Skip to main content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.
Link to Libraries homepage
Link to Libraries homepage
Rutgers University Libraries

Introduction to Literary Study: Literary Theory

Sources for literary study on an advanced level for both graduates and undergraduates.

Catalog Search

     Rutgers Library Catalog - IRIS


Finding Books on Theory

The online catalog of the Rutgers University Libraries, IRIS, gives students and faculty ready access to over 3 million print volumes in 22 Rutgers collections, plus multimedia and many full-text electronic journals. You may limit searches to DANA. Use the DELIVER/RECALL BOOK button to intralibrary loan books or use the REQUEST ARTICLE/OTHER to obtain articles and non-circulating books from other Rutgers libraries.


Here are some sample IRIS searches in Literary Theory:
Postcolonialism and American -- WORDS anywhere (This is a keyword search.)

Derrida, Jacques -- AUTHOR (last name first) (This finds books by the author.)

Reader-response criticism -- SUBJECT begins with (IRIS has specific subject headings for many critical/theoretical approaches.)

New Literary History -- PERIODICAL TITLE begins with

Selected Reference Books


Magill, F., ed. Critical Survey of Literary Theory: Authors: Volume 4. Pasadena, Salem Press, 1987.
Short essays with bibliographies on selected critical/theoretical approaches.
Hansom, Paul, ed. Dictionary of Literary Biography. Volume 242: Twentieth Century European Cultural Theorists. First Series. Detroit, The Gale Group, 2001.
ALEX REF PS88.D57 v.242, DANA REF PN 74 .T84 2001
Lengthy overviews with bibliographies.
Groden, Michael, Martin Kreiswirth and Imre Szeman, eds. The Johns Hopkins Guide to Literary Theory & Criticism. Baltimore, The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2d ed. 2005.
ALEX, DANA REF PN 81.J554 2005
Short signed articles about theorists and overviews of critical/theoretical approaches.

Book Delivery

How to Get a Book That Is Not at Dana


1.  Use the DELIVER/RECALL BOOK button inside the IRIS catalog to borrow books from other Rutgers libraries.

2.  Book not at Rutgers?  Go to E-ZBorrow (PALCI) and sign in with your activated barcode.

3.  Book not in E-ZBorrow?  Go to ILLIAD and use the book request.


This page is adapted from an earlier guide,  A Guide to Literary Theory, by Roberta Tipton and Rebecca Pressman.

Literary Theory: What Is It?

Students encountering recent literary criticism for the first time often find the concepts to be alien and the vocabulary, confusing. Articles in the venerable MLA International Bibliography often use terms like "discourse", "intertextuality", "dialectic", "ecocritical", "signifier", and "deconstruction". Where does all of this come from? As Mary Klages puts it,

'Literary Theory,' with the capital letters, points to sets of ideas that have greatly influenced the way we have thought about, taught, and produced scholarship on 'literature' within colleges and universities in the past 30 to 40 years. 'Literary Theory' is a big umbrella term that covers a variety of approaches to texts ('literary' or not); if these approaches have anything in common, it is that all of them examine factors that shape how a text is written and how we are able to read it. 'Literary Theory' comes from all kinds of disciplines, including linguistics, psychology, anthropology, philosophy, history, economics, gender studies, ethnic studies, and political science; much of what falls under the heading 'Literary Theory,' as you'll see, has little to do directly with what we think of as 'literature.' (pp. 3-4)

--Mary Klages, Literary Theory: A Guide for the Perplexed.

Furthermore, as Peter Barry explains in Beginning Theory, so many different literary theories exist because each literary theory arises in "reaction against something which went before" (p. 2). Therefore, Literary Theory is constantly changing and developing, giving the reader a whole bag of tools for looking at texts and their meaning.

Starting Points


Barry, Peter. Beginning Theory: An Introduction to Literary and Cultural Theory. 2nd ed. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2002.
ALEX, DANA PN 81.B367 2002
Excellent introduction to different theorists and schools of Literary Theory.
Felluga, Dino. Introductory Guide to Critical Theory. Purdue University.
Visually arresting and filled to the brim with interesting ideas for understanding and teaching Critical Theory. For example, imagine theoretical approaches to the Borg [Star Trek].

Fry, Paul H. Introduction to Literary Theory. (Yale University)
Free video lectures from a course taught at Yale in 2009.
Klages, Mary. Literary Theory: A Guide for the Perplexed. New York and London: Continuum, 2006.
DANA PN 81.K53 2006
Readable, brief guide to the sometimes difficult concepts of Literary Theory.

Siegel, Kristi. Introduction to Modern Literary Theory. Mount Mary College.
Contains brief descriptions, definitions of important terms, additional references and useful websites and for major critical/theoretical approaches to Literary Theory.

Sources on the Web

Liu, Alan. Voice of the Shuttle. University of California at Santa Barbara.

Considered to be one of the best online resources for humanities research.
Lynch, Jack. On-line Literary Resources: Theory. Rutgers University at Newark.
Contains links to websites on literary theory, literary theorists and e-journals that specialize in literary theory.

Selected Classic Literary Criticism

Before Literary Theory, Western civilization had literary criticism going all the way back to the ancient Greeks. Here is a smattering of significant public domain texts about literary criticism on the Web.

Selected Literary Theory on the Web and in Books

Since Literary Theory is a relatively recent concept, most of the primary material is still under copyright. Therefore, the way to read most originals (or translations) in their entirety is to read them in book form. Excerpts and explanations can, of course, be found on the Web. See Alan Liu and Jack Lynch above for some online sources.

Subject Librarian

Roberta Tipton's picture
Roberta Tipton
Roberta L. Tipton
Business Librarian
Public Administration Librarian
Interim Nursing Librarian
The John Cotton Dana Library

Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, an equal access/equal opportunity institution. Individuals with disabilities are encouraged to direct suggestions, comments, or complaints concerning any accessibility issues with Rutgers web sites to: or complete the Report Accessibility Barrier / Provide Feedback Form.