Literary criticism analyzes fiction, poetry, drama and some types of non-fiction by considering key issues such as plot, character, setting, theme, imagery, and voice. Literary criticism may also consider the effectiveness of a work of literature, but it’s important to note that in this context the word “criticism” doesn’t simply mean finding fault with the writing but rather looking at it from a critical or analytical viewpoint in order to understand it better.
It’s also important to note that literary criticism involves more than just summarizing the plot or offering biographical information about the author.
Evaluating Sources of Literary Criticism
If you’re asked to find scholarly sources of literary criticism, you should look for journals that are peer-reviewed. In other words, before articles are accepted for publication in the journal, they’re reviewed by other scholars. Articles in a scholarly journal will also include citations for other works that are referenced. Scholarly books, likewise, will document their sources and are usually written by someone affiliated with a college or university and published by a university press.
Even if you know an article has come from a peer-reviewed journal, you may still wonder about its relevance, particularly if the work or author you’re researching is one that’s been studied extensively. One way to get more information about a source is to type the title of the article into Google Scholar and see how many times it’s been cited. The higher the number, the more likely it is that the article is influential—or at least controversial. You can do a similar search to learn more about the reputation of a journal, book, or author.
Finally, when looking for critical work, don’t rely on sources like SparkNotes, which provide help for students but are not considered reputable scholarly sources.
Sources of Literary Criticism
An ideal place to begin your search for literary criticism is with your college library, which will often have InfoGuides that will help you with research. College librarians also designate which databases are best as sources in certain cases. For example, Academic Search Complete: EBSCO, database is a general source for scholarly works in a variety of disciplines. It covers works on the literature of all languages.
A few other resources you may want to investigate:
African American Review: This online journal specifically focuses on African American literature and ethnic studies, “[providing] a lively exchange between writers and scholars in the arts, humanities, and social sciences who hold diverse perspectives on African American literature and culture.” The website features full-text online access to back issues. Free access.
American Literary Scholarship: This journal offers current critical analysis of American literature. Among the writers discussed are Whitman, Hawthorne, Poe, Melville, Twain, and Faulkner. It is available in print at PS3.A47 or electronically. Not free.
The Year’s Work in English Studies: This bibliography lists and assesses the scholarly literary criticism published in a given year. The information is presented according to major literary periods, such as “American Literature to 1900” and can also be searched by author. It can be accessed at: ywes.oxfordjournals.org/