thomas Hobbes (Hobbes, Thomas) reached the opposite conclusion (in his Leviathan, 1651) that all must be as the state pleases. In this context, the old idea of poetry as a persuader to virtue fell obsolete, and the century as a whole witnessed a massive transfer of energy into new literary forms, particularly into the rationally balanced couplet, the autobiography, and the embryonic novel. At the same time, these influences were neither uniform nor consistent; Hobbes might repudiate the use of metaphor as senseless and ambiguous, yet his own prose was frequently enlivened by half-submerged metaphors.

The Metaphysical poets
      Writers responded to these conditions in different ways, and in poetry three main traditions may broadly be distinguished, which have been coupled with the names of Spenser, Jonson, and John Donne (Donne, John). Donne heads the tradition that 18th-century critic Samuel Johnson labeled for all time as the Metaphysicals (Metaphysical poet); what unites these poets as a group is less the violent yoking of unlike ideas to which Johnson objected than that they were all poets of personal and individual feeling, responding to their time's pressures privately or introspectively. This privateness, of course, was not new, but the period in general experienced a huge upsurge of contemplative or devotional verse.

      Donne has been taken to be the apex of the 16th-century tradition of plain poetry, and certainly the love lyrics of his that parade their cynicism, indifference, and libertinism pointedly invert and parody the conventions of Petrarchan lyric, though he courts admiration for his poetic virtuosity no less than the Petrarchans. A “great haunter of plays” in his youth, he is always dramatic; his verse cultivates “strong lines,” dissonance, and colloquiality. Carew praised him for avoiding poetic myths and excluding from his verse the “train of gods and goddesses”; what fills it instead is a dazzling battery of language and argument drawn from science, law and trade, court and city. Donne is the first London poet: his early satires and elegies are packed with the busy metropolitan milieu, and his songs and sonnets, which include his best writing, with their kaleidoscope of contradictory attitudes, ironies, and contingencies, explore the alienation and ennui of urban living. Donne treats experience as relative, a matter of individual point of view; the personality is multiple, quizzical, and inconsistent, eluding definition. His love poetry is that of the frustrated careerist. By inverting normal perspectives and making the mistress the centre of his being—he boasts that she is “all states, and all princes, I, nothing else is”—he belittles the public world, defiantly asserting the superior validity of his private experience, and frequently he erodes the traditional dichotomy of body and soul, outrageously praising the mistress in language reserved for platonic or religious contexts. The defiance is complicated, however, by a recurrent conviction of personal unworthiness that culminates in the Anniversaries (1611–12), two long commemorative poems written on the death of a patron's daughter. These expand into the classic statement of Jacobean melancholy, an intense meditation on the vanity of the world and the collapse of traditional certainties. Donne would, reluctantly, find respectability in a church career, but even his religious poems are torn between the same tense self-assertion and self-abasement that mark his secular poetry.

Donne's influence
      Donne's influence was vast; the taste for wit and conceits reemerged in dozens of minor lyricists, among them courtiers such as Aurelian Townshend and William Habington, academics such as William Cartwright (Cartwright, William), and religious poets such as Francis Quarles (Quarles, Francis) and Henry King (King, Henry). The only true Metaphysical, in the sense of a poet with genuinely philosophical pretensions, was Edward Herbert (Herbert, Edward Herbert, 1st Baron) (Lord Herbert of Cherbury (Herbert, Edward Herbert, 1st Baron)), important as an early proponent of religion formulated by the light of reason. Donne's most enduring followers were the three major religious poets George Herbert (Herbert, George), Richard Crashaw (Crashaw, Richard), and Henry Vaughan (Vaughan, Henry). Herbert, a Cambridge academic who buried his courtly ambitions in the quiet life of a country parsonage, wrote some of the most resonant and attractive religious verse in the language. Though not devoid of tension, his poems substitute for Donne's tortured selfhood a humane, meditative assurance. They evoke a practical piety and a richly domestic world, but they dignify it with a musicality and a feeling for the beauty of holiness that bespeak Herbert's identification with the nascent Anglican church of Archbishop William Laud (Laud, William). By contrast, the poems of Crashaw (a Roman Catholic) and the Welsh recluse Vaughan move in alternative traditions: the former toward the sensuous ecstasies and effusions of the Continental Baroque, the latter toward hermetic naturalism and mystical raptures.

      However, in the context of the Civil Wars, Vaughan's and Crashaw's introspection began to look like retreat, and, when the satires of John Cleveland (Cleveland, John) and the lyrics of Abraham Cowley (Cowley, Abraham) took the Donne manner to extremes of paradox and vehemence, it was symptomatic of a loss of control in the face of political and social traumas. The one poet for whom metaphysical wit became a strategy for holding together conflicting allegiances was Donne's outstanding heir, Andrew Marvell (Marvell, Andrew). Marvell's writing is taut, extraordinarily dense and precise, uniquely combining a cavalier lyric grace with Puritanical economy of statement. His finest work seems to have been done at the time of greatest strain, in about 1650–53, and under the patronage of Sir Thomas Fairfax (Fairfax, Thomas Fairfax, 3rd Baron), parliamentarian general but opponent of King Charles I's execution, to whose retirement from politics to his country estate Marvell accorded qualified praise in "Upon Appleton House." His lyrics are poems of the divided mind, sensitive to all the major conflicts of their society—body against soul, action against retirement, experience against innocence, Oliver Cromwell (Cromwell, Oliver) against the king—but Marvell sustains the conflict of irreconcilables through paradox and wit rather than attempting to decide or transcend it. In this situation, irresolution has become a strength; in a poem like "An Horatian Ode upon Cromwell's Return from Ireland," which weighs the claims of King Charles and Cromwell, the poet's reserve was the only effective way of confronting the unprecedented demise of traditional structures of politics and morality.

Jonson and the Cavalier poets
      By contrast, the Jonsonian tradition was, broadly, that of social verse, written with a Classical clarity and weight and deeply informed by ideals of civilized reasonableness, ceremonious respect, and inner self-sufficiency derived from Seneca; it is a poetry of publicly shared values and norms. Jonson's own verse was occasional; it addresses other individuals, distributes praise and blame, and promulgates sober and judicious ethical attitudes. His favoured forms were the ode, elegy, satire, epistle, and epigram, and they are always beautifully crafted objects, achieving a Classical symmetry and monumentality. For Jonson, the unornamented style meant not colloquiality but labour, restraint, and control; a good poet had first to be a good man, and his verses lead his society toward an ethic of gracious but responsible living.

      With the Cavalier poets (Cavalier poet) who succeeded Jonson, the element of urbanity and conviviality tended to loom larger. Robert Herrick (Herrick, Robert) was perhaps England's first poet to express impatience with the tediousness of country life. However, Herrick's "The Country Life" and "The Hock Cart" rival Jonson's "To Penshurst" as panegyrics to the Horatian ideal of the “good life,” calm and retired, but Herrick's poems gain retrospective poignancy by their implied contrast with the disruptions of the Civil Wars. The courtiers Carew, Sir John Suckling (Suckling, Sir John), and Richard Lovelace (Lovelace, Richard) developed a manner of ease and naturalness suitable to the world of gentlemanly pleasure in which they moved; Suckling's A Session of the Poets (1637; published 1646) lists more than 20 wits then in town. The Cavalier poets were writing England's first vers de société, lyrics of compliments and casual liaisons, often cynical, occasionally obscene; this was a line to be picked up again after 1660, as were the heroic verse and attitudinizing drama of Jonson's successor as poet laureate, Sir William Davenant (Davenant, Sir William). A different contribution was the elegance and smoothness that came to be associated with Sir John Denham (Denham, Sir John) and Edmund Waller (Waller, Edmund), whom the poet John Dryden named as the first exponents of “good writing.” Waller's inoffensive lyrics are the epitome of polite taste, and Denham's topographical poem "Cooper's Hill" (1641), a significant work in its own right, is an important precursor of the balanced Augustan couplet (as is the otherwise slight oeuvre of Viscount Falkland). The growth of Augustan gentility was further encouraged by work done on translations in mid-century, particularly by Sir Richard Fanshawe (Fanshawe, Sir Richard, 1st Baronet) and Thomas Stanley (Stanley, Thomas).

Continued influence of Spenser
      Donne had shattered Spenser's leisurely ornamentation, and Jonson censured his archaic language, but the continuing regard for Spenser at this time was significant. Variants of the Spenserian stanza were used by the brothers Giles Fletcher (Fletcher, Giles, the Younger) and Phineas Fletcher (Fletcher, Phineas), the former in his long religious poem "Christ's Victory" (1610), which is also indebted to Josuah Sylvester (Sylvester, Josuah)'s highly popular translations from the French Calvinist poet Guillaume du Bartas (Bartas, Guillaume de Salluste, seigneur du), the Divine Weeks and Works (1605). Similarly, Spenserian pastorals still flowed from the pens of William Browne (Browne, William) (Britannia's Pastorals, 1613–16), George Wither (Wither, George) (The Shepherd's Hunting, 1614), and Michael Drayton (Drayton, Michael), who at the end of his life returned nostalgically to portraying an idealized Elizabethan golden age (The Muses Elizium, 1630). Nostalgia was a dangerous quality under the progressive and absolutist Stuarts; the taste for Spenser involved a respect for values—traditional, patriotic, and Protestant—that were popularly, if erroneously, linked with the Elizabethan past but thought to be disregarded by the new regime. These poets believed they had a spokesman at court in the heroic and promising Prince Henry, but his death in 1612 disappointed many expectations, intellectual, political, and religious, and this group in particular was forced further toward the Puritan (Puritanism) position. Increasingly, their pastorals and fervently Protestant poetry made them seem out of step with a court whose sympathies in foreign affairs were pro-Spanish and pro-Catholic; so sharp became Wither's satires that he earned imprisonment and was lampooned by Jonson in a court masque. The failure of the Stuarts to conciliate attitudes such as these was to be crucial to their inability to prevent the collapse of the Elizabethan compromise in the next generation. The nearest affinities, both in style and substance, of John Milton (Milton, John)'s early poetry would be with the Spenserians; in Areopagitica (1644) Milton praised “our sage and serious poet Spenser” as “a better teacher than [the philosophers] Scotus or Aquinas.”

Effect of religion and science on early Stuart prose
      Puritanism also had a powerful effect on early Stuart prose. The best sellers of the period were godly manuals that ran to scores of editions, such as Arthur Dent's Plain Man's Pathway to Heaven (25 editions by 1640) and Lewis Bayly's Practice of Piety (1611; some 50 editions followed), two copies of which formed the meagre dowry of preacher and author John Bunyan (Bunyan, John)'s first wife. Puritans preferred sermons in the plain style too, eschewing rhetoric for an austerely edifying treatment of doctrine, though some famous preachers, such as Henry Smith and Thomas Adams, believed it their duty to make the Word of God eloquent. The other factor shaping prose was the desire among scientists for a utilitarian style that would accurately and concretely represent the relationship between words and things, without figurative luxuriance. This hope, repeatedly voiced in the 1640s and '50s, eventually bore fruit in the practice of the Royal Society (founded 1660), which decisively affected prose after the Restoration. Its impact on earlier writing, though, was limited; most early Stuart science was written in a baroque style.

      The impetus toward a scientific prose derived ultimately from Sir Francis Bacon (Bacon, Francis, Viscount Saint Alban (or Albans), Baron of Verulam), the towering intellect of the century, who charted a philosophical system well in advance of his generation and beyond his own powers to complete. In the Advancement of Learning (1605) and the Novum Organum (1620), Bacon visualized a great synthesis of knowledge, rationally and comprehensively ordered so that each discipline might benefit from the discoveries of the others. The two radical novelties of his scheme were his insight that there could be progress in learning (i.e., that the limits of knowledge were not fixed but could be pushed forward) and his inductive method, which aimed to establish scientific principles by experimentation, beginning at particulars and working toward generalities, instead of working backward from preconceived systems. Bacon democratized knowledge at a stroke, removing the tyranny of authority and lifting scientific inquiry free of religion and ethics and into the domain of mechanically operating second causes (though he held that the perfection of the machine itself testified to God's glory). The implications for prose are contained in his statement in the Advancement that the preoccupation with words instead of matter was the first “distemper” of learning; his own prose, however, was far from plain. The level exposition of idea in the Advancement is underpinned by a tactful but firmly persuasive rhetoric, and the famous Essays (1597; enlarged 1612, 1625) are shifting and elusive, teasing the reader toward unresolved contradictions and half-apprehended complications.

      The Essays (essay) are masterworks in the new Stuart genre of the prose of leisure, the reflectively aphoristic prose piece in imitation of the Essays of Michel de Montaigne (Montaigne, Michel de). Lesser collections were published by Sir William Cornwallis (1600–01), Owen Felltham (Felltham, Owen) (1623), and Ben Jonson (Timber; or, Discoveries, published posthumously in 1640). A related genre was the “character,” a brief, witty description of a social or moral type, imitated from Theophrastus and practiced first by Joseph Hall (Hall, Joseph) (Characters of Virtues and Vices, 1608) and later by Sir Thomas Overbury (Overbury, Sir Thomas), John Webster (Webster, John), and Thomas Dekker (Dekker, Thomas). The best characters are John Earle (Earle, John)'s (Micro-cosmography, 1628). Character-writing led naturally into the writing of biography; the chief practitioners of this genre were Thomas Fuller (Fuller, Thomas), who included brief sketches in The Holy State (1642; includes The Profane State), and Izaak Walton (Walton, Izaak), the biographer of Donne, George Herbert, and Richard Hooker. Walton's biographies are entertaining, but he manipulated facts shamelessly; these texts seem lightweight when placed beside Fulke Greville (Greville, Fulke, 1st Baron Brooke)'s tragic and valedictory Life of the Renowned Sir Philip Sidney (c. 1610; published 1652). The major historical work of the period was Sir Walter Raleigh (Raleigh, Sir Walter)'s unfinished History of the World (1614), with its rolling sentences and sombre skepticism, written from the Tower of London during his disgrace. Raleigh's providential framework would recommend his History to Cromwell and Milton; King James I found it “too saucy in censuring princes.” Bacon's History of the Reign of King Henry the Seventh (1622) belongs to a more secular, Machiavellian tradition, which valued history for its lessons in pragmatism.

Prose styles
      The essayists and character writers initiated a reaction against the orotund flow of serious Elizabethan prose that has been variously described as metaphysical, anti-Ciceronian, or Senecan, but these terms are used vaguely to denote both the cultivation of a clipped, aphoristic prose style, curt to the point of obscurity, and a fashion for looseness, asymmetry, and open-endedness. The age's professional stylists were the preachers, and in the sermons of Donne and Lancelot Andrewes (Andrewes, Lancelot) the clipped style is used to crumble the preacher's exegesis into tiny, hopping fragments or to suggest a nervous, agitated restlessness. An extreme example of the loose style is Robert Burton (Burton, Robert)'s Anatomy of Melancholy (1621), a massive encyclopaedia of learning, pseudoscience, and anecdote strung around an investigation into human psychopathology. Burton's compendiousness, his fascination with excess, necessitated a style that was infinitely extensible; his successor was Sir Thomas Urquhart (Urquhart, Sir Thomas), whose translation of François Rabelais (Rabelais, François)'s Gargantua and Pantagruel (1653) outdoes even its author in invention. In the Religio Medici (1635) and in "The Garden of Cyrus" and "Hydriotaphia, Urn Burial; or, A Discourse of the Sepulchral Urns Lately Found in Norfolk" (both printed 1658) of Sir Thomas Browne (Browne, Sir Thomas), the loose style serves a mind delighting in paradox and unanswerable speculation, content with uncertainty because of its intuitive faith in ultimate assurance. Browne's majestic prose invests his confession of his belief and his antiquarian and scientific tracts alike with an almost Byzantine richness and melancholy.

      These were all learned styles, Latinate and sophisticated, but the appearance in the 1620s of the first corantos, or courants (news books), generated by interest in the Thirty Years' War, heralded the great 17th-century shift from an elite to a mass readership, a change consolidated by the explosion of popular journalism (newspaper) that accompanied the political confusion of the 1640s. The search for new kinds of political order and authority generated an answering chaos of styles, as voices were heard that had hitherto been denied access to print. The radical ideas of educated political theorists like Hobbes and the republican James Harrington (Harrington, James) were advanced within the traditional decencies of polite (if ruthless) debate, but they spoke in competition with writers who deliberately breached the literary canons of good taste—Levelers (Leveler), such as John Lilburne (Lilburne, John) and Richard Overton (Overton, Richard), with their vigorously dramatic manner; Diggers (Digger), such as Gerrard Winstanley (Winstanley, Gerrard) in his Law of Freedom (1652); and Ranters, whose language and syntax were as disruptive as the libertinism they professed. The outstanding examples are Milton's (Milton, John) tracts against the bishops (1641–42), which revealed an unexpected talent for scurrilous abuse and withering sarcasm. Milton's later pamphlets—on divorce, education, and free speech (Areopagitica, 1644) and in defense of tyrannicide (The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates, 1649)—adopt a loosely Ciceronian sonorousness, but their language is plain and always intensely imaginative and absorbing.

      John Milton (Milton, John), the last great poet of the English Renaissance, laid down in his work the foundations for the emerging aesthetic of the post-Renaissance period. Milton had a concept of the public role of the poet even more elevated, if possible, than Jonson's; he early declared his hope to do for his native tongue what “the greatest and choicest wits of Athens, Rome, or modern Italy” had done for theirs. But where Jonson's humanism had led him into court service, Milton's was complicated by a respect for the conscience acting in pursuance of those things that it, individually, knew were right; he wished to “contribute to the progress of real and substantial liberty; which is to be sought for not from without, but within.” His early verse aligned him, poetically and politically, with the Spenserians: religious and pastoral odes; "Lycidas" (1637), a pastoral elegy that incidentally bewails the state of the church; and Comus (1634), a masque against “masquing,” performed privately in the country and opposing a private heroism in chastity and virtue to the courtly round of revelry and pleasure. But he was also well read in Latin and modern Italian literature and ambitious to write in English a poem to compare with Virgil's Aeneid.

      During the Civil Wars and the Cromwellian republic (1642–60), Milton saw his role as the intellectual serving the state in a glorious cause. He devoted his energies to pamphleteering, first in the cause of church reform and then in defense of the fledgling republic, and he became Latin secretary to Cromwell's Council of State. But the republic of virtue failed to materialize, and the Cromwellian settlement was swept aside in 1660 by the returning monarchy. Milton showed himself virtually the last defender of the republic with his tract The Ready and Easy Way to Establish a Free Commonwealth (1660), a courageous but desperate program for a permanent oligarchy of the Puritan elect, the only device he could suggest to prevent the return to royal slavery.

      Milton's greatest achievements were yet to come, for Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained, and Samson Agonistes were not published until after the Restoration. But their roots were deep in the radical experience of the 1640s and '50s and in the ensuing transformations in politics and society. With its antihero, Satan, in flawed rebellion against an all-powerful divine monarchy, Paradise Lost revisits the politics of the last generation; its all-too-human protagonists, turned out of Eden into a more difficult world where they have to acquire new and less-certain kinds of heroism, are adjusting to a culture in which all the familiar bearings have been changed, the old public certainties now rendered more private, particular, and provisional. For Milton and his contemporaries, 1660 was a watershed that necessitated a complete rethinking of assumptions and a corresponding reassessment of the literary language, traditions, and forms appropriate to the new age.

M.H. Butler

The Restoration (Restoration literature)

Literary reactions to the political climate
      For some, the restoration of King Charles II in 1660 led many to a painful revaluation of the political hopes and millenarian expectations bred during two decades of civil war and republican government. For others, it excited the desire to celebrate kingship and even to turn the events of the new reign into signs of a divinely ordained scheme of things. Violent political conflict may have ceased, but the division between royalists and republicans still ran through literature of the period. Indeed, it is hard to conceive of a single literary culture that could include, on the one hand, John Milton (Milton, John) and John Bunyan (Bunyan, John) and, on the other, John Wilmot, earl of Rochester (Rochester, John Wilmot, 2nd earl of), and John Dryden (Dryden, John). Yet these and other such opposites were writing at the same time.

      The term Restoration literature is often taken to mean the literature of those who belonged, or aspired to belong, to the restored court culture of Charles II's reign—the “mob of gentlemen who wrote with ease,” as Alexander Pope (Pope, Alexander) later put it. This identification was to allow Pope's contemporaries to look back on the Restoration as an age of excess and licentiousness. Yet Puritans and republicans had not disappeared. With the Act of Uniformity (1662) and the Test Act (1673), those Protestants not conforming with the Church of England (“Dissenters”) were excluded from most public offices. However, they still formed an important body of opinion within the nation. They were also to make a distinctive contribution to the nation's intellectual life throughout the following century.

      In the first years after Charles II's return, dissent was stilled or secretive. With the return of an efficient censorship, ambitiously heterodox ideas in theology and politics that had found their way freely into print during the 1640s and '50s were once again denied publication. For erstwhile supporters of the Commonwealth, the experience of defeat needed time to be absorbed, and fresh strategies had to be devised to encounter the challenge of hostile times. Much caustic and libelous political satire was written during the reigns of Charles II and James II and (because printing was subject to repressive legal constrictions) circulated anonymously and widely in manuscript. Andrew Marvell (Marvell, Andrew), sitting as member of Parliament for Hull in three successive Parliaments from 1659 to 1678, experimented energetically with this mode, and his Last Instructions to a Painter (written in 1667) achieves a control of a broad canvas and an alertness to apt detail and to the movement of masses of people that make it a significant forerunner of Pope's Dunciad, however divergent the two poets' political visions may be. Marvell also proved himself to be a dexterous, abrasive prose controversialist, comprehensively deriding the anti-Dissenter arguments of Samuel Parker (later bishop of Oxford) in The Rehearsal Transprosed (1672, with a sequel in 1673) and providing so vivid an exposition of Whig suspicions of the restored monarchy's attraction to absolutism in An Account of the Growth of Popery, and Arbitrary Government in England (1677) that a reward of £100 was offered for revealing its author's identity.

The defeated republicans
      The greatest prose controversialist of the pre-1660 years, John Milton (Milton, John), did not return to that mode but, in his enforced retirement from the public scene, devoted himself to his great poems of religious struggle and conviction, Paradise Lost (1667, revised 1674) and Paradise Regained and Samson Agonistes (both 1671). Each, in its probing of the intricate ways in which God's design reveals itself in human history, can justly be read (in one of its dimensions) as a chastened but resolute response to the failure of a revolution in which Milton himself had placed great trust and hope.

      Others of the defeated republicans set out to record their own or others' experiences in the service of what they called the “good old cause.” Lucy Hutchinson composed, probably in the mid-1660s, her remarkable memoirs of the life of her husband, Colonel Hutchinson, the parliamentarian commander of Nottingham during the Civil Wars. Edmund Ludlow (Ludlow, Edmund), like Hutchinson one of the regicides, fled to Switzerland in 1660, where he compiled his own Memoirs. These were published only in 1698–99, after Ludlow's death, and the discovery in 1970 of part of Ludlow's own manuscript revealed that they had been edited and rewritten by another hand before printing. Civil War testimony still had political applications in the last years of the 17th century, but those who sponsored its publication judged that Ludlow's now old-fashioned, millenarian rhetoric should be suppressed in favour of a soberer commonwealthman's dialect. Some autobiographers adjusted their testimony themselves in the light of later developments. The Quaker leader George Fox (Fox, George), for example, dictating his Journal to various amanuenses, dubiously claimed for himself an attachment to pacifist principles during the 1650s, whereas it was in fact only in 1661, in the aftermath of the revolution's defeat, that the peace principle became central to Quakerism. The Journal itself reached print in 1694 (again, after its author's death) only after revision by a group superintended by William Penn (Penn, William). Such caution suggests a lively awareness of the influence such a text could have in consolidating a sect's sense of its own identity and continuity.

Writings of the Nonconformists (Nonconformist)
      John Bunyan (Bunyan, John)'s Grace Abounding (1666), written while he was imprisoned in Bedford jail for nonconformity with the Church of England, similarly relates the process of his own conversion for the encouragement of his local, dissenter congregation. It testifies graphically to the force, both terrifying and consolatory, with which the biblical word could work upon the consciousness of a scantily educated, but overwhelmingly responsive, 17th-century believer. The form of Grace Abounding has numerous precedents in spiritual autobiography of the period, but with The Pilgrim's Progress (the first part of which appeared in 1678) Bunyan found himself drawn into a much more novel experiment, developing an ambitious allegorical narrative when his intent had been to write a more conventionally ordered account of the processes of redemption. The resulting work (with its second part appearing in 1684) combines a careful exposition of the logical structure of the Calvinist scheme of salvation with a delicate responsiveness to the ways in which his experience of his own world (of the life of the road, of the arrogance of the rich, of the rhythms of contemporary speech) can be deployed to render with a new vividness the strenuous testing the Christian soul must undergo. His achievement owes scarcely anything to the literary culture of his time, but his masterpiece has gained for itself a readership greater than that achieved by any other English 17th-century work with the exception of the King James Bible (King James Version). In the 17th and 18th centuries there were chapbook versions, at two or three pence each, for the barely literate, and there were elegant editions for pious gentlefolk. It was the favourite work of both the self-improving artisan and the affluent tradesman. Yet it was below the horizon of polite literary taste.

      Perhaps Bunyan, the uneducated son of a tinker, would have found such condescension appropriate. His writing crackles with suspicion of “gentlemen” and those who have learned eloquence, such as the impressive Mr. Worldly-Wiseman, who almost persuades Christian to self-destruction in Pilgrim's Progress. This work is also rich in disdainful portraits of those who are more than satisfied with the ways of the world: the “honourable friends” of Prince Beelzebub, such as “the Lord Luxurious, the Lord Desire of Vain-glory, my old Lord Lechery, Sir Having Greedy, with all the rest of our nobility.” Bunyan had an ear for the self-satisfied conversational turns of those convinced by their own affluence that “God has bestowed upon us the good things of this life.” Two other works of his, though lesser in stature, are especially worth reading: The Life and Death of Mr. Badman (1680), which, with graphic local detail, remorselessly tracks the sinful temptations of everyday life, and The Holy War (1682), a grandiose attempt at religious mythmaking interlaced with contemporary political allusions.

      Richard Baxter (Baxter, Richard), a Nonconformist cleric who, although enduring persecution after 1660, was by instinct and much of his practice a reconciler, published untiringly on religious issues. Soon after the death of his wife, he wrote the moving Breviate (1681), a striking combination of exemplary narrative and unaffectedly direct reporting of the nature of their domestic life. His finest work, however, is the Reliquiae Baxterianae (published in 1696, five years after his death), an autobiography that is also an eloquent defense of the Puritan impulse in the 17th-century Christian tradition.

