Using critical reading in your dissertation and Literary Study Responses

At Advanced Higher level, it is expected that you will not only engage with the primary literature we are studying, but also with secondary critical reading, i.e. writing that explores literary theory and analysis. This type of reading can help deepen and expand your own analysis, but can also help support ideas that you have.

How it can be used

For example, this is how it can be used in a dissertation:

One of the similarities between the narrators in these novels is that they are both third person – albeit only occasionally in The Book Thief. This viewpoint can be both advantageous and disadvantageous compared to a first person viewpoint. Magorian’s use of third person narrative is advantageous in terms of him not having his own viewpoint – thus less likely to stray from the story of Willie. Chapman compares a first person narrative to someone telling a story about themselves explaining, “We leave out other facts altogether, ones which somehow spoil the story we are trying to tell. We perhaps even invent some ‘facts.’”[1] This is an effective comparison as it not only allows us to better understand the extent of the effect a first person narrative can have on the accuracy of the story being told, but also encourages us to consider the reliability of a first person narrative – highlighting how the stability of the neutral voice of the narrator of Goodnight Mr Tom can be seen as a more reliable viewpoint.

[1] Harvey Chapman, Advantages of Third Person Point of View, Novel Writing Help, 2008-2017

What this critical reading has done has allowed the student to increase their understanding of the particular technique they are exploring (in this case, third person narrative), and used it to support their own argument about the more ‘reliable’ nature of third person narrative.


Where to find suitable critical reading

It may sound obvious, but libraries are crucial sources of secondary reading. Anyone can gain a reference only membership to Edinburgh University library, meaning you can access texts within the library itself, without taking them out. You can also find a huge amount of literary criticism in the Central Library on George IV Bridge.

If you’re stuck in the house, however, a wide range of critical reading can be found via Google Scholar – simply put in a some broad search terms for your chosen writers or topics, and lots of articles and books will appear. If you need a login to access some of these articles, let me know.


How to search

Don’t be too specific – for example, if I was using a library database, or Google Scholar to search for writing on Sylvia Plath, I would type in her name and another key word, say nihilism. However, don’t be afraid to read AROUND your chosen writers – often, you can find helpful critical reading on the technique or topic you are exploring that does not reference your individual writer at all – but will discuss the approach they have taken. For example, searching for “the sublime” and “poetry” could lead to some interesting articles, which could then be applied to Plath’s work.


London Trip

Ladies, just a reminder of the itinerary for the trip:

Monday 9th September  

  • Meeting at Edinburgh Waverley: NO LATER THAN 8:30am 
  • 9:00am Train departs  
  • 1:40pm Arrive in London King’s Cross  
  • 2pm Check in to apartment  
  • 3:00pm-5:00pm Literary Walking Tour/National Portrait Gallery for creative writing workshop (weather dependent), then, return to apartment 
  • 6.00pm Dinner 
  • 7:30pm A Doll’s House at Hammersmith Apollo Theatre 

Tuesday 10th September 

  • 9:00am Breakfast 
  • 10:00am Literary Walking Tour/National Portrait Gallery for creative writing workshop (weather dependent)
  • 12:30pm Travel to London King’s Cross  
  • 1:30pm Train departs  
  • 6:20pm approx. Train arrives at Edinburgh Waverley 

As we will be away over a couple of days, make sure you bring some spending money , for lunches, dinners, or if we decide to visit shop or café during our stay. Feel free to bring snacks and drinks along with you for the outgoing and return journey. You should bring comfortable clothing, and comfortable shoes, as we will be walking around central London. They should also bring toiletries, a towel, and anything else needed for an overnight stay.  

You have my number for emergencies as well.

See you on Monday morning!

Plath and Dissolution of the Self

  • Kenneth Gergen’s article ‘The Dissolution of Self’ focuses on the individual within a social group.
  • Gergen’s argument in the article is that our view of the individual in terms of identity/individualism is actually a result of the social saturation, interpreted as- people are a product of their environment.
  • The certain groups that we have become acclimated to over time are what shape our own personal identity by different values and characteristics that we might have.
  • Gergen argues that because of this process of socialization, we in fact do not have an actual self but rather a personality that reflects our experiences in society.
  • When the known patterns dissipate, the masks of the false self come off, revealing us as real, vulnerable, and stripped of facades and illusions.


Based on the poems we’ve studied so far, make notes on how the dissolution of the the self is explored in Plath’s poetry.

London Trip

Ladies, still waiting to hear from a couple of you about the trip – Ava, Maddie, can you get your folks to email me ASAP to let me know if you can come or not, so I can get flights booked, or the trip might not be able to go ahead.

London Trip

Hi folks,

Hope you’re all having a lovely summer. Just a reminder to ask your folks to drop me an email to say if you’ll be able to attend the London trip – I’ve already heard from some of you, but if you can let me know, I can get flights etc sorted as soon as possible.

Hello, new Advanced Highers!

As ever, I’m looking forward to geeking out with this class over the next year.

Our texts this year will be:

  • Poetry: Sylvia Plath’s nature poetry (booklet here)
  • Prose: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte and Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier
  • Drama: A Doll’s House and Hedda Gabler by Henrik Ibsen

I would recommend you all buy your own copy of these texts – for the Ibsen plays, a good one is the Bloomsbury Student edition.

In the meantime, some reminders about deadlines (already, I know):


  • Dissertation texts and topic decided on: before summer holidays
  • Dissertation primary texts read: August 2019
  • Dissertation draft 1: Friday 11th October 2019
  • Dissertation draft 2: Friday 15th November 2019
  • Dissertation draft 3: January 2020

Suggested texts for dissertation (very helpful):



Literary Study texts

  • Prose texts read: August 2019
  • Drama texts read: January 2019



  • Draft deadlines: throughout year
  • Final draft: Friday 3rd April 2020


Below are the handouts given out so far, in case yours go astray:

Dissertation Guide

Dissertation Making notes

Advanced Higher English Course Guide

Advanced Higher English Dissertation Guide




Good luck!

Good luck, guys!

I’ll be in tomorrow before the exam, loitering somewhere in the English corridor with the baby. Come by and see me.

You’ll be fine. You’re all totally capable, and you’re going to do yourselves proud, I know it.

Get a good night’s sleep.