Literary Theory Reading List

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A preliminary list of literary theory and criticism. For a rough overview, see bm1-lit-theory-timeline-2.pdf.

Short List

20th and 21st century literary theory and criticism

  • Sigmund Freud, "Fragment of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria" [Dora] (1905)
  • Viktor Shklovsky, "Art as Technique" (1917)
  • T.S. Eliot, "Tradition and the Individual Talent" (1919)
  • Mikhail Mikhailovich Bakhtin, "Epic and Novel" (1941)
  • Roman Jakobson, "Linguistics and Poetics" (1958)
  • Jacques Derrida, "Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences" (1966)
  • Roland Barthes, "The Death of the Author" (1967)
  • Michel Foucault, "What is an Author?" (1969)
  • Edward Said, "The Scope of Orientalism" (1978)
  • Stephen Greenblatt, "The Improvisation of Power" (1980)
  • Pierre Bourdieu, "The Field of Cultural Production, or: The Economic World Reversed" (1983)
  • Frederic Jameson, "The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism" (1984)
  • Judith Butler, "Subjects of Sex/Gender/Desire" (1990)
  • Kwame Anthony Appiah: "Is the 'Post-' in 'Postcolonial' the 'Post-' in 'Postmodern'?" (1991)

Long List


  • Plato: Symposium (385 BCE); Ion; Republic (380 BC) [Book 3, 10]; Phaedrus (370 BC)
  • Aristotle: Rhetoric (4th century BC); Poetics (350 BC)
  • Plotinus: On the Intellectual Beauty (c. 270 BC)
  • Horace: Ars Poetica, or The Epistle to the Pisones (18 BC)
  • St. Paul: Epistle to the Romans (50 CE)
  • St. Augustine: De Ordine; De Musica; On Christian Doctrine (397 CE), The Confessions of St. Augustine (~400)
  • Longinus: On the Sublime (1st century CE)
  • Boethius: The Consolation of Philosophy (524 CE)
  • Al-Jahiz: Kitab al-Bayan wa al-Tabyin (The Book of eloquence and demonstration); Kitab al-Hayawan (Book of Animals)
  • ibn al-Mu'tazz: Kitab al-Badi
  • Thomas Aquinas: Summa Theologica ["The Nature and Domain of Sacred Doctrine, in Ten Articles"] (1265)
  • Dante Alighieri: "Letter to Can Grande della Scala" (early 14C)
  • Christine de Pisan: "Querrelle della Rose" (1402)
  • Leonardo da Vinci: Notebooks (~1500)
  • Marsilio Ficino: Commentary on Plato's Symposium (1484)
  • Giovanni Boccaccio: The Definition of Poetry (1532)
  • Sir Philip Sidney: Defence of Poesie (1595)
  • Huet: A Treatise of Romances and their Original (1672)
  • Nicholas Boileau: The Art of Poetry (1683)
  • John Dryden: "An Essay of Dramatic Poesy" (1668); "Defense of the Essay of Dramatic Poetry"; "Grounds of Criticism in Tragedy"; "Heads of an Answer to Rymer"; "Parallel Betwixt Poetry and Painting"
  • Alexander Pope: "An Essay on Criticism" (1711); Preface to his edition of Shakespeare; "Peri Bathous, Or the Art of Sinking in Poetry" (1727)
  • Joseph Addison: "The Pleasures of Imagination" [In: Spectator Nos. 411-421 (1712)]
  • Giambattista Vico: The New Science [Books 1-3] (1725)
  • Samuel Johnson: Rasselas [Book 10] (1759); "Life of Cowley"; "Preface to Shakespeare" (1765); "Milton"; "Life of Dryden"; "Life of Pope"; "Life of Gray"
  • Edmund Burke: A Philosophical Enquiry into Our Ideas of the Sublime and of the Beautiful (1757)
  • Gotthold Lessing: Laocoön [Chapters 2,3,16] (1766)
  • Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Essay on the origin of language (1781), A Discourse on the Moral Effects of the Arts and Sciences (1750) [also known as Discourse on the Sciences and Arts, or The First Discourse]
  • Immanuel Kant: Critique of Judgement [Part I] (1790)
  • Mary A. Wollstonecraft: A Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792)
  • Friedrich Schiller: "Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Man"; "On Naive and Sentimental Poetry" (1795)
  • Madame de Stael: "Essay on Fiction" (1795)
  • G.W.F. Hegel: The Philosophy of Fine Art ["Introduction"; "The Master-Slave Relationship"; "Scepticism and the Unhappy Consciousness"; "Spirit in Self-estrangement"; "The Beautiful Soul"] (engl. 1835)
  • William Wordsworth: Preface to Lyrical Ballads (1801)
  • Samuel T. Coleridge: Biographia Literaria [Chapters 1, 4, 5, 7, 12-15, 17-20] (1817)
  • Percy B. Shelley: Defense of Poetry (1821, publ. 1840)
  • Victor Hugo: "Preface to Cromwell" (1827)
  • Charles Baudelaire: The Salon of 1859; Painter of Modern Life; "On the Essence of Laughter" (1855)
  • Arthur Schopenhauer: The World as Will and Representation (1819)
  • David Hume: A Treatise of Human Nature [Book 1: "Of the Understanding"] (1739), Four Dissertations ["Of the Standard of Taste"] (1757)
  • John Ruskin: Modern Painters (1843); Sesame and Lilies (1864-1865); Lectures on Art (1870)
  • Matthew Arnold: "Science and Poetry", "Culture and Anarchy"; "The Function of Criticism at the Present Time" (1865); "Preface to Poems" (1853); "Wordsworth"; "Shelley"; "Sweetness and Light"; "Literature and Science" (1882)
  • Friedrich Nietzsche: The Birth of Tragedy (1872); "On Truth and Lies in their Non-Moral Sense"; On the Genealogy of Morals (1887)
  • Walter Pater: The Renaissance ["Conclusion"] (1873)
  • Henry James: "The Art of Fiction" (1888); Prefaces to The American, Portrait of a Lady, The Ambassadors
  • Oscar Wilde: Intentions ["The Critic as Artist"; "The Decay of Lying"] (1891)
  • Stephen Mallarmé: "Crise de vers" (1895)
  • Leo Tolstoy: What Is Art? (1897)
  • Gertrude Stein: Writings and Lectures ("Composition as Explanation", "What Are Masterpieces and Why Are There So Few of Them", "Poetry and Grammar"); The Making of Americans in Selected Writings (1934)
  • Erich Auerbach: Scenes from the Drama of European Literature ["Figura"]; Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature [Chapter 1] (1946)
  • Marcel Proust: Contre Sainte-Beuve (1954)


