Why study English Literature at Isaac Newton Academy?

At Isaac Newton Academy we put enjoyment first and foremost when it comes to choosing our texts. The texts that we’ve chosen for the A-Level are challenging but engaging, exploring ideas about jealousy, adultery, misery, ecstasy, poverty, and inequality that are as relevant today as they have always been.

You may not leave having studied everything from the dawn of time to the present day, but hopefully you will have an understanding of the major trends and a passion for a particular period, genre, author, or idea that you want to study in more depth at university and beyond.

Set texts include:

  • William Shakespeare’s Othello, a tale of jealousy, insecurity, sexuality, and race
  • Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire, a tale so tragic you’ll need a box of tissues
  • Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, so good it was recently televised
  • Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, a cautionary tale to those who aim too high
  • A collection of Romantic poetry, inspired by nature and the power of the human imagination
  • A collection of 21st century poetry as eclectic as it comes

In addition you’ll study two texts for coursework, one of which will be of your own choosing.

By studying at INA, we hope you’ll have the chance to visit the places that inspired some of these stories, see some of them performed, and to talk and write about them until you know them inside out. Developing these transferable skills will be key to your success not only in English, but in your other subjects too.

English is an extremely versatile subject, and it is well regarded as a facilitating subject by some of the UK’s top universities. Whatever you decide to go on to study, English Literature will give you the ability to analyse something deeply, research it widely, and articulate the understanding you gain so clearly and compellingly that you’ll be sure to impress – even if it’s just on your UCAS statement!


Preparing for the Course

It is essential you are prepared for the rigours of English Literature at A-Level. To do this, you will need to purchase the following set texts, and keep a reading journal as you read them, full of all the thoughts and questions that you can think of each time you close the book.

We also encourage you to pick at least two books from the recommended reads section, and make notes once you have finished them of what you thought and why.

Finally, we encourage you to pick at least two of the events/performances/exhibitions listed below, and try to go to them. Taking photos or making a note of things that you found interesting would also be a good idea too.



Remember, these are the books you need to buy and read before the course begins. Check the ISBN number carefully before you buy so that you get the right edition!

You will also need to keep a reading journal as you read them, full of all the thoughts and questions that you can think of each time you close the book.

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood (2017 edition, Vintage, ISBN: 978-1784873189)

There's a reason this is now a 'smash hit TV series'; in fact, there are several. Written in 1985, this dystopian novel depicts a world that is scarily familiar in our 'post-truth', 'fake-news' filled world that is awash with 'alternative facts'. Set in a not-too-distant future, Offred, the book's protagonist, has only one function: to breed. If she deviates, she will, like dissenters, be hanged at the wall or sent out to die slowly of radiation sickness. But even a repressive state cannot obliterate desire – neither Offred's nor that of the two men on which her future hangs.

Othello by William Shakespeare (2015 edition, Penguin, ISBN: 978-0141396514)

Othello remains the world’s greatest investigation into the age-old theme of jealousy: the 'green-eyed monster' that spurs a popular soldier and newly-married man to murder. But Othello touches on other subjects, too, as relevant today as they were in Elizabethan England. The lionisation of military strength. The cruelty of love. Ugly misogyny in what remains a man’s world. Racism.

In this powerful tragedy, innocence is corrupted and trust is eroded as every relationship is drawn into a tangled web of jealousies, insecurities, and desires.




The Edible Woman, The Year of the Flood, or Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

Her first book, her last book, and one of her most famous and most popular novels respectively, these will give you an insight into Atwood as a writer: the themes she's interested in, and the way that she tells stories. We heartily recommend Oryx and Crake if you want all-out weird with mutated pigs and a man who lives in a tree and goes by the name of Snowman; while the feminists amongst you might want to try either of her other two.

The Power by Naomi Alderton

Alderton was actually mentored by Atwood in this novel, which won her the 2017 Bailey's Prize for Women's Fiction. It's set in a world in which women can inflict terrible pain - even death – on men with just a flick of their fingers...

The Children of Men by PD James

The year is 2021. No child has been born for twenty-five years. The human race faces extinction. So begins The Children of Men, P.D. James's dystopian novel of mass infertility and chilling mystery...

