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Beginning Theory: An Introduction to Literary and Cultural Theory 3rd Edition

4.3 out of 5 stars 28 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0719079276
ISBN-10: 0719079276
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Editorial Reviews

Review


"Always reassuringly urbane, and often witty...Barry's book remains important, especially as a work of mediation between those who would innately be inclined to 'take' or 'leave' theory." -- Martin Blocksidge, The Use of English: The English Association Journal for Teacher of English, 01/03/2012


About the Author


Peter Barry is Professor of English at the University of Aberystwyth
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press; 3rd edition (February 1, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0719079276
  • ISBN-13: 978-0719079276
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 1.1 x 7.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #46,004 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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 each theory is given, along with an introduction to important scholars and influential works in the field. For me, the most helpful aspect was the practical application: the bullet pointed lists of what scholars from each camp actually do, and the mini-essays interpreting specific poems and short stories using the principles of each camp of literary criticism. (Several poems and short stories are included in the appendix and it was fascinating to see the same story interpreted differently depending on the chapter.)

For me, reading this book was like discovering the cipher to a code that I was already supposed to know. The articles for my class, which are littered with references to Foucault, textual deconstruction, Bhabha, and Narratology, are beginning to make sense. The genius of this book is its ability to take obtuse terms and abstract concepts and to bring them down to earth. The author writes in an easy going, casual voice, and isn't afraid to poke fun at his own profession at times. After Derrida, it's a breath of fresh air.
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Format: Paperback
To speak the truth, not a very informative text. After reading Robert Dale Parker's How to Interpret Literature, I see that Barry has left out so much. Perhaps the weakest sections are on psychoanalysis (particularly Lacan) and feminism. Let me tell you, if I had only read this book, I would have had nary a clue as to what professors in upper-level classes mean when they mention "signs of the father" or gynocriticism or even discourse. If you are using this in your theory class, grab a supplementary text.

Plus, what is the deal with the old man and the kitty on the cover. Creepy.
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There's no denying that this book is a good, standard, all-encompassing Lit Theory book, especially for British literature studies. It mostly translates well into American Studies, with a few differences in names for some of the theories. The major "miss" that American teachers wishing to use this book should make a note of is that it lacks any information of African American literature studies. It touches on colonialism, but African American culture and literature is distinct to the US. American Lit Theory/Studies professors should be aware of this, and African American literary theory should be accounted for with supplemental material. Otherwise, the book is reader-friendly and thorough.
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I purchased the book to prepare myself for a degree in cultural and literary studies. The book is excellent as a beginners book. The only problem is that it is too small for the range it covers. The informations are short and almost encyclopedic. The author usually connects only one person with a (cultural) period or an idea (for example Barthes with Post-structuralism or Derrida with Postmodernism). However, as I said, there is no better book for beginners.
There are parts in the book (towards the end of every chapter) that help you to understand better the ideas presented (these are called STOP and THINK, where the author of the book helps you to apply the knowledge you gained from reading about a certain theory). Also, there are, at the end of every chapter, suggested books for "further reading" with short explanations pointing (in a nutshell) the quality and shortcomings (biases etc) of each book.
At the end, I can just conclude that this book is worth buying only as a beginning point (probably that's why there is BEGINNINGS in the name of the book). If you already know something, and still look for a book to help you understand theory, get separate books for every kind of theory (e.g. get a book on post-structuralism, book on postmodernism etc.)
PS. The book itself was poorly made. It already started falling apart and I have it less than a month.
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An excellent book for introducing college undergraduates to major theoretical concepts and schools. I do agree with some reviews that it is not diverse enough--missing African American and non-Euro-American theories--but it serves a good purpose for a college introduction class.
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If you're unused to critical theory, as I was when I got this book, the ideas inside will stretch your mind and hopefully bring you helpful new ways of considering not just literature, but all forms of communication from TV ads to obituaries. Reading this book in a discussion-based class was helpful as I could fine-tune my understanding of the ideas Barry presents, which are not always crystal-clear due more to their complexity than to his presentation of them.

This book will expand your ways of thinking. It is mostly interpretation of theory and introduction to key players in each theory, not original texts from those critics.
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I got this book for my graduate school Literary Theory class. Each theory gets it's own chapter, and I find Barry's writing to be very down-to-earth and easy to comprehend (especially compared to Eagleton).

If you need this for a textbook, don't fret - this is a really good book! If you need a guide through literary theory or a resource for writing an essay or analyzing literature, I highly recommend Beginning Theory. It's just a good guide to have on hand if you are in the field of literature, literary theory, or English.
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