English Literature reading suggestions

Below are some suggestions about how you might begin to get into gear for your English Literature degree. We don’t expect you to attempt to do even half of everything listed here: do take time to relax and recharge over the summer so that you arrive ready to make the most of your time with us.

A man on a bike cycling on the leavygreave road cycle path past Information Commons building

Broaden your horizons

One of the biggest challenges involved in reading English Literature at university is getting up to speed with the mythological, generic, and religious contexts that literary works past and present draw upon. You can be sure that the degree at Sheffield will give you knowledge and understanding of literature from the Renaissance to the present day, but our focus will naturally be on the texts studied on each course. We will always encourage you to read around these texts, but there might not always be time during the semester to absorb all the cultural sources that underlie them. The summer before you arrive is an ideal time to look to fill some of the gaps in your knowledge and to read works from periods that you may not know from school or from your own reading. You do not need to buy these books if you do not want to; your local library will be very happy to see you.

Sample some of the following:

  • Classical literature in translation, e.g., Books 4 and/or 6 of Virgil’s Aeneid, a book or two of Ovid’s Metamorphoses; some of Homer’s Odyssey
  • A book or two of the Bible (King James translation recommended), e.g., Genesis, Song of Songs, one of the books of the New Testament (e.g., Gospel according to John, Mark, Matthew, or Luke; the Acts of the Apostles)
  • Some medieval literature (e.g., some of Malory’s Morte D’Arthur, such as Book 1, on the birth and rise of Arthur, ‘Tristan and Iseult’, or ‘Lancelot and Guinevere’)
  • Read an eighteenth- or nineteenth-century novel and compare it with a version on TV or film
  • If you can, go to the theatre to watch some Renaissance or Restoration drama

Seek out some performances

The degree programme at Sheffield also gives you the opportunity to study film, theatre, and creative writing. You can study key dramatic texts from Ancient Greece to the present by choosing LIT180 Studying Theatre, or if you opt for EGH115 Theatre Texts: Genre and Adaptations, you can explore the processes through which classic texts are translated into performance.

What theatre is currently on offer in your neighbourhood, the locality, the region? This summer, can you attend a production of a 'canonical' work of drama and/or a production of a play that was written in the last 10 years? Look out also for performances that are not centred on play texts and not presented in formal theatres. Partly in response to the pandemic, you can also see an increasing amount of performance online: check out the Manchester International Festival and LIFT festival.

If you are interested in taking one or more of our Theatre modules, you might also like to look at one or more of the following introductory critical texts:

  • Fischer-Lichte, Erika. The Routledge Introduction to Theatre and Performance Studies. London: Routledge, 2014.
  • Wallis, Mick, and Shepherd, Simon. Studying Plays. Fourth ed. London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2018.
  • Wiles, D., & Dymkowski, C. (Eds.). (2012). The Cambridge Companion to Theatre History (Cambridge Companions to Literature). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Zarrilli, Phillip B., et al. Theatre Histories: An Introduction, edited by Tobin Nellhaus, Taylor & Francis Group, 2010.

Watch some films

The degree programme at Sheffield also gives you the opportunity to study film. This begins in the first year with LIT181 Introduction to Film. See what you think of the BBC’s list of the 21st century’s best films.

If you’ve not seen them before, check out:

  • Memento (2000)
  • The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
  • Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
  • Fish Tank (2009)
  • Coriolanus (2011)
  • Wuthering Heights (2011)
  • Mad Max: Fury Road (2014)
  • Victoria (2015)
  • Lady Bird (2017)

Get ahead on your core reading

In addition to the optional modules you choose, in your first year, you will all take LIT120 Renaissance to Revolution as your core module. This module, which introduces you to English Literature from the early sixteenth to the late eighteenth centuries, runs across the Autumn and Spring semesters.

Below is a list of the texts, all from the anthology or above-mentioned texts, that we’ll be studying on LIT120 across the two semesters.

If you want to make a start on your reading before you arrive, we’d usually recommend looking for copies in your local library, or on friends’ and relatives’ bookshelves. Fortunately, many of the texts are also available via open-access web resources such as Luminarium. Bear in mind that these online texts don’t come with supporting material such as explanatory annotations, and some of them are in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century spelling, rather than the modernised texts we’ll use. We don’t study all the poems by Wyatt, Donne, etc., so just have a browse.

Below is a list of authors from this rich period that you’ll read in your first year:

Autumn Semester:

  • Elizabeth Cary, The Tragedy of Mariam
  • Thomas Dekker and Thomas Middleton, The Roaring Girl
  • John Donne, selected poems
  • Thomas Kyd, The Spanish Tragedy
  • Aemelia Lanyer, ‘The Description of Cookeham’ from Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum
  • Philip Sidney, extracts from Astrophil and Stella
  • Christopher Marlowe, Hero and Leander
  • John Webster, The Duchess of Malfi
  • Mary Wroth extracts from ‘Pamphilia to Amphilanthus’
  • Thomas Wyatt, selected poems

Spring Semester:

  • Aphra Behn, Oronooko
  • Frances Burney, Evelina
  • Olaudah Equiano, The Interesting Narrative
  • Thomas Gray, ‘Elegy in a Country Churchyard’
  • Eliza Haywood, Fantomina
  • Andrew Marvell, selected poems, including ‘An Horatian Ode’
  • John Milton, Paradise Lost, Books 1, 2, 4, 9
  • Alexander Pope, Rape of the Lock (1712 edn; 2 cantos)
  • William Wycherley, The Country Wife

Read something contemporary

Another option at Level 1 is LIT117 Contemporary Literature. This module explores a diverse range of texts (prose, poetry, drama) with a focus on works published in English since 2000. If you are interested in this module, you might like to sample one or more of the following texts below or check out one of the episodes from the acclaimed series Lovecraft Country (2020) or Underground Railroad (2021).

Contemporary literature recommendations:

  • *Alison Bechdel, Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic (Jonathan Cape, 2006)
  • Caryl Churchill, Far Away (2000) (Available via Drama Online through the university library)
  • Jennifer Egan, Black Box (Available here)
  • *Maggie Nelson, The Argonauts (Melville House, 2016)
  • *Claudia Rankine, Citizen: An American Lyric (Penguin, 2015)
  • *Matt Ruff, Lovecraft Country (Harper Collins, 2016)
  • Debbie Tucker Green, Truth and Reconciliation (2011) (Available via Drama Online)
  • *Colson Whitehead, The Underground Railroad (Doubleday, 2016)

Texts marked with an asterisk are those you will need to buy or borrow from the library. You can purchase any edition of the set texts. Secondary reading suggestions and additional materials will be provided for each week on the module Blackboard page and your tutor will advise on which texts to prioritise.

The first text we will look at is 'Black Box' which you can access for free via the link above.