Tarvin's Blog William Tarvin's Literary Blog

British Literature

The following handouts discuss aspects of the literary works of major British writers. Also certain European writers who influenced British Literature will be discussed. Click the letter of the last name of the author, which will direct you to the titles of her or his works.  There click the underlined title of the work you seek.  This will open the desired handout in Word.

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I would appreciate your comments on my analyses of these writers and their works. Click here to make your comments. The Leave a Comment Box appears after the comments by other users. Thank you.


Auden, W. H.

"Musée Des Beaux Arts" & "In Memory of W. B. Yeats" - An analysis of the theme, structure and style of "Musée" and "Yeats."

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Behn, Aphra

Oroonoko - A lengthy analysis of the genre, structure, themes, and characters of Oroonoko.

Boswell, James

See Johnson, Samuel for a discussion of Boswell's Life of Johnson.

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Coleridge, Samuel Taylor

Biographia Literaria *- An analysis of Coleridge's major ideas about literary criticism in Biographia.

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Donne, John

John Donne's Poetry - An analysis of the metaphysical aspects of Donne's poetry and the following works: "Song: Go and Catch a Falling Star," "A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning," "Death, Be Not Proud," and "Meditation 17."

Dryden, John

Dryden: Introduction - An overview of Dryden's life, poetic themes, and stylistic characteristics.

"Absalom and Achitophel" - An analysis of the background, themes, structure, characters, and literary characteristics of Dryden's "Absalom."

 An Essay on Dramatic Poesy *- An analysis of Dryden's major ideas about dramatic criticism in Dramatic Poesy:  Ancients vs. Moderns, dramatic unity, and Shakespeare and Jonson.

"Mac Flecknoe" *- An analysis of the themes, the structure, and the imagery of "Mac Flecknoe."

"A Song for St. Cecilia's Day" * - An analysis of the theme and structure of "St. Cecilia's Day."

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Eliot, T. S.

"Tradition and Individual Talent"- An analysis of Eliot's major ideas about literary criticism.

Elizabethan Literature: Introduction to Marlowe and Shakespeare

Elizabethan Literature * - An overview of Elizabethan England and breif analysis of Marlowe and Shakespeare's Sonnets.

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Hardy, Thomas

"The Darkling Thrush" - A brief analysis of the theme and structure of "Thrush."

Heaney, Seamus

"Digging" - An analysis of the theme and structure of "Digging."

Hopkins, Gerard Manley

"God's Grandeur" & "Thou Art Indeed Just, Lord" - An analysis of the stylistic characteristics of Hopkins' poetry and of "God's Grandeur" and "Thou Art Indeed."

Housman, A. E.

"Loveliest of Trees," "When I Was One-and-Twenty," & "Eight O'Clock"- An analysis of the themes and structure of "Loveliest," "One-and-Twenty," and "Eight O'Clock."

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Johnson, Samuel

The Dictionary of the English Language - An analysis of Johnson's "Preface" to his Dictionary, of Boswell's Life of Johnson, and Johnson's "Letter to Chesterfield."

"Preface to Shakespeare" *- An analysis of Johnson's major ideas about dramatic criticism in "Preface to Shakespeare."

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Kafka, Franz

"The Metamorphosis" - An analysis of the theme, structure, characters, and symbolism of "The Metamorphosis" by the major Czech writer whose stories influenced British Literature.

Keats, John

"Letters on Poetry" - An analysis of Keats's critical ideas about poetry as gleaned from his letters.

"Ode on a Grecian Urn"- Keats's "Ode" analyzed in Cleanth Brooks's essay "Keats's Sylvan Historian."

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Larkin, Philip

"Church Going" - An analysis of the theme, structure, and stylistic aspects of "Church Going."

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Middle English Period

Middle English Period *- Handout on the Middle England Period, which include Anglo-Norman England(1066-1307), the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Century."

Middle English Poets

Middle English Lyrics and Ballads - An analysis of the themes and structure of "The Cuckoo Song," "Western Wind," "I Am of Ireland," "Lord Randall," "Bonny Barbara Allan," and "Sir Patrick Spens."

Milton, John

Life and Poetic Characteristics - An analysis of the three periods of Milton's life and of the major characteristics of his literary works.

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Neoclassical Period

Neoclassicism In British Literature:Restoration and First Half of 18th Century *- Analysis of the political, intellectual, and literary background of Neoclassical period in British Literature."

