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Literary Theory: An Introduction

This course aims to demystify literary theory, showing how it illuminates literary texts and enriches our understanding and enjoyment of literature.
University of Oxford University Offices Wellington Square Oxford ,OX1 2JD United Kingdom
(4418) 65270000

Course at a Glance

Mode of learning : Online - Instructor Lead(LVC)

Domain / Subject : General/Others

Function : General

Trainer name : Dr Jennifer Dunn

Starts on : 17th Sep 2014

Duration : 10 Weeks

Difficulty : Advanced

About the course

Over the course of the twentieth century, modern literary theory has transformed the field of English studies. It has also changed the way we read literature, and how we understand language, identity, and society. Despite its enormous influence, literary theory can seem overly abstract, complex, and intimidating to readers and critics. This course aims to demystify some key ideas and debates in modern literary theory, and to show exactly how these exciting ideas enhance our understanding and enjoyment of fiction and poetry.

This course is for anyone who would like to know what terms such as deconstruction, Marxist criticism, and postcolonialism really mean, and for those who are curious about the relationships between history, politics, philosophy, and literature. This course is also aimed at anyone interested in honing their critical reading skills, and most importantly, anyone who enjoys reading and would like to learn even more about literature.

Course aims

This course will enable participants to:

  • Understand the historical development of literary theory and its role in English studies;
  • Understand and discuss relationships between different theories and critical schools;
  • Understand and discuss some key ideas of particular theories and schools;
  • Understand extracts from works by selected theorists and critics;
  • Understand the practical applications of literary theory;
  • Apply literary theory themselves in analysing prose and poetry

Assessment methods

Assessment for this course is based on two written assignments - one short assignment due half way through the course and one longer assignment due at the end of the course. Students will have about two weeks to complete each assignment.

Teaching methods

Introductory section; reading required and recommended; handouts; online forum; online personal reading diary; posted short responses to literary extracts and exercises; tutor responses to forum and exercises; assessment and feedback.

Teaching outcomes

By the end of the course you will know:

  • The broad development of literary theory from the early twentieth century to the present; 
  • Differences and similarities between several theories and critical schools;
  • Some key concepts of individual theories;
  • How theory has been applied to literary analysis;
  • How to use theory when reading and analysing literature

By the end of the course you will have developed the ability to:

  • Enhanced ability to read, contextualize, and compare primary material by different literary theorists; 
  • Ability to apply literary theory when analysing literary texts;
  • Enhanced ability to understand their own critical/theoretical stance as readers

Course eligibility

Course Requirements

This course is delivered online; to participate you must to be familiar with using a computer for purposes such as sending email and searching the Internet. You will also need regular access to the Internet and a computer meeting our recommended minimum computer specification.

Recommended reading

To participate in the course you will need to have regular access to the Internet and you will need to buy the following books:

  • Eagleton, T:, Literary Theory: An Introduction (Blackwell, Oxford,1996, 2nd Edn or 2008, anniversary edn.)
  • Rivkin, J. and Ryan, M, ed: Literary Theory: An Anthology (Blackwell, Oxford, 2004 Rnd revised edn.)
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Course Content

  • Why literary theory?
  • Russian Formalism and the New Criticism
  • Reader response
  • Structuralism
  • Post-structuralism
  • Psychoanalysis and literature
  • Feminist literary theories
  • Marxist literary theories
  • Postcolonial literary theory
  • Theory now

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