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The Impact of British Literature on the World: A Historical Perspective


Written words can transcend borders, culture, and time. British literature, in particular, has left an indelible mark on the world, shaping how we think, feel, and communicate.

In this exploration of “British Impact on Literature,” the Book Writing Founders UK will help you to go on a historical journey to see how British literature has influenced and enriched the literary landscape globally.

Early Influences

Here are some of the early British Impacts on literature.

Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales” and Its Global Impact

The roots of British literary influence run deep, tracing to Geoffrey Chaucer’s “The Canterbury Tales.” This collection of stories, written in Middle English, entertained readers and laid the foundation for storytelling traditions worldwide. It is also the first major works of literature written in English. 

Shakespeare’s Universal Themes

William Shakespeare, often dubbed the “Bard of Avon,” needs no introduction. His plays and sonnets delve into universal themes of love, ambition, power, and human nature. 

Shakespeare’s works have been translated into every major living language, ensuring their resonance worldwide.

The Age of Enlightenment and British Literature

From 1660 to 1788, a transformative period emerged known as “the Enlightenment,” “the Age of Reason,” or “the Neo-Classical Age.” During this time, there was a significant shift from religion as the predominant way of life.

The Enlightenment era in Britain saw the rise of philosophers and thinkers whose writings continue to shape the world. Thinkers like John Locke and Thomas Hobbes contributed to political thought, impacting nations beyond the British Isles.

The British Novel

After the early influences came the British Impact on literature through novels: 

The Birth of the Novel in Britain

The novel, a widely loved literary form today, began in Britain. 

The release of Robinson Crusoe in 1719 was a remarkable event in literary history. While prose narratives had existed, this work marked the first sustained, fictional account of one individual’s experiences. 

It stood out as unique due to its portrayal of an ordinary person facing extraordinary challenges, emphasizing inner spiritual life and asking readers to believe in its realism through detailed descriptions and objective narration. Daniel Defoe’s prose added to the narrative’s authenticity, distinguishing it in the early years of the English novel.

So, the works of writers like Daniel Defoe and his “Robinson Crusoe” played a pivotal role in establishing the novel as a popular genre, capturing the imagination of readers across the globe.

Jane Austen’s Social Commentary in Novels

After Daniel Defoe comes our very beloved Jane Austen. She was known for her incisive social commentary and penned novels that transcend time.

Her exploration of relationships, class, and society in works like “Pride and Prejudice” continues to be studied and cherished worldwide.

The Romantic and Gothic Era

The Romantic era, with poets like William Blake, William Wordsworth, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, ushered in a new era of emotional expression and appreciation for nature. Their lyrical poems continue to resonate with readers worldwide.

Then we also had some of the gothic literature, characterized by its dark, mysterious themes, find its voice in British literature. 

Authors like Mary Shelley with “Frankenstein” contributed to the gothic tradition that still thrills readers and filmmakers globally.

Victorian Literature

Here is the British Impact during the Victorian era on literature: 

Dickens and Social Critique

Charles Dickens, a literary giant of the Victorian era, used his novels to critique social injustices. Works like “Oliver Twist” shed light on poverty and child exploitation, influencing social reform movements worldwide.

The Brontë Sisters’ Contribution to Literature

The Brontë sisters—Charlotte, Emily, and Anne—wrote novels exploring love, passion, and societal constraints. “Wuthering Heights” and “Jane Eyre” are now classics studied and admired internationally.

The Global Legacy of “Sherlock Holmes”

Sherlock Holmes, created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, remains an iconic detective whose stories have been adapted into countless forms. The deductive brilliance of Holmes captivates readers and viewers worldwide.

The Modernist Movement and British Writers

The modernist movement saw British writers like Virginia Woolf and James Joyce challenging traditional narrative forms. Their experimental writing styles have influenced authors globally.

The Influence of T.S. Eliot

T.S. Eliot’s groundbreaking poetry, including “The Waste Land,” reshaped modern poetry and inspired poets worldwide.

Postcolonial Literature and Global Voices

Postcolonial literature, often rooted in the British colonial experience, gave voice to previously marginalized cultures. Authors like Chinua Achebe and Salman Rushdie have achieved global recognition for their works.

British Literature in the 21st Century

The influence of British literature continues to shape contemporary literature with authors such as Zadie Smith and Ian McEwan. Their innovative storytelling embodies the essence of British literature, reinforcing its legacy and global interest.

J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series stands as one of the most notable examples of the extensive reach of British literature. This celebrated series has become a global phenomenon, captivating audiences of all ages and transcending nationality and language barriers. Its influence continues to inspire countless readers and aspiring writers, cementing its place in the rich history of British literary works.

British Impact on Literary Genres

British literature has profoundly impacted various literary genres, particularly mystery and detective fiction. With notable characters such as Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot, British authors have excelled in producing works that captivate audiences. 

Additionally, the works of authors like J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis have made significant contributions to the creation of immersive worlds and memorable characters in the fantasy and science fiction genres. 

Moreover, British historical fiction has transported readers through detailed narratives, with authors such as Hilary Mantel charmingly offering insight into bygone eras. 

Overall, British literature has continued to influence and shape modern literary genres.

British Literature in Education

The study of British literature extends far beyond the borders of the British Isles. This subject has gained global interest, leading universities worldwide to offer courses on the rich history of British literary works. British literature, often written in the English language, has played a critical role in language learning and has contributed to the widespread adoption and use of the English language across the globe.

Renowned classics such as “Pride and Prejudice,” “Great Expectations,” and “Wuthering Heights” have become essential components of educational curricula worldwide. By including these timeless works, educators ensure that generations of students are exposed to and engage with the captivating realm of British literature.


British literature’s Impact on the world is immeasurable. From the timeless tales of Shakespeare to the contemporary works of Zadie Smith, British authors have been both torchbearers of tradition and innovators of the literary form. 

The influence of British literature extends far beyond the boundaries of the United Kingdom, enriching our understanding of humanity, society, and the power of the written word.

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