      In the aftermath of the Restoration, there was much formulaic satirizing of Puritans, especially on the stage. A more engaging voice of anti-Puritan reaction can be heard in Samuel Butler (Butler, Samuel)'s extensive mock-heroic satire Hudibras (published in three installments between 1662 and 1678). This was a massively popular work, with an influence stretching well into the 18th century (when Samuel Johnson (Johnson, Samuel), for example, greatly admired it and William Hogarth (Hogarth, William) illustrated some scenes from it). It reads partly as a consummately destructive act of revenge upon those who had usurped power in the previous two decades, but although it is easy to identify what Hudibras opposes, it is difficult to say what, if anything, it affirms. Although much admired by royalist opinion, it shows no wish to celebrate the authority or person restored in 1660, and its brazenly undignified use of rhyming tetrameters mirrors, mocks, and lacerates rooted human follies far beyond the power of one political reversal to obliterate. A comparable sardonic disenchantment is apparent in Butler's shorter verse satires and in his incisive and densely argued collection of prose Characters.

Writings of the royalists
      Royalists also resorted to biography and autobiography to record their experiences of defeat and restoration. Three of the most intriguing are by women: the life written by Margaret, duchess of Newcastle, of her husband (1667) and the memoirs of Ann, Lady Fanshawe, and of Anne, Lady Halkett. The latter two were both written in the late 1670s but as private texts, with no apparent thought of publication. (They were not published in any complete form until, respectively, 1829 and 1875.) But incomparably the richest account of those years is The History of the Rebellion and Civil Wars in England by Edward Hyde, earl of Clarendon (Clarendon, Edward Hyde, 1st earl of, Viscount Cornbury). The work was begun in exile during the late 1640s and was revised and completed in renewed exile after Clarendon's fall from royal favour in 1667. Clarendon was a close adviser to two kings, and his intimacy with many of the key events is unrivaled. Though his narrative is inevitably partisan, the ambitious range of his analysis and his mastery of character portraiture make the History an extraordinary accomplishment. His autobiography, which he also wrote during his last exile, gravely chronicles the transformations of the gentry world between the 1630s and '60s.

      In 1660, feeling in the country ran strongly in favour of the Church of England (England, Church of), persecution having confirmed in many a deep affection for Anglican rites and ceremonies. The reestablished church, accepting for itself the role of staunch defender of kingly authority, tended to eschew the exploration of ambitious and controversial theological issues and devoted itself instead to expounding codes of sound moral conduct. It was an age of eminent preachers (including Robert South, Isaac Barrow (Barrow, Isaac), Edward Stillingfleet, and John Tillotson) and of keen interest in the art of preaching. It was also an age in which representatives of the established church were often suspicious of the power of preaching, fearing its power to arouse “enthusiasm.” This was the power that had helped excite the sectarians who had rebelled against their king. It was the power wielded by men such as Bunyan, who was imprisoned for preaching without a license. In conscious reaction against the obscurantist dialects judged typical of the sects, a plain and direct style of sermon oratory was favoured. Thus, in his funeral sermon on Tillotson in 1694, Gilbert Burnet praised the archbishop because he “said what was just necessary to give clear Ideas of things, and no more” and “laid aside all long and affected Periods.” Sermons continued to be published and to sell in large numbers throughout the late 17th and the 18th centuries.

Major genres and major authors of the period
      A comparable preference for an unembellished and perspicuous use of language is apparent in much of the nontheological literature of the age. Thomas Sprat (Sprat, Thomas), in his propagandizing History of the Royal Society of London (1667), and with the needs of scientific discovery in mind, also advocated “a close, naked natural way of speaking, positive expressions, clear senses, a native easiness.” Sprat's work and a series of books by Joseph Glanvill (Glanvill, Joseph), beginning with The Vanity of Dogmatizing (1661), argued the case for an experimental approach to natural phenomena against both the old scholastic philosophy and general conservative prejudice. That a real struggle was involved can be seen from the invariably disparaging attitude of contemporary satires to the labours of the Royal Society's enthusiasts (see, for instance, Butler's "The Elephant in the Moon," probably written in 1670–71, and Thomas Shadwell (Shadwell, Thomas)'s The Virtuoso, 1676)—a tradition to be sustained later by Pope and Jonathan Swift (Swift, Jonathan).

 However, evidence of substantial achievement for the new generation of explorers was being published throughout the period, in, for example, Robert Boyle (Boyle, Robert)'s Sceptical Chymist (1661), Robert Hooke (Hooke, Robert)'s Micrographia (1665), John Ray (Ray, John)'s Historia Plantarum (in three volumes, 1686–1704), and, above all, Isaac Newton (Newton, Sir Isaac)'s Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica (1687). Newton's great work, composed in Latin, was written for fellow mathematicians rather than for gentlemen virtuosi. Only a select few were able to follow his workings (though his later Opticks [1704] was aimed at a much wider readership). Yet his theories were popularized by a small regiment of Newtonians, and by the early 18th century he had become a hero of his culture.

      The greatest philosopher of the period, John Locke (Locke, John), explicitly acknowledges Newton and some of his fellow “natural philosophers” in the opening of his An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690). Locke declared himself to be an “underlabourer” to what today is called a “scientist.” The philosopher's role, according to Locke, was to clear up misunderstandings, purge language of its mystifications, and call us to acknowledge the modesty of what we can know. The Essay was a founding text of Empiricism, arguing that all knowledge comes from experience, rationally reflected upon. Empiricism rejects a belief in innate ideas and argues that the mind at birth is a tabula rasa. Experience of the world can be accumulated only through the senses, which are themselves prone to unreliability. The Essay, cautiously concerned to define the exact limits of what the mind can truly claim to know, threw exciting new light on the workings of human intelligence and stimulated further debate and exploration through the fertility of its suggestions—for example, about the way in which ideas come to be associated. It was hugely influential throughout the 18th century. Locke was also a pioneer in political thought. He came from Puritan stock and was closely linked during the Restoration with leading Whig figures, especially the most controversial of them all, Anthony Ashley Cooper, 1st earl of Shaftesbury (Shaftesbury, Anthony Ashley Cooper, 1st Earl of, Baron Cooper of Pawlett, Baron Ashley of Wimborne St. Giles). Locke's Two Treatises of Government, published in 1690 but written mainly during the Exclusion Crisis—the attempt to exclude Charles II's brother James, a Roman Catholic, from succeeding to the throne—10 years earlier, asserts the right of resistance to unjust authority and, in the last resort, of revolution. To make this argument, he had to think radically about the origins of civil society, the mutual obligations of subjects and rulers, and the rights of property. The resulting work became the crucial reference point from which subsequent debate took its bearings.

Chroniclers
      The Restoration, in its turn, bred its own chroniclers. Anthony à Wood (Wood, Anthony), the Oxford antiquarian, made in his Athenae Oxonienses (1691–92) the first serious attempt at an English biographical dictionary. His labours were aided by John Aubrey (Aubrey, John), whose own unsystematic but enticing manuscript notes on the famous have been published in modern times under the title Brief Lives. After 1688, secret histories of the reigns of Charles II and James II were popular, of which the outstanding instance, gossipy but often reliable, is the Memoirs of the Count Grammont, compiled in French by Anthony Hamilton and first translated into English in 1714. A soberer but still free-speaking two-volume History of My Own Time (published posthumously, 1724–34) was composed by the industrious Gilbert Burnet, bishop of Salisbury from 1689. In the last months of the life of the court poet John Wilmot, 2nd earl of Rochester (Rochester, John Wilmot, 2nd earl of), Burnet had been invited to attend him, and, in Some Passages of the Life and Death of John, Earl of Rochester (1680), he offered a fascinating account of their conversations as the erstwhile rake edged toward a rapprochement with the faith he had spurned. Burnet's account of Rochester's final faith and penitence has been doubted by many, yet some of the dialogues that he records seem too unorthodox to be inventions.

      A sparer, more finely focused prose was written by George Savile, 1st marquess of Halifax (Halifax, George Savile, 1st marquess of), who, closely involved in the political fray for 35 years but remaining distrustful of any simple party alignments, wrote toward the end of his life a series of thoughtful, wryly observant essays, including The Character of a Trimmer (circulated in manuscript in late 1684 or very early 1685), A Letter to a Dissenter (published clandestinely in 1687), and A Character of King Charles the Second (written after about 1688). He also composed for his own daughter The Lady's New-Year's-Gift; or, Advice to a Daughter (1688), in which he anatomizes, with a sombre but affectionate wit, the pitfalls awaiting a young gentlewoman in life, especially in marriage.

Diarists (diary)
      Two great diarists are among the most significant witnesses to the development of the Restoration world. Both possessed formidably active and inquisitive intelligences. John Evelyn (Evelyn, John) was a man of some moral rectitude and therefore often unenamoured of the conduct he observed in court circles; but his curiosity was insatiable, whether the topic in question happened to be Tudor architecture, contemporary horticulture, or the details of sermon rhetoric. Samuel Pepys (Pepys, Samuel), whose diary, unlike Evelyn's, covers only the first decade of the Restoration, was the more self-scrutinizing of the two, constantly mapping his own behaviour with an alert and quizzical eye. He also described major public events from close up, including the Great Plague (Great Plague of London) and the Great Fire (Great Fire of London) of London and a naval war against the Dutch. Though not without his own moral inhibitions and religious gravity, Pepys immersed himself more totally than Evelyn in the new world of the 1660s, and it is he who gives the more resonant and idiosyncratic images of the changing London of the time. Pepys's diary is full of the oddities of everyday life: food, places, singular characters encountered only once. It was written in cipher for no reader other than himself and gives an often disarming sense of the writer's weaknesses and his self-interest. (It was not decoded until the 19th century.)

The court wits
      Among the subjects for gossip in London, the group known as the court wits held a special place. Their conduct of their lives provoked censure from many, but among them were poets of some distinction who drew upon the example of gentlemen-authors of the preceding generation (especially Sir John Suckling (Suckling, Sir John), Abraham Cowley (Cowley, Abraham), and Edmund Waller (Waller, Edmund), the last two of whom themselves survived into the Restoration and continued to write impressive verse). The court wits' best works are mostly light lyrics—for example, Sir Charles Sedley (Sedley, Sir Charles, 4th Baronet)'s "Not, Celia, that I juster am" or Charles Sackville, earl of Dorset's "Dorinda's sparkling wit, and eyes." However, one of their number, John Wilmot (Rochester, John Wilmot, 2nd earl of), the earl of Rochester, possessed a wider range and richer talent. Though some of his surviving poetry is in the least-ambitious sense occasional work, he also produced writing of great force and authority, including a group of lyrics (for example, "All my past life is mine no more" and "An age in her embraces past" ) that, in psychological grasp and limpid deftness of phrasing, are among the finest of the century. He also wrote the harsh and scornfully dismissive Satire Against Reason and Mankind (probably before 1676), in which, as elsewhere in his verse, his libertinism seems philosophical as well as sexual. He doubts religious truths and sometimes seems to be versifying the scandalous materialism of Thomas Hobbes (Hobbes, Thomas). Indeed, some of his verse that vaunts its obscenity has an aspect of nihilism, as if the amoral sexual epicure were but fending off fear of oblivion. More lightly, Rochester experimented ingeniously with various forms of verse satire on contemporary society. The most brilliant of these, A Letter from Artemisia in the Town, to Chloë in the Country (written about 1675), combines a shrewd ear for currently fashionable idioms with a Chinese box structure that masks the author's own thoughts. Rochester's determined use of strategies of indirection anticipates Swift's tactics as an ironist.

      John Oldham (Oldham, John), a young schoolmaster, received encouragement as a poet from Rochester. His career, like his patron's, was to be cut short by an early death (in 1683, at age 30); but of his promise there can be no doubt. (Dryden wrote a fine elegy upon him.) Oldham's Satires upon the Jesuits (1681), written during the Popish Plot, makes too unrelenting use of a rancorous, hectoring tone, but his development of the possibilities (especially satiric) of the “imitation” form, already explored by Rochester in, for example, An Allusion to Horace (written 1675–76), earns him an honourable place in the history of a mode that Pope was to put to such dazzling use. His imitation of the ninth satire of Horace's first book exemplifies the agility and tonal resource with which Oldham could adapt a Classical original to, and bring its values to bear upon, Restoration experience.

      A poet who found early popularity with Restoration readers is Charles Cotton (Cotton, Charles), whose Scarronides (1664–65), travesties of Books I and IV of Virgil's Aeneid, set a fashion for poetic burlesque. He is valued today, however, for work that attracted less contemporary interest but was to be admired by the Romantics William Wordsworth (Wordsworth, William), Samuel Coleridge (Coleridge, Samuel Taylor), and Charles Lamb (Lamb, Charles). The posthumous Poems on Several Occasions (1689) includes deft poetry of friendship and love written with the familiar, colloquial ease of the Cavalier tradition and carefully observed, idiosyncratically executed descriptions of nature. He also added a second part to his friend Izaak Walton (Walton, Izaak)'s The Compleat Angler in 1676. A writer whose finest work was unknown to his contemporaries, much of it not published until the 20th century, is the poet and mystic Thomas Traherne (Traherne, Thomas). Influenced by the Hermetic writings attributed to the Egyptian god Thoth and by the lengthy Platonic tradition, he wrote, with extreme transparency of style, out of a conviction of the original innocence and visionary illumination of infancy. His poetry, though uneven, contains some remarkable writing, but his richest achievements are perhaps to be found in the prose Centuries of Meditations (first published in 1908).

      A poetic accomplishment of quite another order is that of John Dryden (Dryden, John). He was 29 years old when Charles II returned from exile, and little writing by him survives from before that date. However, for the remaining 40 years of his life, he was unwearyingly productive, responding to the challenges of an unstable world with great formal originality and a mastery of many poetic styles. Contemporaries perhaps saw his achievements differently from 21st-century readers. In the early part of his career, he was above all a successful dramatist: he wrote heroic plays in rhyming verse, topical comedies, adaptations of Shakespeare, operas, and subtle tragicomedies. The great achievements of his later career were in the field of translation, especially from Latin. This culminated in his magisterial version of the works of Virgil (1697). His demonstration that English verse could, in some sense, match its Classical models deeply impressed later writers, notably Alexander Pope. Dryden was profoundly a poet of the public domain, but the ways in which he addressed himself to the issues of the day varied greatly in the course of his career. Thus, his poem to celebrate the Restoration itself, Astraea Redux (1660), invokes Roman ideas of the return of a golden age under Augustus Caesar (Augustus) in order to encourage similar hopes for England's future; whereas in 1681 the Exclusion Crisis drew from Dryden one of his masterpieces, Absalom and Achitophel, in which the Old Testament story of King David, through an ingenious mingling of heroic and satiric tones, is made to shadow and comment decisively upon the current political confrontation. Another of his finest inventions, Mac Flecknoe (written mid-1670s, published 1682), explores, through agile mock-heroic fantasy, the possibility of a world in which the profession of humane letters has been thoroughly debased through the unworthiness of its practitioners. The 1680s also saw the publication of two major religious poems: Religio Laici; or, A Layman's Faith (1682), in which Dryden uses a plain style to handle calmly the basic issues of faith, and The Hind and the Panther (1687), in which an elaborate allegorical beast fable is deployed to trace the history of animosities between Anglicanism and Roman Catholicism. In the Glorious Revolution (1688) Dryden stayed loyal to the Catholicism to which he had converted a few years earlier and thus lost his public offices. Financial need spurred him into even more literary activity thereafter, and his last years produced not only his version of Virgil but also immensely skilled translations of Juvenal and Persius, handsome versions of Giovanni Boccaccio (Boccaccio, Giovanni) and Geoffrey Chaucer (Chaucer, Geoffrey), and further fine original poetry.

      Dryden was, in addition, in Samuel Johnson's words, the father of English criticism (literary criticism). Throughout his career he wrote extensively on matters of critical precept and poetic practice. Such sustained effort for which there was no precedent not only presumed the possibility of an interested audience but also contributed substantially to the creation of one. His tone is consistently exploratory and undogmatic. He writes as a working author, with an eye to problems he has himself faced, and is skeptical of theoretical prescriptions, even those that seem to come with Classical authority. His discussion of Ben Jonson's Epicoene; or, The Silent Woman in Of Dramatic Poesie, an Essay (1668) is remarkable as the first extended analysis of an English play, and his Discourse Concerning the Origin and Progress of Satire (1693) and the preface to the Fables Ancient and Modern (1700) both contain detailed commentary of the highest order.

      A contrary critical philosophy was espoused by Thomas Rymer (Rymer, Thomas), an adherent of the most-rigid Neoclassical notions of dramatic decorum, who surveyed the pre-1642 English drama in Tragedies of the Last Age (1678) and A Short View of Tragedy (1693) and found it wanting. His zealotry reads unattractively today, but Dryden was impressed by him, if disinclined to accept his judgments without protest. In due course the post-1660 playwrights were to find their own scourge in Jeremy Collier (Collier, Jeremy), whose A Short View of the Immorality and Profaneness of the English Stage (1698) comprehensively indicted the Restoration stage tradition. The theoretical frame of Collier's tract is crude, but his strength lay in his dogged citation of evidence from published play texts, especially when the charge was blasphemy, a crime still liable to stiff penalties in the courts. Even so clever a man as the dramatist William Congreve was left struggling when attempting to deny in print the freedoms he had allowed his wit.

Drama by Dryden and others
      Dryden, as dramatist, experimented vigorously in all the popular stage modes of the day, producing some distinguished tragic writing in All for Love (1677) and Don Sebastian (1689); but his greatest achievement, Amphitryon (1690), is a comedy. In this he was typical of his age. Though there were individual successes in tragedy (especially Thomas Otway (Otway, Thomas)'s Venice Preserved [1682] and Nathaniel Lee (Lee, Nathaniel)'s Lucius Junius Brutus [1680]), the splendour of the Restoration theatre lies in its comic creativity. Several generations of dramatists contributed to that wealth. In the 1670s the most original work can be found in Sir George Etherege (Etherege, Sir George)'s The Man of Mode (1676), William Wycherley (Wycherley, William)'s The Country Wife (1675) and The Plain Dealer (1676), and Aphra Behn (Behn, Aphra)'s two-part The Rover (1677, 1681). Commentary has often claimed to detect a disabling repetitiveness in even the best Restoration comic invention, but an attentive reading of The Country Wife and The Man of Mode will reveal how firmly the two authors, close acquaintances, devised dramatic worlds significantly dissimilar in atmosphere that set distinctive challenges for their players. Both plays were to scandalize future generations with their shared acceptance that the only credible virtues were intelligence and grace, together producing “wit.” The disturbed years of the Popish Plot produced comic writing of matching mood, especially in Otway's abrasive Soldier's Fortune (1680) and Lee's extraordinary variation on the Madame de La Fayette novella, The Princess of Cleve (1681–82). After the Glorious Revolution a series of major comedies hinged on marital dissension and questions (not unrelated to contemporary political traumas) of contract, breach of promise, and the nature of authority. These include, in addition to Amphitryon, Thomas Southerne (Southerne, Thomas)'s The Wives' Excuse (1691), Sir John Vanbrugh (Vanbrugh, Sir John)'s The Relapse (1696) and The Provoked Wife (1697), and George Farquhar (Farquhar, George)'s The Beaux' Stratagem (1707). These years also saw the premieres of William Congreve (Congreve, William)'s four comedies and one tragedy, climaxing with his masterpiece, The Way of the World (1700), a brilliant combination of intricate plotting and incisively humane portraiture. The pressures brought upon society at home by continental wars against the French also began to make themselves felt, the key text here being Farquhar's The Recruiting Officer (1706), in which the worlds of soldier and civilian are placed in suggestive proximity.

 After 1710, contemporary writing for the stage waned in vitality. The 18th century is a period of great acting and strong popular enthusiasm for the theatre, but only a few dramatists—John Gay (Gay, John), Henry Fielding (Fielding, Henry), Oliver Goldsmith (Goldsmith, Oliver), and Richard Brinsley Sheridan (Sheridan, Richard Brinsley)—achieved writing of a quality to compete with their predecessors' best, and even a writer of Sheridan (Sheridan, Richard Brinsley)'s undeniable resource produced in his best plays—The Rivals (1775), The School for Scandal (1777), and The Critic (1779)—work that seems more like a technically ingenious, but cautious, rearrangement of familiar materials than a truly innovative contribution to the corpus of English comic writing for the stage. A number of the Restoration masterpieces, however, continued to be performed well into the new century, though often in revised, even bowdlerized, form, and the influence of this comic tradition was also strongly apparent in satiric poetry and the novel in the decades that followed.

The 18th century

Publication of political literature
      The expiry of the Licensing Act in 1695 halted state censorship of the press. During the next 20 years there were to be 10 general elections. These two factors combined to produce an enormous growth in the publication of political literature. Senior politicians, especially Robert Harley (Oxford, Robert Harley, 1st Earl of, Earl Mortimer, Baron Harley of Wigmore), saw the potential importance of the pamphleteer in wooing the support of a wavering electorate, and numberless hack writers produced copy for the presses. Richer talents also played their part. Harley, for instance, instigated Daniel Defoe (Defoe, Daniel)'s industrious work on the Review (1704–13), which consisted, in essence, of a regular political essay defending, if often by indirection, current governmental policy. He also secured Jonathan Swift (Swift, Jonathan)'s polemical skills for contributions to The Examiner (1710–11). Swift's most ambitious intervention in the paper war, again overseen by Harley, was The Conduct of the Allies (1711), a devastatingly lucid argument against any further prolongation of the War of the Spanish Succession (Spanish Succession, War of the). Writers such as Defoe and Swift did not confine themselves to straightforward discursive techniques in their pamphleteering but experimented deftly with mock forms and invented personae to carry the attack home. In doing so, both writers made sometimes mischievous use of the anonymity that was conventional at the time. According to contemporary testimony, one of Defoe's anonymous works, The Shortest-Way with the Dissenters (1702), so brilliantly sustained its impersonation of a High Church extremist, its supposed narrator, that it was at first mistaken for the real thing. Anonymity was to be an important creative resource for Defoe in his novels and for Swift in his prose satires.

Journalism
      The avalanche of political writing whetted the contemporary appetite for reading matter generally and, in the increasing sophistication of its ironic and fictional maneuvers, assisted in preparing the way for the astonishing growth in popularity of narrative fiction during the subsequent decades. It also helped fuel the other great new genre of the 18th century: periodical journalism. After Defoe's Review the great innovation in this field came with the achievements of Richard Steele (Steele, Sir Richard) and Joseph Addison (Addison, Joseph) in The Tatler (Tatler, The) (1709–11) and then The Spectator (Spectator, The) (1711–12). In a familiar, urbane style they tackled a great range of topics, from politics to fashion, from aesthetics to the development of commerce. They aligned themselves with those who wished to see a purification of manners after the laxity of the Restoration and wrote extensively, with descriptive and reformative intent, about social and family relations. Their political allegiances were Whig, and in their creation of Sir Roger de Coverley they painted a wry portrait of the landed Tory squire as likable, possessed of good qualities, but feckless and anachronistic. Contrariwise, they spoke admiringly of the positive and honourable virtues bred by a healthy, and expansionist, mercantile community. Addison, the more original of the two, was an adventurous literary critic who encouraged esteem for the ballad through his enthusiastic account of "Chevy Chase" and hymned the pleasures of the imagination in a series of papers deeply influential on 18th-century thought. His long, thoughtful, and probing examen of Milton's Paradise Lost played a major role in establishing the poem as the great epic of English literature and as a source of religious wisdom. The success with which Addison and Steele established the periodical essay as a prestigious form can be judged by the fact that they were to have more than 300 imitators before the end of the century. The awareness of their society and curiosity about the way it was developing, which they encouraged in their eager and diverse readership, left its mark on much subsequent writing.

      Later in the century other periodical forms developed. Edward Cave invented the idea of the “magazine,” founding the hugely successful Gentleman's Magazine in 1731. One of its most prolific early contributors was the young Samuel Johnson. Periodical writing was a major part of Johnson's career, as it was for writers such as Fielding and Goldsmith. The practice and the status of criticism were transformed in mid-century by the Monthly Review (founded 1749) and the Critical Review (founded 1756). The latter was edited by Tobias Smollett (Smollett, Tobias). From this period the influence of reviews began to shape literary output, and writers began to acknowledge their importance.

Major political writers

      Alexander Pope (Pope, Alexander) contributed to The Spectator and moved for a time in Addisonian circles; but from about 1711 onward, his more-influential friendships were with Tory intellectuals. His early verse shows a dazzling precocity, his An Essay on Criticism (1711) combining ambition of argument with great stylistic assurance and Windsor Forest (1713) achieving an ingenious, late-Stuart variation on the 17th-century mode of topographical poetry. The mock-heroic The Rape of the Lock (final version published in 1714) is an astonishing feat, marrying a rich range of literary allusiveness and a delicately ironic commentary upon the contemporary social world with a potent sense of suppressed energies threatening to break through the civilized veneer. It explores with great virtuosity the powers of the heroic couplet (a pair of five-stress rhyming lines). Much of the wit of Pope's verse derives from its resources of incongruity, disproportion, and antithesis. That he could also write successfully in a more plaintive mode is shown by "Eloisa to Abelard" (1717), which, modeled on Ovid's heroic epistles, enacts with moving force Eloisa's struggle to reconcile grace with nature, virtue with passion. But the prime focus of his labours between 1713 and 1720 was his energetically sustained and scrupulous translation of Homer's Iliad (to be followed by the Odyssey in the mid-1720s). His Iliad secured his reputation and made him a considerable sum of money.

      From the 1720s on, Pope's view of the transformations wrought in Robert Walpole (Walpole, Robert, 1st earl of Orford)'s England by economic individualism and opportunism grew increasingly embittered and despairing. In this he was following a common Tory trend, epitomized most trenchantly by the writings of his friend, the politician Henry St. John, 1st Viscount Bolingbroke (Bolingbroke, Henry Saint John, 1st Viscount, Baron Saint John Of Lydiard Tregoze). Pope's Essay on Man (1733–34) was a grand systematic attempt to buttress the notion of a God-ordained, perfectly ordered, all-inclusive hierarchy of created things. But his most probing and startling writing of these years comes in the four Moral Essays (1731–35), the series of Horatian imitations, and the final four-book version of The Dunciad (1743), in which he turns to anatomize with outstanding imaginative resource the moral anarchy and perversion of once-hallowed ideals he sees as typical of the commercial society in which he must perforce live.

