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Beginning Theory: An Introduction to Literary and Cultural Theory

3.77  ·  Rating Details ·  1,608 Ratings  ·  112 Reviews
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Paperback, 288 pages
Published April 25th 2002 by Manchester University Press (first published January 1st 1995)
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Beginning Theory by Peter  BarryDoing Grammar by Max MorenbergThe Subversive Copy Editor by Carol Fisher SallerHow to Write Fiction by E.E. Doc MurdockDicionário de Narratologia by Carlos Reis
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Paul Bryant
Dec 03, 2009 Paul Bryant rated it really liked it
Shelves: litcrit

In 1959 Frank Sinatra recorded his great version of Cole Porter’s “What is this thing called Critical Theory?” 36 years later Peter Barry in this excellent book explains that it’s a network of ideas developed in the 60s, 70s and 80s which challenged the status quo of liberal humanism and made flesh that haunting phrase from Marx :

all that is solid melts into the air

Critical theory puts you wise. You thought you had an identity? That, like, you were a YOU? Guess again - you don’t. Sorry bou
Beginning Theory offers the literary studies student a fantastic primer to help navigate the often convoluted and complex domain of literary theory. Barry shows us that theory need not be daunting, and successfully manages to convey difficult concepts in a voice that is consistently conversational, and never dry. I appreciated his occasional interjection of self for the way in which it humanised the text. The book covers all the major theoretical approaches from Structuralism, through Psychoanal ...more
Mar 23, 2011 Zach rated it really liked it
This is an excellent introduction to literary theory. The different brands thereof are explained clearly in brief, easy-to-follow chapters.

My only complaint would be about the chapters on Feminist Criticism and Gay/Lesbian Criticism. I don't think either of these topics was covered well, as if Barry himself didn't fully understand the implications of their philosophical approach. Barry is British, so this might simply be because of a disconnect between the American version of Feminist Criticism
Jan 23, 2015 Meghan rated it it was ok
Shelves: school-reads, theory
Read this for Critical Theory. It worked for the class, but half the time I had no idea what the author was talking about and only sort of understood after class discussions. I know the point of theory is that there is no bottom line but it would have been extremely helpful to have one for those of us who don't care for theory that much and just need a basic understanding.
Jul 05, 2014 Dave rated it liked it
Shelves: read-in-2014
A nice, concise gloss of one scholar's estimation of theory's most important movements and themes. I was considering this as a possible text to use in an introductory theory class I'm teaching. Ultimately, there are three major reasons why I won't be using it.

1. Age. Even in its updated form, this book is more than a decade old. A lot can happen in a discipline in that amount of time, and students tend to see texts like this as definitive. I worry about setting them up to be not just name dropp
Mar 20, 2013 Beth rated it it was amazing
I didn’t discover this book until halfway through a graduate level class on Postcolonial Theory. This would be after trying to keep my head above water while reading Derrida in the original language. I wish I’d read it years ago.

