- Doing English (2000) is primarily aimed at an A-level audience, with first-year tertiary students being its secondary audience
- It provides an interesting survey of the history of English as a discipline (eg: I now know that the study of English literature was pioneered in India... as part of the British govt and East India Company's efforts to civilise and pacify the natives. Whoo), and a nice simple explanation of the failings of a 'traditional' (for the Eaglestone's purposes, 'traditional' means following the practical criticism approach of the Leavises and subsequent scholars) approach to literature.
- Despite being strongly in favour of 'theory' generally and giving a good account of why 'theory' was needed, the book doesn't actually give you much in the way of concrete examples of why 'theory' is useful.
- Its 'Death of the Author' chapter is the kind of thing which turned me *off* the Death of the Author to begin with. It more or less convincingly argues that meaning is created between reader and text... but doesn't give any framework for deciding what's a 'good' reading for critical purposes and what's not. Given this is designed for A-level students, how are they supposed to know what they're being marked on?
- Likewise, while making a nifty distinction between 'intrinsic' and 'extrinsic' approaches to literature, the book seems to work on the aggravating assumption that 'intrinsic' readers (close readers, etc) all take a practical criticism approach and look at the text in isolation; and that 'extrinsic' readers all want to read the text as evidence of historical, cultural or other contemporary phenomena. Eaglestone does hint that some extrinsic or historicist critics use contextual evidence to construct new readings of the text, but then proceeds on to talk about extrinsic readings going out from the text into the context.
- He doesn't try to tie the intrinsic/extrinsic dichotomy into the dead/alive author thing. You can do either brand of criticism with a dead author or an alive one!
- The chapter on metaphor, narrative structure, and closure seems to be fairly basic (and traditional!) but useful.
Conclusion: Probably more useful for high school students than university students (and possibly outdated for A-levels by now?). I can see how this textbook would have been very applicable to the HSC English curriculum, but I can also tell that if you'd given this book to me, age 15 (or indeed, anywhere up until my fourth year of uni) it would not have convinced me that 'theory' is good and practical criticism bad: it would have convinced me that 'theory' was a load of waffle, practical criticism stuffy but comprehensible, and History a better use of my time than English. Which, oh, wait, is what first-year English did for me anyway! So perhaps this would be a perfect complement to first-year courses?
What I will do with this book: I think I may photocopy his chart of intrinsic/extrinsic approaches and save it for classroom use, mostly for the purposes of talking to students about why this is a bollocks dichotomy. I may also recommend it, with caveats, to students who feel they need a really basic primer to literary study. But then I may not, since it doesn't seem to provide any argument for a *point* of literary study.