4.3 Independent critical study: texts across time

In Texts across time, students write a comparative critical study of two texts.

This specification is committed to the notion of autonomous personal reading and Texts across time provides a challenging and wide-ranging opportunity for independent study. Possible themes for the comparison are indicated below, but this is not a set list and students are free to develop their own interests from their own wider and independent reading.

Texts chosen for study must maximise opportunities for writing about comparative similarity and difference and must allow access to a range of critical views and interpretations, including over time. Students should take an autonomous approach to the application and evaluation of a range of critical views.

The title 'Independent critical study' highlights the important idea that, within a literature course, students should have the opportunity to work independently. Although one common text could, if required, be taught to a whole cohort, at least one text should be studied independently by each student. Texts should always be chosen with your guidance and support. Students should also individually negotiate their own task.

In Texts across time, students write a comparative critical study of two texts on a theme of their choice. Possible themes include, but are not limited to:

  • the struggle for identity
  • crime and punishment
  • minds under stress
  • nostalgia and the past
  • the Gothic
  • satire and dystopia
  • war and conflict
  • representations of race and ethnicity
  • representations of sexuality
  • representations of women
  • representations of men
  • representations of social class and culture.

The spirit of this component is for independent study, with schools and colleges submitting work on a range of texts and tasks. Schools and colleges are encouraged to check the appropriateness of texts and tasks with their non-exam assessment adviser, especially where there may be some uncertainty on the approach being taken, either by the school or college as a whole or by individual students.

4.3.1 Tasks

  • The word count is 2,500 words.
  • Tasks should be designed to ensure that students address all assessment objectives in their essay response.
  • An appropriate academic bibliography (not included within the 2,500 word count) must be included.
  • An appropriately academic form of referencing must be used.

4.3.2 Texts

The following conditions apply to the texts chosen:

  • one text must have been written pre-1900
  • two different authors must be studied
  • set texts listed for the A-level exam components cannot be used for non-exam assessment, even if they will not be used in the exam
  • the essay is comparative and connective so equal attention must be paid to both texts
  • a poetry text could be either one longer narrative poem or a single authored collection of shorter poems. If using a collection of poetry, students must have studied the whole text and select at least two poems to write about in detail as examples of the wider collection
  • single authored collections of short stories are permissible. If using a collection of short stories, students must have studied the whole text and select at least two stories to write about in detail as examples of the wider collection
  • texts chosen for study may include texts in translation that have been influential and significant in the development of literature in English. The translated text should be treated as the original writer's own words for assessment purposes. Therefore, schools and colleges should ensure that they use a version recognised by academia as being a high quality translation which supports the original author's writing appropriately.

Texts listed in the A-level core set text and comparative set text lists in Sections 4.1 and 4.2 cannot be studied for non-exam assessment. Texts chosen for study may include texts in translation that have been influential and significant in the development of literature in English.

Possible pre-1900 texts include, but are not limited to:

Prose

Author Text
Jane Austen Northanger Abbey
Mansfield Park
Anne Brontë The Tenant of Wildfell Hall
Wilkie Collins The Moonstone
The Woman in White
Charles Dickens Hard Times
George Eliot Middlemarch
The Mill on the Floss
Elizabeth Gaskell North and South
Charlotte Perkins Gilman The Yellow Wallpaper
Mary Shelley Frankenstein
William Makepeace Thackeray Vanity Fair
Oscar Wilde The Picture of Dorian Gray

Drama

Author Text
William Congreve The Way of the World
Henrik Ibsen A Doll's House
Hedda Gabler
Oliver Goldsmith She Stoops to Conquer
George Bernard Shaw any pre-1900 play by this writer
Richard Brinsley Sheridan The School for Scandal
Oscar Wilde any pre-1900 play by this writer
William Wycherley The Country Wife

Poetry

Author Text

Geoffrey Chaucer

'The Wife of Bath’s Tale'

'The Miller’s Tale'

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

'The Rime of the Ancient Mariner'

John Keats

'Lamia'

'Isabella or The Pot of Basil'

'The Eve of St Agnes'

4.3.4 Examples of choices of non-exam assessment texts and possible connections

  1. John R. Reed (1973) has suggested that the ‘unacknowledged crime’ of Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone is the colonial guilt of the British Empire for its annexation of the entire Indian sub-continent rather than the theft of a single exquisite diamond.

    Compare and contrast the presentation of British attitudes to race and ethnicity in The Moonstone and in Zadie Smith’s White Teeth in the light of this view.

  2. Compare and contrast the presentation of women in Keats’ narrative poems 'Lamia', 'Isabella' and 'The Eve of St Agnes' with that of Anne Brontë's in her novel The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.

    In what ways do you think the Gothic settings of these texts help the writers to shape their presentation of heroines in peril?

  3. Sarah Waters has argued that the Victorian ‘sensation novel’ genre ‘was at its best when tugging at the seams of certainties and easy solutions’.

    Compare and contrast the presentation of Sue Trinder in Fingersmith with Marian Halcombe in The Woman in White in the light of this view.