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English Literature

Empowering voices, igniting change

The department’s aim is to develop our students’ analytical precision, while helping to nurture both their sensitivity and intellectual curiosity. Books offer a window to a world that is more cultured, civilised and tolerant than our daily lives, and we would all benefit from taking time to read and to reflect upon what writers, either from the literary canon or those iconoclasts happily sitting outside of it, have to tell us about our foibles, flaws and futures.

Through the lens of literary theory, including feminism, eco-criticism and Marxism we critically examine the intricate layers of meaning embedded within each text. At A level areas of study currently include tragedy and crime fiction. 

As we navigate through the literary landscape, we draw upon the wisdom of renowned writers and theorists to deepen our understanding. Whether it's Edward Said's critique of Orientalism, or bell hooks' insights into intersectionality, we will engage with a diverse range of perspectives to enrich our analyses.

Moreover, our exploration will extend beyond the confines of the Western canon to include voices from marginalized communities and post-colonial contexts. 

We aim not only to sharpen our analytical skills but also to cultivate a nuanced appreciation for the complexities of literary artistry. By fostering critical thinking, empathy, and cultural awareness, we endeavor to empower our students to become discerning readers, thoughtful scholars, and engaged global citizens.


Exam Specifications

Method of assessment 

80% written exam (two equally weighted papers). 20% coursework (two equally weighted essays, maximum 1,500 words each)

Length of exams: One two and a half hour, closed book paper; one three hour, open book paper


Paper 1 - Othello by Shakespeare, Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy, Death of A Salesman by Arthur Miller. 
Paper 2 -Elements of Crime Writing: Selected poetry of Crabbe, Browning and Wilde, Brighton Rock by Graham Greene, When Will There Be Good News? by Kate Atkinson. NEA (coursework) - one further prose text and one further poetry text of the candidate’s choice by agreement with our NEA advisor.

Breakdown of units 

1. Aspects of Tragedy (two and a half hour, closed book exam on texts outlined above). 

Tragedy is a classic and long established form of literature, centered on a flawed hero or heroine. The unit explores the recurring events, patterns and themes in tragedy. This is a way of thinking about the continuity and evolution of types of literature.

2.Elements of Crime Writing (three hour, open book exam on the texts outlined above). 

In the modern world we may group texts together independently of the classical genres. These texts are centered on issues of power and powerlessness among lawmakers, lawbreakers, victims and those appointed to keep order. This unit explores the ways in which transgressions of the law and attempts to uphold its values are depicted in literature and the role of literature in making us reflect on associated emotional, social and moral issues.

3. Theory and Independence (coursework, two 1,500 word essays - one prose text, one poetry text). 

This module gives students the opportunity to explore texts that they have developed an interest in. It also gives students the opportunity to pursue their own areas of critical study, in such areas as narrative theory, feminism, cultural materialism, eco-criticism, post-colonialism and the role of the literary canon in the modern study of literature.

Assessment method

● 60% examination: Paper 1- Poetry and Modern Prose
● 40% coursework: Modern Drama (20%); Literary Heritage (20%)
Length of examination
● Paper 1: 2 hours

Paper 1 Examination

The Paper 1 English Literature examination (60%) requires analysis of unseen poetry, poetry from section 3 of the anthology and a response to the modern prose text studied, ‘Of Mice and Men’, by John Steinbeck. It is a closed book examination.
The other examination paper for this syllabus (i.e. Paper 2) is not relevant to our cohort as we pursue all coursework routes instead.

Paper 3 Coursework

The Edexcel IGCSE syllabus for English Literature requires one coursework response to a modern drama text, J.B. Priestley’s ‘An Inspector Calls’ or Arthur Miller’s ‘A View from the Bridge’ and one coursework response to a literary heritage text, ‘Romeo and Juliet’, or in some cases, ‘Macbeth’ by William Shakespeare. Each task is around 650-800 words and worth 20%.

Overlap with other subjects

Essay writing is an integral part of the subject, thus consolidating skills necessary in other disciplines such as History, Film Studies and Drama. Poems prescribed for the Paper 1 examination in section 3 of the anthology encompass a diverse range of topics that extend students’ cultural and geographical awareness with texts alluding to countries such as Lebanon and featuring works by writers of Indian and Guyanan descent amongst others. As with other sections of the Edexcel IGCSE anthology, texts address ethical, social and spiritual issues such as compassion, love, death, childhood, parenthood and prejudice. Historical aspects are broached in the study of the poems’ contexts and influences and as such, discussions are focused on a range of eras such as the Industrial Revolution and the periods of different wars. The analysis of the set prose text for the Paper 1 examination, ‘Of Mice and Men’ entails the specific historical study of the Great Depression era of the USA. The Paper 3 coursework not only prescribes the study of two dramatic works (thus reinforcing concepts broached in Drama), but much like the examination, has a focus upon the historical and social contexts of each text’s setting and production.

