From No Sweat Shakespeare:
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, [PG nitpicky note: With the exception of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the order appears to be exceptionally alphabetical] here is our pick of the ten most famous English authors of all time:
Jane Austen 1775 – 1817
The 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.
William Blake 1757-1827
Although 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.
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Charles Dickens 1812-1870
Charles 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.
George Eliot 1819-1880
George 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.
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John Milton 1608-1674
English 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.
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Harold Pinter 1930-2008
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
Link to the rest at No Sweat Shakespeare
Of course, any ten-best list for which there are many candidates will raise questions and objections from all directions.
The comments to the OP list Spenser, Wordsworth, Keats, the Brontës and Gibbon as more deserving than some of those listed. Several lobbied for James Joyce, but others point out he was Irish not English.
As far as influential twentieth-century English authors, PG contends that some of the more modern writers can certainly be considered candidates to bump others off the list. What about Dame Agatha, Virginia Woolf, Dorothy Sayers, Dylan Thomas, J. K. Rowling, C.S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien?