Medieval Literature

Basically, make it a point to read Beowulf and The Canterbury Tales as these are almost guaranteed to be on the test. William Langlands's Piers Plowman is also a poem that appears almost always. I can't understand this poem at all to tell you what it's about (not too up on Middle English), but it is written in unrhymed verse with lots and lots of alliteration, In a somer seson, whan softe was the sonne,... that kinda thing. Thank God the Internet exists so that I can tell you it's about three characters (Do-Wel, Do-Bet and Do-Bet) who are presumably allegorical. This is inspiring me to take a class in Middle English, because I'm frustrated that I can't figure out what's going on in this poem.

1660-1710, Restoration Comedy

Every time I've looked at a practice exam, it is rife with questions about the Restoration Comedy. If you're like me, this is probably something you don't know very much about. These plays were always about sexual impropriety among aristocrats or a "war between the sexes". The three canonical writers of this period are William Congreve, William Wycherley and Richard Brinsley Sheridan.

You should know that these plays are NOT written in verse, and you should know the main points and characters of the period's major works.


The most often featured anything on this test is supposedly Paradise Lost. Read it and retain it. Know that it is is in blank verse. Go! go! go! Thanks to ProjectGutenberg, you can download it here.


This guy sort of deserves his own section, as he will most definitely appear on your test. Take a class in Shakespeare! You will get to enjoy his plays, instead of your only only other option, which is to read summaries of them online.

You should be able to recognize one of his sonnets. They will always have abab, cdcd, efef, gg rhyme schemes. Just memorizing that will get you some of the identification questions. You can read a lot of them here to get a good idea of what they sound like.

You should also be familiar with the plots and main lines of Hamlet, King Lear, MacBeth and Henry IV as well as the names of characters who might be in the passages, to help you identify them. Know that Iago is in Othello and that Imogen is in Cymbeline etc.

Amatory Fiction, 17th century Britain

This fiction, written by women, predates and precludes the invention of the novel and most closely resembles the modern day romance novel.

The three writers in this era were called the Fair Triumvirate.

Eliza Haywood
Wrote Love and Excess and Or, the Fatal Inquiry. She was a very prolific writer who went on to write about women's rights. She is of newfound interest to Feminist scholars, as she is becoming somewhat of a "hot topic" in theory politics.
Delarivier Manley
Aphra Behn
Besides writing the amatory tradition, she was also the first professional woman playwright in the era of Restoration Comedy. Now that Restoration Comedy is no longer taboo, she is of renewed interest.

These three women tended to write about a trusting woman being seduced by a self-serving man. The result was invariably misery. I wouldn't focus on this much, but it's good context, and it's possible that Haywood could show up because she's regaining clout as she's being re-examined by Feminists.

Metaphysical Poets, 17th Century Britain

These guys are pretty important and pretty awesome. As the inventors of the metaphysical conceit, their extended metaphors are pretty trippy for the 1600's. Those who read literature will forever love John Donne, and it's safe to say that he could be on your test.

A metaphysical conceit is a comparison between two vastly unlike things that somehow makes sense. A good example is Andrew Marvell's comparison of the soul to a drop of dew or John Donne's famous comparison of a man to an island. These extended metaphors tend to be the subject of the entire poem, going on and on in elaboration of the similarity of the two.

John Donne wrote poetry that can be divided into periods thematically: love, death and religion. Because the metaphysical poets were not a school in the true sense of the word (they didn't know each other, didn't read each other, the term was applied after), you probably don't need to know anyone other than the uber-famous Donne. Look up some of his most famous before you consider yourself prepared.

------ the material up to this point accounts for 25 to 30 percent of the identification questions.

The Augustans, late 18th century, Britain

Jonathan Swift
Probably the most famous satirist in the English language. He wrote A Modest Proposal, an essay that suggested the solution to Ireland's famine problems would be to eat children and simultaneously reduce the population. His most famous novel, Gulliver's Travels, satirized travel writing as well as societal issues such as religious strife and racism. At the end of his travels, Gulliver becomes a hardened misanthrope.
Alexander Pope
Often considered the greatest English poet of the 18th century! He was a master of the heroic couplet (iambic pentameter couplets with a strictly masculine end rhyme). In case you don't know masculine rhyme refers to an end rhyme that only rhymes one syllable, as opposed to feminine rhyme which rhymes the entire word. I cannot believe how many times I just typed 'rhyme.' If you can understand this paragraph, you are well on your way to acing this exam.

