Famous Briton Essayists

People may pass off essays as elaborate and extensive but ask reading aficionados and they would tell you that essays are the greatest pedigree of English literature – the real jewel in the crown. Essays are written to amuse, entertain and educate readers about a subject or an issue close to the heart of the essayists. Though they aren’t as much read as short stories, book lovers would confirm that no amount of reading can give a sense of gratification as an essay reading. Essays are mostly written in varying genres, right from comedy, fiction, history or current events. Furthermore, they may either be written as stand-alone pieces or grouped together in collections.

This ranking is based on an algorithm that combines various factors, including the votes of our users and search trends on the internet.

Vote for Your Favourite Briton Essayists

 1 George Orwell

George Orwell.
5
Famous As: Novelist
Birthdate: June 25, 1903
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Motihari, Bihar, India
Died: January 21, 1950

The king of dystopia and satire, George Orwell, the pen name adopted by Eric Arthur Blair, was a well-known novelist and critic of the 20th century. A man with a strong mind of his own, Orwell never backed down from stating his views on the socio-political climate he lived in, which he expressed profusely through his influential essays and novels.

 2 Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf.
6
Famous As: Novelist
Birthdate: January 25, 1882
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: South Kensington, London, England
Died: March 28, 1941

Virginia Woolf was an English writer who pioneered a narrative mode called stream of consciousness to describe the thoughts and feelings of the narrator. Regarded as one of the most prominent modernist 20th-century writers, Woolf's works have gained much attention for inspiring feminism. Her life and work have inspired several films, novels, and plays.

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 3 Samuel Johnson

Samuel Johnson.
4
Famous As: Writer
Birthdate: September 18, 1709
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Lichfield, England
Died: December 13, 1784

Essayist, biographer, lexicographer, and literary critic Samuel Johnson, or Dr. Johnson, is remembered for his A Dictionary of the English Language and Lives of the Most Eminent English Poets. He was also a poet, a playwright, and a staunch Tory. His mannerisms indicated he had Tourette syndrome.

 4 Aldous Huxley

Aldous Huxley.
4
Famous As: Writer
Birthdate: July 26, 1894
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Godalming
Died: November 22, 1963

English writer and philosopher Aldous Huxley wrote countless books, including novels, short stories, non-fiction, and poems. He is best remembered for his science-fiction novels Brave New World and Island. The seven-time Nobel Prize nominee was also a Companion of Literature of the Royal Society of Literature and a Vedanta believer.

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 5 W. H. Auden

W. H. Auden.
4
Famous As: Poet
Birthdate: February 21, 1907
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: York, England
Died: September 29, 1973

W. H. Auden was an Anglo-American poet. His poetry was noted for its technical achievement and versatility. He wrote poems on love, political and social themes, and cultural and psychological themes. Throughout his career, Auden was both influential and controversial. His personal life also attracted attention as he had sexual relationships with men, which was unusual at the time.

 6 D. H. Lawrence

D. H. Lawrence.
4
Famous As: Novelist
Birthdate: September 11, 1885
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Eastwood, England
Died: March 2, 1930

English writer, D. H. Lawrence, was known for exploring sensitive issues, such as sexuality, emotional health,  and instinct. In his works, he often reflected upon the dehumanizing effects of modernity and industrialization. The sexual nature of his writings earned him many enemies. Even though he died at the relatively young age of 44, he left behind a rich literary legacy.

 7 John Ruskin

John Ruskin.
4
Famous As: Art Critic and Painter
Birthdate: February 8, 1819
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: England
Died: January 20, 1900

The leading English art critic of the Victorian era, John Ruskin was a hugely influential figure in the latter half of the 19th century. Also a philosopher and prominent social thinker, he wrote on varied subjects like geology, architecture, education, botany, myth, ornithology, literature, and political economy. He founded the charitable trust Guild of St George.

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 8 E. M. Forster

E. M. Forster.
6
Famous As: Writer
Birthdate: January 1, 1879
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Marylebone
Died: June 7, 1970

Best known for his iconic novels Howard’s End and A Passage to India, British author E. M. Forster dealt with themes such as class division and gender. Born in England and educated at Cambridge, he had also spent some time as a secretary to Maharaja Tukojirao III of India.

 9 Zadie Smith

Zadie Smith
4
Famous As: Writer, Novelist, Essayist
Birthdate: October 25, 1975
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: London

Author Zadie Smith was born in London to a British father and a Jamaican mother. Her bestselling debut novel, White Teeth, won numerous awards and catapulted her to fame, while her third novel, On Beauty, was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. She has also taught fiction at New York University.

