English literature

Chronology of English Literature

By diezes
  • Period: 450 to 1066

    The Old English Period

    With the Angles, Saxons and Jutes' arrival in the 5th and 6th centuries, common Germanic poetry and prose found a place in English lands.
  • 725


    A epic poem that deals with the adventures of a young hero fighting against an encroaching monster, was at first part of the oral tradition. Believed to have originated in the 700 to 750 period, its first recorded manuscript dating back to c. year 1000.
  • 975

    Exeter book

    Exeter book
    It is the largest collection of Old English poetry, given to Exeter cathedral by bishop Leofric (died 1072). The manuscript is believed to have been copied around 975 and compiles religious poems like the "Christ", allegories and elegies like "The Wanderer", "The Seafarer" and "The Ruin".
  • 1000

    Caedmon or Junius Manuscript

    Caedmon or Junius Manuscript
    A manuscript believed to have been copied around 1000 and first attributed to Caedmon, it was given in 1671 to scholar Franciscus Junius by the archbishop of Armagh, James Ussher. It contains religious verse in the poems Genesis, Exodus, Daniel, and Christ and Satan.
  • 1025

    Catholic Homilies

    Catholic Homilies
    Written by monk Aelfric (died c. 1025), a prolific Old English writer who also scribed a grammar of the Latin language and other pieces relating to monastic and religious life and work.
  • Period: 1066 to 1500

    The Middle English Period

    With English already established as a literary language, this era began with the Norman invasion of England and the arrival of French influence on English.
  • 1200


    A Worcestershire priest, author of the poem "Brut", the first work in English that deals with the "matter of Britain", that is the lengend of King Arthur and the knights of the Round Table. It is notable because English at the time was being relegated by French and Latin as a literary language.
  • 1200


    The work of Orm or Ormin, and Augustinian monk in northern England that codified the Gospels and the work of previous religious men like Gregory the Great and Aelfric, through poetry, or better called, didactic poetry, to present biblical narratives or moral teachings.
  • 1210

    The Katherine Group

    The Katherine Group
    A group of prose devotional works with unknown authorship, written between 1189 and 1210 and accounts the lives of Saints Katherine, Margaret and Juliana.
  • 1220

    Ancrene Wisse

    Ancrene Wisse
    Ancrene Wisse (Middle English for "Guide for Achoresses") is an anonymous work written at the beginning of the 13th century as a guide for women recluses (nuns) not belonging to any regular religious order. Noted to delving into the field of human nature as a factor for forming religious women, it is believed to be associated to the Katherine Group.
  • 1360

    Piers Plowman

    Piers Plowman
    A poem by William Langland that present the author's criticism to political and ecclesiastical corruption as he perceived it in mid-14th century England. The authore used simple and colloquial language to reach a wider audience.
  • 1387

    The Canterbury Tales

    The Canterbury Tales
    Magnum opus of author Geoffry Chaucer, considered as the father of medieval English Literature, it tells stories in various different genres like romance, religious legend, beast fables and combining them at times, notable for breaking from the French poetic style to use a more traditional English one.
  • Period: 1500 to


    Influenced by the rise of humanism of the Italian Renaissance, English literature would also evolve, leaving behind the common medieval themes of religious life and epic legend. Politics and culture would now play a greater role in literary production.
  • 1516


    Thomas More's most notable work, it was first written in Latin and translated into More's native English language in 1550. It deals with a fantastic society where social problems do not exist, and it's a contrast to the convoluted state of politics and social relation in 16th century Europe.
  • Period: 1558 to

    Elizabethan era

    Queen Elizabeth I was a patron of the arts during her reign, reason for which this period was named after her. It's considered a golden age of English literature and many great names wrote during this era.
  • Tamburlaine the Great

    Tamburlaine the Great
    A play written byt Christopher Marlowe, considered the second greatest Elizabethan writer after Shakespeare, a drama dealing with the tribulations of a Mongol ruler, Timur or Timburlaine, it set a standard for dramatic verse in Elizabethan and Jacobean literature.
  • The Faerie Qveene

    The Faerie Qveene
    Edmond Spenser's greatest work, it's a epic poem with nationalist undertones that hails protestantism over the power of the Catholic pope, it returns to the mythical king Arthur to glorify English nationalism.
  • Astrophel and Stella

    Astrophel and Stella
    A sonnet sequence by Sir Philip Sidney, it is a love-drama story that takes the reader on a journey of struggles between the passions of love and the necessities of imposed by work.
  • The work of Shakespeare

    The work of Shakespeare
    The paramount writer in English literature his career spanned the years c. 1589-1613, and his writings, which included tragedies, comedies and tragicomedies also reflected his view of the world that surrounded him, thus he would write patriotic prose as in his 1589-94 plays "Henry VI" and "Richard III", exploration of many aspects of life like law, business, love, treachery in works like Romeo and Juliet (c.1594), the Merchant of Venice (c.1596) to tragedies Hamlet (c.1600), and Othello (c.1604)
  • Period: to

    The Jacobian era

    This era, after the death of Elizabeth I and the ascension of James I and the House of Stuart, was greatly influenced by Shakespeare, whose later tragedies like King Lear (c.1606) and Macbeth (c.1607) and later experimental works were produced in this era.
  • The Alchemist