      James Thomson (Thomson, James) also sided with the opposition to Walpole, but his poetry sustained a much more optimistic vision. In The Seasons (first published as a complete entity in 1730 but then massively revised and expanded until 1746), Thomson meditated upon and described with fascinated precision the phenomena of nature. He brought to the task a vast array of erudition and a delighted absorption in the discoveries of post-Civil War science (especially Newtonian science), from whose vocabulary he borrowed freely. The image he developed of man's relationship to, and cultivation of, nature provided a buoyant portrait of the achieved civilization and wealth that ultimately derive from them and that, in his judgment, contemporary England enjoyed. The diction of The Seasons, which is written in blank verse, has many Miltonian echoes. In The Castle of Indolence (1748) Thomson's model is Spenserian, and its wryly developed allegory lauds the virtues of industriousness and mercantile achievement.

      A poet who wrote less ambitiously but with a special urbanity is Matthew Prior, a diplomat and politician of some distinction, who essayed graver themes in Solomon on the Vanity of the World (1718), a disquisition on the vanity of human knowledge, but who also wrote some of the most direct and coolly elegant love poetry of the period. Prior's principal competitor as a writer of light verse was John Gay (Gay, John), whose Trivia; or, The Art of Walking the Streets of London (1716) catalogues the dizzying diversity of urban life through a dexterous burlesque of Virgil's Georgics. His Fables, particularly those in the 1738 collection, contain sharp, subtle writing, and his work for the stage, especially in The What D'Ye Call It (1715), Three Hours After Marriage (1717; written with John Arbuthnot (Arbuthnot, John) and Pope), and The Beggar's Opera (1728), shows a sustained ability to breed original and vital effects from witty generic cross-fertilization.

      Jonathan Swift (Swift, Jonathan), who also wrote verse of high quality throughout his career, like Gay favoured octosyllabic couplets and a close mimicry of the movement of colloquial speech. His technical virtuosity allowed him to switch assuredly from poetry of great destructive force to the intricately textured humour of Verses on the Death of Dr. Swift (completed in 1732; published 1739) and to the delicate humanity of his poems to Stella. But his prime distinction is, of course, as the greatest prose satirist in the English language. His period as secretary to the distinguished man of letters Sir William Temple (Temple, Sir William, Baronet) gave him the chance to extend and consolidate his reading, and his first major work, A Tale of a Tub (1704), deploys its author's learning to chart the anarchic lunacy of its supposed creator, a Grub Street hack, whose solipsistic “modern” consciousness possesses no respect for objectivity, coherence of argument, or inherited wisdom from Christian or Classical tradition. Techniques of impersonation were central to Swift's art thereafter. The Argument Against Abolishing Christianity (1708), for instance, offers brilliant ironic annotations on the “Church in Danger” controversy through the carefully assumed voice of a “nominal” Christian. That similar techniques could be adapted to serve specific political goals is demonstrated by The Drapier's Letters (1724–25), part of a successful campaign to prevent the imposition of a new, and debased, coinage on Ireland. Swift had hoped for preferment in the English church, but his destiny lay in Ireland, and the ambivalent nature of his relationship to that country and its inhabitants provoked some of his most demanding and exhilarating writing—above all, A Modest Proposal (1729), in which the ironic use of an invented persona achieves perhaps its most extraordinary and mordant development. His most wide-ranging satiric work, however, is also his most famous: Gulliver's Travels (1726). Swift grouped himself with Pope and Gay in hostility to the Walpole regime and the Hanoverian court, and that preoccupation leaves its mark on this work. But Gulliver's Travels also hunts larger prey. At its heart is a radical critique of human nature in which subtle ironic techniques work to part the reader from any comfortable preconceptions and challenge him to rethink from first principles his notions of man. Its narrator, who begins as a prideful modern man and ends as a maddened misanthrope, is also, disturbingly, the final object of its satire.

      More-consoling doctrine was available in the popular writings of Anthony Ashley Cooper, 3rd earl of Shaftesbury (Shaftesbury, Anthony Ashley Cooper, 3rd Earl of, Baron Cooper of Pawlett, Baron Ashley of Wimborne St. Giles), which were gathered in his Characteristics of Men, Manners, Opinions, Times (1711). Although Shaftesbury had been tutored by Locke, he dissented from the latter's rejection of innate ideas and posited that man is born with a moral sense that is closely associated with his sense of aesthetic form. The tone of Shaftesbury's essays is characteristically idealistic, benevolent, gently reasonable, and unmistakably aristocratic. Yet they were more controversial than now seems likely: such religion as is present there is Deistic, and the philosopher seems warmer toward pagan than Christian wisdom.

      His optimism was buffeted by Bernard de Mandeville (Mandeville, Bernard de), whose Fable of the Bees (1714–29), which includes "The Grumbling Hive; or, Knaves Turn'd Honest" (1705), takes a closer look at early capitalist society than Shaftesbury was prepared to do. Mandeville stressed the indispensable role played by the ruthless pursuit of self-interest in securing society's prosperous functioning. He thus favoured an altogether harsher view of man's natural instincts than Shaftesbury did and used his formidable gifts as a controversialist to oppose the various contemporary hypocrisies, philosophical and theological, that sought to deny the truth as he saw it. Indeed, he is less a philosopher than a satirist of the philosophies of others, ruthlessly skewering unevidenced optimism and merely theoretical schemes of virtue.

      He was, in his turn, the target of acerbic rebukes by, among others, William Law (Law, William), John Dennis (Dennis, John), and Francis Hutcheson (Hutcheson, Francis). George Berkeley (Berkeley, George), who criticized both Mandeville and Shaftesbury, set himself against what he took to be the age's irreligious tendencies and the obscurantist defiance by some of his philosophical forbears of the truths of common sense. His Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge (1710) and Three Dialogues Between Hylas and Philonous (1713) continued the 17th-century debates about the nature of human perception, to which René Descartes (Descartes, René) and John Locke (Locke, John) had contributed. The extreme lucidity and elegance of his style contrast markedly with the more-effortful but intensely earnest prose of Joseph Butler (Butler, Joseph)'s Analogy of Religion (1736), which also seeks to confront contemporary skepticism and ponders scrupulously the bases of man's knowledge of his creator.

      In a series of works beginning with A Treatise of Human Nature (1739–40), David Hume (Hume, David) identified himself as a key spokesman for ironic skepticism and probed uncompromisingly the human mind's propensity to work by sequences of association and juxtaposition rather than by reason. He uniquely merged intellectual rigour with stylistic elegance, writing many beautifully turned essays, including the lengthy, highly successful History of Great Britain (1754–62) and his piercingly skeptical Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, published posthumously in 1779. Edmund Burke (Burke, Edmund)'s A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (1757) merged psychological and aesthetic questioning by hypothesizing that the spectator's or reader's delight in the sublime depended upon a sensation of pleasurable pain. An equally bold assumption about human psychology—in this case, that man is an ambitious, socially oriented, product-valuing creature—lies at the heart of Adam Smith (Smith, Adam)'s masterpiece of laissez-faire economic theory, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776). Smith was a friend of Hume's, and both were, with others such as Hutcheson, William Robertson (Robertson, William), and Adam Ferguson (Ferguson, Adam), part of the Scottish Enlightenment—a flowering of intellectual life centred in Edinburgh and Glasgow in the second half of the 18th century.

The novel
The major novelists

      Such ambitious debates on society and human nature ran parallel with the explorations of a literary form finding new popularity with a large audience, the novel. Daniel Defoe (Defoe, Daniel) came to sustained prose fiction late in a career of quite various, often disputatious writing. The variety of interests that he had pursued in all his occasional work (much of which is not attributed to him with any certainty) left its mark on his more-lasting achievements. His distinction, though earned in other fields of writing than the polemical, is constantly underpinned by the generous range of his curiosity. Only someone of his catholic interests could have sustained, for instance, the superb Tour Thro' the Whole Island of Great Britain (1724–27). This is a vivid county-by-county review and celebration of the state of the nation, which combines an antiquarian's enthusiasm with a passion for trade and commercial progress. He brought the same diversity of enthusiasms into play in writing his novels. The first of these, Robinson Crusoe (1719), an immediate success at home and on the Continent, is a unique fictional blending of the traditions of Puritan spiritual autobiography with an insistent scrutiny of the nature of man as social creature and an extraordinary ability to invent a sustaining modern myth. A Journal of the Plague Year (1722) displays enticing powers of self-projection into a situation of which Defoe can only have had experience through the narrations of others, and both Moll Flanders (1722) and Roxana (1724) lure the reader into puzzling relationships with narrators the degree of whose own self-awareness is repeatedly and provocatively placed in doubt.

      The enthusiasm prompted by Defoe's best novels demonstrated the growing readership for innovative prose narrative. Samuel Richardson (Richardson, Samuel), a prosperous London printer, was the next major author to respond to the challenge. His Pamela; or, Virtue Rewarded (1740, with a less-happy sequel in 1741), using (like all Richardson's novels) the epistolary form, tells a story of an employer's attempted seduction of a young servant woman, her subsequent victimization, and her eventual reward in virtuous marriage with the penitent exploiter. Its moral tone is self-consciously rigorous and proved highly controversial. It was a publishing sensation, not only selling in large numbers but also provoking parodies and imitations, attacks and eulogies. As well as being popular, it was the first such work of prose fiction to aspire to respectability, indeed moral seriousness. For contemporaries, the so-called “rise of the novel” began here. The strength of Pamela was its exploitation of what Richardson was to call “writing to the moment”: the capturing in the texture of her letters the fluctuations of the heroine's consciousness as she faces her ordeal. Pamela herself is the writer of almost all the letters, and the technical limitations of the epistolary form are strongly felt, though Richardson's ingenuity works hard to mitigate them. But Pamela's frank speaking about the abuses of masculine and gentry power sounds the skeptical note more radically developed in Richardson's masterpiece, Clarissa; or, The History of a Young Lady (1747–48), which has a just claim to being considered the greatest of all English tragic novels. Clarissa uses multiple narrators and develops a profoundly suggestive interplay of opposed voices. At its centre is the taxing soul debate and eventually mortal combat between the aggressive, brilliantly improvisatorial libertine Lovelace and the beleaguered Clarissa, maltreated and abandoned by her family but sternly loyal to her own inner sense of probity. The tragic consummation that grows from this involves an astonishingly ruthless testing of the psychological (psychological novel) natures of the two leading characters. Even in its own day, Clarissa was widely accepted as having demonstrated the potential profundity, moral or psychological, of the novel. It was admired and imitated throughout Europe. After such intensities, Richardson's final novel, The History of Sir Charles Grandison (1753–54), is perhaps inevitably a less ambitious, cooler work, but its blending of serious moral discussion and a comic ending ensured it an influence on his successors, especially Jane Austen (Austen, Jane).

      Henry Fielding (Fielding, Henry) turned to novel writing after a successful period as a dramatist, during which his most popular work had been in burlesque forms. Sir Robert Walpole (Walpole, Robert, 1st earl of Orford)'s Licensing Act of 1737, introduced to restrict political satire on the stage, pushed Fielding to look to other genres. He also turned to journalism, of which he wrote a great deal, much of it political. His entry into prose fiction had something in common with the burlesque mode of much of his drama.

      An Apology for the Life of Mrs. Shamela Andrews (1741), a travesty of Richardson's Pamela, transforms the latter's heroine into a predatory fortune hunter who cold-bloodedly lures her booby master into matrimony. Fielding continued his quarrel with Richardson in The History of the Adventures of Joseph Andrews (1742), which also uses Pamela as a starting point but which, developing a momentum of its own, soon outgrows any narrow parodic intent. His hostility to Richardson's sexual ethic notwithstanding, Fielding was happy to build, with a calm and smiling sophistication, on the growing respect for the novel to which his antagonist had so substantially contributed. In Joseph Andrews and The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling (1749), Fielding openly brought to bear upon his chosen form a battery of devices from more traditionally reputable modes (including epic poetry, painting, and the drama). This is accompanied by a flamboyant development of authorial presence. Fielding the narrator buttonholes the reader repeatedly, airs critical and ethical questions for the reader's delectation, and urbanely discusses the artifice upon which his fiction depends. In the deeply original Tom Jones especially, this assists in developing a distinctive atmosphere of self-confident magnanimity and candid optimism. His fiction, however, can also cope with a darker range of experience. The Life of Mr. Jonathan Wild the Great (1743), for instance, uses a mock-heroic idiom to explore a derisive parallel between the criminal underworld and England's political elite, and Amelia (1751) probes with sombre precision images of captivity and situations of taxing moral paradox.

      Tobias Smollett (Smollett, Tobias) had no desire to rival Fielding as a formal innovator, and today he seems the less audacious innovator. His novels consequently tend to be rather ragged assemblings of disparate incidents. But, although uneven in performance, all of them include extended passages of real force and idiosyncrasy. His freest writing is expended on grotesque portraiture in which the human is reduced to fiercely energetic automatism. Smollett can also be a stunning reporter of the contemporary scene, whether the subject be a naval battle or the gathering of the decrepit at a spa. His touch is least happy when, complying too facilely with the gathering cult of sensibility, he indulges in rote-learned displays of emotionalism and good-heartedness. His most sustainedly invigorating work can perhaps be found in The Adventures of Roderick Random (1748), The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle (1751), and (an altogether more interesting encounter with the dialects of sensibility) The Expedition of Humphry Clinker (1771). The last was his only epistolary novel and perhaps the outstanding use of this form for comic purposes.

      An experiment of a radical and seminal kind is Laurence Sterne (Sterne, Laurence)'s Tristram Shandy (1759–67), which, drawing on a tradition of learned wit from Erasmus and Rabelais to Burton and Swift, provides a brilliant comic critique of the progress of the English novel to date. It was published in five separate installments over the course of some eight years and has an open-endedness all its own. The part-by-part publication also enabled Sterne to manipulate public responses and even to make the reception of one volume the subject matter for satire in a later volume. The focus of attention is shifted from the fortunes of the hero himself to the nature of his family, environment, and heredity, and dealings within that family offer repeated images of human unrelatedness and disconnection. Tristram, the narrator, is isolated in his own privacy and doubts how much, if anything, he can know certainly even about himself. Sterne is explicit about the influence of Lockean psychology on his writing, and the book, fascinated with the fictive energies of the imagination, is filled with characters reinventing or mythologizing the conditions of their own lives. It also draws zestful stimulus from a concern with the limitations of language, both verbal and visual, and teases an intricate drama out of Tristram's imagining of, and playing to, the reader's likely responses. Sterne's A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy (1768) similarly defies conventional expectations of what a travel book might be. An apparently random collection of scattered experiences, it mingles affecting vignettes with episodes in a heartier, comic mode, but coherence of imagination is secured by the delicate insistence with which Sterne ponders how the impulses of sentimental and erotic feeling are psychologically interdependent. It was a powerful influence on later, less-ironic sentimental writing. In Sterne's wake it was common for works of fiction to include the declaration “A Sentimental Novel” on their title pages.

Other novelists
      The work of these five giants was accompanied by experiments from a number of other novelists. Sarah Fielding (Fielding, Sarah), for instance, Henry's sister, wrote penetratingly and gravely about friendship in The Adventures of David Simple (1744, with a sequel in 1753). Charlotte Lennox (Lennox, Charlotte) in The Female Quixote (1752) and Richard Graves in The Spiritual Quixote (1773) responded inventively to the influence of Miguel de Cervantes (Cervantes, Miguel de), also discernible in the writing of Fielding, Smollett, and Sterne. Cervantes's influence was much increased by a series of translations of his Don Quixote, including Smollett's of 1755. This particular work of fiction had become an honorary work of English literature. John Cleland (Cleland, John)'s Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure (known as Fanny Hill; 1748–49) chose a more contentious path; in his charting of a young girl's sexual initiation, he experiments with minutely detailed ways of describing the physiology of intercourse. In emphatic contrast, Henry Mackenzie (Mackenzie, Henry)'s The Man of Feeling (1771) offers an extremist and rarefied version of the sentimental hero, while Horace Walpole (Walpole, Horace, 4th earl of Orford)'s The Castle of Otranto (1765) playfully initiated the vogue for Gothic fiction. William Beckford (Beckford, William)'s Vathek (1786), Ann Radcliffe (Radcliffe, Ann)'s The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794), and Matthew Lewis (Lewis, Matthew Gregory)'s The Monk (1796) are among the more distinctive of its successors. But the most engaging and thoughtful minor novelist of the period is Fanny Burney (Burney, Fanny), who was also an evocative and self-revelatory diarist and letter writer. Her first novel, Evelina (1778), best shows Burney's satirical talents. Written in letters, it charts the fortunes and misfortunes of an ingenuous heroine encountering the delights and dangers of Georgian London for the first time. Of Burney's novels, Evelina and Camilla (1796) in particular handle with independence of invention and emotional insight the theme of a young woman negotiating her first encounters with a dangerous social world.

Poets and poetry after Pope
      Eighteenth-century poetry after Pope produced nothing that can compete with achievements on the scale of Clarissa and Tristram Shandy, but much that was vital was accomplished. William Collins (Collins, William)'s Odes on Several Descriptive and Allegoric Subjects (1747), for instance, displays great technical ingenuity and a resonant insistence on the imagination and the passions as poetry's true realm. The odes also mine vigorously the potentiality of personification as a medium for poetic expression. In "An Elegy Written in a Country Church Yard" (1751), Thomas Gray (Gray, Thomas) revisited the terrain of such recent poems as Thomas Parnell (Parnell, Thomas)'s Night-Piece on Death (1722) and Robert Blair (Blair, Robert)'s The Grave (1743) and discovered a tensely humane eloquence far beyond his predecessors' powers. In later odes, particularly The Progress of Poesy (1757), Gray successfully sought close imitation of the original Pindaric form, even emulating Greek rhythms in English, while developing ambitious ideas about cultural continuity and renewal. Gray's fascination with the potency of primitive art (as evidenced in another great ode, The Bard, 1757) is part of a larger movement of taste, of which the contemporary enthusiasm for James Macpherson (Macpherson, James)'s alleged translations of Ossian (1760–63) is a further indicator.

      Another eclectically learned and energetically experimental poet is Christopher Smart (Smart, Christopher), whose renown rests largely on two poems. Jubilate Agno (written during confinement in various asylums between 1758/59 and 1763 but not published until 1939) is composed in free verse and experiments with applying the antiphonal principles of Hebrew poetry to English. A Song to David (1763) is a rhapsodic hymn of praise, blending enormous linguistic vitality with elaborate structural patterning. Both contain encyclopaedic gatherings of recondite and occult lore, numerous passages of which modern scholarship has yet to explicate satisfactorily, but the poetry is continually energized by minute alterations of tone, startling conjunctions of material, and a unique alertness to the mystery of the commonplace. Smart was also a superb writer of hymns, a talent in which his major contemporary rival was William Cowper (Cowper, William) in his Olney Hymns (1779). Both are worthy successors to the richly inventive work of Isaac Watts (Watts, Isaac) in the first half of the century. Elsewhere, Cowper can write with buoyant humour and satiric relaxation, as when, for instance, he wryly observes from the safety of rural seclusion the evils of town life. But some of his most characterful poetry emerges from a painfully intense experience of withdrawal and isolation. His rooted Calvinism caused him periods of acute despair when he could see no hope of admission to salvation, a mood chronicled with grim precision in his masterly short poem "The Castaway" (written 1799). His most extended achievement is The Task (1785), an extraordinary fusion of disparate interests, working calmly toward religious praise and pious acceptance.

      There was also a significant number of inventive and sometimes popular women poets in the period. “Literary ladies” were often celebrated and sometimes became respected public figures. Their poetic ventures were encouraged by the growth in publishing generally and, in particular, by the invention of magazines and literary journals. Many of the leading women poets of the period first published in the Gentleman's Magazine. The most notable woman poet of the early 18th century is probably Lady Mary Montagu (Montagu, Lady Mary Wortley), who still composed for manuscript circulation rather than publication. She also wrote, in letters, her sparkling Embassy to Constantinople (often called Turkish Letters), published posthumously in 1763. Notable female poets later in the century include Mary Leapor, a Northhamptonshire kitchen servant who was also a witty verse satirist, celebrated by contemporaries only after her early death. Much admired in their own lifetimes were Anna Seward (Seward, Anna) and Hannah More (More, Hannah), both of whom wrote much miscellaneous prose as well as poetry, and Charlotte Smith (Smith, Charlotte), whose sonnets were hugely popular in the 1780s.

      The 1780s brought publishing success to Robert Burns (Burns, Robert) for his Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect (1786). Drawing on the precedents of Allan Ramsay (Ramsay, Allan) and Robert Fergusson (Fergusson, Robert), Burns demonstrated how Scottish idioms and ballad modes could lend a new vitality to the language of poetry. Although born a poor tenant farmer's son, Burns had made himself well versed in English literary traditions, and his innovations were fully premeditated. His range is wide, from uninhibitedly passionate love songs to sardonic satires on moral and religious hypocrisy, of which the monologue Holy Willie's Prayer (written 1785) is an outstanding example. His work bears the imprint of the revolutionary decades in which he wrote, and recurrent in much of it are a joyful hymning of freedom, both individual and national, and an instinctive belief in the possibility of a new social order.

      Two other major poets, both of whom also achieved distinction in an impressive array of nondramatic modes, demand attention: Goldsmith and Johnson. Oliver Goldsmith (Goldsmith, Oliver)'s contemporary fame as a poet rested chiefly on The Traveller (1764), The Deserted Village (1770), and the incomplete Retaliation (1774). The last, published 15 days after his own death, is a dazzling series of character portraits in the form of mock epitaphs on a group of his closest acquaintances. The Traveller, a philosophical comparison of the differing national cultures of western Europe and the degrees of happiness their citizens enjoy, is narrated by a restless wanderer whose heart yet yearns after his own native land, where his brother still dwells. In The Deserted Village the experience is one of enforced exile, as an idealized village community is ruthlessly broken up in the interests of landed power. A comparable story of a rural idyll destroyed (though this time narrative artifice allows its eventual restoration) is at the centre of his greatly popular novel, The Vicar of Wakefield (1766). He was also a deft and energetic practitioner of the periodical essay, contributing to at least eight journals between 1759 and 1773. His Citizen of the World, a series of essays originally published in The Public Ledger in 1760–61, uses the device of a Chinese traveler whose letters home comment tolerantly but shrewdly on his English experiences. He also produced two stage comedies, one of which, She Stoops to Conquer (1773), is one of the few incontrovertible masterpieces of the theatre after the death of Farquhar in 1707.

Johnson's poetry and prose
      Goldsmith belonged to the circle of a writer of still ampler range and outstanding intellect, Samuel Johnson (Johnson, Samuel). Pope recognized Johnson's poetic promise as it was exhibited in London (1738), an invigorating reworking of Juvenal's third satire as a castigation of the decadence of contemporary Britain. Johnson's finest poem, The Vanity of Human Wishes (1749), also takes its cue from Juvenal, this time his 10th satire. It is a tragic meditation on the pitiful spectacle of human unfulfillment, yet it ends with an urgent prayer of Christian hope.

 But, great poet though he was, the lion's share of Johnson's formidable energies was expended on prose and on editorial work. From his early years in London, he lived by his pen and gave himself unstintingly to satisfy the booksellers' demands. Yet he managed to sustain a remarkable coherence of ethical ambition and personal presence throughout his voluminous labours. His twice-weekly essays for The Rambler (Rambler, The) (1750–52), for instance, consistently show his powers at their fullest stretch, handling an impressive array of literary and moral topics with a scrupulous intellectual gravity and attentiveness. Many of the preoccupations of The Vanity of Human Wishes and the Rambler essays reappear in Rasselas (1759), which catalogues with profound resource the vulnerability of human philosophies of life to humiliation at the hands of life itself. Johnson's forensic brilliance can be seen in his relentless review of Soame Jenyns's Free Inquiry into the Nature and Origin of Evil (1757), which caustically dissects the latter's complacent attitude to human suffering, and his analytic capacities are evidenced at their height in the successful completion of two major projects, his innovative Dictionary of the English Language (1755) and the great edition of Shakespeare's plays (1765). The former of these is in some ways his greatest work of literary criticism, for it displays the uses of words by means of illustrations culled from the best writing in English. The latter played a major part in the establishment of Shakespeare as the linchpin of a national literary canon. It should be noted, however, that Johnson's was but the most critically inspired of a series of major Shakespeare editions in the 18th century. These include editions by Nicholas Rowe (Rowe, Nicholas) (1709), Pope (1725), Lewis Theobald (Theobald, Lewis) (1734), Sir Thomas Hanmer (1744), and William Warburton (Warburton, William) (1747). Others, by Edward Capell (1768), George Steevens (1773), and Edmund Malone (Malone, Edmund) (1790), would follow. Johnson was but one of those helping to form a national literature.

      Johnson's last years produced much political writing (including the humanely resonant Thoughts on the Late Transactions Respecting Falkland's Islands, 1771); the socially and historically alert Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland, 1775; and the consummate Lives of the Poets, 1779–81. The latter was the climax of 40 years' writing of poetic biographies, including the multifaceted An Account of the Life of Mr. Richard Savage (1744). These last lives, covering the period from Cowley to the generation of Gray, show Johnson's mastery of the biographer's art of selection and emphasis and (together with the preface and notes to his Shakespeare edition) contain the most provocative critical writing of the century. Although his allegiances lay with Neoclassical assumptions about poetic form and language, his capacity for improvisatory responsiveness to practice that lay outside the prevailing decorums should not be underrated. His final faith, however, in his own creative practice as in his criticism, was that the greatest art eschews unnecessary particulars and aims toward carefully pondered and ambitious generalization. The same creed was eloquently expounded by another member of the Johnson circle, Sir Joshua Reynolds (Reynolds, Sir Joshua), in his 15 Discourses (delivered to the Royal Academy between 1769 and 1790, but first published collectively in 1797).

      The other prime source of Johnson's fame, his reputation as a conversationalist of epic genius, rests on the detailed testimony of contemporary memorialists including Burney, Hester Lynch Piozzi (Piozzi, Hester Lynch), and Sir John Hawkins (Hawkins, Sir John). But the key text is James Boswell (Boswell, James)'s magisterial Life of Samuel Johnson (1791). This combines in unique measure a deep respect for its subject's ethical probity and resourceful intellect with a far from inevitably complimentary eye for the telling details of his personal habits and deportment. Boswell manifests rich dramatic talent and a precise ear for conversational rhythms in his re-creation and orchestration of the debates that lie at the heart of this great biography. Another dimension of Boswell's literary talent came to light in the 1920s and '30s when two separate hoards of unpublished manuscripts were discovered. In these he is his own subject of study. The 18th century had not previously produced much autobiographical (autobiography) writing of the first rank, though the actor and playwright Colley Cibber (Cibber, Colley)'s flamboyant Apology for the Life of Mr. Colley Cibber (1740) and Cowper's sombre Memoir (written about 1766, first published in 1816) are two notable exceptions. But the drama of Boswell's self-observations has a richer texture than either of these. In the London Journal especially (covering 1762–63, first published in 1950), he records the processes of his dealings with others and of his own self-imaginings with a sometimes unnerving frankness and a tough willingness to ask difficult questions of himself.

