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The Dictionary of Lost Words

The Dictionary of Lost Words 2

by Pip Williams
Publication Date: 24/11/2020
4/5 Rating 2 Reviews

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RRP  $22.99

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In 1901, the word 'Bondmaid' was discovered missing from the Oxford English Dictionary. This is the story of the girl who stole it.

Esme is born into a world of words. Motherless and irrepressibly curious, she spends her childhood in the 'Scriptorium', a garden shed in Oxford where her father and a team of dedicated lexicographers are collecting words for the very first Oxford English Dictionary. Esme's place is beneath the sorting table, unseen and unheard.

One day a slip of paper containing the word 'bondmaid' flutters to the floor. Esme rescues the slip and stashes it in an old wooden case that belongs to her friend, Lizzie, a young servant in the big house. Esme begins to collect other words from the Scriptorium that are misplaced, discarded or have been neglected by the dictionary men. They help her make sense of the world.

Over time, Esme realises that some words are considered more important than others, and that words and meanings relating to women's experiences often go unrecorded. While she dedicates her life to the Oxford English Dictionary, secretly, she begins to collect words for another dictionary: The Dictionary of Lost Words.

Set when the women's suffrage movement was at its height and the Great War loomed, The Dictionary of Lost Words reveals a lost narrative, hidden between the lines of a history written by men. It's a delightful, lyrical and deeply thought-provoking celebration of words, and the power of language to shape the world and our experience of it.

Historical Fiction
Publication Date:
Affirm Press
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Pip Williams

Pip Williams is co-author of the book Time Bomb: Work, Rest and Play in Australia Today (NewSouth Press, 2012).

As a social scientist, she has also published many academic papers, book chapters and reports on the subject of a good life and these have been the subject of interviews and discussions in all major newspapers and on national and regional radio.

Pip has published two travel articles based on the journey described in One Italian Summer (InDaily,16 June 2015; The Australian, 30 June 2012).

She writes book reviews that are produced for Radio Northern Beaches and published in InDaily, and she has published flash fiction online. Pip is very proud of a poem she published in Dolly Magazine when she was 15 years old.

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2 Reviews

As Historical fiction then a reasonable explanation for the loss of “bondmaid” for five years from the Oxford Dictionary was acceptable. However, the book as a whole is slow moving and the main character unbelievably dull and boring.

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My own love of words and the power they hold immediately drew me to this intriguingly titled novel.
I wanted to love this book from the moment I read the synopsis and I was delighted to find my expectations exceeded in every way.
From the first words to the last I found myself enveloped in its warmth and charm and only a few pages in, I was already feeling a small tinge of regret that there would be an ending. A feeling that grew only stronger as I turned each page.
This engaging and exquisitely written book, in my mind, has earned a place beside the classics. It has an elegance missing from much of modern literature. Indeed, but for the more contemporary language and setting, it put me in mind of Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre, with its gentle feminism and its heroine's unwitting and quiet rebellion against the constraints of society.
Before reading The Dictionary of Lost Words I knew nothing more about it than its title and setting which, I think, added to my delight of it. In keeping with this, and so you may enjoy the unexpected journey yourself, I shall say no more than this beautiful novel has given me a reading "high" and I am now struggling to decide upon my next read to keep me there.

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