From folk ballads to film scripts, this new five-volume encyclopedia covers the entire history of British literature from the seventh century to the present, focusing on the writers and the major texts of what are now the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. In five hundred substantial essays written by major scholars, the Encyclopedia of British Literature includes biographies of nearly four hundred individual authors and a hundred topical essays with detailed analyses of particular themes, movements, genres, and institutions whose impact upon the writing or the reading of literature was significant.
An ideal companion to The Oxford Encyclopedia of American Literature, this set will prove invaluable for students, scholars, and general readers.
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Editor in Chief
David Scott Kastan, Old Dominion Foundation Professor in the Humanities and Chair of the Department of English and Comparative Literature,Columbia University
Nancy Armstrong, Nancy Duke Lewis Professor of English and Comparative Literature,Brown University
Kevin J. H. Dettmar, Department of English,Southern Illinois University
Andrew D. Hadfield, Department of English,University of Sussex
Gail McMurray Gibson, William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of English and Humanities,Davidson College
Jennifer Wicke, Department of English,University of Virginia
*Starred Review* By defining British literature as the literature of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland, this compendium excludes English-language literatures published in Commonwealth countries and thus focuses on writings that originated in England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. Kastan, an English professor at Columbia University, coordinated a five-member editorial board and a team of 371 contributors from academic institutions in the U.S., Canada, Britain, and Australia to bring together this scholarly and well-written encyclopedia.
The 509 alphabetically arranged essays range in length from 2 to 11 pages. (Because Shakespeare is the subject of five separate articles, his total treatment is considerably longer.) About 385 of the entries are devoted to individuals, who range chronologically from Caedmon to J. K. Rowling and include an intriguing selection of major and minor authors as well as such diverse figures as the Beatles, Charles Darwin, Karl Marx, and Queen Victoria. The remaining essays treat institutions (Abbey Theatre, Poet laureate, Stationers' Company); genres (Anglo-Saxon riddles, Detective fiction, Restoration drama); movements and groups (Angry Young Men, Bluestockings, Pre-Raphaelites); titles (The Mabinogion, Oxford English Dictionary, Piers Plowman); and general topics (Censorship, Literary theory, Narrative). Each entry concludes with a list of major primary works and a selective secondary bibliography accompanied by brief but helpful annotations. Many entries also include cross-references to other articles and small black-and-white illustrations. Volume 1 contains a list of the articles in all five volumes and a chronological chart that links the subjects of entries with major historical events, while volume 5 provides a directory of contributors and an extensive and detailed 151-page index.
The editor's decisions regarding writers and works for inclusion reflect an academic focus and a penchant for the esoteric. While eschewing entries for Anita Brookner, Winston Churchill, P. D. James, Thomas Kyd, William Trevor, and other well-known authors, he includes essays on a number of lesser-known, even obscure writers, such as Osbern Bokenham, John Capgrave, and Ann Vaughan Lock. In addition, most of the title entries feature early manuscript texts that generally are studied only at the college level.
Containing more than 1,200 entries, the Continuum Encyclopedia of British Literature (2003) provides greater breadth of coverage--particularly of recent writers--but not as much depth. About 60 percent of the individuals accorded entries in the Oxford encyclopedia are also covered in Scribner's British Writers series, and almost all of them are featured in Gale's Dictionary of Literary Biography. For those with access to these sources, the most valuable aspect of the new Oxford offering may well be its substantive coverage of topics and themes related to British literature. Although some essays appear to be aimed at graduate students and scholars, much of the content is appropriate for lower-level college students and general readers. Highly recommended for academic libraries and could also be a useful addition to larger public libraries. Marie Ellis
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