Locating literary criticism

There are many ways to locate literary criticism. Choose one or all of the options listed below depending upon how much information you need to find.

Excerpts of criticism

When to use them

There are many books and online resources in Skillman's reference collection that contain excerpts of criticism. Start with these if you want to locate a small amount of information quickly or if you want to get an idea of the type of material available on the work you're researching.

How to find them

Below are details on two of the largest collections with critical excerpts.

Literature Resource Center
An online collection from the Gale Group that includes critical essays plus author biographies, bibliographies, and work overviews. Choose the "literary criticism" tab after performing an author or title search to access excerpts of criticism or the full-text of critical articles.

Library of Literary Criticism series
Connect to the Lafayette Library catalog to locate the following titles in Skillman Library:

  • Major Modern Dramatists
  • Modern American Literature
  • Modern Arabic Literature
  • Modern Black Writers
  • Modern British Literature
  • Modern French Literature
  • Modern German Literature
  • Modern Latin American Literature
  • Modern Romance Literatures
  • Modern Slavic Literatures
  • Modern Women Writers

How to cite them

Both the Gale Group series and the Library of Literary Criticism series include publication information for the criticism they excerpt. In many cases, you will want to use the library catalog to locate the full version of an essay that has been republished in one of these books. If you decide to cite an excerpt directly from the Gale or Library of Literary Criticism series books, consult the examples below for MLA-style citations:

  • Stewart, Jack F. "Color in To the Lighthouse." Twentieth Century Literature 31 (1985): 438-58. Excerpted in Literature Resource Center. Infotrac. Lafayette College Libraries, Easton. 2 February 2004 <http://galenet.galegroup.com/>. [The date immediately preceding the URL would be the date you last accessed the document.]
  • Bellow, Saul. Commentary June 1952: 608-09. Excerpted in Modern Black Writers. A Library of Literary Criticism. Ed. Michael Popkin. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1978. 189-90. [In cases like this where the citation is incomplete, provide as much information as you can.]

Books and book chapters

When to use them

Books can provide detailed criticism and analysis of an author's works. Even if you don't have time to read an entire book, you can often find a single chapter that's relevant to your topic. Or, use the book's index to locate those pages that talk about the points you're most interested in.

How to find them

Use the library catalog to find books about a single author or literary work.
  • Find books that are devoted to criticism of an author or literary work by performing a subject search (not an author search) for the author you are researching. Enter the last name first (e.g., morrison toni). Look for the subheading "criticism and interpretation" to find books that analyze an author's works. Look for a subheading that includes a title to find books about an individual work (e.g., morrison toni beloved).
  • Find book chapters or essays in anthologies by performing a keyword search using a literary work's title (e.g., "one hundred years of solitude"). For works not originally published in English, use the untranslated title as well (e.g., "cien años de soledad"). In some cases, using a shortened version of a literary work's title may result in a few additional sources (e.g., "huck finn").
  • Find bibliographies of criticism written about much-studied authors and their works by performing a subject search for the author you are researching. Look for the subheading "bibliography" (e.g., faulkner william bibliography). Bibliographies often provide the most complete list of critical writing about a particular author. They also usually include annotations describing the content of these critical works.

Articles from scholarly journals

When to use them

Articles are more narrowly focused than books. Use articles from scholarly journals when doing in-depth research or when you're interested in a specific aspect of an author's work. For example, it would be easier to find an article about the theme of marriage in Edith Wharton's Custom of the Country than one that provides an overview of her works.

How to find them

To locate scholarly literary criticism, first use Literature Online to locate references to articles. Then, if the full text of the article is not available within Literature Online, use the WebBridge button to get it.

Literature Online: Criticism and Reference
Allows you to search across two major databases of literary criticism simultaneously: MLA International Bibliography and Annual Bibliography of English Language and Literature (ABELL)

Book reviews

When to use them

The distinction between literary criticism and book reviews is not always clear. Influential critics like William Dean Howells, T. S. Eliot, and Edmund Wilson (to name a few) wrote critical reviews for publications like Harper's New Monthly Magazine, the Times Literary Supplement, and the New Republic—none of which would be considered a scholarly journal. Use book reviews when you want to document the critical reception of a book at its time of publication or when you can establish the scholarly credentials of the reviewer.

How to find them

Many book reviews are excerpted in the series described above. To locate additional reviews, consult our guide to finding book reviews.

Additional sources

When to use them

The library has a significant number of books that discuss national literatures, literary movements, or recurring literary themes. Many of these devote chapters or large sections to individual authors or particular literary works. In most cases, you will be consulting these sources after finding a citation to them in another book or essay.

How to find them

The best way to find out if one of these books includes a discussion of a particular author is to consult a bibliography of criticism written about your subject. If one is not available, the following strategies can be used in searching the library's catalog.

  • Find books about a particular national literature by performing a subject search that combines the name of a nationality or region with subheadings as shown in the examples below. Each of these searches will result in a list of different titles. (You may disregard punctuation and capitalization when entering the phrase in the search box.)

    American literature
    American literature -- History and criticism
    Latin American fiction
    Latin American fiction -- History and criticism

  • Find books that focus on works written during a particular period by performing a subject search that combines the name of a nationality or region with the word "literature" and a date. Look for books under both the main heading (i.e., French literature -- 16th century) and applicable subdivisions (i.e., French literature -- 16th century -- History and criticism).

    Books focusing on literary works written after 1800 are subdivided by century (e.g., Russian literature -- 20th century). Period subdivisions for American, English, French, German and Spanish literature before 1800 are as follows:

    American literature -- Colonial period, ca. 1600-1775
    American literature -- Revolutionary period, 1775-1783
    American literature -- 1783-1850
    English literature -- Middle English, 1100-1500
    English literature -- Early modern, 1500-1700
    French literature -- To 1500
    French literature -- 16th century
    French literature -- 17th century
    German literature -- Old High German, 750-1050
    German literature -- Middle High German, 1050-1500
    German literature -- Early modern, 1500-1700
    Spanish literature -- To 1500
    Spanish literature -- Classical period, 1500-1700

    Other helpful period subdivisions include:
    Classical literature
    Literature, Medieval
    European literature -- Renaissance, 1450-1600

  • Find books about a particular literary movement or theme by performing a subject search that combines a word related to your topic with the phrase "in literature" (e.g, marriage in literature or naturalism in literature). Library of Congress Subject Headings are not always consistent, so you may want to try some keyword searches that combine a word related to your topic with the phrase "and literature."