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HALL OF FAMEon 23 December 2005
The first 'Oxford Companion to English Literature' was published in 1932 under the editorial direction of Sir Paul Harvey (no relation the American radio commentator). Half a century and five editions later, this is still a standard, authoritative reference work necessary for scholars and interested non-experts alike.
Under the editorship of Margaret Drabble, author and biographer (known for 'The Witch of Exmoor' and the more recently published 'The Peppered Moth'), this volume remains faithful to Harvey's intention of placing English literature in its widest possible context while exploring the deep classical and continental connections that underpin much of the history.
How can literature be divorced from cultural context? Surely it cannot be -- hence the newest entries into the edition include topics that read as if they were taken from today's best-seller shelf:
- Anglo-Indian Literature
- Simon Armitage
- Kate Atkinson
- Louis de Bernieres
- Censorship
- Ben Elton
- Gay and lesbian literature
- Hypertext
- A. L. Kennedy
- Lad's literature
- Literature of science
- New Criticism
- New Irish Playwrights
- Carol Shields
- Travel writing
This sample listing of the latest entries is representative of the more established categories, in that the entries (encyclopedic in character) include Authors, Subjects, Titles, Events, Characters and Critical Theory. The entries are unsigned (an ever-controversial practice in reference works such as this) -- well over a hundred contributors assisted in this volume, including the likes of Matthew Sweet, Salman Rushdie, Ceridwen Lloyd-Morgan, Katherine Duncan-Jones, and Brian Vickers.
This volume serves the general reader well in that one may follow cross-reference trails through the text. Take, for instance, Aaron the Moor -- the reader will be directed to Titus Andronicus, to which one is directed to Shakespeare, and from there a host of other cross-references historical and modern. Under the entry of Gabriel Josipovici, one is led back the entries of Rabelais and Bellow, influences as well as objects of Josipovici's study.
The appendices are new features of this edition. The first appendix is a Chronology that lists the chronology of the production of English literature from c.1000 to 1999 side by side with major historical events in Britain and beyond, and the significant events in the lives of literary figures. Appendix 2 lists the Poets Laureate in chronological order, from 1619 (when the office unofficially began) to the present -- surprisingly, there have only been 21 (19 official). Appendix 3 lists major literary award winners: Nobel Prize, Pulitzer Prize, Library Association Carnegie Medalists, and Booker-McConnell Prize for Fiction. Obviously not all of these are British authors, but it helps to place British literature in the wider world context of the twentieth century (as all of these prizes are twentieth-century creations).
In addition to the encyclopedic entries, there are major essays scattered through the text. These include the following topics:
- Biography
- Black British Literature
- Children's Literature
- Detective Fiction
- Fantasy Fiction
- Ghost Stories
- Gothic Fiction
- Historical Fiction
- Metre
- Modernism
- Post-Colonial Literature
- Romanticism
- Science Fiction
- Spy Fiction
- Structuralism and Post-Structuralism
These essays include history and current development of the genre or topic, as well as bibliographic information for further research, which (regrettably) the smaller encyclopedic entries rarely have.
This is a terrific, one-volume reference that should serve well anyone with a need for quick and ready reference material. It should find a welcome home on the shelf of any avid reader, fan of literature and modern fiction, history, religion, or any devoted Anglophile.
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on 29 February 2012
The Oxford companion to English Literature is the most detailed, comprehensible and up-to-date dictionary you will find. The companion is ordered alphabetically, with chronological detail, and consists of over 8,000 entries.

The companion ranges in content:

* Poets and authors and critics (biographies and works)
* Genres
* Movements and theories
* Literary prizes and poet laureates
* Literary terms and jargon
* Fundamental pieces of English literature

Margaret Drabble's latest edition is excellent for providing students with an introduction to the aforementioned sections of English literature, giving them all the relevant information with which they can progress their studies and delve into more detailed research. This really is the reference bible for undergrads and will provide useful throughout your academic careers.
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on 30 March 2007
i found this book extremely useful when I need to get a brief synopsis of some literature or writer, not only does it tell the story but it also offers a brief analysis. It is also useful if you need to quickly refresh your memory of some literature or if you need to compare some works. a bit heavy to carry around but for home study you couldn't wish for more.
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on 22 August 2012
The English complexion of this volume is debatable and its function, I suspect, purely notional. Alfred de Vigny? Garcia Marquez?? Alfonso Gatto??? We are referred from Perec to OuLiPo (a point for that) yet Gautier and Gaudier-Brzeska get separate entries instead of referring us respectively to 'art for art's sake' and Vorticism. Stravinsky gets a long entry, on frankly tenuous grounds. There's a general air of tuft-hunting, barrel-scraping and sheer bumbling amateurism. Benjamin West (American painter, d.1820) gets in ('an important turning point in taste') yet of Hopper, Pollock and Warhol there is no sign, let alone (Heaven forfend!) Jeff Koons. The cross-reference from Gertrude Stein to Picasso leads to - a dead end

Without clear focus the internet has made this kind of thing redundant, other than to furnish a room. But people have no space (place a flag in your window instead). I'm told the first edition was better, if you're of a historicist bent - like the old DNB. For normal mortals the Cambridge Guide is streets ahead. You should find any edition (there have been three) a real pleasure to consult. It has pics too!!!
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on 3 September 2001
This is a fantastic guide to almost every book in literary history that you would want to know about. It higlights the main points of great masterpieces, and is very helpful into giving you a greater understanding of the themes that the author is trying to put across. Buy this is you take your reading seriously.
0Comment|21 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 25 April 2013
this is very good apparently. was a gift so can only go by what I am told. used a lot.
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on 12 September 2014
Not as shown. No cover. But it was in tip-top condition. Very quick in arriving. Pleased all round.
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on 29 December 2001
A wonderful,thorough,accessible book. It covers most great authors and master-pieces, discussing in depth the main concepts of each work. A must-have for all English students!!!
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on 11 February 2006
I study English literature in Milan and this book is simply fundamental! There you can find many authors, plot descriptions, literary currents, ideas, criticism...
It is just a bit heavy if you read it before sleeping, but truly perfect! A must have!
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