Close reading tutorials

tutorials in literary analysis and criticism

What is close reading?

Close reading means not only reading and understanding the meanings of the individual printed words of a text: it also involves making yourself sensitive to all the nuances and connotations of a language as it is used by skilled writers.

This can mean anything from a work’s particular vocabulary, sentence construction, and imagery, to the themes that are being dealt with, the way in which the story is being told, and the view of the world that it offers. It involves almost everything from the smallest linguistic items to the largest issues of literary understanding and judgement.

  • language
  • meaning
  • structure
  • philosophy

Close reading can be seen as four separate levels of attention which we can bring to the text. Most normal people read without being aware of them, and employ all four simultaneously. The four levels or types of reading become progressively more complex. The most advanced forms of close reading combine all these features in an effort to reveal the full and even hidden meanings in a work.

A close reading exercise is not a guessing game or a treasure hunt: it is an attempt to understand the mechanisms by which a narrative is constructed and its meanings generated. However, a really successful close reading can only be made when you know the work as a whole.

The tutorials listed here offer a variety of approaches to close reading. Some focus attention on details of literary style; others concentrate on how the meaning(s) of a text are constructed. All of them pay close attention to the language being used.


Charles Dickens – Bleak House

Bleak House close readingThis tutorial looks at the famous opening passage of Bleak House and examines Dickens’s use of language, simile, and metaphor. It argues that whilst Dickens is often celebrated for the vividness of his descriptions, the true genius of his literary power is in imaginative invention.

redbtn Close reading – Bleak House.

 

 

If you wish to read the complete novel in conjunction with these tutorial notes, it is available free at Project Gutenberg.

redbtn Bleak House (full text)

 


Joseph Conrad – An Outpost of Progress – I

Close reading tutorialsThis is the first of two close reading tutorials on Conrad’s early tale An Outpost of Progress. This one looks at the opening of the story and examines the semantic values transmitted in Conrad’s presentation of the narrative. That is, how the meaning(s) of the story are embedded in even the smallest details of of the prose.

redbtn Close reading – An Outpost of Progress

 

If you wish to read the complete story in conjunction with these tutorial notes, it is available free at Project Gutenberg.

redbtn An Outpost of Progress (full text)

 


Katherine Mansfield – The Voyage

Close reading tutorialsThis tutorial looks at one of the opening paragraphs of Katherine Mansfield’s short story The Voyage. It covers the standard features of a writer’s prose style – in the use of vocabulary, syntax, rhythm, tone, narrative mode, and figures of speech; but then it singles out the crucial issue of point of view for special attention. Mansfield was one of the only writers to establish a first-rate world literary reputation on the production of short stories alone.

redbtn Close reading – The Voyage

If you wish to read the complete story in conjunction with these tutorial notes, it is available free at Project Gutenberg.

redbtn The Voyage (full text)

 


Joseph Conrad – An Outpost of Progress – II

Close reading tutorialsThis is the second of two close reading tutorials on Conrad’s early tale An Outpost of Progress. It looks at the details of Conrad’s style as a master of English prose (even though it was his third language). The tutorial looks at his ‘signature’ use of abstract language to intensify the moral seriousness, the satirical irony, and the emotional drama of his narratives.

redbtn Close reading – An Outpost of Progress

 

If you wish to read the complete story in conjunction with these tutorial notes, it is available free at Project Gutenberg.

redbtn An Outpost of Progress (full text)

 


Virginia Woolf – Monday or Tuesday

Close reading tutorialsVirginia Woolf used the short story as an experimental platform on which to test out her innovations in language and fictional narrative. This tutorial offers a detailed reading of the whole of the experimental story Monday or Tuesday. It shows how its mixture of lyrical images, speculative thoughts, and fragments of story-line add up to more than the sum of its parts.

redbtn Close reading – Monday or Tuesday

 

If you wish to read the complete story in conjunction with these tutorial notes, it is available free at Project Gutenberg.

redbtn Monday or Tuesday (full collection)

 


D.H.Lawrence – Fanny and Annie

Close reading tutorialsD.H.Lawrence was the first world-class writer to have emerged from the working class. His work was passionate, sensual, and controversial. This tutorial looks at the opening paragraphs of his short story Fanny and Annie published in 1922. It considers in particular his use of the rhetorical devices of repetition and alliteration to impart a poetic impressionism to his writing.

redbtn Close reading – Fanny and Annie.

 

If you wish to read the complete story in conjunction with these tutorial notes, it is available free at Project Gutenberg.

redbtn Fanny and Annie (full text)

© Roy Johnson 2014


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