The ability to analyze English Literature in its raw form continues to birth the creativity we enjoy today, and because of this, people wonder, “How do I study English literature on my own?”
To study English Literature on your own, getting familiar with literary texts from different periods and learning them extensively is a must. To do this, you should take online courses, examine study guides, and get access to a properly equipped library.
Studying English Literature requires critical thinking and patience. Doing this, distinguishes this art form from mere reading to pass the time.
In this article, we have put together the ultimate guide on how to study English Literature on your own.
Step-by-Step Guide to Studying English Literature on Your Own
Here is a complete guide on making the best out of your available resources when learning.
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1. Get Access to an Excellent Research Library
If you are interested in studying English Literature on your own, you need to know that having access to a well-stocked library is undebatable.
Since your local library might not be able to provide you with the resources you need, you need to give online libraries a chance.
These libraries have several books from the past and present centering on English Literature. Here is a list of some of the most popular ones
- The Universal Digital Library
- Word Digital Library
- Project Gutenberg
- Open Library
- Internet Archive
- Google Books
2. Start from Basic to Complex Syllabus
As with many subjects, self-studying English Literature can be rather complex, especially when you don’t know where to begin.
In addition, since there are several options available, it is easy to feel overwhelmed.
Before you start reading, we advise you to find an existing syllabus to help you tailor your reading to what you need to start learning.
Thankfully, the materials you need to get started are not as complicated as you would expect them to be.
Some materials to be on the lookout for include:
- A foundational course: An Introduction to Literature, criticisms, and theory, for a piece of basic introductory knowledge to English Literature.
- A methodical course: Space in Literature; method, genre, and topos, to help readers study the basics of theories in Literature.
- A research course: American Literature and research, often with an open-ended subject that helps and guides you in making scholarly and original research on a chosen topic.
Since you’ve chosen to study English Literature on your own, look out for historical eras, traditions, and movements that can be said to be the defining period for some literary pieces.
The table below shows some common periods that help to identify Literature.
|Traditions||American Literature, British Literature, Australian, New Zealand|
|Historical Era||Early Renaissance, Medieval Literature, 18th Century Literature, 19th Century Literature, and 20th Century Literature|
|Movements||Romanticism, Modernism, Neoclassicism, Post Modernism and Imagism|
(Table Adapted from Quora)
By examining the table, you would notice that periods are classified into three;
- Historical Era
To fully grasp English Literature, you need to look at how different periods and beliefs have affected literature, making it what it is today.
In addition to this, literary movements are perfect for when you need to analyze many materials. For instance, if you pick Imagism, you should find roots that will back up the characteristics of Imagism.
When you get versed with knowledge from each period, you can move to pick a topic and critically analyze it.
Since you’ve already garnered knowledge of the characteristics of the period you’re interested in, analyzing any book you pick up becomes easier for you.
3. Engage in Extensive Reading
Reading extensively is also very crucial in your English Literature study journey.
However, we must mention that reading in this sense is quite different from the typical monthly magazines or papers you might be used to. Rather, specialized books like literary anthologies are what you would be studying.
Additionally, annotated books are also very helpful when learning. These books contain commentaries and notes that help readers better understand and enhance their understanding of the text.
Some books you can check out include:
- The Annotated Lolita
- The Annotated African American Folktales
- The Annotated Persuasion
- The Apocrypha
- The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes
With that out in the open, to fully understand and analyze literary texts in these kinds of books, you should read every word in every section of the book.
These will include items in sections like the foreword and the preface; they allow you to gain better insight into the text you are trying to analyze.
4. Online Tutoring Will Help
Online tutoring is also one of the many ways to study English Literature. The best part is that all you need is a device with an internet connection.
It’s even much easier now as several platforms offer tutoring from the comfort of your home.
Some of these classes are free; all you need to do is follow the instructions from the video and attend the classes when you can to broaden your knowledge.
You can check out some ways you can approach these tutoring below.
- Study.com has the English 101: English Literature course as an introductory topic.
- On Coursera, you can check out Plagues, Witches, and War: the worlds of historical fiction offered by the University of Virginia and Modern and Contemporary American Poetry provided by the University of Pennsylvania.
- To get a complete syllabus of the English Literature course, you can visit Swarthmore for a comprehensive guide. This syllabus will help to guide you as you research and study the topic.
In addition, some Universities offer free and paid online English Literature courses.
|S/N||Name of University||Topic||Paid/Free|
|University of Edinburgh||How to read a novel||Paid|
|Lancaster University||Corpus Linguistics: method, analysis, interpretation||Paid|
|Open University||Start writing fiction||Paid|
|University of Glasgow||Robert Burns: Poems, Songs and Legacy||Paid|
|5.||Massachusetts Institute of Technology||Writing about Literature||Free|
|6.||University of Oxford||Critical Reading||Paid|
|7.||Yale University||Introduction to Theory of Literature||Free|
|8.||Harvard University||Shakespeare’s life and work||Free|
|9.||Open University||Approaching Literature: Reading great expectations||Free|
|10.||New Jersey Institute of Technology||World Literature II||Free|
Table Adapted from FutureLearn
It would help if you also watched this free tutorial on how to study Literature Effectively
Tips on How to Become a Better Self-Taught English Literature Student
As you try to study English Literature on your own, it’s important to you that there are things you would do more than the average person. These acts will include;
- Research and
- Critical thinking
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Following the tips below will reduce your chances of feeling overwhelmed when learning English Literature by yourself.
