This article presents lists of the literary events and publications in 1886.
- January – MLN: Modern Language Notes, an academic journal established to introduce European literary criticism into American scholarship, is founded at Johns Hopkins University.
- January 5 and January 9 – Robert Louis Stevenson's horror novella Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is first published in New York and in London. Close to 40,000 copies are sold in the first six months.
- January 17 – The Anglo-Irish writers and cousins Somerville and Ross first meet, at Castletownshend, County Cork, Ireland.
- February 22 – First performance of William Gillette's American Civil War drama Held by the Enemy is held at the Criterion Theatre, Brooklyn, New York.
- April 10 – Anatole Baju begins publication of the magazine Le Décadent in Paris, in an effort to define and organize the Decadent movement.
- May–July – Robert Louis Stevenson's Scottish historical novel Kidnapped is serialized in the London magazine Young Folks.
- May 7 – The first performance of Percy Bysshe Shelley's verse drama The Cenci, A Tragedy, in Five Acts, written and printed in Italy in 1819), is given a private production in England sponsored by the Shelley Society, at the Grand Theatre, Islington, London, before an audience that includes Robert Browning (for whose birthday it is performed), George Bernard Shaw and Oscar Wilde. Oscar Wilde's review of the performance in Dramatic Review appears on May 15.
- September 9 – The Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works is signed.
- September 18 – The "Symbolist Manifesto" (Le Symbolisme) is published in the French newspaper Le Figaro by a Greek-born poet Jean Moréas, who announces that Symbolism is hostile to "plain meanings, declamations, false sentimentality and matter-of-fact description," and that its goal instead is to "clothe the Ideal in a perceptible form" whose "goal was not in itself, but whose sole purpose was to express the Ideal."
- Fall – Clifford Barnes is taken on as a clerk at the Manhattan book store Arthur Hinds & Co., which will become Barnes & Noble.
- November – Rudyard Kipling's Plain Tales from the Hills begin publication in the Lahore Civil and Military Gazette under the British Raj.
- May 15 – Emily Dickinson dies aged 55 of Bright's disease at the family home in Amherst, Massachusetts with fewer than a dozen of her 1,800 poems published. She is buried under the self-penned epitaph "Called Back". After the first publication of a collection of her poems in 1890, she will be seen with Walt Whitman as one of the two quintessential nineteenth-century American poets.
- A Japanese adaptation of Shakespeare's play Hamlet as Hamuretto Yamato Nishiki-e is serialized in the newspaper Tokyo Eiri Shimbun.
- John Lubbock compiles a list of 100 books which he considers "necessary for a liberal education".
Children and young peopleEdit
- January 14 – Hugh Lofting, English children's writer (died 1947)
- February 11 – May Ziadeh, Lebanese-Palestinian poet, essayist and translator (died 1941)
- February 13 – Ricardo Güiraldes, Argentinian novelist and poet (died 1927)
- March 1 – Oskar Kokoschka, Austrian poet and artist (died 1980)
- March 30 – Frances Cornford (née Darwin, FCC), English poet (died 1960)
- April 1 – Brita von Horn, Swedish dramatist, novelist and theatre director (died 1983)
- April 15 – Nikolay Gumilyov, Russian Acmeist poet (executed 1921)
- May 16 – Vladislav Khodasevich, Russian poet and critic (died 1939)
- June 26 – Donar Munteanu, Romanian poet and magistrate (died 1972)
- July 16 – Pierre Benoît, French novelist (died 1962)
- July 22 – Hella Wuolijoki, Estonian-born Finnish writer (died 1954)
- July 24 – Jun'ichirō Tanizaki (谷崎 潤一郎), Japanese novelist (died 1965)
- September 8 – Siegfried Sassoon, English poet and memoirist (died 1967)
- September 20 – Charles Williams, English poet, novelist, playwright and theologian (died 1945)
- October 4 – Lennox Robinson, Irish dramatist, poet and theatre producer (died 1958)
- October 25 – Karl Polanyi (Károly Polányi), Austro-Hungarian economic historian and social philosopher (died 1964)
- November 1 – Hermann Broch, Austrian Modernist writer (died 1951)
- November 21 – Harold Nicolson, English author (died 1968)
- November 29 – Thomas Burke, English novelist and story writer (died 1945)
- December 5 – Rose Wilder Lane, American journalist and libertarian (died 1968)
- Victor Llona, Peruvian-born translator (died 1953)
- March 17 – Pierre-Jules Hetzel, French publisher (born 1814)
- March 27 – Sir Henry Taylor, English dramatist, poet and public official (born 1800)
- April 9 – Joseph Victor von Scheffel, German poet and novelist (born 1826)
- May 4 – Eliza Lanesford Cushing, American Canadian dramatist, short story writer, and editor (born 1794)
- May 15 – Emily Dickinson, American poet (born 1830)
- May 17 – Erskine May, English constitutional theorist (born 1815)
- June 14 – Alexander Ostrovsky, Russian dramatist (born 1823)
- July 16 – Ned Buntline (Edward Zane Carroll Judson Sr.), American publisher, dime novelist and publicist (born 1821)
- July 21 – Maximilian Wolfgang Duncker, German historian (born 1811)
- August 9 – Samuel Ferguson, Irish poet and antiquary (born 1810)
- October 22 – Matilda Jane Evans, English-born Australian novelist (born 1827)
- November 21 – Johannes Scherr, German novelist and critic (born 1817)
- November 22 – Mary Chesnut, American diarist (born 1823)
- December 12 – Johan Nicolai Madvig, Danish philologist (born 1804)