 10 Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Nassim Nicholas Taleb.
6
Famous As: Essayist
Birthdate: 1960 AD
Birthplace: Amioun, Lebanon
Lebanese-American scholar and statistician Nassim Nicholas Taleb is known for his work on risk management through uncertainty and probability. His five-volume essay Incerto included his bestselling book The Black Swan. Named to Forbes’s Most Influential Management Gurus list, he is the co-editor-in-chief of the academic journal Risk and Decision Analysis.

 11 Anthony Burgess

Anthony Burgess.
4
Birthdate: February 25, 1917
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Harpurhey, Manchester, England
Died: November 22, 1993

 12 Charles Lamb

Charles Lamb.
4
Famous As: Writer & Essayist
Birthdate: February 10, 1775
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Inner Temple, London, England
Died: December 27, 1834

Renowned British essayist Charles Lamb was a major figure of the Romantic period. He is best remembered for his Essays of Elia and his book of abridged versions of Shakespeare’s plays, Tales from Shakespeare, which he co-wrote with his sister, Mary. He had also once spent time in a mental facility.

 13 Evelyn Waugh

Evelyn Waugh.
4
Famous As: Writer
Birthdate: October 28, 1903
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: West Hampstead, London, United Kingdom
Died: April 10, 1966

Arthur Evelyn St. John Waugh was an English author, known for his novels, biographies, and travelogues. Hailed as the most brilliant satirical novelist of his day, he wrote mostly satires before WWII. But during the war, his writings took a serious turn; he published Brideshead Revisited in 1945, a book that continues to appear on the best books list till now.

 14 Maajid Nawaz

Maajid Nawaz
4
Famous As: Activist
Birthdate: November 2, 1977
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Southend-on-Sea, Essex, England

As a young boy, Maajid Nawaz had frequent clashes with the skinheads of Essex. Born in England, the SOAS and LSE alumnus had a 4-year stint in an Egyptian jail for his association with the Islamic extremist group Hizb ut-Tahrir. He now promotes secular Islam and has also advised David Cameron.

 15 V. S. Naipaul

V. S. Naipaul.
6
Famous As: Writer
Birthdate: August 17, 1932
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Chaguanas
Died: August 11, 2018

Born to Indian descendants in Trinidad, V. S. Naipaul grew up to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. The author of iconic novels such as Half a Life and A House for Mr. Biswas, Naipaul was also knighted. His realistic depiction of developing countries and their miseries won hearts worldwide.

 16 Joseph Addison

Joseph Addison.
3
Famous As: Essayist & Poet
Birthdate: May 1, 1672
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Milston, United Kingdom
Died: June 17, 1719
Best known for his articles in the iconic 18th-century periodicals The Tatler and The Spectator, English essayist Joseph Addison had a lifelong collaboration with Richard Steele. Educated at Oxford, he excelled in Latin and classics. A prominent Whig, he mostly wrote on the social and cultural trends of his time.

 17 Matthew Arnold

Matthew Arnold.
4
Famous As: Poet
Birthdate: December 24, 1822
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Laleham, United Kingdom
Died: April 15, 1888

Iconic Victorian poet and literary critic Matthew Arnold is best remembered for his classic essay Culture and Anarchy, which was a social critique of the Victorian era. He also penned poems such as Dover Beach and Sohrab and Rustum. He had also been a school inspector for over 3 decades.

 18 Hilary Mantel

Hilary Mantel
4
Famous As: Writer, Novelist, Essayist, Film critic, Poet lawyer, Literary critic
Birthdate: July 6, 1952
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Glossop

British author Hilary Mantel initially studied law at LSU and then concentrated on her writing career after moving to Botswana with her geologist husband. Her Booker Prize-winning novels, Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, later catapulted her to fame. She divorced and remarried her husband later.

 19 Nick Hornby

Nick Hornby.
4
Famous As: Author & Editor
Birthdate: April 17, 1957
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Redhill

British author Nick Hornby is best known for his bestselling books Fever Pitch, High Fidelity, and About a Boy, all of which were later made into movies. A Cambridge alumnus, he had begun as a freelance journalist for publications such as GQ. He is also known for his music reviews.

 20 Daniel Tammet

Daniel Tammet
4
Famous As: Writer
Birthdate: January 31, 1979
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Barking, Essex, England, UK

Daniel Tammet grew up having seizures and was later diagnosed with Asperger syndrome. A rare prodigious savant, he set a record by reciting the value of pi to 22,514 decimal places. He is best known for his memoir Born on a Blue Day and has also launched the language-learning site Optimnem.

