British Literature: Romantic Era to the Twentieth Century and Beyond
This open anthology of British Literature encompasses the following eras: Romantic, Victorian, and Twentieth Century and Beyond. The selections represent the literature developed and developing within and through their respective eras. Considering the limitations that the very act of anthologizing imposes, not all that could be representative is included. But what is included, hopefully, is literature that was shaped by its era and that helped shape the literature that followed.
This anthology includes contextualizing Introductions to each era, Biographies of each author, and Reading and Review Questions on each author's included works. This material offers basic signposts toward critical interpretation and understanding of the selections. But they do not impose or intend to shape that understanding so students can instead hone their critical thinking skills and synthesize historical, cultural, and aesthetic concepts.
With this open anthology, students can compare the selections both within and across historical eras to analyze shared themes. The theme of personal identity as inherent or as socially constructed opens a constellation of related themes, many of which students may take for granted or have not critically examined. Students can understand the revolutionary aspects of the Romantic era by considering how static and determined class distinctions of the eighteenth century became more fluid and conditional in the nineteenth century. They can understand how the Romantics, seeing past sources of identity within a stable class system catastrophically disrupted by revolutionary forces across Europe and ultimately within England, considered universal elements of individuality that were shared across all classes and that demonstrated fundamental equality among humans.
Imagination became a touchstone of such shared humanity. Considering the theme of Imagination opens related themes of dream and nightmare, happiness and terror, truth and doubt (or self-truths and self-doubts). Categories of identity constructs—such as hero and monster—similarly become conditional or conditioned, for example, upon self-realization and social limitations.
Students can consider how one era’s literature influenced the next. Victorian poetry can suggest how revelation of self could be made objective and impersonal through dramatized monologues. A speaker’s point of view can reveal truths about humanity—such as jealousy, control, hatred, and greed—that evoke both sympathy and rejection. Impersonality can then lead to the shifting impersonations of Modern literature. Ego and egotism can be deplored by Victorian writers but desired by the Moderns. The horrors of the twentieth century can subvert the heroics of the nineteenth. And the realization of these horrors can grow out of the very sense of individual rights that the Romantics expressed—rights shared across gender, race, and class.
This anthology hopefully will open students (and readers) to the conversation that literature has held with readers in the past and is holding with us now.