Coronavirus (COVID-19) Updates: the COD Library building is closed until further notice.

Literary Criticism

This guide to literary criticism and analysis is meant to be your starting point for researching critical studies of the world's major literature. It is broken down by form of literature being studied: Short Stories, Novels, Poetry, and Drama. It is very specific in that it is focused on how one might do literary criticism at the COD Library. See the guides on American Literature and British Literature for general information about authors, works, and historical context, as well as, how to find the literature itself online or in the COD library. This guide is meant for the interpretation, analysis, and evaluation of literature.

Literary Theory and Schools of Criticism
From the Purdue OWL online writing lab, this is a great, very brief, look at literary theory and some of the different schools of criticism that have been used or are being used today.

  1. Reference sources
  2. Short Stories
  3. Novels
  4. Poetry
  5. Drama

Reference Books and eBooks

Why Reference Sources?

Is your research topic too big to cover in a short paper?  Is your topic so specific that sources will be hard to find?

Before you even begin your research, start the process with reference sources-- in the Library's Reference Section or online in our databases.  Reference books, like subject encyclopedias, can give you a head start and make your research easier in the long run.  Use reference sources to:

  • find a topic
  • narrow your topic
  • find keywords
  • get background information on your topic

Use the menu below to find the reference tool that will best help you start the research process.

Print Reference sources

Dictionaries/Handbooks/Encyclopedias:
A Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory Ref PN 41 .C83 1998
A Glossary of Contemporary Literary Theory Ref PN 44.5 .H37
John Hopkins Guide to Literary Theory & Criticism Ref PN 81 .J554
The Oxford Companion to American Literature Ref PS 21 .H3
The Oxford Companion to English Literature Ref PR 19 .D73

Biographical/Critical Comment on Individual Authors:
American:
American Women Writers Ref PS 147 .A4
American Writers Ref PS 129 .A55
Oxford Companion to African American Literature Ref PS 153 .N5 O96
Reference Guide to American Literature Ref PS 129 .R44

British:
British Women Writers Ref PR 111 .B75
British Writers Ref PR 85 .B888
Guide to British Prose Explication Ref PR 861 .B38
Reference Guide to English Literature Ref PR 106 .R4

Multinational, including American and British:
Contemporary Authors Ref PN 451 .E8 C59
Contemporary World Writers Ref PN 51 .C6235
Dictionary of Literary Biography Ref PN 451 .D5
European Writers Ref PN 501 .E9
Reader's Guide to Literature in English Ref PR 85 .R33
Hispanic Writers : A Selection of Sketches from Contemporary Authors Ref PQ7081.3 .H58 1999

Criticism Excerpts:
Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism Ref PN 681.5 .C57
Literature Criticism from 1400 to 1800 Ref PN 86 .L56
Shakespearean Criticism Ref PR 2965 .S44
Nineteenth Century Literature Criticism (NLC) Ref PN 761 .N5
Twentieth Century Literary Criticism (TLC) Ref PN 94 .T9
Black Literature Criticism Ref PN 490 .B5

Genre-Related Sources:

Drama:
Drama for Students Ref PN 1601 .D595
Oxford Companion to American Theatre Ref PN 2220 .B6
Oxford Companion to the Theatre Ref PN 2035 .O9

Long Fiction:
Novels for Students Ref PN 3385 .N68
English Novel Explication Ref PR 821 .E6

Short Fiction:
Short Stories for Students Ref PN 3373 .S3844
Critical Survey of Short Fiction Ref PN 3321 .C7
Reference Guide to Short Fiction Ref PN 3373 .R36
Twentieth Century Short Story Explication Ref PN 3373 .W3

Poetry:
Poetry for Students Ref PN1101 .P756
Guide to British Poetry Explication Ref PR 311 .M3
Poetry Dictionary Ref PN 1021 .D78
Poetry Explication [criticism excerpts] Ref PR 502 .K8

Other Genres:
Encyclopedia of Fantasy Ref PN 3435 .E53
Encyclopedia of Frontier & Western Fiction Ref PS 374 .W4 E53
Feminist Writers Ref PN 451 .F46
Fifty Western Writers Ref PS 271 .F5
Gay & Lesbian Literature Ref PN 56 .H57 G36
Horror Literature Ref PR 830 .T3 H67
Survey of Modern Fantasy Literature Ref PN 56 .F34 S97

