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*This refers to the 2009 edition*
The Seventh edition of 'The Oxford Companion to English Literature was published in 2009 with this edition being edited by Diana Birch.
It is quite a hefty tome at 1216 pages (this information i had to get off Amazon as there are not page numbers.) and is hardback with a glossy looseleaf cover. Also the text contained within is quite small. It is intended as a reference to English literature (to clarify, literature written and published in the English language rather than literature from England.
There is a short (well by the standards of this book short) preface which talks about he value of the 'Companion' and explains some of the amendments and additions made to this edition as well as literature in a more modern context. There is then a list of the editors and contributors to the book along with their credentials, these are largely writers and academics from around the world. A list of abbreviations which will be used throughout the book are also listed.
This then leads into a series of essays which bring the book right up to date; 'literary culture and the novel in the new millennium,' 'black British literature' and 'children's literature.' These are detailed but not overlong or inaccessible and point the reader not only to exemplar texts but also to secondary ones as well.
Then begins what could be turned as the encyclopaedia, and by far the largest, section of the book. It really would be possible to give an exhaustive list of the type of information covered in this section, so for the sake of brevity (and so that you will not lose patience with reading this review), i will give a list of examples of the types of things which have their own entries;
Prominent theatre, authors, playwrights, literary and critical terms, major literary works, definitions of significant job roles within the literary industry, genres, journalistic terms, poetry terms, writers from the classical period, monarchs with literary experience or influence, grammatical terms, genres, major plays, major poetical works, literary journals both modern and historic, figures of speech, literary movements, art movements,.
Obviously what is contained within these entries is dependent on what it is actually on, but expect to see biographies, key dates and texts listed, plot synopses, definitions, origins, references and historical information and context.
Following this are a number of appendices. The first of these is a chronology which lists major works of a particular year against major historical events of that time - including the deaths of dominant literary and public figures. Appendices 2 and 3 list poets and children's laureates respectively.
Appendix4 lists the recipients of major literary awards throughout history including the Nobel prize for literature, Pulitzer, Booker and TS Eliot prize for poetry.
The book ends with an 'index of new and heavily revised entries by contributors' .
What more can I say about this book but wow! The sheer breadth of information in this book is astounding. By embracing not only the strictest of literary terms and reference this really is a full bodied, well-rounded and informative read.
Amongst all of the other things that are impressive about this book are the way that they value modern literature alongside older 'classics' which means that is incredibly accessible.
The essays and entries are clearly, incredibly well thought-out and carefully considered. Obviously the entries themselves vary in length, but these strike the perfect balance between being detailed without being overly complex, expansive or downright dull and being informative and educative. There is a real sense here of knowledge being imparted and I personally refer to it often to explain abstract terms; that is expressions or genres that I have heard of but would struggle to define myself. I also like to reference it when I read a book which is deemed a 'classic' whether that be older or more modern, and i would like to know a bit more about the author than what the brief description within the book is able to offer me.
The sections which refer to cross referencing and abbreviations and actually aim to aid you negotiate your way through this book are really well thought out, and after a short while you may indeed find that you do not need to look at them at all.
Although, as mentioned previously, the text is small. The sections are presented in such a way that it is easy to find what you want. This is no mean feat with a book of this size containing the sheer amount and depth of information that this does.
As an English Literature graduate myself, it really does help me to dip back into the constant feeling of learning and exploration about the subject that I so love whilst helping me to clarify definitions and my own understanding of terms and genres. However, I would not go as far as to say that this is an academic text - this is far more accessible than that. It is in essence a reference book, but is not weighed down by the 'dryness' that many of these types of books are.
I would definitely go as far as to say that anybody with even the slightest interest in literature will find something worthwhile from this book and it deserves to sit on a lot of bookshelves and something that you will refer to frequently/dip in and out of as you please, or even as an incentive to explore different genres and authors.
At the price of around £20 (online) or even at its RRP I think that it represents great value for money as the fair mix of modern and older material that it contains means that you will have it in your bookshelf for many years, and not only that - it will remain useful for all of this time also.
In conclusion, I am incredibly pleased with this purchase. I cannot think of any real failings of it - it is immaculately researched, presented in an easy to navigate and accessible way and provides more information than you may possibly ever need. Highly recommended
Originally published in 1932, this definitive guide to English Literature edited by Margaret Drabble has been updated on several occasions. The main focus of the alphabetical listing is writers and their major works. Writers of course include authors, playwrights and poets. Shakespeare is afforded two and a half pages, which must be one of the longest entries. (Milton's is comparable.) Within the entry for any writer, an asterisk next to the title of a work or the name of another writer indicates a separate entry where more detail can be found. So, if you want to read about one particular Shakespeare play, look under its title rather than under Shakespeare.