Curious about English Literature?


For students planning to study the subject at University, try these:

Studying English Literature: A Practical Guide by Tony Young

Doing English: A Guide for Literature Students by Robert Eaglestone

English Literature: A Very Short Introduction by Jonathan Bate 

Some texts to read from English Literature - 1656 onwards:

Shakespeare wrote at least 37 plays and over 150 sonnets - take your pick!

Key dramatists worth dipping into from the time of Shakespeare up and until the Restoration Theatre include Christopher Marlowe, Ben Jonson and John Webster, all  Elizabethan or Jacobean writers, and then later the now less fashionable Restoration playwrights William Congreve, Aphra Behn and George Farquhar.

By the middle of the eighteenth century, the modern novel, as we know it, was becoming established. Thomas Sterne’s ‘’The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy’ is a very good example of the novel form being pulled apart even in its infancy, while Defoe’s ‘Robinson Crusoe’ and Henry Fielding’s ‘The History of Tom Jones’ are other examples. 

By the nineteenth century, thanks to an expanding readership and the development of periodicals, journals and the circulating libraries, the novel became big business. Charles Dickens, though born in Portsmouth, has become known for his depictions of Kentish life, as well as satirising Victorian society savagely - the opening pages of ‘The Pickwick Papers’, his first success, features Rochester prominently, while ‘Great Expectations’ and the increasingly reevaluated unfinished final novel, ‘The Mystery of Edwin Drood’ might be worth beginning with. 

It is impossible to give a list of nineteenth novelists that a budding student of English at university should have some knowledge of but Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, George Eliot and the very popular but now lesser known Mary Elizabeth Braddon all attest to the rising influence of women novelists. Thomas Hardy and Henry James ended the century as doyens of the writing world, paving the way for Modernists like EM Forster, Virginia Woolf and DH Lawrence.

Increasingly, voices from outside of Britain have become well represented in the period since the second world war. Chinua Achebe and Ben Okri from Nigeria, Kenya’s Ngugi wa Thiong’o, South Africa’s J M Coetzee and Bessie Head from Botswana have led the African continent, with Patrick White and Tim Winton representing Australia and Michael Ondaatje, via Sri Lanka, and Margaret Atwood speaking for Canada.

Poetry is more difficult to recommend given that much depends upon personal preference but starting with the Romantic poets, Wordsworth and Coleridge’s ‘Lyrical Ballads’ defined a period where ambitions for the poetic form remained high and there was a belief that imaginative inspiration and social change could go hand in hand. 

Other Romantic voices, Keats and Shelley, were silenced by early death, while Byron’s poems demonstrate an appreciation of beauty coupled with a desire to live a life of action and excitement. Victorian poets were altogether more hesitant and nervous about their place in the world, but Matthew Arnold and Robert Browning, who redefined the dramatic monologue forms, are worth dipping into, while Swinburne and Gerald Manley Hopkins offer alternative visions of poetry, the former looking back to the Romantics and to the classical world, and the latter presenting a creative violence that was increasingly seen in the twentieth century, with Ted Hughes

Undoubtedly, the twin figures looming over the poetic landscape over the last hundred or so years are T S Eliot and W B Yeats, whose work all aspiring English undergraduates should sample, however briefly. You can source a compendium of work by twenty first century poets here:

For Drama, other than Shakespeare and his contemporaries, who have already been mentioned, you will be rewarded by seeing live theatre as much as, if not more than, reading play scripts. Try to see as much as possible - London’s theatreland is a short train ride away, while more locally we have theatres in Chatham, Maidstone, Canterbury and even Dartford, which often showcase an eclectic range of material old and new. Here are some links:


Some links to cinematic adaptations of literary texts and some introductions to criticism: ‘Tess of the d’Urbervilles’ ‘Hamlet’ ‘Howards End’ ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ ‘Trainspotting’ Podcasts from Oxford University Lecture on feminism and fiction Audio lectures on a range of texts