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John M. Kelly Library

Research Guide to English Literature

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This research guide is maintained by Richard Carter. It was last updated August 2011.

Brief Reference

Literature Criticism Online

Literature Criticism Online

[Available online for UofT use only.]
This series provides detailed critical essays—often by well-known critics—on a wide range of authors. You can search titles (e.g. Shakespearean Criticism, or Contemporary Literature Criticism) all together, in a selected combination, or individually. Arranged alphabetically, the entries provide in-depth critical essays on an author’s work, along with biographical facts, a list of major works, and related sources. Usually, the essays give an overview of a writer’s work or themes. The entries are substantial. Volume 101, for instance, provides more than 100 pages on Swift’s essay “A Modest Proposal.” Swift, in fact, has entries in three different volumes, each with a different emphasis. The online version is a scan of the print copy.

Literary Encyclopedia

Literary Encyclopedia

Written by more than 1,850 scholars worldwide, The Literary Encyclopedia is a growing reference tool containing 4,800+ entries on authors and their works, as well as articles on literary topics. The encyclopedia, which accumulates more articles every month, covers literature originally written in English, German, French, and Russian.

Literature Online

Literature Online

Chadwyck-Healey, 1996-2004.
This vast online library lets you search more than 350,000 full-text works of English and American poetry, drama and prose, as well as biographies, bibliographies and secondary sources. The interface here is the same for the ABELL journal article database, and once in Literature Online you can use both resources, the library and the article database.

Oxford Encyclopedia of British Literature

Oxford Encyclopedia of British Literature.

Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.
[Available online for UofT use only.]
[Print Version: Robarts and Victoria University E.J. Pratt Libraries’ Reference sections: PR19 .O95 2006.]
Spanning the history of literature in the UK and Ireland in such languages as Anglo-Saxon, English, Welsh, Scots, Irish, and Latin, this work contains lengthy biographies (e.g., Spenser, Pope, Austen) along with detailed entries on themes, movements, genres, and institutions whose impact on literature was significant (e.g. the sonnet, the ‘School of Night,’ or the Sublime).

Oxford Reference Online

Oxford Reference Online

Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.
[Available online for UofT use only.]
Oxford Reference is an extensive general reference site containing many online titles for English students in particular. Here are a few: The Concise Oxford Companion to English Literature, The Oxford Companion to Twentieth-Century Poetry in English; The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms; A Dictionary of Celtic Mythology; and The Concise Oxford Companion to American Literature.

Oxford English Dictionary

The Oxford English Dictionary

Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989. 20 volumes.
[St Michael's 1st Floor Reference Area - PE1625 .O87 1989 v.1]
The Oxford English Dictionary is the accepted authority on the meanings of English-language words. Besides guiding readers through the meaning, history, and pronunciation of more than half a million words, both present and past, it traces their usage through 2.5 million quotations from a wide range of international English language sources. At least 1,000 new and revised entries are added quarterly.

Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory

Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory

By J. A. Cuddon. 3rd ed. London: Penguin Books, 1992.
[St Michael's 1st Floor Reference Area - PN41 .C83 1992]
From the "metaphor" to the "kenning", from the "essay" to "post-modernism", this small book packs in a wealth of brief articles and definitions essential for English students. The entries, arranged alphabetically, contain a wide variety of topics, including technical terms (anapest), literary movements (Dadaism), types of criticism (Marxist Criticism), and literary forms (sonnet and romance).

Encyclopedia of World Literature in the 20th Century

Encyclopedia of World Literature in the 20th Century

Edited by Leonard S. Klein. New York: F. Ungar, 1981-84. 4 volumes plus an index.
[St Michael's 1st Floor Reference Area - PN771 .E5 1981]
Unlike the Oxford Companion to English Literature, this alphabetically-arranged four-volume encyclopedia is international in scope-and more detailed. Besides basic biographical and general information, the entries provide bibliographies of works and secondary sources, along with critical comments in the case of some major authors. The first three volumes contain entries on authors' lives and works. The fourth is an index indicating the volume and page numbers for authors or topics. While this source offers excellent coverage of major authors, Contemporary Authors and other guides listed here provide more information on lesser-known, pre-20th century, or recent writers.

Oxford Chronology of English Literature

The Oxford Chronology of English Literature.