      Boswell narrated his experiences at the same time as, or shortly after, they occurred. Edward Gibbon (Gibbon, Edward), on the other hand, taking full advantage of hindsight, left in manuscript at his death six autobiographical fragments, all having much ground in common, but each telling a subtly different version of his life. Though he was in many ways invincibly more reticent than Boswell, Gibbon's successive explorations of his own history yet form a movingly resolute effort to see the truth clearly. These writings were undertaken after the completion of the great work of his life, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776–88). He brought to the latter an untiring dedication in the gathering and assimilation of knowledge, an especial alertness to evidence of human fallibility and failure, and a powerful ordering intelligence supported by a delicate sense of aesthetic coherence. His central theme—that the destruction of the Roman Empire was the joint triumph of barbarism and Christianity—is sustained with formidable ironic resource.

Michael Cordner John Mullan

The Romantic period

The nature of Romanticism
      As a term to cover the most distinctive writers who flourished in the last years of the 18th century and the first decades of the 19th, “Romantic” is indispensable but also a little misleading: there was no self-styled “Romantic movement” at the time, and the great writers of the period did not call themselves Romantics. Not until August Wilhelm von Schlegel (Schlegel, August Wilhelm von)'s Vienna lectures of 1808–09 was a clear distinction established between the “organic,” “plastic” qualities of Romantic art and the “mechanical” character of Classicism.

      Many of the age's foremost writers thought that something new was happening in the world's affairs, nevertheless. William Blake (Blake, William)'s affirmation in 1793 that “a new heaven is begun” was matched a generation later by Percy Bysshe Shelley (Shelley, Percy Bysshe)'s “The world's great age begins anew.” “These, these will give the world another heart, / And other pulses,” wrote John Keats (Keats, John), referring to Leigh Hunt (Hunt, Leigh) and William Wordsworth (Wordsworth, William). Fresh ideals came to the fore; in particular, the ideal of freedom, long cherished in England, was being extended to every range of human endeavour. As that ideal swept through Europe, it became natural to believe that the age of tyrants might soon end.

      The most notable feature of the poetry of the time is the new role of individual thought and personal feeling. Where the main trend of 18th-century poetics had been to praise the general, to see the poet as a spokesman of society addressing a cultivated and homogeneous audience and having as his end the conveyance of “truth,” the Romantics found the source of poetry in the particular, unique experience. Blake's marginal comment on Sir Joshua Reynolds's Discourses expresses the position with characteristic vehemence: “To Generalize is to be an Idiot. To Particularize is the alone Distinction of Merit.” The poet was seen as an individual distinguished from his fellows by the intensity of his perceptions, taking as his basic subject matter the workings of his own mind. Poetry was regarded as conveying its own truth; sincerity was the criterion by which it was to be judged.

      The emphasis on feeling—seen perhaps at its finest in the poems of Robert Burns—was in some ways a continuation of the earlier “cult of sensibility”; and it is worth remembering that Alexander Pope praised his father as having known no language but the language of the heart. But feeling had begun to receive particular emphasis and is found in most of the Romantic definitions of poetry. Wordsworth called poetry “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feeling,” and in 1833 John Stuart Mill (Mill, John Stuart) defined poetry as “feeling itself, employing thought only as the medium of its utterance.” It followed that the best poetry was that in which the greatest intensity of feeling was expressed, and hence a new importance was attached to the lyric. Another key quality of Romantic writing was its shift from the mimetic, or imitative, assumptions of the Neoclassical era to a new stress on imagination. Samuel Taylor Coleridge (Coleridge, Samuel Taylor) saw the imagination as the supreme poetic quality, a quasi-divine creative force that made the poet a godlike being. Samuel Johnson had seen the components of poetry as “invention, imagination and judgement,” but Blake wrote: “One Power alone makes a Poet: Imagination, the Divine Vision.” The poets of this period accordingly placed great emphasis on the workings of the unconscious mind, on dreams and reveries, on the supernatural, and on the childlike or primitive view of the world, this last being regarded as valuable because its clarity and intensity had not been overlaid by the restrictions of civilized “reason.” Rousseau's sentimental conception of the “noble savage” was often invoked, and often by those who were ignorant that the phrase is Dryden's or that the type was adumbrated in the “poor Indian” of Pope's An Essay on Man. A further sign of the diminished stress placed on judgment is the Romantic attitude to form: if poetry must be spontaneous, sincere, intense, it should be fashioned primarily according to the dictates of the creative imagination. Wordsworth advised a young poet, “You feel strongly; trust to those feelings, and your poem will take its shape and proportions as a tree does from the vital principle that actuates it.” This organic view of poetry is opposed to the classical theory of “genres,” each with its own linguistic decorum; and it led to the feeling that poetic sublimity was unattainable except in short passages.

      Hand in hand with the new conception of poetry and the insistence on a new subject matter went a demand for new ways of writing. Wordsworth and his followers, particularly Keats, found the prevailing poetic diction of the late 18th century stale and stilted, or “gaudy and inane,” and totally unsuited to the expression of their perceptions. It could not be, for them, the language of feeling, and Wordsworth accordingly sought to bring the language of poetry back to that of common speech. Wordsworth's own diction, however, often differs from his theory. Nevertheless, when he published his preface to Lyrical Ballads in 1800, the time was ripe for a change: the flexible diction of earlier 18th-century poetry had hardened into a merely conventional language.

Poetry
 Useful as it is to trace the common elements in Romantic poetry, there was little conformity among the poets themselves. It is misleading to read the poetry of the first Romantics as if it had been written primarily to express their feelings. Their concern was rather to change the intellectual climate of the age. William Blake (Blake, William) had been dissatisfied since boyhood with the current state of poetry and what he considered the irreligious drabness of contemporary thought. His early development of a protective shield of mocking humour with which to face a world in which science had become trifling and art inconsequential is visible in the satirical An Island in the Moon (written c. 1784–85); he then took the bolder step of setting aside sophistication in the visionary Songs of Innocence (1789). His desire for renewal encouraged him to view the outbreak of the French Revolution as a momentous event. In works such as The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1790–93) and Songs of Experience (1794), he attacked the hypocrisies of the age and the impersonal cruelties resulting from the dominance of analytic reason in contemporary thought. As it became clear that the ideals of the Revolution were not likely to be realized in his time, he renewed his efforts to revise his contemporaries' view of the universe and to construct a new mythology centred not in the God of the Bible but in Urizen, a repressive figure of reason and law whom he believed to be the deity actually worshipped by his contemporaries. The story of Urizen's rise was set out in The First Book of Urizen (1794) and then, more ambitiously, in the unfinished manuscript Vala (later redrafted as The Four Zoas), written from about 1796 to about 1807.

      Blake developed these ideas in the visionary narratives of Milton (1804–08) and Jerusalem (1804–20). Here, still using his own mythological characters, he portrayed the imaginative artist as the hero of society and suggested the possibility of redemption from the fallen (or Urizenic) condition.

      William Wordsworth (Wordsworth, William) and Samuel Taylor Coleridge (Coleridge, Samuel Taylor), meanwhile, were also exploring the implications of the French Revolution. Wordsworth, who lived in France in 1791–92 and fathered an illegitimate child there, was distressed when, soon after his return, Britain declared war on the republic, dividing his allegiance. For the rest of his career, he was to brood on those events, trying to develop a view of humanity that would be faithful to his twin sense of the pathos of individual human fates and the unrealized potentialities in humanity as a whole. The first factor emerges in his early manuscript poems "The Ruined Cottage" and "The Pedlar" (both to form part of the later Excursion); the second was developed from 1797, when he and his sister, Dorothy (Wordsworth, Dorothy), with whom he was living in the west of England, were in close contact with Coleridge (Coleridge, Samuel Taylor). Stirred simultaneously by Dorothy's immediacy of feeling, manifested everywhere in her Journals (written 1798–1803, published 1897), and by Coleridge's imaginative and speculative genius, he produced the poems collected in Lyrical Ballads (1798). The volume began with Coleridge's "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," continued with poems displaying delight in the powers of nature and the humane instincts of ordinary people, and concluded with the meditative "Lines Written a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey," Wordsworth's attempt to set out his mature faith in nature and humanity.

      His investigation of the relationship between nature and the human mind continued in the long autobiographical poem addressed to Coleridge and later titled The Prelude (1798–99 in two books; 1804 in five books; 1805 in 13 books; revised continuously and published posthumously, 1850). Here he traced the value for a poet of having been a child “fostered alike by beauty and by fear” by an upbringing in sublime surroundings. The Prelude constitutes the most significant English expression of the Romantic discovery of the self as a topic for art and literature. The poem also makes much of the work of memory, a theme explored as well in the "Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood." In poems such as "Michael" and "The Brothers," by contrast, written for the second volume of Lyrical Ballads (1800), Wordsworth dwelt on the pathos and potentialities of ordinary lives.

      Coleridge's poetic development during these years paralleled Wordsworth's. Having briefly brought together images of nature and the mind in "The Eolian Harp" (1796), he devoted himself to more-public concerns in poems of political and social prophecy, such as "Religious Musings" and "The Destiny of Nations." Becoming disillusioned in 1798 with his earlier politics, however, and encouraged by Wordsworth, he turned back to the relationship between nature and the human mind. Poems such as "This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison," "The Nightingale," and "Frost at Midnight" (now sometimes called the “conversation poems” but collected by Coleridge himself as “Meditative Poems in Blank Verse”) combine sensitive descriptions of nature with subtlety of psychological comment. "Kubla Khan" (1797 or 1798, published 1816), a poem that Coleridge said came to him in “a kind of Reverie,” represented a new kind of exotic writing, which he also exploited in the supernaturalism of "The Ancient Mariner" and the unfinished "Christabel." After his visit to Germany in 1798–99, he renewed attention to the links between the subtler forces in nature and the human psyche; this attention bore fruit in letters, notebooks, literary criticism, theology, and philosophy. Simultaneously, his poetic output became sporadic. "Dejection: An Ode" (1802), another meditative poem, which first took shape as a verse letter to Sara Hutchinson, Wordsworth's sister-in-law, memorably describes the suspension of his “shaping spirit of Imagination.”

      The work of both poets was directed back to national affairs during these years by the rise of Napoleon (Napoleon I). In 1802 Wordsworth dedicated a number of sonnets to the patriotic cause. The death in 1805 of his brother John, who was a captain in the merchant navy, was a grim reminder that, while he had been living in retirement as a poet, others had been willing to sacrifice themselves. From this time the theme of duty was to be prominent in his poetry. His political essay Concerning the Relations of Great Britain, Spain and Portugal…as Affected by the Convention of Cintra (1809) agreed with Coleridge's periodical The Friend (1809–10) in deploring the decline of principle among statesmen. When The Excursion appeared in 1814 (the time of Napoleon's first exile), Wordsworth announced the poem as the central section of a longer projected work, The Recluse, “a philosophical Poem, containing views of Man, Nature, and Society.” The plan was not fulfilled, however, and The Excursion was left to stand in its own right as a poem of moral and religious consolation for those who had been disappointed by the failure of French revolutionary ideals.

      Both Wordsworth and Coleridge benefited from the advent in 1811 of the Regency, which brought a renewed interest in the arts. Coleridge's lectures on Shakespeare became fashionable, his play Remorse was briefly produced, and his volume of poems Christabel; Kubla Khan: A Vision; The Pains of Sleep was published in 1816. Biographia Literaria (1817), an account of his own development, combined philosophy and literary criticism in a new way and made an enduring and important contribution to literary theory. Coleridge settled at Highgate in 1816, and he was sought there as “the most impressive talker of his age” (in the words of the essayist William Hazlitt). His later religious writings made a considerable impact on Victorian readers.

Other poets of the early Romantic period
      In his own lifetime, Blake's poetry was scarcely known. Sir Walter Scott (Scott, Sir Walter, 1st Baronet), by contrast, was thought of as a major poet for his vigorous and evocative verse narratives The Lay of the Last Minstrel (1805) and Marmion (1808). Other verse writers were also highly esteemed. The Elegiac Sonnets (1784) of Charlotte Smith (Smith, Charlotte) and the Fourteen Sonnets (1789) of William Lisle Bowles (Bowles, William Lisle) were received with enthusiasm by Coleridge. Thomas Campbell (Campbell, Thomas) is now chiefly remembered for his patriotic lyrics such as "Ye Mariners of England" and "The Battle of Hohenlinden" (1807) and for the critical preface to his Specimens of the British Poets (1819); Samuel Rogers (Rogers, Samuel) was known for his brilliant table talk (talk, Table) (published 1856, after his death, as Recollections of the Table-Talk of Samuel Rogers), as well as for his exquisite but exiguous poetry. Another admired poet of the day was Thomas Moore (Moore, Thomas), whose Irish Melodies began to appear in 1808. His highly coloured narrative Lalla Rookh: An Oriental Romance (1817) and his satirical poetry were also immensely popular. Charlotte Smith was not the only significant woman poet in this period. Helen Maria Williams's Poems (1786), Ann Batten Cristall's Poetical Sketches (1795), Mary Robinson's Sappho and Phaon (1796), and Mary Tighe's Psyche (1805) all contain notable work.

      Robert Southey (Southey, Robert) was closely associated with Wordsworth and Coleridge and was looked upon as a prominent member, with them, of the “Lake school (Lake poet)” of poetry. His originality is best seen in his ballads and his nine “English Eclogues,” three of which were first published in the 1799 volume of his Poems with a prologue explaining that these verse sketches of contemporary life bore “no resemblance to any poems in our language.” His “Oriental” narrative poems Thalaba the Destroyer (1801) and The Curse of Kehama (1810) were successful in their own time, but his fame is based on his prose work—the Life of Nelson (1813), the History of the Peninsular War (1823–32), and his classic formulation of the children's tale "The Three Bears."

      George Crabbe (Crabbe, George) wrote poetry of another kind: his sensibility, his values, much of his diction, and his heroic couplet verse form belong to the 18th century. He differs from the earlier Augustans, however, in his subject matter, concentrating on realistic, unsentimental accounts of the life of the poor and the middle classes. He shows considerable narrative gifts in his collections of verse tales (in which he anticipates many short-story techniques) and great powers of description. His antipastoral The Village appeared in 1783. After a long silence, he returned to poetry with The Parish Register (1807), The Borough (1810), Tales in Verse (1812), and Tales of the Hall (1819), which gained him great popularity in the early 19th century.

The later Romantics: Shelley, Keats, and Byron
      The poets of the next generation shared their predecessors' passion for liberty (now set in a new perspective by the Napoleonic Wars) and were in a position to learn from their experiments. Percy Bysshe Shelley (Shelley, Percy Bysshe) in particular was deeply interested in politics, coming early under the spell of the anarchist views of William Godwin (Godwin, William), whose Enquiry Concerning Political Justice had appeared in 1793. Shelley's revolutionary ardour caused him to claim in his critical essay "A Defence of Poetry" (1821, published 1840) that “the most unfailing herald, companion, and follower of the awakening of a great people to work a beneficial change in opinion or institution, is poetry,” and that poets are “the unacknowledged legislators of the world.” This fervour burns throughout the early Queen Mab (1813), the long Laon and Cythna (retitled The Revolt of Islam, 1818), and the lyrical drama Prometheus Unbound (1820). Shelley saw himself at once as poet and prophet, as the fine "Ode to the West Wind" (1819) makes clear. Despite his grasp of practical politics, however, it is a mistake to look for concreteness in his poetry, where his concern is with subtleties of perception and with the underlying forces of nature: his most characteristic images are of sky and weather, of lights and fires. His poetic stance invites the reader to respond with similar outgoing aspiration. It adheres to the Rousseauistic belief in an underlying spirit in individuals, one truer to human nature itself than the behaviour evinced and approved by society. In that sense his material is transcendental and cosmic and his expression thoroughly appropriate. Possessed of great technical brilliance, he is, at his best, a poet of excitement and power.

      John Keats (Keats, John), by contrast, was a poet so sensuous and physically specific that his early work, such as Endymion (1818), could produce an over-luxuriant, cloying effect. As the program set out in his early poem "Sleep and Poetry" shows, however, Keats was determined to discipline himself: even before February 1820, when he first began to cough blood, he may have known that he had not long to live, and he devoted himself to the expression of his vision with feverish intensity. He experimented with many kinds of poems: "Isabella" (published 1820), an adaptation of a tale by Giovanni Boccaccio (Boccaccio, Giovanni), is a tour de force of craftsmanship in its attempt to reproduce a medieval atmosphere and at the same time a poem involved in contemporary politics. His epic fragment Hyperion (begun in 1818 and abandoned, published 1820; later begun again and published posthumously as The Fall of Hyperion in 1856) has a new spareness of imagery, but Keats soon found the style too Miltonic and decided to give himself up to what he called “other sensations.” Some of these “other sensations” are found in the poems of 1819, Keats's annus mirabilis: "The Eve of St. Agnes" and the great odes "To a Nightingale," "On a Grecian Urn," and "To Autumn." These, with the Hyperion poems, represent the summit of Keats's achievement, showing what has been called “the disciplining of sensation into symbolic meaning,” the complex themes being handled with a concrete richness of detail. His superb letters show the full range of the intelligence at work in his poetry.

      George Gordon, Lord Byron (Byron, George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron), who differed from Shelley and Keats in themes and manner, was at one with them in reflecting their shift toward “Mediterranean” topics. Having thrown down the gauntlet in his early poem English Bards and Scotch Reviewers (1809), in which he directed particular scorn at poets of sensibility and declared his own allegiance to Milton, Dryden, and Pope, he developed a poetry of dash and flair, in many cases with a striking hero. His two longest poems, Childe Harold's Pilgrimage (1812–18) and Don Juan (1819–24), his masterpiece, provided alternative personae for himself, the one a bitter and melancholy exile among the historic sites of Europe, the other a picaresque adventurer enjoying a series of amorous adventures. The gloomy and misanthropic vein was further mined in dramatic poems such as Manfred (1817) and Cain (1821), which helped to secure his reputation in Europe, but he is now remembered best for witty, ironic, and less portentous writings, such as Beppo (1818), in which he first used the ottava rima form. The easy, nonchalant, biting style developed there became a formidable device in Don Juan and in his satire on Southey, The Vision of Judgment (1822).

Other poets of the later period
      John Clare (Clare, John), a Northamptonshire man of humble background, achieved early success with Poems Descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery (1820), The Village Minstrel (1821), and The Shepherd's Calendar (1827). Both his reputation and his mental health collapsed in the late 1830s. He spent the later years of his life in an asylum in Northampton; the poetry he wrote there was rediscovered in the 20th century. His natural simplicity and lucidity of diction, his intent observation, his almost Classical poise, and the unassuming dignity of his attitude to life make him one of the most quietly moving of English poets. Thomas Lovell Beddoes (Beddoes, Thomas Lovell), whose violent imagery and obsession with death and the macabre recall the Jacobean dramatists, represents an imagination at the opposite pole; metrical virtuosity is displayed in the songs and lyrical passages from his over-sensational tragedy Death's Jest-Book (begun 1825; published posthumously, 1850). Another minor writer who found inspiration in the 17th century was George Darley (Darley, George), some of whose songs from Nepenthe (1835) keep their place in anthologies. The comic writer Thomas Hood (Hood, Thomas) also wrote poems of social protest, such as "The Song of the Shirt" (1843) and "The Bridge of Sighs," as well as the graceful Plea of the Midsummer Fairies (1827). Felicia Hemans (Hemans, Felicia Dorothea)'s best-remembered poem, "Casabianca," appeared in her volume The Forest Sanctuary (1825). This was followed in 1828 by the more substantial Records of Woman.

The novel: from the Gothic novel to Austen and Scott
      The death of Tobias Smollett in 1771 brought an end to the first great period of novel writing in English. Not until the appearance of Jane Austen (Austen, Jane)'s Sense and Sensibility in 1811 and Sir Walter Scott (Scott, Sir Walter, 1st Baronet)'s Waverley in 1814 would there again be works of prose fiction that ranked with the masterpieces of Richardson, Fielding, Sterne, and Smollett.

      It is possible to suggest practical reasons for this 40-year partial eclipse. The war with France made paper expensive, causing publishers in the 1790s and early 1800s to prefer short, dense forms, such as poetry. It might also be argued, in more broadly cultural terms, that the comic and realistic qualities of the novel were at odds with the new sensibility of Romanticism. But the problem was always one of quality rather than quantity. Flourishing as a form of entertainment, the novel nevertheless underwent several important developments in this period. One was the invention of the Gothic novel. Another was the appearance of a politically engaged fiction in the years immediately before the French Revolution. A third was the rise of women writers to the prominence that they have held ever since in prose fiction.

      The sentimental tradition of Richardson and Sterne persisted until the 1790s with Henry Brooke (Brooke, Henry)'s The Fool of Quality (1765–70), Henry Mackenzie (Mackenzie, Henry)'s The Man of Feeling (1771), and Charles Lamb (Lamb, Charles)'s A Tale of Rosamund Gray and Old Blind Margaret (1798). Novels of this kind were, however, increasingly mocked in the later years of the 18th century.

      The comic realism of Fielding and Smollett continued in a more sporadic way. John Moore gave a cosmopolitan flavour to the worldly wisdom of his predecessors in Zeluco (1786) and Mordaunt (1800). Fanny Burney (Burney, Fanny) carried the comic realist manner into the field of female experience with the novels Evelina (1778), Cecilia (1782), and Camilla (1796). Her discovery of the comic and didactic potential of a plot charting a woman's progress from the nursery to the altar would be important for several generations of female novelists.

      More striking than these continuations of previous modes, however, was Horace Walpole (Walpole, Horace, 4th earl of Orford)'s invention, in The Castle of Otranto (1764), of what became known as the Gothic novel. Walpole's intention was to “blend” the fantastic plot of “ancient romance” with the realistic characterization of “modern” (or novel) romance. Characters would respond with terror to extraordinary events, and readers would vicariously participate. Walpole's innovation was not significantly imitated until the 1790s, when—perhaps because the violence of the French Revolution created a taste for a correspondingly extreme mode of fiction—a torrent of such works appeared.

      The most important writer of these stories was Ann Radcliffe (Radcliffe, Ann), who distinguished between “terror” and “horror.” Terror “expands the soul” by its use of “uncertainty and obscurity.” Horror, on the other hand, is actual and specific. Radcliffe's own novels, especially The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) and The Italian (1797), were examples of the fiction of terror. Vulnerable heroines, trapped in ruined castles, are terrified by supernatural perils that prove to be illusions.

      Matthew Lewis (Lewis, Matthew Gregory), by contrast, wrote the fiction of horror. In The Monk (1796) the hero commits both murder and incest, and the repugnant details include a woman's imprisonment in a vault full of rotting human corpses. Some later examples of Gothic fiction have more-sophisticated agendas. Mary Shelley (Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft)'s Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus (1818) is a novel of ideas that anticipates science fiction. James Hogg (Hogg, James)'s The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner (1824) is a subtle study of religious mania and split personality. Even in its more-vulgar examples, however, Gothic fiction can symbolically address serious political and psychological issues.

      By the 1790s, realistic fiction had acquired a polemical role, reflecting the ideas of the French Revolution, though sacrificing much of its comic power in the process. One practitioner of this type of fiction, Robert Bage, is best remembered for Hermsprong; or, Man as He Is Not (1796), in which a “natural” hero rejects the conventions of contemporary society. The radical Thomas Holcroft (Holcroft, Thomas) published two novels, Anna St. Ives (1792) and The Adventures of Hugh Trevor (1794), influenced by the ideas of William Godwin (Godwin, William). Godwin himself produced the best example of this political fiction in Things as They Are; or, The Adventures of Caleb Williams (1794), borrowing techniques from the Gothic novel to enliven a narrative of social oppression.

      Women novelists contributed extensively to this ideological debate. Radicals such as Mary Wollstonecraft (Wollstonecraft, Mary) (Mary, 1788; Maria; or, The Wrongs of Woman, 1798), Elizabeth Inchbald (Inchbald, Elizabeth) (Nature and Art, 1796), and Mary Hays (Memoirs of Emma Courtney, 1796) celebrated the rights of the individual. Anti-Jacobin novelists such as Jane West (A Gossip's Story, 1796; A Tale of the Times, 1799), Amelia Opie (Adeline Mowbray, 1804), and Mary Brunton (Self-Control, 1811) stressed the dangers of social change. Some writers were more bipartisan, notably Elizabeth Hamilton (Memoirs of Modern Philosophers, 1800) and Maria Edgeworth (Edgeworth, Maria), whose long, varied, and distinguished career extended from Letters for Literary Ladies (1795) to Helen (1834). Her pioneering regional novel Castle Rackrent (1800), an affectionately comic portrait of life in 18th-century Ireland, influenced the subsequent work of Scott.

      Jane Austen (Austen, Jane) stands on the conservative side of this battle of ideas, though in novels that incorporate their anti-Jacobin and anti-Romantic views so subtly into love stories that many readers are unaware of them. Three of her novels—Sense and Sensibility (first published in 1811; originally titled “Elinor and Marianne”), Pride and Prejudice (1813; originally “First Impressions”), and Northanger Abbey (published posthumously in 1817)—were drafted in the late 1790s. Three more novels—Mansfield Park (1814), Emma (1815), and Persuasion (1817, together with Northanger Abbey)—were written between 1811 and 1817. Austen uses, essentially, two standard plots. In one of these a right-minded but neglected heroine is gradually acknowledged to be correct by characters who have previously looked down on her (such as Fanny Price in Mansfield Park and Anne Elliot in Persuasion). In the other an attractive but self-deceived heroine (such as Emma Woodhouse in Emma or Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice) belatedly recovers from her condition of error and is rewarded with the partner she had previously despised or overlooked. On this slight framework, Austen constructs a powerful case for the superiority of the Augustan virtues of common sense, empiricism, and rationality to the new “Romantic” values of imagination, egotism, and subjectivity. With Austen the comic brilliance and exquisite narrative construction of Fielding return to the English novel, in conjunction with a distinctive and deadly irony.

      Thomas Love Peacock (Peacock, Thomas Love) is another witty novelist who combined an intimate knowledge of Romantic ideas with a satirical attitude toward them, though in comic debates rather than conventional narratives. Headlong Hall (1816), Melincourt (1817), and Nightmare Abbey (1818) are sharp accounts of contemporary intellectual and cultural fashions, as are the two much later fictions in which Peacock reused this successful formula, Crotchet Castle (1831) and Gryll Grange (1860–61).

