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Literary Criticism for Students (and anyone else)

A guide to researching literary criticism online and at the library

Getting Started

Welcome to the Boston Public Library's guide to literary criticism resources available online and in the library. Whether you just need to define a term, get biographical information on your author, or obtain an overview essay on your topic, the resources on this page are a good place to start.

What is Literary Criticism?

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, literary criticism is "The art or practice of judging and commenting on the qualities and character of a literary work; consideration or analysis of a text in relation to language, structure, biography, history, etc., or (in later use, freq. with modifying word) by a particular philosophical, political, or linguistic method; (also) an instance of this, esp. in a written form; a school or method of criticizing literature.

Research Strategies

  • Library research, reading, and note-taking are time consuming.  When planning your time, make sure to take this into account and leave sufficient time for writing, reviewing, and proofreading your paper.
  • Start your research as early as possible.  This will ensure you will have time to:
    • Request material to come to a branch convenient to you (5-7 days)
    • Request material through Interlibrary Loan (3-4 weeks)
    • Plan a visit to the Research Library at Copley Square to use in-library-use-only material.
  • Use Gale Virtual Reference Library (GVRL) to obtain an overview essay on your author, title, or topic and use that as the starting point for creating a tentative outline and thesis statement for your paper.  
    Note: When searching GVRL consider not limiting your search to the literature sources.  An unrestricted search returns results from a wide variety of sources some of which could prove useful to your research.  
    Note: GVRL has a translate feature which should facilitate use of the database for those who do not speak English as a first language. Watch the tutorial.
  • Use the literary criticism databases on this page to explore your topic further. This will help to determine whether there is sufficient material to support your thesis or perhaps lead you in a different direction.  
    Note: Literature Criticism Online can be browsed by topic, which can be useful in suggesting new topics connected to your original search. 
    Note: Literature Resource Center also has a translate feature.
  • Use the bibliographies found in relevant articles to expand your range of sources.
  • When taking notes, make sure to put quotation marks around any words that are not your own and take down all the necessary publication information that you will need for your works-cited list, including page numbers and date of access if you are using a website.  
    Note: You do not need to document material that is common knowledge.

Online Encyclopedias

Literary Criticism Databases

Author Biography

Defining Terms and Concepts