Why The Literary Encyclopedia


The Literary Encyclopedia was founded in 1998 to serve as an authoritative reference work suitable for use by students, researchers and scholars in the field of literary and cultural studies, primarily in higher education, but also in FE, 6th form colleges and other forms of secondary education.

The Literary Encyclopedia is owned by The Literary Dictionary Company Limited, registered in the United Kingdom. Starting from the premise that editors and authors should be acknowledged and rewarded for their contribution to furthering knowledge, the Encyclopedia was founded to serve as a model for the scholarly ownership of academic publishing. It is now proud to deliver excellent scholarship at the lowest cost compatible with developing its service. We operate on a not-for-profit basis, with contributing members of the Encyclopedia (authors and editors) sharing ownership of the publication, receiving shares and royalties proportionate with their contribution. We also strive to make knowledge accessible and affordable: we award two annual travel grants to emerging scholars, funded from the royalties generously donated by our authors and editors; in addition, The Literary Encyclopedia is supplied freely to institutions where the per capita income is below the world average.

Since 1998, the LE has published over 15 million words in over 7300 articles 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.


The Literary Encyclopedia publishes articles (c. 25-40 new essays each month) on the widest variety of quality writing that has been produced around the world. It grows by around one million words a year. It offers:

  • excellent coverage of works written in English, German, Russian, French, Italian and of classical literatures
  • growing coverage of Hispanic, postcolonial, East-European and other world literatures
  • essays on relevant visual artists and architects, philosophies, philosophers, politicians and politics, scientists and scientific thought, as well as works authored by them
  • contextual essays on a variety of literary, historical and cultural matters

The Literary Encyclopedia also provides full primary bibliographies for nearly all the authors listed—some 31,000 works—that can be searched for genre, gender and country of origin or authorship. Many of the listed works will eventually be described in full. The publication also lists over 16,000 historical and cultural events, concepts and ideas, which provide contextual information to the main articles, and over 20,000 listings of recommended secondary bibliography.

Since The Literary Encyclopedia was digitally conceived, it offers unparalleled advanced search and sophisticated timeline generation. It enables any user to create bookshelves to collect items of interest, a feature of particular value to teachers who wish to provide course-focused reading lists.

Online step-by-step video demonstrations explain how to use all aspects of the publication (see https://www.litencyc.com/videohelp/how_to.php).

As well as being a useful reference work, The Literary Encyclopedia is also an enormous research project, notably in its work of describing long-neglected and marginalised texts, in establishing day-by-day calendars of writers’ lives, and in correlating life events and literary events to its calendars of political and cultural history (Author chronologies).

Please see full description of the project under the ABOUT tab on our homepage.


The core of The Literary Encyclopedia comprises three data tables—People, Works, and Context—to which are joined a hierarchized metadata tree comprising 3000 descriptors, the reference articles themselves, the bibliography of secondary reading, the author timelines, and the administrative record of contributor and editor information. The careful and logical arrangement of more than 160 data tables enables fast and clear searching, the ready addition of new records and revision of existing articles. Behind the scenes, the publication is supported by an on-line editing and management interface which enables globally distributed contribution, and immediate, economically efficient publishing. Because the architecture has been constantly improved over 15 years, it is easy to use, flexible and robust. Furthermore, adding new aspects can be done with great economy of effort.

The publication uses open-source software that is economic and adaptable: MySQL, PHP, JavaScript and HTML. It is hosted on Red Hat Linux web servers using Amazon Web Services (AWS) which have given us unfailing uptime for the last five years whilst delivering around 200GB a month to our subscribers.

  • the LE is Metalib, W3C and OpenURL compliant and fires direct search requests for articles to JSTOR and ProjectMuse (if the institution is subscribed to these)
  • Access: IP based (on campus), Athens, Shibboleth and ezproxy (remote access), as well as free Personal User Accounts for any members of subscribing institutions. For more information, see our page ‘Accessing the LE
  • WAYFless URLS
  • comprehensive usage statistics that record the number of page-views (not only of direct searches); we also offer COUNTER-compliant user statistics