In this book, originally published in 1965, Mr Mayhead provided a companion to Professor Ludowyk's Understanding Shakespeare. It is an introduction to the reading and study of English literature: not an historical summary, but an attempt to say why literature is important, how it works, and how it can be approached, in the hope that this would lead to understanding and enjoyment as well as examination success. The first chapter treats literature as the source and guardian of the vitality of the language, and as an important means of extending our own experience. The second chapter faces the great bugbear of 'background knowledge' - so daunting to the non-English reader, and even to the English. Then Mr Mayhead approaches the various literary minds, always working through detailed analyses. There are chapters on novels, how they work, what they do, and how to grasp the novelist's central purpose, and also two chapters on poetry.