"This fascinating historical novel centers around Esme Nichols, a fictional girl living through the creation of the very first Oxford English Dictionary. Collecting and cataloguing the words is a massive undertaking for Dr. Murray and his team of lexicographers - among them Esme's father. From her very first trip to the Scriptorium, Esme is enchanted by the slips of paper and the definitions they contain. As Dr. Murray's work progresses, however, she realizes that the rigorous academic criteria being imposed on the project is leaving a sizeable gap in the language. In order to qualify for the Dictionary, the words must have been written down and published. The common, sometimes vulgar words that live amongst the poor and uneducated are being ignored. Bound to a new purpose, Esme endeavours to collect and record lost words - especially those of and about women. Impeccably researched, Pip Williams' novel uses the compilation of the dictionary and Esme's various jobs to highlight the innumerable contributions that women gave to this project. And through using Esme's tragic life, Williams sheds light on the struggles and experiences of women at the turn of the 19th century."
In this remarkable debut based on actual events, as a team of male scholars compiles the first Oxford English Dictionary, one of their daughters decides to collect the “objectionable” words they omit.
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. Young Esme’s place is beneath the sorting table, unseen and unheard. One day a slip of paper containing the word bondmaid flutters beneath the table. She rescues the slip, and when she learns that the word means “slave girl,” she begins to collect other words that have been discarded or neglected by the dictionary men.
As she grows up, Esme realizes that words and meanings relating to women’s and common folks’ experiences often go unrecorded. And so she begins in earnest to search out words for her own dictionary: the Dictionary of Lost Words. To do so she must leave the sheltered world of the university and venture out to meet the people whose words will fill those pages.
Set during the height of the women’s suffrage movement and with the Great War looming, The Dictionary of Lost Words reveals a lost narrative, hidden between the lines of a history written by men. Inspired by actual events, author Pip Williams has delved into the archives of the Oxford English Dictionary to tell this highly original story. The Dictionary of Lost Words is a delightful, lyrical, and deeply thought-provoking celebration of words and the power of language to shape the world.