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Paul Sparks - Online English Lesson Plans, Lesson Material and Ideas for "Culture of English Speaking Countries Lessons", Xiangtan Normal University...




British Literature


Shakespeare (1564 - 1616): William Shakespeare (1564 - 1616) is probably the best known playwright and poet in the world. He came from a middle class family in a town in England called Stratford. He became a very successful writer and director of a theatre company in London. His plays include comedies, tragedies and history plays. He was the eldest of three sons, and there were four daughters. He was educated at the local grammar school, and married Anne Hathaway, from a local farming family, in 1582. They had a daughter, Susanna, in 1583, and twins, Hamnet and Judith, in 1585.

Shakespeare moved to London, possibly in 1591, and became an actor. From 1592 to 1594, when the theatres were closed for the plague, he wrote his poems "Venus and Adonis" and "The Rape of Lucrece." His sonnets, known by 1598, though not published until 1609, fall into two groups: 1 to 126 are addressed to a fair young man, and 127 to 154 to a "dark lady" who holds both the young man and the poet in thrall. Who these people are has provided an exercise in detection for numerous critics. The first evidence of his association with the stage is in 1594, when he was acting with the Lord Chamberlain's company of players, later "the King's Men'. When the company built the Globe Theatre south of the Thames in 1597, he became a partner, living modestly at a house in Silver Street until c.1606, then moving near the Globe. He returned to Stratford, living as a country gentleman at his house, New Place. He died in March 1616, and he was buried at Stratford. His works are as follows:

1589  King John (Play) 

1590- 1591  Henry VI Part II (Play)

1590  Titus Andronicus (Play) 

1590- 1591  Henry VI Part I (Play)

1590- 1591  Henry VI Part III (Play)

1593  The Comedy of Errors (Play) 

1593  The Two Gentlemen of Verona (Play) 

1593  Venus and Adonis (Poetry) 

1594  Love's Labour's Lost (Play) 

1594  The Rape of Lucrece (Poetry) 

1594  The Life and Death of Richard III (Play) 

1594  The Life and Death of Richard II (Play) 

1594  The Taming of the Shrew (Play) 

1595  Romeo and Juliet (Play) 

1596  A Midsummer Night's Dream (Play) 

1596  The Merchant of Venice (Play)

1597  Henry IV Part I (Play)

1597  The Merry Wives of Windsor (Play) 

1598  Much Ado about Nothing (Play)

1598  Henry IV Part II (Play) 

1599  The Life of Henry V (Play) 

1599  Julius Caesar (Play)

1599  As You Like It (Play) 

1600  Twelfth Night (Play)

1601  The Phoenix and the Turtle (Poetry) 

1601  Hamlet (Play)

1602- 1604  All's Well That Ends Well (Play) 

1602  Troilus and Cressida (Play)

1604  Othello, The Moor of Venice (Play)

1604  Measure for Measure (Play)

1605  King Lear (Play)

1606  Macbeth (Play) 

1607  Antony and Cleopatra (Play)

1607  Timon of Athens (Play)

1608  Coriolanus (Play)

1609  Sonnets (Poetry) 

1609  Pericles, Prince of Tyre (Play)

1610  Cymbeline (Play)

1611  The Winter's Tale (Play) 

1611  The Tempest (Play)

1613  The Life of King Henry VIII (Collaborations) 

1634  The Two Noble Kinsmen (Collaborations)

The Nineteenth Century: Romantic poets began writing in the early 19th centuary - "Keats", "Shelley" and "Wordsworth" are the most famous. Mary Shelley wrote the story of "Frankenstein" in 1817, a story about science gone wrong when a scientist tried to create life, but instead created a monster. Jane Austin wrote six novels published between 1811 and 1818, some of which have now been made into successful movies. The most famous literary family in history are the "Bronte" sisters. They were three sisters, Charlotte, Emily and ann, from a small village in Yorkshire, England. Charlotte Bronte wrote "Jane Eyre", Emily Bronte wrote "Withering Heights", both in 1847. The Bronte's had trouble getting their work published, therefore they used alternative names of men to allow their work to be published. Charles Dickens wrote many well known novels in the 19th centuary, including "Oliver Twist". Sir Walter Scott, a Scottish novelist, wrote many novels, including "Ivanhoe". Later in the 19th centuary, Robert Louis Stevenson wrote many novels, including "Doctor Jekell and Mr. Hyde".

Charles Dickens (Born 1812): Born Charles John Huffam Dickens, on February 7, 1812, in Landport, Hampshire, England; the son of a clerk in the navy pay office. In 1814 he moved to London, then to Chatham, where he received some schooling. He found a menial post with a solicitor, then took up journalism, becoming a reporter at Doctors' Commons, and at 22 joined a London newspaper. He published various papers in the Monthly Magazine, following this up with sketches and papers for the Evening Chronicle.

In 1836 his Sketches by Boz and Pickwick Papers were published; and that year he married Catherine, the daughter of his friend George Hogarth. They had 10 children, but were separated in 1858. Dickens worked relentlessly, producing several successful novels which created a Shakespearean gallery of characters and also campaigned against many of the social evils of his time. The novels first appeared in monthly instalments, notably Oliver Twist (1837-9), Nicholas Nickleby (1838-9), and The Old Curiosity Shop (1840-1). Thereafter a great part of his life was spent abroad. His later novels include David Copperfield (1849-50), Bleak House (1852-3), A Tale of Two Cities (1859), Great Expectations (1860-1), and the unfinished The Mystery of Edwin Drood (1870). In addition, he gave talks and readings, and wrote many pamphlets, plays, and letters. His novels have provided the basis for many successful adaptations in the theatre, in the cinema, on radio, and on television. His works are as follows:

1836  The Pickwick Papers (Novel) 

1836- 1837  Sketches by Boz (Novel) 

1837- 1839  Oliver Twist (Novel)

1838- 1839  Nicholas Nickleby (Novel)

1840- 1841  The Old Curiosity Shop (Novel)

1841  Barnaby Rudge (Novel) 

1842  American Notes (Other) 

1843- 1844  Martin Chuzzlewit (Novel) 

1845  Pictures from Italy (Other)

1846  Dombey and Son (Novel) 

1849- 1850  David Copperfield (Novel) 

1852  A Christmas Carol (Novel)

1852- 1853  Bleak House (Novel) 

1854  Hard Times (Novel)

1855- 1857  Little Dorrit (Novel)

1859  A Tale of Two Cities (Novel) 

1860- 1861  Great Expectations (Novel) 

1864- 1865  Our Mutual Friend (Novel) 

1870  The Mystery of Edwin Drood (Novel)

William Wordsworth (1770 - 1850): Born April 7, 1770 in Cookermouth, Cumberland, England. Unlike the other major English romantic poets, he enjoyed a happy childhood under the loving care of his mother and in close intimacy with his younger sister Dorothy, born in 1771. As a child, he walked through the lovely natural scenery of Cumberland. From 1787 to 1790 Wordsworth attended St. John's College, Cambridge, always returning with breathless delight to the north and to nature during his summer vacations. Before graduating from Cambridge, he took a walking tour through France, Switzerland, and Italy in 1790.

He moved to France and while Wordsworth's political ideas and poetic talent were beginning to take shape, he fell passionately in love with a French girl, Annette Vallon. She gave birth to their daughter in December 1792. Having exhausted his funds, he was obliged to return home. The separation left him with a sense of guilt that deepened his poetic inspiration and accounted for the prominence of the theme of derelict womanhood in much of his work. 

His first poems were printed in 1793. By then, Wordsworth's wretchedness over Annette and their child had been aggravated by a tragic sense of torn loyalties as war broke out between England and the French Republic. He died on April 23, 1850.

John Keats (1795 - 1821): Born October 31st, 1795, in London, England. Keats’ parents ran a London stable, earning enough to send John, the eldest of five children, to private school. Keats was boisterous and high-spirited, but his schoolmasters discovered a keen interest in reading, and introduced him to poetry and theatre. When John was eight years old, his father died, launching a long economic struggle that would keep Keats in poverty throughout his life, despite a large inheritance that was owed him. Eventually, Keats’ unscrupulous guardian, who kept the money from him, apprenticed Keats to a surgeon. Keats worked with the surgeon from 1811 until 1814, then went to work for a hospital in London as a junior apothecary and surgeon in charge of dressing wounds.

Keats pursued his interest in literature while working at the hospital. He became friends with the editor of the Examiner, Leigh Hunt, a successful poet and author who introduced him to other literary figures, including Percy Bysshe Shelley. Although Keats did not write his first poem until age 18, he quickly showed tremendous promise, encouraged by Hunt and his circle. Keats’ work first appeared in the Examiner in 1816, followed by his first book, Poems (1817). After 1817, Keats devoted himself entirely to poetry, becoming a master of the Romantic sonnet and trying his hand at epic poems like Hyperion. 

In 1818, Keats’ financial struggles deepened when his brother Tom fell ill with tuberculosis, and another brother’s poor investment left him penniless. Meanwhile, a strenuous walking tour of England’s Lake District damaged Keats’ health. The one bright spot in his life was Fanny Brawne, his fiancee. Sadly, Keats’ poverty did not allow them to marry. He developed tuberculosis in 1820, traveled to Italy hoping to improve his condition, and died there in February 1821.

The Twentieth Century: One of the most famous writers of the 20th century is Virginia Woolf. Her books concerned womens issues and womens rights. One of her best known works is "Mrs. Alloway" (1925). Two other very famous writers of this period are E.M. Forster and D.H Lawrence. Forster wrote the famous "Howards End" which has also been made into a successful movie. After the second world war one of the most famous English novels was written by George Orwell, entitles "1984", written in 1948, it was a vision of how the world would be in 1984. One of the most well known fiction writers was Graham Green (1904 - 1991) who wrote novels about morals and also spies. Ian Fleming is very well known, mainly for his "James Bond" stories, which have been made into very big movies. Twentieth century poets include Dylan Thomas, a writer from Wales, (1914 - 1953). Scotland's Irvine Welsh wrote a very successful book "Train Spotting" in 1993, which was made into a movie in 1996.

Graham Greene (1904 - 1991): Born in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, England. He studied at Oxford, during which time he converted from Anglicanism to Catholicism. Later he moved to London, where he became a journalist and then a freelance writer. His early novels, beginning with The Man Within (1929), and "entertainments", such as Stamboul Train (1932), use the melodramatic technique of the thriller. In his major novels, central religious issues emerge, first apparent in Brighton Rock (1938), and more explicit in The Power and the Glory (1940), The End of the Affair (1951), and A Burnt-Out Case (1961). 

He also wrote several plays, film scripts (notably, The Third Man, 1949), short stories, and essays, as well as three volumes of autobiography. His later works include Dr Fischer of Geneva (1980), Monsignor Quixote (1982), and The Tenth Man (1985). In 1999, The End of the Affair was made into a highly acclaimed film starring Julianne Moore (who earned an Academy Award nomination for her role as Sarah Miles) and Ralph Fiennes. Greene lived in Antibes, France, for many years until his death in 1991. 

D.H. Lawrence (1885 - 1930): A novelist, poet and essayist, born David Herbert Lawrence, on September 11, 1885, in Eastwood, Nottinghamshire. Lawrence was the son of a little-educated coal miner and a mother of middle-class origins who fought with the father and his limited way of life so that the children might escape it or, as Lawrence once put it, "rise in the world." Their quarrel and estrangement, and the consequent damage to the children, became the subject of perhaps his most famous novel, Sons and Lovers (1913). Lawrence was trained to be a teacher at Nottingham University College and taught at Davidson Road School in Croydon until 1912, when his health failed. The great friend of his youth, Jessie Chambers, who was the real-life counterpart of Miriam in Sons and Lovers, had sent some of his work to the English Review. The editor, Ford Madox Ford, hailed him at once as a find, and Lawrence began his writing career. 

The Lawrences lived in many parts of the world—particularly, as place affected his work, in Italy, Australia, New Mexico, and Mexico. Embittered by the censorship of his work and the suspicion regarding his German-born wife during the war. There were quarrels and desertions, and his precarious health was a factor in the constant moves. At the end of his life he wistfully regarded himself as lacking in the societal self. He died in France, on March 2nd, 1930. 

All through his career Lawrence's boldness in treating the sexual side of his characters' relationships had aroused the censorious. For example, The Rainbow was originally withdrawn and destroyed by the publisher after a complaint. But in Lady Chatterley's Lover, his last full-length novel, Lawrence went much further. The book was banned in England, and this was followed by the seizure of the manuscript of his poems Pansies and the closing of an exhibition of his paintings. His works are as follows:

