British literature and Its division into various periods


Literature is a mirror which helps the modern generation to look into the past and understand the society of that time period. British literature is considered as the literature that has origin in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Isle of Man and other channels of islands. There are various periods and sections in British literature along with those periods, Anglo-Saxon literature and Latin and Anglo-Norman literature also included. British literature is divided into several time periods and ages. All the time periods of British literature are portraying the societal, cultural and religious picture of the society.

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Various periods that come under British literature

Anglo Saxon literature

Anglo Saxon literature is also called old English literature. This means that the literature of this time is written in old English language style. This literature was literary period started in the 7Th century in the Anglo Saxon England and remained few years after the end of Norman Conquest of 1066. The oldest poem written in the 7th century is Caedmon’s hymn. The last poem written in the time period is The Grave. This poem is considered as the last poem left in old English style. Beowulf poem is considered as one of the most popular works of old English literature.

In Old English literature you will mostly find the description of sermons and saint’s life, translation of the Bible, narrative history works, Latin work translation, wills, legal works, etc. If you look out at all the works then you will find more than 400 manuscripts but only 189 are considered as of high importance. You can take assignment help from in order to expand your area of knowledge in Anglo Saxon literature

Major literary works produce in Anglo Saxon age:

  • The Exeter Book riddles
  • The Wife’s Lament
  • Beowulf
  • The Seafarer
  • The Wanderer
  • Hymn
  • Bede’s Death Song
  • The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle
  • The Dream of the Rood
  • The Battle of Maldon

Middle English Period

Middle English term is used to denote the literature of the 14th century to 1470. During this time period, there was a cultural and language transition in British literature. London based English became the favourable English language and printing press also started to print in this language.

There was not much change until the beginning of the Renaissance. Middle English British literature was divided into three categories

  1. Religious
  2. Courtly love
  3. Arthurian

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Famous writers of the Middle English period and their works

Geoffrey Chaucer

Middle English age has produced one of the gems in English literature i.e. Geoffrey Chaucer. Geoffrey Chaucer is known as the father of English Poetry. He was the greatest narrative poet in England. Let’s see his work:

Famous literary works of Chaucer

  • The Romaunt of the Roses
  • The book of the Duchess
  • Anelida and Arcite
  • The parliament of fouls
  • Troilus and Criseyde
  • The house of fame
  • The legend of a good woman
  • The Canterbury Tales.

John Gower

He was a person with shrewd business instincts. His poetry showcases courtly love. He had given some of the great tales based on courtly and Christian love.

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Major works of John Grower are:

  • Speculum hominins
  • Vox clamantis
  • Confessio Amantis

Renaissance in British literature

Chaucer’s age ended with the beginning of the Renaissance period in British literature. The meaning of the term Renaissance is ‘Rebirth’. It was first begun in Italy during the 14th century and later came to Western Europe. This period has produced exemplary art, sculpture, paintings, architecture, and literature. Renaissance started in England in around 16 the century.

Critics and many historians recently started to refer Rehe renaissance as early modern period.

The Renaissance is divided into four important parts namely

  • Elizabethan age
  • Jacobean age
  • Caroline age
  • Commonwealth period

Elizabethan age considered as a golden age for the development of English Drama. Noteworthy Authors and playwrights of Elizabethan age were Christopher Marlowe, Francis Bacon, Edmund Spenser, Sir Walter Scott and the most famous playwright of all time William Shakespeare.

After the Elizabethan age, the Jacobean age arrived. James I came to the throne and the age named on him. The famous writers during the Jacobean age were Shakespeare, John Donne, and many more. Translation of the Bible was also done in the Jacobean Age by King James I.

Caroline age begins with the end of the Jacobean age. This age reigned under the Monarchy of Charles I.  Notable figures of Caroline age were: John Milton, Robert Burton, and George Herbert.

Finally comes the Commonwealth age. During this time period, the English civil war ended and Stuart Monarchy came to restoration. Oliver Cromwell leads the Parliament and ruled the nation. Commonwealth age was a dark age for theatres and Dramas. All the theatres were shut down by Puritans as they considered theatres morally degraded place also they wanted to stop public assembly. During this time period, the political writings of John Milton and Thomas Hobbes got recognition. Drama suffered a lot during this time period, however, prose got great recognition.  Abraham Cowley, Andrew Marvell and Thomas fuller were the greatest prose writers of that time period.

Also read: Modern period in English Literature

The Neoclassical Period

After the closing of the Renaissance period ended a new period started named as Neoclassical period. This period is recognised with a sense of social order and restraint. The period is referred to as Neo classics as writers of this time period looked back the art forms of the classical age. They started to follow the classical writers such as Homer, Virgil etc. Writers had the conservative approach as they were following the past.

Rationalism is the main characteristics of the literature written during the Neoclassical age. Writers creating the work which was based on a rational approach rather than imagination and fantasy. Poetry was more satirical and less imaginative. Neoclassical period poetry was way too much different from romantic poetry. Sentiments were replaced with satire, intelligence and reasoning. Poets emphasis on scientific approach rather than emotions and imagination.

Neoclassical writers have used Allusions to convey the message to the audience. All writers were well versed and educated. They have immense knowledge of religion, biblical elements, and classical literature.

Realism is also the hallmark of Neoclassical poets. They were completely different from the romantic writers who follow imagination more. The poetry of neoclassical poets showcases the harsh reality of society. That is why abstract ideas and imaginative thoughts were missing in their work. Dryden and Pope’s poetry are the perfect examples which give readers the glimpse of realism.

