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What’s the Big Deal about British Lit?

Jan 23, 2023

High School English course pathways often cover a general introduction to literary analysis, World literature, American literature, and British literature. While the purpose of the former three classes may be obvious to some, many often question why British literature is often recommended for students.  Here are three important reasons. 

  1. British literature has significantly shaped Western literature and the English language.

    For instance, William Shakespeare’s use and command of language is unparalleled and he is credited with introducing at least 1700 words into the English language for the first time.  That’s not even counting the idioms and expressions adopted from him into everyday speech!  Additionally, many literature genres can hardly be discussed without British authors coming to the forefront.  How can one study the Gothics without referencing Mary Shelly? Or the Romantics without Jane Austen? Could we talk about the development of the modern mystery without discussing Agatha Christie and Sir Author Conan Doyle at length?  These definitive British authors (and many others) are part of what most would recognize as literary canon and worthwhile of focused study.

  2. There are many modern references to British Literature.

    Another significant reason to study British literature is to give students the background knowledge to be proficient, culturally literate citizens in our global world. References to excellent British literature are constantly found in professional spaces, pop culture, Hollywood, and everyday life.  Understanding those references will deepen student understanding in whatever space they find it, whether it’s a cartoon alluding to Dickens’ “Ebenezer Scrooge” or a magazine named after a setting in John Bunyan’s Christian allegory, The Pilgrim’s Progress. Having the background knowledge to understand these references gives students deeper understanding to comprehend the world around them, see nuances, and make connections that they would otherwise miss.

  3. British Literature gives us much insight into our own culture.

    As a nation that was made up of former British colonies, understanding British literature gives us knowledge into our own history.  Understanding the social structures, themes, and values of British society throughout history helps us understand American history and values, as well as those of other former colonies around the world.

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Jenny Cutler graduated in 2005 with a B.A. in Education, and in 2012 with a Master’s Degree in Multicultural Education, both from Eastern University.  Jenny taught in both private and public schools until she had her first child and decided to stay home with him.  She ran a tutoring business during her first few years as a stay at home parent but found teaching online to be an ideal fit for her, and she made the switch in 2014. 

The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the author and should not be taken to represent the views of Excelsior Classes, LLC or the consortium of teachers.