Critical Reading Summer School


Take your passion for literature to the next level. Acquiring skills in critical reading pulls you deeper into written works, leading you to a greater understanding of elements such as narrative voice and perspective, and literary devices such as imagery and metaphor. With an enhanced appreciation, you’ll fall in love with literature all over again.

You’ll spend the week studying, dining and living in New College, one of the most architecturally striking colleges in Oxford, combining spectacular buildings and gardens.  

On this intensive short summer school, you will:

  • Work with Oxford tutors in small-group seminars
  • Receive a one-to-one tutorial
  • Attend a daily guest lecture
  • Participate in lively seminar discussions

On the first day of your course you will consider what literature is, and what we mean by literary value. You will then spend the next three days engaging in the close reading of poetry, prose and drama. On your final day, you will think about different approaches to literature, and be given practical guidance on critical writing. Towards the end of the week, you will also have a 20 minute one-to-one tutorial to discuss a short piece of close reading.


Programme details

Your week will comprise:

  • 5  one-hour lectures delivered by expert tutors, followed by Q&A sessions
  • 10 small-group one-hour seminars
  • A one-to-one 20 minute tutorial on a piece of close reading
  • A walking tour of Oxford 
  • Opening and closing drinks receptions
  • Optional evening social programme

Your programme starts on Sunday with an orientation meeting followed by welcome drinks in the historical New College cloisters, overlooking a green space in which grows the holm oak made famous by the Harry Potter films. 

Each day begins with a plenary lecture on aspects of the genres and movements of English Literature. After a coffee break in the cloisters, you will participate in small group seminars followed by lunch, and on most days have either a workshop or a tutorial on a piece of close reading.

On your final day, you will be presented with a certificate of course attendance.

By the end of this course, you should be able to:

  • discuss concepts of literary value;
  • understand key concepts of the genres of English literature;
  • identify literary techniques and tropes;
  • confidently engage in close reading;
  • analyse texts beyond the surface level of plot and character description.

You can find a sample timetable here.

Plenary Lectures

Monday 31 July - Reading medieval literature

Tuesday 1 August - Reading Early Modern literature

Wednesday 2 August - Reading eighteenth-century literature

Thursday 3 August - Reading Victorian literature

Friday 4 August - Reading Twentieth-century literature

Social and informal events

There will be a number of evening activities such as a quiz, a walking tour of Oxford, and a pub walk. 

The venue

Situated at the very heart of the city, New College is one of the largest and most architecturally striking colleges in Oxford, combining outstanding facilities with spectacular buildings and gardens set against the twelfth-century city wall. 

New College was founded in 1379 by William of Wykham, Bishop of Winchester, as 'the college of St Mary of Winchester in Oxford', and was the largest college at the time. It soon became known as New College to distinguish it from an earlier Oxford college (Oriel) also dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

Architecturally, New College was innovative in its enclosed quadrangle - the first of its type, which has since become one of the defining features of colleges across Oxford and Cambridge. Around the quadrangle are the cloisters, dining hall, chapel, student accommodation and beautiful gardens and grounds, which you are free to explore.

The cloisters, hall, chapel and gardens are fully accessible. Access to the hall is provided via a lift, and teaching and bed/study rooms are either ground-floor or easily accessed by lift.

Staying at New College

You will stay in a single en-suite study bedroom, with your own private toilet and shower. All guests are provided with towels, a welcome toiletry pack, a mini fridge and tea and coffee making facilities.

All rooms are used by students during term-time, so feature a desk and a wardrobe. Please note that hairdryers and international plug adaptors are not provided.

There are a limited number of double en-suite and fully accessible rooms, which can accommodate carers.

Laundry facilities (washing machines, dryers, irons) are available within the College. Washers and dryers are pay-as-you-go. Irons and ironing boards are available free of charge.

We regret that participants cannot be accommodated at New College either prior to or beyond their programme dates. Family members and/or friends who are not enrolled on this programme cannot be accommodated in college.


Description Costs
Non-residential fee £1300.00
Programme fee £1800.00



The fees for a residential place of £1800.00 for the course include the following:

  • All tuition
  • Accommodation in a single en-suite room with private shower and toilet for the nights of Sunday 30 July to Friday 4 August;
  • Meals on a full-board basis (breakfast, lunch and dinner every weekday) and dinner on Sunday 30 August and breakfast on Saturday 5 August.
  • Tea and coffee during the main morning break 
  • Full Social programme
  • Services of resident summer school assistants


No accommodation - £1300.00 for the course includes the following:

  • All tuition
  • Course materials
  • Full social programme
  • Lunch Monday to Friday, and the programme's opening and formal closing drinks receptions and dinners on Sunday 31 July and Friday 4 August, respectively.
  • Weekday morning tea/coffee and biscuits
  • Services of resident summer school assistants

Once you have submitted your application form, you will be offered a place on the course and invoiced for the course fee. You may pay online by credit/debit card or via bank transfer within 30 days of the invoice date.