Edited by Michael Cox. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002. 2 volumes.
[St Michael's 1st Floor Reference Area – PR87 .O93 2002]
Use this 2-volume set to browse records of major literary works published in English between 1474 and 2000. Brief notes on publication date, title, author, publisher and genre let readers glimpse works from a given year (e.g. 1615) in relation to one another, while also allowing scholars to follow the development of English literature over time. Entries include works that are both significant (e.g. Shakespeare’s Hamlet, printed 1604) and representative (e.g. Churchyards Good Will, Sad and Heavy Verses, by Thomas Churchyard, also printed in 1604). Vol. 1 contains the entries, vol. 2 author and title indexes.

Oxford Encyclopedia of Children's Literature

The Oxford Encyclopedia of Children’s Literature.

Edited by Jack Zipes. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006. 4 volumes.
[Available online for UofT use only.]
[Print Version: Victoria University E.J. Pratt Library Reference Area – PN1008.5 .O94 2006]
The Encyclopedia analyzes the books children read. Taking a multicultural and global perspective, the encyclopedia includes brief biographies as well as essays on genres, works, and key themes and trends.

Encyclopedia of Literature & Politcs

Encyclopedia of Literature & Politics.

Edited by M. Keith Booker. Westport, Conn.: Greewood, 2005. 3 volumes.
[St Michael's 1st Floor Reference Area – PN51 .E63 2005]
While international and historical in scope, this encyclopedia focuses most closely on the modern world and on works written in English. More than 500 entries cover such topics as authors and critics, historical figures and literary works, and national literatures and literary movements. Volume 3 includes more than 80 pages of bibliographical references.

Dictionary of Anonymous and Pseudonymous English Literature

Dictionary of Anonymous and Pseudonymous English Literature

By Samuel Halkett and John Laing. New and enlarged edition by James Kennedy, W.A. Smith, and A.F. Johnson. Edinburgh : Oliver and Boyd, 1926-1962. 9 volumes.
[St Michael's 1st Floor Reference Area - Z1065 .H2]
Anyone seeking key bibliographic information about anonymous or pseudonymous English literature printed before 1950 will find this 9-volume set helpful. Organized alphabetically by title, the entries provide the author's real name (if known), the format of the work, paging, and the place and date of publication. Volume 7 contains two handy indexes arranged alphabetically: one for authors and one for pseudonyms. The final two volumes contain supplements: volume 8 includes additions from 1900 to 1949, while volume 9 updates and corrects entries for works published before 1900.

Twayne's Authors Series

Twayne's Authors Series

Gale group.
[Available online for UofT use only.]

John Hopkins Guide to Literary Theory and Criticism

Johns Hopkins Guide to Literary Theory and Criticism

Johns Hopkins University Press.
[Available online for UofT use only.]

Dictionary of Writers and Their Works

A Dictionary of Writers and Their Works

Ed. Michael Cox. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.
[Available online for UofT use only.]

Dictionary of Symbols

A Dictionary of Symbols

By Juan Eduardo Cirlot. Translated from the Spanish by Jack Sage; foreword by Herbert Read. London : Routledge, 1971. 2nd ed.
[Available online for UofT use only.]


Literature Resource Centre

Literature Resource Centre

Gale Group, 2003.
[Available online for UofT use only.]
Probably this source is the most detailed and convenient biography database available for literature students. You can search by author on the main page or try other searches by clicking "literary-historical timeline" beneath the search bar. Choosing the second option should bring up a horizontal menu offering a title search, a keyword search and an "encyclopedia of literature". The database organizes entries into biography, criticism and "additional resources". Contemporary Authors covers fiction writers, poets, dramatists, non-fiction writers, journalists, editors, screenwriters, television scriptwriters and other authors.

Biography Resource Centre

Biography Resource Centre

Gale Group, 2003-
[Available online for UofT use only.]
Similar to Gale’s Literature Resource Centre, and just as good, this database is a great starting place for literary biography. While some of the entries overlap with the Literature Resource Centre, many do not, so looking at both resources is worthwhile.

Literature Online

Literature Online

Chadwyck-Healey, 1996-2004.
[Available online for UofT use only.]
This vast online library lets you search for biographies, as well as full-text works, bibliographies and criticism. For biography, this source is useful but not as wide-ranging as the Gale Literature Resource Centre.

Oxford Companion to English Literature

The Oxford Companion to English Literature.

Edited by Margaret Drabble. 6th rev. ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006.
[Available online for UofT use.]
[St Michael's 1st Floor Reference Area - PR19 .O94 2006]
This one-volume guide to literature written in English includes alphabetically arranged entries on authors, their works, fictional characters, and literary forms and periods. In addition to useful--albeit brief--biographies, these entries include plot summaries and publishing history, as well as details about literary societies, newspapers, periodicals, and critical terms and theories. The coverage in this book of composers, artists, historians, philosophers, and foreign authors important to English literature is more extensive than in The Cambridge Guide to Literature in English.

