Encyclopedia Britannica

  • Entertainment & Pop Culture
  • Geography & Travel
  • Health & Medicine
  • Lifestyles & Social Issues
  • Philosophy & Religion
  • Politics, Law & Government
  • Sports & Recreation
  • Visual Arts
  • World History
  • On This Day in History
  • Biographies
  • Top Questions
  • Week In Review
  • Infographics
  • Demystified
  • Image Galleries
  • One Good Fact
  • Britannica Explains In these videos, Britannica explains a variety of topics and answers frequently asked questions.
  • Britannica Classics Check out these retro videos from Encyclopedia Britannica’s archives.
  • #WTFact Videos In #WTFact Britannica shares some of the most bizarre facts we can find.
  • This Time in History In these videos, find out what happened this month (or any month!) in history.
  • Demystified Videos In Demystified, Britannica has all the answers to your burning questions.
  • Student Portal Britannica is the ultimate student resource for key school subjects like history, government, literature, and more.
  • COVID-19 Portal While this global health crisis continues to evolve, it can be useful to look to past pandemics to better understand how to respond today.
  • 100 Women Britannica celebrates the centennial of the Nineteenth Amendment, highlighting suffragists and history-making politicians.
  • Britannica Beyond We’ve created a new place where questions are at the center of learning. Go ahead. Ask. We won’t mind.
  • Saving Earth Britannica Presents Earth’s To-Do List for the 21st Century. Learn about the major environmental problems facing our planet and what can be done about them!
  • SpaceNext50 Britannica presents SpaceNext50, From the race to the Moon to space stewardship, we explore a wide range of subjects that feed our curiosity about space!

12 Novels Considered the “Greatest Book Ever Written”

The curation of this content is at the discretion of the author, and not necessarily reflective of the views of Encyclopaedia Britannica or its editorial staff. For the most accurate and up-to-date information, consult individual encyclopedia entries about the topics.

Close up of books. Stack of books, pile of books, literature, reading. Homepage 2010, arts and entertainment, history and society

Literary critics, historians, avid readers, and even casual readers will all have different opinions on which novel is truly the “greatest book ever written.” Is it a novel with beautiful, captivating figurative language? Or one with gritty realism? A novel that has had an immense social impact? Or one that has more subtly affected the world? Here is a list of 12 novels that, for various reasons, have been considered some of the greatest works of literature ever written.

Anna Karenina

Anna Karenina (1935) Actress Greta Garbo as Anna Karenina in a scene from the film directed by Clarence Brown. Movie. Leo Tolstoy

Any fan of stories that involve juicy subjects like adultery, gambling, marriage plots, and, well, Russian feudalism, would instantly place Anna Karenina at the peak of their “greatest novels” list. And that’s exactly the ranking that publications like Time magazine have given the novel since it was published in its entirety in 1878. Written by Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy , the eight-part towering work of fiction tells the story of two major characters: a tragic, disenchanted housewife, the titular Anna , who runs off with her young lover, and a lovestruck landowner named Konstantin Levin , who struggles in faith and philosophy. Tolstoy molds together thoughtful discussions on love, pain, and family in Russian society with a sizable cast of characters regarded for their realistic humanity. The novel was especially revolutionary in its treatment of women, depicting prejudices and social hardships of the time with vivid emotion.

To Kill a Mockingbird

Book cover (circa 2015?) To Kill A Mockingbird By Harper Lee. Hardcover book first published July 11, 1960. Novel won 1961 Pulitzer Prize. Later made into an Academy Award winning film.

Harper Lee , believed to be one of the most influential authors to have ever existed, famously published only a single novel (up until its controversial sequel was published in 2015 just before her death). Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird was published in 1960 and became an immediate classic of literature. The novel examines racism in the American South through the innocent wide eyes of a clever young girl named Jean Louise (“Scout”) Finch. Its iconic characters, most notably the sympathetic and just lawyer and father Atticus Finch, served as role models and changed perspectives in the United States at a time when tensions regarding race were high. To Kill a Mockingbird earned the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1961 and was made into an Academy Award-winning film in 1962 , giving the story and its characters further life and influence over the American social sphere.

The Great Gatsby

F. Scott Fitzgerald

F. Scott Fitzgerald ’s The Great Gatsby is distinguished as one of the greatest texts for introducing students to the art of reading literature critically (which means you may have read it in school). The novel is told from the perspective of a young man named Nick Carraway who has recently moved to New York City and is befriended by his eccentric nouveau riche neighbor with mysterious origins, Jay Gatsby . The Great Gatsby provides an insider’s look into the Jazz Age of the 1920s in United States history while at the same time critiquing the idea of the “American Dream.” Perhaps the most famous aspect of the novel is its cover art—a piercing face projected onto a dark blue night sky and lights from a cityscape—an image that is also found, in a slightly different configuration, within the text itself as a key symbol.

One Hundred Years of Solitude

Garcia Marquez, 1982.

The late Colombian author Gabriel García Márquez published his most famous work, One Hundred Years of Solitude , in 1967. The novel tells the story of seven generations of the Buendía family and follows the establishment of their town Macondo until its destruction along with the last of the family’s descendents. In fantastical form, the novel explores the genre of magic realism by emphasizing the extraordinary nature of commonplace things while mystical things are shown to be common. Márquez highlights the prevalence and power of myth and folktale in relating history and Latin American culture. The novel won many awards for Márquez, leading the way to his eventual honor of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982 for his entire body of work, of which One Hundred Years of Solitude is often lauded as his most triumphant.

A Passage to India

Still from a passage to india, 1984, directed by David Lean. Judy Davis as Adela Quested and Victor Banerjee

E.M. Forster wrote his novel A Passage to India after multiple trips to the country throughout his early life. The book was published in 1924 and follows a Muslim Indian doctor named Aziz and his relationships with an English professor, Cyril Fielding, and a visiting English schoolteacher named Adela Quested . When Adela believes that Aziz has assaulted her while on a trip to the Marabar caves near the fictional city of Chandrapore, where the story is set, tensions between the Indian community and the colonial British community rise. The possibility of friendship and connection between English and Indian people, despite their cultural differences and imperial tensions, is explored in the conflict. The novel’s colorful descriptions of nature, the landscape of India, and the figurative power that they are given within the text solidifies it as a great work of fiction.

Invisible Man

Head and shoulders portrait of American author Ralph Ellison, 1952. Photograph taken in advance of publication of his novel, "Invisible Man."

Often confused with H.G. Wells’s science-fiction novella of nearly the same name (just subtract a “The”), Ralph Ellison ’s Invisible Man is a groundbreaking novel in the expression of identity for the African American male. The narrator of the novel, a man who is never named but believes he is “invisible” to others socially, tells the story of his move from the South to college and then to New York City. In each location he faces extreme adversity and discrimination, falling into and out of work, relationships, and questionable social movements in a wayward and ethereal mindset. The novel is renowned for its surreal and experimental style of writing that explores the symbolism surrounding African American identity and culture. Invisible Man won the U.S. National Book Award for Fiction in 1953.

Don Quixote

Don Quixote (right) and his servant Sancho Panza are pictured in an illustration from the book The History of Don Quixote, Volume 1, Complete by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra. 1880 edition of J. W. Clark with illustrations by Gustave Dore.

Miguel de Cervantes ’s Don Quixote , perhaps the most influential and well-known work of Spanish literature, was first published in full in 1615. The novel, which is very regularly regarded as one of the best literary works of all time, tells the story of a man who takes the name “Don Quixote de la Mancha” and sets off in a fit of obsession over romantic novels about chivalry to revive the custom and become a hero himself. The character of Don Quixote has become an idol and somewhat of an archetypal character, influencing many major works of art, music, and literature since the novel’s publication. The text has been so influential that a word, quixotic , based on the Don Quixote character, was created to describe someone who is, “foolishly impractical especially in the pursuit of ideals; especially: marked by rash lofty romantic ideas or extravagantly chivalrous action.”

American author Toni Morrison at her upstate New York home, c. 1980-87.

Toni Morrison ’s 1987 spiritual and haunting novel Beloved tells the story of an escaped slave named Sethe who has fled to Cincinnati, Ohio, in the year 1873. The novel investigates the trauma of slavery even after freedom has been gained, depicting Sethe’s guilt and emotional pain after having killed her own child, whom she named Beloved, to keep her from living life as a slave. A spectral figure appears in the lives of the characters and goes by the same name as the child, embodying the family’s anguish and hardship and making their feelings and past unavoidable. The novel was lauded for addressing the psychological effects of slavery and the importance of family and community in healing. Beloved was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1988.

Mrs. Dalloway

An undated photo of Virginia Woolf a British author and member of the intelligentsia circle known as the Bloomsbury Group.

Possibly the most idiosyncratic novel of this list, Virginia Woolf ’s Mrs. Dalloway describes exactly one day in the life of a British socialite named Clarissa Dalloway. Using a combination of a third-person narration and the thoughts of various characters, the novel uses a stream-of-consciousness style all the way through. The result of this style is a deeply personal and revealing look into the characters’ minds, with the novel relying heavily on character rather than plot to tell its story. The thoughts of the characters include constant regrets and thoughts of the past, their struggles with mental illness and post-traumatic stress from World War I, and the effect of social pressures. The novel’s unique style, subject, and time setting make it one of the most respected and regarded works of all time.

Things Fall Apart

Albert Chinualumogu Achebe, November 16 1930 - March 21, 2013 a Nigerian novelist, poet, professor, and critic

The Western canon of “great literature” often focuses on writers who come from North America or Europe and often ignores accomplished writers and amazing works of literature from other parts of the world. Chinua Achebe ’s Things Fall Apart , published in 1958, is one such work of Nigerian literature that had to overcome the bias of some literary circles and one that has been able to gain recognition worldwide despite it. The novel follows an Igbo man named Okonkwo, describing his family, the village in Nigeria where he lives, and the effects of British colonialism on his native country. The novel is an example of African postcolonial literature, a genre that has grown in size and recognition since the mid-1900s as African people have been able to share their often unheard stories of imperialism from the perspective of the colonized. The novel is frequently assigned for reading in courses on world literature and African studies.

Illustration by Fritz Eichenberg for an American edition of "Jane Eyre."

Charlotte Brontë ’s Jane Eyre , another novel often assigned for reading in school, was initially published in 1847 under the pseudonym Currer Bell to disguise the fact that the writer was a woman. Fortunately, a lot has changed with regard to women in literature since 1847, and Brontë now receives the credit she deserves for one of the most groundbreaking novels about women in history. At a time when the author felt compelled to hide her true identity, Jane Eyre provided a story of individualism for women. The novel’s eponymous character rises from being orphaned and poor into a successful and independent woman. The work combines themes from both Gothic and Victorian literature, revolutionizing the art of the novel by focusing on the growth in Jane’s sensibility with internalized action and writing.

The Color Purple

Author Alice Walker attends the opening of "The Color Purple" at the Broadway Theatre December 1, 2005 in New York City. Writer novelist

Though the epistolary novel (a novel in the form of letters written by one or more characters) was most popular before the 19th century, Alice Walker became a champion of the style with her 1982 novel The Color Purple , which won a Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award . Set in the post-Civil War American South, the novel follows a young African American girl named Celie into adulthood in letters she writes to God and to her sister Nettie. Celie faces sexual abuse by her father and eventually her husband, chronicling her own suffering and growth as well as that of her friends and family. The novel explores themes of sexism, racism, gender, sexual orientation, and disability through its grouping of disadvantaged and damaged characters who, over time, grow to shape their own lives. The story was adapted into an Academy Award-nominated film in 1985 that, despite widespread critical acclaim, was notoriously snubbed of all 11 awards it was nominated for.

Read on

The 100 best novels written in English: the full list

After two years of careful consideration, Robert McCrum has reached a verdict on his selection of the 100 greatest novels written in English. Take a look at his list

1. The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan (1678)

A story of a man in search of truth told with the simple clarity and beauty of Bunyan’s prose make this the ultimate English classic.

2. Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe (1719)

By the end of the 19th century, no book in English literary history had enjoyed more editions, spin-offs and translations. Crusoe’s world-famous novel is a complex literary confection, and it’s irresistible.

3. Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift (1726)

A satirical masterpiece that’s never been out of print, Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels comes third in our list of the best novels written in English

4. Clarissa by Samuel Richardson (1748)

Clarissa is a tragic heroine, pressured by her unscrupulous nouveau-riche family to marry a wealthy man she detests, in the book that Samuel Johnson described as “the first book in the world for the knowledge it displays of the human heart.”

5. Tom Jones by Henry Fielding (1749)

Tom Jones is a classic English novel that captures the spirit of its age and whose famous characters have come to represent Augustan society in all its loquacious, turbulent, comic variety.

6. The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne (1759)

Laurence Sterne’s vivid novel caused delight and consternation when it first appeared and has lost little of its original bite.

7. Emma by Jane Austen (1816)

Jane Austen’s Emma is her masterpiece, mixing the sparkle of her early books with a deep sensibility.

8. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (1818)

Mary Shelley’s first novel has been hailed as a masterpiece of horror and the macabre.

9. Nightmare Abbey by Thomas Love Peacock (1818)

The great pleasure of Nightmare Abbey, which was inspired by Thomas Love Peacock ’s friendship with Shelley , lies in the delight the author takes in poking fun at the romantic movement.

10. The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket by Edgar Allan Poe (1838)

Edgar Allan Poe’s only novel – a classic adventure story with supernatural elements – has fascinated and influenced generations of writers.

11. Sybil by Benjamin Disraeli (1845)

The future prime minister displayed flashes of brilliance that equalled the greatest Victorian novelists.

A whirlwind success … Jane Eyre

12. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (1847)

Charlotte Brontë’s erotic, gothic masterpiece became the sensation of Victorian England. Its great breakthrough was its intimate dialogue with the reader.

13. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë (1847)

Emily Brontë’s windswept masterpiece is notable not just for its wild beauty but for its daring reinvention of the novel form itself.

14. Vanity Fair by William Thackeray (1848)

William Thackeray’s masterpiece, set in Regency England, is a bravura performance by a writer at the top of his game.

15. David Copperfield by Charles Dickens (1850)

David Copperfield marked the point at which Dickens became the great entertainer and also laid the foundations for his later, darker masterpieces.

16. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne (1850)

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s astounding book is full of intense symbolism and as haunting as anything by Edgar Allan Poe.

17. Moby-Dick by Herman Melville (1851)

Wise, funny and gripping, Melville’s epic work continues to cast a long shadow over American literature.

18. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (1865)

Lewis Carroll’s brilliant nonsense tale is one of the most influential and best loved in the English canon.

19. The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins (1868)

Wilkie Collins’s masterpiece, hailed by many as the greatest English detective novel, is a brilliant marriage of the sensational and the realistic.

20. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (1868-9)

Louisa May Alcott’s highly original tale aimed at a young female market has iconic status in America and never been out of print.

21. Middlemarch by George Eliot (1871-2)

This cathedral of words stands today as perhaps the greatest of the great Victorian fictions.

22. The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope (1875)

Inspired by the author’s fury at the corrupt state of England, and dismissed by critics at the time, The Way We Live Now is recognised as Trollope’s masterpiece.

23. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (1884/5)

Mark Twain’s tale of a rebel boy and a runaway slave seeking liberation upon the waters of the Mississippi remains a defining classic of American literature.

24. Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson (1886)

A thrilling adventure story, gripping history and fascinating study of the Scottish character, Kidnapped has lost none of its power.

25. Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K Jerome (1889)

Jerome K Jerome’s accidental classic about messing about on the Thames remains a comic gem.

26. The Sign of Four by Arthur Conan Doyle (1890)

Sherlock Holmes’s second outing sees Conan Doyle’s brilliant sleuth – and his bluff sidekick Watson – come into their own.

Helmut Berger and Richard Todd in the 1970 adaptation of The Picture of Dorian Gray.

27. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (1891)

Wilde’s brilliantly allusive moral tale of youth, beauty and corruption was greeted with howls of protest on publication.

28. New Grub Street by George Gissing (1891)

George Gissing’s portrayal of the hard facts of a literary life remains as relevant today as it was in the late 19th century.

29. Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy (1895)

Hardy exposed his deepest feelings in this bleak, angry novel and, stung by the hostile response, he never wrote another.

30. The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane (1895)

Stephen Crane’s account of a young man’s passage to manhood through soldiery is a blueprint for the great American war novel.

31. Dracula by Bram Stoker (1897)

Bram Stoker’s classic vampire story was very much of its time but still resonates more than a century later.

32. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (1899)

Joseph Conrad’s masterpiece about a life-changing journey in search of Mr Kurtz has the simplicity of great myth.

33. Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser (1900)

Theodore Dreiser was no stylist, but there’s a terrific momentum to his unflinching novel about a country girl’s American dream.

34. Kim by Rudyard Kipling (1901)

In Kipling’s classic boy’s own spy story, an orphan in British India must make a choice between east and west.

35. The Call of the Wild by Jack London (1903)

Jack London’s vivid adventures of a pet dog that goes back to nature reveal an extraordinary style and consummate storytelling.

36. The Golden Bowl by Henry James (1904)

American literature contains nothing else quite like Henry James’s amazing, labyrinthine and claustrophobic novel.

37. Hadrian the Seventh by Frederick Rolfe (1904)

This entertaining if contrived story of a hack writer and priest who becomes pope sheds vivid light on its eccentric author – described by DH Lawrence as a “man-demon”.

38. The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame (1908)

The evergreen tale from the riverbank and a powerful contribution to the mythology of Edwardian England.

39. The History of Mr Polly by HG Wells (1910)

The choice is great, but Wells’s ironic portrait of a man very like himself is the novel that stands out.

40. Zuleika Dobson by Max Beerbohm (1911)

The passage of time has conferred a dark power upon Beerbohm’s ostensibly light and witty Edwardian satire.

41. The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford (1915)

Ford’s masterpiece is a searing study of moral dissolution behind the facade of an English gentleman – and its stylistic influence lingers to this day.

42. The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan (1915)

John Buchan’s espionage thriller, with its sparse, contemporary prose, is hard to put down.

43. The Rainbow by DH Lawrence (1915)

The Rainbow is perhaps DH Lawrence’s finest work, showing him for the radical, protean, thoroughly modern writer he was.

44. Of Human Bondage by W Somerset Maugham (1915)

Somerset Maugham’s semi-autobiographical novel shows the author’s savage honesty and gift for storytelling at their best.

45. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton (1920)

The story of a blighted New York marriage stands as a fierce indictment of a society estranged from culture.

46. Ulysses by James Joyce (1922)

This portrait of a day in the lives of three Dubliners remains a towering work, in its word play surpassing even Shakespeare.

47. Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis (1922)

What it lacks in structure and guile, this enthralling take on 20s America makes up for in vivid satire and characterisation.

48. A Passage to India by EM Forster (1924)

EM Forster’s most successful work is eerily prescient on the subject of empire.

49. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes by Anita Loos (1925)

A guilty pleasure it may be, but it is impossible to overlook the enduring influence of a tale that helped to define the jazz age.

50. Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf (1925)

Woolf’s great novel makes a day of party preparations the canvas for themes of lost love, life choices and mental illness.

Carey Mulligan and Leonardo DiCaprio in The Great Gatsby

51. The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald (1925)

Fitzgerald’s jazz age masterpiece has become a tantalising metaphor for the eternal mystery of art.

52. Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner (1926)

A young woman escapes convention by becoming a witch in this original satire about England after the first world war.

53. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway (1926)

Hemingway’s first and best novel makes an escape to 1920s Spain to explore courage, cowardice and manly authenticity.

54. The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett (1929)

Dashiell Hammett’s crime thriller and its hard-boiled hero Sam Spade influenced everyone from Chandler to Le Carré.

55. As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner (1930)

The influence of William Faulkner’s immersive tale of raw Mississippi rural life can be felt to this day.

56. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (1932)

Aldous Huxley’s vision of a future human race controlled by global capitalism is every bit as prescient as Orwell’s more famous dystopia.

57. Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons (1932)

The book for which Gibbons is best remembered was a satire of late-Victorian pastoral fiction but went on to influence many subsequent generations.

58. Nineteen Nineteen by John Dos Passos (1932)

The middle volume of John Dos Passos’s USA trilogy is revolutionary in its intent, techniques and lasting impact.

59. Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller (1934)

The US novelist’s debut revelled in a Paris underworld of seedy sex and changed the course of the novel – though not without a fight with the censors.

60. Scoop by Evelyn Waugh (1938)

Evelyn Waugh’s Fleet Street satire remains sharp, pertinent and memorable.

61. Murphy by Samuel Beckett (1938)

Samuel Beckett’s first published novel is an absurdist masterpiece, a showcase for his uniquely comic voice.

Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall in The Big Sleep.

62. The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler (1939)

Raymond Chandler’s hardboiled debut brings to life the seedy LA underworld – and Philip Marlowe, the archetypal fictional detective.

63. Party Going by Henry Green (1939)

Set on the eve of war, this neglected modernist masterpiece centres on a group of bright young revellers delayed by fog.

64. At Swim-Two-Birds by Flann O’Brien (1939)

Labyrinthine and multilayered, Flann O’Brien’s humorous debut is both a reflection on, and an exemplar of, the Irish novel.

65. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (1939)

One of the greatest of great American novels, this study of a family torn apart by poverty and desperation in the Great Depression shocked US society.

66. Joy in the Morning by PG Wodehouse (1946)

PG Wodehouse’s elegiac Jeeves novel, written during his disastrous years in wartime Germany, remains his masterpiece.

67. All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren (1946)

A compelling story of personal and political corruption, set in the 1930s in the American south.

68. Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry (1947)

Malcolm Lowry’s masterpiece about the last hours of an alcoholic ex-diplomat in Mexico is set to the drumbeat of coming conflict.

69. The Heat of the Day by Elizabeth Bowen (1948)

Elizabeth Bowen’s 1948 novel perfectly captures the atmosphere of London during the blitz while providing brilliant insights into the human heart.

Richard Burton and John Hurt in Nineteen Eighty-four

70. Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell (1949)

George Orwell’s dystopian classic cost its author dear but is arguably the best-known novel in English of the 20th century.

71. The End of the Affair by Graham Greene (1951)

Graham Greene’s moving tale of adultery and its aftermath ties together several vital strands in his work.

72. The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger (1951)

JD Salinger’s study of teenage rebellion remains one of the most controversial and best-loved American novels of the 20th century.

73. The Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow (1953)

In the long-running hunt to identify the great American novel, Saul Bellow’s picaresque third book frequently hits the mark.

74. Lord of the Flies by William Golding (1954)

Dismissed at first as “rubbish & dull”, Golding’s brilliantly observed dystopian desert island tale has since become a classic.

75. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (1955)

Nabokov’s tragicomic tour de force crosses the boundaries of good taste with glee.

76. On the Road by Jack Kerouac (1957)

The creative history of Kerouac’s beat-generation classic, fuelled by pea soup and benzedrine, has become as famous as the novel itself.

77. Voss by Patrick White (1957)

A love story set against the disappearance of an explorer in the outback, Voss paved the way for a generation of Australian writers to shrug off the colonial past.

78. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960)

Her second novel finally arrived this summer , but Harper Lee’s first did enough alone to secure her lasting fame, and remains a truly popular classic.

79. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark (1960)

Short and bittersweet, Muriel Spark’s tale of the downfall of a Scottish schoolmistress is a masterpiece of narrative fiction.

80. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (1961)

This acerbic anti-war novel was slow to fire the public imagination, but is rightly regarded as a groundbreaking critique of military madness.

81. The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing (1962)

Hailed as one of the key texts of the women’s movement of the 1960s, this study of a divorced single mother’s search for personal and political identity remains a defiant, ambitious tour de force.

Malcolm Macdowell in A Clockwork Orange

82. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess (1962)

Anthony Burgess’s dystopian classic still continues to startle and provoke, refusing to be outshone by Stanley Kubrick’s brilliant film adaptation.

83. A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood (1964)

Christopher Isherwood’s story of a gay Englishman struggling with bereavement in LA is a work of compressed brilliance.

84. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote (1966)

Truman Capote’s non-fiction novel, a true story of bloody murder in rural Kansas, opens a window on the dark underbelly of postwar America.

85. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath (1966)

Sylvia Plath’s painfully graphic roman à clef, in which a woman struggles with her identity in the face of social pressure, is a key text of Anglo-American feminism.

86. Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth (1969)

This wickedly funny novel about a young Jewish American’s obsession with masturbation caused outrage on publication, but remains his most dazzling work.

87. Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont by Elizabeth Taylor (1971)

Elizabeth Taylor’s exquisitely drawn character study of eccentricity in old age is a sharp and witty portrait of genteel postwar English life facing the changes taking shape in the 60s.

88. Rabbit Redux by John Updike (1971)

Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom, Updike’s lovably mediocre alter ego, is one of America’s great literary protoganists, up there with Huck Finn and Jay Gatsby.

89. Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison (1977)

The novel with which the Nobel prize-winning author established her name is a kaleidoscopic evocation of the African-American experience in the 20th century.

90. A Bend in the River by VS Naipaul (1979)

VS Naipaul’s hellish vision of an African nation’s path to independence saw him accused of racism, but remains his masterpiece.

91. Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie (1981)

The personal and the historical merge in Salman Rushdie’s dazzling, game-changing Indian English novel of a young man born at the very moment of Indian independence.

92. Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson (1981)

Marilynne Robinson’s tale of orphaned sisters and their oddball aunt in a remote Idaho town is admired by everyone from Barack Obama to Bret Easton Ellis.

Nick Frost as John Self Martin Amis's Money.

93. Money: A Suicide Note by Martin Amis (1984)

Martin Amis’s era-defining ode to excess unleashed one of literature’s greatest modern monsters in self-destructive antihero John Self.

94. An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro (1986)

Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel about a retired artist in postwar Japan, reflecting on his career during the country’s dark years, is a tour de force of unreliable narration.

95. The Beginning of Spring by Penelope Fitzgerald (1988)

Fitzgerald’s story, set in Russia just before the Bolshevik revolution, is her masterpiece: a brilliant miniature whose peculiar magic almost defies analysis.

96. Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler (1988)

Anne Tyler’s portrayal of a middle-aged, mid-American marriage displays her narrative clarity, comic timing and ear for American speech to perfection.

97. Amongst Women by John McGahern (1990)

This modern Irish masterpiece is both a study of the faultlines of Irish patriarchy and an elegy for a lost world.

98. Underworld by Don DeLillo (1997)

A writer of “frightening perception”, Don DeLillo guides the reader in an epic journey through America’s history and popular culture.

99. Disgrace by JM Coetzee (1999)

In his Booker-winning masterpiece, Coetzee’s intensely human vision infuses a fictional world that both invites and confounds political interpretation.

100. True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey (2000)

Peter Carey rounds off our list of literary milestones with a Booker prize-winning tour-de-force examining the life and times of Australia’s infamous antihero, Ned Kelly.

Most viewed

You're back! Log in to see your past and present bookings.

The 10 greatest classic british novelists.

Books, books & books

Cookies Policy

We and our partners use cookies to better understand your needs, improve performance and provide you with personalised content and advertisements. To allow us to provide a better and more tailored experience please click "OK"

UK 49's Teatime Results

17 Famous Writers in English Literature You Should Learn From

' src=

17 Famous Writers

Here are 17 successful writers across various literary genres that you should aspire to emulate:

William Shakespeare

An Iconic poet and playwright, Shakespeare is revered for his contribution to literature and also regarded as one of the pioneering writers in the modern age. His works remain relevant today and his writing style is widely studied by both academics and literary enthusiasts.

Jonathan Swift

Famous for creating fascinating pieces of literature like the adventure masterpiece, Gulliver Travels, Swift is an acclaimed author as well as a satirist who excelled in incorporating thought provoking humor into his works.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Known for creating perhaps the most iconic detective character in literature, Doyle remains a point of reference for writers looking to branch into the detective mystery genre. His Sherlock Holmes collections are and will always be groundbreaking pieces of literature in the popular genre.

Who else is a better inspiration for a newbie in writing if not the man highly regarded as the “father of American Literature?” Works of literature that has seen Mark Twain elevated to this impressive status include Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

Victor Hugo

Known as one of literature’s all-time greats, Victor Hugo’s works are both mesmerizing and impeccable, leading to their adaptation to other art forms. Classics like Les Misérables and Notre-Dame de Paris remain relevant today and have been consumed by millions across the world.

Jane Austen

She is an English author renowned for writing timeless pieces like Emma, Pride and Prejudice, and of course, Sense and Sensibility. Her writing style incorporates social commentary into compelling forms of romantic fiction.

Charles Dickens

A social critic as well as an outstanding writer, Charles Dickens is hailed as a master storyteller who is able to use important social issues as the focal point of a literary plot. Literary pieces like David Copperfield and Oliver Twist are among his best works and are very relevant in today’s social terrain.

J.R.R. Tolkien

One of the birthing fathers of the epic fantasy genre, Tolkien is a source of inspiration for aspiring writers in the genre as well as other famous writers like Patrick Rothfuss and Brandon Sanderson. His Lord of the Rings series has entertained fans across the globe whether in literary or cinematic form.

F. Scott Fitzgerald

He is one of America’s greatest literary products. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s works are centered on American values and materialism. The Great Gatsby remains one of America’s best modern classics while “Tender is the Night” is also another well respected work of his.


No other author in recent times has made as much impact in the Middle School/Young Adult Fantasy genre as J.K.Rowling. Her Harry Potter series have transformed from a collection of 6 enchanting books to a multi-billion franchise. Her success can be linked to her ability to create a fascinating yet believable world with the most modest of prose you will ever encounter in literature.

Stephen King

Stephen King isn’t just a renowned best-selling author, he is a writer who is capable of making the most bizarre of literary plots believable. His ability to also write across multiple genres is another attribute only few can replicate. His famous works include The Shining, Pet Cemetery, It, and Salem’s Lot.

George R.R Martin

There are only few famous writers in the fantasy genre that can try to match the legacy of Tolkien, and G.R.R Martin certainly ranks high among those writers. His epic fantasy masterpiece, A Song of Ice and Fire, is a fascinating example of how to incorporate numerous important characters into a fantasy book and still make it engaging.

Douglas Adams

Douglas Adams’ best-selling sci-fi adventure novel, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, is a template for aspiring writers who wish to excel in the sci-fi genre. Adams, who is renowned for his humorous writing style and near-factual depiction of sci-fi elements, is indeed one of the shining lights in modern sci-fi and also one of the best to learn from if you want to hone your skills in the craft.

There are only few writers that can stand on the same pedestal as Roald Dahl in children’s literature. His works incorporate modern settings with bewildering fantasy elements, which helps readers apply imagination creatively. Literary classics like James and the Giant Peach, The BFG, and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory remain relevant even today and some have been adapted to the big screens.

George Orwell

Orwell is widely known for producing one of the most engaging literary pieces with political undertone. His incredible masterpiece, Animal Farm, remains relevant today as a representation of various political dynamics presently in play.

Ernest Hemingway

Not many writers have a writing app named after them, which is why Hemingway isn’t just a famous writer but an icon in modern literature. Renowned for writing with prose that is both subtle and effective, he is the focal point of many writing courses offered today. If you want to excel in the craft, then Hemingway is one writer you must learn from.

Lexis Carroll

Despite being an accomplished mathematician, Lexis Carroll succeeded in making a name for himself in literature with amazing literary pieces that are imaginative and engaging. Thanks to his creative writing style, the literary world is blessed with famous works like Alice in Wonderland, Through the Looking Glass, and of course, some of the finest poetry ever written.

If you want to be the best in writing, you must learn from the best in the craft. And these 17 famous writers are rank up there as the greatest authors the literary world has ever seen.

' src=

Add comment

Cancel reply.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed .

english literature important writers

Common Sports Betting Mistakes to Avoid

You may be new to the world of sports betting and don’t want to lose a lot of money, or you’re a seasoned bettor looking to step up your game. Whatever the case, you can’t just jump into it like a bull...

english literature important writers

Where’s Best For You To Play Your First Game of Poker?

Every pro poker player had to start their playing career somewhere. Whether this has been a first-time, basement game with your closest friends, or you are finally of age to create your online betting account and you...

english literature important writers


Many misconceptions are circulating about betting in South Africa due to the 2004 National Gambling Act – one of these misconceptions is that the Act has completely ruined gambling in South Africa. This is not...

DMCA.com Protection Status

Recent Posts

Recent Comments

No Sweat Shakespeare

Famous Authors: The 30 Greatest Writers Of All Time

Who are the most  most famous authors the world has ever known ? Perhaps that’s not the real question: we should instead be asking, ‘how can we judge’? With that in mind one can begin to talk about criteria. One can think about which famous writers had the most influence on the world as a result of what they wrote, or how their writings changed the world.

