Here at No Sweat Shakespeare we have no doubt that William Shakespeare is by far the best (and probably most famous) writer in English literary history. And that’s no mean feat, given the many centuries of English history that have been adorned with authors who have placed England as the top literary country in the world.

We’ve had a go at defining the world’s most famous authors, and the best American writers elsewhere, but here we present the ten best English authors (excluding the Bard of Avon). It was no easy task as there have been so many English writers over the years, and the list ends up being very subjective. So, in no particular order, here is our pick of the ten most famous English authors of all time:

Jane Austen 1775 – 1817

Jane AustinThe Jane Austen Centre’s website states: ‘Jane Austen is perhaps the best known and best loved of Bath’s many famous residents and visitors.’ One wonders at the restraint in that, considering that Jane Austen is indisputably one of the greatest English writers – some say the greatest after Shakespeare – and certainly the greatest English novelist and one of the most famous English women who ever lived… Read more on Jane Austen >>

William Blake 1757-1827

William Blake portrait Blake portraitAlthough not highly regarded either as a painter or poet by his contemporaries William Blake has the distinction of finding his place in the top ten of both English writers and English painters. The reason he was disregarded is because he was very much ahead of his time in his views and his poetic style, and also because he was regarded as being somewhat mad, due to behaviour that would be thought of as only slightly eccentric today– for example his naturistic habit of walking about his garden naked and sunbathing there… Read more about William Blake >>

Geoffrey Chaucer 1343-1400

Geoffrey Chaucer stands as the great giant of English poetry. His verse is still read and enjoyed today and often adapted for theatre performances. It is full of characters, still recognisable as types we encounter in daily life in spite of having been inspired by people Chaucer observed more than seven hundred years ago… Read more on Geoffrey Chaucer >>

Charles Dickens 1812-1870

Charles Dickens photographCharles Dickens was an extraordinary man. He is best known as a novelist but he was very much more than that. He was as prominent in his other pursuits but they were not areas of life where we can still see him today.  We see him as the author of such classics as Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, Great Expectations, A Tale of Two Cities, Bleak House and many others. All of his novels are English classics… Read more on Charles Dickens >>

John Donne 1572-1631

John DonneJohn Donne must be one of the most interesting writers who ever lived, both as a poet and a man. His life was a colourful adventure and his poems are significant feats of language. A Jacobean writer, more or less a contemporary of Shakespeare, Fletcher and Webster, but very distant from those theatre writers, both regarding his social class and his literary work… Read more on John Donne >>

George Eliot 1819-1880

George Eliot portraitGeorge Eliot was the pen name of Mary Ann Evans, a novelist who produced some of the major classic novels of the Victorian era, including The Mill on the Floss, Adam Bede, Silas Marner, Romola, Felix Holt, Daniel Deronda and her masterpiece, Middlemarch. It is impossible to overestimate the significance of Eliot’s novels in the English culture: they went right to the heart of the small-town politics that made up the fabric of English society. Her novels were essentially political…Read more about George Eliot >>

John Milton 1608-1674

John Milton portraitEnglish is often referred to as ‘the language of Shakespeare and Milton.’ Milton’s poetry has been seen as the most perfect poetic expression in the English language for four centuries. His most famous poem, the epic Paradise Lost is a high point of English epic poetry. Its story has entered into English and European culture to such an extent that the details of our ideas of heaven and hell and paradise, Adam and Eve, Satan… Read more about John Milton >>

George Orwell 1903-1950

George Orwell photoGeorge Orwell was the pen name of Eric Blair, a twentieth century writer, equally at home with journalism, essays, novels, literary criticism and social commentary. He was famous in all those areas, but will be particularly remembered for two of his novels, Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty Four, both among the most significant works of literature of the twentieth century and two of the most influential… Read more about George Orwell >>

Harold Pinter 1930-2008

Harodl Pinter photo Harold Pinter won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2005, three years before his death from cancer. He had a career of more than half a century as a playwright, director, actor and writer of screenplays for television and film. He was without doubt the most influential English playwright of the twentieth century and so earns his place on this list… Read more about Harold Pinter >>

Samuel Taylor Coleridge 1772-1834

Samuel Taylor Coleridge portraitSamuel Taylor Coleridge was an English poet, best known in his time as a literary critic and philosopher. He was immensely influential in English literature as one of the founders of the English Romantic Movement and when one talks about ‘the Romantic poets,’ it’s Coleridge’s name that springs to mind… Read more about Samuel Taylor Coleridge >>

There are other great English language writers closely associated with the English writing scene, and could have been included in this list had they been born in England. Writers like Irishmen, James Joyce, William Butler Yeats, Jonathan Swift and Oscar Wilde, and the American, T.S. Eliot.

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  1. Nashrah
    Nashrah says:

    Why Enid Blyton is in neither of the lists? I bet she is as good as Shakespeare. Her writing style always takes me a new world of mysteries, adventures, secrets and magic. I think she’s ought to be in the list.

  2. stewart
    stewart says:

    Harold Pinter seems a bit of an indulgent choice for one so recently deceased. Only time will tell. No doubt the Victorians would have assumed the greatness of Sir Walter Scott, but his literature did not translate well to another era; as indeed might not Pinter.

  3. stewart
    stewart says:

    The lack of output rather disqualifies a Bronte challenge. I guess they could have been listed as a sisterly collaboration, as the Marx brothers are in the thespian league tables.
    Nevertheless, no doubt in my mind that as icons Shakespeare, Austen, Dickens and The Brontes are the top four.

  4. This is how it goes
    This is how it goes says:

    Russian literature *used* to be great. Any great current russian writers? No? Any good writers emerging from the communist times? Well there were a few, but none of them communists. Russia destroys it’s culture with cencorship.

    • Olga Besedkova
      Olga Besedkova says:

      If you knew the history of Russian Empire and the history of Russian literature itself you would know that all famous Russian writers and poets such as Pushkin, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky created their masterpieces under severe press of tsarist censorship.

    • Ian
      Ian says:

      Actually you are not right. Take into account such authors as Sholokhov or Mayakovsky. Both were products of socialist regime and communist expectations

    • Katia
      Katia says:

      Great current writer: anything from Dina Rubina. From communists times Sholokhov “And Quiet Flows the Don”. Anything from Solzhenitsyn. New: Zahar Prilepin “Obitel”. Anything from Dovlatov… Gosh, classics are great, but we in Russia have so much more to offer beyond that point…

    • Liza
      Liza says:

      That’s debatable. There are magnificent writers in many languages so there is no such thing as a single language being “better” than another. If a person truly believes that one language (and, by default, literature in general) is more substantial among all others then that’s just their personal preference, but it does make them biased. 🙂

  5. Jamie
    Jamie says:

    Top literary country in the world.? Was that for laughs?
    Russian literature dwarfs any other literature in the world, after Russians, French are distant second..

      • Katia
        Katia says:

        Oh please… what did you read apart from Leo Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky? Anyway… shouldn’t be even compared, it’s like banana is better than blueberries – both are superfoods.

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