English: an introductory reading list

BA English students in Bloomsbury

Your mission:  to compile an introductory reading list for English Literature

Time allowed?  30 minutes


Quick, get a definition.

Literature (mass noun):  Written works, especially those considered of superior or lasting artistic merit.  ‘a great work of literature’

A web search for ‘English literature’ turns up such critical works as:

  • Jonathan Bate, English Literature: A Very Short Introduction(OUP,2010)
  • Robert Eaglestone, Doing English: A Guide for Literature Students (Routledge, 2017, 4thedition).
  • Derek Attridge, The Singularity of Literature (Routledge, 2017)

You search for, and skim-read, a website entry for the BA English degree at SOAS University of London.  You catch sight of Derek Attridge’s name again, and discover that in Year 1, Ways of Reading: An Introduction to Critical Theory, students will read his and other such works.

… You will also see an emphasis on questions of the canon and a dialogue with contemporary works from our own location in London and beyond. 

 Studying English at SOAS offers an exciting approach that brings new voices and a global discipline to our specialist institution.

BA English students on a theatre visit
BA English students – theatre visit

The Shelf Test ….

You are standing on the top floor of SOAS University of London library, in the literature section.  Beneath, on four other floors, are acres of books – including books in English – from around the world.

You pull down a copy of Ankhi Mukherjee’s What Is a Classic: Postcolonial Writing and Invention of the Canon (2014) and skim down the Table of Contents.  Your eyes alight on Chapter 6: ‘hamarashakespeare.com: Shakespeare in India’, page 209:

A cartoon of William Shakespeare appears after the roll of credits in the 1981 film Angoor, the most popular of Hindi film adaptations of The Comedy of Errors … Filmgoers did not need telling about Shakespeare …  familiar as they were with the classic comedy through the mediations of two popular adaptations, the Bengali Bhrāntibilāsh (The Comedy of Errors; 1963), and the Hindi Do Dooni Chār (“Two Twos Are Four”; 1968).

A floor down, by the shelves of South African literature, you stumble on an early experimental novel by J. M. Coetzee, winner of the 2003 Nobel Prize in literature.  In the Heart of the Country is narrated in 266 numbered paragraphs instead of chapters.

1.  Today my father brought home his new bride.  They came clip-clop across the flats in a dog-cart drawn by a horse with an ostrich-plume waving on its forehead, dusty after the long haul.

If there was more time, you’d hunt out other writers from the BA English degree at SOAS:

  • Brian Chikwava, Harare North
  • Zoë W​icomb, You Can’t Get Lost in Cape Town
  • Jhumpa Lahiri, Interpreter of Maladies
  • Kazuo Ishiguro, Remains of the Day
  • Ishtiyaq Shukri, The Silent Minaret
  • Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient
  • Michelle de Kretser, Questions of Travel

But it’s too late, the 30 minutes are up!

An Academic’s response: Dr Kai Easton

Building on existing strengths and expertise in literatures from around the world, English at SOAS also looks to its own location and literary heritage in the heart of Bloomsbury.

Virginia Woolf, Bloomsbury
Virginia Woolf, Bloomsbury

Our vision is an interrogative one – cutting edge, deeply committed to interdisciplinary research and teaching across the humanities, and engaged with metropolitan, cosmopolitan and island histories. English at SOAS is truly international and the first degree of its kind in the UK.

SOAS Centre for English Studies is located in the School of Arts where there is a thriving culture of collaborative research and teaching. Award-winning writers  J. M. Coetzee, Ben Okri, Wole Soyinka, and Meera Syal are Honorary graduates or Fellows of SOAS, and many novelists, poets, journalists, theatre directors and performers have studied here: Jung Chang, Zeinab Badawi, Saira Shah, Freya Stark, M. K. Asante, Ishtiyaq Shukri, and Willis Barnstone, among others.

Field trip - on the Thames
BA English – field trip

Students on our BA degree study a range of canonical and contemporary texts in conversation with each other.  We look at intersections, intertextuality, adaptations, life writing, graphic novels and films on modules such as Ways of Reading;  Global Shakespeare;  The Novel and Its Others;  Fictions of History; South Asian Literature in English;  Empire and the Postcolonial;  Southern Spaces;  Imagining Pakistan;  A Special Author.  Students are encouraged to undertake archival research through excursions to libraries and museums, and coursework includes innovative assignments with an emphasis on creative-critical approaches.

A sample of brief module outlines is provided below:

Global Shakespeare (year 1 core)

The course looks at a selection of Shakespeare’s plays:

  • Titus Andronicus
  • Henry IV Parts 1 and 2
  • King Lear
  • Othello
  • Hamlet
  • Much Ado About Nothing
  • The Tempest

It also looks at different books and films adapted from or inspired by Shakespeare from around the world, including:

  • Aimé Césaire, A Tempest (in English translation)
  • Jane Smiley, A Thousand Acres
  • Toni Morrison, Desdemona
  • Emily St John Mandel, Station Eleven
  • Matthew Hahn, The Robben Island Shakespeare
  • Ran (dir. Akira Kurosawa)
  • Shakespeare Wallah (Merchant Ivory)
  • Haider (dir. Vishal Bardwaj)

The Novel and Its Others Year 2 compulsory

  • Aphra Behn, Oronooko
  • Samuel Richardson, Pamela
  • Jane Austen, Lady Susan
  • Mary Shelley, Frankenstein
  • Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter
  • Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary
  • Mirza Hadi Ruswa, Umrao Jaan Ada (in Urdu or English translation)
  • Virginia Woolf, The Waves
  • Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God
  • Salman Rushdie, Midnight’s Children
  • Junot Diaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

(and Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe, for additional context)

Fictions of History (Years 2, 3, 4 elective/guided option)

  • Sara Salih (ed), The History of Mary Prince
  • Valerie Martin, Property
  • Harper Lee, Go Set a Watchman
  • Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea
  • J. M. Coetzee, Foe
  • Sally Morgan, My Place
  • Alexis Wright, Tracker
  • Henk Van Woerden, A Mouthful of Glass
  • Zoë W​icomb, Playing in the Light
  • Raghu Karnad, Farthest Field
  • The English Patient (dir. Anthony Minghella)
  • Belle (dir. Amma Asante)
  • A United Kingdom (dir. Amma Asante)
  • The New World  (dir. Terrence Malick)
  • Mabo (dir. Rachel Perkins)

Empire and the Postcolonial: Race, Genders, and Sexualities (Year 3 elective)

  • Rudyard Kipling, Selected Short Stories
  • E. M. Forster, A Passage to India
  • Muhammad Iqbal, Selected Poems
  • Mahmoud Darwish, Memory for Forgetfulnes
  • Anita Desai, In Custody
  • Jamaica Kincaid, The Autobiography of My Mother
  • Leila Aboulela, Minaret
  • Abdulrazak Gurnah, By the Sea
  • Marlon James, A Brief History of Seven Killings
  • Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner

Southern Spaces (Year 3 elective/advanced level seminar)

  • Leonard Woolf, Diaries in Ceylon, 1908-1911
  • Kate Grenville, The Lieutenant
  • Michelle de Kretser, The Hamilton Case
  • Michael Ondaatje, Running in the Family
  • J. M. Coetzee, Scenes from Provincial Life
  • Zoë Wicomb, October
  • Sea Point Days (dir. Francois Verster)
  • Tropical Amsterdam  (dir. Alexa Oona Schulz)
  • The First Australians (dir. Rachel Perkins)
  • Goldstone (dir. Ivan Sen)

Further information

BA English

BA English and…

Modules running 2018-19


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