We don’t necessarily have to talk about their writing style or how good their prose is, as that is, in any case, far too subjective: their greatness could simply be about their ideas – ideas that grab the attention of the world and change the world’s perceptions forever. In that case the writing would only be a vehicle for the transmission of the idea they wish to convey. That idea or theory or research is the reason for writing the book.

And then, particularly if we are including Shakespeare as one of the influential writers, we need to look at what kind of writing we are talking about. Shakespeare falls into the fiction writer category and so, perhaps, to find our best writers we should look at other fiction writers whose work had something like the influence of William Shakespeare’s. It should therefore be clear that our list of the thirty greatest writers are all fiction writers. Our criterion will be that they should be poets, dramatists and prose fiction writers who have had a significant influence on the writers who came after them or on the direction of society.

But who, apart from Shakespeare, are the greatest writers of all time? Without further ado, here is a list of thirty of the greatest writers of all time offered by NoSweatShakespeare. It would be impossible to rank them so they are listed in order of their birth dates:

Homer ~850 BCE


Sophocles 496-406 BCE


Virgil (Publius Vergilius Maro) 70 BCE – 19 BCE


The Evangelist, Mark (Author of the Gospel of St Mark) 1st Century CE


Dante (Durante degli Alighieri) 1265-1321


Geoffrey Chaucer 1343-1400

Famous Authors: The 30 Greatest Writers Of All Time 1

Francois Rabelais 1498-1553


Cervantes (Miguel de Cervantes Cortinas) 1547-1616


John Donne 1572-1631

John Donne

John Milton 1608-1674

John Milton portrait

John Bunyan (1628-1688)


Voltaire (François-Marie Arouet) 1694-1778


William Blake 1757-1827

William Blake portrait Blake portrait

Jane Austen 1775 – 1817

Jane Austin

Hans Christian Andersen 1805-1875


Hans Christian Andersen was a Danish playwright, travel writer, poet, novelist and story writer. His fairy tales place him as one of the world’s greatest writers ever. Written basically for children they transcend age barriers because of their universal nature: they reach the deepest levels of the human condition, each story demonstrating something profound about what it means to be a human being… Read more on Hans Christian Anderson >>

Charles Dickens 1812-1870

Charles Dickens photograph

Herman Melville 1819-1891


Gustave Flaubert 1821-1880


Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoyevsky 1821-1881


Jules Verne 1828-1905


Leo Tolstoy (Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy) 1828-1910


Emily Dickinson 1830-1886


Unknown as a poet during her lifetime, Emily Dickinson is now regarded by many as one of the most powerful voices of American culture. Her poetry has inspired many other writers, including the Brontes. In 1994 the critic, Harold Bloom, listed her among the twenty-six central writers of Western civilization.  After she died her sister found the almost two thousand poems the poet had written… Read Emily Dickinson quotes . Read more on Emily Dickinson >>

Lewis Carroll (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) 1832-1898


James Joyce 1882-1941


Franz Kafka 1883-1924


T.S. Eliot 1888-1965

F scott fitzgerald 1896-1940.


Jorge Luis Borges 1899-1986


George Orwell 1903-1950

George Orwell photo

Gabriel Garcia Marques 1927-2014

Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Like our list of the thirty greatest writers of all time? Any we’re missing? Check out our list of famous English writers , and most famous American authors .

Fiction writers do not write to transmit an idea or report on research they have done. They use language to make us think that their inventions are real, that the places they create actually exist and that their characters are real people, like us, who love and hate and suffer and strive. They invite us to enter into the world of their text and although they usually write only to entertain, there is a sense in that they point to truths just as real as those reached by Darwin and Einstein. If they do that at the highest level, in creating a world that we both recognise and can be inspired by, they reveal themselves as great writers and influence the world in that way. Like Shakespeare.

So who are these writers who can be placed in the same category as Shakespeare for doing that? Shakespeare is, of course, foremost among the great writers. Apart from writing plays that can be held up like mirrors in which we can see ourselves as human beings clearly, and come to an understanding of many of the things that make us human, Shakespeare’s poetry has had a profound effect on the English language: the way we use it today has been shaped by his words and phrases. It can be difficult at times to utter a sentence in English without using a construction first used by Shakespeare. And whenever we need to find a phrase that will sum something we want to say up perfectly and beautifully, we will find a phrase somewhere in Shakespeare’s works .


No Shakespeare, no list.

Mark Wiebe

Regarding the writer of the Gospel of Mark, your claim that Jesus was a fictional character is preposterous and outrageous. Even secular scholars overwhelmingly affirm that Jesus was a historical person—the evidence is undeniable. By claiming (without a hint of embarrassment) that Jesus was fictional, you entirely discredit yourself. You yourself become a laughing stock, and subject to scorn and ridicule from both ‘believers’ and seculars. Deservedly so.


Quite right. Jesus is not only not fictional, he is in fact alive.

Einnif Namelock

You really should read more…. This should be titled the greatest white writers – There is no contest between Fitzgerald and Twain – Austen may be a token here… George Eliot makes just as much sense… Morrison?

Leave a Reply

Leave a reply cancel reply.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Save my name, email, and website in this browser for the next time I comment.

follow on facebook

The 50 Most Influential Books of All Time

english literature important writers

For many centuries, books have been one of the central forms of entertainment for humankind. Readers around the world invest countless hours escaping into new and unique worlds, losing themselves in the words and pages of books from various genres. While all books affect readers in different ways, history has shown that some books have a way of reaching and impacting large groups of people so that they are forever changed. These books can share knowledge, inspiration, and discoveries in various fields. They teach, influence, and alter the way we think. Sometimes these books are so important and enlightening that they help the world and its people evolve. The following books have done just that. By educating and informing readers in the areas of politics and government, creating new standards in literature, challenging societal norms, and advancing academic thought in the schools of science and religion, these are top 50 books that changed the world.

english literature important writers

Politics and Government

These titles represent some of the most influential books that examine politics, economics, and philosophy. Each of these texts had an impact on the way we understand governance.

english literature important writers

From creating characters and stories that have become foundational elements in cultures around the world to upsetting undesirable standards and inspiring the imagination of many, these works of literature have touched the world in significant ways. These are the most influential books in literature.

english literature important writers

These are the most influential books in terms of impacting society, texts that helped changed people's views on racism, feminism, consumption, and language.

english literature important writers

Science, Math, and Geography

These works are some of the most influential books because they began or at least represent the beginning of entire movements and schools of thought in the fields of science, math, and geography.

english literature important writers

These religious texts are some of the most influential books ever written, serving as spiritual and lifestyle guides for countless people around the world. Some of these texts are thousands of years old.

english literature important writers

15 Classic British Authors to Read

hroughout the canon of greats, British authors have always topped the echelons, having created some of the very best literature of all-time.

But if you’re new to British literature, with so many great writers available, where do you start on your journey of some of the very best reads?

Below, you’ll discover our list of 15 classic authors to read in your lifetime. Each of them are masters of the literary craft, who have gone on to challenge beliefs, the norms of society and invented worlds, characters and lines which still resonate with us today.

1. Sir Thomas More (1478 – 1535)

“It is only natural, of course, that each man should think his own opinions best: the crow loves his fledgling, and the ape his cub.”

First on our list of classic British authors is Sir Thomas More, also known by the Catholic community as Saint Thomas More. An English lawyer, judge, philosopher, statesman, Renaissance humanist and of course – author – he was most famous not for his writing, but for having served King Henry VIII as Lord High Chancellor of England.

With that being said, he did produce a much celebrated book Utopia , published in 1516. Describing the political system of the imaginary island state titled by the same name, with much of his writing resembling that of the peaceful life in the monasteries.

However, Thomas More’s life was sadly short-lived after opposing King Henry VIII’s separation from the Catholic Church, refusing to acknowledge him as the Supreme Head of the Church of England and the annulment of his marriage to wife, Catherine of Aragon. And so, in 1535, after refusing to take the Oath of Supremacy, he was convicted of treason and beheaded.

2. Jane Austen (1775 – 1817)

“A person who can write a long letter with ease, cannot write ill.”

In 1811, a hit novel named Sense and Sensibility was published anonymously “by a Lady.” It was later discovered that that lady was actually a female author, Jane Austen – one of the first major female novelists in British literature. Famed for her works best known for describing the romantic lives of middle class society, Austen’s work contradicted others of the time, using wit and cynicism to describe ordinary people in their ordinary lives.

Austen had a striking theme in all her novels, something which was controversial for the time; promoting the idea that women should marry for love, rather than the traditional view of marrying for financial security. This is a sentiment which is echoed not only in Sense and Sensibility , but amongst her other famous novels, Pride and Prejudice , Emma , and Persuasion . As such, her wildly ground-breaking views of the time still resonate with us today, making her stories ultimately timeless.

3. Mary Shelley (1797 – 1851)

Invention, it must be humbly admitted, does not consist in creating out of the void but out of chaos.”*

Another pioneering female writer and one of the classic authors to read is Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, possibly most famous for the Gothic novel Frankenstein ; or The Modern Prometheus , which is considered to be one of the earliest examples of science fiction.

The tale was inspired by Shelley’s very own sense of isolation. After the loss of her mother and half-sister, Shelley married the rather controversial poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley. On a cold winter’s night in 1816, the couple, who were being hosted by the poet Lord Byron in his holiday home in Switzerland, both agreed to write a horror story. And so, at the age of just 19, Shelley manifested the ground-breaking creation that was Frankenstein .

Aside from this major work, Shelley was also a keen contributor to her husband’s work, editing and promoting Percy Shelley’s poetry, which was considered rather radical for his time, thanks to his advanced political and social commentaries of the time.

4. Charles Dickens (1812 – 1870)


“Prowling about the rooms, sitting down, getting up, stirring the fire, looking out the window, teasing my hair, sitting down to write, writing nothing, writing something and tearing it up…”

Next on our list of some of the most famous authors in English Literature is 19th Century storyteller, Charles Dickens. Remembered for using his platform to reveal the truths behind the disreputable side of the Victorian period, his work focused on the hypocrisy and discrimination of the British class system, diminishing almost all forms of progress.

His most famed works include Oliver Twist , Great Expectations , and A Christmas Carol , where Dickens would often depict the troubles and social injustices of the working class people during the Victorian era with a strong comedic tongue – bearing a stark contrast against the problems his very work describes. Living in London himself at the time, his stories are also peppered with all the intricate details of the city: its winding streets, intriguing corners and cosy inns, giving the rawness and authenticity to help support his character tropes. If anything, you should read them for the detail!

5. Charlotte Brontë (1816 – 1855)

“You can write nothing of value unless you give yourself wholly to the the theme — and when you so give yourself — you lose appetite and sleep — it cannot be helped —”

Another addition to our list of must-read Victorian authors is Charlotte Brontë, who is most recognised for her breakthrough novel, Jane Eyre . As the oldest of three sisters who survived into adulthood, much of her ambition to succeed against the social difficulties she faced in her upbringing in poverty can be found within her writing. For example, the tale of Jane Eyre follows the troubled life that a young working class girl faced during her upbringing.

Feminist tropes echo throughout Jane Eyre and Brontë’s other works, using first person narratives to draw an immediacy to the protagonist’s feelings of injustice and unrest. Other notable works of Brontë’s includes Shirley , a tale about industrial unrest and the role of women in society, and Villette , her third novel which follows an independent woman who faces isolation when she moves abroad to teach in a boarding school.

6. George Eliot (1819-1880)


“The words of genius have a wider meaning than the thought that prompted them.”

Mary Ann Evans, better known by her pen name George Eliot, was one of the leading Victorian writers, focusing her efforts as an English novelist, poet, journalist and translator. At the time, it wasn’t uncommon for women to pen themselves with male names, as it was quite difficult to establish yourself as a successful female writer outside of the stereotypical genre of light-hearted romantic fiction.

Some of her most famous works include the must read The Mill on the Floss, Silas Marner and Adam Bede . The common theme of these works is the attempt to analyse the varying states of the human mind, using these inner workings of the brain to add rich detail and complexity to her plots. This psychological insight and sense of realism is what has made her works go on to resonate with generations of readers – the very idea of understanding individual judgments as reflected by their inner state is something that still dominates much of our literature today.

7. Thomas Hardy (1840 – 1928)

“Beauty lay not in the thing, but in what the thing symbolized.”

Another of the most famous writers in English literature is Thomas Hardy, the renowned poet and novelist. A Victorian realist following in the tradition of his contemporary, George Eliot, he was heavily influenced by the genre of Romanticism, especially with the poetry and works of William Wordsworth.

Perhaps most famous for his powerfully visual novels which concerned themselves with the relentless pursuit of human happiness and destiny, he wrote over a dozen of those, along with collections of short stories, including; Tess of the d’Urbervilles , The Mayor of Casterbridge , and The Return of the Native . His most renowned novel, Jude the Obscure faced an adverse reception from Victorian critics on its publication in 1896, who derided it for its “immoral” treatment of themes such as religion, class, sex, education and marriage.

8. Virginia Woolf (1882 – 1941)

“Every secret of a writer’s soul, every experience of his life, every quality of his mind is written large in his works.”

Adeline Virginia Woolf was an English writer, considered to be one of the most important modernist 20th-Century authors, speaking about a wide range of gender issues – which would have been once frowned upon for a female author of her time. In A Room of One’s Own , she expressed the idea that women need to achieve economic independence to guarantee social equality, while her novel Orlando raised various issues around gender, suggesting traditional gender constructs are imposed by society.

Rejecting these traditional boundaries of womanhood, Woolf was also a pioneer in being the first to use stream of consciousness as a literary device to emphasise the psychological states of her characters, which is especially pronounced in novels such as Mrs Dalloway and To the Lighthouse.

Unsurprisingly, Woolf was a very-well established writer; in total she wrote a total of nine novels, a collection of short stories, two biographies, five volumes of collected essays and reviews, two liberation books, as well as a selection of snippets from her personal diary.

9. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859 – 1930)

“If you want to write good copy, you must be where the things are.”

British writer and medical physician Sir Arthur Conan Doyle also features on our list of classic authors. Best known as being the creator of the enigmatic detective Sherlock Holmes, one of the most famous yet timeless fictional characters of all time.

Yet, the tales of Sherlock Holmes were almost never to be. Rejected three times by publishers, Sherlock Holmes only first appeared in the novel The Study in Scarlet when it was offered as a Christmas giveaway in a magazine. Since then, he has gone on to appear in nine novels and continues to enchant generation after generation, thanks to several stage, TV and film adaptations of the novels.

An excellent storywriter for his time, Conan Doyle wasn’t solely a crime and detective writer, but also dabbled his hand at historical and social romances, as well as journalistic reporting during the First World War. It was his dedication to the creative art which later earned him his knighthood, presented to him by King Edward VII in the 1902 Coronation Honours.

10. Dame Agatha Christie (1890 – 1976)

“Nothing turns out quite in the way that you thought it would when you are sketching out notes for the first chapter, or walking about muttering to yourself and seeing a story unroll.”

Hailed as “the world’s bestselling author of all time,” with over four-billion copies of her work sold worldwide, Dame Agatha Christie was a British crime writer, attributed to a huge collection of work; 66 detective novels, 15 short story collections, and more than 20 stage plays.

The central characters of these works; Hercule Poirot and sidekick Miss Marple feature in much of Christie’s work and have gone on to become household names, thanks to various TV adaptations, films, stage plays and more.

Aside from crime writing, Christie also wrote several romantic novels under the pen name of Mary Westmacott, but it’s her detective thrillers that have gone on to earn her worldwide recognition.

11. J. R. R. Tolkien (1892 – 1973)

“A pen is to me as a beak is to a hen.”

Another classic author to read, and one of the most famous Oxford writers was John Ronald Reul Tolkien – an English writer, poet, philologist and academic, best known as the creator of the high fantasy novels, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

Twice earning himself the position of Professor of Anglo-Saxon at the University of Oxford , it was here that he found the inspiration for his creations, unveiling a mythical world filled with legends, orcs, elves and trolls – inspired by his love of historic language, as well as his experience serving in the First World War.

Since being published, Tolkien’s narratives have gone on to be some of the most recognised and purchased books of all time, earning themselves as award-winning adaptations for the big screen.

12. George Orwell (1903 – 1950)

“When I sit down to write a book, I do not say to myself, ‘I am going to produce a work of art.’ I write it because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, and my initial concern is to get a hearing.”

