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History of English Literature is a comprehensive, eight-volume survey of English literature from the Middle Ages to the early twenty-first century. This reference work provides insightful and often revisionary readings of core texts in the English literary canon. Richly informative analyses are framed by the biographical, historical and intellectual context for each author.
Volume 6 addresses the literature of the ‘Victorian twilight’ (1870–1901), which is marked by the shared theme, ‘a world to be saved’. In the wake of the Paris Commune of 1871, some British writers retreated to the status quo and the desire for an ordered cosmos. Here works such as the Idylls of the King, the later poems by Browning, the second series of Essays in Criticism by Arnold, Fors Clavigera by Ruskin, Trollope’s novels of rural feudalism, the bold apologia of Judaism in Eliot’s Daniel Deronda, and Hardy’s nostalgic novels on closed communities are gathered together. The next literary stage of the Victorian twilight here explored is that of the divided absorption of ‘art for art’s sake’ – of Gautier, Baudelaire and Flaubert – by figures such as Pater, Wilde, Swinburne and Hopkins. The twenty years 1901–1921 see the comeback of drama after a centuries-old lethargy, thanks to Ireland’s decisive contribution with Synge, Yeats and Shaw. And authors like Kipling and Conrad bring new perspectives to Britain from abroad.