  • Auguste Comte: "Discours sur l'esprit positif" (1844)
  • Hippolyte Adolphe Taine: History of English Literature [Introduction] (1863)
  • T.H. Huxley: "The Scientific Aspect of Positivism", "On the Physical Basis of Life" (1869)
  • Émile Durkheim: The Elementary Forms of Religious Life [Conclusion] (1912)


  • Karl Marx: The German Ideology [Part 1] (1845); "Consciousness Derived from Material conditions"; "The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte"
  • Georg Lukács: Theory of the Novel (1916) [Part I, 1-5; Part II, 4]; The Historical Novel (1937) [Chapter 1]; "Realism in the Balance" (1938)
  • Louis Althusser: Reading Capital (1965); "Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses: Notes Toward an Investigation", Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays (1968, Engl. 1971)
  • Walter Benjamin: Illuminations ["The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction", "Author as Producer", "Theses on the Philosophy of History"] (1969, posthumously), Reflections ["On the Mimetic Faculty"] (1986)
  • Theodor Adorno: "Lyric Poetry and Society" (1974); with Max Horkheimer: Dialectic of Enlightenment (1944)
  • Terry Eagleton: Marxism and Literary Criticism (1976)
  • Raymond Williams: Marxism and Literature ["Dominant, Residual and Emergent"; "Structures of Feeling"] (1977)
  • Frederic Jameson: The Political Unconscious ["On Interpretation"] (1981); "Third-World Literature in the Era of Multinational Capitalism" (1986), Postmodernism, or The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism ["The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism"](1991)

