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.


  • 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.


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:


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
Mary Shelley Frankenstein
William Makepeace Thackeray Vanity Fair
Oscar Wilde The Picture of Dorian Gray


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


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


'Isabella or The Pot of Basil'

'The Eve of St Agnes'

NEA prohibited texts

Students cannot use the following texts for non-exam assessment as they appear on the exam set text lists.


Author Text
Margaret Atwood The Handmaid’s Tale
Jane Austen Persuasion


Author Text
Pat Barker Regeneration
Pat Barker Life Class
Barry Sebastian A Long, Long Way
William Blake The Garden of Love
Charlotte Brontë Jane Eyre
Emily Brontë Wuthering Heights
Robert Burns Song (Ae fond kiss)
Lord Byron She Walks in Beauty


Author Text
Kate Chopin The Awakening
Caryl Churchill Top Girls
Wendy Cope After the Lunch
Richard Curtis and Ben Elton Blackadder Goes Forth


John DonneThe Flea
Keith DouglasVergissmeinnicht
Ernest DowsonNon Sum Qualis Eram Bonae sub Regno Cynarae
Daphne Du MaurierRebecca
Carol Ann DuffyThe Love Poem
Carol Ann DuffyFeminine Gospels


Author Text
Ben Elton The First Casualty


Author Text
Sebastian Faulks Birdsong
F. Scott Fitzgerald The Great Gatsby
E. M. Forster A Room with a View
Michael Frayn Spies
Brian Friel Translations
Robert Frost Love and a Question


Author Text
Brian Gardner, ed. Up the Line to Death
Robert Graves Goodbye to All That


David HaigMy Boy Jack
Thomas HardyThe Ruined Maid
Thomas HardyAt an Inn
Thomas HardyTess of the D’Urbervilles
Tony HarrisonTimer
Tony HarrisonSelected Poems (2013 edition)
L. P. HartleyThe Go-Between
Seamus HeaneyPunishment
Seamus HeaneyNew Selected Poems (1966–1987)
Ernest HemingwayA Farewell to Arms
Susan HillStrange Meeting
Ian Hislop and Nick NewmanThe Wipers Times
Ted HughesBirthday Letters


Elizabeth JenningsOne Flesh


Author Text
John Keats La Belle Dame sans Merci
Ken Kesey One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest


Author Text
Philip Larkin Wild Oats
Philip Larkin Talking in Bed
Joan Littlewood Oh! What a Lovely War
Richard Lovelace The Scrutiny


Author Text
Louis MacNeice Meeting Point
Andrew Marvell To His Coy Mistress
Ian McEwan Atonement
Charlotte Mew A quoi bon dire
Edna St. Vincent Millay I, being born a woman and distressed
Arthur Miller All My Sons
Paul Muldoon Long Finish


Ian Hislop and Nick NewmanThe Wipers Times


Author Text
Sylvia Plath Ariel


Author Text
Catherine Reilly, ed. Scars Upon My Heart
Erich Maria Remarque All Quiet on the Western Front
Michael Symmons Roberts To John Donne
Christina Rossetti Remember
Arundhati Roy The God of Small Things


Author Text
Anne Sexton For My Lover, Returning to His Wife
William Shakespeare Othello
William Shakespeare The Taming of the Shrew
William Shakespeare Measure for Measure
William Shakespeare The Winter’s Tale
William Shakespeare Sonnet 116
Owen Sheers Skirrid Hill
R. C. Sherriff Journey’s End
Jon Stallworthy, ed. The Oxford Book of War Poetry
Jon Stallworthy, ed. The War Poems of Wilfred Owen
Kathryn Stockett The Help
Graham Swift Waterland


Alice WalkerThe Color Purple
George Walter, ed.The Penguin Book of First World War Poetry
Timberlake WertenbakerOur Country’s Good
Rebecca WestThe Return of the Soldier
Peter WhelanThe Accrington Pals
Tennessee WilliamsA Streetcar Named Desire
Tennessee WilliamsCat on a Hot Tin Roof
John Wilmot, Earl of RochesterA Song (Absent from thee)
Jeanette WintersonOranges are not the Only Fruit
Sir Thomas WyattWhoso list to hunt I knowe where is an hynde


Author Text
Richard Yates Revolutionary Road

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.