Oxford Companion to American Literature

The Oxford Companion to American Literature.

Edited by James David Hart. 6th edition. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.
[Available Online for UofT use.]

Cambridge Guide to Literature in English

The Cambridge Guide to Literature in English

By Ian Ousby. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993.
[St Michael's 1st Floor Reference Area - PR85 .C29 1993]
Like the Oxford Companion, this one-volume guide provides brief biographies of writers in English from such places as the UK, North America, Australasia, Africa, and the Caribbean. You can also look up entries by book title or subject (e.g. post-modernism and simile).
See also the new 3rd edition.


Encyclopedia of the Novel

Encyclopedia of the Novel

Edited by Paul Schellinger. Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn, 1998. 2 volumes (A-L and M-Z).
[St Michael's 1st Floor Reference Area - PN41 .E487 1998 SMCR]
Facts about the novel, from technical terms and varieties of the genre, to critical approaches, the history of fiction, famous authors, and well-known titles (such as Anna Karenin) abound in this 2-volume set. Numbering in total more than 1,500 pages, the encyclopedia contains 650 articles substantial enough for a student to get a good introductory grasp of an author, concept or work. Some entries focus on the development of the novel in specific countries. Use this resource when you need a more detailed treatment of a novelist or novel than a more general guide-such as The Oxford Companion to English Literature-provides.


Masterplots: 1,801 Plot Stories and Critical Evaluations

Edited by Frank N. Magill. Revised second edition. Pasadena, Calif.: Salem, 1996. 12 volumes.
[St Michael's 1st Floor Reference Area - PN 44 .M33 1996]
What distinguishes Masterplots from other guides is its concentration on detailed plot summaries (much more thorough than in the Oxford Companion to English Literature), critical evaluations, and bibliographies for famous novels, poems, and plays dating from ancient times to 1991. This source contains more than 1,800 articles, arranged alphabetically by the title of each work. Volume 12 includes chronological, geographical, title and author indexes. For entries on more recent or lesser-known works, try the Oxford Companion to English Literature, and other guides listed here.

Encyclopedia of World Drama

McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of World Drama.

Edited by Stanley Hochman. 2nd edition. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1984.
[St Michael's 1st Floor Reference Area - PN 1625 .M3 1984]
Although dated, this 5-volume set contains useful articles on dramatists, dramatic literature and national and ethnic theatre traditions. The articles on dramatists include biographies as well as a critical assessment. A bibliography follows each entry. Besides its focus on dramatists and dramatic literature, the encyclopedia also includes entries for theatre companies and well-known directors. There's a glossary, a list of play titles and a general index to the whole set at the back of the 5th volume.

New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics

The New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics

Edited by Alex Preminger and T. V. F. Brogan. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1993.
[St Michael's 1st Floor Reference Area - PN1021 .N39 1993]
Students and faculty studying poetry-whether individual lines or the context that produced them-will find this encyclopedia a tremendous help for its detailed entries, both on technical terms (e.g. alliteration or trochee), poetic forms (e.g. the sonnet or villanelle), literary periods (e.g. Modernism), national literatures (e.g. Polish Poetry), and types of literary criticism (e.g. Structuralism).

Oxford Companion to 20th Century Poetry in English

The Oxford Companion to 20th Century Poetry in English

By Ian Hamilton. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996.
In this comprehensive guide to modern poetry in English, established poets express opinions on such peers as Ted Hughes (by Tom Paulin), Robert Lowell (by Seamus Heaney) and Sylvia Plath (by Anne Stevenson). The guide includes information on roughly 1,500 poets, from W.H. Auden to Benjamin Zephaniah, and hailing from a range of places such as America, Britain, Ireland, New Zealand, Trinidad and Zimbabwe. Besides providing commentary on poets and their work, this guide also contains entries on magazines, movements, and critical terms.

Columbia Granger's Index to Poetry

The Columbia Granger's Index to Poetry: Eleventh Edition

Edited by Edith P. Hazen. New York: Columbia University Press, 1997.
[St Michael's 1st Floor Reference Area - PN1022 .H39 1997]
Ever wondered who wrote . . . "Gather ye rosebuds while ye may / Old Time is still a-flying"? This one-volume-wonder has a first-line index that will tell you. Dealing chiefly with English-language poems printed in anthologies, as well as some poems translated into English, the Index to Poetry provides a first-line and title index, along with author and subject indexes for 75,000 poems by 11,000 authors appearing in 379 anthologies and organized into 4,000 subjects. In addition, the source includes a last-line index-included in the title and first-line section-for 10,000 of the more frequently anthologized poems.