1. Engage in Proactive Reading
Mindless reading is not enough when studying English Literature, especially when studying on your own. There is every chance that your mind might wander off.
To combat this, keep your mind functional and active. You can task yourself with questions at fixed times during your study to confirm that you have been following what you are reading.
Also, try to guess where a text is going when reading. Try to understand the characters in the texts; this will help with your thinking and analysis of the text because it will make you understand the happenings in a text better.
2. Get a Highlighter for Key Texts
Another tip we have for you is a very obvious but often overlooked one. When reading, you should pay attention to words or sentences you feel could define the plot of the text you are reading.
Highlight that text so that when you need to refer back to it.
If you are reading a pdf or the hardcover copy of a book that belongs to you, there is no issue with highlighting. However, if the book is from a public library, you should not highlight it in the book.
3. Separate Texts that are Confusing
Many narratives can confuse any English Literature student; in this instance, it would not be wise if you forged ahead without trying to understand the text.
What you should do is quite simple: take out this narrative and separate it from the rest of the book.
The section that confuses you most often ends up being the most important, making it more interesting to study.
You can write on this narrative and critically analyze it. Try to understand what the text means and the message it is trying to convey. When you do, apply this to the rest of the book and see how it fits into its narrative.
Pulling out sections like this and analyzing them independently can help your critical thinking and analytical skills.
4. Organize Your Notes
Taking notes does not signify the end of a study; you can take it a step further and periodically organize your notes. This is a helpful way to retain all you have learned.
Transferring notes and saving them in a file on your system will help you to find it easy to refer back to these notes.
Some books have similar traits because they are from the same period or have the same ideologies. Then, when you come across a similarly analyzed one, you can refer to it with your notes organized.
Finally, personalized naming of some of your analyses with what they remind you of is also a good way to go.
This way, when you see a book and think of what it reminds you of, you know how to go about your analyses.
5. Group Discussions
Do not undermine the benefits of group discussions. We understand that you are studying English Literature on your own. However, you need to realize that most of the work involves analysis.
What would you say is the best way to analyze, if not through public discussions? These conversations help you see and understand narratives better.
You also see things you would not have seen, and this helps you understand other ideologies better.
So, while you might be self-studying English Literature, we advise that you find a study group where you can air your opinions and hear from other scholars in the field, helping you become a better analyst.
Reasons Why Studying English Literature is Important
You should know that English Literature is one of the few courses in the world that you can study that can make you better understand the world around you and far from you.
1. It Helps with Critical Analysis
Being a master of English Literature allows you to be critical when analyzing a text. We’ve found that this skill is one that you can use even in other areas of life.
Even after learning, you will notice that you critically examine every text you read, even when it does not warrant it. It helps you think deeply about different situations and decisions before making them.
2. It Creates Broader Opportunities
Understanding English literature suggests that your knowledge of the English Language is at full capacity creating a wider range of opportunities for the learner. It means you are not limited in the choices you make.
For example, there are over sixty-seven different countries with English as their lingua franca, which means that there are opportunities open in these countries for people with knowledge of English Literature.
3. It Helps with your Chosen Career Paths
Since there is hardly any career path that will not require expert analysis of text, job opportunities abound.
Below is a table showing three major career paths you can pick from if you are knowledgeable in literary English and their income in the United States.
|Career||Income Per Annum|
|Teaching (high school)||$47,265|
Table Adapted from Indeed
You will need a degree to ensure you are employable for these career paths. So, as you learn independently, we advise taking graduate courses to help you get those roles. Also, other routes might take you to specific areas;
Teaching: Middle school teacher, High school teacher, University professor.
Publishing: Editor, proofreading, literary agents
Writing: Journalism, poets, screenwriters
There are also some career paths that skilled literary individuals can delve into because of their critical thinking ability.
Below is a table with an example of these paths and their yearly income
|Career||Income per annum|
4. Mastering English
The English language is more than just the way we speak and a manner of communicating. There are in-depth meanings as to how the structuring and pronunciations in the English language work.
In studying literary English, you are sure to see these deeper technicalities surrounding the English language, helping you understand better the use of the language and how to read English texts while analyzing the style.
5. Concise Writing
A major benefit of studying English Literature is that, among other things, it makes you a better writer. In learning, reading, and analyzing, one is bound to take notes to keep up with their analysis of a text.
This act subconsciously helps to make any learner of literary English a better writer than before they started learning.
6. English Literature is Transformative
Studying a topic that can open up your mind in ways you never thought possible and helps you think of the world in a way you would not have dreamed of and see the world differently has the power to transform the world.
Literature has gone through years of adaptation, and at every point, it has survived the differences of this world. It remains a force in our understanding of how the world operates.
It teaches us about the older periods and how life was before now.
Why study Literature, you might ask? The truth is that Literature helps us to form big ideas; it explains different ideologies and helps opposing sides understand why they believe in their ideologies.
We can say Literature is transformative.
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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Q: What Are the Forms of English Literature?
There are two major forms of Literature: fiction stories, which are made-up stories of an event, and non-fiction, which are based on facts.
Q: How Many Genres of Literature Do We Have?
We have three major literary text genres: Prose, Poetry, and Drama.
To say studying English Literature has the most intriguing benefits would be putting it vaguely. There are several reasons why this study is amazing to learn even on your own.
While this is an interesting study, you should note that if you intend to pursue a career with what you have learned, you will need credentials, which means you will have to attend an educational institution.
Thankfully, we’ve provided you with all you need to get started in your self-study journey in English Literature.