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English literatureFrom Wikipedia, the free encyclopediaSelected English-language writers:Geoffrey Chaucer,William Shakespeare,Jane Austen,MarkTwain,Virginia Woolf,T. S. Eliot,Vladimir Nabokov,Toni Morrison,Salman Rushdie.The focus of this article is on literature in theEnglish languagefrom anywhere, not just theliterature ofEngland, so that it includes writers fromScotland, the whole ofIreland,Wales, aswell as literature in English from formerBritish colonies, including the US. However, up untilthe early 19th century, it deals with the literature written in English ofBritainandIreland.English literatureis generally seen as beginning with theepic poemBeowulf, that dates frombetween the 8th to the 11th centuries, the most famous work inOld English, which has achieved
national epicstatus in England, despite being set inScandinavia. The next important landmark isthe works of the poetGeoffrey Chaucer(c. 1343–1400), especiallyThe Canterbury Tales. Thenduring TheRenaissance, especially the late 16th and early 17th centuries, major drama andpoetry was written byWilliam Shakespeare,Ben Jonson,John Donneand many others. Anothergreat poet, from later in the 17th century, wasJohn Milton(1608–74) author of theepic poemParadise Lost(1667). The late 17th and the early 18th century are particularly associated withsatire, especially in the poetry ofJohn DrydenandAlexander Pope, and the prose works ofJonathan Swift. The 18th century also saw the first British novels in the works ofDaniel Defoe,Samuel Richardson, andHenry Fielding, while the late 18th and early 19th century was theperiod of theRomantic poetsWordsworth,Coleridge,ShelleyandKeats.It was in theVictorian era(1837–1901) that the novel became the leadingliterary genreinEnglish,dominated especially byCharles Dickens, but there were many other significantwriters, including theBrontësisters, and thenThomas Hardy, in the final decades of the 19thcentury. Americans began to produce major writers in the 19th century, including novelistHerman Melville, author ofMoby Dick(1851) and the poetsWalt WhitmanandEmilyDickinson. Another American,Henry James, was a major novelist of the late 19th and earlytwentieth century, while Polish-bornJoseph Conradwas perhaps the most important Britishnovelist of the first two decades of the 20th century.Irish writers were especially important in the 20th century, includingJames Joyce, and laterSamuel Beckett, both central figures in theModernistmovement. Americans, like poetsT. S.EliotandEzra Poundand novelistWilliam Faulkner, were other important modernists. In themid 20th century major writers started to appear in the various countries of the British
Commonwealth, several who have beenNobel-laureates. Many major writers in English in the20th and 21st centuries have come from outside theUnited Kingdom. The termPostmodernliterature is used to describe certain tendencies in post-World War II literature. It is both a