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

  • Dictionary of literary biography. Biographical and critical essays on the lives, works, and careers of the world's most influential literary figures from all eras and genres
  • Something about the author. Biographical and autobiographical information about the lives and works of authors and illustrators for children and young adults
  • Biographical dictionary of literary influences: the nineteenth century, 1800-1914 [print]
  • Oxford Dictionary of national biography
    • An illustrated collection of biographies of British people 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 people from all eras and walks of life whose lives have shaped the nation.
  • Dictionary of Irish biography
    • 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]
For individual biographies and discussions of a single person's theories search the Library Catalogue for Author's last name AND Biography, or use 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.  Use Browse Search and enter '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, etc.