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There is a difference between reading a work and critically analyzing it. We are all used to reading and enjoying published work. The study of English literature includes the part in which we analyze, discuss and critically treat the topics of the work. This can include a wide range of work, from fiction to poetry to plays. If you’re bored in quarantine and want to be stimulated with glimpses of your favorite books, you can check out some of the many free online literature courses.
Perhaps you only associate literature courses with reading a thick classic and facilitating the process by hearing it broken down by a lit professor. However, free literature courses offer more variety than you might think. They can help you enjoy poetry and provide context for its glorious metaphors. You can also explore topics like the feminist movement through various published works. Without further ado, let’s explain where to find these free online English literature courses and what to expect from them.
Free online crash courses in English literature
Crash courses are instructive and compact. They contain valuable, insightful information delivered over a relatively short period of time. My personal favorite online literature crash course is Crash Course Literature, created by vlogbrothers, John and Hank Green. John Green begins the course by getting us to think about why we read. He attempts to answer this throughout the course by considering the historical context and modern relevance of famous works of literature. He talks about these works in an accessible, interesting and engaging way.
Free online literature courses offered by universities
Coursera offers a wide variety of English Literature courses offered by universities around the world. Most courses are free and barrier-free in terms of content. If you want the course certification, you can pay the required fee.
Some fascinating free literature courses I came across on Coursera are:
1) Modern and Contemporary American Poetry offered by the University of Pennsylvania – This course features videos that show actual classroom interaction. Teachers discuss individual poems written by classic poets such as Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman. The students give their individual interpretation, perspective and understanding to the various works discussed.
2) Plagues, Witches, and War: The Worlds of Historical Fiction offered by the University of Virginia – This course sets the context for the study of historical fiction. Some renowned historical fiction writers discuss their famous works with the professor in some modules of the course. Some of these are Fever by Mary Beth Kane and Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe.
You can also check out the free online English literature courses offered by edX.
Many universities offer free, top-notch courses on their course websites. Here is a small list of some of these universities and some of the best English literature courses offered by them. Note that since the courses are free, they cannot be used for college credit. However, they will arouse your curiosity and broaden your literary horizons in unexpected ways.
1) Masterpieces of World Literature – This course examines how literature around the world is intertwined with global culture. This is happening with works by Homer, Voltaire, Jhumpa Lahiri, Lu Xun and more.
2) Modern Masterpieces of World Literature – This course examines global works ranging from medieval stories to contemporary novels. This happens with works by Jorge Luis Borges, Eileen Chang, Orhan Pamuk and others.
1) Introduction to Theory of Literature – This free English literature course helps students think about how approaches such as structuralism, deconstruction and feminism can be used to interpret literary texts.
2) The American Novel Since 1945 – This course examines a wide range of works from 1945 to the present day. These include works by Richard Wright, JD Salinger, Toni Morrison, Cormac McCarthy and more.
University of Oxford:
Who says literature courses can only be experienced as MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses)? Listen to these fantastically educational podcasts brought to you by the University of Oxford!
1) George Eliot – This podcast consists of three talks about her literary reputation. It also examines how their narrative structure relates to classical notions of comedy and tragedy.
2) Fantasy Literature – These audio lectures delve into famous authors of fantasy literature including but not limited to CS Lewis, Elizabeth Knox and Susan Cooper.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology:
1) Popular Culture and Narratives: Literature, Comics and Culture – This course explores how more traditional literary texts have influenced comics and vice versa.
2) Reading Fiction: Dysfunctional Families – Take this course to analyze works of fiction through the lens of “dysfunctional families.” This theme is explored through the work of Arundhati Roy, Mary Shelley, James Baldwin and others.
3) Medieval Literature: Medieval Women Writers – This course serves as an introduction to medieval European literature from the perspective of women writers. Some of the most famous women of this period such as Hildegard von Bingen, Heloise von Paris, Marie de France and Joan of Arc are examined along with some lesser known ones.
4) Black Matters: Introduction to Black Studies – The introductory session will talk about Black Matters and why Black Languages matter. The theme is deepened with works by James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, Edwidge Danticat and others.
1) Exploring Children’s Books: Words and Pictures – The course description says it best: “You will learn how children’s books use words and pictures in remarkably sophisticated ways to communicate with both young and older readers by focusing on Drawing on examples from the classics, such as Beatrix Potter’s Tales of Peter Rabbit, and from contemporary children’s authors, such as Anthony Browne, author of Gorilla.”
2) Icarus: Entry into the World of Myth – This free online English literature course will introduce you to the classic myth of Icarus and its various retellings in later periods.
I hope this article serves as a starting point for free online English literature courses that best suit your interests. Tiptoe into the fascinating literary elements or delve into the vital role of books in historical movements.
For more resources for your exploration of literature, see our articles: Who Was Virginia Woolf? and 16 Jane Eyre retellings.