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Oxford Reader's Companion to Dickens Hardcover – May 13, 1999
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From Library Journal
Grade 9 Up-Drawing on an impressive roster of scholars both in the U.S. and Britain, this guide is a boon to understanding Dickens's life, work, ideas, and times. The alphabetically arranged entries include such topics as "amusements and recreation," "industry," "London," and "prisons and penal transportation." The writer's major works are also discussed, focusing on their inception and composition; publishing history; illustrations (in the original editions); sources and historical context; and plots, characters, and themes. Many of the signed articles include a bibliography. Black-and-white photographs, reproductions, and four maps accompany the text. Appendixes include a general bibliography, an alphabetical list of characters noting the work in which they appear, and a subject index. While there are other companions to the author's work, this is the most comprehensive.
Jo-Anne Weinberg, Greenburgh Public Library, NY
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
One of the most popular writers of the nineteenth century, Charles Dickens created a world of unique and fascinating characters whose stories continue to captivate contemporary readers. During the past five years, a remarkable number of major reference sources pertaining to this beloved author have been published, among them George Newlin's Everyone in Dickens (Greenwood, 1995), Donald Hawes's Who's Who in Dickens (Routledge, 1998), and Paul Davis's Charles Dickens A to Z [RBB O 1 98].
In this latest compendium, Schlicke, a senior lecturer at Aberdeen University and noted Dickens specialist, has tapped the knowledge and expertise of more than 60 distinguished contributors to assemble a dictionary that encompasses not only Dickens's life and writings but also the entire period in which he lived. The more than 500 signed entries are arranged alphabetically, with the exception of the entries for Dickens's works, which appear somewhat out of sequence, with see references guiding the user to their correct location. Although scholarly, the entries are highly readable, and many include brief bibliographic references. In addition to entries on specific people, publications, institutions, places, genres, activities, and events, the dictionary also contains articles on a wide range of broader topics. Some of these relate directly to Dickens' life and works (e.g., Characterization, Homes of Dickens, Television adaptations of Dickens), while others deal with aspects of his times (e.g., Industry, Reform). Although some articles are only one or two paragraphs, many others are multipage essays, such as the 15-page entry London and the 11-page entry Criticism and scholarship. Entries on Dickens' novels follow a set format, which includes discussion of the work's inception, publication history, illustrations, sources, and critical reception, in addition to a brief plot summary. Wisely, Schlicke has chosen not to provide separate entries on individual characters, which would only duplicate the information in other reference sources; instead, he appends a list of names of characters keyed to the works in which they appear.
Enhancing the text are more than 50 black-and-white illustrations and four maps of places associated with Dickens. Other helpful features include a chronological chart that correlates major events in Dickens' life with significant historical and literary events, a Dickens family tree, and a general bibliography. The index identifies names, associations, publications, and other subjects that receive substantial treatment within broader articles. Unfortunately, however, it only notes the entry header(s) under which they appear, rather than giving a precise page reference. Providing additional access is a classified list of articles that groups entries under useful categories, such as Dickens' non-fiction, politics and government, and theatre and other kinds of entertainment.
This excellent work gives the user a renewed appreciation for the tremendous range of Dickens' interests and talents and provides fresh insights into the age in which he lived. Its strong emphasis on and extensive coverage of the political, social, and artistic milieu surrounding Dickens and his circle set it apart from the aforementioned Charles Dickens A to Z, which treats those aspects much more briefly. On the other hand, that compilation, with its 2,500 entries, offers its own unique strengths, including lengthy, detailed synopses of each novel and separate entries for individual characters, articles, and essays. Although there is inevitable overlap between the two works, they effectively complement each other. Charles Dickens A to Z is more appropriate for general readers and for undergraduate and high-school students, while the Oxford Reader's Companion to Dickens is particularly suited for scholars and other serious researchers.
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Top Customer Reviews
I can't say enough about the quality of the articles in this volume. Top Dickens scholars from around the world have been recruited to write on a host of subjects, in particular on subjects that will cast light on the world in which Dickens lived and about which he wrote. Although his books are certainly not neglected, the emphasis is as much on Dickens and his world as on Dickens and his books. The goal of the book is clearly an understanding of Dickens in context, with the added belief that knowing his context will immeasurably deepen one's enjoyment and understanding of his works.
My lone complaint with the book is the book does not contain a usable index or list of characters. There is an alphabetical list of all characters in Dickens's books at the end, but such a list only tells you what work a character appears in, not who they are. If you are dipping back into a novel of Dickens with the intent of enjoying a chapter or two (as opposed to rereading the entire work from beginning to end), one might not remember whom a particular individual is. It would have been nice to have a one or two line explanation of whom each character is, in addition to what work in which they appeared. I believe this would have enhanced the value of this as a reference work.
The inherent problem of any reference work like this will be the degree to which it is usable. There is a host of information, but how can it be accessed and recovered? This volume suffers to some degree, but Paul Schlicke has gone to great lengths to multiply the number of aides to teasing out the book's information. The articles are organized alphabetically, but there is a wealth of indexes. There is, for instance, a "Classified Contents List," that has headings such as "Dickens's Reputation," and subheadings under that like "Critics and scholars of Dickens" and "Scholarly and critical approaches to Dickens," with titles of articles under each. By reading those articles, one finds the information one needs. There is some overlap with the book's index (which tends to refer to article titles rather than page numbers--perhaps that was in order to accommodate both the hardback and paperback editions, which have different pagination) and the "Classified Contents List," but these provide two different approaches to obtaining the information one needs.
This is not the only book on Dickens that a reader of Dickens would want to own. One would certainly want to refer to a biography by someone like Peter Ackroyd or Edgar Johnson, or perhaps a critical appreciation like that of G. K. Chesterton. But I would definitely place it on the short list of books that one would like to own.
The characters are merely listed alongside the novel in which they appear.
That being said, there are some wonderful, informative essays at your fingertips contained in this work. Anyhow, this is an okay skeletal reference book.....if you want more depth, you have to get to the main reading room of the NYPL!!