The History of England

from Celts through 20th century

The Culture and Science of the UK

Category: Culture


As a result of the Norman Conquest, French displaced English as the language of the upper classes. Scholars continued to write in Latin. However, the English literature of this period is memorable and quite significant. The main literary genre was the romance, a story in verse or prose dealing with chivalric adventures.

There are numerous stories about King Arthur, the legendary king of Britons who led the Celtic resistance against the invading Saxons. Arthur gathered around himself the greatest warriors of Europe, and these knights met at the round table as all the places at it were equal. These knights were called the Knights of the Round Table. The stories about King Arthur are still popular, and he is regarded as a folk hero. Several stories say that some day King Arthur will return. Because of this belief, he is sometimes called the once and future king.

Another legendary hero is Robin Hood, a noble robber who lived in England in the Middle Ages. He stole from the rich and gave to the poor. Robin Hood‟s companions were called Merry Men, and his sweetheart was Maid Marian.

The British cultural heritage is one of the richest and greatest in the world. Culture, like language, unites people, and literature is an integral part of culture. The following list includes the few of the British most prominent masters and their best works.

Poets of England

Geoffrey Chaucer (14th century): the first great poet to write in English, the father of the English poetry; he is said to have created not only the English poetry but also the English language; the first to be buried in the Poets‟ Corner in Westminster Abbey.

William Shakespeare (16 – 17 centuries): Britain‟s finest poet and playwright; the first of the best writers in the English language; an actor, a playwright and a manager of the Globe Theatre in London. The tragedies: “Othello”, “Hamlet”, “King Lear”, “McBeth”, “Romeo and Juliet”; the comedies: “As You Like It”, “Much Ado About Nothing”, “Twelfth Night”; hundreds of sonnets showing his great talent. A sonnet is a poem of 14 lines.

William Blake: “Songs of Innocence”, “Songs of Experience”; in poetry, a song is a long poetical composition.

George Gordon Lord Byron: “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage”, “Don Juan”, “The Age of Bronze”, “My Native Land – Good Night!”; hundreds of poems.

Percy Bysshe Shelly: “The Necessity of Atheism”, “Song to the Men of England”, “Evening”; numerous poems.

The Lake Poets: William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Robert Southey. They are called so because of their home during most of their lives in the Lake District of England, a beautiful area from whose landscape they got their poetic inspiration. They are also called the Lake School poets because they were friends and because they were similar in their poetic practices and critical principles.

Writers of England

Daniel Defoe: “Robinson Crusoe”.

Jane Austin: “Pride and Prejudice”.

The Brontё sisters: “Jane Eyre” by Charlotte; “Wuthering Heights” by Emily; “Agnes Grey” by Anne.

Lewis Carroll: “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”, “Through the Looking Glass”.

Charles Dickens: “Oliver Twist”, “The Pickwick Papers”, “Bleak House”.

Rudyard Kipling: the two “Jungle Books” about Mowgli; the first English writer to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1907.

Jerome K. Jerome: “Three Men in a Boat”.

Agatha Christie: numerous detective stories and novels; her most famous characters are the detectives Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple.

Herbert George Wells: “The Invisible Man”, “The War of the Worlds”.

John Galsworthy: the trilogy “The Forsyte Saga” including “The Man of Property”, “In Chancery”, “To Let”; the trilogy “A Modern Comedy” consisting of “The White Monkey”, “The Silver Spoon”, “The Swan Song”; the trilogy “End of the Chapter”: these nine novels make a family chronicle. The Nobel Prize in Literature in 1932.

Ian Fleming: many books about the secret agent (number 007) James Bond, later made into the successful films.

Graham Greene: “The Quiet American”, “The Comedians”.

Aldous Huxley: “Crome Yellow”, “Antic Hay”, “Brave New World”.

David Herbert Lawrence: “Sons and Lovers”, “Lady Chatterley‟s Lover”.

William Somerset Maugham: “Of Human Bondage”, “The Moon and Sixpence”, “Theatre”, hundreds of short stories; he is considered by critics the best short-story writer in English.

P. L. Travers: Mary Poppins (a nanny), the main character in his children‟s book; “Mary Poppins” is the film based on this book: the nanny possessed magical powers, one of which is being able to fly.

Evelyn Waugh: “Decline and Fall”, “The Beloved One”.

Virginia Woolf: “To the Lighthouse”.

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien: “The Lord of the Rings”; later the successful movie trilogy.

George Orwell: “Animal Farm” (All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others is a popular statement, often quoted at present).

The Angry Young Men (called so for their hostility towards the established traditions and the middle-class morality in their country, expressed in their works): Kinsley Amis, John Wain, John Osborne, Wilson Collin.

John Braine: “Room at the Top”, “Life at the Top”.

