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English Literature: Literary Periods & Genres

This is a research guide for resources in English Literature.

   Literary Periods: A brief overview is located below:

  • Literary periods are spans of time for literature that shares intellectual, linguistic, religious, and artistic influences.
  • The following links, organized by literary period, are to the library's catalog for works by author, title, literary movement, type of work, etc.
  • For further information on materials related to a specific literary period click the "Literary Periods & Genres" tab on the above dropdown menu.

*The text below was taken from Dr. Wheeler's page from Carson Newman College.*

I. The Classical Period (1200 BCE - 455 CE)

     (1200-800 BCE)

Greek legends were passed along orally, including Homer's The Iliad and The Odyssey. This is a chaotic period of warrior-princes, wandering sea-traders, and fierce pirates.

      (800-200 BCE)

Greek writers, playwrights, and philosophers include Gorgias, Aesop, Plato, Socrates, Aristotle, Euripides, and Sophocles. The fifth century (499-400 BCE) in particular is renowned as The Golden Age of Greece. This was the sophisticated era of the polis, or individual City-State, and early democracy. Some of the world's finest art, poetry, drama, architecture, and philosophy originated in Athens.

Statue of Julius Caesar

        (200 BCE-455 CE)

Greece's culture gave way to Roman power when Rome conquered Greece in 146 CE. The Roman Republic was traditionally founded in 509 BCE, but it was limited in size until later. Playwrights of this time include Plautus and Terence. After nearly 500 years as a Republic, Rome slid into a dictatorship under Julius Caesar and finally into a monarchial empire under Caesar Augustus in 27 CE. This later period is known as the Roman Imperial period. Roman writers include Ovid, Horace, and Virgil. Roman philosophers include Marcus Aurelius and Lucretius. Roman rhetoricians include Cicero and Quintilian.

The Confessions of Saint AugustineIV. PATRISTIC PERIOD
       (c. 70 CE-455 CE)

Early Christian writers include Saint Augustine, TertullianSaint Cyprian, Saint Ambrose and Saint Jerome. This is the period when Saint Jerome first compiled the Bible, Christianity spread across Europe, and the Roman Empire suffered its dying convulsions. In this period, barbarians attacked Rome in 410 CE, and the city finally fell to them completely in 455 CE.

III. The Renaissance and Reformation (1485-1660 CE)

(The Renaissance took place in the late 15th, 16th, and early 17th century in Britain, but somewhat earlier in Italy and southern Europe and somewhat later in northern Europe.)

                                               I. Early Tudor Period
Edmund Spenser's Faerie Queene

The War of the Roses ended in England with Henry Tudor (Henry VII) claiming the throne. Martin Luther's split with Rome marks the emergence of Protestantism, followed by Henry VIII's Anglican schism, which created the first Protestant church in England. Edmund Spenser is a sample poet.


II. Elizabethan Period
William Shakespeare

Queen Elizabeth saved England from both Spanish invasion and internal squabbles at home. Her reign is marked by the early works of Shakespeare, Marlowe, Kyd, and Sidney.

III. Jacobean Period

Shakespeare's later work include Aemilia Lanyer, Ben Jonson, and John Donne.


John Milton's Paradise LostIV. Caroline Age

John Milton, George Herbert, Robert Herrick, the "Sons of Ben" and others wrote during the reign of Charles I and his Cavaliers.


V. Commonwealth Period/Puritan Interregnum

Under Cromwell's Puritan dictatorship, John Milton continued to write, but we also find writers like Andrew Marvell and Sir Thomas Browne.

V. The Romantic Period (1790-1830 CE)

Thoreau's WaldenRomantic poets wrote about nature, imagination, and individuality in England. Some Romantics include ColeridgeBlake, Keats, and Shelley in Britain and Johann von Goethe in Germany. Jane Austen also wrote at this time, though she is typically not categorized with the male Romantic poets. In America, this period is mirrored in the Transcendental Period from about 1830-1850. Transcendentalists include Emerson and Thoreau.

Dracula by Bram Stoker

Gothic writings (c. 1790-1890) overlap with the Romantic and Victorian periods. Writers of Gothic novels (the precursor to horror novels) include Radcliffe, "Monk" Lewis, and Victorians like Bram Stoker in Britain. In America, Gothic writers include Poe and Hawthorne.

VII. The Modern Period (1914-1945 CE)

Flannery O'Connor's A Good Man Is Hard To FindIn Britain, modernist writers include W. B. Yeats, Seamus Heaney, Dylan Thomas, W. H. Auden, Virginia Woolf, and Wilfred Owen. In America, the modernist period includes Robert Frost and Flannery O'Connor as well as the famous writers of The Lost Generation (also called the writers of The Jazz Age, 1914-1929) such as HemingwayStein, Fitzgerald, and Faulkner.