      Sir Walter Scott (Scott, Sir Walter, 1st Baronet) is the English writer who can in the fullest sense be called a Romantic novelist. After a successful career as a poet, Scott switched to prose fiction in 1814 with the first of the “Waverley novels.” In the first phase of his work as a novelist, Scott wrote about the Scotland of the 17th and 18th centuries, charting its gradual transition from the feudal era into the modern world in a series of vivid human dramas. Waverley (1814), Guy Mannering (1815), The Antiquary (1816), Old Mortality (1816), Rob Roy (1817), and The Heart of Midlothian (1818) are the masterpieces of this period. In a second phase, beginning with Ivanhoe in 1819, Scott turned to stories set in medieval England. Finally, with Quentin Durward in 1823, he added European settings to his historical repertoire. Scott combines a capacity for comic social observation with a Romantic sense of landscape and an epic grandeur, enlarging the scope of the novel in ways that equip it to become the dominant literary form of the later 19th century.

Discursive prose
 The French Revolution prompted a fierce debate about social and political principles, a debate conducted in impassioned and often eloquent polemical prose. Richard Price (Price, Richard)'s Discourse on the Love of Our Country (1789) was answered by Edmund Burke (Burke, Edmund)'s conservative Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790) and by Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Men (1790) and A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), the latter of which is an important early statement of feminist issues that gained greater recognition in the next century.

      The Romantic emphasis on individualism is reflected in much of the prose of the period, particularly in criticism and the familiar essay. Among the most vigorous writing is that of William Hazlitt (Hazlitt, William), a forthright and subjective critic whose most characteristic work is seen in his collections of lectures On the English Poets (1818) and On the English Comic Writers (1819) and in The Spirit of the Age (1825), a series of valuable portraits of his contemporaries. In The Essays of Elia (1823) and The Last Essays of Elia (1833), Charles Lamb (Lamb, Charles), an even more personal essayist, projects with apparent artlessness a carefully managed portrait of himself—charming, whimsical, witty, sentimental, and nostalgic. As his fine Letters show, however, he could on occasion produce mordant satire. Mary Russell Mitford (Mitford, Mary Russell)'s Our Village (1832) is another example of the charm and humour of the familiar essay in this period. Thomas De Quincey (De Quincey, Thomas) appealed to the new interest in writing about the self, producing a colourful account of his early experiences in Confessions of an English Opium Eater (1821, revised and enlarged in 1856). His unusual gift of evoking states of dream and nightmare is best seen in essays such as "The English Mail Coach" and "On the Knocking at the Gate in Macbeth" ; his essay "On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts" (1827; extended in 1839 and 1854) is an important anticipation of the Victorian Aesthetic movement (Aestheticism). Walter Savage Landor (Landor, Walter Savage)'s detached, lapidary style is seen at its best in some brief lyrics and in a series of erudite Imaginary Conversations, which began to appear in 1824.

      The critical discourse of the era was dominated by the Whig quarterly The Edinburgh Review (Edinburgh Review, The, or The Critical Journal) (begun 1802), edited by Francis Jeffrey (Jeffrey, Francis Jeffrey, Lord), and its Tory rivals The Quarterly Review (begun 1809) and the monthly Blackwood's Magazine (begun 1817). Though their attacks on contemporary writers could be savagely partisan, they set a notable standard of fearless and independent journalism. Similar independence was shown by Leigh Hunt (Hunt, Leigh), whose outspoken journalism, particularly in his Examiner (begun 1808), was of wide influence, and by William Cobbett (Cobbett, William), whose Rural Rides (collected in 1830 from his Political Register) gives a telling picture, in forceful and clear prose, of the English countryside of his day.

Drama
 This was a great era of English theatre, notable for the acting of John Philip Kemble (Kemble, John Philip), Sarah Siddons (Siddons, Sarah), and, from 1814, the brilliant Edmund Kean (Kean, Edmund). But it was not a great period of playwriting. The exclusive right to perform plays enjoyed by the “Royal” (or “legitimate”) theatres created a damaging split between high and low art forms. The classic repertoire continued to be played but in buildings that had grown too large for subtle staging, and, when commissioning new texts, legitimate theatres were torn between a wish to preserve the blank-verse manner of the great tradition of English tragedy and a need to reflect the more-popular modes of performance developed by their illegitimate rivals.

      This problem was less acute in comedy, where prose was the norm and Oliver Goldsmith and Richard Brinsley Sheridan had, in the 1770s, revived the tradition of “laughing comedy.” But despite their attack on it, sentimental comedy remained the dominant mode, persisting in the work of Richard Cumberland (Cumberland, Richard) (The West Indian, 1771), Hannah Cowley (The Belle's Stratagem, 1780), Elizabeth Inchbald (I'll Tell You What, 1785), John O'Keeffe (Wild Oats, 1791), Frederic Reynolds (The Dramatist, 1789), George Colman the Younger (Colman, George, the Younger) (John Bull, 1803), and Thomas Morton (Speed the Plough, 1800). Sentimental drama received a fresh impetus in the 1790s from the work of the German dramatist August von Kotzebue (Kotzebue, August von); Inchbald translated his controversial Das Kind Der Liebe (1790) as Lovers' Vows in 1798.

      By the 1780s, sentimental plays were beginning to anticipate what would become the most important dramatic form of the early 19th century: melodrama. Thomas Holcroft (Holcroft, Thomas)'s Seduction (1787) and The Road to Ruin (1792) have something of the moral simplicity, tragicomic plot, and sensationalism of the “mélodrames” of Guilbert de Pixérécourt (Pixérécourt, Guilbert de); Holcroft translated the latter's Coelina (1800) as A Tale of Mystery in 1802. Using background music to intensify the emotional effect, the form appealed chiefly, but not exclusively, to the working-class audiences of the “illegitimate” theatres. Many early examples, such as Matthew Lewis's The Castle Spectre (first performance 1797) and J.R. Planché's The Vampire (1820), were theatrical equivalents of the Gothic novel. But there were also criminal melodramas (Isaac Pocock, The Miller and His Men, 1813), patriotic melodramas (Douglas Jerrold (Jerrold, Douglas William), Black-Eyed Susan, 1829), domestic melodramas (John Howard Payne, Clari, 1823), and even industrial melodramas (John Walker, The Factory Lad, 1832). The energy and narrative force of the form would gradually help to revivify the “legitimate” serious drama, and its basic concerns would persist in the films and television of a later period.

      Legitimate drama, performed at patent theatres (patent theatre), is best represented by the work of James Sheridan Knowles, who wrote stiffly neo-Elizabethan verse plays, both tragic and comic (Virginius, 1820; The Hunchback, 1832). The great lyric poets of the era all attempted to write tragedies of this kind, with little success. Coleridge's Osorio (1797) was produced (as Remorse) at Drury Lane in 1813, and Byron's Marino Faliero in 1821. Wordsworth's The Borderers (1797), Keats's Otho the Great (1819), and Percy Bysshe Shelley's The Cenci (1819) remained unperformed, though The Cenci has a sustained narrative tension that distinguishes it from the general Romantic tendency to subordinate action to character and produce “closet dramas” (for reading) rather than theatrical texts. The Victorian poet Robert Browning (Browning, Robert) would spend much of his early career writing verse plays for the legitimate theatre (Strafford, 1837; A Blot in the 'Scutcheon, produced in 1843). But after the Theatre Regulation Act of 1843, which abolished the distinction between legitimate and illegitimate drama, demand for this kind of play rapidly disappeared.

Reginald P.C. Mutter John Bernard Beer Nicholas Shrimpton

The Post-Romantic and Victorian eras
      Self-consciousness was the quality that John Stuart Mill identified, in 1838, as “the daemon of the men of genius of our time.” Introspection was inevitable in the literature of an immediately Post-Romantic period, and the age itself was as prone to self-analysis as were its individual authors. Hazlitt's essays in The Spirit of the Age (1825) were echoed by Mill's articles of the same title in 1831, by Thomas Carlyle (Carlyle, Thomas)'s essays "Signs of the Times" (1829) and "Characteristics" (1831), and by Richard Henry Horne's New Spirit of the Age in 1844.

      This persistent scrutiny was the product of an acute sense of change. Britain had emerged from the long war with France (1793–1815) as a great power and as the world's predominant economy. Visiting England in 1847, the American writer Ralph Waldo Emerson (Emerson, Ralph Waldo) observed of the English that “the modern world is theirs. They have made and make it day by day.”

      This new status as the world's first urban and industrialized society was responsible for the extraordinary wealth, vitality, and self-confidence of the period. Abroad these energies expressed themselves in the growth of the British Empire. At home they were accompanied by rapid social change and fierce intellectual controversy.

      The juxtaposition of this new industrial wealth with a new kind of urban poverty is only one of the paradoxes that characterize this long and diverse period. In religion the climax of the Evangelical revival coincided with an unprecedentedly severe set of challenges to faith. The idealism and transcendentalism of Romantic thought were challenged by the growing prestige of empirical science and utilitarian (Utilitarianism) moral philosophy, a process that encouraged more-objective modes in literature. realism would be one of the great artistic movements of the era. In politics a widespread commitment to economic and personal freedom was, nonetheless, accompanied by a steady growth in the power of the state. The prudery for which the Victorian Age is notorious in fact went hand in hand with an equally violent immoralism, seen, for example, in Algernon Charles Swinburne (Swinburne, Algernon Charles)'s poetry or the writings of the Decadents (Decadent). Most fundamentally of all, the rapid change that many writers interpreted as progress inspired in others a fierce nostalgia. Enthusiastic rediscoveries of ancient Greece, Elizabethan England, and, especially, the Middle Ages by writers, artists, architects, and designers made this age of change simultaneously an age of active and determined historicism.

      John Stuart Mill (Mill, John Stuart) caught this contradictory quality, with characteristic acuteness, in his essays on Jeremy Bentham (Bentham, Jeremy) (1838) and Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1840). Every contemporary thinker, he argued, was indebted to these two “seminal minds.” Yet Bentham, as the enduring voice of the Enlightenment, and Coleridge, as the chief English example of the Romantic reaction against it, held diametrically opposed views.

      A similar sense of sharp controversy is given by Carlyle (Carlyle, Thomas) in Sartor Resartus (1833–34). An eccentric philosophical fiction in the tradition of Swift and Sterne, the book argues for a new mode of spirituality in an age that Carlyle himself suggests to be one of mechanism. Carlyle's choice of the novel form and the book's humour, generic flexibility, and political engagement point forward to distinctive characteristics of Victorian literature.

Early Victorian literature: the age of the novel
      Several major figures of English Romanticism lived on into this period. Coleridge died in 1834, De Quincey in 1859. Wordsworth succeeded Southey as poet laureate in 1843 and held the post until his own death seven years later. Posthumous publication caused some striking chronological anomalies. Percy Bysshe Shelley's "A Defence of Poetry" was not published until 1840. Keats's letters appeared in 1848 and Wordsworth's Prelude in 1850.

      Despite this persistence, critics of the 1830s felt that there had been a break in the English literary tradition, which they identified with the death of Byron in 1824. The deaths of Austen in 1817 and Scott in 1832 should perhaps have been seen as even more significant, for the new literary era has, with justification, been seen as the age of the novel. More than 60,000 works of prose fiction were published in Victorian Britain by as many as 7,000 novelists. The three-volume format (or “three-decker”) was the standard mode of first publication; it was a form created for sale to and circulation by lending libraries. It was challenged in the 1830s by the advent of serialization in magazines and by the publication of novels in 32-page monthly parts. But only in the 1890s did the three-decker finally yield to the modern single-volume format.

 Charles Dickens (Dickens, Charles) first attracted attention with the descriptive essays and tales originally written for newspapers, beginning in 1833, and collected as Sketches by “Boz” (1836). On the strength of this volume, Dickens contracted to write a historical novel in the tradition of Scott (eventually published as Barnaby Rudge in 1841). By chance his gifts were turned into a more distinctive channel. In February 1836 he agreed to write the text for a series of comic engravings. The unexpected result was The Pickwick Papers (1836–37), one of the funniest novels in English literature. By July 1837, sales of the monthly installments exceeded 40,000 copies. Dickens's extraordinary popular appeal and the enormous imaginative potential of the Victorian novel were simultaneously established.

      The chief technical features of Dickens's fiction were also formed by this success. Serial publication encouraged the use of multiple plot and required that each episode be individually shaped. At the same time it produced an unprecedentedly close relationship between author and reader. Part dramatist, part journalist, part mythmaker, and part wit, Dickens took the picaresque tradition of Smollett and Fielding and gave it a Shakespearean vigour and variety.

 His early novels have been attacked at times for sentimentality, melodrama, or shapelessness. They are now increasingly appreciated for their comic or macabre zest and their poetic fertility. Dombey and Son (1846–48) marks the beginning of Dickens's later period. He thenceforth combined his gift for vivid caricature with a stronger sense of personality, designed his plots more carefully, and used symbolism to give his books greater thematic coherence. Of the masterpieces of the next decade, David Copperfield (1849–50) uses the form of a fictional autobiography to explore the great Romantic theme of the growth and comprehension of the self. Bleak House (1852–53) addresses itself to law and litigiousness; Hard Times (1854) is a Carlylean defense of art in an age of mechanism; and Little Dorrit (1855–57) dramatizes the idea of imprisonment, both literal and spiritual. Two great novels, both involved with issues of social class and human worth, appeared in the 1860s: Great Expectations (1860–61) and Our Mutual Friend (1864–65). His final book, The Mystery of Edwin Drood (published posthumously, 1870), was left tantalizingly uncompleted at the time of his death.

Thackeray, Gaskell, and others
      Unlike Dickens, William Makepeace Thackeray (Thackeray, William Makepeace) came from a wealthy and educated background. The loss of his fortune at age 22, however, meant that he too learned his trade in the field of sketch writing and occasional journalism. His early fictions were published as serials in Fraser's Magazine or as contributions to the great Victorian comic magazine Punch (founded 1841). For his masterpiece, Vanity Fair (1847–48), however, he adopted Dickens's procedure of publication in monthly parts. Thackeray's satirical acerbity is here combined with a broad narrative sweep, a sophisticated self-consciousness about the conventions of fiction, and an ambitious historical survey of the transformation of English life in the years between the Regency and the mid-Victorian period. His later novels never match this sharpness. Vanity Fair was subtitled “A Novel Without a Hero.” Subsequently, it has been suggested, a more sentimental Thackeray wrote novels without villains.

      Elizabeth Gaskell (Gaskell, Elizabeth Cleghorn) began her career as one of the “Condition of England” novelists of the 1840s, responding like Frances Trollope, Benjamin Disraeli (Disraeli, Benjamin, Earl Of Beaconsfield, Viscount Hughenden Of Hughenden), and Charles Kingsley (Kingsley, Charles) to the economic crisis of that troubled decade. Mary Barton (1848) and Ruth (1853) are both novels about social problems, as is North and South (1854–55), although, like her later work—Sylvia's Lovers (1863), Wives and Daughters (1864–66), and the remarkable novella Cousin Phyllis (1864)—this book also has a psychological complexity that anticipates George Eliot's novels of provincial life.

      Political novels, religious novels, historical novels, sporting novels, Irish novels, crime novels, and comic novels all flourished in this period. The years 1847–48, indeed, represent a pinnacle of simultaneous achievement in English fiction. In addition to Vanity Fair, Dombey and Son, and Mary Barton, they saw the completion of Disraeli's trilogy of political novels—Coningsby (1844), Sybil (1845), and Tancred (1847)—and the publication of first novels by Kingsley, Anne Brontë, Charlotte Brontë, Emily Brontë, and Anthony Trollope. For the first time, literary genius appeared to be finding its most natural expression in prose fiction, rather than in poetry or drama. By 1853 the poet Arthur Hugh Clough would concede that “the modern novel is preferred to the modern poem.”

The Brontës
      In many ways, however, the qualities of Romantic verse could be absorbed, rather than simply superseded, by the Victorian novel. This is suggested clearly by the work of the Brontë sisters. Growing up in a remote but cultivated vicarage in Yorkshire, they, as children, invented the imaginary kingdoms of Angria and Gondal. These inventions supplied the context for many of the poems in their first, and pseudonymous, publication, Poems by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell (1846). Their Gothic plots and Byronic passions also informed the novels that began to be published in the following year.

      Anne Brontë (Brontë, Anne) wrote of the painful reality of disagreeable experience, although both her novels have cheerful romantic endings. Agnes Grey (1847) is a stark account of the working life of a governess, and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1848) paints a grim picture of the heroine's marriage to an abusive husband. Charlotte Brontë (Brontë, Charlotte), like her sisters, appears at first sight to have been writing a literal fiction of provincial life. In her first novel, Jane Eyre (1847), for example, the heroine's choice between sexual need and ethical duty belongs very firmly to the mode of moral realism. But her hair's-breadth escape from a bigamous marriage with her employer and the death by fire of his mad first wife derive from the rather different tradition of the Gothic novel. In Shirley (1849) Charlotte Brontë strove to be, in her own words, “as unromantic as Monday morning.” In Villette (1853) the distinctive Gothic elements return to lend this study of the limits of stoicism an unexpected psychological intensity and drama.

      Emily Brontë (Brontë, Emily) united these diverse traditions still more successfully in her only novel, Wuthering Heights (1847). Closely observed regional detail, precisely handled plot, and a sophisticated use of multiple internal narrators are combined with vivid imagery and an extravagantly Gothic theme. The result is a perfectly achieved study of elemental passions and the strongest possible refutation of the assumption that the age of the novel must also be an age of realism.

Early Victorian verse
      Despite the growing prestige and proliferation of fiction, this age of the novel was in fact also an age of great poetry. Alfred Tennyson (Tennyson, Alfred Tennyson, 1st Baron) made his mark very early with Poems, Chiefly Lyrical (1830) and Poems (1832; dated 1833), publications that led some critics to hail him as the natural successor to Keats and Shelley. A decade later, in Poems (1842), Tennyson combined in two volumes the best of his early work with a second volume of more-recent writing. The collection established him as the outstanding poet of the era.

      In his early work Tennyson brought an exquisite lyric gift to late Romantic subject matter. The result is a poetry that, for all its debt to Keats, anticipates the French Symbolists (Symbolist movement) of the 1880s. The death of his friend and supporter Arthur Hallam (Hallam, Arthur Henry) in 1833, however, left him vulnerable to accusations from less-sympathetic critics that this highly subjective verse was insufficiently engaged with the public issues of the day. The second volume of the Poems of 1842 contains two remarkable responses to this challenge. One is the dramatic monologue, a form of poetry in which the speaker is a figure other than the poet. Used occasionally by writers since the time of the Greek poet Theocritus, the technique was developed independently by both Tennyson and his great contemporary Robert Browning in the 1830s, and it became the mode by which many of the greatest achievements of Victorian poetry were expressed. The other is the form that Tennyson called the “English Idyl,” in which he combined brilliant vignettes of contemporary landscape with relaxed debate.

      In the major poems of his middle period, Tennyson combined the larger scale required by his new ambitions with his original gift for the brief lyric by building long poems out of short ones. In Memoriam (1850) is an elegy for Hallam, formed by 133 individual lyrics. Eloquent, vivid, and ample, it is at the same time an acute pathological study of individual grief and the central Victorian statement of the problems posed by the decline of Christian faith. Maud (1855) assembles 27 lyric poems into a single dramatic monologue that disturbingly explores the psychology of violence.

      Tennyson became poet laureate in 1850 and wrote some apt and memorable poems on patriotic themes. The chief work of his later period, however, was Idylls of the King (1859–85). An Arthurian epic constructed as a series of idylls (idyll), or “little pictures,” it offers a sombre vision of an idealistic community in decay, implicitly articulating Tennyson's anxieties about contemporary society.

      G.K. Chesterton (Chesterton, G.K.) described Tennyson as “a suburban Virgil.” The elegant Virgilian note was the last thing aimed at by Robert Browning. Browning's work was Germanic rather than Italianate, grotesque rather than idyllic, and colloquial rather than refined. The differences between Browning and Tennyson underline the creative diversity of the period.

Robert Browning (Browning, Robert) and Elizabeth Barrett Browning
      Deeply influenced by Shelley, Robert Browning (Browning, Robert) made two false starts. One was as a playwright in the 1830s and '40s. The other was as the late-Romantic poet of the confessional meditation Pauline (1833) and the difficult though innovatory narrative poem Sordello (1840).

      Browning found his individual and distinctively modern voice in 1842, with the volume Dramatic Lyrics. As the title suggests, it was a collection of dramatic monologues, among them "Porphyria's Lover," "Johannes Agricola in Meditation," and "My Last Duchess." The monologues make clear the radical originality of Browning's new manner: they involve the reader in sympathetic identification with the interior processes of criminal or unconventional minds, requiring active rather than merely passive engagement in the processes of moral judgment and self-discovery. More such monologues and some equally striking lyrics make up Men and Women (1855).

      In 1846 Browning married Elizabeth Barrett (Browning, Elizabeth Barrett). Though now remembered chiefly for her love poems Sonnets from the Portuguese (1850) and her experiment with the verse novel Aurora Leigh (1856; dated 1857), she was in her own lifetime far better known than her husband. Her Poems (1844) established her as a leading poet of the age. Casa Guidi Windows (1851) is a subtle reflection on her experience of Italian politics, and "A Musical Instrument" (1862) is one of the century's most memorable expressions of the difficulty of the poet's role. Only with the publication of Dramatis Personae (1864) did Robert Browning achieve the sort of fame that Tennyson had enjoyed for more than 20 years. The volume contains, in "Rabbi Ben Ezra," the most extreme statement of Browning's celebrated optimism. Hand in hand with this reassuring creed, however, go the skeptical intelligence and the sense of the grotesque displayed in such poems as "Caliban upon Setebos" and "Mr. Sludge, ‘The Medium.' "

      His The Ring and the Book (1868–69) gives the dramatic monologue format unprecedented scope. Published in parts, like a Dickens novel, it tells a sordid murder story in a way that both explores moral issues and suggests the problematic nature of human knowledge. Browning's work after this date, though voluminous, is uneven.

Arnold and Clough
      Matthew Arnold's (Arnold, Matthew) first volume of verse, The Strayed Reveller, and Other Poems (1849), combined lyric grace with an acute sense of the dark philosophical landscape of the period. The title poem of his next collection, Empedocles on Etna (1852), is a sustained statement of the modern dilemma and a remarkable poetic embodiment of the process that Arnold called “the dialogue of the mind with itself.” Arnold later suppressed this poem and attempted to write in a more impersonal manner. His greatest work ( "Switzerland," "Dover Beach," "The Scholar-Gipsy" ) is, however, always elegiac in tone. In the 1860s he turned from verse to prose and became, with Essays in Criticism (1865), Culture and Anarchy (1869), and Literature and Dogma (1873), a lively and acute writer of literary, social, and religious criticism.

      Arnold's friend Arthur Hugh Clough (Clough, Arthur Hugh) died young but managed nonetheless to produce three highly original poems. The Bothie of Tober-na-Vuolich (1848) is a narrative poem of modern life, written in hexameters. Amours de Voyage (1858) goes beyond this to the full-scale verse novel, using multiple internal narrators and vivid contemporary detail. Dipsychus (published posthumously in 1865 but not available in an unexpurgated version until 1951) is a remarkable closet drama that debates issues of belief and morality with a frankness, and a metrical liveliness, unequaled in Victorian verse.

Early Victorian nonfiction prose
      Carlyle (Carlyle, Thomas) may be said to have initiated Victorian literature with Sartor Resartus. He continued thereafter to have a powerful effect on its development. The French Revolution (1837), the book that made him famous, spoke very directly to this consciously postrevolutionary (French Revolution) age. On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and the Heroic in History (1841) combined the Romantic idea of the genius with a further statement of German transcendentalist philosophy, which Carlyle opposed to the influential doctrines of empiricism and utilitarianism. Carlyle's political writing, in Chartism (1839; dated 1840), Past and Present (1843), and the splenetic Latter-Day Pamphlets (1850), inspired other writers to similar “prophetic” denunciations of laissez-faire economics and utilitarian ethics. The first importance of John Ruskin (Ruskin, John) is as an art critic who, in Modern Painters (5 vol., 1843–60), brought Romantic theory to the study of painting and forged an appropriate prose for its expression. But in The Stones of Venice (3 vol., 1851–53), Ruskin took the political medievalism of Carlyle's Past and Present and gave it a poetic fullness and force. This imaginative engagement with social and economic problems continued into Unto This Last (1860), The Crown of Wild Olive (1866), and Fors Clavigera (1871–84). John Henry Newman (Newman, John Henry) was a poet, novelist, and theologian who wrote many of the tracts, published as Tracts for the Times (1833–41), that promoted the Oxford movement, which sought to reassert the Roman Catholic identity of the Church of England. His subsequent religious development is memorably described in his Apologia pro Vita Sua (1864), one of the many great autobiographies of this introspective century.

Late Victorian literature
 “The modern spirit,” Matthew Arnold observed in 1865, “is now awake.” In 1859 Charles Darwin (Darwin, Charles) had published On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection. Historians, philosophers, and scientists were all beginning to apply the idea of evolution to new areas of study of the human experience. Traditional conceptions of man's nature and place in the world were, as a consequence, under threat. Walter Pater (Pater, Walter) summed up the process, in 1866, by stating that “Modern thought is distinguished from ancient by its cultivation of the ‘relative' spirit in place of the ‘absolute.' ”

      The economic crisis of the 1840s was long past. But the fierce political debates that led first to the Second Reform Act (Reform Bill) of 1867 and then to the battles for the enfranchisement of women were accompanied by a deepening crisis of belief.

The novel
      Late Victorian fiction may express doubts and uncertainties, but in aesthetic terms it displays a new sophistication and self-confidence. The expatriate American novelist Henry James (James, Henry) wrote in 1884 that until recently the English novel had “had no air of having a theory, a conviction, a consciousness of itself behind it.” Its acquisition of these things was due in no small part to Mary Ann Evans, better known as George Eliot (Eliot, George). Initially a critic and translator, she was influenced, after the loss of her Christian faith, by the ideas of Ludwig Feuerbach (Feuerbach, Ludwig) and Auguste Comte (Comte, Auguste). Her advanced intellectual interests combined with her sophisticated sense of the novel form to shape her remarkable fiction. Her early novels—Adam Bede (1859), The Mill on the Floss (1860), and Silas Marner (1861)—are closely observed studies of English rural life that offer, at the same time, complex contemporary ideas and a subtle tracing of moral issues. Her masterpiece, Middlemarch (1871–72), is an unprecedentedly full study of the life of a provincial town, focused on the thwarted idealism of her two principal characters. George Eliot is a realist, but her realism involves a scientific analysis of the interior processes of social and personal existence.