Women's Writing

Cambridge Guide to Women's Writing in English

The Cambridge Guide to Women's Writing in English

By Lorna Sage. Advisory editors: Germaine Greer, Elaine Showalter. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1999.
[St Michael's 1st Floor Reference Area - PR111 .S24 1999]
With more than 2,500 alphabetically-arranged entries, this work is a useful quick-reference guide to women writers, their works, and the movements they have been a part of, such as postmodernism. From medieval writers such as Julian of Norwich to post-colonial writers such as Arundhati Roy, this guide covers a wide range of authors, literary periods and works.

The Feminist Companion to Literature in English

The Feminist Companion to Literature in English.

Edited by Virginia Blain, Patricia Clements, and Isobel Grundy. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1990
[St Michael's 1st Floor Reference Area - PR111 .B57 1990]
Consisting of 2,700 alphabetically-arranged biographical entries on women writing in English from the earliest days to approximately 1985, this book also contains subject entries ranging from detective fiction and psychoanalytic feminist criticism to religious and devotional writing. This work has three useful indexes at the end of the book organized by topic (e.g. popular fiction), date (authors by time period: e.g. "Born 1876-1900"), and surname (providing cross-references to the correct entries).

British Women Writers

British Women Writers: A Critical Reference Guide

Edited by Janet M. Todd. New York: Continuum, 1989.
[St Michael's 1st Floor Reference Area - PR111 .B75 1989]
Unlike the The Cambridge Guide to Women's Writing in English and the The Feminist Companion to Literature in English, this reference lacks subject entries. The advantage, however, of British Women Writers is its detailed biographies on more than 400 British women writers from the Middle Ages to the 1980s-some not included in the other two sources. British Women Writers covers a fair range of authors, from novelists and poets to writers of books on cookery, religion, history and travel.

Literary History
A Literary History of England

A Literary History of England

Edited by Albert Croll Baugh. 2nd edition. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1967. 4 volumes.
[St Michael's 2nd Floor - PR83 .L58 1967]
To understand literature, exploring context helps. This four-volume set provides a thorough clear chronological introduction to four major periods in English literature: The Middle Ages [consisting of the Old and Middle English periods] (vol. I), The Renaissance (vol. II), The Restoration and the Eighteenth Century (vol. III) and The Nineteenth Century and After (vol. IV). With information on genres, literary movements, authors and their works, and marked with brief headings in the margins, A Literary History of England serves as a useful starting place to gain background for a paper. Each volume contains a lengthy bibliographical supplement at the back, as well as an index.

Annuals of English Literature, 1475-1950

Annals of English Literature, 1475-1950.

2nd ed. Revised by R. W. Chapman. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1961.
[St Michael's 1st Floor Reference Area - Z2011 .A5]
[St Michael's 2nd Floor Stacks - PR56 .A55 1961 SMC]
This little book gives you, at a glance, a chronological list of works published by major British authors from the Renaissance to 1950. Arranged first by publication year, then alphabetically by author, the book includes brief italicized historical notes in the margins to provide context. In contrast with Rogal's Chronological Outline of British Literature [St Michael's 1st Floor Reference Area - PR87 .R57 1980], this title provides a narrower date range but more detailed entries. As an example, Chapman's Annals lists 35 works for 1834, whereas Rogal's Chronological Outline lists 19.

Finding Journal Articles

To find articles in scholarly journals, the best place to go is an article database. To find articles related to your subject area, go to and under the Subjects A-Z tab scroll down to your subject area—i.e. Literature—and click GO. You’ll find a list of online databases containing relevant articles, as well as other online resources such as encyclopedias, dictionaries and research guides.

Besides finding articles, these databases also round up book reviews, book chapters, dissertations and even book titles. In most cases, you can limit your search to articles if that is all you want. How do I find articles?

Annual Bibliography of English Language and Literature

Annual Bibliography of English Language and Literature (ABELL)

Looking for articles, books or essays? This article database, covering from 1920 to the present, should be your first stop. Packed with more than 840,000 records, ABELL refers you to journal articles, books, essay collections, book reviews, and doctoral dissertations. Another advantage is the scope. Covering American, British and Commonwealth literature, as well as some material in languages besides English, ABELL is one of the two key indexes for English students--the other is the MLA International Bibliography.

