25 November 2005

Review: How to Begin Studying English Literature (1987)

English Lit. has always been a mystery to me; I'd never quite figured out what to discuss after reading a novel or poem. I'd make a reasonable guess in an exam, write some answer and seem to do well enough. But I felt that had to be a systematic way to study literature, just like mathematics or science. This high school guide, How to Begin Studying English Literature, gave me a fair idea how to start:

(This review is for the 1987 edition.)

This guide provides basic study techniques for students of English in the UK. The first part covers analysis; how to find themes in a work, how characters support a theme, the general structure of a story, the use of style and imagery, and how to study irony. The second part describes how to compose and write essays during an English examination.

The language in the book is kept simple and there is hardly any jargon. In each chapter, a method for studying each topic is first described and then a worked example is demonstrated. No particular interpretation is pushed and the student is encouraged to read works and come to their own conclusions. All the techniques are then brought together in the chapters on essay writing.

Although aimed at students, this guide would help anyone who is interested in gaining a better understanding of literature.