Faculty of Arts


Literary Theory and Critical Practice

Please note: this is archived course information from 2018 for ENGLISH 230.


This course explores a range of theoretical ideas and concepts that have shaped literary studies today. It is not a course about abstract isms—our aim is to put theory into practice. At the heart of each class you will find a number of fascinating examples from literature and popular culture. We use these texts to illuminate ideas and to show how theoretical concepts open up possibilities in reading and writing.  

The course takes a "keywords" approach in order to develop your capacity to generate interesting ideas and arguments in your own writing. Each class is based around a key critical concept. We investigate the issues and problems the keyword raises while using our examples to explore reading and writing strategies the keyword opens out.

We begin with two very broad keywords: representation and interpretation. We next examine a number of concepts closely related to the activity of reading and writing stories, such as: narrative, character, secrets and suspense. The keyword selection changes up a gear with several related to psychoanalytical approaches: unconscious, desire and the uncanny. By this time, we are ready for some keywords—structure, binaries, figurative language—that open out those more highly theoretical conceptual spaces associated with deconstruction and post-structuralism. The last third of the course examines keywords that are related to topics of strong applied critical interest today, such as: culture, nature, gods, monsters, empire, bodies. 

By the end of the course, students will have discovered that a keywords approach is really a kind of helpful confidence trick. It is designed to make thinking about texts in a reflexive and critical way part of your basic skill set.

Course outcomes

  • You will understand and be able to apply a variety of approaches to reading and thinking about texts
  • You will become more attentive to the theoretical dimensions and possibilities of literary studies
  • You will develop transferable interpretive and critical skills that will help you perform well in advanced courses
  • You will become familiar with ideas that can make your own writing - whether critical or creative - more intellectually compelling
  • The course as a whole promotes an up-to-date awareness of the relation of literary studies to broader interdisciplinary knowledge elsewhere in the humanities and social sciences. And in that way, the course helps bring coherence to your overall programme of study, whatever it may be

Availability 2018

Not taught in 2018


Lecturer(s) Associate Professor Alex Calder


  • Andrew Bennett and Nicholas Royle, Introduction to Literature, Criticism and Theory, 5th ed. Longman, 2016.  You will find it very helpful to have your own hard copy of this text. There is restricted access through the University Library to an electronic edition.
  • Frank Lentricchia and Thomas McLaughlin eds., Critical Terms for Literary Study, Chicago : University of Chicago Press, 1995. An electronic edition is available through the library. No need to purchase.

Recommended Reading

  • Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan, Literary Theory: An Anthology, Blackwell, 1998.
  • Jonathan Culler, Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction, OUP 2000.


Coursework + exam


ENGLISH 230: 15.0 points


30 points at Stage I in English or Drama or Writing Studies or Media, Film, Television 

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