Saturday, July 22, 2006

British Literature Timeline Podcast

British Literature Timeline

Beth Ritter Guth: Hi, my name is Beth Ritter-Guth and I am the instructor for English 201, British Literature, at L Tri C. This is our first podcast and you'll have the opportunity to hear some lecture notes, about the timeline of British literary history. What I'd like you to do is pause here, get your notebook and pen, and use the slides I've prepared for you as a guideline as we talk about the various genres and time periods in British literary history.

We begin our journey in British literary history in the Anglo-Saxon period, also called the Old English period. We're going to be talking in greater detail about this period, but just a few things to pique your interest. Mostly, this period is known for oral traditions of literature; storytelling, and these fantastic tales that have lasted and been passed down through generations. Poetry is the dominant form, and there's a unique verse form that we're going to be talking about a little bit later. A strong belief in fate and there was a lot of discussion and a lot of contention between the church and the pagan worlds. Of course, Christianity is relatively new, seeing that it's only 449 AD. The Anglo-Saxon period lasts until 1066. So, you know, Christianity isn't too long in this world. Heroic warriors were the hot topic of the time, and especially heroic warriors who prevailed in battle. Really, all the tales, whether they were written or oral, expressed a religious faith and were didactic in nature, which means that they instructed the audience in some way.

So that's where we start our exploration of British literature, and from that period, we'll move on to the next time period. I neglected to mention that the work that you've probably heard of from the Old English period is Beowulf. That's usually what's read in high schools, so that is the one key piece of the time.

The Medieval period, which is also called the Middle English period, begins in about 1066 and lasts to 1485 AD. This also contains a lot of oral tradition, a lot of folk ballads, mystery and miracle plays, there are romances. There's of course a great code of chivalry and honor that the Medieval period is noted for historically as well. Of course, the plays are didactic as well, and the texts are didactic and they're religious in that they express the religious expectations of the time and they reflect a religious devotion or seeming devotion of medieval persons.

Let's see. Some famous people you may have heard of, I'm sure all of you have heard of Geoffrey Chaucer, and if you haven't heard of Geoffrey Chaucer, you're going to in this class, because you're going to spend a good deal of time discussing Geoffrey Chaucer. So this is our second period of literary history.

The third period, of course, is the Renaissance, which begins in about 1485 and lasts until the 1660's. The world view is shifting here, from religion and this devotion to religion, to a focus on human life on earth, humanity on earth, and the idea that humans can be molded and shaped into new and better things. Some popular themes: love, of course, courtly love, lost love, those things which are still quite popular today. The most popular genre, of course, is poetry, of course and drama. Some people you may have heard of: I know you've heard of William Shakespeare, and we'll be talking a lot about him as well, because we'll be reading Othello and listening to Shakespeare upon iPod. John Dunne, Chris Marlowe, Andrew Marvel, those are some pretty heavy hitters of the time.

The Neo-Classical period, or the Restoration, begins in about 1660 and lasts until about the late 1790's, 1798, somewhere in there. This is a time period of a complete reversal. We're no longer focusing on religion. Now we're focusing on reason and logic. The works are emphasizing a stability between harmony and wisdom. The social contract comes into play and the government. There's a lot of upheaval in the government because now people are expecting life, liberty and property as fundamental or natural rights. Of course satire is very popular, poetry remains popular, essays, letters, diaries, biographies and novels start coming into the forefront of literary texts. Some famous people that you probably have heard of are Alexander Pope and Jonathan Swift, and his satire, Samuel Johnson, Daniel Defoe, we'll be talking a lot about Jonathan Swift and Daniel Defoe.

This period is followed by the Romantic period, which begins in 1798 and lasts until about 1832. This is a little bit different from the American Romantic period, because of course it precedes the American Romantic period, but it really is this reaction to the idea that reason and logic are the only things out there to explain the world. In the Romantic period, human knowledge consists of ideas that are formed within the individual. So there is that idea of relativism that of course we embrace so readily today. There's the introduction of Gothic elements and horror. This of course is the very first horror story, Frankenstein, written by Mary Shelley, is written during the Romantic period. The idea that in nature, a person can find comfort and peace, that you just can't get in urbanized towns and factory environments. This is a crucial cornerstone to this movement. Poetry, of course, is a popular form, and lyrical ballads, very descriptive lyrical ballads, are popular. Some novelists of the time that you probably have heard of are Mary Shelley, of course, who wrote Frankenstein, and Jane Austen. We'll be talking about both of them, and of course, we are reading Frankenstein. Some of the poets: Robert Burns, William Blake, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Lord Byron, John Keats, Percy Shelley, William Wordsworth, and of course the letters of John Keats. We'll be talking about sort of that love gone unnoticed and he pines away. John Keats, of course, is an incredible writer, probably one of my favorite Romantic poets, but he writes these wonderful letters to Fanny Brawne, this woman he's so in love with, and of course she doesn't have the time of day for him. So an interesting, interesting period of time.

The Romantic period is followed by the Victorian period, which lasts from 1832 to 1900, and it's a beautiful period, as far as paintings are concerned, and city life is concerned. It's a time of great beauty, but there's a conflict between the people in power and then the common masses of the poor and the laborers. There's this conflict between the rich and the poor; the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer, and there's really this idea that writers are responsible in some way to illustrate and illuminate the problems of the poor. So there are a lot of texts that sort of expose the shocking life of children who are put to work in sweatshops and there's a lot of reform literature. There's a lot of literature that sort of compares country life and city life. Sex, of course, is starting to make its way into the literature of the time in much more obvious ways than, perhaps, in Shakespeare or Chaucer. There are now heroines, coming much more readily to the forefront. More women are writing and so there are more female heroines, and there's just a lot more sex talk going on than there ever has been before. A lot of marriages where there are several different lovers involved, and it's a crazy period in time. But it does illustrate sort of the idea that the Romantics wanted to get across, which is that people needed to be a little bit more liberated. Of course we see that in the Victorian period, sort of closeted by the fact that society itself is still very, very conservative and a lot of time and energy is placed on dress, a constricting dress with the corsets and the sort of clothing that women and men wore. So, a very interesting time period. Some people you may have heard of, I hope, you probably have heard of: Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy, the Bronte sisters, Robert Browning, Oscar Wilde, George Elliot, She's A Woman, Alfred Lord Tennyson. We'll be talking about Alfred Lord Tennyson in great detail and talking about Lady of Shallot.

This period, of course, is then followed by the Modern or the Post-Modern period, which goes from 1900 to 1980 and that's a huge chunk of time. But it's an interesting period, because it's the individual trying to find peace and comfort in a world that has just lost it's idea of value and tradition. And really, 1980 is pretty current, so if you were living in the '80's, you know that we've moved from the idea of tradition and traditional styles, to what makes the individual comfortable, so it's an important period in literature. Man is nothing except what he or she makes of him or herself, so everybody really has to pull themselves up by the bootstraps, and we'll see that a lot in modern literature as well. The hero, we lose the hero in literature, the hero and the heroine are no longer crucial to the text. And technology, of course, destroys everything, and that's sort of where we are now. Poetry is still very popular, and memoirs and speeches and epiphanies and novels. There's a lot of stream of consciousness writing, and a lot of things are written in present tense as opposed to past tense. Some people you may have heard of are James Joyce, Joseph Conrad, Graham Greene, George Orwell, William Butler Yates, Bernard Shaw.

So that's where we are in 1980, when we go to the Contemporary period, which is the Post-Modern period as well, and 1980 is sort of where we start the period we're in now. There's lots to talk about.

Transcription by CastingWords


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