When the Fifth Edition of The Oxford Companion to English Literature appeared in 1985, it received a glowing front-page review in The New York Times Book Review, which praised it as "a wonderful, infuriating, amusing, and informative war horse of a book." Now comes the new Sixth Edition, thoroughly updated and greatly expanded by editor Margaret Drabble and a team of 140 distinguished contributors, who include Salmon Rushdie, Brian Aldiss, Penelope Fitzgerald, Ian Buruma, and Michael Holroyd.
Readers will find over 660 new entries, over a third of which were written by Drabble herself, including hundreds of new biographies (from Kathy Acker to Stefan Zweig) as well as new entries on genres, literary terms, critical schools, and much more. In total, the new edition offers over 7,000 alphabetically arranged entries, providing incomparable coverage of the classical works of English literature, and of European authors and works that have influenced the development of English literature. Its wide range of articles cover not only authors and their works, but also fictional characters, plot summaries, composers and artists, literary and artistic movements, historians, philosophers, and critics, as well as publishing history, literary societies, newspapers and periodicals, critical terms and theory. In addition, there are sixteen new feature essays covering everything from gay and lesbian literature to modernism and science fiction, plus a thousand-year chronology that sets key literary works in their historical context, and complete lists of poet laureates and literary prize winners.
Boasting a lightness of touch that makes the book a pleasure to read, the Sixth Edition is an indispensable volume for students, for teachers, and for everyone interested in English literature.
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Margaret Drabble is one of Britain's leading literary figures, the author of numerous novels, including A Natural Curiosity, The Gates of Ivory, and The Witch of Exmoor. She lives in London.
A staple in reference collections since it first appeared in 1932, The Oxford Companion to English Literature (OCEL) only improves with age. The eminent British writer Drabble assumed the editorship of this venerable work with the fifth edition, published in 1985, and she oversaw its two revisions, the first in 1995 and the second in 1998. Of the more than 7,000 entries in this sixth edition, approximately 660 are new. Many other entries have been revised and updated, while a sizable number (among them Cable, George Washington, Infernal Marriage, Mrs. Norris, Risorgimento, and Will's Coffee House) have been dropped. Approximately one-third of the new entries were authored by Drabble, and the others were contributed by a team of more than 140 noted writers and scholars (who are identified near the beginning of the volume); however, all entries remain unsigned.During her tenure as editor, Drabble has dropped the policy of excluding authors born since 1939, thus opening the door to broader coverage of contemporary writers. For example, new to this edition are entries for Pat Barker, Jim Crace, Roddy Doyle, Brian Friel, and Vikram Seth. Also appearing for the first time are a number of significant twentieth-century women authors who had previously been overlooked, including Zora Neale Hurston, Elizabeth Jolley, Angela Thirkell, and Eudora Welty. Among other new articles are Censorship, Gay and lesbian literature, Intertextuality, and New historicism. In addition, the volume includes 16 two-page survey articles, most of which provide historical overviews of particular genres and movements, for example, "Biography," "Gothic Fiction," and "Romanticism." Although 14 of these articles are essentially the same as when they were first introduced in the 1998 revision, "Metre" is a completely new essay, and "Structuralism and Post-Structuralism" replaces the earlier essay that focused only on structuralism. Following the dictionary portion of the work are a chronological chart, a list of British poets laureate, and lists of winners of four major literary prizes.Drabble is to be commended for the breath of fresh air that she continues to infuse into this compendium. It is obvious that she has made a concerted effort to represent more women and minorities and to reflect the ways in which literary criticism and publishing are changing. Unfortunately, however, some entries have escaped needed updating. For instance, the article on The Oxford English Dictionary does not mention the three-volume supplement to the second edition or the availability of the online version. Moreover, the chronology does not include any literary works published after 1998. Among a number of contemporary authors whose omissions are surprising are Nicola Barker, Thomas Kinsella, and Tim Winton. Furthermore, J. K. Rowling, author of the phenomenally successful Harry Potter books, is not accorded an entry, nor is she mentioned in the survey articles on children's literature and fantasy fiction.These quibbles aside, the OCEL continues to be a valuable, reliable, and readable guide to the entire spectrum of English literature from its beginnings through the twentieth century. In light of its substantial number of new entries and revisions, most high-school, public, and academic libraries will want to purchase this new edition, even if they acquired the 1998 revision to the fifth edition. RBB
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