      Her fellow realist Anthony Trollope (Trollope, Anthony) published his first novel in 1847 but only established his distinctive manner with The Warden (1855), the first of a series of six novels set in the fictional county of Barsetshire and completed in 1867. This sequence was followed by a further series, the six-volume Palliser group (1864–80), set in the world of British parliamentary politics. Trollope published an astonishing total of 47 novels, and his Autobiography (1883) is a uniquely candid account of the working life of a Victorian writer.

      The third major novelist of the 1870s was George Meredith (Meredith, George), who also worked as a poet, a journalist, and a publisher's reader. His prose style is eccentric and his achievement uneven. His greatest work of fiction, The Egoist (1879), however, is an incisive comic novel that embodies the distinctive theory of the corrective and therapeutic powers of laughter expressed in his lecture "The Idea of Comedy" (1877).

      In the 1880s the three-volume novel, with its panoramic vistas and proliferating subplots, began to give way to more narrowly focused one-volume novels. At the same time, a gap started to open between popular fiction and the “literary” or “art” novel. The flowering of realist fiction was also accompanied, perhaps inevitably, by a revival of its opposite, the romance. The 1860s had produced a new subgenre, the sensation novel, seen at its best in the work of Wilkie Collins (Collins, Wilkie). Gothic novels and romances by Sheridan Le Fanu (Le Fanu, Sheridan), Robert Louis Stevenson (Stevenson, Robert Louis), William Morris (Morris, William), and Oscar Wilde (Wilde, Oscar); utopian fiction by Morris and Samuel Butler (Butler, Samuel); and the early science fiction of H.G. Wells (Wells, H.G.) make it possible to speak of a full-scale romance revival.

      Realism continued to flourish, however, sometimes encouraged by the example of European realist and naturalist novelists. Both George Moore (Moore, George) and George Gissing (Gissing, George) were influenced by Émile Zola (Zola, Émile), though both also reacted against him. The 1890s saw intense concern with the social role of women, reflected in the New Woman fiction of Grant Allen (The Woman Who Did, 1895), Sarah Grand (The Heavenly Twins, 1893), and George Egerton (Keynotes, 1893). The heroines of such texts breach conventional assumptions by supporting woman suffrage, smoking, adopting “rational” dress, and rejecting traditional double standards in sexual behaviour.

      The greatest novelist of this generation, however, was Thomas Hardy (Hardy, Thomas). His first published novel, Desperate Remedies, appeared in 1871 and was followed by 13 more before he abandoned prose to publish (in the 20th century) only poetry. His major fiction consists of the tragic novels of rural life, The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886), Tess of the D'Urbervilles (1891), and Jude the Obscure (1895). In these novels his brilliant evocation of the landscape and people of his fictional Wessex is combined with a sophisticated sense of the “ache of modernism.”

      The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, formed in 1848 and unofficially reinforced a decade later, was founded as a group of painters but also functioned as a school of writers who linked the incipient Aestheticism of Keats and De Quincey to the Decadent movement of the fin de siècle. Dante Gabriel Rossetti (Rossetti, Dante Gabriel) collected his early writing in Poems (1870), a volume that led the critic Robert Buchanan to attack him as the leader of "The Fleshly School of Poetry." Rossetti combined some subtle treatments of contemporary life with a new kind of medievalism, seen also in The Defence of Guenevere (1858) by William Morris (Morris, William). The earnest political use of the Middle Ages found in Carlyle and Ruskin did not die out—Morris himself continued it and linked it, in the 1880s, with Marxism. But these writers also used medieval settings as a context that made possible an uninhibited treatment of sex and violence. The shocking subject matter and vivid imagery of Morris's first volume were further developed by Algernon Charles Swinburne (Swinburne, Algernon Charles), who, in Atalanta in Calydon (1865) and Poems and Ballads (1866), combined them with an intoxicating metrical power. His second series of Poems and Ballads (1878), with its moving elegies for Charles Baudelaire (Baudelaire, Charles) and Théophile Gautier (Gautier, Théophile), displays a sophisticated command of recent developments in avant-garde French verse.

      The carefully wrought religious poetry of Christina Rossetti (Rossetti, Christina) is perhaps truer to the original, pious purposes of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Her first collection, Goblin Market and Other Poems (1862), with its vivid but richly ambiguous title poem, established her status as one of the outstanding lyric poets of the century. The other outstanding religious poet of this period is Gerard Manley Hopkins (Hopkins, Gerard Manley), a Jesuit priest whose work was first collected as Poems in 1918, nearly 30 years after his death. Overpraised by Modernist critics, who saw him as the sole great poet of the era, he was in fact an important minor talent and an ingenious technical innovator.

      Robert Browning's experiments with the dramatic monologue were further developed in the 1860s by Augusta Webster, who used the form in Dramatic Studies (1866), A Woman Sold and Other Poems (1867), and Portraits (1870) to produce penetrating accounts of female experience. Her posthumously published sonnet sequence Mother & Daughter (1895) is a lucid and unsentimental account of that relationship.

      The 1890s witnessed a flowering of lyric verse, influenced intellectually by the critic and novelist Walter Pater (Pater, Walter) and formally by contemporary French practice. Such writing was widely attacked as “decadent” for its improper subject matter and its consciously amoral doctrine of “art for art's sake.” This stress upon artifice and the freedom of art from conventional moral constraints went hand in hand, however, with an exquisite craftsmanship and a devotion to intense emotional and sensory effects. Outstanding among the numerous poets publishing in the final decade of the century were John Davidson (Davidson, John), Arthur Symons (Symons, Arthur), Francis Thompson (Thompson, Francis), Ernest Dowson (Dowson, Ernest), Lionel Johnson, and A.E. Housman (Housman, A.E.). In The Symbolist Movement in Literature (1899), Symons suggested the links between this writing and European Symbolism (Symbolist movement) and Impressionism. Thompson provides a vivid example of the way in which a decadent manner could, paradoxically, be combined with fierce religious enthusiasm. A rather different note was struck by Rudyard Kipling (Kipling, Rudyard), who combined polemical force and sharp observation (particularly of colonial experience) with a remarkable metrical vigour.

The Victorian theatre
      Early Victorian drama was a popular art form, appealing to an uneducated audience that demanded emotional excitement rather than intellectual subtlety. Vivacious melodramas did not, however, hold exclusive possession of the stage. The mid-century saw lively comedies by Dion Boucicault (Boucicault, Dion) and Tom Taylor. In the 1860s T.W. Robertson (Robertson, Thomas William) pioneered a new realist drama, an achievement later celebrated by Arthur Wing Pinero (Pinero, Sir Arthur Wing) in his charming sentimental comedy Trelawny of the “Wells” (1898). The 1890s were, however, the outstanding decade of dramatic innovation. Oscar Wilde (Wilde, Oscar) crowned his brief career as a playwright with one of the few great high comedies in English, The Importance of Being Earnest (1895). At the same time, the influence of Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen (Ibsen, Henrik) was helping to produce a new genre of serious “problem plays,” such as Pinero's The Second Mrs. Tanqueray (1893). J.T. Grein (Grein, Jack Thomas) founded the Independent Theatre in 1891 to foster such work and staged there the first plays of George Bernard Shaw (Shaw, George Bernard) and translations of Ibsen.

Victorian literary comedy
      Victorian literature began with such humorous books as Sartor Resartus and The Pickwick Papers. Despite the crisis of faith, the “Condition of England” question, and the “ache of modernism,” this note was sustained throughout the century. The comic novels of Dickens and Thackeray, the squibs, sketches, and light verse of Thomas Hood (Hood, Thomas) and Douglas Jerrold (Jerrold, Douglas William), the nonsense of Edward Lear (Lear, Edward) and Lewis Carroll (Carroll, Lewis), and the humorous light fiction of Jerome K. Jerome (Jerome, Jerome K.) and George Grossmith (Grossmith, George) and his brother Weedon Grossmith are proof that this age, so often remembered for its gloomy rectitude, may in fact have been the greatest era of comic writing in English literature.

Nicholas Shrimpton

The 20th century

From 1900 to 1945
The Edwardians
      The 20th century opened with great hope but also with some apprehension, for the new century marked the final approach to a new millennium. For many, humankind was entering upon an unprecedented era. H.G. Wells (Wells, H.G.)'s utopian studies, the aptly titled Anticipations of the Reaction of Mechanical and Scientific Progress upon Human Life and Thought (1901) and A Modern Utopia (1905), both captured and qualified this optimistic mood and gave expression to a common conviction that science and technology would transform the world in the century ahead. To achieve such transformation, outmoded institutions and ideals had to be replaced by ones more suited to the growth and liberation of the human spirit. The death of Queen Victoria in 1901 and the accession of Edward VII seemed to confirm that a franker, less inhibited era had begun.

      Many writers of the Edwardian period, drawing widely upon the realistic and naturalistic conventions of the 19th century (upon Ibsen in drama and Balzac, Turgenev, Flaubert, Zola, Eliot, and Dickens in fiction) and in tune with the anti-Aestheticism unleashed by the trial of the archetypal Aesthete, Oscar Wilde, saw their task in the new century to be an unashamedly didactic one. In a series of wittily iconoclastic plays, of which Man and Superman (performed 1905, published 1903) and Major Barbara (performed 1905, published 1907) are the most substantial, George Bernard Shaw (Shaw, George Bernard) turned the Edwardian theatre into an arena for debate upon the principal concerns of the day: the question of political organization, the morality of armaments and war, the function of class and of the professions, the validity of the family and of marriage, and the issue of female emancipation. Nor was he alone in this, even if he was alone in the brilliance of his comedy. John Galsworthy (Galsworthy, John) made use of the theatre in Strife (1909) to explore the conflict between capital and labour, and in Justice (1910) he lent his support to reform of the penal system, while Harley Granville-Barker (Granville-Barker, Harley), whose revolutionary approach to stage direction did much to change theatrical production in the period, dissected in The Voysey Inheritance (performed 1905, published 1909) and Waste (performed 1907, published 1909) the hypocrisies and deceit of upper-class and professional life.

      Many Edwardian novelists were similarly eager to explore the shortcomings of English social life. Wells—in Love and Mr. Lewisham (1900); Kipps (1905); Ann Veronica (1909), his pro-suffragist novel; and The History of Mr. Polly (1910)—captured the frustrations of lower- and middle-class existence, even though he relieved his accounts with many comic touches. In Anna of the Five Towns (1902), Arnold Bennett (Bennett, Arnold) detailed the constrictions of provincial life among the self-made business classes in the area of England known as the Potteries; in The Man of Property (1906), the first volume of The Forsyte Saga, Galsworthy described the destructive possessiveness of the professional bourgeoisie; and, in Where Angels Fear to Tread (1905) and The Longest Journey (1907), E.M. Forster (Forster, E M) portrayed with irony the insensitivity, self-repression, and philistinism of the English middle classes.

      These novelists, however, wrote more memorably when they allowed themselves a larger perspective. In The Old Wives' Tale (1908), Bennett showed the destructive effects of time on the lives of individuals and communities and evoked a quality of pathos that he never matched in his other fiction; in Tono-Bungay (1909), Wells showed the ominous consequences of the uncontrolled developments taking place within a British society still dependent upon the institutions of a long-defunct landed aristocracy; and in Howards End (1910), Forster showed how little the rootless and self-important world of contemporary commerce cared for the more rooted world of culture, although he acknowledged that commerce was a necessary evil. Nevertheless, even as they perceived the difficulties of the present, most Edwardian novelists, like their counterparts in the theatre, held firmly to the belief not only that constructive change was possible but also that this change could in some measure be advanced by their writing.

      Other writers, including Thomas Hardy (Hardy, Thomas) and Rudyard Kipling (Kipling, Rudyard), who had established their reputations during the previous century, and Hilaire Belloc (Belloc, Hilaire), G.K. Chesterton (Chesterton, G.K.), and Edward Thomas (Thomas, Edward), who established their reputations in the first decade of the new century, were less confident about the future and sought to revive the traditional forms—the ballad, the narrative poem, the satire, the fantasy, the topographical poem, and the essay—that in their view preserved traditional sentiments and perceptions. The revival of traditional forms in the late 19th and early 20th century was not a unique event. There were many such revivals during the 20th century, and the traditional poetry of A.E. Housman (Housman, A.E.) (whose book A Shropshire Lad, originally published in 1896, enjoyed huge popular success during World War I), Walter de la Mare (de la Mare, Walter), John Masefield (Masefield, John), Robert Graves (Graves, Robert), and Edmund Blunden (Blunden, Edmund Charles) represents an important and often neglected strand of English literature in the first half of the century.

 The most significant writing of the period, traditionalist or modern, was inspired by neither hope nor apprehension but by bleaker feelings that the new century would witness the collapse of a whole civilization. The new century had begun with Great Britain involved in the South African War (the Boer War; 1899–1902), and it seemed to some that the British Empire was as doomed to destruction, both from within and from without, as had been the Roman Empire. In his poems on the South African War, Hardy (Hardy, Thomas) (whose achievement as a poet in the 20th century rivaled his achievement as a novelist in the 19th) questioned simply and sardonically the human cost of empire building and established a tone and style that many British poets were to use in the course of the century, while Kipling, who had done much to engender pride in empire, began to speak in his verse and short stories (short story) of the burden of empire and the tribulations it would bring.

      No one captured the sense of an imperial civilization in decline more fully or subtly than the expatriate American novelist Henry James (James, Henry). In The Portrait of a Lady (1881), he had briefly anatomized the fatal loss of energy of the English ruling class and, in The Princess Casamassima (1886), had described more directly the various instabilities that threatened its paternalistic rule. He did so with regret: the patrician American admired in the English upper class its sense of moral obligation to the community. By the turn of the century, however, he had noted a disturbing change. In The Spoils of Poynton (1897) and What Maisie Knew (1897), members of the upper class no longer seem troubled by the means adopted to achieve their morally dubious ends. Great Britain had become indistinguishable from the other nations of the Old World, in which an ugly rapacity had never been far from the surface. James's dismay at this condition gave to his subtle and compressed late fiction, The Wings of the Dove (1902), The Ambassadors (1903), and The Golden Bowl (1904), much of its gravity and air of disenchantment.

      James's awareness of crisis affected the very form and style of his writing, for he was no longer assured that the world about which he wrote was either coherent in itself or unambiguously intelligible to its inhabitants. His fiction still presented characters within an identifiable social world, but he found his characters and their world increasingly elusive and enigmatic and his own grasp upon them, as he made clear in The Sacred Fount (1901), the questionable consequence of artistic will.

      Another expatriate novelist, Joseph Conrad (Conrad, Joseph) (pseudonym of Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski, born in the Ukraine of Polish parents), shared James's sense of crisis but attributed it less to the decline of a specific civilization than to human failings. Man was a solitary, romantic creature of will who at any cost imposed his meaning upon the world because he could not endure a world that did not reflect his central place within it. In Almayer's Folly (1895) and Lord Jim (1900), he had seemed to sympathize with this predicament; but in "Heart of Darkness" (1902), Nostromo (1904), The Secret Agent (1907), and Under Western Eyes (1911), he detailed such imposition, and the psychological pathologies he increasingly associated with it, without sympathy. He did so as a philosophical novelist whose concern with the mocking limits of human knowledge affected not only the content of his fiction but also its very structure. His writing itself is marked by gaps in the narrative, by narrators who do not fully grasp the significance of the events they are retelling, and by characters who are unable to make themselves understood. James and Conrad used many of the conventions of 19th-century realism but transformed them to express what are considered to be peculiarly 20th-century preoccupations and anxieties.

The Modernist revolution

Anglo-American Modernism: Pound, Lewis, Lawrence, and Eliot
      From 1908 to 1914 there was a remarkably productive period of innovation and experiment as novelists and poets undertook, in anthologies and magazines, to challenge the literary conventions not just of the recent past but of the entire post-Romantic era. For a brief moment, London, which up to that point had been culturally one of the dullest of the European capitals, boasted an avant-garde to rival those of Paris, Vienna, and Berlin, even if its leading personality, Ezra Pound (Pound, Ezra), and many of its most notable figures were American.

      The spirit of Modernism—a radical and utopian spirit stimulated by new ideas in anthropology, psychology, philosophy, political theory, and psychoanalysis—was in the air, expressed rather mutedly by the pastoral and often anti-Modern poets of the Georgian movement (1912–22; see Georgian poetry) and more authentically by the English and American poets of the Imagist movement, to which Pound first drew attention in Ripostes (1912), a volume of his own poetry, and in Des Imagistes (1914), an anthology. Prominent among the Imagists were the English poets T.E. Hulme (Hulme, T.E.), F.S. Flint (Flint, F.S.), and Richard Aldington (Aldington, Richard) and the Americans Hilda Doolittle (Doolittle, Hilda) (H.D.) and Amy Lowell (Lowell, Amy).

      Reacting against what they considered to be an exhausted poetic tradition, the Imagists wanted to refine the language of poetry in order to make it a vehicle not for pastoral sentiment or imperialistic rhetoric but for the exact description and evocation of mood. To this end they experimented with free or irregular verse and made the image their principal instrument. In contrast to the leisurely Georgians, they worked with brief and economical forms.

 Meanwhile, painters and sculptors, grouped together by the painter and writer Wyndham Lewis (Lewis, Wyndham) under the banner of Vorticism, combined the abstract art of the Cubists (Cubism) with the example of the Italian Futurists (Futurism) who conveyed in their painting, sculpture, and literature the new sensations of movement and scale associated with modern developments such as automobiles and airplanes. With the typographically arresting Blast: Review of the Great English Vortex (two editions, 1914 and 1915) Vorticism found its polemical mouthpiece and in Lewis, its editor, its most active propagandist and accomplished literary exponent. His experimental play Enemy of the Stars, published in Blast in 1914, and his experimental novel Tarr (1918) can still surprise with their violent exuberance.

      World War I brought this first period of the Modernist revolution to an end and, while not destroying its radical and utopian impulse, made the Anglo-American Modernists all too aware of the gulf between their ideals and the chaos of the present. Novelists and poets parodied received forms and styles, in their view made redundant by the immensity and horror of the war, but, as can be seen most clearly in Pound's angry and satirical Hugh Selwyn Mauberley (1920), with a note of anguish and with the wish that writers might again make form and style the bearers of authentic meanings.

      In his two most innovative novels, The Rainbow (1915) and Women in Love (1920), D.H. Lawrence (Lawrence, D.H.) traced the sickness of modern civilization—a civilization in his view only too eager to participate in the mass slaughter of the war—to the effects of industrialization upon the human psyche. Yet as he rejected the conventions of the fictional tradition, which he had used to brilliant effect in his deeply felt autobiographical novel of working-class family life, Sons and Lovers (1913), he drew upon myth and symbol to hold out the hope that individual and collective rebirth could come through human intensity and passion.

      On the other hand, the poet and playwright T.S. Eliot (Eliot, T.S.), another American resident in London, in his most innovative poetry, Prufrock and Other Observations (1917) and The Waste Land (1922), traced the sickness of modern civilization—a civilization that, on the evidence of the war, preferred death or death-in-life to life—to the spiritual emptiness and rootlessness of modern existence. As he rejected the conventions of the poetic tradition, Eliot, like Lawrence, drew upon myth and symbol to hold out the hope of individual and collective rebirth, but he differed sharply from Lawrence by supposing that rebirth could come through self-denial and self-abnegation. Even so, their satirical intensity, no less than the seriousness and scope of their analyses of the failings of a civilization that had voluntarily entered upon the First World War, ensured that Lawrence and Eliot became the leading and most authoritative figures of Anglo-American Modernism in England in the whole of the postwar period.

      During the 1920s Lawrence (who had left England in 1919) and Eliot began to develop viewpoints at odds with the reputations they had established through their early work. In Kangaroo (1923) and The Plumed Serpent (1926), Lawrence revealed the attraction to him of charismatic, masculine leadership, while, in For Lancelot Andrewes: Essays on Style and Order (1928), Eliot (whose influence as a literary critic now rivaled his influence as a poet) announced that he was a “classicist in literature, royalist in politics and anglo-catholic in religion” and committed himself to hierarchy and order. Elitist and paternalistic, they did not, however, adopt the extreme positions of Pound (who left England in 1920 and settled permanently in Italy in 1925) or Lewis. Drawing upon the ideas of the left and of the right, Pound and Lewis dismissed democracy as a sham and argued that economic and ideological manipulation was the dominant factor. For some, the antidemocratic views of the Anglo-American Modernists simply made explicit the reactionary tendencies inherent in the movement from its beginning; for others, they came from a tragic loss of balance occasioned by World War I. This issue is a complex one, and judgments upon the literary merit and political status of Pound's ambitious but immensely difficult Imagist epic The Cantos (1917–70) and Lewis's powerful sequence of politico-theological novels The Human Age (The Childermass, 1928; Monstre Gai and Malign Fiesta, both 1955) are sharply divided.

Celtic Modernism: Yeats, Joyce, Jones, and MacDiarmid
      Pound, Lewis, Lawrence, and Eliot were the principal male figures of Anglo-American Modernism, but important contributions also were made by the Irish poet and playwright William Butler Yeats (Yeats, William Butler) and the Irish novelist James Joyce (Joyce, James). By virtue of nationality, residence, and, in Yeats's case, an unjust reputation as a poet still steeped in Celtic mythology, they had less immediate impact upon the British literary intelligentsia in the late 1910s and early 1920s than Pound, Lewis, Lawrence, and Eliot, although by the mid-1920s their influence had become direct and substantial. Many critics today argue that Yeats's work as a poet and Joyce's work as a novelist are the most important Modernist achievements of the period.

      In his early verse and drama, Yeats, who had been influenced as a young man by the Romantic and Pre-Raphaelite movements, evoked a legendary and supernatural Ireland in language that was often vague and grandiloquent. As an adherent of the cause of Irish nationalism, he had hoped to instill pride in the Irish past. The poetry of The Green Helmet (1910) and Responsibilities (1914), however, was marked not only by a more concrete and colloquial style but also by a growing isolation from the nationalist movement, for Yeats celebrated an aristocratic Ireland epitomized for him by the family and country house of his friend and patron, Lady Gregory (Gregory, Augusta, Lady).

      The grandeur of his mature reflective poetry in The Wild Swans at Coole (1917), Michael Robartes and the Dancer (1921), The Tower (1928), and The Winding Stair (1929) derived in large measure from the way in which (caught up by the violent discords of contemporary Irish history) he accepted the fact that his idealized Ireland was illusory. At its best his mature style combined passion and precision with powerful symbol, strong rhythm, and lucid diction; and even though his poetry often touched upon public themes, he never ceased to reflect upon the Romantic themes of creativity, selfhood, and the individual's relationship to nature, time, and history.

      Joyce, who spent his adult life on the continent of Europe, expressed in his fiction his sense of the limits and possibilities of the Ireland he had left behind. In his collection of short stories, Dubliners (1914), and his largely autobiographical novel A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916), he described in fiction at once realist and symbolist the individual cost of the sexual and imaginative oppressiveness of life in Ireland. As if by provocative contrast, his panoramic novel of urban life, Ulysses (1922), was sexually frank and imaginatively profuse. (Copies of the first edition were burned by the New York postal authorities, and British customs officials seized the second edition in 1923.) Employing extraordinary formal and linguistic inventiveness, including the stream-of-consciousness (stream of consciousness) method, Joyce depicted the experiences and the fantasies of various men and women in Dublin on a summer's day in June 1904. Yet his purpose was not simply documentary, for he drew upon an encyclopaedic range of European literature to stress the rich universality of life buried beneath the provincialism of pre-independence Dublin, in 1904 a city still within the British Empire. In his even more experimental Finnegans Wake (1939), extracts of which had already appeared as Work in Progress from 1928 to 1937, Joyce's commitment to cultural universality became absolute. By means of a strange, polyglot idiom of puns and portmanteau words (portmanteau word), he not only explored the relationship between the conscious and the unconscious but also suggested that the languages and myths of Ireland were interwoven with the languages and myths of many other cultures.

      The example of Joyce's experimentalism was followed by the Anglo-Welsh poet David Jones (Jones, David) and by the Scottish poet Hugh MacDiarmid (MacDiarmid, Hugh) (pseudonym of Christopher Murray Grieve). Whereas Jones concerned himself, in his complex and allusive poetry and prose, with the Celtic, Saxon, Roman, and Christian roots of Great Britain, MacDiarmid sought not only to recover what he considered to be an authentically Scottish culture but also to establish, as in his In Memoriam James Joyce (1955), the truly cosmopolitan nature of Celtic consciousness and achievement. MacDiarmid's masterpiece in the vernacular, A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle (1926), helped to inspire the Scottish renaissance of the 1920s and '30s.

The literature of World War I and the interwar period
      The impact of World War I upon the Anglo-American Modernists has been noted. In addition the war brought a variety of responses from the more-traditionalist writers, predominantly poets, who saw action. Rupert Brooke (Brooke, Rupert) caught the idealism of the opening months of the war (and died in service); Siegfried Sassoon (Sassoon, Siegfried) and Ivor Gurney caught the mounting anger and sense of waste as the war continued; and Isaac Rosenberg (Rosenberg, Isaac) (perhaps the most original of the war poets), Wilfred Owen (Owen, Wilfred), and Edmund Blunden (Blunden, Edmund Charles) not only caught the comradely compassion of the trenches but also addressed themselves to the larger moral perplexities raised by the war (Rosenberg and Owen were killed in action).

      It was not until the 1930s, however, that much of this poetry became widely known. In the wake of the war the dominant tone, at once cynical and bewildered, was set by Aldous Huxley (Huxley, Aldous)'s satirical novel Crome Yellow (1921). Drawing upon Lawrence and Eliot, he concerned himself in his novels of ideas—Antic Hay (1923), Those Barren Leaves (1925), and Point Counter Point (1928)—with the fate of the individual in rootless modernity. His pessimistic vision found its most complete expression in the 1930s, however, in his most famous and inventive novel, the anti-utopian fantasy Brave New World (1932), and his account of the anxieties of middle-class intellectuals of the period, Eyeless in Gaza (1936).

      Huxley's frank and disillusioned manner was echoed by the dramatist Noël Coward (Coward, Sir Noël) in The Vortex (1924), which established his reputation; by the poet Robert Graves (Graves, Robert) in his autobiography, Good-Bye to All That (1929); and by the poet Richard Aldington (Aldington, Richard) in his Death of a Hero (1929), a semiautobiographical novel of prewar bohemian London and the trenches. Exceptions to this dominant mood were found among writers too old to consider themselves, as did Graves and Aldington, members of a betrayed generation. In A Passage to India (1924), E.M. Forster (Forster, E M) examined the quest for and failure of human understanding among various ethnic and social groups in India under British rule. In Parade's End (1950; comprising Some Do Not, 1924; No More Parades, 1925; A Man Could Stand Up, 1926; and Last Post, 1928) Ford Madox Ford (Ford, Ford Madox), with an obvious debt to James and Conrad, examined the demise of aristocratic England in the course of the war, exploring on a larger scale the themes he had treated with brilliant economy in his short novel The Good Soldier (1915). And in Wolf Solent (1929) and A Glastonbury Romance (1932), John Cowper Powys (Powys, John Cowper) developed an eccentric and highly erotic mysticism.

