What is literary criticism? How do I find it?Literary criticism is the evaluation, analysis, description, or interpretation of literary works. It is usually in the form of a critical essay, but in-depth book reviews can sometimes be considered literary criticism. Criticism may examine a particular literary work, or may look at an author's writings as a whole. Finding literary criticism can be challenging. This pathfinder is designed to help students in researching and writing a paper that requires sources of literary criticism.
On the Internet vs. At the Library
There are many good sources of literary criticism that are now available on the Web. However, there are lots of things that are not yet available electronically, or that require a subscription. Therefore, you will probably need to do some research at a library in your area in order to write a paper that requires literary criticism.
Different libraries have different sources. Your school or public library will have some good resources for literary criticism, but if you need more, you may be able to do some research at an academic library near you. This pathfinder suggests some online and print sources, to show you what kinds of things are available on the Web and in libraries. If you can't find a particular title at your library, don't worry; just ask a librarian your question, and he or she can help you locate a similar resource.
Terms &ConceptsNeed a definition of allusion, Romanticism, satire, or other literary concept?
A Glossary of Literary Terms and A Handbook of Rhetorical Devices
There are lots of books which define literary terms. These are two which are commonly found in libraries.
Cuddon, J.A., A Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory
Harmon, William and Holman, C. Hugh, A Handbook to Literature
Author InformationWant to read more about the author of the book you are researching, or the historical context in which it was written?
Literary Criticism Collection
Yahoo's Literary Authors Listing
The following three sources are published by the Gale Group, and one or more of them may be in your library. There are also hundreds of other books which have similar collections of author biographies. Ask your librarian to help you find one that includes your author.
Dictionary of Literary Biography
Criticism &SummariesLooking for some representative criticism on an author or book? Want a plot summary and character list for Crime and Punishment?
Literary Criticism Collection
The Gale Group publishes several series of literary criticism which are often found in libraries. These volumes usually include some biographical information on an author, a listing of major works, and a variety of excerpts from critical essays written about the author and works. There is a free index to 40 of these series, available online. You can search this Literary Index, http://www.galenet.com/servlet/LitIndex/, to find out which Gale series you might look at for information on your topic. Some of the major Gale series are:
There are lots of series which include plot synopses and basic criticism of famous novels. Frank Magill's Masterplots and Critical Surveys are reasonably reliable and most articles are written by scholars. Other sources, like Cliff's Notes, are sometimes also written by scholars, but be sure and check to see that the author has good credentials (for example, a master's degree or PhD in literature).
Magill, Frank N., Masterplots: 2010 Plot Stories and Essay Reviews from the World's Fine Literature, Revised Edition
Magill, Frank N., Critical Survey of Long Fiction, English Language Series, Revised Edition and Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Foreign Language Series
Finding BooksLooking for a book about your author, or a volume of critical essays about a literary work?
When searching for books in your library's online catalog, you can do a keyword search, but the best way to find good sources of information is to do a subject search. Subject searches look for the Library of Congress Subject Headings assigned to a particular book. These headings help you find books which are specifically about your topic.
In many online catalogs, you can simply do a subject search for your author's name, and then browse a list of headings which begin with that name. Good subject headings for literary criticism often include the words "criticism and interpretation." Another way to find a good subject heading is to look in the red LCSH books, which your librarian can help you find and use. Look for your author's last name, and then browse for useful headings.
Some examples of useful subject headings for literary criticism might be:
Finding ArticlesNeed some critical articles about an author or book? Want to find a book review?
Articles published in newspapers, popular magazines, or scholarly journals are listed in a variety of different periodical indexes. A periodical is simply a publication that is produced a particular number of times a year: daily, weekly, monthly, or quarterly. Periodical indexes may be available in online, CD-ROM, or print form.
These indexes contain citations to articles. A citation includes an article's title, author, page numbers, publication date, and the name of the periodical in which it was published. Once you have this information, you need to check your library's online catalog for the call number of the periodical you are looking for. Why isn't this included in the citation? Because libraries mostly subscribe to the same indexes, and often the same periodicals, but they don't always organize those periodicals in the same way. Once you have the call number of the periodical, you're ready to go look for the article.
Public libraries or high school libraries usually subscribe to a few periodical indexes, especially general indexes which include newspapers, magazines, and some scholarly journals. Ask your reference librarian which index will be most useful to you in your research.
If you can't find many articles on your topic, you may want to try a periodical index which focuses on a specific academic field. Academic libraries often subscribe to this kind of subject index. One subject index that is particularly useful for finding literary criticism is the Modern Language Association's MLA International Bibliography, which includes scholarly writings on literature, languages, linguistics, and folklore. Ask your librarian to help you find a library near you where you can use this index, or to suggest other indexes that may be useful to you.
To find articles on your topic in a periodical index, do a keyword search as you would in a library's online catalog. Before you start searching, you may want to look at Skills for Online Searching , http://www.ipl.org/div/aplus/skills.htm, which has advice on how to search electronic databases and the World Wide Web, and links to useful tutorials.
Writing the PaperNeed some help formulating your paper or citing sources?
A+ Research and Writing Guide
Guide to Conducting Literary Research
Writers Workshop: Writer Resources
Online! Citation Styles
This pathfinder was created by Hilary Leon, but it is based in part on work by Ken Irwin, Nettie Lagace, and Sara Ryan.