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The Oxford Companion to English Literature [Hardcover]

Margaret Drabble
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Sept. 1 2000 0198662440 978-0198662440 Sixth Edition
Based on the text of Margaret Drabble's 1995 edition, this sixth edition has been completely reworked and expanded. There are nearly 600 entirely new entries to reflect the new figures and issues of English Literature in the new millennium, and the existing entries have been extensively revised and updated to incorporate the latest scholarship. But this new edition remains faithful to Sir Paul Harvey's original vision of an authoritative work placing English literature from the Classical world, Europe, Latin America, and beyond. In addition to the extensive coverage of writers, works, literary theory, allusions, and characters, there are sixteen featured essay-style entries on key topics including black British literature, fantasy fiction, and modernism.

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From School Library Journal

Grade 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. Lothrop, St. George's School, Newport, RI
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

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
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A worthy companion July 10 2003
By FrKurt Messick HALL OF FAME TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
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.
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Format:Hardcover
Disliking an Oxford Press book makes me feel like a heretic. The majority of their Companion books are superb, remarkably concise yet thorough works of scholarship. The English Companion is an unfortunate and surprising exception.
The entry for 'New Criticism' is an efficient example of the book's shortcomings. For one thing, there's a laundry list of authors, dates, and books but very little is said of the IDEAS that characterize New Criticism. The entries are generally hamstringed by a focus on the sociopolitical and historical aspects of writers and works. The effort is laudable but inappropriate and uneconomical for a reference work. In its most extreme form, the historical emphasis goes into bizarre detail about an author's upbringing -- is it really necessary that we know where an author went to grade school and when? Entries love to entertain tales of writers' deaths and and of their insignificant travellings. I often felt as though I were reading minibiographies.
One will also notice, in the case of 'New Criticism', the absence of any mention of the 'organic'. This is ridiculous and indicative of the book's lack of attention to concepts as such. There is a non-cross-referenced mention of 'organic' under Coleridge, yet even there it is only mentioned as one of his ideas, not in terms of what the theory tried to say. I would compare it to someone's asking, 'What does X mean?' This book's reply: 'X was one of so-and-so's ideas'. Too often, the response ends there. Literary theory entries are usually on the thin side, though the deconstruction essay is solid. However, even in the longest lit theory essays there is more of an emphasis on people and movements -- far less on ideas.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  12 reviews
24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A worthy companion July 10 2003
By FrKurt Messick - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
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.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars You will wonder how you lived without this book. April 18 1997
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This is one book I turn to over and over again. My copy is well worn and much loved. If I could have only one reference book, this would be it. You will wonder what you did before you had this book! A must for lovers of literature
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A must-have companion for anyone who loves to read May 1 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This is one of the most practical reference books in my home library. I turn to it again and again for plot summaries and information about authors. I also find it useful for pre- (and post-) theater reading. And of course it's a real boon for solving the Sunday Times crossword puzzle.
A must-have for anyone who considers themself a reader.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Reference Work Aug. 22 1998
By richardson.don@a1.pc.maricopa.edu - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
As a teacher of Survey of British Literature (both halves), I rely on this work and refer to it regularly in class. It is invaluable for retrieving bits of forgotten lore, for putting authors and subjects into perspective, and for reminding readers of connections. No student of British Literature--whether instructor or traditional student--should be without it.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A handy if heavy friend! Feb. 16 2005
By S. Hebbron - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
A wonderful resource and superbly edited by Ms Drabble to not only meet the founding principles of this work (which first appeared in the 1930's) but also to consider the ever changing parimeters of what good and great literature is, a highly subjective notion at best.

The title almost does not do this work justice, it bestows it with a crusty old British acaedemic image. You almost imagine having to blow the dust off it before you can begin! But it is so much more rich and diverse than this and should not be avoided by those made nervous by it's title; it is not the untouchable work it sounds like it may be.

If literature is a love of yours, whether by author or genre, then you will find this brilliantly informative. Don't be put off by this being such an enormous book, it needs to be, it will become a dear and chubby friend in no time!
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