The articles in this encyclopedia are designed to introduce the student or general reader to British writers who in the editors’ opinion deserve to be read and studied. The articles vary in length, from a few hundred to more than a thousand words, according to the editors’ understanding of an individual writer’s present or potential importance. The relative value of these writers continues to be a matter of debate, but the editors have tried to arrive at a consensual ranking by considering such matters as the size of the writer’s readership, the quality of the critical and academic interest, and the writer’s impact on other writers. There is nothing stable about rankings based on such criteria. During their own era, for example, Marie Corelli had a much larger readership than Joseph Conrad (although Corelli is largely forgotten now), and 43 publishers rejected Samuel Beckett’s first novel. The editors hope that the readers of this volume will participate in this constant process of reevaluation. There is something very satisfying in discovering just the writer one needs and telling the world about him or her.
Typically, the articles tell the reader about the writer’s background, parents, education, private life, and, above all, his or her writing. They also provide critical responses and suggestions for further reading. Cross-references are indicated by small capital letters. Readers should have no trouble finding the writers they need to read, whether traditional or avant-garde, classicist or extremist, highbrow or lowbrow, obvious or arcane, minimalist or maximalist, imperialist or anti-imperialist, feminist or misogynist, homophobic or homophiliac, writers whose politics are on the left, the right, the center, or beyond the pale. Finally, despite a number of movements, mostly short-lived, in which likeminded writers came together, the writers appearing in this volume, in accordance with the modernist injunction to “make it new,” have been more likely to cultivate their differences than their similarities. The result is an exciting, unpredictable medley of voices—and the likelihood that you will find a writer who speaks directly to you.