English Literature Essays Page

  Studying English Literature

Introductory thoughts from one of our tutors (1000 words)

  The author, the text, and the reader

Where is the meaning of a work of literature located? In the mind of the author, the mind of the reader, or in the text itself? Clarissa Lee Ai Ling studies some reader-response theories, and discusses some views on how the objectivity of the literary text is or is not distinguished from the subjectivity of the reader's response. (3,800 words)

What is literary writing?

John Oldcastle considers the qualities which distinguish literary writing from other kinds of writing, exploring the techniques used by literary writers, and their motives for writing, and offering many fine examples of literary writing to illustrate his thesis. (2,300 words)

Indian women's writing

A world of words, lost and found: a brief overview of women's literature in India from the 6th century BC onwards. Sherin Koshy explores the history of women's writing in India, revealing the long tradition which preceded the rise of modern Indian woman writers in English, such as Arundhati Roy and Anita Desai. (2,400 words)

Aristotle: Poetics

Complexity and pleasure: Aristotle's 'complex plot' and the pleasure element in tragedy. Souvik Mukherjee examines Aristotle's Poetics and other works in order to elucidate Aristotle's view of a successful tragedy (2,100 words)

Machiavelli: The Prince

The devil's morals. Souvik Mukherjee studies the ethics in Machiavelli's The Prince (1,500 words)

Castiglione: The Courtier

Bembo's Discourse on Love. Souvik Mukherjee studies Bembo's Discourse on Love in Book IV of The Courtier to consider whether it makes a fitting end to Castiglione's famous Renaissance book. (1,200 words)

Edmund Spenser: The Faerie Queene

The Bower of Bliss and The Garden of Adonis. Ian Mackean contrasts two sections of The Faerie Queene to show how Spenser used them to develop themes such as art versus nature, appearances versus reality, and lust versus love. (2,000 words)

Sir Philip Sidney: Astrophil and Stella

Structure, theme and convention in Sir Philip Sidney's sonnet sequence, Astrophil and Stella. By Donna. (2,000 words)

  Renaissance tragedy and investigator heroes

The role of the investigator in Renaissance tragedy, with special reference to Shakespeare's Hamlet and Thomas Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy.Tannistho Ghosh makes convincing connections between two Renaissance tragic heroes and the investigators of modern crime fiction. (2,500 words)

Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

Form, structure and language. Jenia Geraghty studies William Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, showing how Shakespeare's choice of form, structure and language help to shape the play's meaning. (1,700 words)

Shakespeare: Hamlet

Corruption - an incurable disease. Rob Moriarity uncovers the theme of corruption and 'disease' in Shakespeare's Hamlet. 1,000 words)

Shakespeare: Shakespeare's Women

Shakespeare's treatment of women in the tragedies Hamlet, Othello and Antony and Cleopatra. Was Shakespeare a feminist? Liz Lewis explores three of Shakespeare's tragedies from a feminist perspective, arguing that Ophelia, Desdemona, and in Antony and Cleopatra - Antony, were victims of patriarchal society, while in his treatment of these characters Shakespeare himself transcended the stereotypes of his time. (3,600 words)

  Shakespeare: Measure for Measure

Game-playing in Shakespeare's Measure for Measure. Tannistho Ghosh looks at Shakespeare's Measure for Measure and puts forward the view that the plot can usefully be seen in terms of game-playing. (2,100 words)

  Shakespeare: Antony and Cleopatra

The tragic in Antony and Cleopatra. Drawing on views of tragedy put forward by Aristotle, and by French dramatists such as Corneille and Racine, Isabelle Vignier explains why Antony and Cleopatra is a tragedy as well as being one of Shakespeare's Roman plays. (3,700 words)

Shakespeare: Coriolanus

Who is to blame for Coriolanus's banishment? Ian Mackean examines the central theme of Shakespeare's tragedy Coriolanus. (2,000 words)

Shakespeare: The Winter's Tale and The Tempest

The mixture of styles in Shakespeare's last plays. The mixture of styles evident in Shakespeare's last plays has often made them elusive to audiences, readers and theatre practitioners. Liz Lewis argues that Shakespeare used the mixture of styles successfully to contribute to the plays' themes of renewal and regeneration. (2,200 words)

John Donne: Love poetry

The love poetry of John Donne. Ian Mackean explores the wide variety of attitudes towards love depicted by the Metaphysical poet John Donne in his Songs and Sonnets. (2,000 words)

Renaissance poetry

Renaissance 'country house' poetry as social criticism. Emma Jones studies Renaissance 'country house' poetry, with close reference to Ben Jonson's To Penshurst, and Aemilia Lanyer's The Description of Cooke-ham. (2,600 words)

