Encyclopedias and Dictionaries of Literature

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Encyclopedias and Dictionaries of Literature


reference publications containing a systematized compilation of knowledge in the field of literary scholarship and information about the world of literature. They consist of biobib-liographical surveys of writers, the history of literatures, and the history of literary movements; entries about the content of works and the characteristics of literary personages; quotations, concepts, and terms from literary theory; and concepts from related fields—such as folklore, mythology, linguistics, book science, esthetics, theater, publicism, and journalism.

Encyclopedias and dictionaries of literature began with bibliographical reference books. Thus, the ancestor of these encyclopedias (those in the form of a dictionary of writers) is considered to be the catalog compiled by the Greek poet and grammarian Callimachus (third century B.C.) entitled Tables of Those Who Distinguished Themselves in All Fields of Knowledge, and of What They Wrote (originally known as the Catalog of the Library at Alexandria). The Tables served as a model for later compilers of reference works: Jerome (A.D. 340–420), author of On Illustrious Men, and Gennadius, bishop of Marseille (second half of the fifth century), who compiled the Book of Church Writers. A well-defined tradition of reference dictionaries culminated in the Byzantine Suda lexicon (tenth century), which incorporated material from earlier biobibliographical compilations and contained explanations of concepts and terms found in literary interpretation. The Suda lexicon is the basic source of information about ancient Greek and early Christian ecclesiastical literature. Latin biobibliographies are represented by Varro’s Imagines (Portraits), containing more than 700 biographical sketches. An extremely ancient handbook of literary works is Photius’ Myriobiblion (One Thousand Books, 857). The tradition of separate dictionaries of writers, scholars, and religious figures, which took shape in ancient Greece, Rome, and Byzantium, continued in Europe right up to the 19th century.

A new, particularly scientific method of organizing information, first observed in F. Bacon’s Novum organum (1620), served as a basis for the ramified systematization and categorization of the sciences and arts in the 17th and 18th centuries, making possible the creation, in the 18th century, of encyclopedias similar to modern ones. Among 18-century encyclopedias of literature, the one that retained its’ significance the longest was a specialized section of the Encyclopedia of the French enlighten-ers—the Systematic Encyclopedia … Grammar and Literature (Encyclopédie méthodique … Grammaire et littérature, vols. 1–3, Paris, 1782–86).

In the 19th and 20th centuries, along with universal encyclopedias of literature (of terms, writers, characters, and surveys of national literatures), specialized encyclopedias of literature also appeared, such as dictionaries of literary terms, dictionaries of individual national literatures or groups of literatures (usually biobibliographical dictionaries), dictionaries of the works of individual writers (Shakespeare, Goethe, Dante, Cervantes), dictionaries of literary characters (for example, F. N. Magill’s Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, New York-London, 1963), dictionaries of quotations (of which the most important is B. E. Stevenson’s Book of Quotations, Classical and Modern, London, 1934; 9th ed., London, 1958), and dictionaries of titles of works.

The most important universal encyclopedias of literature, dictionaries of terms, and encyclopedias devoted to the literature of a single country or specific period follow.

Also worthy of attention are Funk and Wagnalls Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology, and Legend (M. Leach and J. Fried, eds.; vols. 1–2, New York, 1950), and especially S. Thompson’s Motif-Index of Folk-Literature: A Classification of Narrative Elements in Folktales, Ballads, Myths, Fables, Mediaeval Romances… (vols. 1–5 and 6 [Index], Blooming-ton, 1955–58).

Hungary. The publication of the multivolume Encyclopedia of World Literature (Világirodalmi lexikon, vols. 1–2—, Budapest, 1970–72—) is under way.

Netherlands. Dutch encyclopedias of literature are represented by the one-volume Encyclopedia of World Literature (Encyclopedie voor de Wereldliteratuur, Utrecht, 1954) by C. Buddingh and the Modern Encyclopedia of World Literature (Moderne Encyclopedie der Wereldliteratuur, vols. 1–7—, Ghent-Hilversum, 1963–72—).

Spain. Spanish encyclopedias of literature include a translated 12-volume version of Bompiani’s Italian dictionaries and Approach to a Dictionary of Literature (Ensayo de un diccionario de la literatura, vols. 1–3, 2nd ed., Madrid, 1953–56) by F. Sainz de Robles, of which the first volume deals with national literatures, schools, genres, and terms; the second with the writers of Spain and Latin America; and the third with foreign writers. The Illustrated Dictionary of Famous Sayings and Literary Quotations (Diccionario ilustrado de frases celebres y citas literarias, 2nd ed., Barcelona, 1952) by V. Vego is a universal dictionary of quotations.

