A lot of teenagers who are interested in English Literature think there is a fixed list of books that they have to read. This is not the case but a reading list is very useful. While A Level English and English GSCE require teens to study certain texts, when it comes to UK university applications and UCAS the most important thing is to read a lot and to read widely.
Here is a small selection of novels, plays and poems that will introduce teenagers to what the ages have to offer. Enjoy!
Eighteenth-century literature A-level reading list
The Eighteenth Century saw the dawn of the novel so it is a good idea to try at least one. Be warned: they can seem odd to begin with. However, the novels of Fielding, Swift and Sterne are incredibly zany and fun once you get a taste for them. Gulliver’s Travels is a good place for A Level English students to start–it is fairly short with a fantastic plot and political punch. If you are an Austen fan, Pride and Prejudice also manages to squeeze into this category.
Poetry-wise, it is a century of incredible variety. Sample the rhythmical, satirical verse of Alexander Pope (which rarely features on the school curriculum) as well as the sweeping poetry of the early Romantics, which students may have encountered in AQA GCSE English and Edexcel GCSE English.
Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded– Samuel Richardson
The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman– Laurence Sterne
The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling– Henry Fielding
Gulliver’s Travels– Jonathan Swift
Robinson Crusoe– Daniel Defoe
The Rape of the Lock– Alexander Pope
Songs of Innocence and Experience– William Blake
“Lines Written a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey”– William Wordsworth
Victorian literature A-level reading list
Teenagers are likely to be more familiar with Victorian novels as they usually pop up on the school syllabus at one point or another. (Great Expectations tends to be a favourite with GCSE English teachers).
They do tend to be long but they have wonderful plots– particularly if you are keen on gothic fiction. If you are looking to start on something shorter, Henry James’ novella-turned-ghost story The Turn of the Screw is second to none.
Find below our A-level English literature reading list of Victorian novels.
Middlemarch– George Eliot
Bleak House– Charles Dickens
The Picture of Dorian Gray– Oscar Wilde
The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde – Robert Louis Stevenson
The Turn of the Screw – Henry James
The Portrait of a Lady– Henry James
North and South – Elizabeth Gaskell
Far from the Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy
Browse through our A-level English literature reading list of Poetry.
Robert Browning’s dramatic monologues (“My Last Duchess”, “Soliloquy of a Spanish Cloister”, “Porphyria’s Lover”, “Toccata of Galuppi”)
In Memoriam – Alfred, Lord Tennyson
“The Lady of Shalott” – Alfred, Lord Tennyson
“Tithonus” – Alfred, Lord Tennyson
“Dover Beach” – Matthew Arnold
Modern literature A-level reading list
It is somewhat disingenuous to group these books together under the title ‘modern literature’. There is too much variety in style and subject matter. However, here is a tiny selection of what the Twentieth Century has to offer. Virginia Woolf often appears on the A Level English syllabus but Edith Wharton and Ford Madox Ford are often under-represented.
In terms of modernist poetry, T.S Eliot’s The Waste Land is a great place to start, as is his “Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”. Modernist poetry is famously difficult, however, so might be best saved till upper-sixth.
Find below our A-level English reading list of modern literature.
Portrait of a Young Man – James Joyce
To the Lighthouse– Virginia Woolf
Mrs Dalloway – Virginia Woolf
The Good Soldier– Ford Madox Ford
The Age of Innocence– Edith Wharton
The Bell Jar– Sylvia Plath
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie– Muriel Spark
Hotel du Lac – Anita Brookner
The Go-Between – L.P Hartley
The Waste Land – T.S Eliot
“Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” – T.S Eliot
“The Snow Man” – Wallace Stevens
“This is Just to Say”- William Carlos Williams
“Musee des Beaux Arts”- W.H Auden
“In a Station of the Metro” – Ezra Pound.
Last but not least – drama. Teenagers who are interested in acting should read two or three Shakespeare plays that they have not studied during GCSE English. Seeing plays at the theatre can really bring them to life so, if you can, book some seats. If not, there are some excellent film versions of Shakespeare plays as well.
For something more modern, why not try some Tennessee Williams? A Streetcar Named Desire andThe Glass Menagerie are hard to beat.
If teenagers particularly enjoy a certain author, or are drawn to a literary period, encourage them to write about it in their UCAS personal statement. Discussing specific texts will show they are thinking carefully about what they read and will enhance their university application.