Teodora is a bilingual writer and translator. She is the author of two books, a poetry volume and a collection of short stories.
Why Do We Love English Literature?
As a passionate reader, I have often pondered on the reasons why certain literary works have a more impressive impact on the reader than others. From Shakespeare to J. K. Rowling, English literature has fascinated readers from all over the world. If you ask anyone to name five major movie adaptations of famous books, they will most likely mention a movie inspired by an English novel.
After fumbling through the pockets of my mind, I have come up with what I believe to be seven distinguishing traits of English literature, which, in my humble opinion, contribute significantly to its everlasting charm.
1. The Great Opening Lines
Luring the reader into your story right from the beginning is not always an easy task. These English writers surely knew how to do the trick.
- "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife." Jane Austen: Pride and Prejudice
- "It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen." George Orwell: Nineteen Eighty Four
- "Miss Brooke had that kind of beauty which seems to be thrown into relief by poor dress." George Eliot: Middlemarch
It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn't know what I was doing in New York." - The Bell Jar
— Sylvia Plath
The Most Wonderful Speech
2. The Tragic Love Stories
A love story without a drop of sadness in it is utterly dull. We don’t want to read about annoyingly happy couples going about their annoyingly happy lives. We wish to immerse ourselves in drama, to find an emotional connection with the main characters, to discover a kindred spirit who has experienced the same heartaches as us. Fortunately, English literature abounds in such soul-stirring stories.
- That is why we adore Romeo and Juliet. If Shakespeare had made them elope instead of taking their own lives, the play would have almost undoubtedly lost plenty of its admirers.
- Remember Heathcliff, the gypsy boy who sweeps spoiled and rich Cathy off her feet? What could be more exciting than a forbidden love affair that ends up in death and despair? (To say nothing of the ghosts). Wuthering Heights must be one of the most bloodcurdling, hauntingly beautiful Gothic novels of the 19th century.
- And, my favorite, the cherry on the cake... uhm, I mean on top – the tragic story of Miss Havisham from Great Expectations. Even if the old spinster is a bitter woman with a fervent wish to take revenge on the male species, it’s simply heartbreaking to envision her wearing the same wedding dress from the day her lover jilted her at the altar and sitting at the same table, filled with rotten what-used-to-be food. After all, she only wanted to love and be loved in return.
3. The Dashing Men
They seem indifferent, even cold-hearted. But this is exactly what makes them so charming and sexy. Women often fancy a difficult conquest.
- Mr. Darcy is the typical Jane Austen male character: extremely high on the social ladder, lots of money, a good name, handsome and arrogant, but not without strong moral values. At first, he makes Elizabeth Bennet loathe him because of his interference with her sister Jane’s relationship with Mr. Bingley. Plus, he is cynical and is a fan of tongue-lashing, so not exactly the romantic type. In time, however, Elizabeth realizes her true feelings for him.
- Edward Rochester, the Byronic hero from Jane Eyre, hasn’t had much luck in love, having been forced into an unwanted marriage with Bertha Mason, an insane and violent woman. When Jane Eyre meets him for the first time, Rochester accuses her of bewitching his horse to make him fall. He is an austere man who doesn’t talk much and when he does, his words are usually harsh. Jane is intrigued by his mystery and falls madly in love with him. Women are caring by nature, they have this healing quality. What better way to melt a frozen heart than by enwrapping it with warm love?
- Last but not least, I will name Henry Tilney, the enigmatic clergyman from Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, who draws the attention of seventeen-year-old Catherine Morland, who is fascinated by Gothic novels. Unlike the other two aforementioned heroes, Tilney is a somewhat mellow man, but also sarcastic and with a penchant for light flirtations. He always means more than he says and seems to enjoy arousing Catherine’s curiosity, which, of course, is the ideal recipe for making a girl fall in love with you. At least in the English novels.
