A Reading List for English Applicants Watch

MSB
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Prospective applicants often ask on here for recommendations of what books they should be reading. I have produced this list, with the help of some others (most notably hobnob), to hopefully answer this more thoroughly than other replies such questions are likely to receive, or have received hitherto. Whilst I've done my best to give a good coverage of important periods and movements, the list is not to be looked at as prescriptive, but rather a list of suggestions. It certainly isn't perfect.

In short: If you are applying to study English, these are the books I suggest you read.

One may, for instance, point out that there is a sixty year gulf between the most recent text on the list and the present day, in which much important literature has been produced, but I would reply that there is a six hundred year gap between the first and second items on the list, with other similar gaps elsewhere, and so any neglect of the latter half of the twentieth century does not seem quite so terrible after all. (Furthermore, most applicants tend to be rather well versed on the period, mainly by virtue of having lived in it.)

Feel free to contend the list or offer your own suggestions, as that's an interesting enough topic in itself, but I won't be editing the main list.

Beowulf, The Wanderer and The Battle of Maldon - Anon. (in a Modern English translation)
The Bible, King James Version (esp. Genesis, the Gospels & the Book of Revelation)
Tamburlaine I and II - Marlowe
The Spanish Tragedy - Kyd
Hamlet - Shakespeare
The Duchess of Malfi - Webster
The Collected Poems of - Donne
Paradise Lost - Milton
The Pilgrim's Progress - Bunyan
Gulliver's Travels - Swift
Emma - Austen
Wuthering Heights - E. Bronte
Jane Eyre - C. Bronte
Vanity Fair - Thackeray
Bleak House - Dickens
North and South - Gaskell
Middlemarch - G. Eliot
The Wreck of the Deutschland - Hopkins
The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde - Stevenson
Heart of Darkness - Conrad
The Golden Bowl - James
Howards End - Forster
Sons and Lovers - Lawrence
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man - Joyce
The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock & The Waste Land - T.S. Eliot
To the Lighthouse - Woolf
Collected Shorter Poems - Auden
Collected Poems - Thomas
Waiting for Godot - Beckett
~~~
Short theoretical writings:
The Art of Fiction - H. James
Creative Writers and Daydreaming - Freud
Art as Technique - Shklovsky
Tradition and the Individual Talent - T.S. Eliot
Death of the Author - Barthes

(Some of these, as well as extracts from many other important theory texts, can be found in:
Literary Theory: An Anthology - ed. Ryan & Rivkin
Modern Criticism and Theory: A Reader - ed. Lodge & Wood
Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism - ed. Leitch et al.)


Admissions tutors will expect a prospective English student to have explored the areas that interest them, so if you find something that appeals to you don't think you are wasting time by looking further into that particular author/genre/period/etc.

Introductions to Literary TheoryLiterary Theory - Eagleton
Beginning Theory - Barry
An Introduction to Literature, Criticism and Theory - Bennett & Royle
A Very Short Introduction to: Literary Theory - Culler


There is a significant gap between English at A-level and undergraduate standard. Reading one (or more) of the introductions to literary theory will help you to think about literature in a more sophisticated way, even if you don't make much headway into any specific theoretical approaches.

EDIT:
Lists from other sources, or suggested by other users, can be found further down this thread here, here, here and here.
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bodybuilder22
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That's really useful. Thanks!
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headunderwater
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Great thread. Glad you included Literary Theory, Eagleton, can't recommend it enough!
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Dionysia
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Nice one, MSB. =)

You've included James' The Art of Fiction but I'd also suggest David Lodge's text of the same title.
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inksplodge
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Good thread!
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RThomas
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others to suggest:
Frankenstein
the turn of the screw
the sandman
Salman Rushdie
catch-22
poetry of first world war
Alice in Wonderland
Dr Faustus
Mansfield Park
Sylvia Plath's selected works
the wasp factory
the woman in white
Surfacing
De Quincey
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Brouhaha
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Great list.
Another tip for English applicants: Try to veer away from the predictable in your personal statement. I mentioned a passion for dystopian fiction, but instead of talking about 1984, I raved about Angela Carter's "The Passion of New Eve" and T.S. Eliot. If you make less banal choices, you'll seem well-versed in different aspects of literature.
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Jinxy
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Love this thread :heart:
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MSB
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(Original post by Brouhaha)
Another tip for English applicants: Try to veer away from the predictable in your personal statement. I mentioned a passion for dystopian fiction, but instead of talking about 1984, I raved about Angela Carter's "The Passion of New Eve" and T.S. Eliot. If you make less banal choices, you'll seem well-versed in different aspects of literature.
The point applies particularly to 1984, as it's a book that almost everyone wishes to talk about in their application.
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Ploop
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(Original post by RThomas)
others to suggest:
Frankenstein
the turn of the screw
the sandman
Salman Rushdie
catch-22
poetry of first world war
Alice in Wonderland
Dr Faustus
Mansfield Park
Sylvia Plath's selected works
the wasp factory
the woman in white
Surfacing
De Quincey
Why?

(Original post by Brouhaha)
Great list.
Another tip for English applicants: Try to veer away from the predictable in your personal statement. I mentioned a passion for dystopian fiction, but instead of talking about 1984, I raved about Angela Carter's "The Passion of New Eve" and T.S. Eliot. If you make less banal choices, you'll seem well-versed in different aspects of literature.
I disagree completely about deliberately veering from the predictable.
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headunderwater
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(Original post by Ploop)
I disagree completely about deliberately veering from the predictable.
So do I, for some reason. I think if you truly did love 1984, and have some form of critical analysis for it, you should put it in, and not refrain from doing so just because you'll seem "predictable".
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headunderwater
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I'll also suggest Don Quixote, Cervantes.
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Dionysia
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Am I the only person who didn't mention 1984, then?
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rainbow drops
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(Original post by Dionysia)
Am I the only person who didn't mention 1984, then?
I didn't either. I don't even like it that much.

Great thread and list, MSB
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MSB
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(Original post by 35mm_)
I'll also suggest Don Quixote, Cervantes.
Apart from a few (semi-)exceptions - a coconut for the man who spots them - , I've tried to restrict the list to books written in England in English.

(Original post by Dionysia)
Am I the only person who didn't mention 1984, then?
Well, no, but from my experience reviewing personal statements on here, I'd say it's possibly the most common book mentioned. Evidence suggests some may not be telling the truth.
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Dionysia
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(Original post by MSB)
Apart from a few (semi-)exceptions - a coconut for the man who spots them - , I've tried to restrict the list to books written in England in English.


Well, no, but from my experience reviewing personal statements on here, I'd say it's possibly the most common book mentioned. Evidence suggests some may not be telling the truth.
Haha. Well, I've read it. I just didn't want to discuss it. I mentioned Simon Armitage, though. In fact, my interviewers basically told me to shut up about him.
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hobnob
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(Original post by MSB)
Apart from a few (semi-)exceptions - a coconut for the man who spots them - , I've tried to restrict the list to books written in England in English.
Oh damn.
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MSB
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(Original post by hobnob)
Oh damn.
I meant it in the general sense; i.e., 'a person'. The word fits better with coconuts.
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Dionysia
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Well, Freud's an exception, obviously.
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MSB
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(Original post by Dionysia)
Well, Freud's an exception, obviously.
...and Barthes is French. But I meant the main list.

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I did say they were semi-exceptions: James, Conrad, Joyce, Beckett and T.S. Eliot are 'foreigners'; Waiting for Godot was written in French (in France) first, although Beckett translated it; Old English isn't strictly English, although one wouldn't call it a foreign language (despite what my warning points would tell you).
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