Romanticism, 19th century literally everywhere

The first wave of Romanticism in literature arose in Britain with poets William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. The movement was against the Augustans and sought to speak more directly and sensibly.

The second wave of Romanticism is attributed to Lord Byron, Percy Shelley, Mary Shelley and John Keats. It is appropriately referred to as Byronic Romanticism at times.

The Lake Poets all lived in the Lake District of England. The three main figured in this category are Wordsworth, Coleridge and Robert Southey, although others such as Thomas DeQuincy are also considered.

American Romanticism was led by Edgar Allen Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne. They focused on human psychology and the supernatural, precluding the Gothic movement.

Lord Byron
His poem Don Juan is the second most cited on the test, and you can read it here. If you have time, read the dedication because it blasts so many other poets and is generally funny. The term Byronic hero is named after him. This hero will be talked about more in the Gothic section.
John Keats
Look out for the word "ode," especially in conjuction with "Grecian urn." A lot of his poems are odes.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge
You should be familiar with "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," which you can read here. He co-wrote a book with his buddy Lord Byron called "Lyrical Ballads," which is very famous.

Gothic Novel

The Gothic novel is, predictably, full of bad guys, crazy people, femme fatales, werewolves, vampires, skeletons, haunted houses, etc. The genre is so named because its dark themes (horror and romance combined with the decay of aristocracy) are best set in Gothic architecture. Many of the greatest writers of all time have written a Gothic novel and, luckily, you can read some of them in their full form at ProjectGutenberg.

There are other facets to the Gothic genre, such as the Gothic satire (Jane Austen's "Northhanger Abbey" is really the only good example of this) and the uniquely American Southern Gothic, my favorite genre in literature. William Faulker, Carson McCullers, Tennessee Williams, and Truman Capote all used Gothic archetypes, but portrayed them in a realistic, "grotesque" way. You should be familiar with the works of Faulker, at the very least "As I Lay Dying" and "The Sound and the Fury." Cormac McCarthy, who Harold Bloom put in the top four writers of his generation, writes in this tradition.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte is a great example of the Gothic from a woman's perspective. It has all those good elements: violence, passion and the supernatural. This work could appear on the test. Watch out for Heathcliff and Catherine Earnshaw.

Victorian Literature

This refers to all writing during the reign of Queen Victoria and is a transition from the Romantic period to Modernism.

Soooo many writers were during the Victorian era that it would be nearly impossible to list every relevant piece of information. I am just going to cover the ones who most appear on the test, or are the most important historically.

Charles Dickens
We know him at the master of the Victorian era novel. His rival was William Thackeray (most famous for Vanity Affair who had a similar style but wrote more about the middle class and was more detached from his characters. His characters often have whimsical names, which might help you to recognize them if they appear on the test. His florid and poetic writing might also help you out.
Oscar Wilde
One of the best wits to ever write plays, he's famous for The Importance of Being Earnest and Picture of Dorian Gray.
Charlotte Bronte
The eldest of the Bronte sisters, she wrote Jane Eyre and ETS loves her. Unfortunately for you, your 11th grade English teacher with the crazy Brooklyn accent didn't write her masters thesis on this book and regale the class with its plot for hours on end. So, you'll have it look it up. I will not.
Thomas Hardy
Another ETS ultimate favey, he wrote most of his works to be set in a county called "Essex". He wrote the Tess of the d'Ubervilles and Jude the Obscure, which I'm reading now. Yay! Don't forget he was also a poet, because that could be on the test, although he was primarily a novelist.

Transcendentalism, mid 19th century, New England

Led by Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson, this movement was basically about going and living in the woods, eschewing technology and rejecting dogmatic intellectualism and religion. Emerson's Nature was what started the movement, and you should be familiar with it as well as Thoreau's Walden. Rooted in the philosophy of Kant (who said what is transcendental is not objects but our way of knowing them), this was more of a way of though than an exclusively literary movement. Transcendentalism is considered part of Romanticism, but both Poe and Hawthorne hated it.