Ladies and gents, a question for you
4. The Powerful Women
Powerful women have always made a great entrance on the English literary stage. Their prestige is not uncommonly associated with witchcraft, but hey, witches can also be good-natured and perform benevolent deeds.
- Lady Macbeth is one of the first notorious female characters whose actions and thoughts have been linked to witchcraft. She is an antagonist, yet her role in the play is notable nonetheless. She is the evil force behind Macbeth’s decision to murder King Duncan, orchestrating the crime with an undeniable cleverness and a vixenish persuasiveness. She is highly intuitive, possessing a sharp knowledge of her husband’s mind and weaknesses, which she eventually poisons with cogent arguments. Lady Macbeth has little to be admired for, but the psychological intricacies of her gloomy personality have always incited interest in the minds of both the literary critics and the Shakespeare aficionados.
- Éowyn, one of the few female heroines from J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, is a beautiful, tall, golden-haired, grey-eyed woman. Idealistic and noble, she sacrifices her own happiness to care for her uncle. At the same time, she honors her responsibilities as a shield-maiden. She proves her bravery by disguising herself as a man and taking on a new identity as Dernhelm. During the battle of the Pelennor Fields, she confronts Witch-king of Angmar, Lord of the Nazgûl. Angmar has a 1,000-year-old prophecy on his side. It foretells that the Witch-king would not fall "by the hand of man". Tough luck – Éowyn reveals herself as a woman and then kills the Witch-king. (You can also watch the scene from the movie) But this is not the only instance in which she proves her bravery. She has the courage to serenely accept the fact that Aragorn cannot return her feelings. Instead of crying rivers of tears, she toughens up and embraces her duty towards her people.
- Hermione is one of the twinkling stars of the Harry Potter saga. She is not only the best student in Harry's year, but she owns ten O.W.L.s – nine Outstandings and one Exceeds Expectations. The intellect and skills of sagacious Hermione overshadow those of almost all of the other students. She is a very talented witch and the first one to be able to cast non-verbal spells. Levelheaded and sort of a bookworm, Hermione doesn’t have a lot of friends. She tends to be bossy and a bit overbearing, but with time, Harry and Ron, her best friends, discover her loyalty and compassionate heart, as she saves their lives numerous times.
Ladies and gents, if you would be so kind as to...
5. The Monsters
Monsters and magical creatures inspire us to dream of far-away realms where the impossible becomes possible and where our imagination takes us on mesmerizing journeys. No matter if they’re really nasty or simply misunderstood, we love monsters in the way we love horror movies. It’s all about the thrill. The outstanding English fantasy novels of the 20th century would not have been the same without their monsters. They are the necessary darkness that the heroes must overcome in order to enjoy the sweet taste of glory. Dragons, centaurs ghouls, dementors, trolls, orcs, goblins, gothmogs, wargs and fire-drakes – these are only a few of the monsters which populate the fabulous worlds where wars are waged against forces beyond our wildest nightmares.
Perhaps the best-known monster of the English literature is the hideous, yellow-skinned giant who is mistakingly thought to be called Frankenstein. Actually, that was his creator’s name. Mary Shelley did not endow her monster with a name. However, if we regard the giant as a twisted alter-ego of Victor, the name confusion is somewhat justifiable. Frankenstein’s creation is a masterpiece – it not only articulates words, but has genuine human emotions. Yet Victor rejects it, forcing the pitiful monster to find refuge beside a remote cottage. Its encounter with the real world brings it (or should I rather say him?) countless disappointments and inflicts pain on its originally pure heart. Its anguish makes you wonder... who is the real monster?
6. The Witty Humor
There is hardly anyone who hasn’t read Alice in Wonderland and its sequel Through the Looking Glass. In a strange universe where absurdity represents the governing reality, Lewis Carroll juggles with chaos and order in a unique manner. The innocent humor is accompanied by a subtle irony pointing to the rigidity of social conventions. Carroll’s humorous treat includes play upon words, poems, nonsensical phrases, eccentric characters and quirky twists in the story.