      These were, however, writers of an earlier, more confident era. A younger and more contemporary voice belonged to members of the Bloomsbury group. Setting themselves against the humbug and hypocrisy that, they believed, had marked their parents' generation in upper-class England, they aimed to be uncompromisingly honest in personal and artistic life. In Lytton Strachey (Strachey, Lytton)'s iconoclastic biographical study Eminent Victorians (1918), this amounted to little more than amusing irreverence, even though Strachey had a profound effect upon the writing of biography; but in the fiction of Virginia Woolf (Woolf, Virginia) the rewards of this outlook were both profound and moving. In short stories and novels of great delicacy and lyrical power, she set out to portray the limitations of the self, caught as it is in time, and suggested that these could be transcended, if only momentarily, by engagement with another self, a place, or a work of art. This preoccupation not only charged the act of reading and writing with unusual significance but also produced, in To the Lighthouse (1927), The Waves (1931)—perhaps her most inventive and complex novel—and Between the Acts (1941), her most sombre and moving work, some of the most daring fiction produced in the 20th century.

      Woolf believed that her viewpoint offered an alternative to the destructive egotism of the masculine mind, an egotism that had found its outlet in World War I, but, as she made clear in her long essay A Room of One's Own (1929), she did not consider this viewpoint to be the unique possession of women. In her fiction she presented men who possessed what she held to be feminine characteristics, a regard for others and an awareness of the multiplicity of experience; but she remained pessimistic about women gaining positions of influence, even though she set out the desirability of this in her feminist study Three Guineas (1938). Together with Joyce, who greatly influenced her Mrs. Dalloway (1925), Woolf transformed the treatment of subjectivity, time, and history in fiction and helped create a feeling among her contemporaries that traditional forms of fiction—with their frequent indifference to the mysterious and inchoate inner life of characters—were no longer adequate. Her eminence as a literary critic and essayist did much to foster an interest in the work of other female Modernist writers of the period, such as Katherine Mansfield (Mansfield, Katherine) (born in New Zealand) and Dorothy Richardson (Richardson, Dorothy M.).

      Indeed, as a result of late 20th-century rereadings of Modernism, scholars now recognize the central importance of women writers to British Modernism, particularly as manifested in the works of Mansfield, Richardson, May Sinclair, Mary Butts, Rebecca West (West, Dame Rebecca) (pseudonym of Cicily Isabel Andrews), Jean Rhys (Rhys, Jean) (born in the West Indies), and the American poet Hilda Doolittle (Doolittle, Hilda) (who spent her adult life mainly in England and Switzerland). Sinclair, who produced 24 novels in the course of a prolific literary career, was an active feminist and an advocate of psychical research, including psychoanalysis. These concerns were evident in her most accomplished novels, Mary Olivier: A Life (1919) and Life and Death of Harriett Frean (1922), which explored the ways in which her female characters contributed to their own social and psychological repression. West (West, Dame Rebecca), whose pen name was based on one of Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen (Ibsen, Henrik)'s female characters, was similarly interested in female self-negation. From her first and greatly underrated novel, The Return of the Soldier (1918), to later novels such as Harriet Hume (1929), she explored how and why middle-class women so tenaciously upheld the division between private and public spheres and helped to sustain the traditional values of the masculine world. West became a highly successful writer on social and political issues—she wrote memorably on the Balkans and on the Nürnberg trials at the end of World War II—but her public acclaim as a journalist obscured during her lifetime her greater achievements as a novelist.

      In her 13-volume Pilgrimage (the first volume, Pointed Roofs, appeared in 1915; the last, March Moonlight, in 1967), Richardson (Richardson, Dorothy M.) was far more positive about the capacity of women to realize themselves. She presented events through the mind of her autobiographical persona, Miriam Henderson, describing both the social and economic limitations and the psychological and intellectual possibilities of a young woman without means coming of age with the new century. Other women writers of the period also made major contributions to new kinds of psychological realism. In Bliss and Other Stories (1920) and The Garden Party and Other Stories (1922), Mansfield (Mansfield, Katherine) (who went to England at age 19) revolutionized the short story by rejecting the mechanisms of plot in favour of an impressionistic sense of the flow of experience, punctuated by an arresting moment of insight. In Postures (1928, reprinted as Quartet in 1969), Voyage in the Dark (1934), and Good Morning, Midnight (1939), Rhys (Rhys, Jean) depicted the lives of vulnerable women adrift in London and Paris, vulnerable because they were poor and because the words in which they innocently believed—honesty in relationships, fidelity in marriage—proved in practice to be empty.

      Creating heavily symbolic novels based on the quest-romance, such as Ashe of Rings (1925) and Armed with Madness (1928), Butts explored a more general loss of value in the contemporary wasteland (T.S. Eliot was an obvious influence on her work), while Doolittle (Doolittle, Hilda) (whose reputation rested upon her contribution to the Imagist movement in poetry) used the quest-romance in a series of autobiographical novels—including Paint It Today (written in 1921 but first published in 1992) and Bid Me to Live (1960)—to chart a way through the contemporary world for female characters in search of sustaining, often same-sex relationships. Following the posthumous publication of her strikingly original prose, Doolittle's reputation was revised and enhanced.

The 1930s
      World War I created a profound sense of crisis in English culture, and this became even more intense with the worldwide economic collapse of the late 1920s and early '30s, the rise of fascism, the Spanish Civil War (1936–39), and the approach of another full-scale conflict in Europe. It is not surprising, therefore, that much of the writing of the 1930s was bleak and pessimistic: even Evelyn Waugh (Waugh, Evelyn)'s sharp and amusing satire on contemporary England, Vile Bodies (1930), ended with another, more disastrous war.

      Divisions of class and the burden of sexual repression became common and interrelated themes in the fiction of the 1930s. In his trilogy A Scots Quair (Sunset Song [1932], Cloud Howe [1933], and Grey Granite [1934]), the novelist Lewis Grassic Gibbon (Gibbon, Lewis Grassic) (pseudonym of James Leslie Mitchell) gives a panoramic account of Scottish rural and working-class life. The work resembles Lawrence's novel The Rainbow in its historical sweep and intensity of vision. Walter Greenwood's Love on the Dole (1933) is a bleak record, in the manner of Bennett, of the economic depression in a northern working-class community; and Graham Greene (Greene, Graham)'s It's a Battlefield (1934) and Brighton Rock (1938) are desolate studies, in the manner of Conrad, of the loneliness and guilt of men and women trapped in a contemporary England of conflict and decay. A Clergyman's Daughter (1935) and Keep the Aspidistra Flying (1936), by George Orwell (Orwell, George), are evocations—in the manner of Wells and, in the latter case unsuccessfully, of Joyce—of contemporary lower-middle-class existence, and The Road to Wigan Pier (1937) is a report of northern working-class mores. Elizabeth Bowen (Bowen, Elizabeth)'s Death of the Heart (1938) is a sardonic analysis, in the manner of James, of contemporary upper-class values.

      Yet the most characteristic writing of the decade grew out of the determination to supplement the diagnosis of class division and sexual repression with their cure. It was no accident that the poetry of W.H. Auden (Auden, W H) and his Oxford contemporaries C. Day-Lewis (Day-Lewis, C.), Louis MacNeice (MacNeice, Louis), and Stephen Spender (Spender, Sir Stephen) became quickly identified as the authentic voice of the new generation, for it matched despair with defiance. These self-styled prophets of a new world envisaged freedom from the bourgeois order being achieved in various ways. For Day-Lewis and Spender, technology held out particular promise. This, allied to Marxist precepts, would in their view bring an end to poverty and the suffering it caused. For Auden especially, sexual repression was the enemy, and here the writings of Sigmund Freud (Freud, Sigmund) and D.H. Lawrence were valuable. Whatever their individual preoccupations, these poets produced in the very play of their poetry, with its mastery of different genres, its rapid shifts of tone and mood, and its strange juxtapositions of the colloquial and esoteric, a blend of seriousness and high spirits irresistible to their peers.

      The adventurousness of the new generation was shown in part by its love of travel (as in Christopher Isherwood (Isherwood, Christopher)'s novels Mr. Norris Changes Trains [1935] and Goodbye to Berlin [1939], which reflect his experiences of postwar Germany), in part by its readiness for political involvement, and in part by its openness to the writing of the avant-garde of the Continent. The verse dramas coauthored by Auden and Isherwood, of which The Ascent of F6 (1936) is the most notable, owed much to Bertolt Brecht (Brecht, Bertolt); the political parables of Rex Warner (Warner, Rex), of which The Aerodrome (1941) is the most accomplished, owed much to Franz Kafka (Kafka, Franz); and the complex and often obscure poetry of David Gascoyne (Gascoyne, David) and Dylan Thomas (Thomas, Dylan) owed much to the Surrealists (Surrealism). Even so, Yeats's mature poetry and Eliot's Waste Land, with its parodies, its satirical edge, its multiplicity of styles, and its quest for spiritual renewal, provided the most significant models and inspiration for the young writers of the period.

      The writing of the interwar period had great breadth and diversity, from Modernist experimentation to new documentary modes of realism and from art as propaganda (particularly in the theatre) to conventional fiction, drama, and poetry produced for the popular market. Two trends stand out: first, the impact of film on the writing of the decade, not least on styles of visual realization and dialogue, and, second, the ubiquitous preoccupation with questions of time, on the psychological, historical, and even cosmological levels. As the world became less stable, writers sought both to reflect this and to seek some more-fundamental grounding than that provided by contemporary circumstances.

The literature of World War II (1939–45)
      The outbreak of war in 1939, as in 1914, brought to an end an era of great intellectual and creative exuberance. Individuals were dispersed; the rationing of paper affected the production of magazines and books; and the poem and the short story, convenient forms for men under arms, became the favoured means of literary expression. It was hardly a time for new beginnings, although the poets of the New Apocalypse movement produced three anthologies (1940–45) inspired by Neoromantic anarchism. No important new novelists or playwrights appeared. In fact, the best fiction about wartime—Evelyn Waugh's Put Out More Flags (1942), Henry Green's Caught (1943), James Hanley's No Directions (1943), Patrick Hamilton (Hamilton, Patrick)'s The Slaves of Solitude (1947), and Elizabeth Bowen's The Heat of the Day (1949)—was produced by established writers. Only three new poets (all of whom died on active service) showed promise: Alun Lewis (Lewis, Alun), Sidney Keyes, and Keith Douglas (Douglas, Keith Castellain), the latter the most gifted and distinctive, whose eerily detached accounts of the battlefield revealed a poet of potential greatness. Lewis's haunting short stories about the lives of officers and enlisted men are also works of very great accomplishment.

      It was a poet of an earlier generation, T.S. Eliot (Eliot, T.S.), who produced in his Four Quartets (1935–42; published as a whole, 1943) the masterpiece of the war. Reflecting upon language, time, and history, he searched, in the three quartets written during the war, for moral and religious significance in the midst of destruction and strove to counter the spirit of nationalism inevitably present in a nation at war. The creativity that had seemed to end with the tortured religious poetry and verse drama of the 1920s and '30s had a rich and extraordinary late flowering as Eliot concerned himself, on the scale of The Waste Land but in a very different manner and mood, with the well-being of the society in which he lived.

Hugh Alistair Davies

Literature after 1945
      Increased attachment to religion most immediately characterized literature after World War II. This was particularly perceptible in authors who had already established themselves before the war. W.H. Auden turned from Marxist politics to Christian commitment, expressed in poems that attractively combine classical form with vernacular relaxedness. Christian belief suffused the verse plays of T.S. Eliot and Christopher Fry (Fry, Christopher). While Graham Greene (Greene, Graham) continued the powerful merging of thriller plots with studies of moral and psychological ambiguity that he had developed through the 1930s, his Roman Catholicism loomed especially large in novels such as The Heart of the Matter (1948) and The End of the Affair (1951). Evelyn Waugh (Waugh, Evelyn)'s Brideshead Revisited (1945) and his Sword of Honour trilogy (1965; published separately as Men at Arms [1952], Officers and Gentlemen [1955], and Unconditional Surrender [1961]) venerate Roman Catholicism as the repository of values seen as under threat from the advance of democracy. Less-traditional spiritual solace was found in Eastern mysticism by Aldous Huxley and Christopher Isherwood and by Robert Graves (Graves, Robert), who maintained an impressive output of taut, graceful lyric poetry behind which lay the creed he expressed in The White Goddess (1948), a matriarchal mythology revering the female principle.

      The two most innovatory novelists to begin their careers soon after World War II were also religious believers—William Golding (Golding, Sir William) and Muriel Spark (Spark, Dame Muriel). In novels of poetic compactness, they frequently return to the notion of original sin—the idea that, in Golding's words, “man produces evil as a bee produces honey.” Concentrating on small communities, Spark and Golding transfigure them into microcosms. Allegory and symbol set wide resonances quivering, so that short books make large statements. In Golding's first novel, Lord of the Flies (1954), schoolboys cast away on a Pacific island during a nuclear war reenact humanity's fall from grace as their relationships degenerate from innocent camaraderie to totalitarian butchery. In Spark's satiric comedy, similar assumptions and techniques are discernible. Her best-known novel, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1961), for example, makes events in a 1930s Edinburgh classroom replicate in miniature the rise of fascism in Europe. In form and atmosphere, Lord of the Flies has affinities with George Orwell (Orwell, George)'s examinations of totalitarian nightmare, the fable Animal Farm (1945) and the novel Nineteen Eighty-four (1949). Spark's astringent portrayal of behaviour in confined little worlds is partly indebted to Dame Ivy Compton-Burnett (Compton-Burnett, Dame Ivy), who, from the 1920s to the 1970s, produced a remarkable series of fierce but decorous novels, written almost entirely in mordantly witty dialogue, that dramatize tyranny and power struggles in secluded late-Victorian households.

      The stylized novels of Henry Green (Green, Henry), such as Concluding (1948) and Nothing (1950), also seem to be precursors of the terse, compressed fiction that Spark and Golding brought to such distinction. This kind of fiction, it was argued by Iris Murdoch (Murdoch, Dame Iris), a philosopher as well as a novelist, ran antiliberal risks in its preference for allegory, pattern, and symbol over the social capaciousness and realistic rendition of character at which the great 19th-century novels excelled. Murdoch's own fiction, typically engaged with themes of goodness, authenticity, selfishness, and altruism, oscillates between these two modes of writing. A Severed Head (1961) is the most incisive and entertaining of her elaborately artificial works; The Bell (1958) best achieves the psychological and emotional complexity she found so valuable in classic 19th-century fiction.

      While restricting themselves to socially limited canvases, novelists such as Elizabeth Bowen, Elizabeth Taylor (Taylor, Elizabeth), and Barbara Pym (Pym, Barbara) continued the tradition of depicting emotional and psychological nuance that Murdoch felt was dangerously neglected in mid-20th-century novels. In contrast to their wry comedies of sense and sensibility and to the packed parables of Golding and Spark was yet another type of fiction, produced by a group of writers who became known as the Angry Young Men. From authors such as John Braine (Braine, John), John Wain (Wain, John) (also a notable poet), Alan Sillitoe (Sillitoe, Alan), Stan Barstow (Barstow, Stan), and David Storey (Storey, David) (also a significant dramatist) came a spate of novels often ruggedly autobiographical in origin and near documentary in approach. The predominant subject of these books was social mobility, usually from the northern working class to the southern middle class. Social mobility was also inspected, from an upper-class vantage point, in Anthony Powell (Powell, Anthony)'s 12-novel sequence A Dance to the Music of Time (1951–75), an attempt to apply the French novelist Marcel Proust (Proust, Marcel)'s mix of irony, melancholy, meditativeness, and social detail to a chronicle of class and cultural shifts in England from World War I to the 1960s. Satiric watchfulness of social change was also the specialty of Kingsley Amis (Amis, Sir Kingsley), whose deriding of the reactionary and pompous in his first novel, Lucky Jim (1954), led to his being labeled an Angry Young Man. As Amis grew older, though, his irascibility vehemently swiveled toward left-wing and progressive targets, and he established himself as a Tory satirist in the vein of Waugh or Powell. C.P. Snow (Snow, C.P.)'s earnest 11-novel sequence, Strangers and Brothers (1940–70), about a man's journey from the provincial lower classes to London's “corridors of power,” had its admirers. But the most inspired fictional cavalcade of social and cultural life in 20th-century Britain was Angus Wilson (Wilson, Sir Angus)'s No Laughing Matter (1967), a book that set a triumphant seal on his progress from a writer of acidic short stories to a major novelist whose work unites 19th-century breadth and gusto with 20th-century formal versatility and experiment.

      The parody and pastiche that Wilson brilliantly deploys in No Laughing Matter and the book's fascination with the sources and resources of creativity constitute a rich, imaginative response to what had become a mood of growing self-consciousness in fiction. Thoughtfulness about the form of the novel and relationships between past and present fiction showed itself most stimulatingly in the works—generally campus novels—of the academically based novelists Malcolm Bradbury (Bradbury, Sir Malcolm) and David Lodge (Lodge, David).

      From the late 1960s onward, the outstanding trend in fiction was enthrallment with empire. The first phase of this focused on imperial disillusion and dissolution. In his vast, detailed Raj Quartet (The Jewel in the Crown [1966], The Day of the Scorpion [1968], The Towers of Silence [1971], and A Division of the Spoils [1975]), Paul Scott (Scott, Paul) charted the last years of the British in India; he followed it with Staying On (1977), a poignant comedy about those who remained after independence. Three half-satiric, half-elegiac novels by J.G. Farrell (Troubles [1970], The Siege of Krishnapur [1973], and The Singapore Grip [1978]) likewise spotlighted imperial discomfiture. Then, in the 1980s, postcolonial voices made themselves audible. Salman Rushdie (Rushdie, Sir Salman)'s crowded comic saga about the generation born as Indian independence dawned, Midnight's Children (1981), boisterously mingles material from Eastern fable, Hindu myth, Islamic lore, Bombay cinema, cartoon strips, advertising billboards, and Latin American magic realism. (Such eclecticism, sometimes called “postmodern,” also showed itself in other kinds of fiction in the 1980s. Julian Barnes (Barnes, Julian)'s A History of the World in 101/2 Chapters [1989], for example, inventively mixes fact and fantasy, reportage, art criticism, autobiography, parable, and pastiche in its working of fictional variations on the Noah's Ark myth.) For Rushdie, as Shame (1983), The Satanic Verses (1988), The Moor's Last Sigh (1995), and The Ground Beneath Her Feet (1999) further demonstrate, stylistic miscellaneousness—a way of writing that exhibits the vitalizing effects of cultural cross-fertilization—is especially suited to conveying postcolonial experience. (The Satanic Verses was understood differently in the Islamic world, to the extent that the Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini (Khomeini, Ruhollah) pronounced a fatwa, in effect a death sentence [later suspended], on Rushdie.) However, not all postcolonial authors followed Rushdie's example. Vikram Seth (Seth, Vikram)'s massive novel about India after independence, A Suitable Boy (1993), is a prodigious feat of realism, resembling 19th-century masterpieces in its combination of social breadth and emotional and psychological depth. Nor was India alone in inspiring vigorous postcolonial writing. Timothy Mo (Mo, Timothy)'s novels report on colonial predicaments in East Asia with a political acumen reminiscent of Joseph Conrad. Particularly notable is An Insular Possession (1986), which vividly harks back to the founding of Hong Kong. Kazuo Ishiguro (Ishiguro, Kazuo)'s spare, refined novel An Artist of the Floating World (1986) records how a painter's life and work became insidiously coarsened by the imperialistic ethos of 1930s Japan. Novelists such as Buchi Emecheta (Emecheta, Buchi) and Ben Okri (Okri, Ben) wrote of postcolonial Africa, as did V.S. Naipaul (Naipaul, Sir V.S.) in his most ambitious novel, A Bend in the River (1979). Naipaul also chronicled aftermaths of empire around the globe and particularly in his native Caribbean. Nearer England, the strife in Northern Ireland provoked fictional response, among which the bleak, graceful novels and short stories of William Trevor (Trevor, William) and Bernard MacLaverty stand out.

      Widening social divides in 1980s Britain were also registered in fiction, sometimes in works that purposefully imitate the Victorian “Condition of England” novel (the best is David Lodge (Lodge, David)'s elegant, ironic Nice Work [1988]). The most thoroughgoing of such “Two Nations” panoramas of an England cleft by regional gulfs and gross inequities between rich and poor is Margaret Drabble (Drabble, Margaret)'s The Radiant Way (1987). With less documentary substantiality, Martin Amis (Amis, Martin)'s novels, angled somewhere between scabrous relish and satiric disgust, offer prose that has the lurid energy of a strobe light playing over vistas of urban sleaze, greed, and debasement. Money (1984) is the most effectively focused of his books.

      Just as some postcolonial novelists used myth, magic, and fable as a stylistic throwing-off of what they considered the alien supremacy of Anglo-Saxon realistic fiction, so numerous feminist novelists took to Gothic, fairy tale, and fantasy as countereffects to the “patriarchal discourse” of rationality, logic, and linear narrative. The most gifted exponent of this kind of writing, which sought immediate access to the realm of the subconscious, was Angela Carter (Carter, Angela), whose exotic and erotic imagination unrolled most eerily and resplendently in her short-story collection The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories (1979). Jeanette Winterson (Winterson, Jeanette) also wrote in this vein. Having distinguished herself earlier in a realistic mode, as did authors such as Drabble and Pat Barker, Doris Lessing (Lessing, Doris) published a sequence of science fiction novels about issues of gender and colonialism, Canopus in Argos—Archives (1979–83).

      Typically, though, fiction in the 1980s and '90s was not futuristic but retrospective. As the end of the century approached, an urge to look back—at starting points, previous eras, fictional prototypes—was widely evident. The historical novel enjoyed an exceptional heyday. One of its outstanding practitioners was Barry Unsworth, the settings of whose works range from the Ottoman Empire (Pascali's Island [1980], The Rage of the Vulture [1982]) to Venice in its imperial prime and its decadence (Stone Virgin [1985]) and northern England in the 14th century (Morality Play [1995]). Patrick O'Brian attracted an ardent following with his series of meticulously researched novels about naval life during the Napoleonic era, a 20-book sequence starting with Master and Commander (1969) and ending with Blue at the Mizzen (1999). Beryl Bainbridge (Bainbridge, Beryl), who began her fiction career as a writer of quirky black comedies about northern provincial life, turned her attention to Victorian and Edwardian misadventures: The Birthday Boys (1991) retraces Captain Robert Falcon Scott (Scott, Robert Falcon)'s doomed expedition to the South Pole; Every Man for Himself (1996) accompanies the Titanic as it steamed toward disaster; and Master Georgie (1998) revisits the Crimean War.

      Many novels juxtaposed a present-day narrative with one set in the past. A.S. Byatt (Byatt, A.S.)'s Possession (1990) did so with particular intelligence. It also made extensive use of period pastiche, another enthusiasm of novelists toward the end of the 20th century. Adam Thorpe's striking first novel, Ulverton (1992), records the 300-year history of a fictional village in the styles of different epochs. Golding (Golding, Sir William)'s veteran fiction career came to a bravura conclusion with a trilogy whose story is told by an early 19th-century narrator (To the Ends of the Earth [1991]; published separately as Rites of Passage [1980], Close Quarters [1987], and Fire Down Below [1989]). In addition to the interest in remote and recent history, a concern with tracing aftereffects became dominatingly present in fiction. Most subtly and powerfully exhibiting this, Ian McEwan (McEwan, Ian)—who came to notice in the 1970s as an unnervingly emotionless observer of contemporary decadence—grew into imaginative maturity with novels set largely in Berlin in the 1950s (The Innocent [1990]) and in Europe in 1946 (Black Dogs [1992]). These novels' scenes set in the 1990s are haunted by what McEwan perceives as the continuing repercussions of World War II. These repercussions are also felt in Last Orders (1996), a masterpiece of quiet authenticity by Graham Swift (Swift, Graham), a novelist who, since his acclaimed Waterland (1983), showed himself to be acutely responsive to the atmosphere of retrospect and of concern with the consequences of the past that suffused English fiction as the second millennium neared.

      The last flickerings of New Apocalypse poetry—the flamboyant, surreal, and rhetorical style favoured by Dylan Thomas, George Barker (Barker, George), David Gascoyne, and Vernon Watkins (Watkins, Vernon Phillips)—died away soon after World War II. In its place emerged what came to be known with characteristic understatement as The Movement. Poets such as D.J. Enright (Enright, D.J.), Donald Davie (Davie, Donald Alfred), John Wain (Wain, John), Roy Fuller (Fuller, Roy), Robert Conquest, and Elizabeth Jennings (Jennings, Elizabeth) produced urbane, formally disciplined verse in an antiromantic vein characterized by irony, understatement, and a sardonic refusal to strike attitudes or make grand claims for the poet's role. The preeminent practitioner of this style was Philip Larkin (Larkin, Philip), who had earlier displayed some of its qualities in two novels: Jill (1946) and A Girl in Winter (1947). In Larkin's poetry (The Less Deceived [1955], The Whitsun Weddings [1964], High Windows [1974]), a melancholy sense of life's limitations throbs through lines of elegiac elegance. Suffused with acute awareness of mortality and transience, Larkin's poetry is also finely responsive to natural beauty, vistas of which open up even in poems darkened by fear of death or sombre preoccupation with human solitude. John Betjeman (Betjeman, Sir John), poet laureate from 1972 to 1984, shared both Larkin's intense consciousness of mortality and his gracefully versified nostalgia for 19th- and early 20th-century life.

      In contrast to the rueful traditionalism of their work is the poetry of Ted Hughes (Hughes, Ted), who succeeded Betjeman as poet laureate (1984–98). In extraordinarily vigorous verse, beginning with his first collection, The Hawk in the Rain (1957), Hughes captured the ferocity, vitality, and splendour of the natural world. In works such as Crow (1970), he added a mythic dimension to his fascination with savagery (a fascination also apparent in the poetry Thom Gunn (Gunn, Thom) produced through the late 1950s and '60s). Much of Hughes's poetry is rooted in his experiences as a farmer in Yorkshire and Devon (as in his collection Moortown [1979]). It also shows a deep receptivity to the way the contemporary world is underlain by strata of history. This realization, along with strong regional roots, is something Hughes had in common with a number of poets writing in the second half of the 20th century. The work of Geoffrey Hill (especially King Log [1968], Mercian Hymns [1971], Tenebrae [1978], and The Triumph of Love [1998]) treats Britain as a palimpsest whose superimposed layers of history are uncovered in poems, which are sometimes written in prose. Basil Bunting's Briggflatts (1966) celebrates his native Northumbria. The dour poems of R.S. Thomas (Thomas, R.S.) commemorate a harsh rural Wales of remote hill farms where gnarled, inbred celibates scratch a subsistence from the thin soil.

