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Enjoy & Learn

Alphabet of British Writers

At first glance it may seem that the British nation has no artistic talents as they have never produced any worldfamous painters, sculptors or composers. It is quite remarkable then that they have had so many brilliant and renowned writers. And indeed, literature is probably the only art that the British excel in. You can find at least a few names of well-known British poets and novelists for each letter of the alphabet, and many of the names are famous all over the world. This alphabet of British writers I want to present to you is my subjective list. I chose the literary people I find especially interesting or intriguing or whose achievements are particularly noteworthy. My aim is to show you the richness of British literature and encourage you to read some works written by Brits.

Austen, Jane (1775-1817)
She is believed to be one the first British writers who through the treatment of everyday life gave the novel its modern character. As women were considered only second-rate writers at the turn of the eighteenth century, Austen published four of her six novels anonymously.

All of Austen’s novels depict the social and family life of the English middle class and aristocracy. All of her heroines are preoccupied with courtship; they fall in love and eventually get married happily, in spite of the fact that Austen herself never married.

Her books became highly popular during her lifetime and they are still widely read all over the world.

However, there are diverse opinions about her talent and the value of her works. Some critics and readers believe that she was only a spinster who wrote banal romances and so should not be considered a great British writer. But others admire her humor, intelligence and perceptiveness which helped her detect all the social absurdities of her times and present them in detail in her books. There are also critics who believe that Austen was a fierce feminist who, however, was not able to express her views openly as at that time women were not supposed to comment on political or social issues. Thus she had to present her beliefs indirectly, which she did by depicting the difficult situation of her contemporary women who were under constant pressure to ‘catch’ a husband as only by marriage could they retain their social position, remain respectable and lead comfortable lives.

In spite of the controversy about Austen’s level of political involvement, her genius has been acknowledged not only by readers but also by other famous writers, such as Sir Walter Scott who said that she “had a talent for describing the involvements and feelings and characters of ordinary life which is to me the most wonderful I have ever met with.” He also admired “the exquisite touch, which renders ordinary commonplace things and characters interesting.” Virginia Woolf, on the other hand, called Austen “the most perfect artist among women.”

Austen’s novels: Sense and Sensibility (1811), Pride and Prejudice (1813), Mansfield Park (1814), Emma (1815), Northanger Abbey (1818), Persuasion (1818).

Christie, Agatha (1890-1976)
She was one of the most prolific British writers. She wrote lots of mystery novels and numerous short stories. When she was a child she was educated at home, where she was encouraged to write from a very early age. Later she went to Paris, where she studied piano and singing. In 1914 she got married and in 1919 she gave birth to a daughter.

During the First World War she worked as a nurse. It was then that she came up with the idea to write a detective story. In a year she completed her first book – The Mysterious Affair at Styles, but it was only published after the war in 1920. The main character of the book is a retired Belgian police officer, Hercule Poirot, who later appeared in over 40 of Christie’s books, becoming one of the most distinctive characters in all literature. He last appeared in Curtain in 1975. Her second famous character is an English spinster, Miss Marple, who was featured in 17 novels, the first of which was Murder At The Vicarage, published in 1930. Unlike the professional detective, Poirot, she solved crimes using her feminine instinct and insightfulness.

After the Second World War Agatha Christie started writing plays with great success. In 1950 she published The Mousetrap, which ran for more than 30 years continuously in London. In 1955 her Witness for the Prosecution was chosen the best foreign play of the year by the New York Drama Critics Circle.

In 1971 Agatha Christie was awarded the high honor of becoming a Dame of the British Empire. By the time of her death in 1976 she was the best-selling English novelist of all time. Her books have been translated into 45 languages.

Dickens, Charles (1812-1870)
Dickens is generally believed to be the greatest novelist of the Victorian period. As a child he had a relatively happy and affluent life as his father, a naval office clerk, was paid very well and could afford to send his son to private school. However, when Dickens was 12, his father was imprisoned for debts, and the boy had to work ten hours a day in a boot-blacking factory to earn his living. This experience resulted in numerous novels in which he described the conditions of life of the working class. In 1827 he became a law clerk, but he did not like the profession and in a short time he began work as a court stenographer and later as a journalist.

Dickens’s career as a writer of fiction started in 1833, when his first short stories and essays appeared in periodicals. His first novel, The Pickwick Papers, was published in monthly parts from April 1836 to November 1837. Later he wrote many more novels, the most famous of which are: Oliver Twist (1837-39), A Christmas Carol (1843), David Copperfield (1849-50), and Great Expectations (1860-61). In all his novels he depicted and criticized social evils and hypocrisy. He also traveled a lot campaigning against social injustice; he gave talks and wrote pamphlets and letters.

In 1865 Dickens was involved in a serious train crash, which he luckily survived. However, after this event he never regained his writing powers. Until his death in 1870 he only completed Our Mutual Friend and started the unfinished Mystery of Edwin Drood.

Most of Dickens’s novels are still popular all over the world. Many of them have been made into films, the latest one being Oliver Twist directed by Roman Polański.

Monika Łuczak
konsultant metodyczny oddziału
Szkoły FELBERG we Wrocławiu


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