Cancellations and refunds

You will enter into your contract with the University when you pay the full amount of the course fees. You have the right to cancel your contract at any time within 14 days of its commencement (ie when you pay your fees). You will receive a full refund of any payments you have made.

If you cancel your place on a course at any time after expiry of the 14-day period you will not be entitled to a refund, except in exceptional circumstances, at the discretion of the University. If a refund is made an administration fee may be charged.

Participants who wish to cancel must inform the Programme Administrator by emailing

Please be aware that all payments (and refunds) are subject to exchange rates at the time of processing. You can find the full terms and conditions here.

Important information regarding visa requirements

You can check if you need a visa for this course using this link on the GOV.UK website. If you require a visa to study abroad, then we strongly recommend that you apply for this course as early as possible in order to allow yourself sufficient time to make a successful visa application.

This may include a letter from the course administrator confirming your place on the course; this confirmation letter will not be issued until all course fees have been paid in full.

In the case of a visa application being unsuccessful the Department will not offer a refund.

Please note that, for legal reasons, the Programme Administrator is not permitted to provide any visa advice to applicants. All such enquiries should be submitted to Oxford University’s student visa and immigration advisers via email at


Dr Helen Appleton


Dr Helen Appleton is a member of the Faculty of English at Oxford University. She specialises in the literatures of Britain in the medieval period, especially texts in Old and Early Middle English and their influences.

Dr Edward Clarke

Tutor and plenary speaker

Edward tutors visiting students in English Literature for St Catherine's College, Oxford, and the Oxford University Department for Continuing Education, where he teaches Early Modern writing on the Foundation Certificate in English Literature; poetry on the Undergraduate Diploma in Creative writing; and weekly classes on critical reading, the Bible in literature and poetry writing. He also teaches English literature and art and architectural history for the Washington International Studies Council and at the International College of St Clare’s. He has published critical work in the Modern Language Review and the Wallace Stevens Journal and has contributed essays to critical books, including John Berryman: Centenary Essays (2017), Essays and Reflections on John Berryman (2006), and The Greenwood Encyclopaedia of American Poetry and Poetics (2006). He is the author of two books of literary criticism: The Vagabond Spirit of Poetry (Winchester: Iff Books, 2014) and The Later Affluence of W.B. Yeats and Wallace Stevens (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012). He has an MA (Hons) in English Language and Literature from the University of Oxford and was awarded a PhD by Trinity College, Dublin, for his thesis on Wallace Stevens in relation to Augustine, Heidegger, Shakespeare, Milton, and various Romantic poets. Edward is also a poet. His collections include Eighteen Psalms (Plymouth: Periplum Poetry, 2018) and A Book of Psalms (Brewster, MASS: Paraclete Poetry, 2020). He presented Clarke’s Psalter, a documentary about writing these poems, which was first broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in September 2018. He is poetry editor for the journal Cassandra Voices

Dr Charlotte Jones


Dr Charlotte Jones is Leverhulme Early Career Fellow at Queen Mary, University of London, and a former lecturer at St Hilda's College, Oxford. Her research focuses on the novel, literary realism, philosophy and politics.

Assessment methods

There are no assessments for this course


Please download the application form.

All sections should be completed fully, clearly and in BLOCK CAPITALS.

Applications should be emailed to the programme administrator at:

If you experience issues using Microsoft Word, you can find a .PDF version of the application form here wihch you can complete and scan.

Application deadline

Subject to the availability of places, the closing date for applications is 27 June 2023 at 2.00pm.

Applicants will normally be offered a place by email within 14 days of the application being received. Applicants who are offered a place must respond within 14 days to accept or decline the offer.

Participants with a disability or mobility impairment

The aim of the Department is to treat all participants equally and  we welcome applications from people with disabilities. Individuals` needs are taken into account as far as possible, providing reasonable adaptations and assistance within the resources available. We ask that people let us know of any disability or special need (confidentially if required) so that we can help them participate as fully as possible.

When applying for the Department's college-based summer programmes, prospective participants with mobility difficulties or visual or hearing impairments may want to make preliminary enquiries to the programme administrator, as the age and layout of these colleges often makes them user-unfriendly (although adaptations are often possible). Oxford, as an ancient city, tends to be difficult to navigate for people with disabilities. The number of very old buildings, designed in an age less sensitive to issues of disability, makes access to much of the city centre difficult. However, the Department will do as much as it can to make study with us possible.

Participants should contact us if they will have problems gaining access to a bedroom located on upper or basement floors. Some double rooms are available, as are adjacent rooms for helpers.

Selection criteria

There are no formal entry requirements for the course, although participants must be at least 18 years of age.