Psychoanalysis, Anthropology

  • Sigmund Freud: The Interpretation of Dreams(dt. Traumdeutung, 1899), "Fragment of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria" [Dora] (1905); "The Relation of the Poet to Day-Dreaming" (1908); "The Dynamics of Transference" (1912); "Repression" (1915); "From the History of an Infantile Neurosis" [Wolf-Man] (1918); "The Uncanny" (1919); Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920); "Medusa's Head" (1922); "A Note upon the 'Mystic Writing-Pad'" (1925); "Fetishism" (1927); Civilization and Its Discontents (1930); "Femininity" (1933)
  • Carl Gustav Jung: Modern Man in Search of a Soul ["Psychology and Literature"] (1933)
  • Jacques Lacan: Ecrits: A Selection [Chapters 1, 5, 8, and 9; esp. "The Mirror Stage as Formative of the Function of the I", "The Function and Field of Speech and Language in Psychoanalysis"] (1966); "Seminar on The Purloined Letter"
  • Julia Kristeva: Desire in Language ["The Bounded Text", "Word, Dialogue, and Novel", "The Novel as Polylogue"] (1969); Revolution in Poetic Language ["Part 1: The Semiotic and the Symbolic"] (1974); Tales of Love ["Stabat Mater"] (1983)
  • Shoshana Felman: "To Open The Question" (1977)
  • René Girard: Violence and the Sacred [Chapters 1 and 2] (1972; engl. 1977); Le Bouc émissaire (1985)
  • Eric Gans, The Origin of Language (1981)
  • Raoul Eshelman, "Performatism, or the End of Postmodernism" (2000-01)
  • Slavoj Žižek: Interrogating the Real (2005)

(Russian) Formalism

  • Viktor Shklovsky: "Art as Technique" (1917)
  • Vladimir Propp: The Morphology of the Folktale (1928)
  • Yurii Tynyanov and Roman Jakobson: "Problems in the Study of Language and Literature" (1928; engl. 1971)

New Criticism

  • T.S. Eliot: Selected Prose ["Tradition and the Individual Talent" (1919), "The Function of Criticism"] (1953); "The Metaphysical Poets"; "Hamlet and His Problems"
  • I.A. Richards: Principles of Literary Criticism (1924)
  • F.R. Leavis: For Continuity ["The Literary Mind"] (1933); The Great Tradition ["The Great Tradition"] (1948)
  • Kenneth Burke: The Philosophy of Literary Form ["The Philosophy of Literary Form"] (1939); A Grammar of Motives ["The Problem of the Intrinsic", "The Four Master Tropes"] (1945)
  • René Wellek and Austin Warren: Theory of Literature [Part 1, Chs. 1-4; Part 3, Introduction and Chs. 7-11; Part 4, Introduction and Chs. 12, 17, 18] (1949)
  • R.P. Blackmur, Language as Gesture (1952)
  • M.H. Abrams, The Mirror and the Lamp: Romantic Theory and the Critical Tradition (1953)
  • W.K. Wimsatt: The Verbal Icon [Parts 1 and 4] (1954)
  • Wayne Booth: The Rhetoric of Fiction (1961)

Structuralism, Semiotics

  • Roman Jakobson: Fundamentals of Language ["The Metaphoric and Metonymic Poles"] (1956); Style in Language ["Linguistics and Poetics" (1958)] (1960)
  • Mikhail Mikhailovich Bakhtin: The Dialogic Imagination ("Epic and Novel" (1941), "Discourse in the Novel"); Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics ["The Hero, and the Position of the Author with Regard to the Hero in Dostoevsky's Art"]; Speech Genres and Other Late Essays ["The Problem of Speech Genres"]
  • Ferdinand de Saussure: Course in General Linguistics (1916, posthumously)
  • Claude Lévi-Strauss: Introduction to the Work of Marcel Mauss (1950), Structural Anthropology ["The Structural Study of Myth"; "Four Winnebago Myths"; "History and Dialectic"] (1958), The Savage Mind [Ch.1] (1962)
  • Roland Barthes: Mythologies (1957) ["Dominici, or the Triumph of Literature", "Myth Today"]; Image, Music, Text (1977) ["Introduction to the Structural Analysis of Narratives," "The Struggle with the Angel"]
  • Umberto Eco: Theory of Semiotics (1975; engl. 1976)
  • Tzvetan Todorov: The Fantastic: A Structural Approach to a Literary Genre (1970); The Poetics of Prose (1971) ["Narrative-Men", "The Typology of Detective Fiction", "The Secret of Narrative"]
  • Gérard Genette: Narrative Discourse: An Essay in Method (1972)
  • Jonathan Culler: Structuralist Poetics: Structuralism, Linguistics, and the Study of Literature (1975); The Pursuit of Signs: Semiotics, Literature, Deconstruction [Chapters 1 and 5] (1980)
  • Mary Louise Pratt: Towards a Speech Act Theory of Literary Discourse (1977)
  • Teresa de Lauretis: Alice Doesn't: Feminism, Semiotics, Cinema (1984) [Introduction, Chapters 1, 2, 5, 6]
  • Mieke Bal: Narratology (1985)


