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This is a survey of the main trends in twentieth-century literary theory. Lectures will provide background for the readings and explicate them where appropriate, while attempting to develop a coherent overall context that incorporates philosophical and social perspectives on the recurrent questions: what is literature, how is it produced, how can it be understood, and what is its purpose?

26 Lectures.

Approximately 20 hours of video.

24 Reading assignments

Course books


Paul H. Fry is the William Lampson Professor of English at Yale and specializes in British Romanticism, literary theory, and literature and the visual arts. He was educated at the University of California, Berkeley and Harvard and has been teaching at Yale since 1971. His publications include The Poet's Calling in the English Ode, for which he was awarded the Melville Cane Award; The Reach of Criticism: Method and Perception in Literary Theory; William Empson: Prophet Against Sacrifice; A Defense of Poetry: Essays on the Occasion of Writing; and Wordsworth and the Poetry of What We Are.
For more information about Professor Fry’s book Theory of Literature, click here.

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Engl 300: by Introduction to Theory of Literatur is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. Based on a work at

Course content

  • Lecture 1 - Introduction

  • Lecture 2 - Introduction (cont.)

  • Lecture 3 - Ways In and Out of the Hermeneutic Circle

  • Lecture 4 - Configurative Reading

  • Lecture 5 - The Idea of the Autonomous Artwork

  • Lecture 6 - The New Criticism and Other Western Formalisms

  • Lecture 7 - Russian Formalism

  • Lecture 8 - Semiotics and Structuralism

  • Lecture 9 - Linguistics and Literature

  • Lecture 10 - Deconstruction I

  • Lecture 11 - Deconstruction II

  • Lecture 12 - Freud and Fiction

  • Lecture 13 - Jacques Lacan in Theory

  • Lecture 14 - Influence

  • Lecture 15 - The Postmodern Psyche

  • Lecture 16 - The Social Permeability of Reader and Text

  • Lecture 17 - The Frankfurt School of Critical Theory

  • Lecture 18 - The Political Unconscious

  • Lecture 19 - The New Historicism

  • Lecture 20 - The Classical Feminist Tradition

  • Lecture 21 - African-American Criticism

  • Lecture 22 - Post-Colonial Criticism

  • Lecture 23 - Queer Theory and Gender Performativity

  • Lecture 24 - The Institutional Construction of Literary Study

  • Lecture 25 - The End of Theory?; Neo-Pragmatism

  • Lecture 26 - Reflections; Who Doesn't Hate Theory Now?

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