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Overview

Do Anglophile books engulf your bedroom, making it appear less like sleeping quarters and more like the stacks at your local library? Readers like you will rejoice in a major in English literature. Plenty of theorizing, analyzing, and critiquing goes into an English literature degree—you’ll consume tome after tome before you run them through your intellectual wringer. An English literature major is your chance to decode centuries’ worth of English conjecture on every topic under the sun. English lit is often offered as a concentration within a larger English major; at some colleges, however, it is offered as a major on its own.

As an English lit major, you’ll be studying literature from the British Isles and the British Commonwealth, from the very beginnings of the language we call English to the present day. Your studies will include close reading of authors such as Shakespeare, Milton, and Chaucer. You’ll become familiar with many different genres, including fiction, nonfiction, drama, and poetry, as well as areas of literature such as folklore and regional specialties. You’ll learn the basics of literary criticism and how to apply them to these various genres of the literature. You’ll also gain an understanding of the history and society in which these writers lived—how various wars influenced the literature of the time, for example, or how English writers have absorbed and reflected American culture in their stories. Through your reading and analyzing, you’ll get a broad picture of the values, preoccupations, customs, politics, and trends that inspired these English writers and shaped their world—and how they, in turn, inspired and shaped the writers (and societies) that came after them.

The canon of great literature continuously evolves, and gaining a solid foundation in the great works and authors of English literature will give you the analytical, writing, reading, and oral communication skills that are highly valued in countless careers.

SAMPLE CURRICULUM

  • British Drama to 1800

  • British Literature: Medieval through 1800

  • Critical Theory

  • Introduction to Chaucer

  • Medieval English Literature

  • Milton’s Major Poetry

  • Nineteenth-Century English Novel

  • Renaissance English Literature

  • Restoration and Eighteenth-Century English Literature

  • Romantic Poetry and Poets

  • Shakespeare

  • Shakespeare’s Contemporaries

  • Studies in History and Literature

  • The British Novel

  • The Critical Canon

  • Victorian and Modern Authors


HIGH SCHOOl PREPARATION

To prepare for the years of reading and writing ahead, Advanced Placement courses in English and history are essential if your high school offers them. Other humanities courses—like philosophy, religion, and foreign languages—will also help you to build a foundation of knowledge that will come in handy when you begin to analyze texts. There are tons of great books out there, so some of the best preparation can be done on your own. Walk into a library and lose yourself for hours. Read everything you can get your hands on. And write. Whether it’s keeping a journal or enrolling in a summer writing workshop at your local community college, none of it will hurt you down the road.