Ben Jonson

Ben Jonson Unmasked: A study of how Ben Jonson's plays reveal his changing attitudes to his fellow playwrights, the theatre as a medium, and his own role as a dramatist. Kathleen A. Prendergast delves into Jonson's plays and uncovers a rich subtext in which Jonson was exploring his own role as a dramatist, showing that in the course of his career his attitudes changed in response to changing circumstances and his own developing maturity. The essay focuses on Poetaster, Volpone, and Bartholomew Fair. (7,000 words)

The Age of Reason

The fall and rise of Rome and the spread of English. Stephen Colbourn surveys the changing intellectual and political climate of 'The Age of Reason', showing how it brought about a change in the status of the English language and English Literature, and how trends that took hold at that time have led to English becoming the nearest language to a Universal Tongue. (3,500 words)

John Bunyan: The Pilgrim's Progress
Geoffrey Chaucer: The Canterbury Tales

The author and his reader: Christian literature as conversation. Heather-Ann Wickers compares and contrasts John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress and Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales as examples of Christian Literature. (2,800 words)

John Dryden: Translation of Ovid

Augustan vs Augustan - translating the art of storytelling. Thomas Bailey studies John Dryden's translation of Ovid's Metamorphoses, Book 11, the story of Ceyx and Alcyone, analysing Dryden's approach to the task and assessing his success in capturing the 'three-dimensional' quality of the original. (6,000 words)

Jonathan Swift and John Gay

Satire in the work of Swift and Gay. Catherine Cooper studies the work of two 18th Century satirists, looking at Swift's Gulliver's Travels, and other works, and John Gay's The Shepherd's Week, and Fables. (3,500 words)

  Alexander Pope: The Rape of the Lock

Pope's portrayal of Belinda and her society in The Rape of the Lock. Ian Mackean studies Pope's mock-epic poem.(2,000 words)

Henry Fielding

Morality in Fielding's novels. Catherine Cooper looks at four of Fielding's novels: Joseph Andrews, Tom Jones, Amelia, and Shamela to consider whether the author presents a consistent moral attitude towards themes such as marriage, chastity, and infidelity. (2,400 words)

Oliver Goldsmith

She Stoops to Conquer: social and psychological contrasts. Catherine Cooper shows how the themes of She Stoops to Conquer are developed through contrasts, such as between age and youth, city and country, and high and low social class, and finds that behind those superficial contrasts deeper psychological contrasts are being explored. (2,000 words)


Memory In Romanticism: mnemosyne, plasticity, and emotion recollected In tranquillity. Aritro Ganguly and Rangeet Sengupta discuss the importance of memory to the Romantics, showing how the issues with which poets such as Wordsworth and Coleridge were concerned resonate with issues relevant to the Classical era, the shift from an oral to written culture which took place with the invention of the printing press, Enlightenment philosophy, contemporary debates about artificial intelligence, and the advent of audio-visual mass communications. (3,500 words)

William Wordsworth

Wordsworth's solitary figures. Catherine Cooper looks at the solitary figures in Wordsworth's Lyrical Ballads, and considers why Wordsworth was so interested in such characters, and what lessons about humanity he wanted us to learn from them. (2,300 words)

William Wordsworth

William Wordsworth and Lucy. Trivikrama Kumari Jamwal studies the 'Lucy' poems by William Wordsworth and attempts to analyze Wordsworth as a poet in the light of his perspective outlined in his Preface to Lyrical Ballads (1800). The essay also tries to understand the nature or 'character' of Lucy and Lucy as an instrument of Wordsworth's ideas on the art and craft of composing poetry. (2100 words)

Nathaniel Hawthorne: The Scarlet Letter

A comparison between Hester Prynne, of Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, and Margaret Fuller, the mid-nineteenth-century campaigner for the rights of women. Emma Jones considers the proposition: 'Endowed in certain respects with the sensibility of Margaret Fuller, the great campaigner for the rights of women, Hester Prynne is as much a woman of mid-nineteenth-century American culture as she is of seventeenth-century Puritan New England'. (2,900 words)

Charles Dickens

Dickens's narrative technique. Ian Mackean looks at excerpts from Great Expectations, Oliver Twist, and David Copperfield and considers the ways in which Dickens's narrative technique can be said to be 'dramatic'. (3,100 words)

Matthew Arnold

The literary criticism of Matthew Arnold. S. N. Radhika Lakshmi looks at the literary criticism of Matthew Arnold, the Victorian poet and critic, considering his influence on 20th century critics such as Eliot and Leavis, his limitations, and his legacy. (4,700 words)

Lewis Carroll, Samuel Beckett

From Carroll to Beckett: Retrospection and Prefiguring: The Romantic and (Post)Modern Context of Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland and Through The Looking Glass and What Alice Found There. Teke Charles Ngiewih (Ph.D) studies the work of Lewis Carroll, showing that it drew upon the Romantic poets and prefigured the Modernist drama of Samuel Beckett. (5,600 words)