Online Reference sources

You can begin your research without even stepping into the Library with the online reference sources available through our databases. Visit the Databases by Title page for links-- you will need your Library card to access these resources if you are off-campus.
credohoriz.gif
Credo Reference is an online reference service made up of full-text books from the world's best publishers. Whether you're working on a research paper, trying to win trivia or just curious, Credo Reference has something for you.
Take a look at the subject page in Credo and click on the subject: Language & Literature to see the reference ebooks available in this database.

title_dc.jpg
Discovering Collection has thousands of overview essays, critical analyses, biographies, timelines and multimedia elements in Literature and other core areas. In Literature, search Authors, Literary Works and Literary Topics, Genres, and Movements.
gvrl.jpg
The Gale Virtual Reference Library (GVRL) provides access to general reference materials as well as the following literature resources:

Archetypes and Motifs in Folklore and Literature: A Handbook , 2005
Literary Themes for Students: The American Dream , 2v, 2007
Literary themes for students: War and Peace, 2006
Literary themes for students: Race and Prejudice, 2006
Reference Guide to World Literature , 3rd ed., 2v, 2003
Twenty-first century novels. The first decade, 2011

How do I find criticism for short stories?

First, try a search in the Library Catalog for books about the author or his or her works.

Sample search for information about an author

Second, use our collection of books specifically for short story research.  The following books are available in the Reference Collection. They can be searched through at the short story level with the Literary Index within the Literature Resource Center database.

  • Critical Survey of Short Fiction   Ref PN 3321 .C7 1993
  • Reference Guide to Short Fiction  Ref PN 3373 .R36 1994
  • Short Stories for Students  Ref PN 3373 .S3844
  • Short Story Criticism  Ref PN 3373 .S386 NOW Online

Also, try to use other literary criticism reference books that deal with literature as a whole, regardless of form. Here are a few series to consider in the Reference Collection.

  • Dictionary of Literary Biography Ref PN 451 .D5
  • Nineteenth-century literature criticism; Ref PN 761 .N5
  • Twentieth-century literary criticism; Ref PN 94 .T9
  • World literature criticism; Ref PN 523 .W67

Third, use an index or bibliography to refer to discussion often published in scholarly journals or books about a short story. Usually, the actual critical essay is not listed. Instead, the index lists where you will find the critical essay.
 

  • Literary Criticism Index  Ref PN 523 .W4 1984
  • Twentieth Century Short Story Explication  Ref PN 3373 .W3
  • Magill's Bibliography of Literary Criticism  Ref PN 523 .M3 1979x

Can I find any criticism online?

Databases

Try the Library's literature databases for articles about your author or short story.  Here are just some of the databases appropriate for finding short story criticism:

These databases are available on and off-campus. Have your library card handy when accessing the databases from off-campus-- you will be asked for your name and library card number before you can search them.

Websites

Web sites, especially those sponsored by colleges and universities, can also provide useful criticism for your research.  

If you find other sites on your own, be sure to carefully evaluate the information.  Who is the author? Is the content reliable? Is the information current? Do you want to base your professional reputation on that website?  To review and rate all types of web sites, use the CRAP test to help you.

How do I find criticism for novels?

First, try a search in the Library Catalog for books about the author or his or her works.

Sample search for information about an author

Second, use our collection of books specifically for novel research.  The following books are available in the Reference Collection.

  • Novels for Students   Ref PN 3385 .N68
  • The Critical Perspective  Ref PR 85 .C76 1985
  • Reference Guide to English Literature  Ref PR 106 .R4 1991
  • English Novel Explication  Ref PR 821 .E6
  • Reference Guide to American Literature  Ref PS 129 .R44 2000

Also, try to use other literary criticism reference books that deal with literature as a whole, regardless of form. Here are a few series to consider in the Reference Collection.

  • Dictionary of Literary Biography Ref PN 451 .D5
  • Nineteenth-century literature criticism; Ref PN 761 .N5
  • Twentieth-century literary criticism; Ref PN 94 .T9
  • World literature criticism; Ref PN 523 .W67

Third, use an index or bibliography to refer to discussion often published in scholarly journals or books about a novel. Usually, the actual critical essay is not listed. Instead, the index lists where you will find the critical essay.
 

