The Literary Encyclopedia is a constantly evolving and updating repository of authoritative reference work about literary and cultural history. All our articles are solicited by invitation from specialist scholars in higher education institutions all over the world, refereed and approved by subject editors in our Editorial Board. The LE is thus uniquely selective, reliable and authoritative. Its online format allows for rapid publication and frequent updating of articles; its integrated digital resources (author life-chronologies, customisable timelines, thematic or course-oriented bookshelves, related article clusters, critical bibliographies) respond dynamically to teaching and learning demands.

  1. Content
  2. Structure and Organisation
  3. Features and Functions
  4. Publishing Model
  5. What Users Say


The Literary Encyclopedia 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.

We seek to cover all of world literature and endeavour to commission and publish articles on the widest variety of quality writing that has been produced around the world. We offer excellent coverage of English, American, German, Russian, Italian, French, and Classical literatures, as well as substantial and increasing coverage of Hispanic, Japanese, Canadian, East European, and various postcolonial literatures. (Other major literatures to be added as resources permit.) We have to date published 9422 articles, in total comprising over 20 million words. We are currently adding around 20-40 articles to the Encyclopedia every month.

The development of the publication is overseen by scholarly editors and includes work by 4001 contributors who are currently or recently active in university level research.

The Literary Encyclopedia currently publishes the following kinds of content:

  • About People
  • About Works
    • Profiles – descriptive-critical analyses
    • Primary bibliography of all major works by all writers listed (List of works)
  • About Literary Context
    • Essays on genres, concepts, movements, theories; comparative and reception essays
    • Short notes on genres, concepts, issues
  • About Political and Cultural Context
    • Essays on important historical events, movements and issues
    • Short notes on important events, movements and issues
  • Secondary Bibliography
    • Annotated or unannotated recommended critical reading for any of the above

Structure and Organisation

Content-wise, The Literary Encyclopedia is divided into Parts, Volumes, and Chapters. Parts are usually defined by country and may be subdivided into Volumes devoted to historical periods. All Encyclopedia records are assigned to a specific volume, whose number, title, and editorial supervision is displayed immediately under the title. All volumes can be browsed by clicking on the volume number.

The main articles in The Literary Encyclopedia are divided into three databases: People, Works, and Context.

  • People – includes basic data on over 8392 people (3892 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 34598 works (4646 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.

All Encyclopedia records are accompanied by an information card to the left, which stores the relevant metadata of the article (dates, domains, activities, genres, places, cultural identities) and offers cross-linking, bibliographic, and contextual options. For all Features and Functions available, see section below.

The left card also contains a section entitled ‘Reader Actions’, which allows users logged in with a personal account to report errors, save articles to their private bookshelves or print the article. All articles can be downloaded as pdf versions; they can be stored in and retrieved from the user’s own personal account pages (MyLE Account).

Features and Functions

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

Article Information card

In the left card of any article there are a number of contextual, bibliographic, and cross-linking facilities. Users can

  • View a list of an author’s works (if such a list if available; we have more than 32,000 works listed, but occasionally there may be an author for whom we are missing a list of works altogether, or the list is incomplete or outdated. If this is the case, please contact us to let us know and we will do our best to remedy the problem as soon as possible)
  • View all major contemporary authors
  • View any recommended critical readings for the topic provided by our contributors (if available)
  • View any recommended web resources (if available)
  • View a detailed author life-chronology where such a chronology exists
  • Add the viewed article to a private “bookshelf”. A user's bookshelves can be viewed in one's personal account, after logging in
  • View cross-linking options added by editors or contributors (related articles; related/ thematic groups)

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

Research Features

In addition to its teaching use and learner-oriented facilities, The Literary Encyclopedia is also a 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.
  • 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).
  • detailed Author 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.
  • guidance on the most important Secondary Reading. We currently list over 29479 titles of recommended critical bibliography, which can be found (where available) at the foot of the article as well as in the left information card.
  • 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.

