An Introduction to Literature, Criticism and Theory (5th edition)
Andrew Bennett and Nicholas Royle
26 February 2021
An Introduction to Literature, Criticism and Theory is a comprehensive guide on literary theories and has thirty-eight short and succinctly written chapters on a wide variety of topics, such as ‘Theories of the Body’, ‘Reader-Response Criticism’, and ‘Canons and Canonicity’ to name a few. The book acts as an introduction to various areas of literary studies which should come in handy for the first year of an English degree.
Chapters often open with a thought-provoking quote, or an intriguing question to get the reader’s own ideas fired up before you get to grips with the topic itself. This is beneficial since an English degree demands what you think, and whether you agree or disagree with the reading material. At the end of each chapter, there is also a ‘Further reading’ section to chase up your interests should you wish to. Even more, there is a ‘Glossary’ near the back of the book with key terms and this can be very useful for writing essays as succinctly and with much brevity. As the title suggests, it is an ‘Introduction’, and so it is not too intimidating for anyone about to start their degree in English: I think it is a perfect summer read before the academic year commences!
I came across the book through the preparatory reading list I was sent over the summer before first year started, and it was labelled as ‘highly recommended’ on the list. What stood out from reading the book was how the writing used simplistic language to clearly explain complex theories, and all the theories are backed up with plenty of examples which also help to broaden the number of literary texts you are exposed to. Take Jonathan Culler’s own words (whom you will encounter multiple times in your reading lists/secondary criticisms) on the book: “The best introduction to literary studies on the market”.
I recommend it to any Year 13 looking to prepare for their Oxbridge interviews, but you do not have to read the whole book! Reading any chapter that interests you or a topic that you have already covered in your studies, but you want to learn more about is always a good idea. Also useful for a first-year student about to begin their studies as stated before since it breaks down key ideas of literary studies into small, comprehensive chunks.
I found chapter thirteen on ‘The Theories of Comedy and Humour’ particularly interesting. It is a fun chapter to read before you get to explore the more complex theories, and it uses a hilarious example of a chicken and a frog to define the term ‘humorous’. Get reading!