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History of English literature is the Autobiography of English People

History of English literature is the Autobiography of English People

History, is made up of the works of individual writers, and whatever individual writer conceives from society.

Rashid Chandio

Literature is basically a term used to indicate or describe written and spoken works of writers. Generally, it refers to the creative work and art of authors including prose and poetry – novel, fiction, drama, story etc. Moreover, it is the reflection of society, but at the same time it unveils the ideology of the author, it puts forward the idea of development of the nation, it enhances the language etc. However, literature varies from country to country, nation to nation, man to man and generation to generation. It is only the literature that keeps language alive, culture to follow and tradition of any nation to go with, customs to practice and so on. History, is made up of the works of individual writers, and whatever individual writer conceives from society, he or she writes it down in their own style. In this way, writers and their literary work make history in general and history of their nation in particular.

Now let’s talk about the history of English literature. Same formula will come under consideration to understand the history of English people and their literature because English Literature and English people’s rapid rise go parallel. How English literature evolved? What stages do they and their literature process? What things come in their contact to develop their literature? What kind of events and incidents happened which influenced writers to write? These questions sound very noisy, but they can properly answer about English literature and its history. Because literature is the production of events and incidents. If there is no situation then there is no reaction at all.

Mostly, literature is the consequences and results of war. Same case with English literature too, it develops through war. So, there is a close connection between English literature and English life. Perhaps, the history of English literature is the chronological account and order of books and their authors. Whatever is written or produced is difficult to understand until and unless not touching the biography of the writers in their work because writer is the production of his/her age. Every book backs us immediately to that period in which such and such work was produced or written. Each writer reflects and models his/her age accordingly. As in English literature from Chaucer to the present age, every writer displays their period by giving new things and concepts. ‘As, Hudson says, “Every great writer brings one absolutely new thing into the world himself, and it is just because he puts this one new thing into what he writes that his work bears its own special hall mark’’.

Therefore, it is a very essential element to study individual writers’ influence on literature. Hence, English literature is a blend of writers’ personalities and its work. It shows the contribution of writers. However, individuality is a mere thing to judge any literature. From a broader perspective, literature changes and grows from generation to generation. But it matters what place an individual writer occupies in her or his age. An individuality is important in the sense of how a single writer influences his contemporary and upcoming writers.

Once a writer becomes successful in his age, then his work is appreciated and lasts for a long time. In this way schools are formed, and literary movements get started. But it remains till the other powerful work would take place. Many examples are there in English literature, such as Shakespeare school of thought, Dryden school of thought, Pope school of thought. These schools are coming into being with names of those genius writers who influence their age and as well coming ages. They were the chief representative of their age therefore they are entitled and honored with honorable names. It further discloses relations of writer to writer, group to group.

From their meaning, both the words biography and autobiography are very simple to understand. These both words and terms keep hidden meanings. Generally, biography is defined as someone writing about someone else’s life in detail. An autobiography is described as a person or writer writing about his life himself. When we explain these terms from a literary point of view then these terms or words will give us a different contextual meaning and definition. Here we emphasize the biography and autobiography of English literature. What connection these two terms carry and what is their importance in the development of English literature as a whole.

English-Literature-1From Chaucer to present age, whatever has been written in English literature – On the one hand it’s the autobiography of a writer and on the other its biography of English people and their lifestyle. ’As Hudson says, “English history is our nation’s biography, its literature is its autobiography; in the one we read the story of its actions and practical achievements; in the other the story of its intellectual and moral development’’.

So, it is very clear that English history and English literature are intermingled, going shoulder to shoulder. It is the transformation of feelings of writers in different moods. Writers share their probable love and avoiding fate with English literature. Through this whole story nothing seems unusual because many things at a time were in motion and movement. Firstly, in Chaucer age there was not any influence of English language and mostly writers preferred to write in French and Latin, and English language was considered as third language and mostly spoken by common people in the countryside. This was a very tense situation for survival of the English language. Secondly, it was the worst time for English literature. Now it’s clear that no language means no literature at all.

Chaucer was a man who reserved the English language and started to produce literature in it. It was either the fortune of the English language and literature or difficult time to live in as far as their literature is concerned. Chaucer hopes against hope means there is no glimpse of hope and light then still there is something to interpret and continue their journey, same thing Chaucer did. English people, English literature and writers have got a way to further expand their literature. Unfortunately, it was not done as expected because in 15th century no such breakthrough came in English literature therefore this age is known as Barren and Dark Age in the history of English literature.

When English people stepped in 16th century, many writers appeared and wrote as Edmund Spencer or we can say 16th century was golden age English dramas and for English metaphysical poetry because in dramas writers like Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare gave birth to the English dramas in real sense and from this age onwards no English dramatist produced drama as they had produced therefore these genius writers still famous and popular not only in England but throughout the world. They introduced, carried, brought and talked universal themes in their dramas and through those themes they presented their people, age and ultimately themselves.

Moreover, this age is also credited as the age of metaphysical poets which is quite different from other traditional poets because they wrote but in very different styles. New subject-matter came into practice, a paradoxical combination in their poetry. So overall, it was a golden period and Renaissance in English literature and ultimately for English people to think freely.  Therefore, Ben Johnson says, ‘’Shakespeare was not of an age, but for all time’’.

I try to relate the history of English literature with the history of English writers. Because history stands on the pillars and those pillars are undoubtedly writers. After the renaissance, English literature has never stopped but developed rapidly in every genre of literature. Because every age follows another age in order to continue the work but with English literature the story is completely changed because every English writer introduces his/her own new style to write. In this way, in a short period of time English language and literature got dominance over other languages and literature and today English people are so powerful in every aspect of life in the world.

Though their history has remained in ups and downs, their writers defend their people through their writings rather than to quit. English writers not only defend but they also inspire their people to stand out from their houses to play their part in the progress of the English nation. Many events happened in Europe like, French Revolution, industrial revolution and many more which shook Europe but England and English writers remained optimistic rather than antagonistic. This type of attitude brings a lot of success for English people. English people and writers learn lessons from their past. As French writer Victor Hugo says, ‘’England has two books, the Bible and Shakespeare. England made Shakespeare, but Bible made England.’”

It can be concluded that the history of English literature is full of events, incidents, tragedies and complexities. It has evolved from a lot of suffering and at the same time fighting for their survival. During this whole journey they have sacrificed their beloved but never surrendered, and accepted challenges and hard times which make their writers stronger in their action and character. They never underestimate their confidence but continue their journey and today the world recognizes their immense role and contribution in their own literature and generally in world literature. They are absolute geniuses because whatever they predicted became true. As Joseph Addison and Steele introduced first time periodical literature in the shape of newspaper and this literature is more popular than any other form of literature in the world. This is only one example, there are many other examples of these genius people. They were walking angels. No one can deny their efforts. Because it is too difficult for anyone to write in a desperate situation. So, if today England is powerful and dominant it’s only because writers because only writers can bring real change in society. As Martin Luther king Junior says, ‘If you want to change the world, pick up your pen and write’’

I suggest only one thing through this article to all those who want change and aspire to change their society – They must pick a pen and paper in hand and begin to write.


Rashid Chandio- Sindh CourierThe writer is faculty member at department of English, Benazir Bhutto Shaheed University Lyari Karachi, Sindh.