Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Book Explores Great British Authors

English Lit 101: A Crash Course in English Literature by Brian Boone, on editor and writer for the best-selling Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader, provides us with an engaging and comprehensive guide through some of the icons of British literature.  It offers insights and tidbits that shed light on the great works of the great writers.

Among the featured authors are:

·         Geoffrey Chaucer
·         John Donne
·         William Shakespeare
·         John Milton
·         John Locke
·         Daniel Defoe
·         Jonathan Swift
·         Alexander Pope
·         Samuel Johnson
·         Jane Austen
·         William Wordsworth
·         William Blake
·         Charles Dickens
·         George Eliot
·         Lewis Carroll
·         The Bronte Sisters
·         Oscar Wilde
·         Rudyard Kipling
·         Thomas Hardy
·         T.S. Eliot
·         D.H. Lawrence
·         Virginia Woolfe
·         Wilt Auden
·         James Joyce
·         George Bernard Shaw
·         Joseph Conrad
·         J.R.R. Tolkien
·         George Orwell

Here are some random excerpts that you may find of interest:

Old English
"To the modern-day reader of contemporary English literature, the earliest examples of “English literature” may seem like they were written in an entirely foreign language…and they kind of were.  The beginnings of the English language took shape in the seventh century after multiple tribes – collectively referred to as Anglo-Saxons – migrated from central Europe to the British Isles.  Most spoke Germanic languages – and each tribe spoke its own Germanic language – and brought those languages with them.  Eventually, those different dialects coalesced into a single language, one with wildly inconsistent spelling and grammar, but nonetheless:  Old English."
Lord of the Flies
"One theme of modernism that gained steam after World War I was an attempt to make sense of the death and destruction, an acceptance of humanity’s innate darkness.  After World War II, this theme was revived when authors wondered if humankind would ever truly be able to put aside its savage and brutal nature – its dark side, really.  In a biblical sense, this is original sin; in a modern sense, it’s man’s inescapable brutality.  The prime example of this philosophy in action is William Golding’s 1954 novel, Lord of the Flies."

English Lit
"English literature started when there was barely even an English language to use.  Dating back a millennium or so, the epic Anglo-Saxon tale of Beowulf was the first thing written down in the very earliest version of what would become English.  Various Anglo-Saxon groups migrated to the British Isles and brought with them different dialects that would eventually combine to form a single language.  It would evolve to become a sophisticated language, and with it would evolve one of the world’s most important literary canons:  English literature.

"Which is to say British literature.  Literature in the English language is among the most influential and vital in the world, spreading the mechanics of poetry, prose, film, and drama to every corner of the globe.  But before there was American literature, or Australian literature there was the written world of England."

Few Documents Remain
"Only about 400 manuscripts total from the Anglo-Saxon period even survive – the expulsion of the Roman-controlled church in the 1500s from England would lead to a lot of intentional document destruction, particularly by way of fire.  But these manuscripts would be the basis for a language and a canon that would emerge as comparable, and often superior, to anything ever produced in Greek, Latin or French."

King James Bible Legacy
"The common phrases introduced into English after appearing in the King James Bible include:  “the blind leading the blind,” “the writing is on the wall,” “there’s nothing new under the sun,” “a drop in the bucket,” “can a leopard change its spots,” “broken heart,” “sign of the times,” “powers that be,” “rise and shine,” “how the mighty have fallen,” “nothing but skin and bones,” and “eat, drink, and be merry.”

Shakespeare’s Language
"The English language literally wasn’t big enough for Shakespeare to express the breadth of his ideas.  So he invented new words –hundreds of them.  Shakespeare used more than 17,000 different words in his plays, of which 10 percent were brand new that he created to fit the situation.  They uncannily fit into the language and were instantly understood and adopted into the vernacular.  Among the more than 1,700 words Shakespeare is credited with inventing are advertising, bedroom, blanket, bump, compromise, critic, exposure, fashionable, gloomy, hobnob, lonely, majestic, mimic submerge, swagger, zany, and the name Jessica."

The First Novel in English
"The first novel in English was The Pilgrim’s Progress, written by John Bunyan in 1678, but the concept of long-form, non-metered prose to tell a single story didn’t take off as a format until the huge success of Robinson Crusoe."

A Dictionary of the English Language
"Johnson delivered on breadth and scope.  There are 42,773 entries, with each word defined and described in meticulous detail.  For example, the entry on “put” runs 5,000 words.  Johnson lists twenty different definitions for “time,” and 134 for “take.”  In trying to record the language of the time, Johnson’s definitions are in plain, often humorous English, contrary to the blunt, pedantic style generally used in dictionaries.  This is his definition of “oats”: “a grain which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people.”  And yet, when economy will do, Johnson obliges.  “Sock” is defined as “something put between the foot and the shoe.”

Famous Writers
"There are only a handful of writers who left such an indelible mark that their name became an adjective.  But while “Shakespearean,” “Kafkaesque,” and “Shavian” describe works influenced by William Shakespeare, Franz Kafka, and George Bernard Shaw, respectively, “Dickensian” breaks through into the real world.  “Dickensian” describes a particularly pathetic state of poverty."

Lewis Carroll
"Among the words Carroll made up that entered into common English usage: chortle, galumph, and portmanteau, a word that means two words are combined – like how newscast is a mash-up of “news” and “broadcast.”

Sherlock Holmes
"In none of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes novels or stories did Sherlock actually utter the catchphrase most associated with the character, “Elementary, Watson!”  Four times, however, he said, “Exactly, my dear Watson!”

George Orwell’s Six Rules Of Good Writing, From Politics and the English Language
"Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
Never use a long word when a short word will do.
If it is possible to cut out a word, always cut it out.
Use the active rather than passive voice.
Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.”

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Brian Feinblum’s insightful views, provocative opinions, and interesting ideas expressed in this terrific blog are his alone and not that of his employer or anyone else. You can – and should -- follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels much more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2018. Born and raised in Brooklyn, he now resides in Westchester. His writings are often featured in The Writer and IBPA’s Independent.  This was named one of the best book marketing blogs by Book Baby and recognized by Feedspot in 2018 as one of the top book marketing blogs. Also named by as a "best resource.”

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