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British Literature

Who are the most popular British writers?

The playwright William Shakespeare (1564-1616) and the novelist Charles Dickens (1812-1870) remain two of the most popular and widely known British writers the world over. In addition to writing 35 known plays, Shakespeare wrote 154 sonnets and sometimes acted in small parts in his own plays - he is known to have played the Ghost in Hamlet. His best known plays include:Romeo and Juliet, King Lear, Hamletand A Midsummer Nights Dream.

Dickens began his writing career as a journalist, and all his novels were first published serially in periodicals. Many of his works highlight the injustice of 19th century social institutions and the inequalities between the rich and the poor. His most famous works includeOliver Twist, A Christmas Caroland David Copperfield.

The novels of Jane Austen (1775-1817) are known for their subtlety of observation and irony, together with their penetrating insights into the provincial life of the middle-classes in the early part of the 19th century. Her works include Emma, Pride and Prejudiceand Sense and Sensibility- all dramatised on film and TV to critical acclaim.

The Bronte sisters, Charlotte (1816-55), Emily (1818-48) and Anne (1820-49), were three talented 19th-century women novelists whose works are regarded as classics today. Charlotte is best known for her novel Jane Eyre, and Emily for Wuthering Heights- both novels feature strong, independent heroines.

Many distinguished works of contemporary fiction have been awarded the Booker Price, given annually to the best novel published in Britain. Novels must be written in England by a citizen of Britain, the Commonwealth or the Republic of Ireland. The winner of the Booker Prize in 1999 was J.M Coetzee for his novel Disgrace.

Bernice Rubens is a contemporary Welsh-Jewish writer who grew up in Cardiff. She has received much critical acclaim for her novels. Glasgow-born James Kelman is a leading contemporary writer from Scotland whose writing echoes the rhythms of the Glaswegian dialect. Currently all the rage amongst children and adults alike is the schoolboy wizard, Harry Potter, the creation of JK Rowling.

One of the most widely know English poets is remarkable because his work has been continuously transcribed, published, read and commented on since his death. That he lived over 600 years ago is no less remarkable. He is Geoffrey Chaucer (c.1345-1400). His best known work is The Canterbury Tales, a collection of tales by a group of pilgrims bound for the shrine of St. Thomas Becket at Canterbury. Chaucer is buried in Westminster Abbey.

A modern-day humorous poet is Benjamin Zephaniah whose verse dips and dives through contemporary themes. He is well known for his live performances.

The London poet, Andrew Motion, succeeded Ted Hughes as Poet Laureate is a member of Royal Household, appointed by the Royal Warrant, who composes odes in celebration of State occasions. The appointment dates from the time of King James I (1603-1625). The Romantic poet William Wordsworth (1770-1850) was Poet Laureate from 1843-1850.

Another popular contemporary poet is Seamus Heaney, born in Northern Ireland. His early poems reflect Irish rural life and work and can be found in the collections Death of a Naturalist(1966) and Wintering Out(1972). His new translation of the epic poem Beowulf won the 1999 Whitbread Book of the Year Award.

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