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A Level English Literature

A Level English Literature at St Edmund’s College is a rewarding and challenging course.

The study of English literature will expand your understanding of history, society, attitudes and how these have changed over time.

At St Edmund’s we instill a love of literature and reading and aim to inspire students to express themselves confidently, fluently and accurately in their analytical writing. We also believe the study of English literature fosters personal, moral and intellectual development.

Enrichment opportunities at St Ed’s include:

  • Visiting authors
  • Specialist speakers
  • Reading competitions
  • Inter-house drama
  • Theatre trips


Head of Department  Mr D Fenrych-Fahy (MEd (Cantab)
Syllabus  CIE Cambridge International

Course structure

To study A Level English Literature requires a grade 6 or higher in GCSE English Language and English Literature.

This A Level course covers a diverse and engaging range of novels, plays and poetry. During the course you can expect to:

  • Read texts independently and discuss them in class
  • Write essays on texts for coursework and examinations
  • Develop skills as sophisticated reader across a wide range of texts
  • Hone your analytical and discussion skills in a supportive environment
  • Develop an understanding of the author’s craft
  • Gain an appreciation of the social, cultural and historical contexts in which texts were written

Rhetoric I (Year 12)

Papers 1 and 2 will be studied, both having 2-hour external assessments, taken during the first year of study.

Rhetoric II (Year 13)

Papers 3 and 4 will be studied, both having 2-hour external assessments, taken during the second year of study.


Paper 1 - Drama and Poetry

50% of AS Level – 25% of A Level
2 hours written examination

Paper 2 - Prose and Unseen

50% of AS Level – 25% of A Level
2 hours written examination

Paper 3 - Shakespeare and Drama

25% of A Level

2 hours written examination

Paper 4 - Pre and Post 1900 Poetry and Prose

25% of A Level

2 hours written examination

Further information

What ideas will I explore?

To fully understand the set texts, students will be given the opportunity to explore the context and relevant ideology. This may require research into the historical context, such as Medieval times, the Renaissance or Victorian England.

Students are encouraged to widen their understanding by exploring the ideas of others, such as literary scholars A.C. Bradley and F.R. Leavis.

A useful resource is The Philip Allan A-Level Review Magazine available online through the VLE which includes free online extras such as PowerPoint presentations, quizzes, revision posters, podcasts!

We also subscribe to Emagazine published by the English & Media Centre.

Without a clear understanding of the context of the text, students cannot fully comprehend the views and values of the author, nor the overall meaning of a text.

Ideology refers to the systems of beliefs and ideas that underpin our attitudes and behaviour.

The historical context is important to note especially when large changes have occurred between the time the work was produced, and the present day.

Reading list

There is no expectation that students purchase any of the below books; they are all stocked in the department and in the College library.

However, students may wish to use some of the texts to enrich their understanding of the course’s theoretical concepts. The list below is intended to give a flavour of the course and provide a reference point if any topics prove particularly challenging.

  • An Introduction to English Poetry – a useful reference guide to poetic study.  It discusses the effects of different structural devices as well as introducing the work of a wide-range of poets. Publisher: Penguin.  Author: Fenton, J.  ISBN: 9780141004396  Published: 2003
  • Exploring the Language of Poems, Plays and Prose – the three major literary genres are covered with discussion of style and use of extracts to engage analytical and reflective approach to literary study. Publisher: Routledge   Author: Short, M.  ISBN: 9780582291300  Published: 1997
  • Literary Criticism: A Graphic Guide – an easy access guide to the function of Literature. A brief introduction to literary criticism. Publisher: Icon Books  Author: Holland, O and Piero  ISBN: 9781848319042  Published: 2016
  • Sparknotes – No Fear Shakespeare – this site offers text guides on a wide number of texts.  The Shakesphere section offers a line by line translation of various plays. Website:
  • The Art of Writing English Literature Essays: A Level and beyond – can be read fully as a guide or dipped into as a reference text. It offers practical advice about how to establish a personal, critical voice and build a clear argument. Publisher: Peripeteia Press  Author: Meally, M and Bowen, N  ISBN: 9780993077845 Published: 2015
  • The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory – comprehensive reference work that offers definitions of a wide range of key technical terms and critical theories such as romanticism. Publisher: Penguin  Author: Cuddon, J A and Habib, M A R  ISBN: 9780141047157 Published: 2014
  • Tragedy: A reader’s guide to essential criticism – for more able students of Literature. It offers a comprehensive introduction to tragedy in terms of criticism and debate. Publisher: Palgrave   Author Dewar-Watson, S  ISBN: 9780230392601  Published: 2014

Useful websites

This website contains comprehensive and interesting guidance about how best to read and discuss a wide range of texts, both individual and paired. A brief but helpful history of English literature, from Middle English to the late 20th Century, is also included.