National Spanish encyclopedias include the Enciclopedia de cultura española (vols. 1–5, Madrid, 1962–68), a multipart encyclopedia of culture, and Quien es quien en las letras españolas (Madrid, 1969), which covers 20th-century literature.

The national Italian encyclopedia of literature is the Dizionario enciclopedico della letteratura italiana (G. Petronio, ed.; vols. 1–6, Bari-Rome, 1966–70).

Latin America. Latin American regional and national encyclopedias of literature are represented by Diccionario de la literatura latinoamericana (Washington, 1958–63) and P. Or-gambide’s Enciclopedia de la literatura argentina (Buenos Aires, 1971).

France. Among French reference works of literature, G. Vapereau’s Universal Dictionary of Literatures (Dictionnaire universel des littératures, Paris, 1876; 2nd ed., Paris, 1884) is a fundamental work about national literatures, concepts, and men of letters. P. Van Tieghem’s Dictionary of Literatures (Dictionnaire des littératures, vols. 1–3, Paris, 1968) contains surveys of national literatures (including Oriental) and articles on writers, movements, and terms. There is also the 45-volume Universal Biographical Dictionary of Ancient and Modern Writers (Biographie universelle ancienne et moderne, Paris-Leipzig, 1854–1961) and a translated version of the Italian dictionaries of V. Bompiani.

National French encyclopedias of literature are represented by G. Grente’s Dictionnaire des lettres françaises (vols. 1–5, Paris, 1951–64), covering the Middle Ages and the 16th to 18th centuries, Dictionnaire des auteurs français (Paris, 1961), and J. Malignon’s Dictionnaire des écrivains français (Paris, 1971).

Federal Republic of Germany. Among publications in the Federal Republic of Germany, information about national literatures, writers, and terms can be found in World Literature: Biographical, Historical-Literary, and Bibliographical Dictionary (Die Weltliteratur: Biographisches, literatur-historisches und bibliographisches Lexikon …, E. Frauwallner, H. Giebisch, and E. Heinzel, publishers; vols. 1–3, Vienna, 1951–54). There is also the two-volume Herder’s Lexicon of World Literature in the 20th Century (Herders Lexikon der Weltliteratur im 20. Jahrhundert, vols. 1–2, Freiburg, 1960–61). The 13-volume Guide to Novels (Der Romanführer, W. Olbrich, publisher; Stuttgart, 1950–64), covering German and (more selectively) all European and American literature, is a valuable reference work. The German-language Paulys Real-Encyclopadie der klassischen Altertumswissenschaft (G. Wissowa, publisher; Series I, fasc. vols. 1–47; Series II, fasc. vols. 1–18; Supplementary vols. 1–10; Stuttgart, 1893–1967) is a detailed encyclopedia of classical literature; a shorter version of it is Der kleine Paulys: Lexikon der Antike (vols. 1–3, Stuttgart, 1964–69).

National encyclopedias of literature of the Federal Republic of Germany include P. Merker and W. Stammler’s Reallexikon der deutschen Literaturgeschichte (vols. 1–4, Berlin, 1925–31; 2nd ed., vols. 1–3, 1955–71) and W. Kosch’s Deutsches Literaturlexikon (3rd ed., vols. 1–3, Bern, 1966–71; a one-volume edition was published in 1963).

Other biobibliographical dictionaries for the countries of Western Europe and America may be found in the works of B. L. Kandel’, A. J. Walford, and R. B. Slocum (see below: References).

Socialist countries of Europe. In the socialist countries of Europe, the most important national biobibliographical dictionaries are as follows. In Bulgaria there is G. Konstantinov’s Bulgarski pisateli: Biografii, bibliografiia (2nd ed., Sofia, 1961) and in Hungary, M. Benedek’s Magyar irodalmi lexikon (vols. 1–3, Budapest, 1963–65).

In the German Democratic Republic, there is the Lexikon deutschsprachiger Schriftsteller von den Anfängen bis zur Gegenwart (vols. 1–2, Leipzig, 1967–68). In Poland there are the Stownik wspótczesnych pisarzy polskich (vols. 1–4, Warsaw, 1963–66), G. Korbut’s Literatura polska od początków do wojny ś wiatowej (2nd ed., vols. 1–4, Warsaw, 1929–31), and Bibliografía literatury polskiej: Nowy Korbut (vols. 1–5, 7–9, 12–13, Warsaw[-Kraków], 1963–72 (more forthcoming).