MLA International Bibliography

MLA International Bibliography

This index, along with ABELL, is a key English literature source. It covers criticism related to literature, linguistics and folklore from 1921 to the present, and contains more than 1-million citations to journal articles, series, books, working papers and conference proceedings. Most of the materials indexed before 1963 are American.

Other Article Databases
Humanities Abstracts

Humanities Abstracts

[Available online for UofT use.]
Humanities Abstracts covers 400 English language journals related to such areas as literature, religion, philosophy, history, archaeology, classical studies, linguistics and art. Although it is an excellent general humanities index, Humanities Abstracts covers articles only from 1994 to the present.

Essay and General Literature Index

Essay and General Literature Index

[Available online for UofT use.]
With references to nearly 45,000 English-language essays in 3,500 collections and anthologies, this humanities index covers such subjects as history and literature, folklore and film, music and drama, and religion and psychology. Use this source for more recent material - the index covers only 1985 to the present.

Short Story Index

Short Story Index

New York: H. W. Wilson, 1953-1983.
[Available online for UofT use.]
Look up references to stories by author, title or subject. In addition to researching specific stories or authors, you can browse lists of collections and directories of publishers and periodicals. The Short Story Index provides references for 178,200 stories in more than 11,200 collections and 60-80 periodicals between 1953 and 1983.

19th Century Article Databases
19th Century Masterfile

19th Century Masterfile

[Available online for UofT use.]
Use this database to search one or more indexes for 19th Century periodicals and documents ranging, depending on the index, from 1774 to 1920. For literature, you can focus on Poole's Index to Periodical Literature (1802-1906),which contains more than 500,000 records. When you search Poole's, the computer breaks down the results so you can what magazines provide full-text articles on your subject. Other indexes deal with law, psychology, government documents, patents and science.

The Wellesley Index to Victorian Periodicals, 1824-1900

The Wellesley Index to Victorian Periodicals, 1824-1900

Edited by Walter E. Houghton. Toronto : University of Toronto Press, 1966-1989.
[Available online for UofT use.]
Browse the tables of contents for issues from 43 major nineteenth-century British monthlies and quarterlies in the first four volumes in this series. Organized by periodicals (such as The Cornhill Magazine, The Edinburgh Review and Bentley's Miscelllany), the Wellesley Index provides historical information about the periodical at the beginning of each listing, as well as article titles, authors, years, and volume and page numbers in each issue's table of contents. Each volume includes indexes for the authors, pseudonyms and initials, abbreviations, and short titles referred to in that volume. By contrast, the fifth volume consists of the same indexes for the whole set (volumes I-IV). One marvelous thing about this resource is it gives you a snappy, but telling, idea of what 19th Century writers and readers were thinking and arguing about.

Finding Book Reviews

Most article databases contain citations for book reviews. The databases below, however, specialize in reviews of books published in the Humanities.

A good starting place is this page on the UofT Libraries website; it lists the best general article databases for finding book reviews, along with, on the right-hand side, a list of topics that allow you to focus on your subject area (e.g. literature).

Book Review Digest Plus

Book Review Digest Plus

[Available online for UofT use.]
One very useful feature of BRD is that it provides not only citations to reviews, but also excerpts from the reviews themselves. Subject coverage is current juvenile and adult fiction and nonfiction in the English language. Periodicals indexed are from the United States, Canada, and Great Britain, and are general rather than specialized. Entries are arranged alphabetically by last name of the author of the book reviewed. Also includes a subject and title index.

Book Review Index

Book Review Index

[Available online for UofT use.]
Use this index to find citations to book, periodical, and books-on-tape reviews from over 500 American, Canadian, European and Australian publications. The Book Review Index cites scholarly and literary journals as well as general interest ones.

Combined Retrospective Index to Book Reviews in Humanities Journals.

Edited by Evan Ira Farber. Woodbridge, Conn.: Research Publications, 1982-84. 10 volumes.
[Robarts 4th Floor Reference Area - Z1035 .A1 .C63]
Indexes book reviews published between 1802 and 1974.

An Index to Book Reviews in the Humanities

An Index to Book Reviews in the Humanities

Williamston, Mich.: Philip Thomson, 1960 -1990. 31 volumes.
[St Michael's 1st Floor Reference Area - Z1035. A1 I63]
This title indexes 30 years of book reviews in scholarly journals. Topics include literature, art, architecture, biography, memoirs, music, travel, philosophy, language and music.