The Literary Encyclopedia Described

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A Unique Digital Environment

The Literary Encyclopedia was founded in 1998 with the aim of providing a reliable scholarly online literary reference work for English-language readers, primarily in higher education. It takes world literature as its field and publishes biographies of major and minor writers; scholarly descriptions of all interesting texts written by these authors, including those often neglected; and a variety of descriptive and critical essays on literary, cultural and historical matters, which provide a finer understanding of the social contexts in which this writing was produced. For best use of the Encyclopedia, please consult the demo videos under the Help section on the homepage. These explain and illustrate succinctly all the content and functions available to the users of the LE, which are described in detail below.

Scope, Contents and Use in Teaching and Research

Entries in The Literary Encyclopedia are divided into three databases, People, Works and Context. All articles are aimed at a “higher introductory” level for university / college reading - neither too long nor too short; neither too simple nor too complex. We offer very good coverage of English, American, German, Russian, Italian, French and Classical Latin literatures as well as substantial and increasing coverage of Hispanic, Japanese, Classical Greek, Canadian, East European and various postcolonial literatures. (Other major literatures to be added as resources permit.) So far we have published about 7422 completed articles, with a total of about 15.43 million words. We are currently adding around 40 articles to the Encyclopedia every month.

  • People – includes basic data on over 7225 people (3116 with full profiles), mainly writers, but also philosophers, scientists, artists, historical figures and others of note. You can browse a list of completed profiles.
  • Works – includes over 31675 works (3609 completed), mainly literary, but also philosophical and scientific, which are indexed by date, genre and country. A large part of these are listed for bibliographical purposes, while others will be profiled as the Encyclopedia expands and develops. You can browse a list of completed profiles.
  • Context – includes four types of records: short notes of 50 to 500 words - historical context notes (comprising major acts of parliament, wars, battles, epidemic diseases scientific and technological inventions, etc.) and literary/ cultural context notes; and major essays of up to 6000 words - historical context essays and literary/ cultural context essays. You can browse a list of these here, choosing the appropriate type of entry you wish to see listed.

These articles are commissioned, checked and supervised by more than 50 specialist editors. We are adding profiles as fast as they can be written, but as these are authored by scholars of standing in their fields you will appreciate that such quality can only be achieved with patience. Icons indicate in each search-results screen if an entry is complete or incomplete. Even where entries have not yet been completed, each 'stub' (open title) is richly stocked with metadata so that it can be searched in simple and advanced ways – for country, gender, genre, date, etc., or for finding an author's or text's contemporaries. They may also contain listed bibliographies and recommended websites, as well as indications of related content on the site.

The Literary Encyclopedia is also an enormous research project, notably in its work describing long-neglected and marginalised texts, in establishing day-by-day calendars of writers’ lives, and in correlating life events and literary events to detailed calendars of political and cultural history. It includes the following resources:

  • highly sophisticated advanced searches, which can be saved and subsequently retrieved. They can also be customized by removing or adding articles. A video demo of how to use this search facility efficiently can be found here: How to use Advanced Searches
  • visual horizontal Timelines that can be generated in a few minutes for any set of criteria (authors, works, historical events) and then forwarded to groups of students to enhance teaching and learning (see, for instance, this timeline of English Renaissance Theatre or of Defoe, Swift and Pope and British Politics 1670-1750. A video demo of how to use this search facility efficiently can be found here: How to create and display Timelines.
  • detailed Individual chronologies for selected writers which reveal the cultural milieu of each author and allow one writer's life to be compared with up to two others. Each chronology comprises 200-400 biographical events, day-by-day, month-by-month. These are shown within the context of historical events happening in the same period of time as that of the author's life. A video demo of how to use this facility can be found here: How to use Author Chronologies
  • guidance on the most important Secondary reading. We currently list over 20313 titles of recommended critical bibliography, which can be found (where available) at the foot of the article as well as in the left information panel.
  • Links – over 3478 selected links to quality resources on the Internet.
  • Reference groups and related articles which provide wiki-style clusters useful for particular courses (for instance, “African American Drama”; “Children's Literature”; “Dystopian and Apocalyptic Fiction”), or simply join together articles which are related in theme, content and subject-matter. A video demo of how to use this facility can be found here: Related articles and reference groups
  • Bookshelves, which enable users to save articles, author chronologies and reference groups to their own virtual private “bookshelves”. A video demo of how to use the Bookshelves facility for both personal and teaching purposes is found here: How to use Bookshelves


Since The Literary Encyclopedia was digitally conceived, much thought has been devoted to maximising the scholarly and pedagogic benefits of electronic delivery. 

