Studying the history of English literature is certainly fun, amazing and also benefiting. Not only the students of literature but anybody who is enthusiastic about studying and knowing more about the authors, poets and literary personalities can go through the best history of English literature books and enhance his or her comprehension. However, selecting the best books which can make your studies or just venturing into the world of literature isn’t that easy. You can, though, find many articles on the web and some videos on YouTube which will make promises to offer you the best books. However, you can decide for yourself whether they are telling you about the books or selling you the books directly. On English Literature Education, however, we only list the books which we have gone through in person and studied ins and outs. We will list the recommended books carefully so that you can smoothly start reading them without worrying about your choices. In this article, Alok Mishra lists his personal choices – the best books for studying history of English literature.
(i) English Social History by G M Trevelyan: Before studying English literature, it is my personal advice to the students of advanced standards (even the undergraduate students can try) to go through the English social history. This will give them an idea of England and then, understanding the idea of English literature will definitively become easier as well as broader. After all, as we say, literature is the mirror of society! This book covers the social history of England from Chaucer to the Victorian period. You will certainly find this book useful, helpful and interesting as well.
(ii) History of English Literature by Edward Albert: This is a compact, polished and short history of English literature that offers not only a clear picture of the literature produced by the English but also offers a very useful timeline at the beginning of each of the chapters. This timeline will help the students track all the important literary figures’ progress. The commentary is balanced, factual and sharply drawn. It does not protract itself beyond the required length of a book. For the beginners, this is a very good book.
(iii) A Critical History of English Literature by David Daiches: Who does not know this book or the author? A very popular book which is widely read and appreciated by the students as well as the scholars of English literature – David Daiches’ book (in two volumes) is the best in the class, if I may say that. It offers facts; it offers the obvious reasons for those findings to become facts; it offers the things which are essential for a student of English literature; it helps you score well in the UGC NET examination, English literature. What else do you want? GET THIS BOOK!
(iv) A History of English Literature by Michael Alexander: It feels more like a school textbook; it works like a charm! The compact columns which deal with the heavyweights of English literature are always wonderful to read in this book. Moreover, this book also offers an abundance of information in various forms – tables, lists or bulleted points. You can get at a glance the major happenings during the period of a writer, you can get the timeline of major books published in an age and so on. It covers wide; it expresses precisely. Michael Alexander’s book is certainly a good possession for any student of English literature. This is one of those books which make learning the history of English literature an amazing experience! I love this one!
(v) History of English Literature by Legouis & Cazamian: Wonderful, detailed and, certainly, for the readers who have gone through David Daiches’ book thoroughly, at least once! If you haven’t read any book of the history of English literature before, please don’t consider going through this book. Before you read it, you need to have a comprehension of the British literary history, in detail. Then only you can use this book to the maximum! This should be your second book, never your first! Scholarly, intellectual, broad, and, to a certain extent, an eye-opener history of English literature has been presented in this book by both the writers!
(vi) The Short Oxford History of English Literature by Andrew Sanders: This is a balanced book – I will say this on the camera as well as off it. Andrew Sanders has taken the middle-path and has minimised his ‘indulgence’. He talks; he discusses; he seldom opines. You can understand, by reading this book, various critical insights into various literary halts in the history of English literature. This book will not bore you; this book will not teach you more than what is required.
(vii) The Cambridge History of English Literature by George Sampson: George Sampson takes the idea of Andre Sanders a step further and he calculates, comments, organises and details the things a little better and in a broader way. I will suggest this book for the first time readers of history of English literature – the graduate students as well as the students who would like to start their academic journey in this field. Advanced students can also study this book for a change of taste.
(viii) The Pelican Guide to English Literature by Boris Ford: The books in this series come in various volumes and each of those covers particular periods. The language in this book has been taken to a farther level and so is the depth of the arguments. Boris Ford has picked the scholars very carefully and they haven’t disappointed the readers. I will recommend this series, if anyone is lucky enough to find it, to the students of post-graduation level and above that.
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(ix) A Short History of English Literature by IforEvans: Well, this book is meant to be read by those who have passed the elementary stages in the history of English literature and are ready for the new notional challenges and clever enough to understand the hints. Sir IforEvans has used extremely polished (otherwise) language in his book and he has kept his worlds limited and descriptions precise. If you are ready to read something interesting and sometimes informative too, do get this one and accept the challenge!
(x) Studying Literature: The Essential Companion by various writers: This is the last book on this list. However, I will suggest this book be read before anyone reads anything related to English literature. Prepared by three outstanding authors, Paul Goring, Jeremy Hawthorn, and Domhnall Mitchell, this book does very best to introduce the newcomers to the study of history of English literature. It has wonderful guides on how to prepare for the literature exam, how to begin studying literature, how to approach various genres, how to understand the literary theory and so on… so, in my limited opinion, like the very first book on this list, this is also a must-have for the students of English literature.
A list by Alok Mishra
You can also watch a video version of this article featuring Alok Mishra: