Encyclopedia of 19th C literature
September 9, 2008 10:02 PM   Subscribe

What is a good encyclopedia / dictionary for 19th and/or 20th century literature?

For 19th I've found A guide to the best fiction in English (1913) but it's very old. For 20th, I often use Martin Seymour-Smith's The New Guide to Modern World Literature (scroll down to "A Modest Proposal" for a description) and would love to have something like it for the 19th century. Open to other suggestions for 20th century literature encyclopedia or dictionaries.
posted by stbalbach to Writing & Language (7 answers total)
Merriam-Webster's Encyclopedia of Literature is excellent though not comprehensive or focused totally on nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It's one of the best one-volume reference books I've used.
posted by cgc373 at 1:16 AM on September 10, 2008

I like Benet's Reader's Encyclopedia for 19th century stuff. It certainly isn't like Martin Seymour-Smith's book, and it isn't confined to 19th century, but it serves the purpose.
posted by OmieWise at 4:53 AM on September 10, 2008

I have a two-volume set of Noah Webster's "An American Dictionary of the English Language" . It's a reproduction, think there were only five hundred made. Believe the original pub date was 1820 something. Let me know if you need something looked up:)
posted by timsteil at 6:29 AM on September 10, 2008

I second the recommendation for M-W for recent stuff, but it's very trendy (or politically correct, if you prefer) and ignores authors I consider important. For the nineteenth century, if you can find an old edition of the Oxford Companion to English Literature (I have the 1932) or the 1953 Cassell's Encyclopedia of World Literature, you'll be well rewarded.
posted by languagehat at 9:15 AM on September 10, 2008

Second Benet. In particular, I'd point out that the Reader's Encyclopedia has been heavily revised over the years to follow the changing canon, and earlier editions are available for cheap. Like your first link, they can be a fascinating resource for now-forgotten works that were considered literary gold in 1948/1965 (c.f. the 1948 edition's absolute obsession with Tasso's Gerusalemme liberata).
posted by ormondsacker at 9:20 AM on September 10, 2008

The 9th Edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, published in 1902, is generally agreed to be the great source for literary information. The literature articles were written by famous authors, as were the scientific articles (though of course those are long out of date). The pace is unhurried, and the scope is broad -- perhaps more than we have the time or patience for today.

The 11th Edition (published in 1911) is also on line. In it, the literary articles were pruned of digressions and the style made less ornate. It's a wonderful resource.

When the 13th Edition came out, the editors had decided to maintain the size of the earlier editions. This edition was continually revised up through the 1960s, and the explosion of scientific knowledge meant that the literary articles had to be condensed more and more, which meant that it was less useful for literary purposes.

For quicker reference, you go to Google or Wikipedia. Even more compressed is the Century Cyclopedia of Names, from 1954, which identifies anything with a name -- characters in novels, geography, biography, history, etc.
posted by KRS at 2:34 PM on September 10, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks! I'll be checking into all these. For the record I've also found The Cambridge History of English History, Volumes XII, XIII and XIV: The Nineteenth Century
posted by stbalbach at 8:53 PM on September 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

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