John Fowles: “The French Lieutenant‟s Woman”.

Iris Murdoch: “The Sandcastle”.

Sir Peter Ustinov (a dramatist, an actor, a writer): “Romanoff and Juliet”, “The Loser”.

Alan Sillitoe: “Key to the Door”.

Etel Lilian Voynich: “The Gadfly”.

William Golding: “Lord of the Flies”; the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1983.

J. K. Rowling: the Harry Potter fantasy novels, which have been the basis for the popular films. The Harry Potter novels include seven books and three supplements.

Writers and Poets of Scotland

Sir Walter Scott: “Ivanhoe”, “Rob Roy”, numerous historical novels.

Arthur Conan Doyle: numerous Sherlock Holmes stories under the title “The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes”; “The Lost World”, a science-fiction novel.

Robert Louis Stevenson: “Treasure Island”, “Black Arrow”, poetry for children.

Archibald Joseph Cronin: “Hatter‟s Castle”; “The Green Years”, “Shannon‟s Way”.

Robert Burns (a poet): numerous lyric poems, such as “My Heart‟s in the Highlands”, “A Red,

Red Rose”, “Auld Lang Syne” (the lyrics for the song) = the days of long ago.

Poets and Writers of Wales

Ronald Stuart Thomas (a poet): poems about the Welsh old values.

Dylan Thomas (a poet): folklore-like poems under the title “Selected Poems”.

W.H. Davies (a poet and a writer): “Leisure”, a collection of poems.

Writers of Ireland

Jonathan Swift: “Gulliver‟s Travels”.

George Bernard Shaw (a dramatist and a critic): “Pygmalion” = “My Fair Lady”, the musical based on this play, produced by Alan Jay Lerner, a contemporary American playwright; the music by Frederick Lowe; the American movie star Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle, Rex Harrison as Professor Higgins.

Oscar Wilde: “The Picture of Dorian Gray”, “An Ideal Husband”, “The Importance of Being Earnest”, which are noted for their brilliant witty dialogues and sharp social observations (e.g. Experience is the name everyone gives to his mistakes from Lady Windermere’s Fan).

Joseph Conrad: “Lord Jim”.

Bram Stoker: “Dracula”, a vampire legend; now the famous films about Count Dracula.

James Joyce: the collection of stories “Dubliners”, the novels “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man”, “Ulysses”.

Sean O’Casey (a dramatist and a writer): “Juno and the Peacock”.

Thomas Stearns Eliot (a poet and a dramatist): many lyrical poems and a number of verse dramas; the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1948.

Samuel Beckett (a dramatist and a writer): a number of plays in the style of the Theatre of the Absurd; the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1969.


London remains one of the major classical music capitals in the world. The major British classical composers are William Byrd, Henry Purcell and Benjamin Britten.

Henry Purcell (the 17th century): the founder of the British opera. The opera “King Arthur” is about the struggle for the independence of Britain.

Benjamin Britten (the best-known British composer, who was greatly influenced by Henry Purcell): operas and choral works; the opera “Peter Grimes”.

Britain is also famous for its folk music, and there are folk clubs in many towns.

Modern music

The most talented modern composers are John Lennon and Paul McCartney, the founders of the legendary group The Beatles, whose music still influences the new generations. Many British music bands and singers are popular all over the world.

Among them are Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Queen, Duran Duran, Oasis and Elton John.

Fine Arts

The famous British classical artists are Sir Joshua Reynolds, Thomas Gainsborough, John Constable, William Turner and others.

Some modern British painters are Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud and David Hockney. Sir Christopher Wren is one the most outstanding English architects. He is called the architect of London because, after the Great Fire in 1666, he rebuilt 51 churches in London including his greatest masterpiece St. Paul’s Cathedral. It took the architect 35 years to build the cathedral, and he is buried in it. There is no monument on the architect‟s grave, but on it we read: “If you want to see my monument, look around.”


The British people are cinema- and theatre-goers. Many British actors and actresses are known all over the world.


Sir Isaac Newton (the most famous English physicist): the Law of Universal Gravitation.

James Clerk Maxwell (a physicist): the founder of electrodynamics and electromagnetism.

Henry Cavendish (a physicist): studied heat and electricity.

Charles Darwin (a biologist): the founder of the theory of evolution.

Michael Faraday: the discoverer of benzene.

Ernest Rutherford (a New Zealand-born British physicist): the founder of nucleur physics; the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1908.

Sir Alexander Fleming: a pioneer in the vaccine therapy; the Nobel Prize in Physiology in 1945.

Alan Turing: the inventor of the turing machine, later the basis of modern computing.

Francis Crick: the discoverer of the genetic code of life and DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid), the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1962.

Tim Berners-Lee: the inventor of the World Wide Web.

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