Fireside Poets, 19th century, New England

I guess I should mention the most boring of all movements here. The Fireside Poets, so named because their strict adherence to poetic convention made them easy to memorize and recite as a form of entertainment during "family time" around the fireplace, consisted of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, William Culen Bryant, John Greenleaf Whittier, James Russell Lowell and Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. I'm literally sleeping.

Realism, mid 19th century, France --> other places

This should be self-explanatory, so I'm not going to really go into detail here. Reacting against "Romantic" descriptions of life, these guys wanted to chronicle the banal. Major figures are Gustave Flaubert (French dude, wrote Madame Bovary; read it) and Emile Zola (also French, was influenced by Darwin to write about how the environment shapes one's character in an offshoot of Realism called Naturalism.Other figures who are considered Naturalist are Stephen Crane (Red Badge of Courage and Edith Wharton (Ethan Frome).


A larger movement in the arts that, in literature, was typifed by possibly the coolest poet ever, Rimbaud. Litle Arthur was so precocious that he is best known for works he did in his late teens, as he stopped writing entirely at 21.

Read some of his poems here. And you should because they're really neat.

----- this section accounted for roughly 25 to 35 percent of the identification questions.


This is a huge umbrella that holds so many important things. I am overwhelmed even thinking about how to write this section.

Basically, the turn of the century brought some interesting changes. People moved to cities, the idea of family changed, etc. Some of the techniques that are a part of Modernist Literature make sense in this context (multiple perspectives, steam-of-consciousness).

Virginia Woolf and James Joyce both use stream-of-consciousness (long, unpunctuated passages that simulate real thought) in their novels. These are two of the most important figures in all literature. You should be familiar with Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Joyce's alter-ego, Stephen Dedalus, who appears in what is considered by many to be the greatest novel of all time, Ulysses. Virginia Woolf uses steam-of-consciousness like a madwoman in Mrs. Dalloway, which you need to read.

The Lost Generation was part of the Modernist movement as well. The term was coined in Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises. It refers to the group of ex-patriates who moved to France after WWI, including Ezra Pound, Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Sherwood Anderson, and others. This is not a specific movement in and of itself, but is a good way to take another chunk out of Modernism and make it more manageable.

The imagists were also part of the Modernist movement. This movement in poetry was lead by H.D. (Hilda Doolittle), Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams and Marianne Moore. These guys did not waste words. There are hardly any adjectives in their works, as they preferred using (you guessed it) imagery to express ideas, rather than superfluous words. This was a reaction against the poets who were working in the tradition during their time, the Georgian poets. Robert Graves, D.H. Lawrence and Siegfried Sassoon were writing directly between Romanticism"s aestheticism and Modernism's rejection of it - with D.H. Lawrence even contributing to both movements in his lifetime. This movement was pretty small and only really consisted of five volumes of poetry called "Georgian Poetry" (sort of ironic they couldnŐt be a little more creative with that).

Beat Generation, mid 20th century, America

Characterized by their rejection of American values, experimentation with drugs and alternate forms of sexuality, and interest in Eastern philosophy and religion, these guys were pretty cool.

Jack Kerouac
His best-known books are On the Road, The Dharma Bums, Big Sur and The Subterraneans. On the Road chronicles Kerouac's strips across the U.S. with his friends and his fascination with a man named Dean Moriarty, who is Neal Cassidy under pseduodym.Kerouac changes his own name to Sal Paradise.
William S. Burroughs
His best known work is Naked Lunch, which went to trial for obscenity. It is extremely hard to read, and immensely disturbing. It was written during his "cut-up" period and simulates the disorientation of drug use.
Allen Ginsberg
A poet most famous for Howl, which starts with the famous lines:
I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix; Angel-headed hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night.
His other poetry focuses largely on his sexual relationship with Neal Cassidy, and Peter Orlovsky who eventually became his life-long lover as well as a writer.

Post-modernism????? LOL, no.

I'm not going to waste time going into the emerging Post-modern canon because ETS doesn't ever focus on anything resembling contemporary. I have seen Kurt Vonnegut and Thomas Pynchon on my friend's practice test before, though. Other than that, nada.

------ this section accounted for the remaining portion of the identification questions.

Copyright 2008, Alexandra Conti, University of Florida