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English: Literary Criticism

General resources for English and more specific topic guides

Literary Reference Book Collections

Literature for Students Series
Source Type: Reference

Bloom's Literary Criticism Series
Source Type: Book (anthology of critical essays)

Critical Insights Series
Source Type: Book (anthology of critical essays)

Literary Reference in Print

Search the index of the following print reference titles for both author name and title.

  • 808 Masterplots
  • 808.8 MAG Magill's Critical Evaluations of Selected Plays and Novels
  • 809 CON Contemporary Literary Criticism (authors now living or that have died since 1960)
  • 810.9 BAC Backgrounds to American Literature
  • 820 BAC Backgrounds to English Literature
  • 920.3 CON Contemporary Authors (also library database version)

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Tips for Searching the AccessIt Library Catalog

  • In AccessIt, keyword search the author's nametitle of the work, and/or the genre (novel, drama, poetry, etc.) for titles providing analysis of the author's writing and the work.
  • Consult the literary analysis titles on the reserve for the project (books should be returned to the cart in the back of the computer lab for the duration of the project).

What is Literary Criticism?

“Criticism asks what literature is, what it does, and what it is worth."  ~Encyclopedia Britannica

Literary criticism analyzes, interprets, and evaluates works of literature. Though you most often find criticism in the form of an essay, in-depth book reviews may also be considered criticism. Criticism may analyze an individual work of literature. It may also examine an author’s body of work.

Authors present us with work that can have multiple meanings, expecting us to consider thoughtfully--to interpret. Writers and critics build on each others' understanding of a work of literature in a kind of dialog. Good criticism can help us develop a better understanding of a work. In addition, it can help us develop a point of view about a work, whether or not we agree with the opinions of the critic.

As you work with literary criticism in your writing it is important that you incorporate your own reactions and points of view. 

Source: Mackley, Allison. "Literary Criticism." Hershey High School Project Pages. Hershey High School, 2015. Web. 7 Feb. 2016. 

When looking at criticism, check for the following:

  • Credentials of the writer
  • Quality of the sources--journals, books, websites

Opinions supported by evidence, relating to the following:

  • Characterization
  • Voice
  • Style
  • Theme
  • Setting
  • Technical qualities of the writing (artistry, style, use of language)
  • Interpretation
  • Complex ideas and problems
  • Relationship of work to the time, or social, historical, or political trends

When looking for criticism, AVOID the following:

  • Plot summaries, SparkNotes, Pink Monkey, Cliff's Notes, etc.
  • Casual posts on discussion groups
  • The works of other students
  • Author biography (unless this gives your historical or literary perspective)

Literary Analysis & Criticism

Another Take on Literary Criticism

When a work of literature is published and often for a long time afterwards, there is the possibility that professional reviewers or critics will respond. Literary critics analyze the selection from many angles (for example, style, structure, and language) and on many different levels (for example, emotional, moral, and philosophical). Critics analyze the work to see if they feel it is an appropriate representation of the particular genre. Additionally, especially in biography and nonfiction, critics look for the writer's point of view, and the inclusion of previously unknown facts.

Like the author of the work, these critics are being influenced by the times in which they live. As a result, literary criticism reflects both the point of view of the critic as well as the social and political period during which it is written.

~ Preston, Wendy. "Review Redux: Introducing Literary Criticism Through Reception Moments." Readwritethink. IRA/NCTE, 2014. Web.

Literature Analysis & Reference Databases