British novelist, poet, essayist and literature critic George Orwell – pen name of Eric Arthur Blair – is famed around the world for the creation of two iconic novels 1984 and Animal Farm. Reflective of his pessimism and deeply dissonant views with modern society and civilisation, today, his books are popular options for English Literature students studying Dystopia modules as part of their syllabi.

As well-received as Orwell’s works are today, including being adapted into several TV shows and film adaptations, they didn’t come without huge obstacles. As an allegorical anti-Soviet satire, Animal Farm faced much criticism at the time, especially when presenting two pigs as the central characters. In addition, his negative depictions of totalitarian states in his 1949 novel 1984, were heavily influenced by Hitler’s Nazi-led Germany, again, leading to much concern at the time.

Orwell also features on our list of must-read books to English Literature students. Read it here .

13. Ian Fleming (1908 – 1964)

Ian Fleming also features on our classic list of authors, famed for creating the well-known and celebrated James Bond spy thriller novels, which have gone on to earn themselves a blockbuster movie franchise. However, it wasn’t until the age of 43 when he actually began to create and develop the character of James Bond.

In fact, it was a successful career in journalism for most of his adulthood, along with experience as a broker and Naval Intelligence officer sparked his creative vision for the character of Bond. The first adventure of his was Casino Royale , which then inspired him to write a further 13 titles about the spy.

Diverging from the world of spy literature just once, Fleming is also hailed for creating the magical tale of the flying car, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang for his son Caspar.

14. Roald Dahl (1916 – 1990)

“A writer of fiction lives in fear. Each new day demands new ideas and he can never be sure whether he is going to come up with them or not.”

It would be impossible to create a list of classic British authors without including the king of children’s literature, Roald Dahl. Famed for his ‘whizz-popping’ language and colourful characters, Dahl is the genius behind many of our favourite short stories and wonderful personalities, including the BFG, the Twits, and Matilda.

Outside of children’s literature, Dahl also dabbled in short stories for adults as well as his lesser-known work on screenplays. You may not have ever noticed, but Dahl was responsible for inventing some of the greatest movies of our childhoods; he was the co-writer for the screenplay of the 1968 Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and for the 1971 version of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory .

15. J K Rowling (1965 – present)

“Sometimes the ideas just come to me. Other times I have to sweat and almost bleed to make ideas come. It’s a mysterious process, but I hope I never find out exactly how it works. I like a mystery, as you may have noticed.”

Famous around the world for her series about the teenage wizard Harry Potter , J K Rowling has been a spell-binding contributor to the bookshelves of many children and teenagers across the globe. After having the initial idea while delayed on a train from Manchester to London, Rowling spent 5 years plotting and writing seven books of the series, which she wrote in longhand on mountains of scraps of paper.

In 1993, Rowling completed the first three chapters of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone , which she completed over the course of several years whilst raising her daughter Jessica and training to become a teacher. In 1997, Bloomsbury accepted the finished version for publication and it went on to become a bestseller.

After an award-winning series of books which have gone on to become some of the highest-grossing films of all time, as well as a magical stage adaptation, Rowling now focuses her time on publishing books for adults under a new pen name, Robert Galbraith.

Discover our Creative Writing summer courses

Aspiring author? Walk in the footsteps of these famous writers next summer with our English Literature and Creative Writing summer courses, available to students aged 13 to 24.

Studying in the very same university buildings that have inspired some of the classic authors on this list, you’ll develop your own writing skills as you learn from some of Oxford’s great published tutors.

Sharpen your critical eye, advance your own skill, and broaden your future pathway. Apply now to join us next summer.

Share this article

Immerse yourself in the fascinating history of great English literature - discover our inspiring list of classic British authors to read.

Get Our Newsletter

Oxford Summer Courses Limited

18 Beaumont Street, Oxford, OX1 2NA, United Kingdom

+44 01865 818403

Oxford Summer Courses is an organisation which contracts with the colleges of the Universities of Oxford, Cambridge and London for the use of facilities, but which has no formal connection with the Universities of Oxford, Cambridge and London.

Oxford summer courses © 2023, oxford summer courses is a company registered in england and wales with company number 08011543.

Summer School 2023 is filling up fast. Enol online now or call +44 1865 954800 to book your place

Other languages

Image is a painting showing Percy Shelley writing Prometheus Unbound, with classical ruins in the background.

Britain arguably has more famous writers than any other country, their works spanning every period of history and many literary styles.

You should also read…

They’ve written some of the most recognised lines, dreamt up characters whose fame goes beyond the novels of which they’re the subject, and imagined plots that have captivated readers for centuries. Stretching back over a thousand years, the British literary tradition is vast and shows no signs of coming to a halt. Here’s our guide to a mere handful of Britain’s most famous writers and their most celebrated works.

The Beowulf Poet

Image shows Beowulf and his men on board a longship.

We don’t even know the name of the first famous writer on this list, but his or her composition is one of the most famous poems of all time. The Anglo-Saxon epic known as Beowulf was written sometime between the 7th century and the early 11th, though its exact dating is unknown. The 3,128-line tale – set in Scandinavia – depicts a world of heroes, kings and monsters, shedding a unique light on a period of history that we know comparatively little about. Its most famous scholar was J.R.R. Tolkien, who was influenced by Beowulf in his creation of his own mythological world, Middle Earth.

Geoffrey Chaucer

Geoffrey Chaucer is considered by many to be the Father of English Literature and the greatest poet of the Middle Ages. Born around 1343, he’s most famous for The Canterbury Tales , a series of stories (mostly in verse) based around a group of pilgrims travelling to the shrine of Thomas Becket. The pilgrims have a story-telling competition, resulting in each of the tales being called by the character telling them – The Knight’s Tale, The Miller’s Tale, and so on. Chaucer was instrumental in developing the use of the vernacular Middle English, during a period when most works of literature were being written in Latin or French.

William Shakespeare

Image shows an assortment of scenes and characters from Shakespeare's plays.

It’s hard to know where to begin when describing the works of possibly the most famous writer of all time, William Shakespeare. Also known simply as “The Bard”, Shakespeare’s works are so numerous, so universally admired, and his characters so memorable, that his output has never been equalled. The Elizabethan playwright, born in 1564, continues to captivate audiences with tales of star-crossed lovers in Romeo and Juliet , make audiences ache with laughter at the antics of his mischievous knight Sir John Falstaff in Henry IV Parts 1 and 2 , make us recoil in horror at the violence of Titus Andronicus , and inspire romance with his beautiful sonnets. His 37 plays are still performed all over the world every single day, most notably by The Royal Shakespeare Company, headquartered in Shakespeare’s hometown of Stratford-upon-Avon, which counts among its acclaimed productions some of the world’s most famous actors.

William Wordsworth

Another famous poet named William was born in 1770 and helped develop a new literary movement called Romanticism, which saw a new focus on nature and emotion. Famously penning the words “I wandered lonely as a cloud”, Wordsworth is most strongly associated with the Lake District region of England, the beautiful landscape of which was a big inspiration for him. Wordsworth was Poet Laureate from 1843 until he died in 1850, and he’s also noted for The Prelude , a semi-autobiographical poem published after his death.

Jane Austen

Image shows a portrait of Jane Austen.

The author of such literary classics as Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility has a deserving place among Britain’s most famous writers. Born in 1775, Jane Austen is known for six novels, all set among the aristocracy and fundamentally romantic, but each also containing much humour and social commentary. Her novels have inspired numerous television and film adaptations, which have served to widen her appeal still further. Characters including Elizabeth Bennet, Mr Darcy, Emma, Marianne Dashwood and many more are familiar to millions of readers around the world, though Austen herself was not famous during her lifetime; she was writing at a time when female writers weren’t taken seriously, so her works were published anonymously while she was alive. It’s hard to believe it now, but her fame was only achieved posthumously, following the publication of a biography by her nephew.

George Eliot

While Jane Austen published anonymously to ensure her work would be taken seriously, Mary Ann Evans used a male pen name to ensure the same, with the result that we know her by the somewhat unfeminine name of George Eliot. Born in 1819, George Eliot wrote several of the most famous works of English literature, including Silas Marner , The Mill on the Floss and Adam Bede . But the crowning glory of her literary output was Middlemarch : a masterpiece of social commentary and a novel considered to this day to be one of the greatest ever written in the English language.

The Brontë sisters

Image shows the Bronte sisters as painted by their brother.

The Brontë sisters were contemporaries of George Eliot, living in a parsonage on the Yorkshire moors. There were three of them: Charlotte, born in 1816; Emily, born in 1818; and Anne, born in 1820. Like George Eliot, they wrote under male pen names: Currer, Ellis and Acton respectively. Their works earned attention for their unbridled passion, which was unusual for the time and not always well-received. They all died young, but between them, these remarkable sisters wrote some of the most famous novels in English literature, including Jane Eyre by Charlotte, Wuthering Heights by Emily and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne.

Charles Dickens

Born in 1812, the Victorian novelist Charles Dickens – considered by many to be the greatest of his age – is responsible for some of the most widely recognised fictional characters ever created. From Oliver Twist and David Copperfield to Ebenezer Scrooge and Miss Havisham, Dickens’ characters are one of the best aspects of his imaginative novels, and just one of the ingredients of his literary genius. His many celebrated novels include Great Expectations , Bleak House , Nicholas Nickleby , A Christmas Carol , The Old Curiosity Shop and The Pickwick Papers . Dickens was a literary celebrity on an unprecedented scale, and one of his many novels – A Tale of Two Cities – is the best-selling novel of all time. His literary influence is so great that his name has spawned a new adjective – “Dickensian” – which means anything reminiscent of his works, particularly as regards the poverty he so vividly describes (though it’s often also used to refer to people who call to mind some of his entertainingly horrible characters).

Thomas Hardy

Image shows the cottage in which Hardy grew up.

Thomas Hardy was a younger contemporary of Charles Dickens, born in 1840. His style was rather different, but he was influenced by Dickens and achieved wide literary acclaim in his own right, both as a novelist and, later, a poet (indeed, he considered himself to be more a poet than a novelist, writing novels mainly for the income they brought). While Dickens’ novels tended to be set in an urban environment, Hardy’s focus was the countryside and its decline. Many of his works are set in Wessex, a partly real, partly imagined rural region that harked back to England before the Norman Conquest. His hugely successful novels include Far From the Madding Crowd , Jude the Obscure , Tess of the D’Urbervilles and The Mayor of Casterbridge.

E. M. Forster

Image shows a portrait of EM Forster.

E.M. Forster was born in 1879 and is famous for novels including A Passage to India , Howard’s End and A Room with a View . Though his works achieved admiration during his lifetime, they’re best known to readers today through the popular series of film adaptations by Merchant-Ivory Productions. Forster’s works focus primarily on the Edwardian middle classes in different situations; for example, together with Where Angels Fear to Tread , A Room with a View looks at the narrow-mindedness of English tourists in Italy. A Passage to India was Forster’s most successful novel; it concentrates on the relationship between West and East at a time when India was subject to British rule.

Wilfred Owen

The horrors of the First World War inspired a new generation of poets to write some of the most well-known lines in English poetry, and among the most famous was Wilfred Owen. Owen’s poems graphically describe gruesome scenes from the trenches with brutal realism. His most celebrated poem, Dulce et Decorum Est , depicts the effects of an attack by poison gas, and continues to be recited at commemorative events to this day. Its title is ironic, referring to a line by the Roman poet Horace: “Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori”, which translates roughly as, “It is sweet and honorable to die for one’s country”. Tragically, Owen lost his life just a week before the end of the war, and most of his poems were published after his death.

Evelyn Waugh

Image shows the Atlas Fountain at Castle Howard in Yorkshire.

Evelyn Waugh is best known for his novel Brideshead Revisited , though he wrote several other well-received novels and was also an accomplished journalist. He was born in 1903 and attended Oxford University, where his experiences were the inspiration for many of the Oxford scenes for which Brideshead Revisited is so famous. The novel was successful at the time of its publication, but it achieved a new following decades later with the release of a long television adaptation starring Jeremy Irons. To this day, there will always be a handful of Oxford undergraduate each year trying to emulate the hedonistic lifestyle of Charles and Sebastian – including, of course, the mandatory teddy bear (inspired, it is said, by the poet John Betjeman’s bear).

J.R.R. Tolkien

There was seemingly no end to the imagination of one of the greatest 20th century English writers. J.R.R. Tolkien (whom we’ve already encountered as a Beowulf scholar) didn’t just pen epic works of fantasy; he created an entire mythology to go with them, complete with languages, maps, chronologies and genealogies. Middle Earth, as he called his extraordinarily detailed imaginary world, was the setting for hugely successful novels including The Hobbit – intended primarily for children – and the rather darker three-volume epic The Lord of the Rings , which has been voted by Amazon readers as their favourite book of the millennium.

Agatha Christie

Image shows David Suchet as Poirot.

Agatha Christie is Britain’s most famous crime novelist, the author of 66 detective novels and creator of two of the most well-known literary sleuths, Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple. According to the Guinness Book of Records, Christie is the best-selling novelist of all time; she’s often referred to as “the Queen of Crime” for her mastery of suspense. Her titles include Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile , which were also two of the most popular film adaptations of her works.

J.K. Rowling

Bringing this list right up to date, we end with J.K. Rowling, author of the phenomenally successful Harry Potter series – seven books that tell the tale of the eponymous young wizard and his battle to save the world from the onslaught of the evil wizard Voldemort. The world Rowling created has captured the imaginations of children and adults alike, in particular the school at the centre of the story, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Though Rowling’s novels arguably lack the literary merit of the other novels we’ve mentioned in this article, she’s certainly one of the most famous British writers of modern times, and therefore worthy of a place on this list. She’s now turned her attention to writing books for adults, assuming the pseudonym Robert Galbraith in an attempt to have her writing viewed independently of the success of the Harry Potter series. Do you have a favourite British writer whom you think should be on this list? Let us know in the comments below!

Image credits: banner ; Beowulf ; Shakespeare ; Austen ; Brontës ; Hardy ; Forster ; Castle Howard ; Poirot .

Leave a Reply Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Save my name, email, and website in this browser for the next time I comment.

Famous British Writers

Right Icon This ranking is based on an algorithm that combines various factors, including the votes of our users and search trends on the internet.

William Shakespeare

English playwright, poet, and actor William Shakespeare is widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language. He is also often called England's national poet. Many of his works have been translated into other languages and his plays continue to be produced till day. Popular during his lifetime, he acquired an iconic status after his death.

Charles Dickens

Widely considered the greatest novelist of the Victorian era, Charles Dickens was an English writer famous for creating world-renowned fictional characters. Regarded by critics and scholars as a literary genius , most of his short stories and novels are read around the world even today. His distinctive style of writing is referred to as Dickensian .

J. K. Rowling

JK Rowling’s story is that of rags-to-riches. She is the author of the Harry Potter fantasy series, which have sold more than 500 million copies and is the best-selling book series in history. She also writes crime fiction albeit under a pen name. Rowling supports many charities and has founded Lumos, an international NGO, working for children.

J. R. R. Tolkien

Considered one of the greatest authors, JRR Tolkien is popularly called the father of the modern fantasy literature. He is best known for his high fantasy classic works The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings , which is set in a conceived world called the Middle-Earth. Many years after his death, Tolkien continues to be one of the best-selling writers.

Roald Dahl

British writer, Roald Dahl, is considered as one of the greatest children’s authors. He is one of the best-selling authors of all-time and had a career spanning decades. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory , James and the Giant Peach , The Witches , The Twits and Matilda are some of his classic works. He also wrote short stories and novels meant for adults.

Agatha Christie

Even after four decades after her death, Agatha Christie remains an influential figure in the world of literature and entertainment as most of her books continue to serve as inspiration to films, TV series, and video games. With over two billion copies of her novels sold, she holds the Guinness World Records for best-selling fiction writer of all time.

Jane Austen

Considered one of the greatest writers in English history, Jane Austen is best known for her six major novels - Sense and Sensibility , Pride and Prejudice , Mansfield Park , Emma , Persuasion and Northanger Abbey . Her writing was set among the British landed gentry and dealt with ordinary people in everyday ordinary situation. The author achieved great fame after her death. 

George Orwell

The king of dystopia and satire , George Orwell, the pen name adopted by Eric Arthur Blair, was a well-known novelist and critic of the 20th century . A man with a strong mind of his own, Orwell never backed down from stating his views on the socio-political climate he lived in, which he expressed profusely through his influential essays and novels .

