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English Literature

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The Subject

Occasionally we see that beautiful creature the flying fish, which rises out of the water altogether into the air and the sunlight.  English literature is a flying fish.  It is a sample of the life that goes on day after day beneath the surface; it is a proof that beauty and emotion exist in the salt, inhospitable sea.E M Forster

If, like E M Forster, you have ever been amazed, intrigued and excited by a novel, a play or a poem, then English literature is the subject for you. You should also have an interest in reading a wide variety of literature from both the past and present, enjoy expressing your own ideas and have a sound command of written English. You do not need to know very much about flying fish, but you should enjoy the challenge of analysing highly imaginative metaphors!


Do not think that close analysis of texts will kill your enjoyment of them. Very often the opposite is true: learning to read more attentively and perceptively adds a whole new dimension to books that are read for pleasure. And in addition to being a highly enjoyable subject, the skills that you acquire during an English A level course (the ability to form independent judgements, to express yourself lucidly and to write clear and well organised essays) will be useful to you whatever you go on to do. English combines well with a wide variety of other subjects and is always popular with university admissions tutors in a range of disciplines. Although it often takes students a while to get used to the jump from GCSE to A Level, high grades are quite easily reached by those who work steadily through the course, particularly when this is combined with a genuine enthusiasm for literature. We encourage you to read as widely as possible and to develop your own particular interests.

The Course

You will study prose, poetry and drama texts, against the background of the life and culture of the times in which they were written. Some will be very modern, others may have been written several hundred years ago. Interestingly, the older texts often turn out to be the ones that students find most stimulating and relevant. We try to choose texts which are likely to provoke lively debate.

The AS level is the first half of the A Level course and involves the study of five texts. Two of these texts are examined at the end of the first year and three texts form the focus of two short coursework essays. One of these will be a contemporary drama that is currently in production in London. (1 two-hour exam; 2 coursework essays.)

In the second year, students study a further six texts. Three texts, one of which will be a Shakespearian play, are examined; and three comparative works are explored through the writing of a single developed essay for coursework. (1 two-hour exam; 1 coursework essay.) Overall, marks awarded for coursework constitute 40% of the final A level result.

All English Literature students are provided with a pack of supporting material for each text they study. The pack is designed to support independent research and essay writing. It includes helpful guides to compiling written responses, critical articles and reviews, historical and cultural information and past essay questions.

Possible authors, texts and topics to be studied include: (AS) Wuthering Heights, Wilfred Owen, William Wordsworth, The Great Gatsby, Pride and Prejudice, Harold Pinter, Ian McEwan; (A2) Doctor Faustus, The Duchess of Malfi, The Pardoner’s Tale, Paradise Lost, Twelfth Night, Othello, The Winter’s Tale, Oscar Wilde, Representations of Women, Visions of the City, the Gothic, Love and Marriage.   

Preferred Board: OCR

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