IT'S ABOUT TIME! British Literature was last updated in 2003, but BJU didn't change the text, just gave the book a new cover and played with some of the inserts. We've been having a hard time pitching the 2nd edition for quite a while and this is a very welcome—and MASSIVE—revision.
While the goal remains similar, introducing students to a little more than eighty British authors, contextualizing the writings within their periods and helping students to connect authors' lives and beliefs, this text goes further than the 2nd edition does in two important ways. First, it more dramatically demonstrates how literature has reflected the changes of communities and society; second, it delves much deeper into literary analysis, continuing an approach they have taken in the rest of their lit textbook revisions over the last few years. BJU's three-fold approach to literature instruction—Analyze, Read, and Evaluate (or Create)—is a strong one, and we're happy to see it here.
How Does This Work?
The second edition of British Lit followed a broad chronological flow, dividing the material into four units and eight broad time periods, each technical labeled "X Period." While accurate, it's a pretty dull table of contents! This 3rd edition includes a fifth unit, but it is the subsection titles that are the most revealing about how much more compelling the book is—titles like: 'Heroes of Old,' 'Literature and Community,' 'Changing Society,' 'Voices from the Outside,' 'and Signs of Change.'
Looking closer, you'll see where the real difference lies. A number of authors have been removed completely (Wycliffe, Samuel Rutherford, Richard Baxter, John Dryden, James Thomson, Oliver Goldsmith, William Cowper, Charles Lamb, John Henry Newman, Lewis Carroll, A.F. Houseman, Francis Thompson, Robert Graves, and Louis MacNeice) while others have had their contributions diminished. Overall, this represents lower content of theological writers, devotional poetry and the like.
In their place, there is a huge broadening of women and minority authors; for example, while there were three women represented in the 2nd edition, we counted 15 in the new--it was jaw-dropping to realize that women like Queen Elizabeth I, Aphra Behn (Oroonoko), Jane Austen, Mary Shelley, and Charlotte Bronte weren't there before! Other new authors include Charles Dickens(!) and C.S. Lewis(!!), Winston Churchill and Seamus Heaney; several we'd never heard of, like Philip Larkin, Ted Hughes, Stevie Smith and Nadine Gordimer; minorities like Olaudah Equiano, Anita Desai and Chinua Achebe; and authors oft scorned by Christians, like Mary Wollstonecraft and Oscar Wilde.
Chapter introductions and short author biographies have been retained (many rewritten) from the 2nd edition, but the 3rd edition's new lesson plans encourage more student engagement, and its new format allows for sidebars that contain vocabulary, timelines and new discussion questions. These are marked with "A," "R," or "E" symbols for "Analyze," "Read," or "Evaluate," and help teachers to highlight key concepts, draw out major emphases, and make important connections for their students. A few of the author introductions merely introduce an author and one work; these eight books (Everyman, Piers Plowman, Frankenstein, Hard Times, Heart of Darkness, Perelandra, Waiting for Godot and Things Fall Apart) would be excellent for additional reading, but don't appear to be required, as there aren't even discussion questions provided.
Our Honest Opinion:
Overall, we're impressed with how much more broad this textbook feels. It's sad to lose some of the authors included before, but the addition of literature by women and minorities increases its relevance and its more contemporary literature exposes kids to some excellent authors of today. The book itself is definitely more attractively formatted with some lovely illustrations (we love a good full bleed!), though it can seem a tad cluttered at times with the additional pictures and sidebars. We like the new discussion questions, though we doubt many home school families will use them to their full potential. For kids that want to pursue any sort of English degree, we think this is a much better college-prep book than it was before. This is an excellent and necessary revision.
Review by Eli Evans
Formerly home educated and now father of five, Eli loves discovering amazing books, new and old. The owner and manager of Exodus since 1998, his focus is on offering thoughtful and well-written books that inspire the imagination and promote creativity and diligence while living for God. Read more of his reviews here
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