From the options list which appears in the left-margin relative to any article, users can

  • list an author's works in date or name sequence
  • list all major contemporary authors [contemporaries under 'Context' section]
  • add the viewed article to a private “bookshelf”. A user's bookshelves can be viewed in one's personal account, after logging in.
  • list recommended Internet resources related to the article, where available [web resources under 'Context' section]
  • list recommended scholarly books and articles on the topic, where available [recommended reading under 'Context' section]
  • call up a detailed day-by-day author chronology where such a chronology exists [author chronology under 'Context' section]
  • where appropriate, use a prepared link to view articles on similar or related matters [related articles and related groups sections]
  • Users can also save and print articles in PDF format. (To see an example click here.)

Please note that many of the features above are in constant development and are not yet complete for all articles.

Using Advanced Searches or Browse, users can

  • browse our listing of authors, works, topics & events, and contributors, and sort results in appropriate ways
  • generate lists of authors or works according to genre, gender, date and country of origin or country of activity/ publication
  • similarly generate lists of literary, cultural and political events by keywords, date and country

We believe that the thought and engineering that has gone into The Literary Encycloedia's architecture makes this publication the most precisely searchable of any such electronic resource. We are always ready to be advised this is not the case, and then match or exceed any good examples brought to our attention.

Other functions and features include

  • personal accounts for all users. If you are a user affiliated to a subscribing institution, you can register on site with your institutional email address, which will automatically be recognised as such and access will be provided for as long as your institution subscribes and/or the user is a member of that institution. A video demo explaining how to access the LE can be found here: Accessing the LE
  • a much-consulted “Style Book” which offers guidance on correcting grammatical and other errors often found in student essays
  • direct linking from recommended journal articles to JSTOR and Project Muse (access to the articles will depend on a separate institutional subscription)

Functions of particular interest to Librarians

  • the LE is Metalib, W3C and OpenURL compliant and fires direct search requests for articles to JSTOR and ProjectMuse
  • individual account login for off-site institutional clients or single subscribers, IP-address access for campuses, Athens and Shibboleth login
  • WAYFless URLS
  • comprehensive usage statistics that record the number of page-views (not only of direct searches); we also also offer COUNTER-compliant user statistics
  • To enable cross-platform searching in subscribing institutions, the LE is indexed by EBSCO Host and Reference Universe.


  • all of our authors have research interests in the area they write about; most of them are current or retires university teachers.
  • our articles are commissioned and approved by an editorial board of more than 50 distinguished professors.
  • The Literary Encyclopedia can be cited with confidence in university and college assignments.
  • The Literary Encyclopedia was positively reviewed by the American Association magazine Choice in April 2004 and has been recommended by JISC in the United Kingdom since 2006.


  • The Literary Encyclopedia is published by The Literary Dictionary Company on behalf of its contributors and editors who share ownership of the publication. All editors and contributors can see their contribution and shareholder status displayed in their personal account pages that are available following login. Shareholders receive annual statements of the Company accounts and are always consulted about any decisions which might affect their proprietorial rights. The Company is committed to total transparency in all its dealings, aiming to build the best possible literary reference work for the internet age, and to ensure that those who contribute to it are properly rewarded for the knowledge they invest.
  • The Literary Encyclopedia is supplied freely to institutions where the per capita income is below the world average. If you are a librarian at such an institution, please contact the Managing Editor.

Dr Robert Clark
Dr Cristina Sandru
Managing Editor
15 September 2014