      Britain's industrial regions received attention in poetry too. In collections such as Terry Street (1969), Douglas Dunn (Dunn, Douglas) wrote of working-class life in northeastern England. Tony Harrison (Harrison, Tony), the most arresting English poet to find his voice in the later decades of the 20th century (The Loiners [1970], From the School of Eloquence and Other Poems [1978], Continuous [1981]), came, as he stresses, from a working-class community in industrial Yorkshire. Harrison's social and cultural journey away from that world by means of a grammar school education and a degree in classics provoked responses in him that his poetry conveys with imaginative vehemence and caustic wit: anger at the deprivations and humiliations endured by the working class; guilt over the way his talent had lifted him away from these. Trenchantly combining colloquial ruggedness with classic form, Harrison's poetry—sometimes innovatively written to accompany television films—kept up a fiercely original and socially concerned commentary on such themes as inner-city dereliction (V [1985]), the horrors of warfare (The Gaze of the Gorgon [1992] and The Shadow of Hiroshima [1995]), and the evils of censorship (The Blasphemers' Banquet [1989], a verse film partly written in reaction to the fatwa on Salman Rushdie for The Satanic Verses).

      Also from Yorkshire was Blake Morrison, whose finest work, "The Ballad of the Yorkshire Ripper" (1987), was composed in taut, macabre stanzas thickened with dialect. Morrison's work also displayed a growing development in late 20th-century British poetry: the writing of narrative verse. Although there had been earlier instances of this verse after 1945 (Betjeman's blank-verse autobiography Summoned by Bells [1960] proved the most popular), it was in the 1980s and '90s that the form was given renewed prominence by poets such as the Kipling-influenced James Fenton. An especially ambitious exercise in the narrative genre was Craig Raine's History: The Home Movie (1994), a huge semifictionalized saga, written in three-line stanzas, chronicling several generations of his and his wife's families. Before this, three books of dazzling virtuosity (The Onion, Memory [1978], A Martian Sends a Postcard Home [1979], and Rich [1984]) established Raine as the founder and most inventive exemplar of what came to be called the Martian school of poetry. The defining characteristic of this school was a poetry rife with startling images, unexpected but audaciously apt similes, and rapid, imaginative tricks of transformation that set the reader looking at the world afresh.

      From the late 1960s onward Northern Ireland, convulsed by sectarian violence, was particularly prolific in poetry. From a cluster of significant talents—Michael Longley, Derek Mahon, Medbh McGuckian, Paul Muldoon—Seamus Heaney (Heaney, Seamus) soon stood out. Born into a Roman Catholic farming family in County Derry, he began by publishing verse—in his collections Death of a Naturalist (1966) and Door into the Dark (1969)—that combines a tangible, tough, sensuous response to rural and agricultural life, reminiscent of that of Ted Hughes, with meditation about the relationship between the taciturn world of his parents and his own communicative calling as a poet. Since then, in increasingly magisterial books of poetry—Wintering Out (1972), North (1975), Field Work (1979), Station Island (1984), The Haw Lantern (1987), Seeing Things (1991), The Spirit Level (1996)—Heaney has become arguably the greatest poet Ireland has produced, eventually winning the Nobel Prize for Literature (1995). Having spent his formative years amid the murderous divisiveness of Ulster, he wrote poetry particularly distinguished by its fruitful bringing together of opposites. Sturdy familiarity with country life goes along with delicate stylistic accomplishment and sophisticated literary allusiveness. Present and past coalesce in Heaney's verses: Iron Age sacrificial victims exhumed from peat bogs resemble tarred-and-feathered victims of the atrocities in contemporary Belfast; elegies for friends and relatives slaughtered during the outrages of the 1970s and '80s are embedded in verses whose imagery and metrical forms derive from Dante. Surveying carnage, vengeance, bigotry, and gentler disjunctions such as that between the unschooled and the cultivated, Heaney made himself the master of a poetry of reconciliations.

      The closing years of the 20th century witnessed a remarkable last surge of creativity from Ted Hughes (after his death in 1998, Andrew Motion (Motion, Andrew), a writer of more subdued and subfusc verses, became poet laureate). In Birthday Letters (1998), Hughes published a poetic chronicle of his much-speculated-upon relationship with Sylvia Plath (Plath, Sylvia), the American poet to whom he was married from 1956 until her suicide in 1963. With Tales from Ovid (1997) and his versions of Aeschylus's Oresteia (1999) and Euripides' Alcestis (1999), he looked back even further. These works—part translation, part transformation—magnificently reenergize classic texts with Hughes's own imaginative powers and preoccupations. Heaney impressively effected a similar feat in his fine translation of Beowulf (1999).

      Apart from the short-lived attempt by T.S. Eliot and Christopher Fry to bring about a renaissance of verse drama, theatre in the late 1940s and early 1950s was most notable for the continuing supremacy of the well-made play, which focused upon, and mainly attracted as its audience, the comfortable middle class. The most accomplished playwright working within this mode was Terence Rattigan (Rattigan, Sir Terence), whose carefully crafted, conventional-looking plays—in particular, The Winslow Boy (1946), The Browning Version (1948), The Deep Blue Sea (1952), and Separate Tables (1954)—affectingly disclose desperations, terrors, and emotional forlornness concealed behind reticence and gentility. In 1956 John Osborne (Osborne, John)'s Look Back in Anger forcefully signaled the start of a very different dramatic tradition. Taking as its hero a furiously voluble working-class man and replacing staid mannerliness on stage with emotional rawness, sexual candour, and social rancour, Look Back in Anger initiated a move toward what critics called “kitchen-sink” drama. Shelagh Delaney (Delaney, Shelagh) (with her one influential play, A Taste of Honey [1958]) and Arnold Wesker (especially in his politically and socially engaged trilogy, Chicken Soup with Barley [1958], Roots [1959], and I'm Talking About Jerusalem [1960]) gave further impetus to this movement, as did Osborne in subsequent plays such as The Entertainer (1957), his attack on what he saw as the tawdriness of postwar Britain. Also working within this tradition was John Arden (Arden, John), whose dramas employ some of Bertold Brecht's theatrical devices. Arden wrote historical plays (Serjeant Musgrave's Dance [1959], Armstrong's Last Goodnight [1964]) to advance radical social and political views and in doing so provided a model that several later left-wing dramatists followed.

      An alternative reaction against drawing-room naturalism came from the Theatre of the Absurd (Absurd, Theatre of the). Through increasingly minimalist plays—from Waiting for Godot (1953) to such stark brevities as his 30-second-long drama, Breath (1969)—Samuel Beckett (Beckett, Samuel) used character pared down to basic existential elements and symbol to reiterate his Stygian view of the human condition (something he also conveyed in similarly gaunt and allegorical novels such as Molloy [1951], Malone Dies [1958], and The Unnamable [1960], all originally written in French). Some of Beckett's themes and techniques are discernible in the drama of Harold Pinter (Pinter, Harold). Characteristically concentrating on two or three people maneuvering for sexual or social superiority in a claustrophobic room, works such as The Birthday Party (1958), The Caretaker (1960), The Homecoming (1965), No Man's Land (1975), and Moonlight (1993) are potent dramas of menace in which a slightly surreal atmosphere contrasts with and undermines dialogue of tape-recorder authenticity. Joe Orton (Orton, Joe)'s anarchic black comedies—Entertaining Mr. Sloane (1964), Loot (1967), and What the Butler Saw (1969)—put theatrical procedures pioneered by Pinter at the service of outrageous sexual farce (something for which Pinter himself also showed a flair in television plays such as The Lover [1963] and later stage works such as Celebration [2000]). Orton's taste for dialogue in the epigrammatic style of Oscar Wilde (Wilde, Oscar) was shared by one of the wittiest dramatists to emerge in the 1960s, Tom Stoppard (Stoppard, Tom). In plays from Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (1966) to later triumphs such as Arcadia (1993) and The Invention of Love (1997), Stoppard set intellectually challenging concepts ricocheting in scenes glinting with the to-and-fro of polished repartee. The most prolific comic playwright from the 1960s onward was Alan Ayckbourn (Ayckbourn, Sir Alan), whose often virtuoso feats of stagecraft and theatrical ingenuity made him one of Britain's most popular dramatists. Ayckbourn's plays showed an increasing tendency to broach darker themes and were especially scathing (for instance, in A Small Family Business [1987]) on the topics of the greed and selfishness that he considered to have been promoted by Thatcherism, the prevailing political philosophy in 1980s Britain.

      Irish dramatists other than Beckett also exhibited a propensity for combining comedy with something more sombre. Their most recurrent subject matter during the last decades of the 20th century was small-town provincial life. Brian Friel (Friel, Brian) (Dancing at Lughnasa [1990]), Tom Murphy (Conversations on a Homecoming [1985]), Billy Roche (Poor Beast in the Rain [1990]), Martin McDonagh (The Beauty Queen of Leenane [1996]), and Conor McPherson (The Weir [1997]) all wrote effectively on this theme.

      Playwrights who had much in common with Arden's ideological beliefs and his admiration for Brechtian theatre—Edward Bond, Howard Barker, Howard Brenton—maintained a steady output of parable-like plays dramatizing radical left-wing doctrine. Their scenarios were remarkable for an uncompromising insistence on human cruelty and the oppressiveness and exploitativeness of capitalist class and social structures. In the 1980s agitprop theatre—antiestablishment, feminist, black, and gay—thrived. One of the more-durable talents to emerge from it was Caryl Churchill (Churchill, Caryl), whose Serious Money (1987) savagely encapsulated the finance frenzy of the 1980s. David Edgar developed into a dramatist of impressive span and depth with plays such as Destiny (1976) and Pentecost (1994), his masterly response to the collapse of communism and rise of nationalism in eastern Europe. David Hare (Hare, Sir David) similarly widened his range with confident accomplishment; in the 1990s he completed a panoramic trilogy surveying the contemporary state of British institutions—the Anglican church (Racing Demon [1990]), the police and the judiciary (Murmuring Judges [1991]), and the Labour Party (The Absence of War [1993]).

      Hare also wrote political plays for television, such as Licking Hitler (1978) and Saigon: Year of the Cat (1983). Trevor Griffiths, author of dialectical stage plays clamorous with debate, put television drama to the same use (Comedians [1975] had particular impact). Dennis Potter, best known for his teleplay The Singing Detective (1986), deployed a wide battery of the medium's resources, including extravagant fantasy and sequences that sarcastically counterpoint popular music with scenes of brutality, class-based callousness, and sexual rapacity. Potter's works transmit his revulsion, semireligious in nature, at what he saw as widespread hypocrisy, sadism, and injustice in British society. Alan Bennett excelled in both stage and television drama. Bennett's first work for the theatre, Forty Years On (1968), was an expansive, mocking, and nostalgic cabaret of cultural and social change in England between and during the two World Wars. His masterpieces, though, are dramatic monologues written for television—A Woman of No Importance (1982) and 12 works he called Talking Heads (1987) and Talking Heads 2 (1998). In these television plays, Bennett's comic genius for capturing the rich waywardness of everyday speech combines with psychological acuteness, emotional delicacy, and a melancholy consciousness of life's transience. The result is a drama, simultaneously hilarious and sad, of exceptional distinction. Bennett's 1991 play, The Madness of George III, took his fascination with England's past back to the 1780s and in doing so matched the widespread mood of retrospection with which British literature approached the end of the 20th century.

The 21st century
      As the 21st century got under way, history remained the outstanding concern of English literature. Although contemporary issues such as global warming and international conflicts (especially the Second Persian Gulf War (Iraq War) and its aftermath) received attention, writers were still more disposed to look back. Bennett's play The History Boys (filmed 2006) premiered in 2004; it portrayed pupils in a school in the north of England during the 1980s. Although Cloud Atlas (2004)—a far-reaching book by David Mitchell, one of the more ambitious novelists to emerge during this period—contained chapters that envisage future eras ravaged by malign technology and climactic and nuclear devastation, it devoted more space to scenes set in the 19th and early 20th centuries. In doing so, it also displayed another preoccupation of the 21st century's early years: the imitation of earlier literary styles and techniques. There was a marked vogue for pastiche and revisionary Victorian novels (of which Michel Faber's The Crimson Petal and the White [2002] was a prominent example). McEwan (McEwan, Ian)'s Atonement (2001) worked masterly variations on the 1930s fictional procedures of authors such as Elizabeth Bowen. In Saturday (2005), the model of Virginia Woolf's fictional presentation of a war-shadowed day in London in Mrs. Dalloway (1925) stood behind McEwan's vivid depiction of that city on Feb. 15, 2003, a day of mass demonstrations against the impending war in Iraq. Heaney (Heaney, Seamus) continued to revisit the rural world of his youth in the poetry collections Electric Light (2001) and District and Circle (2006) while also reexamining and reworking classic texts, a striking instance of which was The Burial at Thebes (2004), which infused Sophocles' Antigone with contemporary resonances. Although they had entered into a new millennium, writers seemed to find greater imaginative stimulus in the past than in the present and the future.

Peter Kemp

Additional Reading

General works
A comprehensive reference source is Margaret Drabble (ed.), The Oxford Companion to English Literature, 6th ed., rev. (2006). John Buxton and Norman Davis (eds.), The Oxford History of English Literature, 15 vol. (1945–90), provides comprehensive coverage of each period, though it is in the process of being replaced by Jonathan Bate (ed.), The Oxford English Literary History (2002– ). Other useful sources are Lionel Stevenson, The English Novel (1960, reprinted 1978); Peter Conrad, Cassell's History of English Literature (2003); and Carl Woodring and James Shapiro (eds.), The Columbia History of British Poetry (1994).Nicholas Shrimpton

The Old English period
R.D. Fulk and Christopher M. Cain, A History of Old English Literature (2002), is an excellent introductory survey of both the literature and critical trends. Derek Pearsall, Old English and Middle English Poetry (1977), is a good critical survey of both periods. Elaine Treharne (ed.), Old and Middle English: An Anthology, 2nd ed. (2004), presents an extensive selection of works; the more-difficult texts are accompanied by translations. S.A.J. Bradley (trans. and ed.), Anglo-Saxon Poetry (1982, reissued 1995), anthologizes prose translations of Old English poems.

The Middle English period
Two good general approaches are A.S.G. Edwards (ed.), Middle English Prose: A Critical Guide to Major Authors and Genres (1984), which includes bibliographies and surveys of scholarship; and David Wallace (ed.), The Cambridge History of Medieval English Literature (1999), on literature after the Norman Conquest. R.M. Wilson, Early Middle English Literature, 3rd ed. (1968), critically surveys this period. J.A.W. Bennett and G.V. Smithers (eds.), Early Middle English Verse and Prose, 2nd ed. (1968, reissued 1982), is an authoritative anthology, with a glossary. J.B. Trapp, Douglas Gray, and Julia Boffey (eds.), Medieval English Literature, 2nd ed. (2002), is another useful anthology.Analytic studies include David Aers, Community, Gender, and Individual Identity: English Writing, 1360–1430 (1988); Piero Boitani, English Medieval Narrative in the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries (1982; originally published in Italian, 1980); Nancy Mason Bradbury, Writing Aloud: Storytelling in Late Medieval England (1998); J.A. Burrow, The Ages of Man: A Study in Medieval Writing and Thought (1986); Ruth Evans and Lesley Johnson (eds.), Feminist Readings in Middle English Literature (1994); David Lawton (ed.), Middle English Alliterative Poetry and Its Literary Background (1982); C.S. Lewis, The Allegory of Love: A Study in Medieval Tradition (1936, reissued 1995); Robert Potter, The English Morality Play (1975); and A.C. Spearing, Medieval to Renaissance in English Poetry (1985).Richard Beadle Peter S. Baker

The Renaissance period, 1550–1660
Elizabethan poetry and prose
In terms of material covered, C.S. Lewis, English Literature in the Sixteenth Century, Excluding the Drama (1954, reprinted 1997), remains without rival, although some of its judgments now seem very dated. Also impressive for its coverage is David Loewenstein and Janel Mueller (eds.), The Cambridge History of Early Modern English Literature (2002), which has essays on topics surveying the whole field. A less-ambitious collection, though still highly useful, is Michael Hattaway (ed.), A Companion to English Renaissance Literature and Culture (2000). Challenging and provocative reinterpretations of the period are Stephen Greenblatt, Renaissance Self-Fashioning (1980, reissued 2005); and David Norbrook, Poetry and Politics in the English Renaissance, rev. ed. (2002). Works devoted to particular topics include Gary Waller, English Poetry of the Sixteenth Century, 2nd ed. (1993); J.W. Lever, The Elizabethan Love Sonnet, 2nd ed. (1966, reprinted 1978); and Linda Woodbridge, Women and the English Renaissance (1984).

Elizabethan and early Stuart drama
The most authoritative late-20th-century overview is G.K. Hunter, English Drama 1586–1642 (1997). Surveys that are more user-friendly are presented in vol. 3 and 4 of Clifford Leech and T.W. Craik (eds.), The Revels History of Drama in English, 8 vol. (1976–83, reprinted 1996), which cover 1576 to 1613 and 1613 to 1660, respectively. Alexander Leggatt, English Drama: Shakespeare to the Restoration, 1590–1660 (1988), is a reliable overview. Collections of helpful essays covering the entire period include A.R. Braunmuller and Michael Hattaway (eds.), The Cambridge Companion to English Renaissance Drama, 2nd ed. (2003); Arthur F. Kinney (ed.), A Companion to Renaissance Drama (2002); and Jane Milling and Peter Thomson (eds.), The Cambridge History of British Theatre, Vol. 1: Origins to 1660 (2004). Among the studies of the politics of Renaissance drama are Margot Heinemann, Puritanism and Theatre (1980); and Jonathan Dollimore, Radical Tragedy, 3rd ed. (2004). Feminist studies include Lisa Jardine, Still Harping on Daughters: Women and Drama in the Age of Shakespeare (1983); and Kathleen McLuskie, Renaissance Dramatists (1989). Martin White, Renaissance Drama in Action (1998), discusses the stagecraft and conditions of playwriting.

Early Stuart poetry and prose
The most-detailed general narrative (though dated) is Douglas Bush, English Literature in the Earlier Seventeenth Century, 1600–1660, 2nd ed., rev. (1962, reissued 1979). More useful are Thomas N. Corns, The Cambridge Companion to English Poetry: Donne to Marvell (1993); Alan Sinfield, Literature in Protestant England, 1560–1660 (1983); and Alison Shell, Catholicism, Controversy, and the English Literary Imagination, 1558–1660 (1999). Among studies on prose is Roger Pooley, English Prose of the Seventeenth Century (1992). Nigel Smith, Literature and Revolution in England, 1640–1660 (1994), discusses the Civil War period.M.H. Butler

The Restoration and the 18th century
Helpful introductions include Stephen Copley (ed.), Literature and the Social Order in Eighteenth-Century England (1984); Maximillian E. Novak, Eighteenth-Century English Literature (1983); and Pat Rogers (ed.), The Eighteenth Century (1978). The chapters on literature in John Brewer, The Pleasures of the Imagination: English Culture in the Eighteenth Century (1997), are another useful source.A book that covers the whole period but focuses on a more-restricted topic is Jean H. Hagstrum, Sex and Sensibility: Ideal and Erotic Love from Milton to Mozart (1980). Among important thematic and general studies with a narrower chronological range are Marjorie Nicolson, Science and Imagination (1956, reprinted 1976); and David Nokes, Raillery and Rage: A Study of Eighteenth-Century Satire (1987).Useful discussions of 18th-century novels are Michael McKeon, The Origins of the English Novel (1987, reissued 2002); John Mullan, Sentiment and Sociability: The Language of Feeling in the Eighteenth Century (1988); and John Richetti (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to the Eighteenth-Century Novel (1996).Helpful for the poetry of the period are Ian Jack, Augustan Satire: Intention and Idiom in English Poetry, 1660–1750 (1942, reissued 1978); Eric Rothstein, Restoration and Eighteenth-Century Poetry, 1660–1780 (1981); and James Sutherland, A Preface to Eighteenth-Century Poetry (1948, reprinted 1970).Richard Bevis, The Laughing Tradition: Stage Comedy in Garrick's Day (1980); and Robert D. Hume, The Development of English Drama in the Late Seventeenth Century (1978, reissued 1990), discuss aspects of theatre.Literary criticism in the 18th century is surveyed in great detail in vol. 4 of H.B. Nisbet and Claude Rawson (eds.), The Cambridge History of Literary Criticism, The Eighteenth Century (1997).Michael Cordner John Mullan

The Romantic period
The general literary history of the period is presented in W.L. Renwick, English Literature 1789–1815 (1963; also published as The Rise of the Romantics, 1990); and Ian Jack, English Literature 1815–1832 (1963, reissued 1998), both part of the series Oxford History of English Literature. Marilyn Butler, Romantics, Rebels, and Reactionaries: English Literature and Its Background, 1760–1830 (1981); and Jerome J. McGann, The Romantic Ideology: A Critical Investigation (1983), provide analytic surveys of the period. Works that focus on aspects of the literature include M.H. Abrams, The Mirror and the Lamp: Romantic Theory and the Critical Tradition (1953, reissued 1977), and Natural Supernaturalism: Tradition and Revolution in Romantic Literature (1971); Harold Bloom, The Visionary Company: A Reading of English Romantic Poetry, rev. and enlarged ed. (1971); Stuart Curran, Poetic Form and British Romanticism (1986); John O. Hayden (ed.), Romantic Bards and British Reviewers (1971); Gary Kelly, English Fiction of the Romantic Period, 1789–1830 (1989); Karl Kroeber and Gene W. Ruoff (eds.), Romantic Poetry: Recent Revisionary Criticism (1993); Jerome J. McGann, The Poetics of Sensibility (1996); Theodore Redpath (compiler), The Young Romantics and Critical Opinion, 1807–1824 (1973); and J.R. Watson, English Poetry of the Romantic Period, 1789–1830, 2nd ed. (1992).Nicholas Shrimpton

The Post-Romantic and Victorian eras
Studies of the period include Richard D. Altick, The English Common Reader, 2nd ed. (1998); Jerome Hamilton Buckley, The Victorian Temper: A Study in Literary Culture (1951, reissued 1981); Walter E. Houghton, The Victorian Frame of Mind, 1830–1870 (1957, reissued 1985); Virgil Nemoianu, The Taming of Romanticism: European Literature and the Age of Biedermeier (1984); Basil Willey, Nineteenth Century Studies: Coleridge to Matthew Arnold (1949, reissued 1980); and Philip Davis, The Victorians (2002), the last being vol. 8 of the series Oxford English Literary History. Studies of special subjects are presented in Isobel Armstrong, Victorian Poetry: Poetry, Poetics, and Politics (1993); P.K. Garrett, The Victorian Multiplot Novel (1980); George P. Landow, Elegant Jeremiahs: The Sage from Carlyle to Miller (1986); George Levine, The Realistic Imagination (1981), and Darwin and the Novelists (1988); George Rowell, The Victorian Theatre, 1792–1914, 2nd ed. (1978); John Sutherland, The Longman Companion to Victorian Fiction (1988; also published as The Stanford Companion to Victorian Fiction, 1989); and Michael Wheeler, English Fiction of the Victorian Period, 1830–1890, 2nd ed. (1994).Nicholas Shrimpton

The 20th century
From 1900 to 1945
Michael H. Levenson, A Genealogy of Modernism: A Study of English Literary Doctrine, 1908–1922 (1984), is a meticulously detailed history of the Modernist movement in England. Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar, No Man's Land: The Place of the Woman Writer in the Twentieth Century, 3 vol. (1988–94), a monumental study, has fundamentally altered approaches to British literature. Christopher Gillie, Movements in English Literature, 1900–1940 (1975), is a straightforward introduction to the fiction, poetry, and drama of the period. Michael H. Levenson (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Modernism (1999), is an excellent collection of lucid and well-informed essays. Vincent Sherry, The Great War and the Language of Modernism (2003), analyzes the verbal experiments of Modernist fiction and poetry, including the work of Virginia Woolf and T.S. Eliot. Vincent Sherry (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to the Literature of the First World War (2005), provides a valuable survey of the major British writing occasioned by World War I.Literary historians have largely neglected the 1920s as a decade with a distinctive literature, but David Ayers, English Literature of the 1920s (1999), makes an important contribution, while John Lucas, The Radical Twenties: Writing, Politics, and Culture (1997), retrieves the long-forgotten radical writing of the decade. Valentine Cunningham, British Writers of the Thirties (1988), provides a still-unsurpassed account. Important reevaluations of the 1930s appear in Janet Montefiore, Men and Women Writers of the 1930s (1996); and Keith Williams and Steven Matthews (eds.), Rewriting the Thirties: Modernism and After (1997). The literature of the World War II period is ably discussed in Robert Hewison, Under Siege: Literary Life in London, 1939–45, rev. ed. (1988). Bernard Bergonzi, Wartime and Aftermath: English Literature and the Background 1939–60 (1993), provides a detailed account of mid-century literature. Adam Piette, Imagination at War: British Fiction and Poetry, 1939–1945 (1995), discusses a wide range of British poets and novelists with great subtlety and insight.David Perkins, A History of Modern Poetry, 2 vol. (1976–87), is a broad study stressing the interplay between British and American poetry. British poetry of the 20th century has been comprehensively examined in Gary Day and Brian Docherty, British Poetry 1900–50 (1995), and British Poetry from the 1950s to the 1990s (1997).Hugh Alistair Davies

Literature after 1945
Informative general surveys of fiction, poetry, and drama include the following: Malcolm Bradbury, The Modern British Novel, rev. ed. (2001); Michael Gorra, After Empire (1997); Allan Massie, The Novel Today: A Critical Guide to the British Novel, 1970–1989 (1990); D.J. Taylor, After the War: The Novel and English Society Since 1945 (1993); Martin Booth, British Poetry 1964 to 1984 (1985); Neil Corcoran, English Poetry Since 1940 (1993); Sean O'Brien, The Deregulated Muse (1995); Anthony Thwaite, Poetry Today: A Critical Guide to British Poetry, 1960–1992 (1996); James Acheson (ed.), British and Irish Drama Since 1960 (1993); Susan Rusinko, British Drama 1950 to the Present (1989); Michelene Wandor, Drama Today: A Critical Guide to British Drama, 1970–1990 (1993).Peter Kemp

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