English Literature by Jonathan Bate (Brief Thoughts on A Very Short Introduction)

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I love the Oxford Very Short Introduction series simply because each volume does a fantastic job of introducing a deep subject in a concise yet detailed manner. The volume English Literature by Jonathan Bate surprised me in its approach on the subject, yet it was quite satisfying to read, not to mention it has encouraged me to become more familiar with the earlier English classics.

I had expected this Very Short Introduction to go through English literature in a chronological order as it discusses the eras in the literature of Great Britain. Instead, Bate approaches the subject more subjectively, first defining just what “English literature” could or should be, when and where we’ve encountered it, and how it’s a part of our culture. He then approached English literature through the common themes and writing genres of the written word (including essays, novels, poetry, and drama).

I read this more than a week ago and I really loved the reading experience. As often is the case when life is rather busy and I read a short book in a short timeframe, I’ve unfortunately forgotten a lot of the details that made this book such a satisfying read. When I first put it down I thought “I’ll have no problem writing a lengthy, thoughtful post on this book,” and now, of course, I cannot recall the many things I wanted to address about the book. It’s one I should revisit at different stages of my familiarity with English lit. I look forward to keeping on reading.

Now, if only Oxford University Press would produce a comparable volume on American Literature, then I’d be satisfied.

About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

  1. These books are wonderful 🙂 I read one on Literary Theory a few months back (sadly, during my RSI-induced non-posting period), and it was an eye-opener. But then, I have a less-than-secret desire to go back to uni and do another BA, this time in English literature!

    Maybe when the kids have left home (sigh…).

    1. Tony » I was going to read the Lit Theory one this month too, but decided I’d spread them out a bit, since this one apparently went in and out without staying too much. Still a great book though! And I love the series in general.

  2. I just discovered the Oxford Very Short Introductions last week and have the volume “Nothing” at home on my nightstand. I am hoping to start reading it this weekend. This one sounds good. I’ll have to see if it is among the many that my library has.

  3. I was thinking the same thing about American Literature! I also love the Very Short Introduction series and have added this to my list – thanks! (I always forget details too, if I wait to write, and sometimes there just isn’t time to capture my response immediately.)

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