  Thomas Hardy: Tess of the d'Urbervilles

Human morality and the laws of Nature. Ian Mackean looks at Thomas Hardy's Tess of the d'Urbervilles to show how Hardy pits variable, changeable, human morality against the eternal laws of Nature. (2,200 words)

Kate Chopin: The Awakening

Edna Pontellier and nineteenth-century female characters. Is Edna Pontellier a prototypical feminist? Emma Jones explores the extent to which Edna Pontellier, in Kate Chopin's The Awakening, marks a departure from the female characters of earlier nineteenth-century American novels. (2,400 words)

  Joseph Conrad: Heart of Darkness

Gareth Rowlands introduces Conrad's famous novella Heart of Darkness, outlining its plot, main themes, and symbolism. (1,400 words)

Rudyard Kipling: Kim

Ian Mackean looks at a novel which the critic Edward W Said called 'a rich and absolutley fascinating, but neverthrless profoundly embarrassing novel'. (5,500 words)

Henry Lawson: 'Eureka!'

Kerry White studies Australian poet Henry Lawson's 1889 poem 'Eureka!', suggesting that Lawson may have been trying to light the fire of Australian nationalism. (1,400 words)

  Ibsen, Lawrence, Galsworthy

Naturalist drama and environmental influences. Catherine Cooper studies the way plays by three early modern authors, Henrik Ibsen's Hedda Gabler, D. H. Lawrence's The Daughter-in-law and The Widowing of Mrs Holroyd, and John Galsworthy's Strife, show the powerful influence of the environment on the quality of human life. (4,000 words)

Carl Gustav Jung

The development of psychoanalysis and orientation of the self in the context of twentieth century western societies. Mark Norton looks at the social conditions which gave rise to the psychoanalytic movement, and introduces us to the work of Carl Gustav Jung. His essay covers many topics, such as the growth of cities, the growth of mass movements, the rise of consumerism, and the decline of religion, as well as the growth of the psychoanalytic movement itself, which provide relevant background material for the study of twentieth century western literature. (3,700 words)

James Joyce: A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

Flying by the nets: Stephen Dedalus's search for personal definition in James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Will McManus studies James Joyce's novel. (3,100 words)

James Joyce: A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

Rebellion and release. Ian Mackean analyses some significant themes in Joyce's novel with particular focus on Chapters 1, 3, and 5. (7,400 words)

James Joyce: A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

Stephen Dedalus - rebel without a cause? Ben Foley studies James Joyce's A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man, showing how Stephen Dedalus is portrayed as an outsider, and how his alienation from the traditional voices of authority in his life contributes to his budding artistic talent. (1,500 words)

D. H. Lawrence: Women in Love

The sisters in D. H. Lawrence's Women In Love. Nitya Bakshi illuminates some of the themes of Lawrence's novel by examining the contrasting characters of the sisters, Ursula and Gudrun Brangwen. (1,200 words)

T S Eliot, Albert Camus

Prufrock and the outsider. Souvik Mukherjee compares T. S. Eliot's J. Alfred Prufrock and Albert Camus' Meursault, showing that Prufrock himself was an outsider. (1,600 words)

T S Eliot: Four Quartets

Four Quartets: The sign and the symbol. Nick Ambler studies T. S. Eliot's Four Quartets, (taking into account the reader-response theory of Wolfgang Iser), and the cyclical nature of East Coker. (3,000 words)

William Faulkner: Sartoris

In search of a new form. Manana Gelashvili shows how Faulkner's experimentation with the presentation of time began in his novel Sartoris. (2,900 words)

Ernest Hemingway

Introducing Ernest Hemingway. Professor Ganesan Balakrishnan, Ph.D. gives a biographical introduction to Ernest Hemingway, winner of the 1954 Nobel Prize for literature, then goes on to explore some of the themes of his novels, arguing that some critics have underestimated the depth of meaning in his work. (2,100 words)

Jean Rhys: Wide Sargasso Sea. Charlotte Bronte: Jane Eyre

Doubles. The representation of the doubleness of selfhood in Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre and Jean Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea. By Liz Lewis. (3,000 words)

Jean Rhys: Wide Sargasso Sea. Charlotte Bronte: Jane Eyre

Symbolism. The use of symbolism in the presentation of characters and plots in Jane Eyre and Wide Sargasso Sea. By Jenia Geraghty.(2,200 words)

Graham Greene: Brighton Rock

The characterisation of good and evil. Sarah Jones studies the main characters and themes in Greene's Brighton Rock. (2,200 words)

R K Narayan: The English Teacher

What about our own roots? Krishnan's journey in The English Teacher. Ian Mackean offers an interpretation of a novel by one of India's best-known writers. With an additional commentary on the novel and excerpts from comments by Indian literary critics by S. N. Radhika Lakshmi. (4,300 words)

R K Narayan

R K Narayan's vision of life. Can R. K. Narayan's view of life be understood in terms of Western concepts such as Existentialism or Nihilism? Amitangshu Acharya studies Narayan's novels and concludes that his view is closer to the Oriental philosophies of Hinduism and Buddhism. (1,300 words)

R K Narayan: The Guide

Sex, symbolism, illusion and reality In R K Narayan's The Guide. Amitangshu Acharya offers a reading of R K Narayan's novel The Guide in which he interprets the story in terms of Hindu philosophy, showing that Raju's journey is a struggle through Maya (illusion) towards Moksha (liberation). (2,700 words)

New York! New York!

The Making of the New York Intellectuals. Sudeep Paul examines the cultural background to the rise to prominence of the Jewish New York writers and intellectuals in the 1940s-1970s. (3,000 words)

Saul Bellow and Ken Kesey

Modern literature's depiction of nervous ailments. Catherine Cooper studies Saul Bellow's The Victim and Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest to see what these modern authors show us about our neuroses and psychoses. (3,200 words)

William Styron: Sophie's Choice

Human nature and societal pressure. Stephanie Beranek studies William Styron's holocaust novel Sophie's Choice and concludes that it shows a fatal collision between human nature and societal pressure. (1,200 words)

Jonathan Bayliss

Where West Meets East: The Counterentropic Fiction of Jonathan Bayliss Stephen Farrell introduces the work of self-published author Jonathan Bayliss, whose fiction he describes as 'a treasure-trove of prose poetry, mathematical puzzles, and mythological and literary references'. (1,600 words)

Harold Pinter

Winners and losers in the plays of Harold Pinter. Ian Mackean looks at Pinter's plays in the light of a revealing comment made by Pinter. (3,800 words)

Toni Morrison: Beloved and Jazz

The 'monstrous potential of love': Moral ambiguity in Toni Morrison's Beloved and Jazz. Liz Lewis studies two challenging novels by the winner of the 1993 Nobel Prize for Literature. (3,000 words)

Sylvia Plath and Alice Walker

Two women writers challenge society's conspiracy against women. Catherine Cooper explores the work of two women writers, one white, one black, one despairing, one optimistic, who challenge the role society allocates to women. (2,700 words)

Tom Stoppard

In search of reality: The evolution of ideas in the early work (1960-1974) of Tom Stoppard. Ian Mackean looks at the serious side of Stoppard. (10,000 words)

Margaret Atwood 'Gertrude Talks Back'

Rewriting canonical portrayals of women. Margaret Atwood's 'Gertrude Talks Back'. By Pilar Cuder Domínguez. Universidad de Huelva. (3,400 words)

Margaret Atwood

The treatment of the female protagonists in Margaret Atwood's Bodily Harm and The Handmaid's Tale. Justine looks at the presentation of women and their roles in two of Margaret Atwood's novels. (5,600 words)

Jamaica Kincaid, Merle Hodge, George Lamming

The two worlds of the child: A study of the novels of three West Indian writers. Tannistho Ghosh and Priyanka Basu study Lucy by Jamaica Kincaid, Crick Crack Monkey by Merle Hodge, and In the Castle of my Skin by George Lamming. (3,700 words)

Jon Jost: American independent film-maker

Jon Jost, the early films (1963-1983). An introduction to the early films of the American independent film-maker Jon Jost, director of Sure Fire and All the Vermeers in New York, exploring the development of his work during his first twenty years of film-making. By Ian Mackean. (13,200 words)

Brian Patten

Life, love, death, and poetry in the work of Brian Patten. S. N. Radhika Lakshmi introduces the poet Brian Patten, who emerged in the sixties as one of 'The Liverpool Poets', then looks at his treatment of the themes of life, love, and death in his work, and rounds off her essay with a look at his attitude to poetry itself. (3,800 words)

Ian McEwan: The Cement Garden

Shadows on the mind. Nick Ambler studies urban alienation and the mental landscape of the children in Ian McEwan's first novel, The Cement Garden. (2,700 words)

Jennifer Maiden: The Winter Baby

Hitting wintry waters. Trivikrama Kumari Jamwal offers a reading of Austrailain poet Jennifer Maiden's 1990 volume The Winter Baby. (4,000 words)

Alice, Harry Potter and the computer game

And Alice played a video game. Souvik Mukherjee studies the relationship between children's fantasy adventure stories and interactive computer games. (4,100 words)

The Spy in the Computer

Computer games, a modern narrative form. Souvik Mukherjee shows how these draw on and develop the tradition of espionage fiction. (2,400 words)

Photography and the New Native American Aesthetic

Heather-Ann Wickers examines the theories of native American writer Leslie Marmon Silko and considers her view that photography can become a modern replacement for the native American oral tradition. (1,700 words)