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The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory (Penguin Dictionary) 4th Edition

4.6 out of 5 stars 39 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0140513639
ISBN-10: 0140513639
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Editorial Reviews

From the Back Cover

The fourth edition of J.A. Cuddon's classic dictionary has been thoroughly revised and updated to maintain it as the most comprehensive and accessible work of its kind currently available, for students, teachers and general readers alike. Expanded to include many new entries, it has been improved throughout, in places rendered more concise, in others amended and extended, with both major and minor additions. The work of the third edition, to cover the schools and various terminologies of literary theory is continued, without compromising coverage afforded to more traditional critical terms and topics.

At this untimely death in 1996, Charles Cuddon, as he was known, had completed much of the revisory and updating work involved in preparing the edition. That work and other unfinished plans and outlines have since been overseen and developed by C.E. Preston of Sidney Sussex college, Cambridge, helped, as she acknowledges, by several of her academic colleagues. Among the entries extensively rewritten or newly contributed are:


  • "CrimeFiction",
  • "Dramatic Monologue",
  • "Ellipsis",
  • "Punctuation",
  • "Rhyme",
  • "Verse Novel", and
  • "Sonnet Cycle".


After more than twenty years in print, Cuddon's Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory remains "a superlative work of reference that will be read for pleasure", just as it was acclaimed to be when first published in 1976. There is now no better memorial to its author's extraordinary polymathy and literary scholarship. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

J. A. Cuddon (1928–1996) was a renowned expert in the fields of literature and linguistics. He also wrote several plays, libretti, novels, short stories, essays, and travel narratives.
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The latest book club pick from Oprah
"The Underground Railroad" by Colson Whitehead is a magnificent novel chronicling a young slave's adventures as she makes a desperate bid for freedom in the antebellum South. See more

Product Details

  • Paperback: 1024 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; 4th edition (February 1, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140513639
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140513639
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 1.8 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #34,828 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
You get a lot of value for the money with this one. For a reasonable price you get almost 1000 pages of literary information. Every obscure literary term imaginable is here, but that's not why I am taking the time to praise this handy little volume. It's a browsers dream.
What I found most interesting were the lengthy sections on genres. There are pages devoted to specific types of novels, dramas, and poems. There are luxuriously long sections on science fiction novels, crime fiction, pastoral writings, short stories, gothic fiction, comic drama, and a host of other such topics. When you go to the short story section, for instance, you will find 12 pages dedicated to coverage of authors and their works dating from biblical times to the present (1998). I quickly found recommended writers that I hadn't known along with those I was well acquainted with. Although this book was inexpensive, I have spent many times its purchase price buying new books that I found referenced in this Dictionary. There are no individual entries for authors or their works in this book. For that you need to go to books like the Oxford, Cambridge, New York Public Library or Benet's literature reference works.
In poetry sections you will find examples of the type of verse being discussed. You will be amused at some of the entries provided under "light verse" and "limericks". There is even a heading for "shaggy dog story".
Any weaknesses to the book? Well there are a few. This book has a single author, unlike many reference works that have a group of contributors. This can lead to weak sections that are outside the solo author's expertise. Every reader will find a favorite author or two missing from the genre sections.
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Format: Paperback
This addictive dictionary can be (and frequently is, I believe) read from cover to cover. Hundreds of fascinating poetic forms, genres and movements are covered, the definitions are informative and often ironically detached (note the studiedly lapidary comments on Welsh poetry), virtually all major European literatures are taken into account, plus there are comments on Slavonic folklore, Korean poetry, Welsh prosody, and ancient Greek literary theory.
The wiring and plumbing of the book, its cross-referencing system, is admirably done and very helpful, luring the reader into a rollercoaster ride across centuries.
Another notable quality is the rich number of examples, especially of the titles of a legion of important / interesting / fascinating / demented literary works often buried in the sands of time. Unfortunately, however, many metric and strophic forms must go without illustration for reasons of space: a fact deplored by Cuddon himself in the preface.
But this does not detract from the book's worth: its logical structure and lucid explanations, combined with its author's awesome erudition, make this a priceless reference work.
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Format: Paperback
This comprehensive dictionary of literary terms covers much, much more than any other book I've found. It concisely defines literary periods, critical schools, artistic movements, techniques, genres, structural elements, and the derivations of each. No term is too obscure for this volume. Want to know what a rime équivoquée is? Forget what is meant by post-modernism? What was the Florida Street group and with whom did the members identify? Need classic examples of a parody? How does the word "forensics" apply to poetry? You'll find it all in this book of nearly 1000 pages.
This is a highly valuable book for anyone deeply interested in literature and its expressions.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Under twenty dollars for a well thought-out, expertly assembled dictionary of over a thousand pages makes this Penguin an excellent purchase. As for the content, I will simply "second" the observations of earlier reviewers - and recommend that you look through their notes below to be sure this is what you want. This review is just to offer...
One CAVEAT: This inch-and-three-quarters paperback is extremely valuable and deserves to get well thumbed-over by any student of English literature or criticism in general. One could only wish that the publisher had released it in a "quality paperback" format that would better survive such thumbing. The present release (a 2000 paperback reissue of the 1998 hardback) is closer in quality to a mass market paperback, with newsprint grade paper, etc. Annotators and highlighters will find their inks bleeding severely through the pages.
Unfortunately, few of us will have the C-note to lay out for the (presumably much better produced) hardback edition... which would be a *real* treat to keep at one's writing table. Until you win the lottery(or Penguin releases a quality paperback), grab the affordable paperback: it's rewarding enough to keep you *wanting* to highlight, although disappointing when you do.
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Format: Paperback
If you are an English major (as I am) then this is the positively best dictionary you can buy for literary terms and theory. Although it is not regarded as the "most authoritative" source around (that distinction probably goes to MH Abrhams' "Glossary of Literary Terms"), this book is thorough and enlightening. Plus, it's published by Penguin, which means it is basically approved and endorsed by Oxford. This book is by far the most comprehensive of its kind. Buy it, or be sorry you didn't!
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