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Summary

Brought to you by Penguin.

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, Esme spends her childhood in the Scriptorium, a garden shed in Oxford where her father and a team of lexicographers are gathering words for the very first Oxford English Dictionary.

Esme's place is beneath the sorting table, unseen and unheard. One day, she sees a slip containing the word bondmaid flutter to the floor unclaimed. Esme seizes the word and hides it in an old wooden trunk 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. 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 our experience of the world.

©2020 Pip Williams (P)2020 Penguin Audio

What listeners say about The Dictionary of Lost Words

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Beautifully crafted story. Loved it.

I have seen this reviewed in the press as a gentle story but I think that is an inaccurate description for a book about dictionaries, the importance of words and how we use them. This is a deeply satisfying book which explores words at all sorts of levels, using an intriguing cast of characters to illuminate a world of scholarship, gender bias and the quest for women’s suffrage.

During the early days of the OED it is discovered that the word bondmaid is missing from the first volume of the first edition. A young girl, Esme , daughter of one of the lexicographers, knows all about the whereabouts of the missing word and discusses the meaning of bondmaid with the housemaid Lizzie, who she calls a friend. This is the start of a world of discovery for Esme; along the way she realises that life is very different for men and women and that everyday words can mean different things to different people. Women’s words and words of common folk are often ignored by the people with the power to decide their definition and usage. With the help of Lizzie, friends and acquaintances, Esme compiles a dictionary of women’s words while working alongside the men responsible for the creation and production of the OED.

This is a multi-layered book full of careful research and a rich tapestry of characters. The author has included very interesting historical detail as an afterword and I was delighted to learn that the book is based on a real event. Lovely narration too.

All in all, a real treat and a book that I have already recommended to friends.

8 people found this helpful

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interesting book

well written. I was expecting just words and their origins/ meanings but the book followed a poignant story of love and loss. Kept you in suspense.

Loved Mabel! Wasn't quite sure if the book was a work of fiction or based on real life. It was interesting nevertheless.

5 people found this helpful

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Food for thought

Lovely, if sad, story which highlights the longstanding gender and class bias in language.

4 people found this helpful

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A beautifully written story.

This book will stay with me for many, many years. I miss Esme and Lizzie already and I have only just finished it.

An exploration of language controlled by males and a tapestry of a life lived by an amazing woman and women around her.

Narrated passionately with tenderness and desire.

4 people found this helpful

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glorious!

A most beautiful story, incredibly well told. A joy of words from start to finish.

4 people found this helpful

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Outstanding

This is a moving and eloquent book . Truly one of the best I have listened to in ages
History mixed with passion . Kind and wonderful only regret is it is over ! Well done to author and reader !

3 people found this helpful

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A good read. Recommended.

I loved it! i didn't really know where it was going to go at the end , which is nice. it wasnt predictable! It was interesting to follow the story of the words and how the dictionary was compiled alongside the characters' stories . I found it hard to put down

3 people found this helpful

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Really enjoyable read

Such a beautiful story that kept me captivated. The characters are so well drawn and the relationships real and heartwarming. The best book I have read/listened to this year.

2 people found this helpful

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Wonderful narration. More from her please!

Great story, wonderful narration. Loved the story between Essie May and Lizzy especially. And what an interesting history of the dictionary

2 people found this helpful

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Unusual and captivating

Beautifully written and read. The characters come alive as you listen.
A very gentle tale that covers the most difficult fights.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Rob
  • 25-05-21

An unusual love story

I loved this book! It is beautifully written and difficult not to listen to all in one go.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Nicolette
  • 13-02-22

Astonishing

Romantic.
Fascinating
Insightful
Wisdom
Wit

If I should leave a word to be discovered, what would it be?

This book is on my Top ten bookshelf.

Well done to the writer and narrator.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Kindle Customer
  • 06-02-22

Review

Absolutely wonderful book. Very interesting historically re the first edition of the Oxford dictionary and how long it took to produce. Beautifully written and narrated

1 person found this helpful

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  • Anonymous User
  • 05-02-22

planning to listen again!

I have an old soul and gravitate towards anything set in the early 19th century. since it's based heavily on real events,it made all the more intriguing! I was not disappointed atall. From the story till the narration everything was spot on. if you are someone who likes to travel in the past and see how it was like then, what were the struggles and fear of people in those times plus some history then you have landed on the right book. it is mild and melancholic. no violence explicitly stated and wraps up beautifully in the end like a neat bow on a parcel. thank you for the gift of this book.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Melané Fahner
  • 13-01-22

Fact and fiction beautifully entwined

Author and Narrator fit beautifully together. Fact is fascinating, fiction is believable, heartwarming and moving

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  • Anonymous User
  • 17-11-21

Outstanding!

Loved it from the first word to the last.
A combination of fact and fiction set in the 19-20 centuries, suffrage movement, feminism, the Oxford dictionary, excellent narrator – all these promise this piece of art.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 21-08-21

The Dictionary of Lost Words

I enjoyed the history and the story. Interesting characters, beautifully read.
I recommend it.

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  • GrietjieThorne
  • 10-07-21

Life-changing

A watershed moment in my literary journey. This book not only appealed to my love of words and their etymology, but also forced me to examine my own attitudes and ideas about so many women's (nay, human) issues which I never before had reason to question or challenge.