Despite its bland title and intimidating chapter headings, this book is very accessible. Each chapter takes a different ideological camp of literary theory –- from Post-structuralism to New Historicism –- and breaks it down into understandable terms. A brief history of e
Sep 22, 2009 Robyn rated it liked it
This book is a good starter for a class like the one I read it in (senior seminar) but I disagree with Barry on so many things I couldn't give it more than 3 stars. He does a good job of breaking down theories and methods so that they are easier to understand, and picks out the best distinctions to make between similar sorts of theories so that students can tell them apart. His examples of how to apply the theories are not always great. (He uses Barthes' S/Z for structuralism. Not your typical u ...more
Jun 18, 2013 janet rated it really liked it
I read this book for a course. The title concerned me. I thought it might be too basic, but it was very helpful in that one person gave his honest view of different critical approaches as well as examples of how each was used. The examples proved the most useful bits. He also forced the reader to get engaged and do some thinking and analysis. He gave all of the theories equal time if not equal respect in that he was more critical of some schools of thought. He also included discussion about poss ...more
Jan 09, 2016 Eva rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I don't think we give enough appreciation to those scholars who take the time and write text books for absolute beginners. Peter Barry does his utmost to make literary theory understandable, logical and palatable for lay people, and is staying impartial and patient throughout. For somebody like me who found herself facing literary theory 'by accident' when my interdisciplinary research grew into areas I never expected it to go, this was an excellent when by now a tad outdated introduction.
Jan 24, 2017 Steve rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The best book of any kind that gives easy to understand, thorough, deep summaries of the major theories used in the humanities today. It's so good and so accessible it is worth assigning in any course where you will be dealing with large swaths of critical theory, even if you won't be directly teaching it, it's good reference material for the student who may come across an essay written that uses the theory but doesn't explain it or give a lot of attention to it. Well written, engaging, and simp ...more
Reem Rafei
Jun 02, 2017 Reem Rafei rated it it was amazing
It's such a great way to understand literary theories in a condensed way.
Jun 09, 2017 Sunniva rated it it was amazing
A clear and comprehensive introduction to literary theory. Very glad to have had this textbook for my class.
Madhura Gurav
Dec 21, 2016 Madhura Gurav rated it it was amazing
Awesome handbook for English literature students with illustrious examples!
Harry Doble
I love this book. I first encountered Beginning Theory as a textbook for my introduction to literary criticism unit, a class which I absolutely hated. I remember scraping by on the skin of my teeth writing an essay comparing Barthes and Foucault, swearing profusely at how arcane and difficult this subject can be. Somehow, I managed to earn a high distinction for both this and my essay on Freud and the Uncanny, but after having finished the class I still felt I didn't know the first thing about l ...more
Jun 17, 2010 Matt rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is another one of those books I looked at to see if it might be the right text book for my students. I'd pretty much already decided on this book before I read it, and nothing here changes my mind-- it's pretty lucid, does a good enough job of breaking down the component parts of the theory, and offers at least a semblance of application for each section.

There are a couple things that I'd like, though: I wish that Barry were more on board with the idea of giving us some terminology that can
Oct 30, 2014 Maria rated it really liked it
For the student diving into literary theory as a newcomer, this book is an excellent source to start. (Hence its title "Beginning Theory" obviously).
I myself recently started collecting knowledge about different approaches within the literary theory field. I'm writing my BA thesis, for which I need to analyze some literature, and to do this in an academically approved manner, I first delved into the different literary approaches. This book helped me gain a basic knowledge about existing approac
Jan 09, 2013 kaelan rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: for-school, criticism
Barry makes an admiral contribution to a tricky subject area: namely, lit theory for beginners. His book is capacious, and he tackles the various camps with charity and intelligibility. Nor does he purport to wear the guise of "objectivity," which is refreshing in a book of this type. He keeps an open mind, but isn't afraid to say when a theory leaves him unconvinced.

But the book is not without its flaws. In particular, I found the chapters on post-structuralism, postmodernism and stylistics to
Rob Nguyen
Jul 25, 2016 Rob Nguyen rated it really liked it
I was interested in re-acquainting myself with literary critical theory and found this book very helpful. Years ago I had run into most of this material in class, but I either didn't pay enough attention at the time, or the classes' approach was not quite as concise or sticky as the book. Barry goes through prominent literary theories in rough order of when they came to prominence or dominance in English literature studies. Each chapter includes an overview of the theory, a bite sized list of wh ...more
May 19, 2009 Kristin rated it it was amazing
This was very readable and easy to understand. The examples were interesting and the writing was engaging. I imagine this is probably the best beginning book on theory you're going to find. While it was easy to understand, it's not patronizing or too simple. I wasn't a fan of most of the stop and think sections in the book, they are fine to read but I had no inclination to do the suggested activities nor did I feel that they would help my understanding one jot, but that is a minor point to conce ...more
Feb 13, 2016 Bonita rated it did not like it
It is remarkable that someone with such a deep grasp of literature and theory and the power of words and story would choose to write in such an obfuscating and incomprehensible style. Every chapter was a challenge to wade through, replete with passive-voice construction and sentences far longer than necessary. It seemed as though the author opted to stand out in his own way by taking what could be interesting and vital for someone inclined to learning literary theory, and barring the way by over ...more
Now the introduction to this is very useful, if only because it covers a specific area that is not well explored: the rise of theory in the U.K. Many books conflate the two (even the introduction to the Cambridge History of Modernism does this) -- most histories of literature do this. But there are important differences. Now, the books that don't conflat the U.S./U.K. histories mostly do focus on the U.S.