Other Resources

  • a much-consulted Stylebook which offers guidance on how to write well-argued, well-referenced, correctly-formatted and stylistically sound academic essays. It also tackles grammatical and other errors often found in student writing
  • direct linking from journal articles listed under recommended readings to JSTOR and Project Muse (access to the articles will depend on a separate institutional subscription to these databases)

Publishing Model

The Literary Encyclopedia was founded in 1998 with the aim of providing a reliable scholarly online reference work for English-language readers, primarily in the higher education humanities. It was developed as a not-for-profit project aimed to ensure that those who contribute to it are properly rewarded for the time and knowledge they invest.

The Literary Encyclopedia is owned by The Literary Dictionary Company Ltd, with contributing members of the Encyclopedia (editors and authors) sharing ownership of the publication, receiving shares and royalties commensurate with their personal investment in the development of the publication.

The publication is overseen by an Editor-in-Chief (currently Dr. Robert Clark, one of the Founding Editors) who focuses on editorial and commercial strategy, and a Managing Editor (currently Dr. Cristina Sandru) who deals with all day-to-day matters. They are advised by an elected Policy Committee. They also report annually to shareholders on financial matters, and regularly consult with them via email circulars and personal correspondence.

Editorial decisions concerning the Encyclopedia, including decisions concerning its content, format and distribution, are made by the Editor-in-Chief in consultation with the Managing Editor and the Policy Committee, and the members of the Editorial Board.

All editors and authors can see their contribution and shareholder status displayed in their personal account pages [MyLE Account], accessible after logging in. Shareholders receive annual statements of the Company accounts and are always consulted about any decisions which might affect their proprietorial rights.

Our content is solicited by invitation from specialist scholars by our subject Editors; we also accept unsolicited proposals from qualified researchers, with a proven track-record in the topic of the proposed entry. All articles, whether solicited or offered, will be reviewed by one or more of the subject editors on our Editorial Board, or by one or more external referees (where we do not currently have specialist editorial supervision).

What Users Say

“I have used the LE to create bookshelves which I have included on the online course pages for my taught modules. What I most like is that students appear tempted to browse outside the immediate items recommended because of the online layout of the Encyclopedia, so its use has resulted in some quite creative exploratory research, even at first year undergraduate level.” Dr Elisa Sampson Vera Tudela, Senior Lecturer in Latin American Studies, King’s College London

The Literary Encyclopedia is becoming an increasingly useful reference work and research tool for students and scholars of Hispanic Studies, with entries spanning the Early Modern through to the Contemporary, accompanied by helpful guidance on secondary reading.” Dr Federico Bonaddio, Senior Lecturer in Modern Spanish Studies, King’s College London

“The LE, unlike other online resources is compiled and overseen by experts in the field. It provides students with a reliable standard that can't be corrupted in the way that other online sites can easily be. The surety, detail and concision of the LE make it the go-to site for literature students.” Dr Andrew Lesk, University of Toronto

The Literary Encyclopedia is unparalleled in its combination of range and rigour. It is an incredible achievement and an invaluable resource.” Dr Robert McGill, Associate Professor of English, University of Toronto

The Literary Encyclopedia plays an essential role in motivating my students to learn more about specific authors and their works. The enhanced digital features of the site allow easy access to reliable resources and links for Cultural and Literary projects and for cross-cultural classroom discussions. In my online and hybrid courses, students have greatly benefited from developing their cognitive skills independently with the use of the Literary Encyclopedia content. The site provided them with valuable background information for their study and reflection topics. From a pedagogical perspective, I appreciate its versatility. It offers rigorous editorial review and can be used in complement of or without a textbook. It is an excellent resource for homework, review, pre-test or test, as in-class activities or in online learning assignments.” Dr Marie-Anne Visoi, Associate Professor of French, University of Toronto

The Literary Encyclopedia is an excellent resource for students of Anglo-Saxon literature and culture. While most similar websites or handbooks content themselves with a handful of entries on this period, The Literary Encyclopedia has dozens of detailed, properly referenced articles by the leading scholars in the field, on everything from Beowulf and King Alfred the Great to the Old English language and Anglo-Saxon medicine.” Dr Richard Dance, Reader in Early English, University of Cambridge