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The Neoclassical period was divided into different ages

  • The restoration age
  • The Augustan age
  • The age of Sensibility
  • Puritanism was at the peak during The Restoration period. Comedy of manners developed during this period. the talented playwrights of this age were, William Congreve and John Dryden. Satire also got popular during this time period. Popular writers of Restoration were: John Bunyan, Aphra Behn, and John Locke.
  • Augustan age was followed by Restoration age. Pope and Swift imitated the work of First Augustan. Montaigne was a prolific writer who brought challenging roles of females.
  • Age of sensibility is also named as the age of Johnson. Many intellectuals shared their ideas of neoclassicism, critical approach towards literary work. Famous writers during this time period were: Samuel Richardson, Henry Fielding, and Laurence Sterne.

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The Romantic Period

Starting date of the Romantic period is quite uncertain and debatable. Some believe it was started around 1785, just after the Age of Sensibility. However, other groups of people claim that it was started around 1789 When French revolution took place. There are also a group of people who believe that Romantic age started in 1798 when the publication of the works of William Wordsworth and ST Coleridge took place. The age came to its end with the passage of the reform bill. The period saw a transition from reason to senses, feelings and imagination. Unlike the writers of previous age, romantic writers’ approach was more towards senses, imagination and nature. Moreover, they shifted from urban society to the rural and natural world. Mundane and rationalism in poetry were replaced by mysterious and fantasy.

Characteristics of the Romantic period:

  • Imagination and feelings got more importance than rational thinking and logic.
  • Love towards nature, animals and landscapes. Realism is no longer in literature.
  • Nature for the romantic poets is like a divine revelation.
  • Writers are more into medieval past, gothic, and supernatural themes.
  • Great emphasis on melancholy, psychology and sadness. Death and mankind’s feeling were the main subjects for the poets.  

Famous writers of romantic period

  • William Wordsworth
  • Samuel Taylor Coleridge
  • John Keats
  • Lord Byron
  • Percy Bysshe Shelley
  • William Blake
  • Mary Shelley
  • Sir Walter Scott
  • Rober Burns
  • Emily Dickinson

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The Victorian Period

The period got its name from the reign of Queen Victoria. In 1837 Queen Victoria came to the throne and thus the Victorian period began. The end of this period was with the death of the queen in 1901. There were many social, religious, intellectual and economic problems in London. This period is divided into three parts:

  • Early Victorian (1832 to 1848)
  • Mid-Victorian (1848 to 1870)
  • Late Victorian (1870 to 1890)

Characteristics of Victorian Literature:

Victorian Realism

Writers again came back to society from solitude. Shift from nature to industrial England, Spiritualism changes into pragmatism, optimism changes in agnosticism.


Society was full of utilitarian mindset. Novels like Hard times by Charles Dickens were the perfect example portraying the society. People were like machines and there was no pace for emotions and feelings. Facts and logical thinking were prevalent everywhere. There was a mechanical approach to everything.


The whole society was under the influence of agnosticism. Things which cannot be observed, visible or provable has no existence. People lacked belief in god and the society was completely in a state of uncertainty.


A shift one can observe in English novels, writers started to put more emphasis on characters rather than action. plots were loose. Literary work is more for entertainment purpose and less for artistic values.

Famous literary figures of the Victorian age:

  • Jane Austen
  • Elizabeth Barret Browning
  • William Blake
  • Charlotte Bronte
  • Emily Bronte
  • Robert Burns
  • Lord Byron
  • Lewis Carol
  • Charles Dickens

The Edwardian Period

Edwardian period got its name from King Edward VII. The period ranges from the death of queen victoria to World War I. The period was not much stretched but had produced many popular writers like Joseph Conrad, Rudyard Kipling, Madox Ford, Henry James etc. Edwardian literature was highly intense, revolving around the socio-political situation. one can observe restlessness in society. George Bernard Shaw brought a new writing style in literature. He questions society as well as politics. Edwardian literature is a kind of bold writing. plays were used for debate purposes. Writers emphasised change to remove the atrocities that were prevalent in the society. Thomas Hardy and Kipling tried to revive the old literary forms such as satire, narrative poems, and Ballad. There were writers who started writing on adventures and colonial expansions like Joseph Conrads’ Heart of Darkness.

The Modern Period

Modern Period finds its beginning with the start of World War 1. Writers started to experiment with the subject matter, for and brought different styles in writing. They included verse writing, narrative style, and Drama. Novels like things fall apart indicates modernist concerns.

Notable literary figures of Modern Age:

  • James Joyce,
  • Virginia Woolf,
  • Aldous Huxley,
  • D.H. Lawrence,
  • Joseph Conrad,
  • Dorothy Richardson,
  • Graham Greene,
  • E.M. Forster,
  • Doris Lessing;
  • W.B. Yeats,
  • T.S. Eliot,
  • W.H. Auden,
  • Seamus Heaney,
  • Wilfred Owens,
  • Dylan Thomas,
  • George Bernard Shaw,
  • Samuel Beckett,
  • Frank McGuinness,
  • Harold Pinter

So this is all about the stages and time periods of British literature. For further assistance and understanding take online assignment help and find the answers to intricate areas of literature. While doing a literature assignment, it is natural to commit mistakes to avoid errors you can use our free grammar check tool and check grammar. Like this, we offer many other services for free to the students such as free plagiarism report, word count, and reference generator.