C. S. Lewis

C. S. Lewis was a British writer whose books have sold millions of copies worldwide after having been translated into over 30 languages. His works, such as The Chronicles of Narnia , have inspired the works of other famous authors. Lewis' work continues to attract readership and he was ranked 11th on The Times ' 50 greatest British writers since 1945 list.

Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf was an English writer who pioneered a narrative mode called stream of consciousness to describe the thoughts and feelings of the narrator. Regarded as one of the most prominent modernist 20th-century writers, Woolf's works have gained much attention for inspiring feminism. Her life and work have inspired several films, novels, and plays.

John Locke

Ian Fleming was a British writer, naval intelligence officer, and journalist. Fleming is credited with creating one of the most popular characters of all time, James Bond . His James Bond series of novels have sold more than 100 million copies, making them one of the best-selling fictional book series in history. Jamaica’s Ian Fleming International Airport is named after him.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

English poet William Wordsworth, along with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, released Lyrical Ballads in 1798, which set the tone for the Romantic Age of English Literature . Wordsworth was known for his poems I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud , The Prelude , and The Solitary Reaper . He also served as the Poet Laureate .

Lord Byron

Widely considered one of the greatest British poets of all time, Lord Byron remains influential as his works are widely read even today. He was also one of the most important personalities of the Romantic Movement . He is also known for his role in the Greek War of Independence , for which the Greeks consider him a national hero.

H. G. Wells

H. G. Wells was an English writer. Although he was prolific in many genres, he is best remembered for his work on sci-fi novels, for which he is often referred to as the father of science fiction . His 1901 novel The First Men in the Moon became so influential that a lunar impact crater is named after him.

William Blake

English journalist, short-story writer, poet, and novelist Rudyard Kipling is best remembered for his fiction work The Jungle Book. He was born in India and many of his works are inspired by his life in the country. He was one of the most popular English writers in the late 19th and early 20th century.

Lewis Carroll

English writer and philosopher Aldous Huxley wrote countless books, including novels, short stories, non-fiction, and poems. He is best remembered for his science-fiction novels Brave New World and Island . The seven-time Nobel Prize nominee was also a Companion of Literature of the Royal Society of Literature and a Vedanta believer.

P B Shelley

A. A. Milne was an English author best known for his books about the teddy bear Winnie-the-Pooh. He joined the British Army as a young man and served in both World War I and World War II. In his career as a writer, he wrote several novels, non-fiction pieces, articles, poems, screenplays, and children’s stories.

Richard Dawkins

Richard Dawkins is a British ethologist, author, and evolutionary biologist. He first achieved popularity after publishing his book,  The Selfish Gene , which is credited with popularizing the gene selection theory . The book is also credited with introducing the term meme . In 2006, he established the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science to promote secularism and scientific literacy.

John Keats

Geoffrey Chaucer was an English author and poet. He is best known for his collection of 24 stories titled The Canterbury Tales . Geoffrey Chaucer is widely regarded as the greatest British poet of the Middle Ages and is often referred to as the father of English poetry . He is also credited with helping legitimize the literary use of Middle English.

Charlotte Bronte

Thomas Hobbes was an English philosopher. Widely regarded as the co-founder of modern political philosophy, Hobbes is best known for his influential book Leviathan . Apart from political philosophy, Thomas Hobbes also contributed immensely to various other fields, such as ethics, theology, geometry, history, and jurisprudence.

Thomas Hardy

John Milton was an English poet whose epic poem Paradise Lost is widely regarded as one of the greatest works of literature. Milton's other celebrated work Areopagitica is counted among history's most impassioned and influential defenses of freedom of the press and freedom of speech. John Milton’s works have influenced other prominent writers, such as Thomas Hardy and George Eliot.

John Le Carré

Joseph Conrad was a Polish-British writer. Considered one of the greatest English-language novelists of all time, Conrad is credited with bringing a non-English sensibility into English-language literature. Many of his works have inspired several films, TV series, and video games. His anti-heroic characters and narrative style have influenced many authors like Salman Rushdie, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and T. S. Eliot.

John Maynard Keynes

John Maynard Keynes was an English economist. His ideas are credited with changing the theory and practice of the economic policies and macroeconomics of governments at a fundamental level. Counted among the 20th century's most influential economists , Keynes' ideas are the basis for Keynesian economics . In 1999, he was named in Time magazine's Most Important People of the Century list.

Douglas Adams

English author, screenwriter, and essayist, Douglas Adams, is most remembered for his comedy science fiction series The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. As a screenwriter, he wrote two stories for the TV series Doctor Who. He advocated for environmentalism and spoke about environmental issues in his non-fiction radio series Last Chance to See.

George Eliot

Mary Ann Evans, known by her pseudonym George Eliot, was an English poet, novelist, translator, and journalist. One of the most prominent writers of the Victorian era, Eliot's works are known for their psychological insight, realism, and detailed description of the countryside. Her novel Middlemarch was voted one of the greatest literary works in a 2007 poll conducted by Time .

Emily Brontë

Alfred, Lord Tennyson was a British poet. One of the most famous British poets of all time, Tennyson served as the Poet Laureate during Queen Victoria's reign. His poetry, which is renowned for its powerful visual imagery, served as an important influence on the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood , a group of English poets and painters.

Stephen Fry

One half of the famous comedy duo Fry and Laurie , Stephen Fry is an English actor and comedian. Considered a living legend by many, Stephen Fry has made major contributions to the field of entertainment and literature. An openly gay man, Fry serves as an inspiration to the LGBT community. He is also known for his charitable activities.

D. H. Lawrence

English writer, D. H. Lawrence, was known for exploring sensitive issues, such as sexuality, emotional health,  and instinct. In his works, he often reflected upon the dehumanizing effects of modernity and industrialization. The sexual nature of his writings earned him many enemies. Even though he died at the relatively young age of 44, he left behind a rich literary legacy.

David McCallum

David McCallum is a Scottish musician and actor who gained recognition for portraying Illya Kuryakin in the popular spy fiction TV series The Man from U.N.C.L.E. He gained international recognition for playing Dr. Donald "Ducky" Mallard in the action police procedural TV series NCIS . David McCallum has also contributed as a writer, publishing a novel titled Once a Crooked Man .

Phoebe Waller-Bridge

Phoebe Waller-Bridge is credited with creating and writing one of the greatest TV series of the 21st century,  Fleabag . She is also famous for contributing as the executive producer and head writer of another highly-acclaimed TV series, Killing Eve . In 2020, she was named in Time magazine's list of 100 most influential people in the world .

Mary Wollstonecraft

Mary Wollstonecraft was an English writer, advocate of women's rights, and philosopher. Wollstonecraft, who attracted a lot of attention for her unconventional personal relationships, is widely considered a founding feminist philosopher. Although her unorthodoxy initially attracted criticisms, her advocacy of women's equality became increasingly important during the 20th century. Modern-day feminists cite her works and her life as important influences.

Ted Hughes

Eighteenth-century essayist, poet, and pamphleteer Jonathan Swift is remembered for his iconic works such as A Tale of a Tub , A Modest Proposal , and Gulliver's Travels . One of the world’s greatest satirists, he gave rise to the deadpan Swiftian style. He had also been the Dean of St. Patrick's Cathedral .

Alan Watts

Alan Watts was a British writer, philosopher, and speaker. He is credited with popularizing Hinduism, Taoism, and Buddhism in the Western world. A prolific writer, Alan Watts wrote one of Buddhism's first bestselling books, The Way of Zen . He also explored psychedelics and human consciousness in his works, such as The Joyous Cosmology and The New Alchemy .

Political Leaders

127.8K Votes

Figure Skaters

67.7K Votes

© Famous People All Rights Reserved

english literature important writers

Accessibility links

The 25 greatest British novels

(Credit: Getty Images)

What are the greatest British novels ever written? In search of a collective critical assessment, BBC Culture contributor Jane Ciabattari polled 82 book critics, from Australia to Zimbabwe, Beirut to Seoul – but not the UK. We asked each to name the 10 greatest British novels ever published, with their top pick receiving 10 points in the tabulation. This list includes no nonfiction, no plays, no narrative or epic poems (no Paradise Lost or Beowulf), no short story collections (no Morte D’Arthur) – novels only, by British authors (no James Joyce). Here are the top 25. (Credit: Getty Images)

25. White Teeth (Zadie Smith, 2000)

25. White Teeth (Zadie Smith, 2000)

At 24, Smith astonished the literary world with a first novel of tremendous breadth and wit, winning both the Whitbread and Guardian first book awards. White Teeth is set in 1970s London, where two lifelong friends, Archie Jones, a working-class Londoner and Samal Iqbal, born Muslim in Bangladesh, have settled to raise their families. They live in Willesden, north-west London, where Smith was raised. The novel, which Smith has described as having a “utopian” view of race relations, offers a vivid portrait of a multicultural postcolonial city: "Children with first and last names on a direct collision course. Names that secrete within them mass exodus, cramped boats and planes, cold arrivals, medical checks." Smith’s 2012 novel NW ranked at number 54 in this BBC Culture poll. (Credit: Random House)

(Credit: Harper Perennial Modern Classics)

(Credit: Harper Perennial Modern Classics)

The first of three novels by the Nobel laureate that Margaret Drabble dubbed Lessing’s “inner space fiction” centres around the four notebooks in which Anna Wulf records and deciphers her life (and the fifth “golden” notebook in which she works to integrate the others). "‘The two women were alone in the London flat’ – what an auspicious beginning for this intricately constructed story of a woman thinking, making sense of her life, trying to have it all!” writes critic Susan Larson of WWNO’s The Reading Life of Lessing’s masterpiece. “This novel is a touchstone for a generation of readers. I have read it some five times over the years and am astonished to find it still relevant, still challenging.” Lessing’s Memoirs of a Survivor ranks at number 96 in this BBC Culture poll. (Credit: Harper Perennial Modern Classics)

23. Jude the Obscure (Thomas Hardy, 1895)

23. Jude the Obscure (Thomas Hardy, 1895)

As a young man Jude, a stonemason in a small village in Hardy’s invented “Wessex” dreams of studying classics at the fictional Christminster (modelled after Oxford). In the course of 19 years, his ambitions are stymied by his involvement with Arabella Donn and then his cousin Sue Bridehead, the birth of his son Jude, other children, and the limits of his class. “It remains so sobering to me how much the main character went through and how much he suffered, at an age (by the end of novel) when most of us are still trying to ‘find ourselves’,” writes Barbara Hoffert of Library Journal. Hardy’s The Mayor of Casterbridge ranks at 74 in this BBC Culture poll, his Tess of the d’Urbervilles at 51. (Credit: Wikipedia)

22. The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling (Henry Fielding, 1749)

22. The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling (Henry Fielding, 1749)

Fielding’s picaresque novel of the good-natured foundling Tom Jones “created that sensational artifact we still call ‘the novel’, a long prose work with multiple strands of story, arriving at a resolution complex enough to satisfy an educated adult,” writes John Domini, author of The Sea-God’s Herb. “There were such works before Fielding, of course, Quixote being the outstanding example (and Fielding himself began with a parody of Samuel Richardson), but Tom Jones ushered in a good century and a half of the novel’s supremacy... The novel remains a fine and moving read, a-slosh with humanity and surprises.” Geoffrey O’Brien of The New York Review of Books treasures “its syntax, which when first encountered was a paradise larded with every available taste and surface of the material world”. (Credit: Wikipedia)

21. Heart of Darkness (Joseph Conrad, 1899)

21. Heart of Darkness (Joseph Conrad, 1899)

This canonical novel was based in part on Conrad’s experiences as a steamboat captain on the Congo in 1890. “Conrad’s fidelity to the power of words, sounds, images is astounding,” writes Ainehi Edoro of Brittle Paper. “The economy of language is remarkable. Everything is swollen with significance. Even Chinua Achebe, who hates Conrad to death, admits that there is something wildly seductive about the novel. In the same essay where he calls Conrad a racist he worries about the fact that Conrad’s use of imagery is hypnotizing. I also think of Heart of Darkness as the first truly global novel in the sense that there are no more sealed off, hermetic spaces like the Victorian drawing room. Every locality is suffused with anxiety about what’s happening in distant spaces.” Conrad’s Nostromo ranked 69th in this BBC Culture poll. (Credit: Penguin Random House)

20. Persuasion (Jane Austen, 1817)

20. Persuasion (Jane Austen, 1817)

“Men have had every advantage of us in telling their own story,” Anne Elliott tells Captain Harville, in one of Austen’s pointed allusions to the ways in which women’s lives and history have been narrated by men. Austen’s posthumous final novel revolves around a woman whose virtues seem invisible to those around her as she grows older, but who, in the end, makes a fulfilling marriage to a man she loves. Persuasion’s “sheer weight and immense complexity has turned it into a ‘should read’ rather than an actually read novel – or else a feat for graduate students (as in my case),” writes Brett Josef Grubisic of the Vancouver Sun. “It’s nonetheless the pinnacle of formal accomplishments.” The New York Review of Books’ Geoffrey O’Brien praises “its particular leanness and acuity”. (Credit: Wordsworth Classics)

19. Emma (Jane Austen, 1815)

19. Emma (Jane Austen, 1815)

The last book published in Austen’s lifetime, Emma, writes Heller McAlpin of the Los Angeles Times and Washington Post, is “a stellar example of this beloved author's astute, arch, entertaining brand of social criticism, with a heroine who remains a model for the dangers of hubris and cluelessness. Austen never gets old.” Emma Woodhouse, “handsome, clever and rich,” is a woman of means with time on her hands and no financial pressure to marry. Still, she is pulled into the marriage plot. She fancies herself a matchmaker, to comical effect – convincing Harriet Smith, wrongly, that three men are in love with her, including George Knightley. Emma interferes in the lives of her family and friends, blind to her own flaws, until at last she finds “perfect happiness” with Knightley herself. (Credit: Wordsworth Classics)

18. The Remains of the Day (Kazuo Ishiguro, 1989)

18. The Remains of the Day (Kazuo Ishiguro, 1989)

Ishiguro’s third novel, the 1989 winner of the Man Booker prize, tells the story of Stevens, loyal butler to Lord Darlington during the years before World War Two, a man so formal we never learn his first name. Through his diaries and flashbacks, he considers, in retrospect, his fondness for the housekeeper, Miss Kenton (who has since left Lord Darlington’s service, married and had children). In the midst of a shift to a new employer, he takes a motoring trip, in search of Miss Kenton, and faces the regrets and missed opportunities in his life. A picture of restraint, and self-sacrifice, he turns, at last, to “the remains” of his days. Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go ranked 34th on this BBC Culture poll. (Credit: Vintage International)

17. Howards End (EM Forster, 1910)

17. Howards End (EM Forster, 1910)

“I will never forget the depth of emotion I felt upon reading the words ‘Only connect,’” writes Anne Boyd Rioux of The Millions and The Rumpus. “Forster had summed up not only the novel itself and the purpose of literature generally, but the whole of human yearning. Rarely have I read a book that so perfectly cut to the quick of existence and summed it all up in the briefest but most powerful of passages.” Brett Josef Grubisic (Vancouver Sun) calls Howards End “a delicate and nuanced and superbly realized depiction of family and the complexity of sisterhood”. Forster’s A Room with a View ranked 32nd in this BBC Culture poll. (Credit: Vintage)

16. The Waves (Virginia Woolf, 1931)

16. The Waves (Virginia Woolf, 1931)

“An experimental novel very much ahead of its time, Woolf's The Waves is as complex and thrilling as the ocean itself,” writes Michele Filgate of Salon and The Literary Hub. The narrative of The Waves consists of six voices – soliloquies with the intimacy of interior monologue – and a seventh character off stage. These characters, which echo EM Forster, TS Eliot, Lytton Strachey, Mary Hutchinson, Thoby Stephen, Vanessa Ball and Woolf herself, are woven together with poetic passages tracking the progress of the day. In her diaries, Woolf wrote that she intended the book to be “an abstract play-poem… a mystical eyeless book… A mind thinking… life itself going on”. Later, she settled on the shape: “a series of dramatic soliloquies….running homogeneously in and out, in the rhythm of the waves.” Woolf’s Orlando ranked 65th in this BBC Culture poll. (Credit: Wikipedia)

