Literary Eras

Literature Eras

A literary era is a specific time in which a particular kind of literature flourished. These eras usually occur within a broader historical, cultural or technological context.

Literary trends during this period included elegiac traditions and the rediscovery of classical art and philosophy. Modernists also used literary devices to explore themes of disillusionment and self-consciousness.


During the late 18th century and early 19th century, Romanticism was an important literary movement. It was a counter to the excessive rationalism of Neoclassicism and celebrated imagination, emotion and idealism in literature.

Many poets of this time, such as John Keats and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, wrote odes, which are lyrical stanzas that focus on intense emotions. They believed that poetry should be spontaneous and free of traditional rules.


The Restoration refers to the period of English literature that flourished during and after the reign of Charles II. The literary genre of the laudatory ode became popular, and writers like Edmund Spenser and John Dryden exhibited classical tendencies in their work.

Transcendentalists valued intuition, idealism and faith in the self. They also reflected on nature and a unified “divine spirit.” Writers such as Walt Whitman, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allan Poe and Herman Melville represented this era.


Gothic literature is characterized by the juxtaposition of old and new. Modern technology is often set against ancient backdrops, which creates a sense of uncanniness and estrangement.

This literary movement has spawned many popular subgenres, including the horror genre. Nightmares are an important recurring motif, and authors use them to convey the characters’ fearful state of mind.

The word “gothic” is derived from a style of architecture that developed in Western Europe between the 12th and 16th centuries, featuring tall pillars and high curved ceilings. It also refers to a style of poetry and art.

Romantic Period

The Romantic Period was marked by a desire for emotional freedom. This reflected in the writings of authors such as Emily Bronte (Wuthering Heights), Jane Austen, Mary Shelley and Nathaniel Hawthorne.

The main literary forms were odes and sonnets. Poetry of the era also included an increased focus on the workings of the unconscious mind and dreams.

Other themes in the works of this era included an enthusiasm for the wild and uncivilized; a desire to live a solitary life; and an interest in madness, horror and the supernatural.

Victorian Period

The Victorian period saw great political reform and social change. This included the Industrial Revolution, railroad and shipping booms and profound scientific discovery. But it also included slums, factory work and bloody events like Jack the Ripper and the Crimean War.

Print culture expanded, with newspapers and magazines available at cheaper prices. Novels became a major genre, aimed at middle-class and working-class readers alike. Penny dreadfuls and sensation novels thrilled audiences.

19th Century

A rich and productive period for literature saw the birth of many talented novelists, some of whom would be remembered through the ages. Female writers also broke gender stereotypes and emerged as influential voices.

After the Civil War, American literary realism emerged. Writers like Mark Twain tried to present things as they were without supernatural or speculative elements. Joseph Conrad took a skeptical view of British colonialism in his novel Heart of Darkness.

20th Century

In this era, authors explored the human condition using a variety of styles and themes. From the overtly counter-cultural works of the 1950s “Beat Generation” to John Updike’s reflective explorations of faith and personal turmoil, this period was a time of transition in America and around the world.

Transcendentalists valued intuition and idealism over the strict rules of realism, often writing about nature or a unified divine spirit common to all people. American naturalist writers like Mark Twain used a vigorous style to attack tired conventions, while modernist poets such as T.S Eliot and W. H Auden experimented with the form of poetry.

Post-World War II

After World War II, a new generation of writers gave voice to a sense of honest realistic writing. Novelists reflected their experiences and the bleak side of life.

Angry young men wrote a stream of novels, ruggedly autobiographical in origin and near documentary in approach. They explored themes of youth violence, corruption and social injustice.

Novels of this time reflected a growing interest in remote and recent history. Many made extensive use of period pastiche, rewriting a present-day story in the style of different eras.


Contemporary literature refers to all writing that was produced after the second world war and continues up until the present day. This includes everything from classic fiction to graphic narratives. Typical characteristics of contemporary literature include reality-based stories with strong characters and believable settings.

Modernist authors broke down literary form as they reflected and amplified a European and American society in turmoil. They depicted urban life and war and expressed sympathy, or at least tolerance, for previously unacceptable social types and racial minorities.

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