English Literature

English literature refers to written works, especially those considered of superior or lasting artistic merit. The most popular English modern works of literature that are being studied in schools include An Inspectors Calls, Lord of the Flies and To Kill a Mockingbird. Being complemented with a 19th Century novel with the most popular include Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice, Great Expectations and Frankenstein.

Everyone has studied one of the greatest English authors, Shakespeare while at school, whether it was the star-crossed lovers of Romeo & Juliet, the ravings of a madman in Hamlet or magic and horrors of Macbeth or dealings of the Merchant of Venice.

About English Literature

English Literature is a subject taught across the UK curriculum and is compulsory for students from starting school at 4/5 years of age, through to sitting national assessment exams at 16, GCSE’s in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and National 5 in Scotland, these can be two year courses with exams sat at the end to grade the students. Usually, English Literature at these levels will fall under literacy or a combination with an element of English Language into one qualification

In the early years, students will study reading, writing and spelling in their English lessons. Books will usually be picked by the teacher to go alongside the topic they are currently studying in class

Once students have their GCSE’s or National 5 exams, they can choose to continue English at a more advanced level with A-Levels in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and Highers/Advanced Highers in Scotland.  These are studied over 2 years (A level) or one year (Highers/Advanced Highers)

English also forms a core part of the International Baccalaureate and is a prevalent (almost universal) part of entrance exams and 11+ exams to get into independent schools across the UK

The top universities in the UK to study English literature are currently, Durham, St Andrews, Cambridge, Oxford and University College London. If you need help with a UCAS application, please visit our university page

Why Study English Literature?


Reading literature encourages the mind to enter new, and sometimes improbable, spheres of experience. Some literary texts inspire us to feel admiration and compassion for unlikely heroes or heroines: a son overwhelmed by the sudden death of his father and his mother's quick remarriage to his despicable uncle, a woman who loses her social standing and whose subsequent humiliation and poverty drive her to suicide, a wife trapped in a loveless marriage, or a daughter who accidentally encounters her birth parents. Others confront us with perplexing concepts: the "ineluctable modality of the visible," "fearful symmetry," and that it can "be very, very dangerous to live even one day." Still others ask us to consider the wondrous properties of the very, very small (a grain of sand, leaves of grass) or the very, very large (a white whale, the Congo); or to observe the world from a multitude of perspectives, from above or below, earlier or later, male or female, east or west, black or white, all at the same time. Literature, too, grants access to scenes or sights that can be neither diagrammed nor charted nor otherwise pictured. How are two lovers like a pair of compasses? How is life like a loaded gun, or love without hope like a hat full of larks? Magnificent new microscopes and telescopes have brought human beings, standing somewhere between the stars and sub-atomic particles, a little closer to both. Literature transports the cosmos into our most private and personal reflections; yet it also shows us how everyday things, the objects and scenery we hardly notice as we trudge through our routines, can be made radiant with a strange beauty. "Poetry," a poet wrote, "purges from our inward sight the film of familiarity which obscures from us the wonder of our being." Literature is not a physical instrument; it is a purely intellectual one. But, like an unfamiliar piece of computer technology, we need to learn how to use it—or we will be left behind; our lives will be seriously diminished. How literature works is what the English major can teach you.

Fun Facts about English Literature 

  • Everyone’s favourite billionaire Bill Gates bought ‘Codex Leicester’, one of Leonardo Di Vinci’s scientific journals for $30.8 million.
  • Dickens believed that sleeping facing North would improve his writing. He also carried a compass when travelling to make sure he was facing the right direction and he always touched things 3 times for luck.
  • The Governor of Hunan Province in China banned Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland because he believed that animals should not be given the power to use the language of humans and to put animals and humans on the same level would be ‘disastrous"

Famous Quotes about English Literature


"Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body." Joseph Addison
"Books are a uniquely portable magic" Stephen King
"There is no friend as loyal as a book" Hemingway
"Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood." T. S. Eliot

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English Literature Resources

Edexcel Pearson GCSE English Literature Paper 1 2017
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Edexcel Pearson GCSE English Literature Paper 2 2017
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