15. Atonement (Ian McEwan, 2001)

15. Atonement (Ian McEwan, 2001)

McEwan’s gorgeously crafted and haunting novel spans six decades, beginning on a summer day in 1935, when young Briony prepares to present a play to her family and witnesses an assault in darkened woods. Her testimony implicates a neighbour, with long-lasting effects. In the following sections – a panoramic account of the 1940 evacuation of Dunkirk, and scenes of London during the Blitz, where she works as a nurse – Briony’s search for redemption evolves into a meditation on the power of art. “The shifts in perspective in Atonement, the sheer force of the story he builds, the shock of the twists in the narrative, his portrayal of the war’s devastating impact-- it’s stayed with me for a long time,” writes Mary Ann Gwinn, book editor of the Seattle Times. (Credit: Anchor Books)

14. Clarissa (Samuel Richardson, 1748)

14. Clarissa (Samuel Richardson, 1748)

“At the very dawn of English literature, Samuel Richardson gave us his brave and unsentimental epistolary tragedy about the deliberate ruination of Clarissa Harlowe, who is at first an accomplice of her own delusions of unfettered love and then later a captive of the charming, utterly cynical and unspeakable Robert Lovelace; Clarissa is a novel at whose black heart is the evil men do to women – one of the main reasons fiction was invented,” writes Steve Wasserman of The Nation. “Richardson’s colossal, sadly neglected novel remains unmatched in its rendering of the mercurial and estranging workings of the human mind,” writes Terry Castle, author of The Professor. “It’s a tragic masterpiece, as profound as Don Quixote and as unsparing as any story told by Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy or Flaubert.” (Credit: Wikipedia)

13. The Good Soldier (Ford Madox Ford, 1915)

13. The Good Soldier (Ford Madox Ford, 1915)

A visionary impressionistic work, The Good Soldier opens simply, with a comment by Edward Dowell, the distinctly unreliable American narrator – “This is the saddest story I have ever heard” – and evolves into the story of unfaithful couples, multiple divorces, deaths, suicides and madness. As a Ford friend once put it, The Good Soldier is "the finest French novel in the English language''. “Captures adultery, heartbreak, stoic grace in tones that resemble an (extremely) Anglo-Saxon Flaubert,” writes Paul Wilner (Zyzzyva). “With stylistically exquisite technique, Ford obliquely penetrates his character’s psychologies, moral failures, and the era’s anguish,” writes Ron Slate (On the Seawall). “The unspooling perspective of his narrator, masterfully controlled, is the story. Ford’s handling of paradox sets an example for all novelists.” (Credit: Penguin Classics)

12. Nineteen Eighty-four (George Orwell, 1949)

12. Nineteen Eighty-four (George Orwell, 1949)

Orwell’s dystopian novel of governmental control and surveillance, with its indelible and lasting vocabulary, is “as relevant today – if not more relevant – as when it was published in 1949,” writes Stephen Romei of The Australian. “A work of extraordinary prescience, political insight and narrative power, the language of which has become part of the cultural DNA, from ‘thought police’ to Big Brother. A book that was a warning to the world to come. Also has one of the great opening lines in literature: ‘It was a cold bright day in April and the clocks were striking thirteen.’” Brett Josef Grubisic of the Vancouver Sun writes,“There’s no better depiction of the cruelties and malignancy of an authoritarian regime, nor the viral insidiousness of ideology.” (Credit: Harvill Secker)

11. Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen, 1813)

11. Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen, 1813)

Austen’s novel begins with a line that resounds to this day: "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife." The story of Elizabeth Bennett, one of five unmarried daughters of a country gentleman, and Mr Darcy, her land-owning suitor, has wooed readers for two centuries, selling more than 20 million copies and inspiring dozens of imitations. The novel concerns itself with the marriage prospects of the five daughters, their varied reactions toward their suitors, and the upward mobility promised by various matches. Excursions, fancy balls, proposals, aftermaths, weddings and “familial approbation” abound in a novel Austen playfully called “too light, and bright, and sparkling”. (Credit: Wikipedia)

10. Vanity Fair (William Makepeace Thackeray, 1848)

10. Vanity Fair (William Makepeace Thackeray, 1848)

"Come, children, let us shut up the box and the puppets, for our play is played out.” “Thackeray's sole masterpiece rarely receives the kind of praise that critics heap on 19th Century novels by Dickens, Eliot or the Brontës,” writes Tom Beer of Newsday. “But this 1847-1848 doorstop novel (originally serialised) features probably the greatest anti-heroine in English literature, Becky Sharp, and a plot that revolves around class, social climbing and a financial crisis that will seem eerily familiar to modern readers.” “Vanity Fair has it all,” writes Dan Akst of The Wall Street Journal and Newsday, “scope, humour, pathos, and unforgettable characters. It both speaks of its time, and speaks of all times.” (Credit: Wikipedia)

9. Frankenstein (Mary Shelley, 1818)

9. Frankenstein (Mary Shelley, 1818)

This pioneering work of science fiction and Gothic horror developed an indelible 'monster' of a theme that has endured for centuries: of the scientist as a “modern Prometheus”. Frankenstein “continues to shape the imagination of writers, and it is a chilling, contemporary read, more relevant than ever in a time of AIs,” writes Nilanjana Roy (author, How To Read in Indian, Business Standard). “While it’s not my favourite British novel, Frankenstein is what I’d put at the top of my list for most important,” writes Terry Hong of Bookdragon. “Why? For its content and form (the horrific story, a precocious blend of frame story/bildungsroman), as well as inspiring context -- the author was still a teenage girl in the early 19th Century when she began what would become the groundbreaking novel.” (Credit: Penguin)

8. David Copperfield (Charles Dickens, 1850)

8. David Copperfield (Charles Dickens, 1850)

David Copperfield is “populated by some of the most vivid characters ever created,” writes NPR’s Maureen Corrigan. “David himself, Steerforth, Peggotty, Mr Dick – and it climbs up and down and off the class ladder – the Blacking Factory, the London literary world, exile to Australia!” “Not a month passes that I do not think of one of its characters in relation to some aspect of my daily life,” writes Wendy Lesser (Threepenny Review, author, Why I Read). “Not so much the main characters like David, Agnes, or even Steerforth, but the bit players: Micawber, Peggotty, Barkis, Uriah Heep, Mr Dick. They are as much a part of my world, and my way of thinking about the world, as people I have actually met.” (Credit: Signet Classic)

7. Wuthering Heights (Emily Brontë, 1847)

7. Wuthering Heights (Emily Brontë, 1847)

Wuthering Heights, writes Dale Peck (editor, the Evergreen Review), is “as formally ingenious as any novel in the 19th Century, and powered by more psychological energy than any book ever written”. Randon Billings Noble (of the Los Angeles Review of Books) admires Wuthering Heights because of “its layered narrative structure, because it is a work of incredible imagination, and because it is far more than a love story – it reveals what is vital and necessary. The story shows ‘the eternal rocks beneath’ our fleeting desires. At times it might be ‘a source of little visible delight, with its difficult and challenging characters, but as Catherine says of Heathcliff, it is ‘necessary’.” (Credit: Penguin)

6. Bleak House (Charles Dickens, 1853)

6. Bleak House (Charles Dickens, 1853)

Bleak House, “is, among Dickens novels, uniquely original in its alternation of first-person past-tense chapters with a concurrent third-person account in present tense,” writes Benjamin Taylor, author of Proust: The Search. “Braided together and working in concert, these two strands tell the tale of Esther Summerson, Honoria Deadlock, Mr Tulkinghorn, John Jarndyce, Richard Carstone, Ada Clare, Mr Guppy, Mr Krook, Nemo the copyist, Miss Flite, Jo the crossing sweeper, Herbert Skimpole, Mr Woodcourt, Sargent George, Inspector Bucket, Mr Smallweed and dozens of others. Say the names and you are there among them.” Geoffrey O’Brien of the New York Review of Books calls Bleak House “the great book of the city of grime and fog and laws”. Malcolm Jones of The Daily Beast says it is “the only novel that has ever enthralled me so thoroughly that I skipped ahead to find out what happened to a particular character.” “It’s sobering to confront [the interminable lawsuit] Jarndyce and Jarndyce when you’re just launching your own career and thinking hardheadedly about money for the first time,” writes Barbara Hoffert of Library Journal. (Credit: Oxford World Classics)

5. Jane Eyre (Charlotte Brontë, 1847)

5. Jane Eyre (Charlotte Brontë, 1847)

“Brontë’s revolutionary 1847 Gothic romance about a young woman seeking a richer and more passionate life on her own terms still resonates with modern readers,” writes Wilda Williams (Library Journal). “Plus it’s a damn good story that one never tires of rereading.” Brontë’s novel features the orphan Jane Eyre’s search for an identity, her powerful attraction to her master at Thornfield Hall, Mr Rochester, and an intimate description of her complex moral choices and sometimes raw emotional states (“women feel just as men feel”). Mr Rochester’s wife Bertha, the “madwoman in the attic”, inspired Jean Rhys’s 1966 prequel, Wide Sargasso Sea, (ranked 53 in this BBC Culture poll), as well as a landmark 1979 book of feminist literary criticism by Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar. Bronte’s Villette ranked 28th in this BBC Culture poll. (Credit: Barnes and Noble)

4. Great Expectations (Charles Dickens, 1861)

4. Great Expectations (Charles Dickens, 1861)

“Great Expectations might be the quintessential British novel,” writes Dawn Raffel of the San Francisco Chronicle. “I suspect that too many Americans have had the pleasure of it ruined by a tedious curriculum or have discounted it because of its popularity. To re-read Dickens' classic as an adult is to discover its wit and brio, its influence, and its truth.” “Charles Dickens is the greatest English novelist of all time, and Great Expectations is his greatest book,” writes Laurie Hertzel of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. “It has all the elements of classic Dickens – endearing, flawed characters; a plot that skewers the politics of the time (and of our time); subplots that skewer morality and culture; a love story; and a wonderful storyline. Pip, Joe, Magwitch, Estella and, God help us all, Miss Havisham are unforgettable.” (Credit: Penguin)

3. Mrs Dalloway (Virginia Woolf, 1925)

3. Mrs Dalloway (Virginia Woolf, 1925)

“If the most precious gift of the novel as a medium is the power it has to break into the prison of human consciousness, to expose the gossamer weave of thought and feeling and memory that makes up our innermost lives, then Woolf's fourth novel stands alone at the pinnacle,” writes Lev Grossman, Time magazine book critic. “It is the greatest single account of being human in the modern era that exists anywhere.” “Ulysses gets more credit for thunderous formal innovation, but does anyone actually enjoy Ulysses?" asks Brian Hurley (The Rumpus). "Virginia Woolf made modernism live and breathe.” Virginia Woolf “so thoroughly upended our ideas of what the novel could do narratively, emotionally, that we all continue along in its long shadow,” writes Mark Sarvas (Bookforum, New York Times Book Review). (Credit: Wikipedia)

2. To the Lighthouse (Virginia Woolf, 1927)

2. To the Lighthouse (Virginia Woolf, 1927)

“Subtle, beautiful, staggeringly intelligent and flat-out original,” writes Roxana Robinson (The New York Times Book Review). “A masterpiece of spare modernism, its stream-of-consciousness encapsulates both the fluidity of time (one day, elongated; ten years, compressed), and the struggle to make art at the existential edge,” writes Elizabeth Rosner (San Francisco Chronicle). “As I have re-read this novel over the years its richness (of language, perceptions, etc) has continued to reveal itself”, writes The New York Times’ Carmela Ciuraru. “Incomparably masterful in its treatment of time, longing, loss, artistic ambition, and the subtle yet luminous strands of consciousness that make up an inner life,” writes Carolina de Robertis (San Francisco Chronicle). “Each time I read [it] I am confronted by the shock of meeting language, by the shock of confronting existence,” writes Krys Lee (Drifting House). (Credit: Vintage)

1. Middlemarch (George Eliot, 1874)

1. Middlemarch (George Eliot, 1874)

Middlemarch won this BBC Culture poll by a landslide: 42% of the critics polled included it in their lists. Why? “The quality of its writing and its depth of insight into character and relationships,” writes Morris Dickstein (author, Dancing in the Dark). “Eliot's ability to move from beautifully etched emotional detail to the epic sweep of social change is still breathtaking,” writes Fintan O’Toole (The Irish Times). The Wall Street Journal’s Sam Sacks calls Middlemarch “the greatest social and psychological novel ever written in English.” “Middlemarch combines a massive solid structure with the most radical doubts about the very nature of that structure,” writes Michael Gorra (author, Portrait of a Novel).“A novel of great characters, it's an even greater novel of ideas and ideals,” writes Vogue’s Megan O’Grady. To read Middlemarch is “to encounter an intelligence wholly sympathetic towards, and wholly unsurprised by, human foibles and frailties,” writes The Australian’s Geordie Williamson. “It is the heart of the hourglass, from which the grains of pre-modern England sift down to our contemporary world, each sentence ticking past the creative constrictions of Eliot's genius.” “The last sentence is perhaps the most moving in British fiction,” writes George Scialabba (author, The Modern Predicament). (Credit: Penguin Classics)

english literature important writers

A Brief Overview of British Literary Periods

ThoughtCo / Nusha Ashjaee

Old English (Anglo-Saxon) Period (450–1066)

Middle english period (1066–1500), the renaissance (1500–1660), the neoclassical period (1600–1785), the romantic period (1785–1832), the victorian period (1832–1901), the edwardian period (1901–1914), the georgian period (1910–1936), the modern period (1914–), the postmodern period (1945–).

english literature important writers

Although historians have delineated the eras of British literature in different ways over time, common divisions are outlined below. 

The term Anglo-Saxon comes from two Germanic tribes: the Angles and the Saxons. This period of literature dates back to their invasion (along with the Jutes) of Celtic England circa 450. The era ends in 1066 when Norman France, under William, conquered England.

Much of the first half of this period—prior to the seventh century, at least—had oral literature. A lot of the prose during this time was a translation of something else or otherwise legal, medical, or religious in nature; however, some works, such as Beowulf  and those by period poets Caedmon and Cynewulf, are important.

The Middle English period sees a huge transition in the language, culture, and lifestyle of England and results in what we can recognize today as a form of “modern” (recognizable) English. The era extends to around 1500. As with the Old English period , much of the Middle English writings were religious in nature; however, from about 1350 onward, secular literature began to rise. This period is home to the likes of Chaucer , Thomas Malory, and Robert Henryson. Notable works include "Piers Plowman" and "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight." 

Recently, critics and literary historians have begun to call this the “Early Modern” period, but here we retain the historically familiar term “Renaissance.” This period is often subdivided into four parts, including the Elizabethan Age (1558–1603), the Jacobean Age (1603–1625), the Caroline Age (1625–1649), and the Commonwealth Period (1649–1660). 

The Elizabethan Age was the golden age of English drama. Some of its noteworthy figures include Christopher Marlowe, Francis Bacon, Edmund Spenser, Sir Walter Raleigh, and, of course, William Shakespeare. The Jacobean Age is named for the reign of James I. It includes the works of John Donne, Shakespeare, Michael Drayton, John Webster, Elizabeth Cary, Ben Jonson, and Lady Mary Wroth. The King James translation of the Bible also appeared during the Jacobean Age. The Caroline Age covers the reign of Charles I (“Carolus”). John Milton, Robert Burton, and George Herbert are some of the notable figures.

Finally, the Commonwealth Period was so named for the period between the end of the English Civil War and the restoration of the Stuart monarchy. This is the time when Oliver Cromwell, a Puritan, led Parliament, who ruled the nation. At this time, public theaters were closed (for nearly two decades) to prevent public assembly and to combat moral and religious transgressions. John Milton and Thomas Hobbes’ political writings appeared and, while drama suffered, prose writers such as Thomas Fuller, Abraham Cowley, and Andrew Marvell published prolifically.

The Neoclassical period is also subdivided into ages, including The Restoration (1660–1700), The Augustan Age (1700–1745), and The Age of Sensibility (1745–1785). The Restoration period sees some response to the puritanical age, especially in the theater. Restoration comedies (comedies of manner) developed during this time under the talent of playwrights like William Congreve and John Dryden. Satire, too, became quite popular, as evidenced by the success of Samuel Butler. Other notable writers of the age include Aphra Behn, John Bunyan, and John Locke.

The Augustan Age was the time of Alexander Pope and Jonathan Swift, who imitated those first Augustans and even drew parallels between themselves and the first set. Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, a poet, was prolific at this time and noted for challenging stereotypically female roles. Daniel Defoe was also popular. 