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Owen, Wilfred

"Dulce et Decorum Est" - An analysis of the theme, structure, and imagery of "Dulce et Decorum Est."

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Pope, Alexander

Life and Poetic Style - An analysis of Pope's life and stylistic aspects of his poetry.

The Dunciad - Analysis of Book 4 of The Dunciad.

"Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot"- An analysis of Pope's "Arbuthnot" epistle.

 An Essay of Man - An explication of Epistle 2, Lines 1-18 of Pope's An Essay of Man.

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Restoration and Neoclassicism Writers

Overview - An overview of the political and social background of Restoration and Neoclassicism writers and their literary principles.

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Seventeenth Century

17TH Century *- A brief analysis of the major political, scientific, and literary aspects of 17th century British Literature.

Shakespeare, William

Shakespeare's Life - An analysis of the major events of Shakespeare's life and of his theatrical and literary career.

Hamlet - Analysis of the themes, structure, Hamlet's madness, his procrastination, his idealism, and his soliloquies.

King Lear - Analysis of the structure, themes, characters, and imagery of "King Lear."

Macbeth - Analysis of the structure, themes, and characters of "Macbeth."

Othello - Analysis of the structure, themes, and imagery of "Othello."

Shakespeare's Sonnets - Analysis of the themes and structure of Shakespeare's sonnets.

Shakespearean Tragedy - Major characteristics of Shakespearean tragedy.

Shelley, Percy Bysshe

A Defence of Poetry * - An analysis of Shelley's major ideas about poetry in his Defence.

Sidney, Philip

An Apology for Poetry *- An analysis of the major critical ideas about literature in Sidney's Apology.

Sixteenth Century

16TH Century *- Handout on 16th Century England, the Renaissance, the Reformation and nationalism under Elizabeth I.

Smith, Stevie

"Not Waving But Drowning" - An analysis of the theme, structure, and stylistic devices of "Not Waving."

Soyinka, Wole

"Telephone Conversation" - An analysis of the theme, structure, and imagery of the Nigerian writer's "Telephone."

Swift, Jonathan

Life, Philosophy, and Literary Style - An analysis of Swift's life, philosophy, literary style, "Battle of the Books," Tale of a Tub, and "Patridge" pamphlets.

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Thomas, Dylan

"The Force That through the Green Fuse Drives the Flower," "Fern Hill," & "Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night" - An analysis of the theme, structure, and imagery of "The Force," "Fern Hill," and "Do Not Go Gentle."

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Woolf, Virginia

"Shakespeare's Sister" - An analysis of the major critical ideas in "Shakespeare's Sister."

Wordsworth, William

"Preface to Lyrical Ballads" *- An analysis of the major critical ideas about poetry in Wordsworth's "Preface."

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Yeats, William Butler

Yeats 1 "Easter 1916," "The Wild Swans at Coole," "The Second Coming," "Leda and the Swans," "Sailing to Byzantium," & "Crazy Jane Talks with the Bishop" - An analysis of the theme, structure, philosophical background, and stylistic devices in "Easter," "Wild Swans," "Second Coming," "Leda," "Sailing," & "Crazy Jane Talks."

Yeat 2 "The Lake Isle of Innisfree," "When You Are Old," & "Among School Children"- Lengthier comments on the Yeats 1 handout and analyses of three other poems, "Innisfree," "When You Are Old," and "Among School Children."

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Comments (38) Trackbacks (0)
  1. What a wonderful blog! English literature is a wonderful subject, and this blog really does it justice. I am a book reviewer hoping to promote literature and reading to others, so appreciate your work :)

  2. Dear Dr William Tarvin
    I am writing to thank you for your hard effort which was very helpful along with the efforts of all my professors to pass my comprehensive Exams in M.A English Literature and Criticism, and as you predicted i passed with “Excellence” thanks again

  3. Dr. Tarvin, I am a secondary teacher and I love the information that you have provided! I am in need of a document that I found a few years ago on your site…it was entitled “Major Themes in American Literature”. If possible, can you please forward me a copy of that documement…it has vital information which will help my students as they approach an upcoming unit. Thank you so much…have a blessed day!

    • Dear Teresa Hinkle-Jones,

      Thank you for your inquiry.
      Because of the popularity of my American Themes literary handout, I moved it to the website http://www.teacherspayteachers.com
      You may purchase it there for a small price.
      I have had to do this with certain of my popular handouts in order to help me cover the expenses of my free website http://www.tarvin.lit
      Again, thank you for your interest in my website, which recently reached 30,000 users.