1911  The White Peacock 

1912  The Trespasser 

1913  Sons and Lovers 

1913  Love Poems and Others 

1914  The Widowing of Mrs. Holroyd 

1914  The Prussian Officer and Other Stories 

1915  The Rainbow 

1916  Amores 

1917  Look! We Have Come Through! 

1918  New Poems 

1919  Bay 

1920  Touch and Go 

1920  Women in Love 

1920  The Lost Girl 

1921  Tortoises 

1922  England My England and Other Stories 

1922  Aaron's Rod 

1923  Kangaroo 

1923  Birds, Beasts, and Flowers 

1923  The Captain's Doll: Three Novelettes 

1924  The Boy in the Bush 

1925  St. Mawr, Together with The Princess 

1926  David 

1926  The Plumed Serpent 

1926  Glad Ghosts 

1926  Sun 

1928  Lady Chatterley's Lover 

1928  Collected Poems 

1928  The Woman Who Rode Away and Other Stories 

1928  Rawdon's Roof 

1929  Pansies 

1929  The Escaped Cock 

1930  Love Among the Haystacks and Other Pieces 

1930  The Virgin and the Gipsy 

1930  Nettles 

1931  The Triumph of the Machine 

1932  Last Poems 

1933  Keeping Barbara 

1933  The Lovely Lady 

1934  A Collier's Friday Night 

1934  A Modern Lover 

1936  The Daughter-in-Law 

Dylan Thomas (1914 - 1953): Born Dylan Marlais Thomas on October 27th, 1914, in the Welsh seaport of Swansea, Carmarthenshire. His father was an English teacher and a would-be poet, from whom Dylan inherited his intellect and literary abilities. From his mother, a simple and religious woman, Dylan inherited his disposition, temperament, and Celtic sentimentality. He attended the Swansea Grammar School, where he received all of his formal education. As a student, he made contributions to the school magazine and was keenly interested in local folklore.

After leaving school Thomas supported himself as an actor, reporter, reviewer, and scriptwriter and with various odd jobs. When he was 22 years old, he married Caitlin Macnamara, by whom he had two sons, Llewelyn and Colm, and a daughter, Aeron. After his marriage, Thomas moved to the fishing village of Laugharne, Carmarthenshire. The need to support his growing family forced Thomas to write radio scripts for the Ministry of Information and documentaries for the British government. During World War II he served as an antiaircraft gunner. After the war he became a commentator on poetry for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). In 1950 Thomas made the first of three lecture tours through the United States, the others were in 1952 and 1953, in which he gave more than 100 poetry readings.

Thomas's poetic output was not large. He wrote only six poems in the last 6 years of his life. Dissipation and a grueling lecture schedule hindered his literary output in these years. His conviction that he would die young led him to create "instant Dylan" the persona of the wild young Welsh bard, damned by drink and women, that he believed his public wanted. When he was 35 years old, he described himself as "old, small, dark, intelligent, and darting-doting-dotting eyed ... balding and toothlessing." He had grown corpulent but retained his grace of movement. During his visit to the United States in 1953, Thomas was scheduled to read his own and other poetry in some 40 university towns throughout the country. 

Thomas celebrated his thirty-ninth birthday in New York City following the success of his just published Collected Poems. The festivities ended in collapse and illness, and on Nov. 9, 1953, he died in St. Vincent's Hospital in New York City. His body was returned to Laugharne, Wales, for burial. His works are as follows:

1934  Eighteen Poems (Poetry)

1936  Twenty-Five Poems (Poetry) 

1939  The Map of Love (Poetry)

1940  Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog (Semi-autobiographical) 

1943  New Poems (Poetry)

1946  Deaths and Entrances (Poetry) 

1952  In Country Sleep (Poetry)

1952  Collected Poems 1934--52 (Poetry) 

1954  Under Milk Wood (Play for radio)

1955  A Prospect of the Sea (Short Stories) 

1955  Adventures in the Skin Trade (Semi-autobiographical) 

E.M. Forster (1879 - 1970): Edward Morgan Forster, born on January 1st, 1879, in London, England, known as E.M. Forster. His architect father died when he was two, and Forster was raised by his mother and a great-aunt in an old house called Rooksnest, which later became the model for the country estate portrayed in his acclaimed novel Howard’s End (1910). Forster was teased and tormented mercilessly at the private school he attended as a day student, and remained shy and timid through the rest of his life. However, he found intellectual companionship during his university years at King’s College, Cambridge, where he joined a secret society of intellectuals called the Apostles.

Forster began contributing essays and stories to the newly formed Independent Review in 1903, and published his first novel, Where Angels Fear to Tread, two years later. Like many of his later books, the novel looked at English discomfort with foreign cultures. Forster traveled widely, visiting Greece, Italy and India, and later serving with the Red Cross in Alexandria, Egypt from 1915 to 1919.

At home in England, Forster made many close friends among the intellectual and literary “Bloomsbury set,” including Virginia Woolf. Forster’s fifth novel, A Passage to India (1924), now considered his greatest work, was the last novel that Forster published in his lifetime. In 1946, Forster received an honorary fellowship from his alma mater which allowed him to live in Cambridge during the rest of his life. He died in 1970, at the age of 91.

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