Primary Source Archives
Gale Primary Sources offers collections that include British literary journals, magazines, and articles that provide researchers with firsthand material.
Explore the world of British literature, which concerns English-language written works produced by the inhabitants of the islands comprising the modern-day United Kingdom, including fiction, nonfiction, drama, poetry, and literary criticism. British literature has a rich history that extends back to the seventh century and includes some of the most studied authors and works.
One of the most famous works of early literature from this region is the epic Old English poem Beowulf, written sometime around 975–1025 CE. Other important early works include the stories surrounding the legendary King Arthur, such as Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (late 14th century) and Le Morte d’Arthur (1485). Geoffrey Chaucer, author of the famous The Canterbury Tales (late 14th century), is considered the greatest English poet of the Middle Ages.
The Elizabethan Age (1558–1603, named for Queen Elizabeth I) is considered the golden age of English drama, led by its most famous figure William Shakespeare and also including the notable writers Christopher Marlowe and Edmund Spenser. In addition to plays, Shakespeare also popularized the English sonnet. During the 17th century, John Donne, John Milton, and Aphra Behn also produced important works of poetry.
Toward the end of this century, the English novel began its ascendance, beginning with John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress (1678). In the 18th century, Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe (1719) and Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (1726) were major novels, and Alexander Pope was the preeminent poet. Samuel Johnson is one of the most important authors of nonfiction during this century.
The Industrial Revolution that began in the late 18th century resulted in more people moving to Britain’s overcrowded cities to secure jobs. This proved to be a major influence on British literature, as Romanticism, a movement that focused on the beauty of the rural landscape, produced several poets of note, including William Blake, William Wordsworth, Lord Byron, Percy Shelley, and John Keats. Novelists working in the Romantic tradition include Jane Austen and Sir Walter Scott.
Starting in the 19th century, the Victorian period (named for Queen Victoria) rivaled the Romantic period in poetry with Robert Browning; Elizabeth Barrett Browning; Gerard Manley Hopkins; and Alfred, Lord Tennyson all active at this time. Playwrights Oscar Wilde and the comic-opera duo of W. S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan were prominent on the theater scene. This period also produced several important novelists, including Charles Dickens, Charlotte Brontë, Emily Brontë, Thomas Hardy, and George Eliot.
At the start of the 20th century, the two most popular British writers were Rudyard Kipling and H. G. Wells. With the upheaval of World War I (1914–1918), writers began to question the conventional middle-class tastes that dominated the Victorian era, leading to the Modernist movement. Modernist English writers produced more intellectually challenging as well as controversial content. Major novelists include Virginia Woolf, Aldous Huxley, D. H. Lawrence, Joseph Conrad, James Joyce, and E. M. Forster, while the poets William Butler Yeats, T. S. Eliot, and Dylan Thomas produced work that challenged conventional forms and styles. Playwright George Bernard Shaw was also of this era.
Scholars debate when modernism transitioned to postmodernism, with some suggesting directly before or after World War II (1939–1945). Postmodernism continued the experimentation of modernism but is otherwise difficult to define. Notable works from the postwar era include George Orwell’s dystopian classics 1984 and Animal Farm and William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. Starting in the 1980s, postcolonial writers, including Anglo-Indian writer Salman Rushdie and Trinidadian-British novelist V. S. Naipaul, attracted critical and commercial attention.
From trending social issues to classic literature, Gale resources have you covered. Explore overviews, statistics, essay topics, and more or log in through your library to find even more content.