The Oxford Companion to English Literature


"This text has now been revised again to incorporate the latest developments, for instance the current success of children's and crossover literature, such as that of J. K. Rowling and Philip Pullman. However, the Companion also remains faithful to Sir Paul Harvey's original vision of an authoritative work placing English literature in its widest context. No other volume offers such extensive exploration of the classical roots of English literature and the European authors and works that influenced its development." The appendices have also been
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"This text has now been revised again to incorporate the latest developments, for instance the current success of children's and crossover literature, such as that of J. K. Rowling and Philip Pullman. However, the Companion also remains faithful to Sir Paul Harvey's original vision of an authoritative work placing English literature in its widest context. No other volume offers such extensive exploration of the classical roots of English literature and the European authors and works that influenced its development." The appendices have also been updated: the winners of the major literary awards, and the chronology - spanning a thousand years of English literature from Beowulf to Small Island. Informed by the latest scholarly thinking, and comprehensively cross-referenced to guide the reader to topics of related interest, the revised 6th edition reaffirms the pre-eminence of the Companion as the best available single-volume guide to English literature.

Since its appearance in 1932, this volume has been a matchless guide through the myriad paths and byways of England's literary culture.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
The esteemed, 75-year-old Oxford Companion to English Literature (OCEL), long a reference classic, forms the cornerstone of the foundation on which the ever-expanding edifice of the "Oxford Companion" series rests. Like its predecessors, this revised sixth edition, first published in 2000, contains accurate, up-to-date entries-8500 in all, approximately 200 of them new. These entries, unsigned and ranging in length from a few to more than 2000 words each, cover authors, literary movements and terms, critical theories, genres, publishers, plot summaries, and characters. Drabble's new revision includes numerous additions and deletions, ensuring the standing of OCEL into the 21st century. The additions come from a continuing effort to update the content by including more entries on women and postcolonial writers and on critical theory. To make room for the newer content, some material has been cut: the "general knowledge" entries, coverage of artists and musicians, some entries on characters, entries for individual works of prolific classical authors, and some cross references. What remains is the best available one-volume reference on English literature, not literature in English (though many literatures and authors in languages other than English are treated in the context of English literature). The appendixes include a detailed chronology of English literature from 1000 to 2005 and a historical list of poets laureate and literary awards. Bottom Line Careful selection is so obvious here that citing some of the unavoidable absences seems churlish. The writing is good, even stylish. While still aimed primarily at general readers, this volume offers comprehensive scope and rigorous treatment, making it useful to scholars, students, and journalists as well as to the libraries-large and small, academic and public-serving them. Only libraries on tight budgets holding the fifth or original sixth edition might want to wait for the arrival of a seventh. Highly recommended.-Paul D'Alessandro, Portland P.L., ME Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal
Gr 8 Up
This revision of the sixth edition adds material but not pages. The chronology, awards lists, and entries include works published through 2005, but entries from the previous edition have not been revised; the last case of Internet censorship cited is from 1999. Of the 16 two-page essays on various genres, only 2 have been given slight alterations ("Children's Literature" has lost its condescending conclusion). This edition contains more information on female and ethnically diverse writers. There are some omissions; for example, Alan Furst is left out of the "Spy Fiction" essay, and Martin McDonagh (The Beauty Queen of Leenane ) earns only one sentence, in "Irish playwrights, new." "Gay and lesbian literature," which is no longer a separate essay, fails to mention several significant works, though they are treated elsewhere. Altogether absent from the book are authors such as W. G. Sebald, David Mitchell, and Ismail Kadare. Some choices are puzzling: Denise Levertov has twice Richard Wilbur's space; readers are told how to pronounce "Carew," but not "Bewick" (or Coetzee, Milosz, etc.). Flashes of wit-on "horror": "for every King there are a dozen or more knaves"-and verve ("Lads' literature"), leaven the learning. This is still the title to heft if you need elegant plot summaries, or help with anaphora, isocolon, and their ilk. However, for most purposes the previous edition still suffices.
—Patricia D. LothropCopyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
From Barnes & Noble
An earlier version of this classic reference book was described by The New York Times Book Review as "...comparable in usefulness to the dictionary." Representing the most substantial and significant revision ever, this new fifth edition contains more than 9,000 total entries, including: 3,000 concise biographies on authors born up to 1939; 2,000 plot summaries of novels and plays and outlines of themes of poems; information on literary movements, criticism, and prizes; articles on literary societies and clubs; updated appendices and cross-references on censorship, copyright, and the calendar; more.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780198662341
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 11/28/1998
  • Edition description: REVISED
  • Edition number: 5
  • Pages: 1216

Meet the Author

Margaret Drabble

About the Editor:
Margaret Drabble is one of Britain's leading novelists, the author of numerous works, including Jerusalem the Golden, The Needle's Eye, The Middle Ground, and the trilogy of novels The Radiant Way, A Natural Curiosity, and The Gates of Ivory.