In Rumania there is the Să cunoaştem scritorii patriei noastre (Bucharest, 1956); in Czechoslovakia, Slovník českých spisova-telů (R. Havel and J. Opelik, eds.; Prague, 1964); and in Yugoslavia, K. Ŝpoljar and M. Vanpotić’s Književni godišnjak: Pisci jugoslavenskih naroda (Zagreb, 1961), Jugoslovenski knjiž evni leksikon (Novi Sad, 1971), and Leksikon pisaca Jugoslavije (vols. 1—, Belgrade, 1972—).

The Short Encyclopedia of Literature is universal in scope, covering the history of literatures of countries, peoples, and epochs of the whole world from ancient times to the present day. (This is in fact the first, although summary, Marxist survey of world literature.) Its glossary has a considerably wider range than those of other universal encyclopedias of literature, mainly because of material on the little-studied literatures of Asia, Africa, and Latin America, and a number of the peoples of the USSR. The terms and concepts in the Short Encyclopedia of Literature span all fields of modern literary scholarship, as well as aesthetics, journalism, linguistics, and book science. It has more than 13,000 articles about writers, critics, linguists, aes-theticians, and publishers, and it contains articles about the languages of most of the peoples of the world. It is illustrated.

In the USSR, the most complete dictionaries include Soviet Russian Prose Writers (Russkie sovetskie pisateli-prozaiki, vols. 1–7, Leningrad, 1959–72, A. Kviatkovskii’s Poetical Dictionary (Poeticheskii slovar’, Moscow, 1966), and Russian Writers: Biobibliographical Dictionary (Russkie pisateli: Biobibliografich. slovar’, Moscow, 1971). There exist quite a few biobibliographical dictionaries of writers of other peoples of the USSR, published primarily during the 1950’s and 1960’s (mostly in Russian), of which the most fundamental is Ukrains’ki pys’men-nyky: Biobibliohrafichnyi slovnyk (vols. 1–5, Kiev, 1960–65).


