Best Books to Study Literary Theory and Criticism – List by Alok Mishra

Posted in category: Theory
Best books to study literary theory and criticism English

Literary theory and literary criticism are the topics that we (as students) often perceive as difficult passage during our college or university years. Though it might not be accurate to generalise this idea, it largely resembles a collective emotion. 🙂 Well, jokes apart! Let’s get straight to the point. I am writing this article to offer you a list of the very best books that will help you in understanding literary theory and criticism in a comprehensive and comfortable way. All the books that appear on this list are read thoroughly, studied and analysed by me on different parameters. I have included the very best ones among the books that are popular. So, if you are confused about your papers on theory and criticism or you want to widen your understanding in this domain of English literature, you must read this article carefully.

  1. Beginning Theory by Peter Barry: Can there be a better book for the beginners? No! If you are a beginner who wants to study literary theory and criticism, especially contemporary theories, you need to get this book ASAP and start reading it from the very first page to the last. In the end, believe me, you will be a well-versed person knowing the basics of most of the contemporary and latest literary theories that are popular in the academic circle – Deconstruction, Ecocriticism, Structuralism, Marxist Theory and others. This book will help in many ways. You can read a detailed review of Peter Barry’s book here: Beginning Theory by Peter Barry. For students of graduation and post-graduation, this book will be very useful. You can get a copy from Amazon by clicking the link below:
    Buy the book from Amazon now – click here
  2. Literary Criticism: A Short History by Wimsatt Jr & Cleanth Brooks: This is a title that I respect for its comprehensive view of literary theories in symmetry with the development of English literature. By saying this, I want to convey that this book will give you an idea of the practice of literary theory and criticism in the context of English literature. For example, the book tries to offer an overview of the thoughts that Wordsworth, Coleridge, Keats, Shelley, Eliot, Arnold, and others had – their views on literature, the merit of literature, evaluation of literature and many other aspects of literature. So, this book does not list the popular theories as such; however, this book gives an ample idea of what are the elements that go on to the point of establishing a literary theory, per se. You can also get a very broad and clear understanding of the popular critical texts produced by those who also produced some quality literature in the fiction category. This begins from Socrates and comes almost to T. S. Eliot (just there). You can get a copy of this book from Amazon India by clicking the link below:
    Buy the title from Amazon India now – click here
  3. A Contemporary Guide to Contemporary Literary Theory by Raman Seldon & Peter Widdowson: Once you have read the book on critical theories by Peter Barry, this title by Selden and Widdowson will be a hugely beneficial book for you! By reading this bestselling and one of the most comprehensively written books on literary theories, you will surely elevate your understanding of contemporary critical theories. I have gone through this book, word by word, at least three times (just to keep my memories fresh). And I often refer to this book whenever any idea confuses me. It has converted the contemporary and popular literary theories in a very broad manner. By reading this book, I can assure you, not a single popular literary theory will be beyond your intellectual reach. So, after Barry, this is a MUST HAVE book for anyone who wants to understand the literary theories that matter the most. You can get a copy from Amazon India by clicking the link below:
    Buy this book from Amazon now – click here to go to Amazon
  4. Contemporary Critical Theorists: From Lacan to Said by Jon Simmons: This is the book that will guide the readers to learn not only about theories in particular but also about the theorists who matter the most. Edited by Jon Simmons and contributed by different scholars, this is a comprehensive book to understand the general thoughts, tendencies and major contributions of the contemporary literary theorists like Lacan, Derrida, Foucault and others. Yes, it may be advisable to read this book only once the basics are strong, perceptions are clear and there are no confusions like what does reconstruction mean and what is the difference between theory and criticism. Get this title from Amazon online store by clicking the link below:
    Buy the book now – Amazon India
  5. English Critical Texts by Enright and Chickera: This book is very important for the students who have to study critical texts produced by Wordsworth, Eliot, Coleridge, Keats, Shelley, Sidney etc. This title, published by Oxford University Press, contains original texts and also notes at the end of the book. Most of the universities in India prescribe these critical texts and this book can very well cover such instances. By reading this one, a student will also be able to understand the ideas of literary personalities of repute. Producing poetry is one thing; writing about the process of production is another. And by reading the critical writings by Wordsworth, a student of literature can know many things. So, depending upon your syllabus and also upon your urge to understand the process of criticism, this book will be very helpful. You can get a copy from Amazon India by following the link below:
    Buy the book now – click here to get from Amazon India

Books Suggested for Senior Students:  

You can also get the following books depending upon your requirements.

Literary Theory and Criticism: An Oxford Guide by Patricia Waugh: Well, this book, as it seems from the title, is not exactly a guide per se. This book is a collection of scholarly essays by scholars covering a wide range of issues, ideas, topics and aspects related to literary theories. The book is not ideal for beginners. It may be helpful for those who are advanced students of literary theory. You can get a copy by clicking the link below:
Buy from Amazon India now – click here

Modern Criticism and Theory: A Reader by David Lodge: This is an expanded edition of original critical texts (translated into English) by modern figures in the field of literary theory and criticism. Once you have gone through the basics by reading Selden and Barry’s books, you can read the original landmark texts that propagated the theories which became popular. For example, you can read the original landmark speech delivered by Derrida that laid the foundation of Deconstruction. Likewise, you can read the original texts produced by literary scholars in an unaltered form – if you wish. This should be read by those who are comfortable in interpreting texts on their own. Get a copy from Amazon India by clicking the link below:
Buy the book now – click to get a copy from Amazon India

Figures of Literary Discourse by Gerard Genette: This is a book by a specialist for those who want to have broad observations on a particular literary theory – Structuralism. In this book, the master figure in contemporary literary discourse has discussed various ingredients of the structuralism theory in very broad details. This book can be very useful for those who are writing a thesis for their Masters or PhD. For curious learners who are eager enough to get into the depths of particular theories, this book will be helpful. You can get a copy from Amazon India by clicking the link shared below:
Buy the book now – click here to get from Amazon 


So, friends, this is the list that I have prepared – precise and straightforward. You can get the books as per your requirements and begin your studies now! I hope this article will help you find the best books. I will be bringing more lists like this in the future with a variety of subjects. All the best!

You can also view the video which is based on this article on YouTube. Here is the link:

List by Alok Mishra

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4 Comments. Leave new

  • Wonderful article! I like Peter Barry book very much and I will also suggest the same to anyone beginning studying literature and literary theory the same.

  • You’re expression on English Literary Criticism is good, but suggest some books on British Literature also, Thank you sir

  • Really... You must be inspirable and respected..
    April 12, 2021 11:27 am

    I will take help from here.

  • I am a student of post-graduation in English literature, Magadh University. I was having a tough time selecting the best books for literary criticism and theory. There are many books in the market but choosing the right ones is always a tough task for beginners like me in the field of literary theory and literary criticism. This article has helped to develop my sense. Now, I know which book will help in the beginning phase and what I can read for advanced studies. Thanks a lot for sharing such an informative article.


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