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English Literature information resources: Background information

Before you start looking for scholarly books and articles, you should spend some time doing a little background research. Using dictionaries, encyclopedias and biographical resources can help you to understand the major issues, themes, people, events and scope of your research topic. The following resources are particularly useful for providing context and background information in the area of English Literature.

Oxford Reference Online
This online collection of dictionaries, encyclopedias and other reference books provides access to general reference sources, as well as subject-specific resources. There are over 20 resources included in this database for English Literature which can be searched individually or simultaneously.



You can also try searching the catalogue for subject-specific dictionaries and encyclopedias by including the words encyclopedia OR dictionary in your search (e.g. romanticism AND encyclopedia).

Biographical Information

Gale Literary and Critical Databases Combined

Biographical dictionary of literary influences: the nineteenth century, 1800-1914 [print]

Oxford Dictionary of national biography
An illustrated collection of biographies of the men and women who shaped all aspects of the history of the British Isles and beyond, from the earliest times to the year 2005. Does not include people who are still living.

Dictionary of Canadian biography [print]
Biographies of important figures in Canadian history who died between the years 1000 and 1930 or whose last known date of activity falls within these years.

American national biography
Offers portraits of more than 17,400 men and women -- from all eras and walks of life -- whose lives have shaped the nation.

Dictionary of Irish Biography
Published in collaboration with the Royal Irish Academy, the Dictionary of Irish Biography is the most comprehensive and authoritative biographical reference work available both in print and online for Ireland.

The Canadian who's who: a handbook of Canadian biography of living characters [print]
Note: Many of the past editions of The Canadian who's who are available electronically.

You can also try searching the Library Catalogue for Authors - Biography. For individual biographies and discussions of a single person's theories, Browse Search for the person's name as a SUBJECT (e.g., Keats, John).


The Oxford Chronology of English literature [print]

There are many print and online chronologies regarding specific literary figures available at the library. Browse Search "author chronologies" as a TITLE to see the full list, including notable authors such as:

  • Poe
  • Milton
  • Marlowe
  • Brontë
  • Orwell
  • Wharton
  • Yeats
  • Byron
  • Wilde
  • Tennyson
  • Wordsworth