Faculty of Arts


Literary Theory and Critical Practice

Please note: this is archived course information from 2017 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. Instead, we will be putting theory into practice. At the heart of each class you will find fascinating examples from literature and popular culture. We use these texts to illuminate ideas and to show how theoretical concepts can open up possibilities in our reading and writing.  

The course takes a "keywords" approach in order to develop your capacity to generate interesting ideas and arguments. 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 critical interest today, such as: culture, nature, gods, monsters, mutants. 

By the end of the course, students will have discovered that the 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.

All students majoring in English are required to include at least one "theory" course in their major. This course is put together with that requirement in mind. If you successfully complete the course, you will have developed transferable interpretive and critical skills that will help you perform well in advanced courses. You will also become familiar with ideas that can make your own writing - whether critical or creative - more intellectually compelling. Finally, the course 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.

View the course syllabus

Availability 2017

Semester 2


Lecturer(s) Associate Professor Alex Calder


Andrew Bennett and Nicholas Royle, Introduction to Literature, Criticism and Theory, 4th ed. (Longman, 2009)

Recommended Reading

Jonathan Culler, Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction (OUP, 2000)

Frank Lentricchia and Thomas McLaughlin, eds., Critical Terms for Literary Study (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995)

Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan, Literary Theory: An Anthology (Blackwell, 1998)


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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