      Best wishes in your educational career.

      Dr. Tarvin

      • Wow…I am shocked that you actually responded! THANK YOU so much! I just downloaded the information from Tthe TpT site and it was well worth the small fee! I am encouraged by your generosity through the sharing of knowledge! Thanks again…

        • Dear Teresa,
          I am happy that you found the Themes of American Literature handout valuable for your class. I wish you good fortune in your career and your life.
          Do not hesitate to contact me if you have any other literary questions

          Dr. Tarvin

  4. Dear Tarvin,
    your analyses are great, thank you so much for sharing them. Just to point out that Seamus Heaney is not a British poet, but Irish. The Republic of Ireland is a separate country to Great Britain.
    Best wishes.

    • Dear Marketa,
      Thank you for your kind comments about my literary website. It has certainly grown in the last year, and now I have just over 30,000 visitors, many of whom are regular users of my handouts.
      Concerning Heaney, of course, he is an Irish poet. The first sentence of my handout on him clearly identifies him and as an “Irish poet,” and I follow with a few sentences on the importance of Irish landscape in his poems.
      Also In the headnote to the British Literature site, I state, “Also certain European writers who influenced British Literature will be discussed.” Heaney falls in this category, as do the Czech writer Franz Kafka and the Nigerian poet and playwright Wole Soyinka, who are included in my British Literature site.
      Thank you again. I appreciate such intelligent emails as yours as it gives me the opportunity to clarify the purpose of my website. I wish you all success and happiness in your literary studies. You seem to have a brilliant mind and a wonderful attention to details, both necessary in a literary scholar.
      Please feel free to contact me if you have any other literary points to make or questions about my handouts.
      Dr. William L. Tarvin

  5. Dear Tarvin
    Your work and analysis of texts are excellent It has been incredibly helpful to me and i really appreciate your work
    i want something about the reasons behind the rising of the novel if u have something about it i will be very happy
    again thanks

    • Dear Sirwan Salim:
      Thank you for your compliments on my literary handouts.
      I am sorry, but I do not have any handouts on the rise of the English novel, which was not a specialty of my literary study.
      I wish you success in finding the information which you seek on some other literary web pages.
      I enjoyed hearing from you. Do not hesitate to write again if you feel that I can be helpful on some other literary projects.

      Best wishes,

      Dr. Tarvin

  6. Just stumbled across this blog on English Literature. It’s a hidden gem!

    • Please forgive me for replying so late, but my computer assistant did not come until today and he handles all of my answers to comments.
      I am delighted that you have found my website helpful. I have been very surprised in the interest shown in my handouts. The site has had around 30,000 visitors in the last year.

      I wish you all success and happiness in your career.


      Dr. Tarvin

  7. Hello,
    Unfortunately, your handout on John Donne doesn’t include his poem” The Flea”. I need an analysis of this poem of Donne. I would appreciate it if you could put an analysis of this poem. Thank you so much.

    • Dear Sara,
      I am sorry, but I do not have a handout on Donne’s “The Flea” and my schedule will not permit me to work one up.
      Again my apologies.
      By the way, I recently revised my handout on Themes of American Literature. I’ve gotten excellent reader feedback on it. You might want to give it a look, although I think you mainly work in British Literature.

      Dr. Tarvin

  8. Some real depth and scholarship in the blogosphere. How refreshing!

  9. Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my question.

  10. Hello. I found this part of Shakespeare difficult to understand; “However, since Fitton was of a higher rank than Shakespeare, it is unlikely that he carried on an affair with her, much less a menage a trois involving a nobleman, as the story of the sonnets asserts.” It is the last part that I’m confused about. Would you please explain it to me? Many thanks.

