Geoffrey Chaucer, 1343-1400
This 14th-century writer undeniably shaped modern literature. Chaucer is often described to be the best poet of the Middle Ages and as the father of both English literature and poetry. His writings are still read and enjoyed today, with relatable characters. He is best known for The Canterbury Tales – which consists of 24 stories.
William Shakespeare, 1564-1616
This 16th-century play-wright is undoubtedly the most famous in history. Known for his 38 plays which include Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, King Lear and Macbeth. Shakespeare has shaped the modern English language, with many of his phrases still used commonly today.
William Wordsworth, 1770-1850
William Wordsworth is a much-beloved English poet; alongside fellow poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, he kick-started the Romantic Age of literature. Aside from poetry, Wordsworth also published plays, autobiographies and travel guides. His love for the English countryside is evident in his writings.
Jane Austen, 1775-1817
Jane Austen is well known for penning to life Britain’s greatest heartthrob Mr. Darcy, as well as her portrayal of the landed gentry in England. Her six novels predominantly revolve around the life of 18th-century women, detailing their social and economic insecurity and dependency on marrying well.
The Brontë Sisters, 1800s
The Brontë sisters are Charlotte, Emily and Anne. These 19th-century sisters were each heavily influenced by their surrounding landscapes and isolated upbringing. They created individualistic sweeping narratives that covered everything from life in Northern England, the role of women, human nature and the poor living conditions at the time. Their most famous works are Jane Eyre (Charlotte), Wuthering Heights (Emily), and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (Anne).
Charles Dickens, 1812-1870
Known to be the greatest writer of the Victorian era, Charles Dickens wrote 15 novels and various essays, short stories and novellas commenting on and critiquing 19th-century life. His most famous works include A Christmas Carol, Oliver Twist, David Copperfield and Great Expectations.
Lewis Carroll, 1832-1898
A notable 19th-century author of children’s fiction and poetry. Lewis Carroll (real name Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) is best known for Alice in Wonderland, Jabberwocky and Through the Looking Glass. He was also an accomplished mathematician, photographer and inventor.
Arthur Conan Doyle, 1859-1930
Doyle himself was Scottish, but his creations are iconically English. Sherlock Holmes is hands-down the most famous detective, ever. The perceptive, stoic, know-it-all detective known for his observational skills, logical reasoning and advanced knowledge of forensic science and his smart, loyal partner Dr Watson in Doyle’s original Victorian-era stories have influenced countless books, stories, TV series, films and fandom as well as the genre in general.
Agatha Christie, 1890-1976
Dame Agatha Christie wrote a mind-boggling 66 detective novels over the course of her life. The “Queen of Crime,” she is considered to be one of the best-selling and most-translated authors of all time. Although she wrote both crime and romantic novels, most people will know her for the creation of Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot characters.
J.R.R Tolkien, 1892-1973
Often named the father of fantasy literature, J.R.R Tolkien repopularised the fantasy genre and inspired countless authors with his high fantasy works The Hobbit and The Lord of Rings. Tolkien’s writings are notoriously intricate and detailed. He spent considerable time building the fantasy world in which his stories take place as well as developing various invented languages.
George Orwell, 1903-1950
A twentieth-century writer primarily known for his social commentary and views on totalitarianism. George Orwell was Eric Arthur Blair’s pen name. It’s through his most popular novels Animal Farm and 1984 that the adjective “Orwellian” came to be, used to describe totalitarian and authoritarian social practises.
Roald Dahl, 1916-1990
Roald Dahl is an extremely popular children’s author. His works are famed for their surprise endings, whimsical nature and strong ‘good’ and ‘bad’ archetypes. He also wrote short stories for adults which tended to be on the dark side and co-wrote screenplays, most notably two James Bond films. Some of his most famous works include Mathilda, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach and The Witches.
Salman Rushdie, 1947
Sir Salmon Rushdie was knighted in 2007 for his services to literature, having published 12 novels, two children’s books and various essays. His work largely comments on the east and west divide, religion and politics. His novel Midnight’s Children won the Booker Prize in 1981, whilst his 1988 Satanic Verses sparked considerable controversy.
Kazuo Ishiguro, 1958
A much-awarded and celebrated author of various novels, short stories and screenplays. Kazuo Ishiguro won the Nobel Prize in literature in 2017 and was also knighted for his services to literature in 2019. His most successful work includes The Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go. Ishiguro spent much of his life in England and many of his novels take place there.
Malorie Blackman, 1962
Malorie Blackman is a much-celebrated science fiction and children’s author who is best known for the thought-provoking Noughts and Crosses series, which explore structural racism in Britain via an alternate universe where the white race is suppressed by a black authoritarian race.
J.K Rowling, 1965
J.K Rowling and Harry Potter are almost synonymous with English culture. The series will have impacted many a modern childhood and she is currently credited as Britain’s best-selling living author, with the Harry Potter franchise ubiquitously recognised. The series itself, as well as spin-offs, have been translated to both film and theatre.
Kamila Shamsie, 1973
Shamsie is a Pakistani-British author and winner or nominee of several prizes. Author of seven novels and contributor to several anthologies, she is one of Britain’s most interesting new authors, often exploring themes of multiculturalism, nationality and Pakistani/British culture.
Zadie Smith, 1975
One of the most influential modern British writers is Zadie Smith, author of five novels, over a dozen short stories and winner of several prizes. She has also taught creative writing at several top universities including Columbia and New York University.
Reni Eddo-Lodge, 1989
In June 2020, Eddo-Lodge became the first black British woman to be No. 1 overall in the British book charts. A journalist and author, her nonfiction work focuses on issues of race and sexism. Her very topical work, Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race, has topped nonfiction charts.