    The Alchemist
    Ben Jonson's best-known comedy, it relates stories of turmoils of its main characters as they scam unsuspecting fools looking for their alchemistic services.
  • Period: to


    Parallel to the Jacobian and Caroline eras, as a part of the civil war that was brewing in England, was the Puritan movement that sought to return to religious roots as a defining social factor. Among the most representative of this movement, and influenced by puritan Calvinism was John Milton.
  • Period: to

    The Caroline era

    This was an era of political turmoil as civil strife swept England, the supporters of the monarchy were in conflict with the supporters of parliament. Literary works were more commonly either focused on religion, or politics.
  • The work of James Shirley

    The work of James Shirley
    James Shirley was a playwright that disntinguished himself for keeping a comedic disposition in his writings during the tumultuous Caroline period. Plays like Hyde Park (1632) or the Lady of Pleasure (1635) would be cheerful representations of what he saw as the joyous life of the court in London. He'd also write tragedies such as The Traytor (1631) and The Cardinal (1641).
  • Period: to

    The Restoration

    This period beging with the restoration of Charles II to the throne of England, there isn't a general theme among the writings of this period, some writers were Republican supporters of Cromwell and noncorformist (non-Anglican) Puritans, while other works were celebrations of the restored monarchic order.
  • Grace Abounding

    Grace Abounding
    John Bunyan's spiritual autobiography explores his experiences as a nonconformist (non-Anglican) Puritan during the early years of the restoration of the monarchy from the perspective of his interpretation of Christianity.
  • Paradise Lost

    Paradise Lost
    Published not long after the end of the Renaissance period, but solidly enmarked within the Puritan spirit of the late Renaissance in England, this epic poem, considered to be a masterpiece of the English language, treats the reader to the an interpretation of the biblical Fall of Man from the Garden of Eden, and the reason God, Satan, Adam, Eve, and the Son of God had to do what they did.
  • Hudibras

    A satiric poem, considered to be greatest work of busleque literature in English; this work by Samuel Butler reflects on his perceptions of the extremism of Puritanism
  • An Essay Concerning Human Understanding

    An Essay Concerning Human Understanding
    Philosopher John Locke's, considered the greatest English philosopher of his time, seminal work that would be a basis for the theory of empiricism in philosophy and influence the works of later philosophers and scientists.
  • Period: to

    The 18th Century period

    After the restoration of the monarchy, the trends that began to emerge in the landscape of of English literature were already established culture of political writing and an emerging preponderance of the novel as a major literary product.
  • A Tale of a Tub

    A Tale of a Tub
    Johnathan Swift's first published work, it is a satire arguing different themes like a defense of religion and literature against pedantry, the pondering of ancient and modern culture and religious fanaticism as was present in England.
  • An Essay on Criticism

    An Essay on Criticism
    One Alexander Pope's first major works published when he was 22, it is a poetic collection of maxims and a call for a return to the Classical poetic style, reflecting on the author's admiration for the Augustan period.
  • The Fable of the Bees

    The Fable of the Bees
    Bernard de Mandeville, a satirical poem that's ponders on the impact that ideals such as honesty and vitue have on the development of a society as opposed to a capitalist search for the satisfaction of one's interests, vices and needs, which creates thriving comminities
  • Robinson Crusoe

    Robinson Crusoe
    Daniel Defoe's first long work is considered to be the first English novel. A rich fictional narrative that presents the details of the life of the title character as a castaway in a remote island.
  • The Dunciad

    The Dunciad
    Pope's fierce social critique of the society he lives in. A mock-heroic comment, that relates, as a form of lamentation, how a reign of pedantry and a dullness of the mind has taken over the life of kingdom.
  • The Castle of Otranto

    The Castle of Otranto
    Considered to be the first instance of Gothic novel, and of the horror story as a theme in literature, Horace Walpole's work is presented to the reader as a story taking place at the time of the Crusades, with intrigues and ghosts haunting the characters.
  • The Vicar of Wakefield

    The Vicar of Wakefield
    Oliver Goldsmith's novel in the pastoral genre that sings the praises of rural like, it tells the stories of the title character's disgraces and redemption. It's Goldsmith's most notable novel among prolific poetry, also in the pastoral vein, The Traveller (1764) and The Deserted Village (1770).
  • An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations

    An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations
    Scottish philosopher Adam Smith's dissertation and theory on economics that also delves on the intricacies of the human character, considering mankind as driven by individual self-interest and how the "free market" is to be organised for this self-interest to create prosperity.
  • Holy Willie’s Prayer

    Holy Willie’s Prayer
    Scottish poert Robert Burns' satirical lines against the hipocrisy of religion are considered to be among the best in the history of poetry. Burns is notable for successfully bringing the Scottish dialect and its idiomatic uses into the spotlight of the English language literature.
  • Period: to


    The idea of personal freedom was seen as a driving force that exalts the human spirit beyond the pure reason that dominated the Enlightenment an impulse towards modernism.
  • Pride and Prejudice