This site has basic, but very useful notes on a huge range of commonly studied texts, with chapter synopses, character analyses, themes and motifs, essay ideas, and suggestions for further reading. It is a very useful site indeed.

Study notes on a very wide range of texts, with notes, suggested essay titles, and guidance on further reading (you need to register to access the material, but at the time of access there appeared to be no charge).

The site contains detailed discussion of a wide range of novels old and new, with relevant background material.

Some quite basic, but very helpful and reassuring advice on how best to approach the study of  literature, notes on how to study poetry, and on a few individual texts.

A very detailed listing of resource material on Shakespeare, his life, times and plays, particularly useful for advanced learners.

A site geared towards pre-A Level learners, but it does contain good and practical advice on planning, organising and writing critical and other sorts of essays.

Sites for more advanced study:

This site is designed for university learners, but also helpful at A Level. Discusses a range of study skills, including how to structure and write good literature essays.

The material here is advanced, but useful and thought-provoking. A wealth of resource material is offered on a huge range of writers, old and modern.

This site contains very detailed and advanced material – mostly resource-based – on writers from the 19th and very early 20th centuries. Well worth a visit if you are studying a text from this period.

Many universities across the world now have podcast courses that are distributed through the iTtunes university. Both the Open University and Oxford University have podcasts on Shakespeare. Some sites provide free audio versions of classic texts. There are many films of texts that can be downloaded.

Tips for success
  • Organisational skills: Use your folder effectively and keep it neat. Ensure that all of your classwork, prep work, handouts and resources are organised chronologically and by topic. You will thank yourself for doing this come revision time.
  • Wider reading: Push yourself to read around your set texts. For example, if your set text is a dystopian novel, read others in that genre.  Look for other poems by your set poet, or other plays by the playwright of your drama text.
  • Extend your understanding of audience reaction: Look for reviews from the time when your text was first published or, in the case of a play, first performed.
  • Research context: consider which historical events may have influenced the author. Be original in your response to literary texts. Try to avoid basic and obvious observations by thinking critically.


A selection of the set texts

The course teacher will select the texts studied; texts are changed every few years by the examination board.


Prose Poetry Drama
  • E M Forster – Howards End
  • Andrea Levy  – Small Island
  • Various – Stories of Ourselves
  • Jane Austen – Northanger Abbey
  • Charles Dickens – Oliver Twist
  • Geoffrey Chaucer – The Franklin’s Prologue and Tale
  • Thomas Hardy – Tess of the d’Urbevilles
  • Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – Americanah
  • Eleanor Catton – The Rehearsal
  • T S Eliot – Four Quartets
  • Athol Fugard – Township Plays: The Island, Sizwe Bansi is Dead, Nongogo, No-Good Friday
  • Kazuo Ishiguro – Never Let Me Go
  • Robert Frost – selected poems
  • Owen Sheers – Skirrid Hill
  • Songs of Ourselves 2 – selected poems
  • Andrew Marvell – selected poems
  • Percy Bysshe Shelley – selected poems
  • Derek Walcott – selected poems
  • Arthur Miller – All My Sons! 
  • William Shakespeare – Much Ado About Nothing
  • William Shakespeare – Henry IV, Part 2
  • Wole Soyinka – Death and the King’s Horsemen
  • Tennessee Williams – Sweet Bird of Youth
  • William Shakespeare – Richard II
  • William Shakespeare – The Winter’s Tale
  • Tennessee Williams – The Glass Menagerie


Our aim is to produce sensitive, confident, cultured individuals who are able to discriminate effectively, identify key qualities and values then express their judgements cogently in both written form and orally. Above all, we believe that English should be innovative and challenging; a subject that students look forward to and enjoy.

Future pathways

The study of English is key to the pursuit of any number of professions and careers requiring flexible and sophisticated communication skills, including law, journalism, marketing, teaching and publishing.