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19th century English language literature
The reaction to urbanism and industrialisation prompted poets to explore nature, for example: the Lake Poets, including William Wordsworth. These Romantic Poets brought a new emotionalism and introspection to English literature.
The major "Second generation" Romantic Poets were Lord Byron, Percy Bysse Shelley and John Keats.
The 19th century novel
At the same time Jane Austen was writing highly polished novels about the life of the landed gentry, seen from a woman's point of view, and wryly focused on practical social issues, especially marriage and money.
Charles Dickens emerged on the literary scene in the 1830s, confirming the trend for serial publication. Dickens wrote vividly about London life and the struggles of the poor, but in a good-humoured fashion which was acceptable to readers of all classes. His early works such as the Pickwick Papers are masterpieces of comedy. Later his works became darker, without loosing his genius for caricature.
If was in the Victorian era (1837-1901) that the novel became the leading form of literature in English. Most writers were now more concerned to meet the tastes of a large middle class reading public than to please aristocratic patrons. The best known works of the era include the emotionally powerful works of the Bronte sisters; the satire Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackery; the realist novels of George Eliot; and Anthony Trollope's insightful portrayals of the lives of the landowning and professional classes. An interest in rural matters and the changing social and economic situation of the coutryside may be seen in the novels of Thomas Hardy and others.
Literature for children was published during the Victorian period, some of which has become globally well-known, such as the work of Lewis Carroll.
The leading poets of the Victorian era included Alfred Tennyson and Robert Browning. Elizabeth Barrett Browning's reputation has since grown to eclipse her husband's.
In the 19th century, the Irish playwright Dion Boucicault was an extremely popular writer of comedies. However, it was in the last decade of the century that the Irish theatre finally came of age with the emergence of George Bernard Shaw and Oscar Wilde. All of these writers lived mainly in England and wrote in English.
The Celtic Revival (c. 1890), also known as the Irish Literary Revival, was begun by William Butler Yeats, Lady Gregory, John M. Synge, Sean O'Casey, James Joyce and others. The Revival stimulated new appreciation of traditional Irish literature. The movement also encouraged the creation of works written in the spirit of Irish culture, as distinct from English culture.
Nonsense verse, such as by Edward Lear, taken with the work of Lewis Carroll, is regarded as a precursor of surrealism.
Anglo-Welsh literature is a term used to describe works written in the English language by Welsh writers, especially if they either have subject matter relating to Wales or (as in the case of Anglo-Welsh poetry in particular) are influenced by the Welsh language in terms of patterns of usage or syntax. It has been recognised as a distinctive entity only since the 20th century. The need for a separate identity for this kind of writing arose because of the parallel development of modern Welsh literature, ie. literature in the Welsh language.
English language literature since 1900
The major lyric poet of the first decades of the 20th century was Thomas Hardy, who concentrated on poetry after the harsh response to his last novel, Jude the Obscure.
The most widely popular writer of the early years of the 20th century was arguably Rudyard Kipling, a highly versatile writer of novels, short stories and poems, often based on his experiences of British ruled India. Kipling was closely associated with imperialism and this has damaged his reputation in more recent times.
From around 1910, the Modernist Movement began to influence English literature. Whereas their Victorian predeccsors had usually been happy to cater to mainstream middle class taste, 20th century writers often felt alienated from it, and responded by writing more intellectually challenging works or by pushing the boundaries of acceptable content.
The major poets of this period included the American born TS Eliot and the Irishman William Butler Yeats. Free verse and other stylistic innovations came to the forefront in this era.
The experiences of the First World War were reflected in the work of war poets such as Rupert Brooke, Isaac Rosenberg, Edmund Blunden and Siegfried Sassoon. Many writers turned away from patriotic and imperialist themes as a result of the war, notably Kipling.
Important novelists between the two World Wars included the Irish writer James Joyce, D.H. Lawrence and Virginia Woolf.
Joyce's increasingly complex works included Ulysses, an interpretation of the Odyssey set in Dublin, and culminated in the famously obscure Finnegan's Wake. Lawrence wrote with understanding about the social life of the lower and middle classes, and the personal life of those who could not adapt to the social norms of his time. He attempted to explore human emotions more deeply than his contemporaries and challenged the boundaries of the acceptable treatment of sexual issues in works such as Lady Chatterley's Lover. Virgina Woolf was an influential feminist, and a major stylistic innovator associated with the stream of consciousness technique. Her novels included To the Lighthouse, Mrs Dalloway, and The Waves.
Novelists who wrote in a more traditional style, such as John Galsworthy and Arnold Bennett continued to receive great acclaim in the interwar period. At the same time the Georgian poets maintained an more conservative approach to poetry.
The leading poets of the middle and later 20th century included the traditionalist John Betjeman, Philip Larkin, Ted Hughes and the Northern Irish Catholic Seamus Heaney, who lived in the Republic of Ireland for much of his later life.
Major novelists of the middle and later 20th century included the satirist Evelyn Waugh, William Golding, Grahame Greene and Iris Murdoch.
In drama, the drawing room plays of the post war period were challenged in the 1950s by the Angry Young Men, exemplified by as John Osborne's iconic play Look Back in Anger. Also in the 1950s, the bleak absurdist play Waiting for Godot, by the Southern Irish playwright Samuel Beckett profoundly affected British drama. The theatre of the absurd influenced playwrights of the later decades of the 20th century, including Harold Pinter, whose works are often characterised by menace or claustrophia, and Tom Stoppard. Stoppard's works are however also notable for their high-spirited wit and the great range of intellectual issues which he tackles in different plays.
Anthology of Twentieth-Century British and Irish Poetry
British Poetry Revival
Kitchen sink drama
Non English language literatures since 1900
In the late 19th and early 20th century, Welsh literature began to reflect the way the Welsh language was increasingly becoming a political symbol. Two important literary nationalists were Saunders Lewis and Kate Roberts.
In the early 20th century in Scotland, a renaissance in the use of Lowland Scots occurred, its most vocal figure being Hugh MacDiarmid. Other contemporaries were Douglas Young, Sidney Goodsir Smith, Robert Garioch and Robert McLellan. However, the revival was largely limited to verse and other literature.
The end of the First World War saw a decline in the quantity of poetry published in Jèrriais and Dgèrnésiais in favour of short-story-like newspaper columns in prose. The imported eisteddfod tradition in the Channel Islands encouraged recitation and performance, a tradition that continues today.
Sorley MacLean's work in Scottish Gaelic in the 1930s gave new value to modern literature in that language.
Highly anglicised Lowland Scots is often used in contemporary Scottish fiction, for example, the Edinburgh dialect of Lowland Scots in Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh. Edwin Morgan is the current Makar (Scottish national poet) and also produces translations of world literature.
Translations are an important feature of the literatures of the regional languages of the islands, for example: Contoyryssyn Ealish ayns Cheer ny Yindyssyn a Manx translation of Alice in Wonderland by Brian Stowell, published in 1990, or the 2004 Scots version of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam by Rab Wilson. Alexander Hutchison has translated the poetry of Catullus into Scots, and in the 1980s Liz Lochhead produced a Scots translation of Tartuffe by Molière. Original literature continues to be promoted by organisations and institutions such as the Eisteddfod or the Mod.
Modern literature in Irish
Recipients of the Nobel Prize in Literature from the isles include Rudyard Kipling (1907), George Bernard Shaw (1925), John Galsworthy (1932), T.S. Eliot (1948), Bertrand Russell (1950), Winston Churchill (1953), William Golding (1983), Seamus Heaney (1995) and V. S. Naipaul (2001).