    Pride and Prejudice
    Jane Austen, one of the most prolific female writers of her time, contrasted with general spirit of romanticism, as she found herself on a more conservative side of the literary and social spectrum. Her romantic novel explores the difficulties found by young lovers of a different social class to realise their love from the standpoint of a traditionalist worldview.
  • Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus

    Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus
    Mary Shelley, Percy's wife, was a consumate author on her own right, and with the Frankenstein novel where she continued the English tradition of the Gothic novel, she was also a precursor of the science fiction genre, combining it smoothly with the Gothic aspects of her work.
  • A Defence of Poetry

    A Defence of Poetry
    An essay by Percy Bysshe Shelley' wherein it's argued that poets are shapers of the social order through the stroke of their pens, very representative of the liberal outlook that's characteristic of romanticism.
  • Don Juan

    Don Juan
    Lord Byron's magnum opus is a picaresque romantic poem, recounting the amorous adventures and misadventures of a man easily seduced by women, following the liberal spirit of the age.
  • Period: to

    The Victorian Period

    A period that contrasted with Romanticism as it was characterised by greater social instrospection with the rise of industrialisation and of socialist and communist thought in the wake of the French revolution. England would be the first industralised nation in the world and its empire grew beyond any other.
  • Wuthering Heights

    Wuthering Heights
    Emily Brontë's romantic novel combines many emotions in its storytelling, from pure love to utter rage and tragedy. It takes on elements of romanticism to describe unusual events and instrospections leading to revenge.
  • David Copperfield

    David Copperfield
    One of Charles Dickens greatest works is a fictional autobriography that takes from the Romanticist feature of growth and comprehension of the self, recounting experiences from childhood through the consumation of a novelist.
  • On the Origin of Species

    On the Origin of Species
    Charles Darwin's is a scientific work that laid the foundations of what would later become evolutionary biology that would the would define biological science from that point on.
  • The White Man's Burden

    The White Man's Burden
    Rudyard Kipling's depicts the mentality of colonialism, for the most part praising white Europeans for spreading civilisation across the world with their colonial enterprises, given that in this view, "savages" are not able to govern themselves and need the superior and humanitarian intervention of whites to do so.
  • Anticipations

    H.G. Wells, in this non-fiction work, explores the prospects of social progress that will be facilitated by the advent of modern science and technology as a force for the good of mankind in general.
  • Period: to


    Advances on science and technology indicated changes were coming along, and the Modernist period saw itself launched into existence with the death of queen Victoria in 1901 as a marker for time of change when women were still not free to be themselves.
  • Ulysses

    James Joyce's celebrated novel relives the adventures of Homer's Odyssey in the setting of one day in early 20th century Dublin, a ode to life in the city and the human relations that take place within it.
  • Mrs. Dalloway

    Mrs. Dalloway
    Virginia Woolf's novel brings a representation of the roles that a post-war society has imposed on the people and a questioning of one's role in society. She was the main female writer of her time.
  • Brave New World

    Brave New World
    Aldous Huxley's best-known novel is a dystopian story about how technology, contrary to H.G. Wells postulates, ends up subjugating the human spirit by the complete standardization and assamilation of society into a process of productive effiency and some of its effects on the mental health of people.
  • Period: to


    Postmodern literature is in like the postmodern society: Diverse. After WW2, even during the Cold War, and in the Communist world itself, a key concept has been the development of the individual and this has been reflected in literature with the rise of a diverse postmodern production that covers many different, disparate topics.
  • Nineteen Eighty-four

     Nineteen Eighty-four
    George Orwell's possibly best-known novel takes the reader on a dystopian ride around a world where, much like in Huxley's BNW, society has been subjugated to obey a established system that openly brainwashes and manipulates them to maintain a status quo. Another one of Orwell's works on human nature and the nature of politics along with others like Animal Farm (1945).
  • Lord of the Flies

    Lord of the Flies
    Written by William Golding after the onset of the Cold War, this fiction novel tells the story of a group of children who, evacuated from England due to nuclear war, crash on a Pacific island and how their human nature leads them to end up killing each other, a fatalistic outlook towards mankind.
  • The Siege of Krishnapur

    The Siege of Krishnapur
    Part of a trilogy by J. G. Farrell, the books explore the circumstances around the decline of the British empire as they affected normal people around different parts of the empire as a general disillusion with imperialism.
  • The Satanic Verses

    The Satanic Verses
    Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses depicts more than other works the diverse, as in multicultural, nature of postmodernism, it makes use of elements of Latin American magical realism to take the reader on a fantastical journey of bizarra phenomena, tragedies and misfortunes.
  • Period: to

    The 21st century

    A later branch of postmodernism, English literature remains preoccupied with the issue of history to this day
  • Cloud Atlas

    Cloud Atlas
    A novel by David Mitchell, it is a travel through time from the 19th century to a dystopian technological future that analyzes what mankind has been and what it can become.
  • References

    English literature. Encyclopaedia Britannica. Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc.24 July 2020
    URL: https://www.britannica.com/art/English-literature
    Access Date: January 05, 2021 History of English Literature – Understand the Concept (2017, Nov. 28). Retrieved from: