A Comprehensive Exploration of the History of British Literature for UGC NET English June 2024

Taking a deep dive into British literature is like taking a trip through time; you become entangled in the complex web of literary periods that have shaped the fabric of culture and thought. A thorough understanding of the historical evolution of British literature is essential for navigating the intricacies of the topic and achieving success on the UGC NET English exam. Let’s take a thorough look at each of the key eras that make up the historical development of British literature.

History of British Literature for UGC NET English

Anglo-Saxon Period (450-1066):

The foundation of English literature is the Anglo-Saxon Period. This period, which is characterised by the epic poem “Beowulf,” is reflected in the heroic customs and military attitude of the early Germanic tribes. Written in Old English, this literature includes epic poetry, religious writings, and historical narratives that demonstrate the blending of Christian and pagan components.

Anglo-Norman Period:

Following the Norman Conquest of 1066, the Anglo-Norman period witnessed the infusion of French influences into English literature. French became the language of the ruling class, giving rise to literary works like Marie de France’s “Lais.” Despite the linguistic shift, this period laid the groundwork for the emergence of Middle English literature.

The Age of Chaucer (1350-1500):

Known as the “Father of English Literature,” Geoffrey Chaucer dominated the 14th-century literary canon. His greatest work, “The Canterbury Tales,” uses a variety of narrative techniques and characters to present a comprehensive picture of mediaeval life. The change from Middle English to Early Modern English is perfectly captured in Chaucer’s writings.

The Revival of Learning (1400-1450):

The Renaissance of Learning, typified by a resurgence of interest in classical Greek and Latin literature, occurred in the fifteenth century. This period of intellectual renewal helped humanism flourish and prepared the way for the Renaissance. Renowned individuals such as Sir Thomas Malory, who wrote “Le Morte d’Arthur,” were able to connect the mediaeval and Renaissance eras.

The Age of Elizabeth (1550-1650):

Literature experienced an unprecedented flourishing during the Elizabethan Age, which was typified by the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. Ben Jonson, Christopher Marlowe, and William Shakespeare all wrote masterpieces that tackled the complexity of the human condition. Shakespeare wrote plays like “Othello” and “Hamlet” as well as sonnets that are still regarded as classics.

The Puritan Age/Age of Milton (1620-1660):

John Milton became a prominent figure in literature during the turbulent Puritan period, which was characterised by changes in politics and religion. Milton’s prose works, such as “Areopagitica,” dealt with censorship and free speech, while his epic poem “Paradise Lost” explored complex theological issues.

Restoration Period (1660-1700):

The turbulent English Civil War and the subsequent monarchical establishment were followed by the Restoration era. Drama experienced a renaissance during this period thanks to the writings of Aphra Behn and John Dryden. Because it reflected the social and political shifts of the day, satirical literature flourished.

Augustan Age/18th Century Literature (1700-1800):

The novel became the preeminent literary form in the eighteenth century, also known as the Augustan Age. Classics such as Jonathan Swift’s satirical masterpiece “Gulliver’s Travels” and Daniel Defoe’s “Robinson Crusoe” appeared. Samuel Johnson and other prominent literary critics rose to prominence during this era as well.

The Romantic Period (1798-1850):

The Romantic era exalted emotion, nature, and individualism and was marked by a revolt against the rationalism of the Enlightenment. The sublime in nature was explored by poets like John Keats, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and William Wordsworth. Themes of rebellion and liberty were explored by Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” is regarded as a foundational work.

The Victorian Age (1850-1900):

The British Empire reached its pinnacle during the Victorian era, which also saw significant advancements in technology and society. Novelists such as Charles Dickens, Charlotte Brontë, and Thomas Hardy tackled the social issues arising from industrialization. The novel of manners also came into its own during this time, and Jane Austen’s writings are prime examples.

Age of Modernism (1850-1900):

A break from conventional modes of expression in the early 20th century gave rise to the modernist movement. Literary pieces such as “The Waste Land” by T.S. Eliot and “Mrs. Dalloway” by Virginia Woolf serve as prime examples of experimenting with form and narrative structure. The movement sought to depict the fragmented character of society following World War I.

Postmodern Literature (1939-To Present):

Traditional ideas of narrative and reality are challenged by postmodern literature, which first appeared in the second half of the 20th century and is still in publication today. Authors that tackle identity, gender, and cultural hybridity include Salman Rushdie, Angela Carter, and Jeanette Winterson. Postmodern literature’s genre-bending pieces defy easy classification.

Preparing for UGC NET English:

Candidates for UGC NET English must be able to navigate the many currents of British literary history with effectiveness. The following are essential tactics to help you prepare well:

Chronological Mastery:

Gain a thorough understanding of each literary era’s chronology, which will serve as a basis for placing works in their historical context.

Thematic Exploration:

Determine the overarching themes and traits of each historical period, providing an understanding of the social and cultural forces influencing the creation of literature.

In-depth Analysis of Representative Works:

To improve understanding, examine key works from each era and analyse the themes, literary devices, and sociocultural settings.

Historical and Cultural Contextualization:

To improve analytical skills, make connections between literary works and the intellectual, cultural, and historical contexts in which they were created.

Critical Engagement:

To deepen your understanding, become acquainted with the interpretations and analyses offered by literary critics and engage with critical perspectives related to each era.

Comparative Analysis:

For a comprehensive grasp of the development of British literature, compare and contrast various eras, identifying continuity and discontinuity in literary traditions.

Practice with Past Question Papers:

Use previous UGC NET English practise exams to become comfortable with the format of the test and hone your response skills for questions about various historical eras.

Collaborative Learning:

Take part in online forums or study groups and hold discussions regarding the evolution of British literature over time. Gaining knowledge through collaboration broadens your horizons and opens your eyes to new ideas.


In summary, the history of British literature is a vast tapestry that captures the ups and downs of intellectual, social, and cultural currents over many centuries. This trip through time is more than just an academic exercise for UGC NET English candidates; it’s a means of deciphering the subtleties of literary expression and comprehending the complex interplay between literature and the historical forces that influence it. Aspiring scholars can succeed in the UGC NET English exam and navigate the vast terrain of British literary history by approaching this historical odyssey with curiosity, diligence, and a discerning eye.

Happy Reading

Read More : Ugc Net English Syllabus-British Literature

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