Berkov, P. N. “Literaturnye entsiklopedii na russkom iazyke (XVIII-XX vv.).” In the collection Trudy instituta knigi, dokumenta, pis’ma, vol. 3. Leningrad, 1934.
Kaufman, I. M. Russkie biograficheskie i biobibliograficheskie slovari. Moscow, 1955.
Kaufman, I. M. Russkie entsiklopedii: Bibliografiia i kratkie ocherki. Moscow, 1960.
Kandel’, B. L. Putevoditel’ po inostrannym bibliografiiam i spravoch-nikam po literaturovedeniiu i khudozhestvennoi literature. Leningrad, 1959.
Kandel’, B. L. Bibliografiia russkikh bibliografii po zarubezhnoi khudozhestvennoi literature i literaturovedeniiu. Leningrad, 1962.
Simon, K. R. Istoriia inostrannoi bibliografii. Moscow, 1963.
Slocum, R. B. Biographical Dictionaries and Related Works. Detroit, 1967. (Includes a systematic annotated index of encyclopedias of literature.)
Walford, A. J. Guide to Reference Material, 2nd ed., vol. 3. London, 1970.
Eastern countries. THE ARAB EAST. A whole series of historical and literary codices, multivolume anthologies, and biographical dictionaries of the ninth through 13th centuries are valuable sources of information, primarily about Arab and Arabic-language poetry and literature. They include The Precious Necklace (Al-Iqd al-Farid, ninth to tenth centuries) by ibn-Abd Rabbihi, which is an anthology of the works of Arab and Arab-Spanish poets of the seventh and eighth centuries, containing 25 chapters with facts about lives and works; The Book of Songs (Kitab al-Aghani, ninth to tenth centuries) by Abu-al-Faraj al-Isfahani, which is a 21-volume anthology of poets’ works, facts about lives and works, and comments on poetry; and The Index (Al-Fihrist, tenth century) by al-Nadim, which is an encyclopedic compilation in ten parts, including information about the history of Arab literature (part 3), about poetry and poets (part 4), and about entertaining-didactic literature in Arabic, Persian, and Greek (part 8).
Among the most important encyclopedias of literature in the 20th century are The Encyclopedic Guide to Arab Literature (Al-Wasitfi al-Adab al-Arabi, Cairo, 1919) by M. Mustafa and M. Inani, The Encyclopedia (Dairat al-Maarif, Beirut, 1956–69) by F. A. al-Bustani, and the 14-volume Dictionary of Writers (Mu ‘jamal-mu’allifim, Damascus, 1954–55) by ‘Umar Rida Kahhalah.
VIETNAM (DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF VIETNAM). Reference books on literature in Vietnam include the Biographical Dictionary of Vietnamese Writers (Luoc truyen cac tac gia Viet-nam, vols. 1–2, Tran Van Giap et al., compilers; Hanoi, 1962–72); it contains biographical entries on Vietnamese writers from the 11th through 20th centuries who wrote in Chinese and in chu nom (a writing system using Vietnamese characters).
INDIA. In India reference books on literature are published in several languages. Works published in Bengali include Bengali Writers (Bangabhasar lekhak, Calcutta, 1904), which is a dictionary of modern and medieval writers, and The Lives of the Vishnuites of Bengal (Gaudya baishnavajubon, 1950) by H. Das, which contains biographies of prose writers.
The Encyclopedia of Old Indian Literature (Pauranika katha kosa, vols. 1–5, Ahmadabad, 1927–31) by D. P. Derasari is published in Gujarati.
The Encyclopedia of Malayalam Literature (Sahityabharanom nighantu, vols. 1–4, Trivandrum, 1934) by Padmanabha Pillai is published in Malayalam.
Works in Marathi include the Dictionary of Famous Marathi Poets (Mahanubhav-Maharashtra-granthavali: kavikavya suchi, Thana, 1924) by V. L. Bhave and the Encyclopedia of the Literature of Marathi Writers (Arvachin marathi vangmayasevak, vols. 1–4, Bombay, 1931–52) by G. D. Khanolkar, which deals with 20th-century writers.
Seven Hundred Poets of Andhra (Andhrakavisaptasati, Madras, 1956) by B. Venkataramanayya, which discusses Telugu poets of the 11th through 19th centuries, is published in Telugu.
Works in Hindi include the Dictionary of Literary Personages (Bharatiya charitam budhi, Lucknow, 1919) by J. S. Chatur-vedi, covering personages from classical Indian literature, epics, and mythology; Dictionary of Hindi Literature (Hindi sahityab-dakosh, vols. 1–2, 2nd ed., Varanasi, 1965) by D. Varma, covering scholarly literary terminology, the biographies of outstanding writers, and plot summaries; and Hindi Dictionary of Literature (Hindi sahityabdakosh, vols. 1–7, Patna, 1965–71), by D. Sharma and G. Rai, covering Hindi literature and literary scholarship.
The Who’s Who of Indian Writers (2nd ed., Delhi, 1964) is published in English.
IRAN AND CENTRAL ASIA. In Iran and Central Asia, medieval tazkireh serve as reference sources; they include Heart of Hearts (Lubab al-albab, 1220) by Aufi, an anthology of poets who wrote in Persian; the Anthology of Poets (Tazkirat al-shuara, 1487) by Daulatshah al-Samarqandi, containing literary portraits of seventh-century poets; Seven Zones of the Earth (Haft iqlim, 1593) by Amin Ahmad Razi, an encyclopedia of geography and biography and a basic source for the study of Central Asian Tadzhik literature; and An Assemblage of the Eloquent (Majma ul-fusaha, Tehran, 1867) by Reza Quli Hedayat, a full codex of poets who wrote in Persian, it includes biographies and excerpts from their works. There are also a number of encyclopedic anthologies (tazkireh) for Central Asia, culminating in the Models of Tadzhik Literature (parts 1–3, 1926) by Aini.