The Literary Encyclopedia gives concise critical overviews of literary topics. I recommend it as an introductory source for material that hasn't been covered in lectures, and that students find they need to scope out as they develop their individual writing projects, for instance if they need to learn more about a particular author or literary movement. It's fuller than a dictionary, and more reliable than Wikipedia.” Dr Amy Morris, University of Cambridge

The Literary Encyclopedia is a wonderful resource. What sets it apart is the sheer quality of its short articles on an amazing breadth of topics. I regularly advise my students to use it to help them orientate themselves in relation to specific authors or works. In contrast to much online material, it offers them an authoritative overview that is also a gateway to further learning, enabling them to go on to undertake their own wider primary and secondary reading.” Dr Tom Walker, Ussher Assistant Professor in Irish Writing, Trinity College Dublin

“As a literature professor I consistently refer my students to The Literary Encyclopedia as a starting point for background information and additional reading on the authors and works that are relevant to my courses. It is reassuring to know that the students are reading articles that have been written and edited by specialists in the field, as opposed to a wiki-type site on which the information is not always verified for accuracy and thoroughness. In addition, the bookshelf tool provides a way for students to help shape the direction of their studies in my courses; I can refer them to the sample bookshelves of articles on the site, and then I assign them the task of compiling their own bookshelves for their presentations and seminar paper topics.” Dr Jennifer Marston William, Professor of German, Purdue University

The Literary Encyclopedia is a highly useful tool for teachers and researchers alike. On my course websites I often place links to the Literary Encyclopedia pages dedicated to the authors we study. As a researcher I enjoy using the Timeline interface, which can generate a chronology on decolonization in Africa or produce a contextualizing timeline of political events for Olive Schreiner's 1911 study Woman and Labour. The updated interface and the new ways of encouraging users to draw on the resources available in the database (bookshelves dedicated to frequently taught topics, lists of recommended readings, and a travel grant for young/emerging scholars) are further valuable components.” Monica Popescu, Associate Professor, McGill University

The Literary Encyclopedia is an essential resource for students and even for instructors seeking background information on or critical approaches to a vast array of authors and works. Today's undergraduates expect to be able to use online sources for their study of literature; The Literary Encyclopedia guarantees that students have a resource their instructors can depend on for accurate and insightful starting points for reading and research. In other words, this resource gives teachers a trustworthy alternative to less reliable internet sources that students are likely to find on their own. Moreover, instructors will appreciate this resource for their own preparation and research.” Daniel Robinson, Professor of English, Widener University

The Literary Encyclopedia is proving an invaluable resource for students at Dulwich College. The constantly expanding collection of articles written by academics from around the world provides students with relevant and reliable information to enhance the quality of their research and enables them to write in confidence knowing that the information they have read is authoritative. The author chronologies provide an additional benefit allowing students to put an author’s works into historical context. A fantastic resource!” Paul Fletcher, Head of Libraries, Dulwich College, London

The Literary Encyclopedia is without a doubt one of the most relevant sources for students in the arts, humanities and social sciences in particular, as it provides serious, up-to-date, and, most importantly, accurate and critical information about key authors and texts. A wonderful resource. The editors are most helpful and efficient, and I am happy to be a part of such a tremendous collective effort.” Alexis Mevel, PhD student, Department of French, University of Nottingham

“I consider Litencyc a very valuable tool and I recommend it constantly to my students; I think it is very important for us teachers to be able to show students that there are excellent online resources at their disposal. In the age of digital affluence it seems also pedagogically wise to 'ween' them from trusting too easily in Wikipedia and others that do not meet academic requirements.” Dominik Wallerius, PhD student and Tutor, Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz, Germany

“I love the LE! I subscribed even though I've finished my studies because it's so interesting and useful. While a student, I found the LE an invaluable tool and a legitimate source for research. I knew that my tutors would approve of my use of the site as the articles are written by specialist scholars. The further research available through the recommended reading and web resources is incredibly helpful.” Hayley Cameron, former BA student, University of Dundee

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