  • Literary Criticism Index  Ref PN 523 .W4 1984
  • Magill's Bibliography of Literary Criticism  Ref PN 523 .M3 1979x

Can I find any criticism online?

Databases

Try the Library's literature databases for articles about your author or novel.  Here are just some of the databases appropriate for finding novel criticism:

These databases are available on and off-campus. Have your library card handy when accessing the databases from off-campus-- you will be asked for your name and library card number before you can search them.

Websites

Web sites, especially those sponsored by colleges and universities, can also provide useful criticism for your research.  

If you find other sites on your own, be sure to carefully evaluate the information.  Who is the author? Is the content reliable? Is the information current? Do you want to based your professional reputation on that website?  To review and rate all types of web sites, use the CRAP test to help you.

How do I find criticism for poetry?

First, try a search in the Library Catalog for books about the poet or his or her works.

Sample search for information about a poet

Second, use our collection of books specifically for poetry research.  The following books are available in the Reference Collection.

  • Poetry Criticism   Ref PN 1010 .P499
  • Notable Poets   Ref PN 1021 .N68 1998
  • Poetry for Students   Ref PN 1101 .P756
  • Poetry Explication [criticism excerpts]   Ref PR 502 .K8

Also, try to use other literary criticism reference books that deal with literature as a whole, regardless of form. Here are a few series to consider in the Reference Collection.

  • Dictionary of Literary Biography Ref PN 451 .D5
  • Nineteenth-century literature criticism; Ref PN 761 .N5
  • Twentieth-century literary criticism; Ref PN 94 .T9
  • World literature criticism; Ref PN 523 .W67

Third, use an index or bibliography to refer to discussion often published in scholarly journals or books about a poem. Usually, the actual critical essay is not listed. Instead, the index lists where you will find the critical essay.
 

  • Literary Criticism Index  Ref PN 523 .W4 1984
  • Magill's Bibliography of Literary Criticism  Ref PN 523 .M3 1979x

Can I find any criticism online?

Databases

Try the Library's literature databases for articles about your poet or poem.  Here are just some of the databases appropriate for finding poetry criticism:

These databases are available on and off-campus. Have your library card handy when accessing the databases from off-campus-- you will be asked for your name and library card number before you can search them.

Websites

Web sites, especially those sponsored by colleges and universities, can also provide useful criticism for your research.  

If you find other sites on your own, be sure to carefully evaluate the information.  Who is the author? Is the content reliable? Is the information current? Do you want to base your professional reputation on that website?  To review and rate all types of web sites, use the CRAP test to help you.

How do I find criticism for dramatic works?

First, try a search in the Library Catalog for books about the playwright or his or her works.

Sample search for information about a playwright

Second, use our collection of books specifically for drama research.  The following books are available in the Reference Collection.

  • Drama for Students   Ref PN 1601 .D595
  • Critical Survey of Drama   Ref PN 1625 .C68 2003
  • Columbia Survey of Modern Drama   Ref PR 1861 .C65 2007

Also, try to use other literary criticism reference books that deal with literature as a whole, regardless of form. Here are a few series to consider in the Reference Collection.

  • Dictionary of Literary Biography Ref PN 451 .D5
  • Nineteenth-century literature criticism; Ref PN 761 .N5
  • Twentieth-century literary criticism; Ref PN 94 .T9
  • World literature criticism; Ref PN 523 .W67

Third, use an index or bibliography to refer to discussion often published in scholarly journals or books about a play. Usually, the actual critical essay is not listed. Instead, the index lists where you will find the critical essay.
 

  • Literary Criticism Index  Ref PN 523 .W4 1984
  • Magill's Bibliography of Literary Criticism  Ref PN 523 .M3 1979x

Can I find any criticism online?

Databases

Try the Library's literature databases for articles about your playwright or play.  Here are just some of the databases appropriate for finding drama criticism:

These databases are available on and off-campus. Have your library card handy when accessing the databases from off-campus-- you will be asked for your name and library card number before you can search them.

Websites

Web sites, especially those sponsored by colleges and universities, can also provide useful criticism for your research.  

If you find other sites on your own, be sure to carefully evaluate the information.  Who is the author? Is the content reliable? Is the information current? Do you want to base your professional reputation on that website?  To review and rate all types of web sites, use the CRAP test to help you.