 21 Thomas Babington Macaulay

Thomas Babington Macaulay
3
Famous As: Historian
Birthdate: October 25, 1800
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Leicestershire, England
Died: December 28, 1859

A prominent Whig and essayist Thomas Babington Macaulay is best remembered for his 5-volume History of England. Though a qualified lawyer, he never took it up as a career. As part of his administrative work in India later, he introduced English as the chief medium of instruction in schools.

 22 William Hazlitt

William Hazlitt.
5
Famous As: English Writer & Literary Critic
Birthdate: April 10, 1778
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Maidstone, Kent, England
Died: September 18, 1830

English essayist and critic William Hazlitt is remembered for his characteristic humanism in his works. Initially aspiring to be a painter, he traveled to Paris but later deviated to philosophy and metaphysics. Though he penned iconic works such as The Spirit of the Age, he spent his later life in oblivion.

 23 Harriet Martineau

Harriet Martineau
3
Famous As: Linguist, Journalist, Economist, Historian, Translator, Writer, Sociologist, Essayist, Feminist
Birthdate: June 12, 1802
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Norwich
Died: June 27, 1876

Regarded by many as the first female sociologist, Harriet Martineau was a prominent 19th-century social theorist, classical economist, and intellectual who penned the iconic work The Positive Philosophy of Auguste Comte. She was partially deaf and had lost her sense of taste and smell in childhood.

 24 Thomas De Quincey

Thomas De Quincey.
3
Famous As: Essayist
Birthdate: August 15, 1785
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Manchester
Died: December 8, 1859

Essayist Thomas De Quincey is best remembered for his iconic book Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, which initially appeared in the London Magazine. The work was an autobiographical account of his own addiction to opium, which he had begun consuming to help him deal with the pain of his facial neuralgia.

 25 Peter Ackroyd

Peter Ackroyd
3
Famous As: Writer
Birthdate: October 5, 1949
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: East Acton, West (London sub region) London, England, United Kingdom

English author and critic Peter Ackroyd is mostly known for his novels that depict the history of London. The Cambridge and Yale alumnus had initially worked at The Spectator. Apart from writing award-winning novels such as Hawksmoor, he has also penned biographies of T.S. Eliot and Dickens, among others.

 26 Walter Pater

Walter Pater
3
Famous As: Essayist
Birthdate: August 4, 1839
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Stepney, London, England
Died: July 30, 1894

Nineteenth-century critic and essayist Walter Pater redefined aestheticism with his idea of "art for art’s sake." Though initially interested in a church career, he later studied classics and began writing reviews on Renaissance art. Marius the Epicurean remains his most notable work. Some of his works reveal his homosexuality.

 27 Leigh Hunt

Leigh Hunt.
3
Famous As: English Essayist, Poet & Critic
Birthdate: October 19, 1784
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Southgate, London
Died: August 28, 1859

Known for poems such as Abou Ben Adhem, 19th-century English poet, critic, and essayist Leigh Hunt had founded the newspaper The Examiner, with his brother. Apart from critiquing the politics, theater, and art of his time, he also criticized Prince Regent George, an act that put him behind bars briefly.

 28 Edward Thomas

Edward Thomas
3
Famous As: Poet
Birthdate: March 3, 1878
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Lambeth, Surrey, England
Died: April 9, 1917

Educated at Oxford, poet Edward Thomas spent a considerable time working rather reluctantly as a journalist and penning nature studies and critiques of 19th-century authors. An encounter with Robert Frost inspired him to write poems. He was killed in action in Arras, France, during World War I.

 29 James Wood

James Wood
3
Famous As: Writer, Literary critic, University teacher
Birthdate: November 1, 1965
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Durham, England

Harvard literary criticism professor and The New Yorker staff writer James Wood is known for his essay volumes such as The Broken Estate. He had started his career writing book reviews for The Guardian and slowly rose to be its chief literary critic. He was associated with The New Republic.

 30 Robert Faurisson

Robert Faurisson
3
Famous As: Essayist, Faculty, University teacher, Writer, Literary critic
Birthdate: January 25, 1929
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Shepperton
Died: October 21, 2018

British-born Robert Faurisson was interested in classical languages since his early days and had taught French literature at the University of Lyon. He later gained notoriety as a chief Holocaust denier. He also raised questions on the authenticity of Holocaust victim Anne Frank’s memoir and was later banned from teaching.

