Beginning Theory: An Introduction to Literary and Cultural Theory
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Beginning Theory: An Introduction to Literary and Cultural Theory

3.7 of 5 stars 3.70  ·  rating details  ·  687 ratings  ·  64 reviews
This bookhas been helping students navigate through the thickest of literary and cultural theory for well over a decade now. This new and expanded third edition continues to offer students and readers the best one-volume introduction to the field.

The bewildering variety of approaches, theorists and technical language is lucidly and expertly unravelled. Unlike many books wh...more
Paperback, Third Edition , 352 pages
Published March 15th 2009 by Manchester University Press (first published January 1st 1995)
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In 1959 Frank Sinatra recorded his great version of Cole Porter’s “What is this thing called Critical Theory?” 36 years later Peter Barry 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 bout that. Yeah, I kno...more
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...more
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
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...more
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
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
A fairly terse and clear overview of the various contemporary and historical trends in literary/critical theory.

Personally one of the most valuable and interesting elements of the book I found to be the bibliographies that Barry includes at the end of each chapter. There were a number of book titles I'd not heard of before, and taken together with the cues from his text it pointed to an extremely long list of books that should keep me busy for the next dozen years or so!
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
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...more
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...more
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...more
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
Grace Mc Gowan
Another very good beginner's guide to theory, it covers all of the main topics and supplies literary examples, Barry has also included exercises to consolidate learning or instigate group discussion. Very useful.
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...more
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
Stuart Aken
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
Andy Hickmott
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...more
Found it greatly helpful for a critical theory class I had done at university.
By far the best introduction to the subjects of a literary theory and criticism.
Heidi Schmidt
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
An incredibly helpful book for theory dummies like myself :D There are some terms that I wished Mr. Barry elaborated more upon - it is almost too generalized at times, if that is possible for a beginning book. All and all though, this book is a very helpful starting point for anyone who either needs or wishes to get into literary theory. The annotated bibliographies at the end of each chapter are worth the buy (or borrow) in and of itself.
It's a very useful introduction to theory, and although I enjoyed reading it, that's all it is, an introduction. In order to understand theory more deeply the need for another book is felt. I have written whole essays on all the areas and movements in theory covered here but they are for my edification only. For anyone interested in theory though this book comes in handy. Just prepare to add to your knowledge by reading another.
"Issues in Criticism" -University of Saint Thomas, required text. Master's in English.

I read about 3/4 of this for class. I would highly recommend this to anyone wanting to study literary theory. It breaks down each school of thought, highlights the major contributors, and gives examples of what people who are a part of that field do. Like, "How Feminists read texts," or something.
Haythem Bastawy
The Best introduction to literary theory for beginners I have come across. It covers the majority of the current trends of literary criticism, their histories and an applied example on each followed up by a further reading list with a brief note on the nature of each book.

This is the perfect book for a literary theory beginner or an old timer like me who wants to refresh his stagnant mind.
Elizabeth Schlatter
Really great intro to theory that is applicable beyond literature. Read this to brush up for a class I'll be teaching on contemporary art and I found it to be so helpful in summarizing and explaining various concepts and introducing different thinkers. As I told my daughter, I couldn't believe how much I was enjoying reading a book on theory!
I bought this book to help me in my Master of arts (Writing and Literature) degree. I had to wade through swathes of literary theory in a reletively short period and gain a strong understanding of each theory. Barry's book was invaluable in providing a quick but insightful outline of a variety of literary theories.
Joanne Gass
Preparing to teach a new class in the spring, so had review my knowledge of theory, especially since this book is on the required list for the students. This introduction to theory is very readable and accessible. I've read a lot of theory in my life, so to find this review a pleasure is indeed high praise from me.
Steven Salaita
Of the many books available that purport to demystify theory for students and nonacademic audiences, this one is my favorite. Barry writes with humor and has great command of the material. I've used this book a few times in graduate critical theory courses and the students have likewise found it useful.
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