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hello tue
        can i just ask as this has not mentioned before that those students who religiously and with ethusiasm engage in indepth study of english literature as it is from the basic of it a wider study of diversity about talented writings does it infact help them to write books ...i have never been there but allways have been curious ...what is english literature in it's very full essence?   why study english literature?  and how does one begin approaching to study english literature?   so many things in an anthology which has literary texts that demonstrate relevance of romantic writing and female gender in the study of literature and students are invited to explore many themes within the context of history,psychology or theory  which suggests it's broad nature    when you have so many things to think about like language,themes,historical view of the author etc,just how do you do go about tackling to study a novel...i bet it is very demanding indeed what is your answer? val

Hello Val,

That is a lot of complex questions! But let me give you some of my own thoughts about it.

Each student must approach the study of literature individually, based on his or her own interests and focus. It depends on what you want to accomplish. If you want to be a writer, then you must want to write *about* something. You must have some message that you want to convey through your writing. This could be anything; perhaps something from your personal life experience, but the more literature you read, the more you can see what other authors want to say (and the more familiar you will become with the use and structure of language, which is important). And the structure and messages of the best literature always have certain thematic similarities, which will become more and more clear to you, the more you read. An example is Keats' poem "Ode on a Grecian Urn". He famously concludes that "Beauty is Truth, Truth Beauty; That is all ye know on Earth, And all ye need to know." Ultimately, almost all great stories are about elements or characters which symbolize beauty (emotion and art, and the feminine) and truth (reason and science, and the masculine), and how these must converge to become the same thing. This is what it means when, for instance, a story ends with the male and female protagonists getting together, realizing that they love each other. Love is virtually the same as what the poets call beauty, and in much literature is a unifying principle that helps solve the conflict of the story. A satisfying and well-rounded ending is always about the symbols of beauty and truth merging together to achieve a state of harmony. Of course, this is still just a general rule; a lot of stories have different structures, such as tragedies, which are cautionary tales that do not have happy endings. Such stories are intended to show us what NOT to do, so that we can avoid the pitfalls on our existential journey.

What is English literature? Well, it is a branch of the arts and humanities, and it has similarities to other art forms. All good art follows the rules that Keats mention in his poem: symbolically describing the development and eventual merging of the principles of beauty and truth. The ultimate aim of art is the merging of art and science (which is what beauty and truth symbolize), so that science will eventually explain love and everything else about human nature and consciousness. This is what both art and science are working towards: perfect human self-knowledge. When we achieve this, then we can encourage and love each other and ourselves in ways that will completely transform the world. Whenever a religion speaks of an eventual heaven, or debaters talk about "solving the world situation", or superheroes go out to "save the world"; in short, whenever a story has a happy ending, it is all symbolizing this transformation into a better society. Deep thinkers have always known that it is coming, because it is the natural end point of the development of art and science. Art and science are humanist areas which teach us about ourselves, our nature and our history, as well as where we are headed. This is reflected and described in so much poetry and literature, such as T.S. Eliot's famous lines: "We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time." When we finally achieve full, rational self-knowledge, then we will regain our state of nature; the knowledge of how we were before we developed reason; what our true emotional selves are. With that knowledge will come a purging of negative emotion and we will become collectively happy, embracing our original joy of life - the same joy that keeps animals on the move and birds in the air, curiously exploring, discovering, eating, breathing, mating, and being content and balanced. To achieve this original state of animal nature, in a new state of conscious human nature, which all that human invention and industry entail; all the science and technology and civilization and taking good care of each other and of the environment; that is the ultimate purpose of art, and the evolutionary destiny of humanity, if we can get there without first destroying ourselves in wars. Art is designed to help us on this journey and to emphasize beauty and truth so that we can minimize and eventually purge all the bad stuff; all the trauma and unkindness accrued during our hard struggles for survival across the millennia, which parents are still unwittingly passing on to their children because it might be all they know. Art is about breaking this cycle of misery and giving us hope and determination in order to overcome the problems of our entire human species. And they *can* be overcome, and this is what artists and writers work towards - even if many of them might not truly be aware of it. But that's the secret and beauty of art as it evolves through recorded history: it developes a structure which makes the work of anyone who follows this structure better and more progressive than they might ever have been able to make it on their own.