As for the rest of the book, I dunno. I'm not a fan of structured, simplified ways to read
Jan 29, 2014 C rated it really liked it
I finally sat down and finished this book, over the last few days, after reading it intermittently over the last couple of years. Barry does a fantastic job of giving an overview of each major branch and blend of literary and cultural theory, as well as a great historical arc of each, all wrapped into a friendly narrative style. I particularly enjoyed his description of new aestheticism at the end, but on the whole this book was a reflection and a review for me, after taking a great course on th ...more
Belinda G
Dec 01, 2014 Belinda G rated it liked it
Shelves: university, 2015
I think this is a really great way to learn the basics of literary theory, but I think its age and teaching methods render this outdated. I also disagreed with many of his readings of texts, but I think that's down to a personal level. I also felt that, while he deals with the main theories, he skips over some that are really important- like Modernism. It's touched on, but not covered in a way that I'm happy with. I also felt that its feminist theory section was lacking, though that may be due t ...more
Andy Hickmott
Jul 30, 2013 Andy Hickmott rated it liked it
Shelves: writing-texts
Three stars might not reflect so much the quality of this book as its subject matter - literary theory, to paraphrase the old airliner captain's saw*, seems to consist of vast plains of verbiage separating occasional gems of genuine and potentially helpful insight.

After comparing structuralism, post-structuralism, deconstruction and postmodernism I was left unable to define any or to tell them apart. I think I favour post-theory. However, I suspect I will delve into it cautiously from time to ti
Jan 24, 2011 Heather rated it liked it
This book is useful as precisely what its subtitle states it to be: An Introduction to Literary and Cultural Theory. Barry strives to make it both useful and transparent, although the waters to be passed through are deep and treacherous indeed. This book certainly cannot be judged on its personal appeal, for anyone who loves all of its contents must be schizophrenic, but no matter which of the literary theories you prefer (or if, like me, you find out you are an old-fashioned "liberal humanist") ...more
Jun 05, 2011 Katherine rated it it was amazing
FINALLY, a straightforward book on literary theory! It may not be the most comprehensive out there, but you come away from the text with a strong understanding of each school of thought, the major figures, and (most importantly) how these theories and thinkers interacted with one another across time and perspectives.

That may be why I enjoyed this so much, now that I think about it. I understand concepts much better from a "big picture" perspective that allows me to see how ideas or works emerged
Stuart Aken
Nov 05, 2010 Stuart Aken rated it it was ok
A specialist work on critical theory - read only because, as a writer, I wanted to know something about how professional critics go about analysing and dissecting fiction. It confirmed my opinion that there's a great deal of pseudo-thinking involved. But, to give the author his due, he at least takes a neutral stance on the many different guises of literary criticism. I feel no more confident about the validity of this subject as a useful area of study, however. Seems to me that the critics over ...more
Heidi Schmidt
Aug 23, 2011 Heidi Schmidt rated it really liked it
I confess I had some issues with a couple of the chapters - Barry's chapter on feminism in particular seems rather dismissive, which I find highly problematic. However, it's a good collection of shorthand explanations of the major movers and shakers and the dominant schools of thought involved in critical and cultural theory over the last fifty years or so. If you're having trouble keeping up with structuralism vs. post-structuralism, postmodernism, and for that matter, post-everything, this is ...more
Mar 19, 2014 Larajoline rated it really liked it
This is a useful guidebook to the different literary theories out there. You can get a general overview of all of them easily, without being drowned in endless chapters, which saldy many other books on literary theory do.

If you're looking for a guidebook to theories, I strongly recommend it. The language is easily understandable, the sentences are straight to the point and at the end you know the most important points to the theory.

It is especially helpful for all students of literature. If yo
Jun 20, 2016 Diz rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book provides a concise introduction to the many fields of literary criticism. I like that each section gives a summary of the key points of each type, and provides a reading list. If you're looking for an in depth discussion of certain fields of criticism, you won't find it here, but for beginners who don't know where to start reading, this is a good introduction.

One point to mention is that there aren't any references later than the early 2000s, so if you're interested in what is happenin
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