When a novel was written, where and by who affects greatly the way it is written or the fact that it was created at all. There are not many writers now, for example, who are as interested in kingship as Shakespeare was, for the obvious reason that we no longer have a king and our monarch has little power. Novels written in letters are also rare because not many people regularly correspond now. So the period in which a text was created is of great importance when trying to understand it.

However, what is also important is the way you interpret a text and the effect it has on readers now. It is OK to think about a text in the context it is read in as well as the context it was written in. For example women’s role in literature has changed dramatically since Macbeth was written, feminists have critiqued and analysed the way women are portrayed in lots of texts written before feminism was a part of our culture.

You must be aware of both types of context, you cannot say outright that Othello is racist, nor can you say that no one can be offended because everyone was racist in Shakespeare’s time. What you might say is that Shakespeare’s audience would have understood that the racist comments were meant as insults, but they would not have been as shocked as a modern audience.

The Napoleonic Wars– Mr. Wickham belongs to the English militia fighting in the Napoleonic wars which were between 1800 and 1815.

Class Structure– Austen criticises the stratification of society in Regency England. The landed gentry that Darcy, Bingley and Lady Catherine belong to forms the upper class. Though she mocks snobbery and shows that there is more to life than material possessions and family connections, she is not too radical in her position. She does not include the lower classes except as servants.

Marriage– Marriage in Austen’s day was an important topic because who you married defined how you would spend the rest of your life. It did not matter if you were in love, it mattered more if it was a good social match and upward social mobility was rare. This remained true for at least another hundred years.