You need to have read “widely, independently and critically” and know something of the traditions of English Literature. This will involve an appreciation of the significance of cultural and historical influences on readers and writers.
This list is a starting point for research into major writers, poets and dramatists, covering the seventeenth century to the present day.
Your mission (should you choose to accept it) is to research the major historical events listed, as well as particular movements, or ideas and, of course, the authors and their works. This should give you an overview of what shaped the writings of these authors.

 Use the internet. A good search engine is to be found at A free download of their basic search engine gives you the ability to type in plain language questions, such as “find out about postmodernism”. You should then be directed to various linked sites to continue your quest. 

Good basic reference texts are the various Oxford & Cambridge Guides to English Literature. Use also the catalogue of your local library and any other sources available to you. When you research try to make a set of basic notes with clear sub-headings. As far as possible USE YOUR OWN WORDS to provide a summary of the information you find. You need to find out who was writing what and when. Also the influences on them at the time, historically, politically and socially. You also need to be able to identify and evaluate the literary techniques used by each author, i.e. how they choose to use their words. Remember, the words used are almost always shaped by the time and the place and what is happening in the world. You might like also to look at why these authors are still read today. What ideas or lasting philosophies are evident in their work?  

(We've chosen to start with the 17th century because we think you'll probably have done lots of work already on Shakespeare and Chaucer and the 'obvious' authors and works in English Literature (who largely 'happened' before that) so now we think it's time for you to find out all about the Restoration and the Enlightenment and all that good stuff. In fact we really WANT you to become enlightened, because if we had to do it - then so should you - so there!)

 17th Century

 Puritanism/Civil War/ Cromwell/ Restoration of the Monarchy (1660)


Metaphysical Poets

Restoration Comedy 

18th Century

 Protestants & Catholics/ ‘Glorious Revolution’

The Enlightenment. The Royal Society. Exploration & Scientific discoveries (Newton, Leibnitz, etc)

Crime/Punishment/ Transportation/ Slavery

Agrarian Revolution

Transport developments (canals, bridges, roads, railways) 

French Revolution

American Revolution 

Rise of the novel – Defoe, Fielding

Satire – Swift, Pope

Drama - Sheridan

Pre-Romantics (poets) – Blake

Early Romantics (poets) – Wordsworth, Coleridge 

19th Century 

Queen Victoria the 'Victorian Age'

Defeat of Napoleon (1815)


Industrial Revolution

Transport (see above)

Abolition of Slavery / American Civil War

Novelists – Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, the Bronte sisters, George Elliot, Thomas Hardy, Mark Twain (U.S.) Nathaniel Hawthorne (U.S) Rudyard Kipling 

Poets – George, Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, John Keats, Robert & Elizabeth Browning, Tennyson, Rossetti, Matthew Arnold, Thomas Hardy. 

Dramatist – Oscar Wilde 

20th Century 

Empire (Africa, India, etc) and especially the decline of the Empire & the rise of postmodernist philosophy

Tensions in Europe

Womens Suffrage

Novelists – HG Wells, DH Lawrence, James Joyce, Joseph Conrad, Henry James (US)

Poets – Robert Frost (US)

 WORLD WAR ONE 1914-1918

Poets – Sassoon, Owen, Brooke, Rosenberg 

Between the Wars” 1918 – 1939 

Russian Revolution


Women’s Right to Vote 

Novelists – Evelyn Waugh, Graham Greene, Aldous Huxley, F. Scott Fitzgerald (US) John Steinbeck (US), George Orwell, 
Alan Paton

The Depression & Wall Street Crash 

Rise of Fascism 

WORLD WAR TWO (1939-45) 

Beginings of breakup of British Empire (Ghandi) 

Dramatists – GB Shaw, Noel Coward, Tennessee Williams (US)

Poets – TS Eliot, WB Yeats 

The ‘50’s

The Atomic Age

The Cold War

Communist Threat & McCarthyism in the US

Rise of working class literature (Angry Young Men)

Kitchen Sink Drama (British Theatre)

Rock and Roll. Youth Culture. Rebellion. Beatniks

Novelists – JD Salinger (US), also all mentioned above in post war section

Poets – Ginsberg (US) ‘Beat Poets’

Drama – Pinter, Delaney, Arthur Miller (US) 

The 60’s 

Civil Rights & Racial Awareness (esp. in USA) (then watch for the rise of black literary figures & works)

Kennedy Era (USA)

Ban the bomb


‘Swinging Sixties’

Era of Protest

Women’s Liberation / Sexual Revolution/The Pill 

Novelists – Harper Lee (Mockingbird) (USA), Heller (Catch22) (USA) Muriel Spark

Poets – Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath, Philip Larkin, John Betjeman

Drama – Peter Schaffer, Robert Bolt (also see above in 50,s) 

The 70’s 



Computer technology

Belfast ‘troubles’

Cambodia (Killing Fields & Khmer Rouge)

Continuing conflict in Middle East

Growth of ‘Commonwealth Literature’

Investigative journalism (Watergate) 

Novels & Polemical writing – Germaine Greer, Angela Carter, VS Naipaul

Drama – Stoppard, Ayckbourn

Poets – see above 

The 80’s 




Rise of individualism

Also continued progress in communications & technology 

Novels – Margaret Atwood (Canada) Alice Walker (US) Isaac Asimov, Toni Morrison (US) (esp. ‘Beloved’) Julian Barnes, Salman Rushdie

Poets – Tony Harrison, Seamus Heaney 

This list merely offers a flavour of the periods, with mostly ‘mainstream’ writers and many ‘popular’ writers. Your research will enlarge your knowledge of each era. Feel free to include any other names you discover as you search. Feel free, also, to look at the fashions and the music and art of each era, if you have time.

The main thing to remember about this element of the course is that the pre-release material will certainly be compatible - that is whatever is given to you will inform your answer in some way.

  © Val Pope 2002