Apart from writers and their works, there are entries for example on the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, war poetry, the literature of food and major characters of works. I have come across the composer Delius and the painter Gainsborough, as well as various pseudonyms. Even theatres are included here, as are libraries, both academic and public.
I have used this book with a pupil as young as twelve, who comes to me for one-to-one tuition. He was recently asked to find out what connections certain writers had with the city of Portsmouth. I gave him the 'Oxford Companion to English Literature' to look them up in, while I myself browsed through my Biographical Dictionary to see what information it would provide. The 'Oxford Companion' definitely provided more details, noting for example that Arthur Conan Doyle qualified as a doctor and practised in Southsea from 1882-90.
There is a series of two-page articles on certain literary genres interspersed throughout the book, easily found as they are in alphabetical order. Black British Literature, which is mainly autobiographical, is traced from the late eighteenth century until the present. In the overview of Children's Literature it probably comes as a surprise that there was no fiction until the mid-eighteenth century. This section takes us up to Narnia and Watership Down and laments the fact that late twentieth century children's fiction tended to centre around child abuse or drugs. The article on Detective Fiction features Conan Doyle, P.D. James and Ruth Rendell among others. Fantasy Fiction is noted as having become one of the most successful literary genres of the second half of twentieth century. It is emphasised that Tolkien was not influenced by earlier writers but inspired many followers. Some years later, an element of humour was introduced by Terry Pratchett in his series of Discworld novels.
Ghost Stories date back to the Victorian era. Having reached their height in the early twentieth century, they then began to dwindle. Gothic Fiction takes us from Mary Shelley's 'Frankenstein' through Dickens, Faulkner and the Brontes to our contemporary Stephen King. Historical Fiction was highly respected in Victorian times, and although the popularity of prolific Barbara Cartland is recognised in the twentieth century, Eleanor Hibbert is noted as being a superior authoress in this genre.
The article on Metre - the pattern formed in poetry by the sequence of syllables - could be extremely helpful for students of A level English literature grappling with iambic pentameter or dactylic tetrameter. Other reference works on the subject are cited here too.
Modernism is traced from the late nineteenth century to the start of the Second World War. It was an umbrella for a variety of movements where French writers exerted considerable influence. James Joyce, Virginia Woolf and D.H. Lawrence are mentioned among the most prominent modernist exponents, as is the poet W.B. Yeats. Post-Colonial Literature deals with issues such as identity, ethnicity and gender, as for example in Joseph Conrad's novella 'Heart of Darkness'. Within this genre, it is noted that the Nigerian author Chinua Achebe used the English language to reach a wider audience.
The overview of Romantic Fiction, in particular the Romantic Period from 1780-1848, could again give an insight to A-Level students studying the poetry of William Blake or William Wordsworth.
Science Fiction has captured the imagination of readers and film-goers through the concept of travel through time and space or the ability to overcome death. H.G. Wells 'The Time Machine' published in 1895 perhaps set this movement in motion. The genre continued throughout the twentieth century, when authors such as Orwell and Huxley based novels on the way in which they imagined society might be run in the future. Spy Fiction became popular on a large scale during the twentieth century, with Ian Fleming dominating the post-war era. Both John Le Carre and Frederick Forsyth carried this genre through to the end of the century. The final two-page overview deals with Structuralism and Post Structuralism.
Following the alphabetical listing, Appendix 1 is a chronology dating from the year 1000, with principal literary works in the left-hand column and other major events in the right-hand column. This again would be valuable to A-Level students who have to discuss literary works in a historical context. Appendix 2 lists Poets Laureate from the seventeenth century to the present day. Appendix 3 deals with literary awards, notably the Nobel Prize for Literature but also the Library Association Carnegue Medallists and the Booker-McConnell Prize for Fiction.
This is a book that is not only a useful resource for students. Anyone with a love of literature could dip into this book from time to time and find something of interest, and even if you have just forgotten who wrote a particular novel, play or poem you will find the answer here. It is easy to see things in context, to know who was influenced by whom or influenced whom.
This is a hefty tome, with 1172 pages. It is worth looking at prices: the recommended list price is £29.99, but Amazon's price is £19.79. (Some slightly lower prices on Marketplace, but there would be a postal charge there.)