Finally, English literature has enjoyed a certain diffusion abroad, not only in predominantly English-speaking countries but also in all those others where English is the first choice of study as a second language. English literature is therefore not so much insular as detached from the continental European tradition across the Channel. Even in philosophical writings, popularly thought of as hard to combine with literary value, thinkers such as Thomas Hobbes , John Locke , David Hume , John Stuart Mill , and Bertrand Russell stand comparison for lucidity and grace with the best of the French philosophers and the masters of Classical antiquity.
Naipaul and Tom Stoppard at its end—were born outside the British Isles. What is more, none of the aforementioned had as much in common with his adoptive country as did, for instance, Doris Lessing and Peter Porter two other distinguished writer-immigrants to Britain , both having been born into a British family and having been brought up on British Commonwealth soil.
On the other hand, during the same period in the 20th century, many notable practitioners of English literature left the British Isles to live abroad: James Joyce , D. In one case, that of Samuel Beckett , this process was carried to the extent of writing works first in French and then translating them into English. Even English literature considered purely as a product of the British Isles is extraordinarily heterogeneous , however.
Yet Irish, Scots, and Welsh writers have contributed enormously to English literature even when they have written in dialect , as the 18th-century poet Robert Burns and the 20th-century Scots writer Alasdair Gray have done. In the latter half of the 20th century, interest began also to focus on writings in English or English dialect by recent settlers in Britain, such as Afro-Caribbeans and people from Africa proper, the Indian subcontinent, and East Asia.
Even within England , culturally and historically the dominant partner in the union of territories comprising Britain, literature has been as enriched by strongly provincial writers as by metropolitan ones. Another contrast more fruitful than not for English letters has been that between social milieus , however much observers of Britain in their own writings may have deplored the survival of class distinctions.
As far back as medieval times, a courtly tradition in literature cross-fertilized with an earthier demotic one. This awareness of differences between high life and low, a state of affairs fertile in creative tensions, is observable throughout the history of English literature. Butler …See All Contributors. See Article History. Read More on This Topic. In its literature, England arguably has attained its most influential cultural expression. For more than a millennium, each stage in the…. At the core of Renaissance Humanism was using the study of classical texts to alter contemporary thinking, breaking with the medieval mindset and creating something new.
One mode of thinking came to typify Renaissance ideas: Humanism. The term derived from a program of studies called the "studia humanitatis," but the idea of calling this "Humanism" really arose in the 19th century. There remains a question over what exactly Renaissance Humanism was. Humanists believed God had given humanity options and potential, and humanist thinkers had to act to make the most of this.
Renaissance Humanism began in the later 13th century, when Europeans' hunger for studying classical texts coincided with a desire to imitate those authors in style. Each half needed the other: You had to understand the texts to take part in the fashion, and doing so drew you back to Greece and Rome.
But what developed wasn't a set of second-generation mimics; Renaissance Humanism began to use knowledge, love, and maybe even obsession with the past to change how they and others saw and thought about their own era. It was not pastiche, but a new consciousness, including new historical perspective giving a historically based alternative to "medieval" ways of thinking.
Humanism began to affect culture and society and powered, in large part, what we now call the Renaissance. Humanists operating before Petrarch, called "Proto-Humanists," were mainly in Italy. They included Lovato Dei Lovati , a Paduan judge who may have been the first to mix reading Latin poetry with writing modern classical poetry to major effect. A hunger for bringing old texts back to the world was characteristic of Humanists.
This searching was vital because much of the material was scattered and forgotten.
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But Lovato had limits, and his prose style stayed medieval. His pupil, Mussato, connected his studies of the past to contemporary issues and wrote in the classical style to comment on politics. Francesco Petrarch has been called the Father of Italian Humanism, and while modern historiography plays down the role of individuals, his contribution was large. Eloquence, which moved the soul, was the equal of cold logic.
Humanism should be a doctor to human morals. The Proto-Humanists had been largely secular; Petrarch bought religion in, arguing that history can have a positive effect on a Christian soul. He has been said to have created the "Humanist program," and he argued that each person should study the ancients and create their own style.
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Had Petrarch not lived, Humanism would have been seen as threatening Christianity. His actions allowed Humanism to spread more effectively in the late 14th century. Careers needing skills of reading and writing were soon dominated by Humanists. In the 15th century in Italy, Humanism once more became secular and the courts of Germany, France, and elsewhere turned away until a later movement brought it back to life. Humanism was becoming admired, and the upper classes were sending their sons to study for the kudos and career prospects.
By the midth century, Humanism education was normal in upper-class Italy. Cicero , the great Roman orator, became the core example for the Humanists. His adoption jibed with a turn back to the secular.