Different types of English literature are typically categorized either based on the period in which they were written or the country in which the writer lived. In general, literature in English typically refers to any work written in English, regardless of the nationality of the writer. Many types of literature are organized chronologically, and English writings are no different, with Old English, Middle English, and various types of Modern English all commonly used. As English language spread throughout the world, especially with the establishment of the US, English literature has also been divided between British and American literature.
English literature typically includes any written work initially or primarily composed in English, regardless of the nationality of the writer. This makes such literature quite large in scope and millions of books could qualify for this categorization, though literature typically refers to works of renown and substance that do not include many biographies or educational works. Chronological categorization of English literature is quite common, and this approach allows scholars and readers to begin with earlier literary works in English and see how the language and ideas have evolved and been built upon each other throughout the centuries.
A few works of English literature remain that were written in Old English, which is a form of English nearly indecipherable for most modern users of the language. Beowulf is perhaps the most well-known and important work of Old English, as it is quite lengthy and a complete text of the work from the 10th century still exists. Middle English, which spanned from about the 12th century to the late 15th century, is closer to modern English, though it can still be quite difficult for a modern reader to understand due to differences in language structure. Geoffrey Chaucer and his works, including The Canterbury Tales, are among the most well-known works of English writing that remain from this period.
The Early Modern period of English literature began as Middle English evolved into a more modern language through the development and spread of the printing press. Different periods of Modern English include numerous writers over hundreds of years, often categorized by social trends or English monarchs. The Elizabethan Era, for example, includes writers such as William Shakespeare, while Romanticism hundreds of years later featured writers and poets such as Samuel Taylor Coleridge, William Wordsworth, Mary Shelley, and Lord Byron.
Modern works of English literature often include those writers who worked during the late 19th and 20th centuries. These include poets and authors such as T.S. Eliot, George Orwell, and James Joyce. Many of these writers wrote in reaction to the horrors of modern warfare they observed during the two World Wars of the 20th century.
English literature can also be categorized based on the location in which an author works. This is typically used to separate British and American literature, and those writers previously mentioned are all considered British writers. American writers include authors such as Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway, and William Faulkner, as well as poets such as Robert Frost, E.E. Cummings, and Emily Dickinson.