The following article summarizes the original event which is listed below the summary.

Book Notes | ‘The Dictionary of Lost Words’

October 20, 2023, at 2pm

“Some words are more important than others—I learned this, growing up in the Scriptorium. But it took me a long time to understand why.” Spoken by the protagonist Esme, the author sets up the main theme of The Dictionary of Lost Words

The novel begins In the late 18th century when a young motherless girl, the fictional Esme, spends her days under the sorting table in the scriptorium or “Scrippy,” a garden shed in Oxford where her father works along with other lexicographers, all male, to review and define the thousands of words sent in by volunteer readers. After one slip of paper is discarded and comes fluttering down under the table, Esme discovers that the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) being created excludes some words determined to be unimportant.  

A front-row seat

Spanning the Victorian era, the women’s suffrage movement, World War I, and beyond, this historical novel gives the reader a front-row seat for the making of the first edition of the OED, referring to actual places while weaving in real and fictional characters. The reader follows Esme as she comes of age and begins her own collection of words, consisting of ones discarded by the OED lexicographers along with words of the uneducated and poor, including many words referring to or used by women and considered to be vulgar and, thus, not fitting for the morals of the time.   

The vast majority of the UMRA Book Club members liked the book, saying it was very interesting and readable. Many enjoyed learning about the process of how the OED was developed, which the author vividly details. Others commented on the integration of the English suffrage movement and it’s impact on the story line. As Esme grows up, she becomes increasingly aware of the morals of the time and their impact on women’s lives, including her own. Several readers felt the story was tedious and hard to get into.  

Overall, this novel is a thought-provoking look at the development of the OED and how the morals of the time impacted what is considered important. 

—Mary Jane Towle, UMRA Book Club member




'The Dictionary of Lost Words'

Fri, Oct 20 2023, 2pm

Event to be held via Zoom.

Mary Jane Towle will lead the discussion of The Dictionary of Lost Words, a debut novel by Australian writer Pip Williams, when the UMRA Book Club meets via Zoom at 2 p.m. on Friday, October 20. This book combines fact and fiction in a tale based on a true event: the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary.

Email Pat Tollefson for more information, including suggestions for starting a new book club. To read summaries of the book club members’ discussions, go to “Book Notes.” 

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