The revival of interest in Arthurian legend in the 19th century was a remarkable phenomenon, apparently at odds with the spirit of the age. Tennyson was widely criticised for his choice of a medieval topic; yet "The Idylls of the King" were accepted as the national epic, and a flood of lesser works was inspired by them, on both sides of the Atlantic. Elisabeth Brewer and Beverly Taylor survey the course of Arthurian literature from 1800 to the present day, and give an account of all the major English and American contributions. Some of the works are well-known, but there are also a host of names which will be new to most readers, and some surprises, such as J. Comyns Carr's King Arthur, rightly ignored as a text, but a piece of theatrical history, for Sir Henry Irving played King Arthur, Ellen Terry was Guinevere, Arthur Sullivan wrote the music, and Burne-Jones designed the sets. The Arthurian works of the Pre-Raphaelites are discussed at length, as are the poems of Edward Arlington Robinson, John Masefield and Charles Williams.
Other writers have used the legends as part of a wider cultural consciousness: "The Waste Land", David Jones' "In Parenthesis" and "The Anathemata", and the echoes of "Tristan and Iseult" in Finnigan's "Wake" are discussed in this context. Novels on Arthurian themes are given their due place, from the satirical scenes of Thomas Love Peacock's "The Misfortunes of Elphin" and Mark Twain's "A Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur's Court" to T.H. White's serio-comic "The Once and Future King" and the many recent novelists who have turned away from the chivalric Arthur to depict him as a Dark Age ruler. "The Return of King Arthur" includes a bibliography of British and American creative writing relating to the Arthurian legends from 1800 to the present day.