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