In the 20th century, a great deal of anthological reference literature has been published, of which the most significant includes Basilica of Literature (Reyhanat al-adab, vols. 1–6, Tehran, 1949–56) by Muhammad Ali Tabrizi (Mudarris); The Poetry of Ajam (Shir al-Ajam, 1906, published in Urdu) by the Indian writer Shibli Numani, which is an anthology of works of poets in Iran (translated into Persian, 2nd ed., Tehran, 1956–57); and the Dictionary of Persian Literature (Farhang-e adabiyat-e farsi, Tehran, 1969) by Zohra Khanlari. Khanlari’s Dictionary contains biographies of famous men of letters who wrote in Persian and Arabic; historical figures who are referred to in classical Persian prose and poetry; the names of literary personages, prophets, and pillars of religion mentioned in Iranian literature; a listing of the most important books and works in Persian and Arabic for Iranian literature; terms from astronomy, astrology, and logic that were used in classical Persian poetry; basic information about aruz, rhyme, and rhetoric; and a bibliography.
CHINA. Reference works of literature in China include the Great Dictionary of Figures in Chinese Literature (Chung-kuo wen-hsüeh-chia ta tz’u-tien, Shanghai, 2nd ed., 1941), compiled by T’an Cheng-pi, containing information about writers and scholars beginning with the year 571 B.C.; the Encyclopedia of Literature and Art (I wen lei chü, vols. 1–2, Peking, 1965), a new edition of the anthology compiled by Ou-yang Hsün in the early seventh century (consisting originally of 100 books); and the Imperial Survey of the Years of T’ai-ping (T’ai-ping yü lan, vols. 1–4, Peking, 1960), a photolithographic edition of the 1,000-volume anthology compiled by Li Fang in the late tenth century, containing a list of 1,690 works and excerpts from them, a list of literary collections, and poetical works.
KOREA. Korean reference works of literature include the Anthology of the East (Tong Mun-son, So Ko-jong et al. compilers; [no place] 1478), republished in three volumes in Seoul in 1966; the Bibliography of Old Korean Literature (Kosen sappu, vols. 1–3, Tokyo, 1944–57) by Maema Kyosaku; Classical Writers of Korea (Kojon chakka-ron, vols. 1–2, Pyongyang, 1959); Modern Writers of Korea (Hyondae chakka-ron, vols. 1–2, Pyongyang, 1960–61); Great Dictionary of World Literature and Art (Segye munye taesajon, Seoul, 1962); and Historical Encyclopedia of Korea (Yoksa taesajon, Seoul, 1967) by Yi Hong-jik, which contains biographies of writers, surveys of literature by periods, and terms.
TURKEY. Among the tazkireh in Turkey are The Eight Gardens of Paradise (Heşt behişt, 1538) by Sehi-bey, containing information about Turkish poets up to the first half of the 16th century, and the Cream of Poetry (Zübdet ül-eş’ ar, 17th century) by Kafzade Faizi.
Many anthological reference works have been published in Turkey in the 20th century, including Turkish Poetry of the Past and Present (Diinden bugüne türk ş iiri, Ankara, 1958) by Asim Bezirci, which contains folk poetry, diwans, and new poetry; Figures in Turkish Literature (Edebiyatimizda isimler sözlüğü, 5th ed., Istanbul, 1968) by Behçet Necatiğil, a reference dictionary of 600 names; and The Lives and Works of Turkish Writers and Poets (Türk edebiyatinda şairler ve yazarlar hayatlari, edebî kişilikleri eserleri, Istanbul, 1970) by Refik Korkud.
JAPAN. Japan has numerous encyclopedias and dictionaries of literature. The Japanese Encyclopedia of Literature (Nihon bun-gaku daijiten, Fujimura Tsukuru, compiler; vols. 1–8, Tokyo, 1949–52) contains information on Japanese and foreign literature, terms, articles on linguistics and the arts, chronological tables up to 1950, and indexes. The Reference Dictionary of Medieval Japanese Literature of the Kamakura and Muromachi Periods (Chusei Kamakura Muromachi bungaku jiten, Araki Yoshio, compiler; Tokyo, 1961) has authors, works, and terms of the period from 1200 to 1568, chronological and genealogical tables, and a subject index. Other works include the Reference Dictionary on the History of Japanese Literature (Nihon bun-gakushi jiten, Kondo Tadayoshi, compiler; Tokyo, 1960); the Great Reference Dictionary of Waka Poetry (Waka bungaku daijiten, Ito Yoshio, compiler; Tokyo, 1962), containing about 4,500 poetical terms, expressions, and names encountered in classical poetry from earliest times until the present day, with a supplement providing a list of famous poetical works, anthologies, bibliography, a listing of poetry collections, chronological tables from 660 to 1959, and indexes; and the Great Reference Dictionary of Modern Japanese Literature (Gendai Nihon bungaku daijiten, Hisamatsu Senichi et al., compilers; Tokyo, 1966), covering Japanese literature from 1868.
(Note: the section on Eastern countries was prepared by the Department of Literature of the Countries of Asia and Africa in the All-Union State Library of Foreign Literature.)
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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