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

This might be the bleakest book you'll ever read. If you had a pound for every time he uses the word 'grey' you'd probably give up on your A-Levels and buy a big house in the sun. Ms Hostick loves it; Ms Atkinson hates it. You decide...

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

Notorious for its nightmare vision of a not-too-distant future in which fifteen-year-old Alex and his three friends rob, rape, torture and murder - for fun - this novel is one of the most controversial novels ever written, which was initially banned on its release...

1984 by George Orwell

Sales of 1984 soared the night that Trump got in, placing the book top of the best-seller's lists for months. It tells the story of Winston Smith, who diligently re-writes history for the Ministry of Truth, whilst inwardly rebelling, all under Big Brother's watchful eye...


King Lear, Hamlet, or Titus Andronicus by William Shakespeare

Every teenager loves a tragedy, and these are full of it. In Lear we see more noble men made mad by the malign machinations of their greedy good-for-nothing kids. In Hamlet it's the teenager who's mad, hell-bent on avenging his father's death at any cost. But for those of you who want a blood-bath, it's Titus you should turn to, where not only do we see some heinous violence against women that made five people faint, we also see how Shakespeare dealt with race.

Shakespeare: The World's A Stage by Bill Bryson

If you struggled to know what to write about Elizabethan England at GCSE, then you might find that Bill Bryson's biography can help you navigate the myths, half-truths and downright lies to make sense of the man behind the masterpieces... 

Shakespeare on Toast: Getting a Taste for the Bard by Ben Crystal

Actor and author Ben Crystal brings the bright words and colourful characters of the world's greatest hack-writer brilliantly to life, handing over the key to Shakespeare's plays and unlocking the so-called 'difficult bits' to shed light on his language, life, and times...



A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams (ISBN: 978-1408106044)

Written by a playwright that changed the direction of Ms Rudd's life forever, this play is a subtle, slow-burning tragedy that shows a turbulent confrontation between traditional values in the American South and the rough, aggressive materialism of the new world...  

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (ISBN: 978-0141198965)

Frankenstein is the classic Gothic horror novel, which has thrilled and engrossed readers for two centuries. It is a superb blend of science fiction, mystery, and thriller, as scientist, Victor Frankenstein 'gives birth' to a creature that turns on its maker with tragic results...

Poems of the Decade edited by the Forward Arts Foundation (ISBN: 978-0571325405)

This anthology is the perfect introduction to a wide range of contemporary poetry that speak of violence, danger, fear, and love in forms of language broken and reshaped by the need to communicate what it is to be alive now, here...

English Romantic Verse edited by David Wright (ISBN: 978-0140421026)

The Romantic period is one entirely bound up with England's Industrial Revolution. With its focus on nature, the past, human psychology, and sensationalism, it marked one of the most radical shifts in poetry pre-WW1. Plus it has a horse on the front...



The Handmaid's Tale: York Notes for A-Level (2016 edition, ISBN: 978- 1292138183)

Othello: York Notes for A-Level (2015 edition, ISBN: 9 78-1447982258)

A Streetcar Named Desire York Notes for A-Level(2015 edition, ISBN: 978-1447982265)

Frankenstein: York Notes for AS and A2 (2011 edition: ISBN: 978- 1447913214)



EXHIB: Into the Unknown: A Journey Through Sci-Fi at the Barbican (£10 tickets for 14-25s)

TALK: Penguin Classics Book Club at the Barbican: Frankenstein 13th July 7:30pm (Ticketed)

TALK: Penguin Classics Book Club at the Barbican: 1984 20th July 7:30pm (Ticketed)

FILM: Sci-Fi Sundays at the Barbican: screened at 4:00 every Sun till 20th Aug (Ticketed)

EXHIB:  Desire, Love, Identity: Exploring LGBTQ Histories at the British Museum (Free)

EXHIB:  Gay UK: Love, Law, and Liberty at the British Library (Free)

PERF: National Ballet's Romeo and Juliet at the Southbank Centre 1st-5th Aug (Ticketed)

PERF: King Lear at Shakespeare's Globe from 10th August (£5 standing tickets)

PERF: Tennessee Williams' Cat On a Hot Tin Roof at the Young Vic (Ticketed)

EVENT: Poem-A-Thon at the Poetry Cafe 22nd July from 12noon onwards (Free)