With her shrewd, mannered descriptions and dialogue, Drabble can say a lot. Take this line from The Witch of Exmoor: "He bites his nails between grapes, and avoids eye contact. A mother -- but perhaps not his -- would note that he is too thin." The British author, who has been writing surprising and clever novels for some 40 years, tends to remain focused on female protagonists; but she is inventive when it comes to narration, sometimes where you least expect it. The Witch of Exmoor, for example, has a wry, omniscient narrator who begins with a godlike, "Begin on a midsummer evening. Let them have everything that is pleasant." In 2002's The Seven Sisters, the first section of the book is the main character's (often self-critical) computer diary, and unexpected shifts in perspective follow.

Her variations in narrative structure and her injection of political and social commentary into her works makes Drabble a particularly challenging and interesting writer. Her return to fiction after a seven-year gap, 1987's The Radiant Way, became a trilogy (completed by A Natural Curiosity and Gates of Ivory) that veered slightly into international adventure territory. Ivory, for example, flips between psychiatrist Liz Headleand (one of the three women first featured in The Radiant Way) and the writer friend for whom she is searching, a man who has gone to Cambodia for research. Unfortunately, several of Drabble's early and highly praised novels (including the first two books of the aforementioned trilogy) are out of print in the U.S. It's a shame, because those books are the ones that established Drabble as an important writer, and are the templates for Drabble's independent, intelligent heroines on the road to self-discovery.

A few critics who have been admirers of Drabble's since she began writing in the 1960s have gone sour on the author in her later years. On the release of The Witches of Exmoor, a Toronto Sun critic wrote, "I am so sad and sorry to report that Margaret Drabble, once one of the best novelists on earth, is past her best," calling the novel a "rehash." Of 2002's The Seven Sisters, the story of middle-aged divorcee Candida Wilton's experiences as a newly single woman, a critic for Britain's Observer lamented the book's unconventional and somewhat cagey approach toward the end. "Altogether, Candida is alive enough that the novel's truncations ache like phantom limbs," the critic wrote. "The realised heroines of Drabble's magnificent books from the 1960s or 1970s would say to Candida, Tell me what it is like to be you."

Ultimately, part of the push and shove over Drabble's work comes down to a tension between literary invention and reader satisfaction; she has often been criticized for not caring enough about her characters to make them engaging. The New York Times wrote of The Gates of Ivory, "It's about politics and literature, terrorism and atrocities, love and life and death.... But ideas do not make a novel. Characters do. And we need to care about them, deeply." However, consider The Nation's take: "What I love about this novel is what I love about the best of Drabble's works -- it's rich and complex and allusive and textured and intertextual and takes on the big questions: life and art, representation and responsibility, the possibility of political action, the question of human nature. It's a novel of ideas at a time when most fiction seems deliberately lobotomized."

Good To Know

Possession author A. S. Byatt is Drabble's older sister. There was too much competition," Byatt says about her childhood relationship with her sister. "We didn't get on."

Drabble was an actress with the Royal Shakespeare Company after she graduated from college, and was an understudy for Vanessa Redgrave; she married fellow RSC actor Clive Swift in 1960. The two divorced in 1975, and Drabble later married biographer Michael Holroyd.

Also a scholarly writer of biography and nonfiction, Drabble has written several forewords to editions of Jane Austen's work as well as lives of novelists Arnold Bennett and Angus Wilson. The nonfiction includes a 1990 analysis and critique of property law, Safe as Houses.

Drabble has also written several plays including Laura, Isadora, and Bird of Paradise. She adapted her novel The Millstone as the 1969 film A Touch of Love.

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    1. Hometown:
      London, England
    1. Date of Birth:
      June 5, 1939
    2. Place of Birth:
      Sheffield, England
    1. Education:
      Cambridge University

Table of Contents


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