 31 Auberon Alexander Waugh

Auberon Alexander Waugh
3
Famous As: Journalist
Birthdate: November 17, 1939
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Dulverton, England
Died: January 16, 2001

Novelist Auberon Alexander Waugh was the second-born child and eldest son of author Evelyn Waugh. While working for the Royal Horse Guards in Cyprus, he almost died due to a gun accident. He had also worked for The Spectator and The Telegraph Group and gained fame for his Private Eye diaries.

 32 Hannah More

Hannah More
3
Famous As: Writer, Poet, Essayist
Birthdate: February 2, 1745
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Fishponds
Died: September 7, 1833

English religious author Hannah More soared to literary fame with the release of Village Politics, penned under the pseudonym Will Chip. Its popularity made her write an entire series of tracts that educated the poor. She also established clubs and schools, apart from opposing slavery along with the Clapham Sect.

 33 Alan Garner

Alan Garner
3
Famous As: Author
Birthdate: October 17, 1934
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Congleton, United Kingdom

Best known for his children’s fantasy novels and retellings of British folk legends, Alan Garner grew up as a sickly child but was later drafted into the Royal Artillery. His best-known works include The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, which led to a trilogy. He has also been awarded the OBE.

 34 Timothy Garton Ash

Timothy Garton Ash
3
Famous As: Journalist, Historian, Writer, Essayist
Birthdate: July 12, 1955
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: London

Contemporary historian and Oxford professor Timothy Garton Ash dabbles in a variety of research interests, such as communism, free speech, and the EU’s dynamics with the rest of the world. He has penned works such as Facts Are Subversive and is a regular columnist at The Guardian.

 35 Stephen Spender

Stephen Spender
3
Famous As: Poet
Birthdate: February 28, 1909
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Kensington, London, England
Died: July 16, 1995

English poet and critic Stephen Spender mostly dealt with themes such as social issues and class struggle. He had also been an editor for Encounter and Horizon. He later taught at various institutes and also became the first non-American poetry consultant of the U.S. Library of Congress. He was knighted, too.

 36 Max Beerbohm

Max Beerbohm
3
Famous As: Essayist
Birthdate: August 24, 1872
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: London, England
Died: May 20, 1956

Renowned caricaturist and essayist Max Beerbohm was the younger half-sibling of popular stage actor Herbert Beerbohm Tree. The Oxford alumnus succeeded George Bernard Shaw as a drama critic of the Saturday Review. Zuleika Dobson remains his only novel. He had been a radio broadcaster, too. Rumors claimed he was homosexual.

 37 Elias Canetti

Elias Canetti
3
Famous As: Writer, Aphorist, Playwright, Chemist, Essayist
Birthdate: July 25, 1905
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Rousse
Died: August 14, 1994

Bulgarian-born author and Nobel laureate Elias Canetti interestingly became one of the greatest authors in German, his third language. Though equipped with a doctoral degree in chemistry, he gained fame for his iconic works such as The Tower of Babel and Crowds and Power, which focused on crowd psychology.

 38 Pico Iyer

Pico Iyer
3
Famous As: Essayist
Birthdate: February 11, 1957
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Oxford, England

A descendant of Indian Gujarati author, Mahipatram Nilkanth, British-born author and travel writer Pico Iyer was educated at the prestigious Eton, Oxford, and Harvard. He is known for his contribution to Time magazine and for his bestselling travel-themed books such as The Open Road and The Art of Stillness.

 39 Anna Letitia Barbauld

Anna Letitia Barbauld
3
Famous As: Poet
Birthdate: June 20, 1743
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Leicestershire, England
Died: March 9, 1825

Best known for including political and social themes in her writings, Anna Letitia Barbauld was a renowned poet, essayist, and children’s author. She was the only daughter of Unitarian John Aikin and taught at the Palgrave Academy. She is remembered for her iconic hymn “Life! I Know Not What Thou Art.”

 40 Benjamin Jowett

Benjamin Jowett
3
Famous As: Tutor
Birthdate: April 15, 1817
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Camberwell, London, England
Died: October 1, 1893

Proving himself to be a brilliant classical scholar in school, Benjamin Jowett gained a scholarship to Balliol College, Oxford, where he was eventually elected a master and vice-chancellor. The 19th-century academic and Anglican theologian is remembered for his translation of The Dialogues of Plato and other classical texts.

 41 Keith Waterhouse

Keith Waterhouse
3
Famous As: Novelist
Birthdate: February 6, 1929
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Hunslet, Leeds,, England, United Kingdom
Died: September 4, 2009

English novelist and playwright, Keith Spencer Waterhouse is noted for his ability to create comedies even out of unpleasant situations. Leaving school at fifteen, he eventually became a columnist in established London papers like Punch and Daily Mirror. He earned international fame with his second novel, Billy Liar. He is also known for his campaigning against color bar and  against decline in the standards of modern English.

