British Literature: the career of a concept

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British Literature is an unfamiliar concept in literary studies. English Literature and Scottish Literature are the customary terms of art, expressive, it seems, of the distinctive national cultures from which these literatures emerge. Indeed, English Literature, rather than British Literature also does service as an umbrella for all Anglophone literatures. However, the idea of British Literature has a longer history. In the eighteenth century there was a keen sense among literary antiquaries and philologists that the sister languages of English and Scots had produced a striking corpus of medieval Anglo-Scottish literature. In the nineteenth century ‘British Literature’ entered the currency of criticism. However, the coming of the Scots literary renaissance in the inter-War era killed off this usage. In more recent decades, with the growing recognition that the UK is a multi-national state a new appreciation of ‘British Literature’ – associated with cultural pluralism and the expansion of the English canon – has emerged.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-16
Number of pages16
JournalScottish Literary Review
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2016


  • British literature
  • English literature
  • Scottish literature
  • Renaissance
  • Union
  • 1707
  • United Kingdom


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