The Harlem Renaissance marks the rise of black writers such as Baldwin and Ellison. Realism is the dominant fashion, but the disillusionment with the World Wars lead to new experimentation.

II. The Medieval Period (455 CE-1485 CE)

     (428-1066 CE)King Alfred Coins

The so-called "Dark Ages" (455 CE -799 CE) occured after Rome fell and barbarian tribes moved into Europe. Franks, Ostrogoths, Lombards, and Goths settled in the ruins of Europe, and the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes migrated to Britain displacing native Celts into Scotland, Ireland, and Wales. Early Old English poems such as Beowulf, The Wanderer, and The Seafarer originated sometime late in the Anglo-Saxon period. The Carolingian Renaissance (800- 850 CE) emerged in Europe. In central Europe, texts include early medieval grammars, encyclopedias, etc. In northern Europe, this time period marks the setting of Viking sagas.

      (c. 1066-1450 CE)Bayeux Tapestry

In 1066, Norman French armies invaded and conquered England under William I. This marks the end of the Anglo-Saxon hierarchy and the emergence of the Twelfth Century Renaissance (c. 1100-1200 CE). French chivalric romances--such as works by Chretien de Troyes--and French fables--such as the works of Marie de France and Jeun de Meun--spread in popularity. Abelard and other humanists produced great scholastic and theological works.

Late or "High" Medieval Period
 (c. 1200-1485 CE)

Canterbury Tales manuscriptThis often tumultuous period is marked by the Middle English writings of Geoffrey Chaucer, the "Gawain" or "Pearl" Poet, the Wakefield Master, and William Langland. Other writers include Italian and French authors like Boccaccio, Petrarch, Dante, and Christine de Pisan.

IV. The Enlightenment (Neoclassical) Period (1660-1790 CE)

"Neoclassical" refers to the increased influence of Classical literature upon these centuries. The Neoclassical Period is also called the "Enlightenment" due to the increased reverence for logic and disdain for superstition. The period is marked by the rise of Deism, intellectual backlash against earlier Puritanism, and America's revolution against England.

John Dryden's adaptation of VirgilI. Restoration Period

This period marks the British king's restoration to the throne after a long period of Puritan domination in England. Its symptoms include the dominance of French and Classical influences on poetry and drama. Sample writers include John Dryden, John Locke, Sir William Temple, and Samuel Pepys, and Aphra Behn in England. Abroad, representative authors include Jean Racine and Molière.

II. The Augustan Age
      (1700-1750)Works of Alexander Pope

This period is marked by the imitation of Virgil and Horace's literature in English letters. The principal English writers include Addison, Steele, Swift, and Alexander Pope. Abroad, Voltaire was the dominant French writer.

Edward Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman EmpireIII. The Age of Johnson

This period marks the transition toward the upcoming Romanticism though the period is still largely Neoclassical. Major writers include Dr. Samuel Johnson, Boswell, and Edward Gibbon who represent the Neoclassical tendencies, while writers like Robert Burns, Thomas GrayCowper, and Crabbe show movement away from the Neoclassical ideal. In America, this period is called the Colonial Period. It includes colonial and revolutionary writers like Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and Thomas Paine.

VI. The Victorian Period and the 19th Century (1832-1901 CE)

Depiction of Tennyson's Lady of ShalottWritings from the period of Queen Victoria's reign include sentimental novels. British writers include Elizabeth Browning, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Matthew Arnold, Robert Browning, Charles Dickens, and the Brontë sisters. Pre-Raphaelites, like the Rossetti siblings and William Morris, idealize and long for the morality of the medieval world.

Stephen Crane's Red Badge of CourageThe end of the Victorian Period is marked by the intellectual movements of Aestheticism and "the Decadence" in the writings of Walter Pater and Oscar Wilde. In America, Naturalist writers like Stephen Crane flourished, as did early free verse poets like Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson.

VIII. The Postmodern Period (1945 - onward)

T.S. Eliot's Love Song for J. Alfred PrufrockT. S. Eliot, Morrison, Shaw, Beckett, Stoppard, Fowles, Calvino, Ginsberg, Pynchon, and other modern writers, poets, and playwrights experimented with metafiction and fragmented poetry. Multiculturalism led to an increasing canonization of non-Caucasian writers such as Langston Hughes, Sandra Cisneros, and Zora Neal Hurston.

Marquez's One Hundred Years of SolitudeMagic Realists such as Gabriel García Márquez, Luis Borges, Alejo Carpentier, Günter Grass, and Salman Rushdie flourished with surrealistic writings embroidered in the conventions of realism.