Wider reading for A Level English Literature: 6: Culture, religion and science

In the last in our series of blogs on wider reading for A Level English Literature home study students, an Oxford Home Schooling tutor looks at the topics of science, religion and culture.

The exams are looming rather large on the horizon so now is the time to look at the final major topic you need to be looking into, evolving attitudes on culture, religion and science and the good news is that you will already have found many references to these aspects in your reading to date and also in the set text, Jane Eyre, which you did for your coursework. You will also find that some of the reading you have done for the topic of industry will also be relevant to science.

For your prose texts, have a look at the autobiography Father and Son by Edmund Gosse, Scenes of Clerical Life and Middlemarch by George Elliot. Note that there is a fictionalised portrayal of Darwin in Elizabeth Gaskell’s Wives and Daughters and do dip into the cultural aspects of the Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde.

Poetry is a little more difficult for this topic than some of the others but look at the work of Christina Rossetti and Dover Beach and the Scholar Gypsy by Matthew Arnold and don’t forget to dip into Tennyson’s In Memoriam and the Ballad of Reading Gaol by Wilde. When it comes to religion you will find that attitudes vary between the two extremes of respect and disdain with all the shades of grey in between so you will need to do quite a lot of reading to get a real flavour of this interesting section of our topic!

I would then look at Wilde’s and Shaw’s plays to give you an idea of the way that culture was changing and evolving at this time and the way that the barriers of polite society were being challenged.

Remember that the only book you can take into the exam with you is your poetry collection for your second question, so you need to be jotting down short, apt quotes from your wider reading ready to learn before the day of the exam. Of course you are going to need to be selective but not having any quotes at your fingertips would be a really bad move – learn two or three every day in the week before your exam and then revise them all the day before.

Anne Thomas


For more information on studying distance learning A Level English Literature you can contact a student adviser on 0800 0 111 024.

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