Placement in Literary Historical Context

By placing a work in its literary historical context, one can trace the influences a historical period had on an author and/or the creation of his/her work(s). In doing this, a literary historical critic gains insights about the nature of a particular historical period. Using the historical context as a lens through which to read literature allows one to gain an understanding of both larger social issues, as well as the personal struggles that everyday people endured. As Janet E. Gardner explains in Writing about Literature,

“We may be able to learn from parish burial records, for example, how common childhood mortality was at a particular time in English history, but only when we read Ben Johnson’s poem ‘On My First Son’ do we begin to understand how this mortality may have affected the parents who lost their children. Likewise, the few pages of James Joyce’s story ‘Araby’ may tell us more about how adolescent boys lived and thought in turn-of-the-century Dublin than several volumes of social history” (Gardner 147-8).