    • An ideological conflict in Elizabethan times was the love vs. friendship conflict. Shakespeare deals with it in numerous of his comedic plays and also in the sonnets.
      The story of the sonnets focuses on a triangular relationship: A middle-aged writer (some have said this is Shakespere) has a friendship with a young nobleman (the earl of Southampton or the Earl of Pembroke are suggested).
      He also is engaged in a sexual relationship with a woman (called “the dark lady” in the sonnets; a noblewoman Mary Fitton is suggested by some as a candidate for her since she had an illegitimate child by Pembroke). However, in the sonnets the “dark lady’s” social status is never mentioned.
      The lady seduces the young friend of the writer perhaps out of a desire to irritate the writer or more likely because of her lascivious or mischievous nature. When the writer finds out about the affair, he does not feel betrayed by the “dark lady,” but by his young nobleman friend.
      The woman’s physical lust or mischievousness almost destroys the friendship between the nobleman and the writer. However, the last section of the sonnets indicates that it does not. These sonnets suggest that the writer and the poet are reconcied and that both cast aside the “dark lady.”
      I used the French term “menage a trois” in the broadest sense given by Webster’s Dictionary: “any ongoing sexual relationshp involving three people.” That is, the writer and his nobleman friend (two men) are separately and secretly involved in a sexual affair with the “dark lady” (the third party in the menage a trois).
      As I state in my handout, I do not believe that Mary Fitton, a noblewoman, is the real-life “dark lady.” Lady Fitton, despite her loose morals, would not have stooped so low as to have a relationship with a socially insignificant playwright. The great twentieth-century English writer Anthony Burgess in his novel “Nothing Like the Sun: A Story of Shakespeare’s Love Life” proposes a more likely candidate, the elite Elizabethan prostitute Lucy Negro, who was quite popular with nobleman, businessmen, actors, and writers.
      I hope that this explanation is helpful.
      Best wishes,
      Dr. Tarvin

  11. Dear Dr. William Tarvin
    I was surfing the net for info about old English literature when i coincidentally came across your website, i am my self an English Literature teacher and i am preparing for my comprehensive test MA in English literature and Criticism, i found your pages extremely illuminating and insightful reflecting high experience and proficiency, i just wanted to say thanks a lot for such an effort.

    • Dear Bouthainah,

      Thank you for your compliments. I am happy to know that my literary analyses were helpful to you. Good luck on your MA comprehensives. I remember 45 years ago when I took mine. They are nerve-racking, but I am confident that you will achieve an “Excellent.”
      If you have any questions about any of my handouts or suggestions about ways for me to mprove tarvinlit, please email me.
      Again, good luck!

      Best wishes,

      Professor William L. Tarvin

  12. Hello. There seems to be something wrong with Virginia Woolf’s “Shakespeare’s Sister” link. Didn’t manage to download it. It would be so nice of you if you do something about it. Many thanks.

  13. Dr. Tarvin,
    Would you please check your handout on “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” since I am unable to download it?

    • Dear Bahaa Shaban,
      Thank you for pointing out this difficulty. I have corrected this error and now you should be able to download Gray’s “Elegy.” In addition, I have included an answer key to this poem at the end of this handout.
      I would like to invite all readers to draw my attention to any difficulties which they may encounter on my website.

      Dr. William Tarvin

  14. Thank you so much for sharing your work on this website. Your handouts are so helpful to my students. They have a greater understanding of literary terms now!

    • Dear 10th Grade Teacher,
      I am very pleased that you and your students have benefited from my literary handouts and lectures.
      Because of requests, I am in the process of providing answer keys to my literary handouts, and I am also adding some new handouts which I hope you will find helpful. I am sure that you are a very dedicated teacher.


      Dr. William L. Tarvin

  15. I came across the site while searching for some materials that could help me with an immediate outline of “An Apology for Poetry” by Sidney. It was a fortunate encounter since I felt very ashamed to go to class even without a slight preparation. I must acknowledge my debt to Dr. Tarvin for such a painstaking collage of diverse literary issues.

    • Dear Zaynul Abedin,
      I am very pleased that my analysis of Sidney’s “An Apology for Poetry” helped you with your class preparation.
      Because of requests, I am in the process of providing answer keys to my literary handouts, and I am also adding some new handouts which I hope you and the other users of my website will find beneficial.
      I wish you all success in your educational endeavours.


      Dr. William L. Tarvin

  16. Dr. Tarvin,
    Many thanks for the valuable help of your handouts in teaching my classes.
    May God bless you with health and happyiness.

    • Dr. Minakshi Jain,
      I am happy that you have found my website on British Literature helpful.
      Please feel free to contact me with any questions or comments about my analyses of literary works.
      I wish you all success and felicity in your career and your life.
      Dr. William Tarvin

  17. Dear Tarvin,

    Your work and analysis of texts are superb! It has been incredibly helpful to me and i really appreciate your insightful comments! Thanks so much!