  • Roland Barthes: Mythologies (1958); S/Z (1970); The Pleasure of the Text (1975); Image, Music, Text ["The Death of the Author", "From Work to Text"] (1977)
  • Jacques Derrida: "Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences" (1966) (from Writing and Difference); Of Grammatology (1967) [Part 1, Chs. 1, 2; Part 2, Ch. 2]; Margins of Philosophy ["Differance", "White Mythology", "Signature Event Context"]; Writing and Difference (1972) [Chapters 1, 2, 7, 9, 10]; Disseminations (1972) ["Plato's Pharmacy", "The Double Seance", "Hymen"]
  • Michel Foucault: "What is an Author?" (1969); The Order of Discourse (later reprinted as "The Discourse on Language") (1971)
  • Deleuze and Guattari: Capitalism and Schizophrenia 1: Anti-Oedipus (1972); Capitalism and Schizophrenia 1: A Thousand Plateaus (1980) ["Introduction: Rhizome")
  • Jean-François Lyotard: The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge (1979) ["Answering the Question: What is Postmodernism?"]
  • Jean Baudrillard: "Precession of Simulacra"; L'échange symbolique et la mort (1976); Simulacra and Simulation (1981) ["The Process of Simulacra", "Hypermarket and Hypercommodity", "The Implosion of Meaning In the Media" and "Clone Story"]
  • Paul de Man: Allegories of Reading: Figural Language in Rousseau, Nietzsche, Rilke, and Proust (1979) ["Excuses (Confessions)"]; The Rhetoric of Romanticism (1984) ["Autobiography As De-Facement"]
  • Richard Rorty: The Consequences of Pragmatism (1982) [Introduction, Chapters 6-8]
  • George Bataille: Visions of Excess: Selected Writings, 1927-1939 ["The Notion of Expenditure"] (1985)
  • Henry Louis Gates, Jr.: The Signifying Monkey: A Theory of African-American Literary Criticism (1989)

Phenomenology, Hermeneutics, Reader Response, Pragmatism

  • Martin Heidegger: Poetry, Language, Thought ["Being, Dwelling, Thinking"]; Being and Time (1927) [sections 31-33]
  • Georges Poulet: The Interior Distance ["Marivaux", "Mallarme"]
  • Hans-Georg Gadamer: Truth and Method ["Foundations of a Theory of Hermeneutical Experience"]
  • E.D. Hirsch: Validity in Interpretation ["Objective Interpretation"]
  • Paul Ricoeur: The Philosophy of Paul Ricoeur [Section 3: "Language and Hermeneutics", Section 4: "Freud and Psychoanalysis"]; Hermeneutics and the Human Sciences [Part 1: "Studies in the History of Hermeneutics", Part 2: "Studies in the Theory of Interpretation", Part 3, Ch. 8: "The Model of the Text"]
  • Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space (1958)
  • Norman Holland: The Dynamics of Literary Response (1968); 5 Readers Reading (1975)
  • Harold Bloom: The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry (1973), A Map of Misreading (1975)
  • Wolfgang Iser: "The Reading Process: A Phenomenological Approach"; The Implied Reader ("The Reading Process: A Phenomenological Approach", engl. 1974); The Act of Reading: : A Theory of Aesthetic Response (1978)
  • Stanley Fish: "Interpreting the Variorum"; Is There a Text in This Class? The Authority of Interpretive Communities (1980)
  • Hans Robert Jauss: Towards an Aesthetics of Reception ["Literary History as a Challenge to Literary Theory", dt. 1967] (engl. 1982)

New Historicism

  • Michel Foucault: Discipline and Punish (1979)
  • Stephen Greenblatt: Renaissance Self-Fashioning ["The Improvisation of Power"] (1980)
  • Louis Adrian Montrose: "'Eliza, Queene of Shepheardes' and the Pastoral of Power" (1980); "Renaissance Literary Studies and the Subject of History" (1986)
  • H. Aram Veeser (Ed): The New Historicism (1989)

Cultural Studies

  • Raymond Williams: Culture and Society (1958); Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society (1976)
  • Michel Foucault: The History of Sexuality [The Will to Knowledge, Vol.1, 1976]; The Archeology of Knowledge (1969), Discipline and Punish (1979)
  • Clifford Geertz: The Interpretation of Culture (1973) [Chapter 1]
  • Stuart Hall: Encoding/decoding. Culture, media, language (1980)
  • Paul Gilroy: There Ain't No Black in the Union Jack: The Cultural Politics of Race and Nation (1987)