The Age of Sensibility (sometimes referred to as the Age of Johnson) was the time of Edmund Burke, Edward Gibbon, Hester Lynch Thrale, James Boswell, and, of course, Samuel Johnson. Ideas such as neoclassicism, a critical and literary mode, and the Enlightenment, a particular worldview shared by many intellectuals, were championed during this age. Novelists to explore include Henry Fielding, Samuel Richardson, Tobias Smollett, and Laurence Sterne as well as the poets William Cowper and Thomas Percy.

The beginning date for the Romantic period is often debated. Some claim it is 1785, immediately following the Age of Sensibility. Others say it began in 1789 with the start of the French Revolution , and still others believe that 1798, the publication year for William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s book Lyrical Ballads is its true beginning.

The time period ends with the passage of the Reform Bill (which signaled the Victorian Era) and with the death of Sir Walter Scott. American literature has its own Romantic period , but typically when one speaks of Romanticism, one is referring to this great and diverse age of British literature, perhaps the most popular and well-known of all literary ages.

This era includes the works of such juggernauts as Wordsworth, Coleridge, William Blake, Lord Byron, John Keats, Charles Lamb, Mary Wollstonecraft, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Thomas De Quincey, Jane Austen , and Mary Shelley . There is also a minor period, also quite popular (between 1786–1800), called the Gothic era . Writers of note for this period include Matthew Lewis, Anne Radcliffe, and William Beckford.

This period is named for the reign of Queen Victoria, who ascended to the throne in 1837, and it lasts until her death in 1901. It was a time of great social, religious, intellectual, and economic issues, heralded by the passage of the Reform Bill, which expanded voting rights. The period has often been divided into “Early” (1832–1848), “Mid” (1848–1870) and “Late” (1870–1901) periods or into two phases, that of the Pre-Raphaelites (1848–1860) and that of Aestheticism and Decadence (1880–1901).

The Victorian period is in strong contention with the Romantic period for being the most popular, influential, and prolific period in all of English (and world) literature. Poets of this time include Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Christina Rossetti, Alfred Lord Tennyson, and Matthew Arnold, among others. Thomas Carlyle, John Ruskin, and Walter Pater were advancing the essay form at this time. Finally, prose fiction truly found its place under the auspices of Charles Dickens, Charlotte and Emily Bronte, Elizabeth Gaskell, George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans), Anthony Trollope, Thomas Hardy, William Makepeace Thackeray, and Samuel Butler. 

This period is named for King Edward VII and covers the period between Victoria’s death and the outbreak of World War I. Although a short period (and a short reign for Edward VII), the era includes incredible classic novelists such as Joseph Conrad, Ford Madox Ford, Rudyard Kipling, H.G. Wells, and Henry James (who was born in America but spent most of his writing career in England); notable poets such as Alfred Noyes and William Butler Yeats ; and dramatists such as James Barrie, George Bernard Shaw, and John Galsworthy.

The Georgian period usually refers to the reign of George V (1910–1936) but sometimes also includes the reigns of the four successive Georges from 1714–1830. Here, we refer to the former description as it applies chronologically and covers, for example, the Georgian poets, such as Ralph Hodgson, John Masefield, W.H. Davies, and Rupert Brooke.

Georgian poetry today is typically considered to be the works of minor poets anthologized by Edward Marsh. The themes and subject matter tended to be rural or pastoral in nature, treated delicately and traditionally rather than with passion (like was found in the previous periods) or with experimentation (as would be seen in the upcoming modern period). 

The modern period traditionally applies to works written after the start of World War I . Common features include bold experimentation with subject matter, style, and form, encompassing narrative, verse, and drama. W.B. Yeats’ words, “Things fall apart; the center cannot hold,” are often referred to when describing the core tenet or “feeling” of modernist concerns.

Some of the most notable writers of this period include the novelists James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Aldous Huxley, D.H. Lawrence, Joseph Conrad, Dorothy Richardson, Graham Greene, E.M. Forster, and Doris Lessing; the poets W.B. Yeats, T.S. Eliot, W.H. Auden, Seamus Heaney, Wilfred Owens, Dylan Thomas, and Robert Graves; and the dramatists Tom Stoppard, George Bernard Shaw, Samuel Beckett, Frank McGuinness, Harold Pinter, and Caryl Churchill.

New Criticism also appeared at this time, led by the likes of Woolf, Eliot, William Empson, and others, which reinvigorated literary criticism in general. It is difficult to say whether modernism has ended, though we know that postmodernism has developed after and from it; for now, the genre remains ongoing.

The postmodern period begins about the time that World War II ended. Many believe it is a direct response to modernism. Some say the period ended about 1990, but it is likely too soon to declare this period closed. Poststructuralist literary theory and criticism developed during this time. Some notable writers of the period include Samuel Beckett , Joseph Heller, Anthony Burgess, John Fowles, Penelope M. Lively, and Iain Banks. Many postmodern authors wrote during the modern period as well. 

english literature important writers

By clicking “Accept All Cookies”, you agree to the storing of cookies on your device to enhance site navigation, analyze site usage, and assist in our marketing efforts.

Brief History of English Literature

History of english literature.

history of English literature

History of English Literature starts with the emergence of English language. Like any other language, English Language has gone through different periods of evolution. It evolved over centuries and made a very rapid transformation in its form. English literature that we have in the Modern Era is very different from the Chaucerian Period or before this. How it transformed over the time and what terms were allotted to different periods: We will have a detailed study period wise.  The main literary periods of ‘history of English literature’ are as follows:

Table of Contents

Name of Literary Eras in History of English Literature:

Pre-chaucerian period (500-1340), the age of chaucer (1340-1400).

From Chaucer to Tottel’s Miscellany (1400-1557)

The Renaissance-The Age of Shakespeare (1557–1625)

Puritan Age-The Age of Milton (1625-1660)

The Age of Dryden (1660-1700)

Augustan literature-The Age of Pope (1700–1745)

The Age of Johnson (1745-1798)

The Age of Wordsworth (1798-1837)

Victorian literature (1837–1901).

The Present Age (1901-present)

Pre-Chaucerian literature is the literature written before the period of Chaucer. This period has a significant place in history of English literature. The two major periods, the literature of this time comprises of are, Anglo Saxon and Anglo Norman.


History of English literature normally starts with Anglo-Saxon period. The English literature written during Anglo-Saxon period is the Old English Literature. This literary period was of 600 years. Old English Literature includes works of diverse genres like chronicles,  sermons, heroic poetry, translations of Bible, hagiography, legal writings, riddles, and many more. 400 total manuscripts that have survived from this period and are of special interest.  The compilation of the manuscripts of poetry from the Anglo-Saxon period is in these four major manuscripts: the Exeter Book , the Junius Manuscript , the Vercelli Book , and the Beowulf manuscript . The most notable manuscript from prose is Anglo-Saxon Chronicle , which is a historical record. Prominent writers from this literary period include: Alfred the Great, Aldhelm, Alcuin, Aelfric Bata, Aelfric of Canterbury, Bede, Cynewuf, Caedmon, Wulfstan, and others. In addition, Hygeburg , who was a female writer and a nun, is the first Englishwoman known to compose a complete literary writing.


Anglo-Norman literature is the literature written at the time of Anglo-Norman period. It is in the Anglo-Norman language. This language took form during the time 1066–1204, when the England and Duchy of Normandy came together to make the Anglo-Norman empire. The literature of this time was rich in writing the legends and lives of saints. It also included epic poetry, romance poetry, lyric poetry, fables, fabliaux, writings on history, hagiography, religious tales, didactic literature, drama, satire etc. The most famous manuscripts from this period include Brut, The Owl and the Nightingale, The Ormulum, Arthur and Merlin, Tristan and Iseult, La gageure, Anglo-Norman Sermon, Voyage de Saint Brandan, Piers Plowman, Roman de Renart, etc. Prominent writers from this literary period include; Layamon, Robert Biket, Geoffrey of Monmouth, Béroul, Thomas, Nicole Bozon , and others.

The Age of Chaucer is considered a period of major development in history of English Literature. It was the start of new English language and literature. Geoffrey Chaucer was a poet and an author of English language. In his brief life of 57 years, he contributed significantly in the development of English. For this reason, his has the title of “Father of English Literature”. The Canterbury Tales is his most prominent wok. The age of Chaucer faced various religious, social, political challenges. The churches, which used to have authority, were corrupted and people were starting to go against the commands of the church. People started to think more openly and without the restrictions of church and hence their writing style changed too. The theme of writings was moving from romance and fables to more humanistic. There were no dramas or novels written in that time. Prose and poetry were getting more importance.

The most famous works from the age of Chaucer include The Book of the Duchess, The House of Fame, The Legend of Good Women, and Troilus and Criseyde. Chaucer’s book, Treatise on the Astrolabe, has technical writing which shows that he was good at science too as he was in English literature. Other main authors of the age of Chaucer are, William Langland, John Gower, Giovanni Boccaccio and John Trevisa . These are the other major works of Chaucer’s period: Piers Plowman, Confessio Amantis, Decameron, Vox Clamantis, The Knight’s Tale, Famous Women, etc. Though the Age of Chaucer was a short period, it made a great impact on English literature and changed its direction. It laid the basis of modern English language and literature.

From Chaucer to Tottel’s Miscellany

After the death of Chaucer, the conditions in England became very unfavourable. There were political conflicts and war. Thus, the 15th century does not have much literary productiveness. Some poets who tried to imitate Chaucer’s style produced some manuscripts but because those were imitative, they did not hold a much permanent value. From these people, the most prominent were Thomas Occleve and John Lydgate , who wrote The Governail of Princes and Stories of Thebes However , the poet, William Dunbar’s ‘ Dance of the Seven Deadly Sins’ is very original with humour, vigour and homely pathos. In prose, there was more work done. Reginald Pecock’s ‘Bloke of Faith’ proved to be a landmark in English prose. One great thing that happened during this period was the establishment of the first English printing press. William Caxton did it at Westminster in 1476.

Other important works that started at a later time of this period include English New Testament, the complete English Bible of Miles Coverdale, Pastime of Pleasure, etc. Sir Thomas More’s Utopia is typical and thorough writing of this period. It was translated from Latin in 1551 and it described an ideal society.  At the end of this period, stand out two names, Sir Thomas Wyatt and Henry Howard , Earl of Surrey. They have the honor of bringing love-poetry and Sonnet to English literature. Surrey was also the first writer to use ten-syllable verse, which also has the name of blank verse. In 1557, Tottel’s Miscellany , a compilation of miscellaneous English poems, came out. Almost half of the poems in this collection were of Wyatt and Surrey. Tottel’s Miscellany, published just a year before Elizabeth’s period, marked the dawn of a new era, as it was.

The Age of Shakespeare (1577-1625) or The Renaissance in History of English Literature

The age of Shakespeare started with the start of Elizabeth’s reign in 1558. It ends with the death of James I. in 1625. This period is the golden age in history of English literature because of the productiveness of it. This period brought massive changes in the history of English literature. The Age of Shakespeare is divided into two periods: The Age of Elizabeth and The Jacobean Age.

(I) THE AGE OF ELIZABETH (1558-1603)

With the reign of Elizabeth, the English literature started to flourish. The first publication, which marked the start of this golden age, was Shepheardes Calender by Edmund Spenser in 1579. In the first half of the Elizabeth era, there was composition of little verses of any value. Spenser was the most celebrated poet of this era and he was called the poet’s poet. He had a remarkable influence on the poetry that followed after him. Elizabethan literature was also the golden age of drama too as Shakespeare was present there. Shakespeare plays were in a range of different genres. Those included Shakespearean tragedies like Hamlet, Othello , comedies like As You Like It , historic plays like Richard III etc.  Other writers of Elizabethan literature include Sir Philip Sidney, Thomas Campion, Sackville, Norton, Thomas Kyd , and others. Famous literary works of this era include The Faerie Queene, Astrophel and Stella, The Defence of Poetry, Gorboduc, The Spanish Tragedy etc .

(II) THE JACOBEAN AGE (1603-1625)

The Jacobean Age was the era of James I . The literature written during this period is Jacobean Literature. Shakespeare wrote some of his prominent plays during this period. Those plays include King Lear (1605), Macbeth (1606), and The Tempest (1610).  Jacobean literature, as compared to the Elizabethan literature, was dark. It is because Shakespeare wrote his so-called problem plays like All is Well that Ends Well and famous tragedies in this era. John Webster , who was a dramatist, often portrayed the problem of evil in his dramas. This period’s comedy consisted of the bitter satire from Ben Jonson and the diverse writings from John Fletcher and Francis Beaumont . Popular works of this time include Volpone, Bartholomew Fair, The Knight of the Burning Pestle, The White Devil, The Changelin, etc. King James Bible was the most prominent prose work of Jacobean Literature.

The Age of Milton or Puritan Age (1625-1660)

In the age of Milton , Puritanism grew as a moral and social force. Puritans were the ancestors of Wycliffe and Lollards . They had very strict opinions regarding life and behaviour of people. The works of Puritan age are mostly sombre in character. There is a sense of sadness, gloom and pessimism, as there was political and religious confusion, and King Charles I was also killed. This era is also known as the Late Renaissance. Poetry was the main focus of this era and the most contribution made in this period was by John Milton. Milton was the last greatest poet of the Renaissance period. He published many writings before 1660. These works include L’Allegro, Il Penseroso, Comus and Lycidas. There were other poets too: The Metaphysical Poets and Cavalier Poets. The metaphysical poets were the people of learning. These poets include John Donne , George Herbert, Richard Crashaw, Andrew Marvell, Thomas Traherne, Henry Vaughan, and others.

The Cavalier poets were supporters of King Charles I during the English Civil War. These poets include Robert Herrick, Richard Lovelace, Thomas Carew and Sir John Suckling. Cavalier poets used “classical and allegory allusions”. Roman authors like Horace, Cicero and Ovid influenced these poets. Metaphysical poetry was spiritual. Metaphysical poets wrote poetry with “far-fetched or unusual similes or metaphors”. The famous works of age of Milton include Songs and Sonnets, The Hesperides and Noble Numbers, The Sun Rising , Colasterion, Tetrachordon, etc.

The second name of Age of Dryden is the Restoration Age because of the restoration of monarchy in England. This era started when Charles II returned to the throne. Because people had spent a lot of time restricted in Puritan period, after it there was an immense reaction against it. Moderation and decency started dissipating. Faithlessness, betrayal and recklessness became fashionable, and the people who still had some goodness were laughed at. All of this had a definite impact on literature of the Restoration era. Literature became intellectual rather than imaginative or emotional. Though it was often brilliant, it was a bit hard and insensitive. Even poetry became prosaic and was lacking imagination. Examples of which include Sodom from Earl of Rochester , The Country Wife by William Wycherley , Two Treatises on Government by Locke , etc.

Apart from this, there were still people like Dryden who saved this era. Dryden was the main influential poet, literary critic, translator, and playwright who represented this period.  His most prominent work is the mock-heroic MacFlecknoe . More works from him include the two great doctrinal poems, Religio Laid and The Hind and the Panther, Love Triumphant or Nature Will Prevail, The Wild Gallant, etc. Other notable writers from this time are John Bunyan, Edmund Waller, Sir John Denham, Samuel Butler, Jeremy Collier, John Gay, and others. Prominent works from this time include Hudibras, The Wild Gallant, Grace Abounding, The Pilgrim’s Progress, The Life and Death of Mr. Badman, The Holy War , etc. John Milton published his most appreciated piece of writing Paradise Lost during this era.

The start of novel writing was also during this era. Aphra Behn, the female author of Oroonoko, is considered to be the first novelist in England.

The Age of Pope or Augustan literature (170–1750)

Alexander Pope is the most prominent poet of this era and that is why it is The Age of Pope. It also has the name of “the Age of Enlightenment” or “Age of Reason” as judgement of everything was on rational and scientific grounds. Moderation was standard behavior, and anything extravagant was not very acceptable. The writers of this age stayed close to the style of ancient writers, and that for them was good writing. This era was also the Classical Age of poetry. It was poetry of criticism and argument. Writers wrote it for the interest of society and there was no use of imagination or love of nature expressed. However, as the era progressed, great poets like Pope came forward and wrote everlasting poems. Examples of which are, The melancholy of James Thomson, ‘The Seasons’ Edward Young’s ‘Night Thoughts’ . Mock-heroic poetry was also very prominent. Alexander Pope’s ‘ Rape of the Lock ’ and ‘ The Dunciad’ are still greatest examples of mock-heroic poetry.

