This book of extracts and critical essays aims to illuminate and contextualise important twentieth century memes such as classicism, Marxism, feminism and the post-colonial as they were played out in the literature of (and occasionally from outside) the European tradition. The texts are all authentic material - the editors have only added a brief note to introduce each one with minimal commentary, so the reader shouldn't expect to be spoon-fed! This book was written for an Open University course, and is meant to stimulate critical consciousness and raise starting points for debate.
Having read the book through, I am still re-reading sections of it and trying to respond to them by writing, especially as I encounter relevant longer texts. The reviews (one by George Orwell) are particularly helpful for developing a sense of the histories and societies permeated by C20th literature, and there are some excellent essays, such as Abdulrazak Gurnah's onImagining the Postcolonial Writer.
For someone like me, trying to teach myself literary criticism, this is a very helpful work; I keep coming back to it, not for reference but out of a keen-ness to chew on an idea and take it further than I could before. It's nice to find a 'textbook' that understands what a mature learning process needs to drive it forward: mind-as-searchlight, not as-bucket.
My thoughts on Virginia Woolf's lecture The Leaning Tower