Feminism, Gender Theory, Queer Studies

  • Virginia Woolf: "Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown" (1924); A Room of One's Own (1929)
  • Simone de Beauvoir: The Second Sex (1949; engl. 1953)
  • Susan Sontag: "Notes On 'Camp'" (1964); Against Interpretation and Other Essays (1966)
  • Kate Millett: Sexual Politics (1970) [Ch. 2]
  • Gayle Rubin: "The Traffic in Women" (1975)
  • Luce Irigaray: Speculum of the Other Woman ["The Blind Spot of an Old Dream of Symmetry"]; This Sex Which is Not One (1977; engl. 1985) ["This Sex Which Is Not One", "The Power of Discourse and the Subordination of the Feminine", "The Mechanics of Fluids", "When Our Lips Speak Together", "When the Goods Get Together"]
  • Hélène Cixous: "The Laugh of the Medusa"; "Sorties: Out & Out: Attacks/Ways Out/Forays"; with Catherine Clément: The Newly Born Woman
  • Barbara Smith: "Towards a Black Feminist Criticism" (1978)
  • Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar: The Madwoman in the Attic (1979) [Chapters 1-3, 10]
  • Elaine Showalter: A Literature of Their Own (1977) [Ch. 1, 4, 10]; "Feminist Criticism in the Wilderness" (1980); Sexual Anarchy: Gender and Culture at the Fin the Siècle (1992)
  • Adrienne Rich: "Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence" (1980)
  • bell hooks: Ain't I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism (1981)
  • Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick: Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire (1985); Epistemology of the Closet (1990) ["Axiomatic"]
  • Hazel Carby, Reconstructing Womanhood: The Emergence of the Afro-American Woman Novelist [Chapter 1] (1987)
  • Donna Haraway: The Biopolitics of Postmodern Bodies (1989)
  • Judith Butler: Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (1993; esp. "Subjects of Sex/Gender/Desire"); Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of "Sex" (1993)
  • Christopher Castiglia: "Rebel Without a Closet" (1990)
  • Wayne Koestenbaum: Engendering Men: The Question of Male Feminist Criticism (1990)
  • Judith Roof: A Lure of Knowledge (1991)
  • Lee Edelman: Homographesis (1994)
  • Jacqueline Rose: Sexuality in the field of vision ["Femininity and its Discontents"](2005)

Postcolonial Theory

  • W.E.B. Du Bois: The Souls of Black Folk is a classic work of American literature (1903)
  • Frantz Fanon: Black Skin, White Masks (1952; engl. 1967); The Wretched of the Earth (1961; engl. 1963) ["On National Culture"]
  • Edward Said: Orientalism [Chapter 1] (1978); Culture and Imperialism (1993)
  • Ngugi wa Thiong’o: Decolonising the Mind ["The Language of African Literature"] (1986)
  • Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak: In Other Worlds: Essays in Cultural Politics (1987); Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture (1988) "Can the Subaltern Speak?"
  • Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths and Helen Tiffin: The Empire Writes Back: Theory and Practice in Post-Colonial Literature (1989)
  • Kwame Anthony Appiah: "Is the 'Post-' in 'Postcolonial' the 'Post-' in 'Postmodern'?" (1991); In My Father's House (1992)
  • Sara Suleri: The Rhetoric of English India (1992)
  • Aijaz Ahmad: In Theory: Classes, Nations and Literatures (1992)
  • Paul Gilroy: The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness (1993)
  • Homi Bhabha: The Location of Culture (1994) ["Of Mimicry and Men: The Ambivalence of Colonial Discourse"]
  • Arjun Appadurai: Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization (1996)
  • Graham Huggan: The Postcolonial Exotic: Marketing the Margins (2001)

History of the Book, Literary Sociology, Publishing Studies

  • Pierre Bourdieu, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste (1979), "The Field of Cultural Production, or: The Economic World Reversed" (1983), The Rules of Art: Genesis and Structure of the Literary Field (1992)
  • C.J. van Rees, "How reviewers reach consensus on the value of literary works" (1987)
  • Claire Squires, Marketing Literature: The Making of Contemporary Writing in Britain (2007)
  • David Finkelstein and Alistair McCleery: An Introduction to Book History (2005); The Book History Reader (2002; repr. 2008)
  • Simon Eliot, Andrew Nash, and Ian Willison: Literary Cultures and the Material Book (2007)
  • Simon Eliot and Jonathan Rose: A Companion to the History of the Book (2007; repr. 2008)

Digital Humanities

  • Franco Moretti, Graphs, Maps, Trees (2007), Distant Reading (2013)