In drama, George Lillo and Richard Steele composed very high moral forms of tragedy. In those, the characters were entirely middle class or working class. Opera was also becoming popular in England at this time. In prose, ‘The Spectator’ of Joseph Addison and Richard Steele dominated the initial period. It was a British periodical essay containing 2500 words each. There was more work on novels too. Daniel Defoe’s novels Roxana, Moll Flanders and Robinson Crusoe are of importance. Other authors of this era include Jonathan Swift, Samuel Richardson, Henry Fielding, and Tobias Smollett . Other important works of this period include Roderick Random, Gulliver’s Travels, A Modest Proposal, the Drapier Letters, Pamela; or Virtue Rewarded, Joseph Andrews, Shamela, Clarissa, Tom Jones, etc.

The Age of Johnson (1750-1798)

Age of Johnson is the name of this era because of the prominent work of Samuel Johnson in this era. Johnson was an English writer who provided long lasting contributions to English literature. He was a poet, essayist, moralist, literary critic, biographer , editor and lexicographer. “A Dictionary of the English Language” by Johnson was published in 1755 after nine years of writing. Literary people describe it as “one of the greatest single achievements of scholarship”. Richard Brinsley Sheridan is another name of this era who went on to become the most prominent playwright of this time. His famous works that were instant success include The Rivals and The School for Scandal . Other emerging Irish authors of this age include Oliver Goldsmith and Laurence Sterne. Their works include The Vicar of Wakefield, The Deserted Village The Good-Natur’d Man, She Stoops to Conquer, etc. Also written in this era was Frances Burney’s Evelina , which was one of the first ‘novels of manners’.

The genre of “sentimental novel” or “novel of sensibility” formed during this period. This era observes the intellectual and emotional perceptions of sensibility, sentiment, and sentimentalism. Sentimentalism began as a fashion in both prose and poetry fiction in the 18th century. That is why “The Age of Sensibility” is another name of this period. Most prominent sentimental novels from this age include Vicar of Wakefield, Tristram Shandy, The Man of Feeling, etc. The genre of Gothic fiction emerged too by Horace Walpole’s novel “The Castle of Otranto” . It combines components of romance and horror. Ann Radcliffe presented the dark figure of the gothic villain. This figure later advanced into the Byronic hero. The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann is an example of this genre.

This era also has the name of the Romantic Era in the history of English literature. William Wordsworth was an English Romantic poet. He, in collaboration with Samuel Taylor Coleridge helped to mark the start of the Romantic Age in English literature, by jointly publishing “Lyrical Ballads” in 1798. That is why the period starting from that year is called the Age of Wordsworth. This age was big on Romanticism. It was an artistic, literary, and intellectual movement. Other early Romantic poets include the initiate of the Romantic Movement Robert Burns, the painter William Blake , Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Robert Southey, the journalist Thomas de Quincey, etc. The most prominent romantic writings of this early generation include “Rime of the Ancient Mariner“,  “Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey“, “Resolution and Independence“, “Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood” and The Prelude, which is an autobiographical epic.

This age was a riot against classical rules of literary composition. It was also a rebel against the dominion of intellect and reason and was in support of imagination and wonder. The Romantic poets of the second generation include Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Felicia Hemans and John Keats . Their works include Ode to the West Wind, To a Skylark, Adonaïs, Ode to a Nightingale , Ode on a Grecian Urn , To Autumn , etc. Romanticism influenced novels too. One of the most celebrated novelists of this period was Sir Walter Scott. His historical romances inspired painters, composers, and writers all through Europe. Waverley is his first historical novel. Another novelist, Jane Austen’s story line in novels is fundamentally comic. Her most celebrated works are Pride and Prejudice and Emma. Another famous novel of this period is Frankenstein by the author Mary Shelley.

Victorian literature is the literature that evolved in the period of Queen Victoria. The literature of this era was a mix of romanticism and realism. This age is great in both poetry and prose. The greatest poet of the Victorian period was Alfred Lord Tennyson . Alfred’s poetry was romantic and reflected the age perfectly with its mixture of social conviction and religious confusion. S. Eliot described him as “the greatest master of metrics as well as melancholia”. Tennyson’s famous works include poetry of short lyrics Break, Break, Break, and The Charge of the Light Brigade, Tears, Idle Tears and Crossing the Bar. He also wrote blank verse poetry including Ulysses, Idylls of the King, and Tithonus. Other famous poets of Victorian age were Robert Browning and his wife, Elizabeth Barrett Browning . Dramatic monologues were Browning’s specialty. W.S. Gilbert was famous in this era too and was the writer of comic verses. His most celebrated work is his fourteen comic operas.

America also produced two greatest poets of the 19th century, Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman . The novels of this era were also doing great. Children’s literature, like Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, came about too. Charles Dickens became the most famous novelist from this era. His famous works include Bleak House, Oliver Twist, A Tale of To Cities etc. Thomas Hardy was a realist and a prominent figure of this era, and is famously known for his The Mayor of Caster Bridge. Other writers of Victorian’s age include William Makepeace Thackeray, The Brontë sisters, Emily, Charlotte and Anne, Elizabeth Gaskell, Anthony Trollope, H.G. Wells, Robert Louis Stevenson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry James and others. Notable works of this time are The Princess Casamassima, The Time Machine, Kidnapped, Jane Eyre, Sherlock Holmes, Dorothy, Leaves of Grass, etc.

The Present Age in History of English Literature (1901-present)

The present age is also the age of Modernism in the history of English literature. A major literary movement, Modernism, started with the dawn of the twentieth-century. Irish writers played an important part in this period. The most important Irish writers of this age are James Joyce and Samuel Beckett . Modernist writers from America include T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, William Faulkner, and others. Modernists from Britain Include Joseph Conrad, E.M. Forster, Dorothy Richardson, Virginia Woolf, D.H. Lawrence, an others. The modernist authors wanted to break the traditional ways of writing and experiment with other literary forms of expression to make it new. Thomas Hardy was the major poet in the initial years of the twentieth-century. He was not a modernist but played the role of a transitional figure between the ages of Victorian and Modernism. Henry James was another important transitional figure. Sister Carrie was the first most celebrated novel of this period. It was published by Theodore Dreisser in 1900.

Major poetry from this age includes The Tower by Nobel Prize winner W.B. Yeats, “Prufock”, “The Wasteland”, “The Cantos” , etc. Important prose includes The Playboy of the Western World, Hay Fever, Ulysses, The Old Wives’ Tale, A Room with a View, The Man who was Thursday, The Rock, etc . Radio drama also started in the Twentieth-century. In the closing years of Twentieth-century, the literary genre of science fiction became significant. Prominent writers of this genre include Sir Arthur C. Clarke, Adams, Robert Heinlein, Doris Lessing, Margaret Atwood, Ian Banks, and others. 2001: A Space of Odyssey and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy are the prominent examples of this genre.

Related Articles

What is literature?

Different types of literature

What is literary English?

Figurative language in English literature

What is a sonnet?

What is metaphysical poetry?

Definition and types of irony

Literary terms used in English drama

How to answer a literary question?

Shakespearean Tragedy

Greek tragedy versus Shakespearean tragedy

Share this:

Comment Below Your Thoughts Cancel reply

English Literature

English Literature

Browse authors & texts , notes , summaries or use the search box…

Every Man in His Humour

Every Man in His Humour: Summary


Volpone (The Fox): Summary

Happy Days

Happy Days: Summary

Gulliver's Travels

Gulliver’s Travels: Summary

Mansfield Park

Mansfield Park: Summary

english literature important writers

Emma: Summary

Recent notes, theme of love in twelfth night.

The key theme in the Twelfth Night play is love. It shows that there are various types of love, such as self-love, deep brotherly love and profitable love. The author has used different

Analysis of William Carlos Williams’s Stories

William Carlos Williams (September 17, 1883 – March 4, 1963) is one of the major figures of literary modernism whose peers included Ezra Pound and Wallace Stevens. Highly influenced by the visual arts

Robert Frost’s A Way Out: Analysis

A Way Out was the only play Frost published during his lifetime. It appeared in The Seven Arts in February 1917 and was reprinted by Harbor Press in 1929. In Preface to A

Bora Ring as a Post Colonial Poem

english literature important writers

Bora Ring as a Post Colonial Poem “Bora Ring” is a poem written by Australian poet Judith Wright in 1946. …

Bora Ring by Judith Wright as an Elegy

english literature important writers

Bora Ring By Judith Wright as an Elegy “Bora Ring” is a poem written by Judith Wright, which is considered …

Best Online Learning Platforms to Transform Your Career in 2023

english literature important writers

The world has undergone a massive shift in the way people learn due to the pandemic. The traditional classroom setting …

The Top 12 Online Spoken English Classes in Kolkata

english literature important writers

Kolkata, the cultural capital of India, has always been a hub of education and learning. With the increasing demand for …

Mastering Calculus with Desmos Graphing Calculator: A Step-by-Step Tutorial

english literature important writers

Introduction to Desmos Graphing Calculator for Calculus Desmos is a web-based graphing calculator that is designed to be user-friendly and …

Shooting an Elephant as a Narrative Essay

english literature important writers

Shooting an Elephant as a Narrative Essay It would be quite pertinent to describe Orwell’s Shooting an Elephant as a …

Prose Style of George Orwell in Shooting an Elephant

english literature important writers

Prose Style of George Orwell in Shooting an Elephant “Good prose” asserts George Orwell in one of his characteristically vivid …

Of Travel by Francis Bacon Summary and Analysis

english literature important writers

Of Travel by Francis Bacon Summary and Analysis Of Travel Summary Travel renders great service to both the young and …

Virtue as a Metaphysical Poem

english literature important writers

Virtue as a Metaphysical Poem It is a common practice to designate metaphysical poetry as abstruse, intricate, rather vague. How …

Significance of the Title Brighton Rock

english literature important writers

Significance of the Title Brighton Rock The title of the novel Brighton Rock should be considered as a short snappy …



  1. The Most Famous English Writers of All Time

    english literature important writers

  2. 250+ Famous Authors and their works in English Literature

    english literature important writers

  3. English Authors: The 10 Best English Writers In History ️

    english literature important writers

  4. English Authors: The 10 Best English Writers In History ️

    english literature important writers

  5. Top Five Influential English Writer of Literary History

    english literature important writers

  6. English Authors: The 10 Best English Writers In History ️

    english literature important writers


  1. English literature's facts vol 12

  2. Important questions class 10 board exam2023 by tutor mukesh sir

  3. Best English literature books

  4. best book for literary terms 🥰 must read.🥰🥰

  5. Literary Terms in English Literature

  6. TGT/PGT English Literature Important Points The Tempest by Shakespeare KVS/GIC/NVS/LT GRADE #shorts


  1. English literature

    On the other hand, during the same period in the 20th century, many notable practitioners of English literature left the British Isles to live abroad: James Joyce, D.H. Lawrence, Aldous Huxley, Christopher Isherwood, Robert Graves, Graham Greene, Muriel Spark, and Anthony Burgess.

  2. The 100 greatest British novels

    The Blue Flower (Penelope Fitzgerald, 1995) 72. The Heart of the Matter (Graham Greene, 1948) 71. Old Filth (Jane Gardam, 2004) 70. Daniel Deronda (George Eliot, 1876) 69. Nostromo (Joseph Conrad,...

  3. English Authors: The 10 Best English Writers In History ️

    English Authors: The 10 Best English Writers John Donne: Biography Charles Dickens: A Biography Geoffrey Chaucer: A Biography George Eliot: A Biography George Orwell Biography Harold Pinter: A Biography John Milton: A Biography Samuel Taylor Coleridge: A Biography William Blake: A Biography Irish Authors: The 30 Best Irish Writers

  4. The Most Influential English Writers Of All Time

    Othello, The Tempest, Midsummer Night's Dream and The Merchant of Venice are some of the 37 plays he wrote during his lifetime. If we also consider the 154 sonnets he created, it is easily understood why he is considered to be one of the most prolific and powerful writers of all the time. A portrait of Jane Austen | © Daniel / WikiCommons

  5. 12 Novels Considered the "Greatest Book Ever Written"

    Harper Lee, believed to be one of the most influential authors to have ever existed, famously published only a single novel (up until its controversial sequel was published in 2015 just before her death). Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird was published in 1960 and became an immediate classic of literature.

  6. The 100 best novels written in English: the full list

    Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë (1847) Emily Brontë's windswept masterpiece is notable not just for its wild beauty but for its daring reinvention of the novel form itself. 14. Vanity Fair by...

  7. The 10 Greatest Classic British Novelists

    Known by the name of George Eliot, the English novelist Mary Ann Evans used a male pen name in a not easy time for female writers. Born in 1819, George Eliot wrote some of the most famous works of English literature, including Silas Marner, The Mill on the Floss and Adam Bede.

  8. 17 Famous Writers in English Literature You Should Learn From

    17 Famous Writers Here are 17 successful writers across various literary genres that you should aspire to emulate: William Shakespeare An Iconic poet and playwright, Shakespeare is revered for his contribution to literature and also regarded as one of the pioneering writers in the modern age.

  9. Famous Authors: The 30 Greatest Writers Of All Time ️

    Miguel Cervantes, a contemporary of Shakespeare, actually dying the day before the Bard, is without doubt the most important writer in the history of the modern novel and, indeed, one of the most important in the history of literature. His novel, Don Quixote, was written at the beginning of the form's development but has not been surpassed…

  10. The 50 Most Influential Books Ever Written

    William Shakespeare is often considered the greatest writer in the English language and the greatest dramatist in all of history. The characters, stories, and language have taken hold of readers for hundreds of years and have greatly contributed to shaping modern culture.

  11. 15 Classic British Authors to Read

    Orwell also features on our list of must-read books to English Literature students. Read it here. 13. Ian Fleming (1908 - 1964) Ian Fleming also features on our classic list of authors, famed for creating the well-known and celebrated James Bond spy thriller novels, which have gone on to earn themselves a blockbuster movie franchise.

  12. A Guide to Britain's Most Famous Writers Through History

    Characters including Elizabeth Bennet, Mr Darcy, Emma, Marianne Dashwood and many more are familiar to millions of readers around the world, though Austen herself was not famous during her lifetime; she was writing at a time when female writers weren't taken seriously, so her works were published anonymously while she was alive.

  13. Famous British Writers

    Considered one of the greatest writers in English history, Jane Austen is best known for her six major novels - Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, Emma, Persuasion and Northanger Abbey. Her writing was set among the British landed gentry and dealt with ordinary people in everyday ordinary situation.

  14. The 25 greatest British novels

    21. Heart of Darkness (Joseph Conrad, 1899) This canonical novel was based in part on Conrad's experiences as a steamboat captain on the Congo in 1890. "Conrad's fidelity to the power of ...

  15. A Brief Overview of British Literary Periods

    This period is often subdivided into four parts, including the Elizabethan Age (1558-1603), the Jacobean Age (1603-1625), the Caroline Age (1625-1649), and the Commonwealth Period (1649-1660). The Elizabethan Age was the golden age of English drama. Some of its noteworthy figures include Christopher Marlowe, Francis Bacon, Edmund ...

  16. Brief History of English Literature

    Prominent writers from this literary period include: Alfred the Great, Aldhelm, Alcuin, Aelfric Bata, Aelfric of Canterbury, Bede, Cynewuf, Caedmon, Wulfstan, and others. In addition, Hygeburg, who was a female writer and a nun, is the first Englishwoman known to compose a complete literary writing. (II) ANGLO-NORMAN PERIOD (1066-1340)

  17. Free English Literature Notes, Texts, Summaries, Analysis, Articles

    Analysis of William Carlos Williams's Stories. July 3, 2022. William Carlos Williams (September 17, 1883 - March 4, 1963) is one of the major figures of literary modernism whose peers included Ezra Pound and Wallace Stevens. Highly influenced by the visual arts. Read More ».

  18. List of English writers

    This is a subsidiary to the List of English people. There are or should be similar lists of Irish, Scots, Welsh, Manx, Jersey, and Guernsey writers. This list is split into four pages due to its size: List of English writers (A-C) List of English writers (D-J) List of English writers (K-Q) List of English writers (R-Z)

  19. All About English Literature

    Finance, Home Loan, Education Loan, Car Insurance, Car Loan, Lawyer, Attorney, Literature, Criticism

  20. Indian Writers : 50 most important Indian Writers for NTA UGC NET JRF

    Indian Writers : 50 most important Indian Writers for NTA UGC NET JRF Exam | English Literature#englishliteratureimprovement#netjrfenglish #netjrfenglishlite...