Student review: An Introduction to Literature, Criticism and Theory

February 25, 2010

Authors: Andrew Bennett and Nicholas Royle

Edition: Fourth

Publisher: Pearson Longman

Pages: 392

Price: £14.99

ISBN 9781405859141

For many a fledgeling undergraduate literature student, the prospect of studying literary theory can be daunting. The plethora of abstract "isms" one is faced with can be overwhelming, the result of which may be an ism in itself - namely somnolism. Fortunately, the fourth edition of Andrew Bennett and Nicholas Royle's celebrated Introduction to Literature, Criticism and Theory provides just the stimulant required to avoid such a response. The authors make a conscious effort to refrain from "giving potted summaries of isms", instead offering a number of concise essays that explore the key theoretical methodologies in a manner both accessible and stimulating.

Each chapter utilises a number of textual examples, both canonical and contemporary, that are insightful and at times brilliantly original (see the juxtaposition of Wordsworth's The Prelude with Spike Jonze's Being John Malkovich from chapter 19). This medley of references, along with a register that is laid-back and often self-effacing, is evidence of Bennett and Royle's acute awareness of their audience and removes any air of the intellectual elitism that often accompanies literary theory. Frequent etymological asides encourage critical thinking and the relative brevity of each essay necessitates expansion on behalf of the reader, a task aided by an up-to-date Further Reading section at the end of each chapter and a useful glossary of terms at the back of the book.

According to Bennett and Royle, literary theory is a "mutant" discourse. This is nowhere better exemplified than in the very text they have produced. Regularly updated and revised since the first edition in 1995, An Introduction to Literature, Criticism and Theory has taken on a further two chapters - "Eco" and "Animals" - reflecting more recent thought in the discipline. While these apparent "mutations" that Bennett and Royle excuse may smack of revisionism, they ensure that theoretical constructs, perhaps no longer of the academic zeitgeist, retain their relevance and also their place in the genealogy of literary theory that the book charts.

This text is by no means exhaustive, nor does it claim to be, and will certainly not provide sufficient theoretical knowledge on its own. However, as a lucid and engaging introduction, this will prove an invaluable resource for those new to the subject, or those in need of a quick refresher.

Who is it for? First- or second-year undergraduates.

Presentation: Clear, concise sections.

Would you recommend it? Only to those without a vast pre-existing knowledge of literary theory.

Recommended

Beginning Postmodernism

Author: Tim Woods

Edition: Second revised

Publisher: Manchester University Press

Pages: 304

Price: £40.00 and £9.99

ISBN 9780719052101 and 079962

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