As you can see, I revere art and science almost like they were a religion to me! But this is not a religion; it is a science, based on things that can be analyzed and tested in the real, physical world. The great project of science is to discover exactly how the human mind works, and we are actually probably only a few decades away from this point. When this happens, and people start understanding themselves much more deeply, we can also control our emotions better, and this will almost automatically lead to a purging of the negative, because it will become clear that positive emotion is what makes everything else possible: effective learning, fantastic memory, a deep and meaningful joy of simply being alive and aware and able to see the extreme and exquisite beauty of all things. When you reach this point, everything in the world is hyper-interesting and you will want to study more subjects than you could ever have time for.

Well, I'm kind of rambling! :-) I should also offer you some second opinions about your questions. How to go about studying literature? Well, there are lots of books written on this subject; you can just google it or seach on Amazon, where you can find a list like this:

There is a whole series of books on how to study literature:

Here's a book that gives advice on how to study a novel:

My own apparatus of literary analysis and criticism would be different from what you would see in those books; I would focus more on symbolical elements like truth and beauty, science and art and history, but that's because my vision of art and its purpose is very clear, and I don't think it is popular in current academia to have a clear and uncompromising vision of the purpose of art. After all, most schools of interpretation would say that there are multiple ways to read a given work (this is also true; my personal perspective just evaluates a work based on what I consider to be the most progressive and meaningful criteria), and some would say that no single interpretation should ever really be favored over another; it is very popular to be relativistic in the arts and humanities nowadays; to say that every message and every interpretation is just as good as another - but I emphatically disagree with that. Things have a true nature, just as the rules of science are truly applicable to the extant world that we live in. The world is made up of real things; real evidence that can be scrutinized, and so the messages in art, while more fluent, are ultimately also converging in a certain direction, with a certain purpose. If this were not the case, then all the art and literature that academia consider to be the very greatest - Shakespeare, Dickens, the Romantic poets, Goethe, etc. - would not just happen to be the same ones that I consider the very greatest. But they are. The big thing that academia has not yet achieved is the fusion of the outlook of art with the outlook of science. Established ideas about how to interpret art have not yet incorporated the importance of the symbolical role of science - "truth" - in art. In short, Keats' understanding of the unity of truth and beauty still eludes the literary critics in academia. I hope to write books about it that will change that. But it's pretty complex stuff.

To study a novel, as with everything, will be best done if you have a good deal of background knowledge. The more novels you have read, the more you can say about each individual novel, because you have a lot of other examples to compare with. If the novel is an older one, it will indeed help to know something of that period's history. All you can really do is your best. When you read a novel, also read up on the historical era that it takes place in, or was written in, and find out all you can about the author and what various critics have said about the novel. As long as you are a student under education, you just need to reference what established critics have said, and demonstrate that you find it interesting and meaningful. Perhaps place the novel in its appropriate literary tendency. Most novels, if well-written, will be a satisfying (or in some other way thought-provoking) experience to the reader, and the first thing to do is probably to try to analyze what your own response to the novel was. What did you like about it? Did the plot and its resolution, the characters and their development, make sense to you? Did the story answer all the questions it posed, or if not, why not?  What new ideas and conclusions did the novel create in you? Which ideas did it inspire in other readers? If you have a study group, discuss what the other students thought of the novel. You can try picking a short passage from the novel and see if it has particular meaning; why was it written exactly that way and what effects does it create, or make use of? The best way to analyze a novel, in my view, is to look at the big picture; decipher the overall symbolism and the major elements and themes represented by the characters and the plot structure. If you can do that, you can quickly see which message the author wants to impart to the reader. The nature of this message will also tell you what kind of person the author is or was, such as his or her political standpoint. Was the message a conservative one, about accepting one's lot and conforming to the normal way of things? Or was it progressive, about rebelling against oppression and injustice, decrying the corruption of the established order of things? These are some of the most important major elements to be aware of. Often, an author is expressing the changes that were happening in society at the time the novel was written; the Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen, for instance (, wrote several plays about how women rebelled against the traditional marital role of the house-wife, and this was a reflection of the early struggles for women's emancipation in that era. One needs to know this in order to understand what Ibsen was trying to convey.

I hope this response was useful to you!
- Tue Sorensen


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Tue Sorensen


I am an authority on the complete works of Shakespeare, and can answer any questions relating to his plays, poetry and life. I specialize in interpretation, double-meanings and translation into modern language.


I was a top-rated Allexperts expert on this same subject several years ago.

Former member of the Danish Shakespeare Society, as well as an active participant in the scholarly SHAKSPER mailing list.

Three years of studying English literature at the University of Aarhus, Denmark

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