 42 Al Alvarez

Al Alvarez.
3
Famous As: Poet
Birthdate: August 5, 1929
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: London, United Kingdom
Died: September 23, 2019

Best known for works such as The Savage God, which spoke about suicide, and the psychological thriller Day of Atonement, Al Alvarez was educated at Oxford and later became the youngest Christian Gauss lecturer at Princeton. His poems and other works carried themes of love and loss.

 43 Lionel Johnson

Lionel Johnson
2
Famous As: Poet
Birthdate: March 15, 1867
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Broadstairs, England
Died: October 4, 1902

Poet and critic Lionel Johnson was part of the 1890s’ tragic generation, with themes of decadence prevailing in his works. Best known for his study on Thomas Hardy, he was a closeted homosexual and was plagued by alcoholism. It is believed he died after falling and suffering a skull fracture.

 44 A. C. Benson

A. C. Benson.
2
Famous As: English essayist
Birthdate: April 24, 1862
Sun Sign: Taurus
Died: June 17, 1925

Born to the archbishop of Canterbury, Edward White Benson, author and critic A. C. Benson is best known for penning the song Land of Hope and Glory, which was played at the coronation of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra. He also served as the Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge.

 45 John Middleton Murry

John Middleton Murry
2
Famous As: Writer
Birthdate: August 6, 1889
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: London, England
Died: March 12, 1957

Author and essayist John Middleton Murry had penned countless essays and about 40 books in his lifetime. Better known as the husband of author Katherine Mansfield and a friend of D.H. Lawrence, he was inspired by both. He had also been an editor of Rhythm and had co-launched The Adelphi.

 46 Thomas Overbury

Thomas Overbury
2
Famous As: Poet
Birthdate: June 18, 1581
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Compton Scorpion, Warwickshire, England
Died: September 14, 1613

Sir Thomas Overbury, English poet and essayist, is probably best known for his 1614 poem Wife, which describes the virtues one should demand of the woman he is going to marry. Interpreted as an indirect attack on Lady Essex, a divorcee whom his mentor, Viscount Rochester, was to marry, it led to his imprisonment and ultimate murder by slow poisoning.

 47 Vernon Lee

Vernon Lee
2
Famous As: Writer
Birthdate: October 14, 1856
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Boulogne-sur-Mer, France
Died: February 13, 1935

British author Violet Page wrote under the pseudonym Vernon Lee and dressed without inhibitions. Rumors claimed she was a lesbian, though she never stated so. The poet and critic is best remembered for her work on aesthetics, Belcaro. She was also a skilled harpsichord player and a true-blue feminist.

 48 Thomas Heywood

Thomas Heywood
2
Famous As: Playwright
Birthdate: 1575 AD
Birthplace: Lincolnshire, England
Died: August 16, 1641

Noted Elizabethan and Jacobean dramatist Thomas Heywood is best remembered for his iconic tragedy A Woman Killed with Kindness and his prose work An Apology for Actors. Though it is generally believed he was a University of Cambridge alumnus, there are no records of the fact.

 49 Elizabeth Montagu

Elizabeth Montagu
2
Famous As: Critic
Birthdate: October 2, 1718
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: York, England
Died: August 25, 1800

Part of the 18th-century London intellectual circle, socialite Elizabeth Montagu was a pioneering member of the Bluestockings, a group of women who engaged in evening conversations as a substitute to card-playing. The wife of affluent landowner Edward Montagu, she inherited his riches and later built the Montagu House.

 50 Michael Arlen

Michael Arlen
2
Famous As: Author
Birthdate: November 16, 1895
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Ruse, Bulgaria
Died: June 23, 1956

Michael Arlen was born in Bulgaria, into an Armenian merchant family that had escaped to avoid persecution in the Ottoman Empire. The family then moved to England, where he later penned his iconic novel The Green Hat. Apart from romances, he also wrote thrillers, one of which was adapted by Hitchcock.

English literature has had a plethora of essayists who have only raised the standard of the language through their literary pieces. While Robert Burton and Sir Thomas Browne acted as torchbearers of the genre, the 19th century saw a proliferation of greatest like William Hazlitt, Charles Lamb, Leigh Hunt and Thomas de Quincey. Interestingly, essayists used the power of the genre to express in varying themes, right from political confrontations to new movements in art and culture, light or fun-themed essays to literary criticisms. 20th century Britain saw the rise of greatest like TS Eliot, Virginia Woolfe and so on. Read this section to find in details about the life and works of famous Briton essayists.