Literary Connections: making the right connections with literature

Shakespeare? Hard?

Beginning Theory: An Introduction to Literary and Cultural Theory
Theory: take in
small doses
Lives of the Poets
Lives of the Poets

Useful texts for A Level Literature

These are editions of the texts and some other books that I have found useful for the AS and A Level units of the AQA A Level Specification A English Literature course - they may be helpful for those following other courses as well. Remember to check from the examination board specification that you are reading the right text and edition! This list is certainly not exhaustive - there are many more resources you could use. There are more suggestions on the pages for AQA units and for individual authors and topics (see the resources page or the list on the left).

Support your local bookshop if you can, or you can buy online from Amazon UK - clicking on a link to a text on this page will take you to the Amazon site for more information. You can buy the book there if you like - you are under no oblgation to do so! If you have difficulty locating a new copy, you may be able to find one second hand: Amazon UK and Abebooks are good places to look.

Students remember that the text itself is most important; don't try to grapple with the ideas in the other books until you are thoroughly familiar with the set books. There is a revision guide and material on each of the units for AQA AS and A Level English Literature on other pages on this site.

Literary theory
I suggest you begin with the Critical Position Cards activity in:
  • Text Reader Critic: Introducing Contexts and Interpretations by Jane Ogborn, Lucy Webster and Barbara Bleiman - from the English and Media Centre. This excellent book, intended for class use, 'helps students to develop and reflect on their own readings and introduces them to interpretations by other readers'. Find out more and see some sample units, on the EMC site, from where you can also order copies (better than using Amazon for this text).

These books provide a useful introduction, not least for teachers:
New! You may also like to explore:
  • Valentine Cunningham: Reading After Theory, Blackwell Manifestos Series. 'Valentine Cunningham's controversial manifesto asks what will and should happen to reading in the post-theory era.' Elaine Showalter refers to it in the review listed below.
  • Terry Eagleton: After Theory - his interesting and provocative recent book. John Mullan in The Guardian enjoyed it: 'He is jokey, roguish, strictly jaundiced.... The old rogue begins to sound quite human.' But be warned that he's not writing in any detailed way here about literature: politics, Aristotle, bits of the Bible and philosophy also figure prominently. You can also read a comprehensive review by Elaine Showalter from The Chronicle Review in 2004.
  • Shlomith Rimmon-Kenan: Narrative Fiction: Contemporary Poetics - 'examines key approaches to narrative fiction, including New Criticism, formalism, structuralism and phenomenology, also offering views on and modifications to these theories'. Recommended by Ivor Frankell (thanks) for the useful approaches it suggests to novels such as Wuthering Heights: 'a fascinating mine of ideas... endless fun can be had finding more and more types of narrator and this is why reading really is better than Sudoku puzzles'.
Teaching resources and workbooks
These resources cover a range of AS and A Level texts and provide classroom ideas and materials.
  • Wessex English Workbooks: written by teachers for students, these come in photocopiable print format or on CD - or both. Comments from teachers include: "a very accessible package that encourages flexible learning.... Well thought out and the presentation of the task sheets is excellent." Order online or telephone 01460 55660.
  • English and Media Centre: already mentioned above, the EMC site has details of a number of well-regarded packs for A Level teaching. Order online or call 020 7359 8080.
Smaller publishers are often overlooked. In addition to the above, try also:
    A S Byatt: Vintage Living Texts
  • Vintage Living Texts series: useful guides that have much to offer to teachers and students. Each text includes an exclusive detailed author interview relating specifically to the texts under discussion. "Their claim to be as useful to the student as to the teacher is well-sustained" ... "unlike other guides, these avoid stifling students' own interpretations and encourage independent thinking and confident writing" (comments by A Level teachers).

    Relevant titles include:
The Genius of Shakespeare Shakespeare

See the Shakespeare page.

See also the links to AQA materials.

The History Boys by Alan Bennett
See also the Arthur Miller, Alan Bennett and R B Sheridan pages for links and more references.
Webster: the Tragedies by Kate Aughterson
The Alchemist (New Mermaids)
There are notes on The Duchess of Malfi here.
  • The Duchess of Malfi, edited by Brian Gibbons: the New Mermaid edition of the play, with a helpful introduction.
  • The White Devil (New Mermaid edition)
  • Webster: the Tragedies by Kate Aughterson: detailed exploration of The Duchess of Malfi and The White Devil.
  • The Duchess of Malfi, edited by Dympna Callaghan: this New Casebook gives a survey of recent discussions of the play, with a special emphasis on "gender-conscious criticism".
Ben Jonson
There are free revision notes on Volpone on English Online. See also the links to AQA materials.
  • The Alchemist, edited by Elizabeth Cook (New Mermaids edition)
  • Volpone, edited by Philip Brockbank: New Mermaids edition of the play, with a helpful introduction
  • Volpone, edited by Brian Parker and David Bevington: Revels Student Edition, with useful introduction and notes.
  • Jonson: Volpone, edited by Jonas A Barish: Casebook volume: a survey of critical opinions of the play from 1662 to about 1970.
  • The Cambridge Companion to Ben Jonson, edited by Richard Harp and Stanley Stewart: a guide to Jonson's life and works.
The Romantic Period
Some general books recommended by senior examiners or teachers - see the other sections for individual authors (use the menu on the left): Songs of Innocence and of Experience
Blake: Songs of Innocence and of Experience
Byron: Don Juan Cantos 1 - 4
Wordsworth: The Prelude (Text of 1805)
Wordsworth: The Prelude (1805)
See the Wordsworth page for information and weblinks. There are free revision notes on Books I & II of The Prelude on English Online. See also the Wordsworth page.
  • The Prelude (1805), edited Ernest de Selincourt and Stephen Gill: it contains the original 1805 text edited from manuscripts with a comprehensive introduction and notes.
  • A Preface to Wordsworth by John Purkis: useful survey of Wordsworth's ideas, cultural context, etc. Comments on The Prelude are brief but apposite.