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Lesser known and unexpected books read by UK English Lit Students

Updated: Jul 1, 2023

Getting into university can be an overwhelming experience, and prospective students often wonder how they can best prepare themselves for their first year and get ahead with their studies and research. When it comes to English Literature studies, reading lists at different UK universities can vary (they also may differ from college to college), and university courses include both compulsory modules and those that students choose on their own. However, we compiled a list of books that former students who graduated from Cambridge and Cardiff University studied for their degrees in English Literature to give you an idea as to what one might expect when preparing for this particular course. And who knows, maybe even to impress one’s university admissions tutors.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

Medieval literature is compulsory for first-year Cambridge students, and a late 14th-century chivalric romance written in Middle English very well might be on their reading list. In their exams, students may be tasked with translating the excerpt of this text from Middle English to the modern language. The book describes how Sir Gawain, a knight of King Arthur's Round Table, accepts a challenge from a mysterious "Green Knight" who dares any knight to strike him with his axe if he will take a return blow in a year and a day. If you want to get an idea of what this book might be like, go and watch a 2021 medieval fantasy film Green Knight based on this book starring Dev Patel and Alicia Vikander!

Chaucer's Complete Works

English poet, author, and civil servant Geoffrey Chaucer best known for his magnum opus The Canterbury Tales has been called the "father of English literature", and his works can be among compulsory reading for first-year students.

The Blazing World

The Description of a New World, Called The Blazing World is a 1666 book by the English writer Margaret Cavendish, the Duchess of Newcastle. Literary critic Dale Spender called it a forerunner of science fiction for a reason: it describes adventures in a satirical, utopian kingdom in another world (with different stars in the sky) that can be reached via the North Pole.


It’s hard to imagine an English Literature course without William Shakespeare. However, university students have an opportunity to look at familiar texts like Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet in a completely new light (and have a lot of fun with them) and study his lesser-known works like this play set in Ancient Britain.

In Memoriam A.H.H.

This book can be on a reading list in the second year of English Lit studies. It’s an elegy written by the English poet Alfred Tennyson for his Cambridge friend Arthur Henry Hallam, who died at the age of twenty-two years. The book explores such topics as the meaning of death, the cruelty of Nature and the declining Christian faith in the Victorian Era.


Belinda is an 1801 novel written by the Anglo-Irish writer Maria Edgeworth that caused controversy at the time for its depiction of an interracial marriage between a Black servant and an English farm girl. Edgeworth herself admitted that she had to remove the interracial marriage from the third edition of the book because her father had “great delicacies and scruples of conscience about encouraging such marriages.” Belinda is a romance novel and a comedy of manners that explores what it means to be a woman, and it’s even argued that this book inspired another important English writer, Jane Austen.

Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood

Persepolis is a graphic memoir by Marjane Satrapi that describes her childhood up to her early adult years in Iran and Europe during and after the Islamic Revolution. The poignant, funny and complicated story of a young girl illustrated in black and white starts in 1980 when the main character is 10 years old.

The Twilight Saga

Don’t be surprised to see Stephenie Meyer’s book series here! In their final year, students are expected to choose their modules and the type of research they want to do, and if these books make for great material to explore, let’s say, a very important modern-day phenomenon of fanfiction, why not?

Want to know more about what it's like to study in the UK and how to get into the best universities in the country? LEO International Online School offers a diverse and intensive two–year A-Level programme designed to prepare students for university entry in the United Kingdom. Learn more about this programme and our other courses here, and don't hesitate to contact us at

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