In the famous poem "Jabberwocky" from Through the Looking Glass, the words seem to have gone completely bananas. Here’s an example: "Twas brillig, and the slithy toves/Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;/All mimsy were the borogoves,/And the mome raths outgrabe."
Here you can listen to Kate Burton reciting the Jabberwocky:
- Alice’s conversation with Humpty Dumpty is hilarious for both children and adults. Humpty misconstrues everything Alice says, which makes the dialogue resemble the disrupted speech of a loony.
"How old did you say you were?"
Alice made a short calculation, and said 'Seven years and six months.'
"Wrong!' Humpty Dumpty exclaimed triumphantly. 'You never said a word like it!"
"I thought you meant 'How old are you?"' Alice explained.
"If I'd meant that, I'd have said it," said Humpty Dumpty.
Oscar Wilde didn’t give a flying fig about many things. He was flamboyant and his humor was often regarded as sexist, which triggered controversies on a social level, making many of his contemporaries regard him as a bothersome fellow. However, his brilliant writings and remarkable wit have gained him an indisputable recognition worldwide. There is something about Oscar Wilde that absolves him of any possible guilt.
Some Oscar Wilde quotes:
"If you are not too long, I will wait here for you all my life."
"Bigamy is having one wife too many. Monogamy is the same."
"I can resist everything except temptation. "
"Always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much."
7. The Heroes With a Poor Social Background
Charles Dickens hit the literary jackpot with his social novels Oliver Twist and David Copperfield. His satire shows London in a whole new light, a bleak one I might add, a place haunted by the an all-consuming injustice. The world of the rich lacks morality and exploits the working class in the cruelest ways. The orphan, despised and bullied, is thrown into life’s maelstrom and forced to make a living by begging, stealing or associating himself with characters bearing a dingy reputation.
However, he overcomes all obstacles, grace to his noble heart and endurance, which makes him a true hero and an example of how to succeed even in the direst of circumstances. Oliver Twists escapes from the claws of bandleader Fagin and eventually ends up in the care of Mr. Brownlow, Oliver’s paternal half-brother. David Cooperfield is also rewarded for his suffering (his stepfather’s punishments, the horrors of Salem House boarding school and having to move from place to place) and marries the woman who had always loved him and, well, lives happily ever after.
Smilealot on March 03, 2015:
This was a great article and extremely useful guide to some of the infamous characters of English literature:-))
Teodora Gheorghe (author) on February 28, 2015:
Thanks, Chef-de-jour for your wonderful words! I'm glad you liked my little "journey into literature" :)
Andrew Spacey from Near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire,UK on February 28, 2015:
What a wonderful introduction to the characters of some classic English novels and stories - from the enchanting and disturbing nonsense of Alice, to the serious business of Lady Macbeth. Such a wide and rich spectrum! So glad you mentioned George Orwell - Animal Farm one of my all time favourites - and Dickens of course, the great popular narrator and champion of the oppressed.
Must end here. Like the White Rabbit, I'm late for an appointment!
Votes up and a share.
Teodora Gheorghe (author) on February 22, 2015:
Yes, he is. I loved the story of Arwen and Aragorn.
Lawrence Hebb from Hamilton, New Zealand on February 22, 2015:
Aragorn is both the King and the one for whom Arwen gives up eternal life!
Teodora Gheorghe (author) on February 22, 2015:
They all have a special charm, but I guess if I were to pick one, it would be Mr. Darcy. At least he doesn't go to war or indulge in epicurean delights. :))
Lawrence Hebb from Hamilton, New Zealand on February 21, 2015:
I'm one for Aragorn anytime!
BessieBooks on February 21, 2015:
Glad to see Dorian Grey is beating Mr. Darcy in the poll :) Great hub!
Lawrence Hebb from Hamilton, New Zealand on February 21, 2015:
'It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' is probably one of my favorite first lines. Dickens is a great read, I really enjoyed this hub. Voted up