SOAS University of London

Centre for English Studies, School of Arts

Ways of Reading: Introduction to Critical Theory

Module Code:
Year of study:
Year 1
Taught in:
Full Year

This course will introduce students to the richest and most rewarding areas of English and Anglophone literatures, and will enhance their understanding of language both as a mode of literary expression and as a force in the world. This aim can only be achieved, however, by attending first to the peculiarities of literary consciousness and of language practices through training in close reading and textual analysis as well as in the critical analysis of dominant modes of reading and theorising.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

At the end of the course, students should be able to . . . 

  • Demonstrate knowledge of some of the major themes, techniques and genres to be found in English and Anglophone literatures and the principal critical works on the subject;
  • Demonstrate knowledge of critical issues of literary influence, contexts of reception and of their own positionality as readers in the world;
  • Be able to offer sophisticated interpretation of literary texts through analysis of the major tropes, figures of speech and rhetorical strategies---levels of diction, forms of syntax, allusion, ambiguity, irony, analogy, allegory, symbolism, atmosphere, modes of discourse;
  • Be able to offer sophisticated analysis of poetic and narrative works through the analysis of form and genre, voice and tone, rhythm, point of view, mode, theme, setting, characterisation, language styles and registers;
  • Analyse how a text produces meaning through form and style, and how the meaning produced is both personal insight as well as a form of historical engagement and ideological positioning;
  • Demonstrate deeper understanding of transitions from reading as an experience to interpretation as a critical act;
  • Be able to define key theoretical concepts and to apply a range of critical theories in their interpretation of the texts;
  • Recognise, define and engage with some of the current debates in the humanities and the ethical positioning of critical humanism.


This course will be taught over 22 weeks with a 2 hour lecture and a 1 hour tutorial classroom contact per week.

Scope and syllabus

This course is designed at the introductory level to offer training in methods of close reading, textual analysis and practical criticism, as well as in interpretive modes of reading.

The course is conceived in response to the new trends in critical humanism and in dialogue with current issues and debates in English literary studies, Anglophone and migrant literatures, Postcolonial studies and approaches, World Literature approaches and the New Comparative Literature. The course will therefore uniquely focus on approaches to text and textuality, offering alternative approaches to the canons of English Literature through comparative formal, thematic and stylistic analysis. Experiments in English style and registers will be linked through formal analysis to historical and cultural dynamics in the production and reception of literary texts. Literary works will be approached as text (formalist), creative act (hermeneutical) and literary practice (historical, cultural). The course syllabus will be conceptually framed between the earlier philological training in linguistic analysis---represented by Leo Spitzer, in ‘Linguistics and Literary History” and Eric Auerbach’s Mimesis---and the later critiques in the name of a critical humanism, represented by Edward Said and “The Return to Philology”. The modes of reading and critical analysis will range from Anglo-American and formalist, through Reader-response, Marxist, Feminist, Postcolonial, Psychoanalytical and New Historicist, to Deconstruction and Poststructuralist approaches to language and textuality.

Method of assessment

One three-hour written examination taken in May/June (50%); a 3,000 word essay to be submitted on day 1, week 1, term 2 (20%); a 3,000 word essay to be submitted on day 1, week 1, term 3 (20%); 2 presentations (one at the end of each term) 700 - 1,000 words.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules