A Guide To Finding The Best Free Online English Literature Courses

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Yashvi Peeti


Yashvi Peeti is an aspiring writer and an aspiring penguin. She has worked as an editorial intern with Penguin Random House India and HarperCollins Publishers India. She is always up for fangirling over poetry, taking a walk in a park, and painting tiny canvases. You can find her on Instagram @intangible.perception

There’s a difference between reading a piece of work and critically analysing it. We’re all familiar with reading and enjoying published work. The study of English Literature covers the part where we analyze, discuss, and critically cover the themes of the work. This can include a wide range of work, from fiction to poetry to plays. If you’re bored in quarantine and want to be stimulated with insights about your favourite books, you can check out some of the abundant free online literature courses.

Maybe you only associate literature courses with reading a dense classic and having the process easier by hearing it being broken down by a lit professor. Free literature courses, however, offer more range than one would think. They can help you savour poetry and provide context for its glorious metaphors. You can also explore topics like the feminist movement with the help of various published works. Without further ado, let’s get into where to find these free online English Literature courses and what to expect from them.

Free Online English Literature Crash Courses

Crash Courses are educational and compact. They contain valuable, insightful information that’s delivered over a relatively short period of time. My personal favourite online Literature Crash Course is Crash Course Literature started by the Vlogbrothers, John and Hank Green. John Green starts the course by making us ponder on why we read. He tries to answer this throughout the course by looking at the historical context and modern relevance of famous works of literature. He talks about these works in a way that’s accessible, interesting and appealing.

Free Online Literature Courses Offered By Universities


Coursera offers a wide range of English Literature Courses offered by universities all around the world. Most of the courses are free and accessible in terms of their content. If you want the course certification, you can pay the required fee.
Some fascinating free Literature courses I’ve come across on Coursera are:

1) Modern & Contemporary American Poetry offered by The University of Pennsylvania – This course offers videos that show actual classroom interaction. The teachers discuss individual poems written by classic poets like Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman. The students lend their individual interpretation, perspective, and understanding to the various works discussed.

2) Plagues, Witches, and War: The Worlds of Historical Fiction offered by The University of Virginia – This course sets context for the study of historical fiction. Some renowned historical fiction authors discuss their famous works with the professor during some modules of the course. Some of these include Fever by Mary Beth Kane and Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe.

You can also check out the free online English Literature courses offered by edX.

University Websites

A lot of universities offer free, top-notch courses on their course websites. Here’s a tiny list of some of these universities and some of the best English Literature courses offered by them. Keep in mind that since the courses are free, they cannot be taken for university credit. They will, however, tingle your curiosity and expand your literary horizons in unforeseen ways.

Harvard University:

1) Masterpieces of World Literature – This course explores how literature around the world intertwines with global culture. It does this with works of Homer, Voltaire, Jhumpa Lahiri, Lu Xun, and more.

2) Modern Masterpieces of World Literature – This course explores global works that range from medieval tales to contemporary novels. It does so with works of Jorge Luis Borges, Eileen Chang, Orhan Pamuk, and more.

Yale University:

1) Introduction to Theory of Literature – This free English Literature Course helps students reflect on how approaches like structuralism, deconstruction, and feminism can be used interpret literary texts.

2) The American Novel Since 1945 – In this course, a wide range of works from 1945 to present will be explored. This will include works of Richard Wright, J. D. Salinger, Toni Morrison, Cormac McCarthy, and more.

University of Oxford:
Who says literature courses can only be experienced as MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses)? Tune into these awesomely educational podcasts offered by University of Oxford!

1) George Eliot – This podcast consists of three lectures covering her literary reputation. It also explores how her narrative structure relates to the classical notions of comedy and tragedy.

2) Fantasy Literature – These audio lectures dive into famous authors of fantasy literature including but not limited to C. S. Lewis, Elizabeth Knox, and Susan Cooper.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology:

1) Popular Culture and Narrative: Literature, Comics, and Culture – This course investigates how more traditional literary texts have influenced comics and vice versa.

2) Reading Fiction: Dysfunctional Families – Take this course to analyse fictional works through the lens of “dysfunctional families.”  This theme is explored through works of Arundhati Roy, Mary Shelley, James Baldwin, and more.

3) Medieval Literature: Medieval Women Writers – This course serves as an introduction to medieval European Literature from the perspective of women writers. Some of the most famous women of the period like Hildegard of Bingen, Heloise of Paris, Marie de France, and Joan of Arc will be studied, along with some lesser known ones.

4) Black Matters: Introduction to Black Studies – The introductory session will talk about Black matters and why Black languages matter. The theme will be delved into with works of James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, Edwidge Danticat, and more.

Open University

1) Exploring books for children: words and pictures – The course description says it best: “you will learn how children’s books use words and pictures together in remarkably sophisticated ways to communicate both to young and older readers, drawing on examples from the classics, such as Beatrix Potter’s Tales of Peter Rabbit, and from contemporary children’s authors such as Anthony Browne, author of Gorilla.” 

2) Icarus: entering the world of myth – This free online English literature course will introduce you to the classical myth of Icarus and its various retellings in later periods.

I hope the article serves as a starting point for you to venture into free online English Literature courses that most suit your interests. Go ahead and tip toe around the fascinating literary elements or deep dive into the vital role of books in historical movements.

For more resources for your exploration into Literature, check out our articles: Who Was Virginia Woolf? and 16 Jane Eyre Retellings.