    • Dear Georgie,

      I was pleased to hear that the Swift and Chaucer handouts were helpful to you. I always enjoy comments about my website. Please contact me if you have any suggestions for improving it.

      Best wishes,

      Dr. Tarvin

  18. Dear sir,
    I am analyzing the concept of education in Gulliver’s Travels and found your study very useful. I have a few questions if you don’t mind. Since you have studied a lot of books and given many lectures, I think you can help me. Although critics says that this book is an anti-utopian work, I found some utopian elements in it. For instance, in Lilliput children are taught by grave teachers, and parents are kept away during the instruction. What I need to know is whether Swift was opposed to equal education or not. Because in the first book there is both gender and class discrimination in terms of education. Did he really support this idea or did he want to say that this is wrong so everybody should be educated equally? It would be of great help if you would answer my questions.

    Yours sincerely,

    Berfu Ertat

    • Dear Berfu Ertat:

      I am very pleased that you found my website on British Lit.and Swift
      helpful. I noticed that you visited my handouts on Swift’s “Modest
      Proposal,” but did not visit the extensive ones analyzing “Gulliver’s
      Travels.” I believe that the information in this site will answer some of
      your questions about the theme of education in GT.

      As to your specific questions, I do not believe that Swift, an Anglican
      Church Dean, believed that utopia (which in Greek means “no place”) could be
      found or established in this world. Paradise is reserved for Heaven,
      Christians (and Muslims, I believe) both agree. For that reason, Swift
      criticizes any society which sets itself up to be perfect, a Utopia.
      Consequently he finds some things admirable and some things despicable among
      the Lilliputians (Book 1), the Brobdingnagians (Book 1), the Laputans (Book
      3), and the Houyhnhnms (Book 4). For instance, while most Lilliputians are
      as small in morals as they are in stature, there are some good ones, e.g.
      the Lilliputian who warns Gulliver that he is going to be blinded. As for
      the Brobdingnagians, they treat Gulliver as either a slave (the man who
      works Gulliver near to death) or a child or toy (the Queen); among these
      coarse people, however, there are some good ones, such as the child.

      All of the characters in Book 3 (Laputa is Spanish for “the whore”) are “mad
      scientists,” for Swift, the faithful churchman, believed science was opposed
      to religion. In Book 4, Gulliver is brainwashed by the “horses” (as I
      analyze in my website article). Although Swift saw some good aspects in
      them (for instance, their belief in educating both males and females),
      Gulliver views them quite ridiculously as perfect, a conclusion which Swift
      would find repulsive. Just as God never meant for a human being to be an
      all-rational Houyhnhnm, He never intended a human being falling to the
      animalistic level of a Yahoo.

      So, to sum up my answer, “Gulliver’s Travels” is an attack on the idea that
      a utopia can be created on earth. So Swift created a world (or four worlds)
      to show that a utopian paradise cannot exist here, but only in Heaven. For
      charlatans to maintain that it can is the greatest sin of all. What Swift
      proposes in GT and in other of his works is for human beings to strive to be
      better. They can do this by controlling their pride (the central theme of
      the book), which makes them see their world as perfect. Pride is the fault
      of Satan in Christianity and the djinn Shaitan in Islam, for the latter
      refused to bow down before Allah’s new creation Adam and Eve as Allah had
      commanded him. Pride is behind most of the vices, just as humility is
      behind most of the virtues, in the book.

      Concerning education, in Swift’s correspondence he supports the education of
      both men and women. This idea is also stated in Book 4, GT, chap. 8: “My
      master thought it monstrous in us to give the females a different kind of
      education from the males, except in some articles of domestic management.”
      In that same chapter, this society maintains a class system–which by the
      way Swift himself approved of–for Gulliver notes that “the race of
      inferior Houyhnhnms [are] bred to be servants.”

      I hope that these comments have been helpful to you. You appear to be a
      very intelligent person for your questions are quite perceptive. I wish you
      success in your analysis of the concept of education in GT.

      Best regards,

      Professor William L. Tarvin

  19. Your Keats’s paper just saved me!

    Greetings from a student of Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in the Middle East, Qatar.

    • Thanks, Leena. I am very happy that my analysis of Brooks’s analysis of Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn” helped you.

      Please feel free to contact me if you have questions or suggestions about any of the other literary works which I explicate on my blog.

      Again thanks, Dr. Tarvin

  20. The handouts will be very useful to me. I can use and adapt them for my students

  21. The handout of Beowulf will be helpful for my English class.

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