It is near impossible not to be aware that 2012 is the bicentenary of Dickens’s birth.
Books, television adaptations, and anniversary events are all clamouring for our attention, and the Oxford University Press have taken the opportunity to publish an anniversary edition of The Oxford Companion to Charles Dickens (previously published as The Oxford Reader’s Companion to Dickens). It is an extensive work, drawing together the contributions of over 60 scholars and specialists to provide entries on Dickens‘s work, life, the world he lived in, and his abiding influence on the world.
The book has entries on topics as diverse as the Bible and ‘prostitutes and fallen women’, and regardless of the entry you start with you will be quickly led to another as the work is filled with cross references. Taking the book from the shelf to read, for example, the five page entry on Great Expectations, within the first couple of paragraphs the reader will have found themselves tempted to carry on reading the entries on his previous novel, it’s Kent setting, Dickens’s methods of composition, and W.H. Wills, an editor to whom it was first mentioned in a letter. The easily distracted reader will quickly find they have spent a happy hour exploring Dickens’s world.
The Oxford Companion to Charles Dickens is an essential addition to any Charles Dickens enthusiast’s bookshelves, and whilst Wikipedia may have reduced the market for the general reference work, The Oxford Companion to Charles Dickens clearly demonstrates that the value of a comprehensive work on a specific subject in the age of the web still remains.