“I often wondered what kind of slip I would be written on if I was a word. Something too long, certainly. Probably the wrong colour. A scrap of paper that didn’t quite fit. I worried that perhaps I would never find my place in the pigeon-holes at all.”
The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams is a story about words, and women, and the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary. It is the story of Esme, who spends her childhood sitting under the table of the men working on collecting words and their meanings to be included in the dictionary.
The Sciptorium is a garden shed in Oxford where Esme’s father is a lexicographer. It is where Esme is surrounded by words and their meanings, written on slips of paper before being filed in the appropriate pigeon hole for inclusion in the dictionary. She is fascinated by their words and their meanings, and as she grows older, by the words that are left out of the dictionary. The words of women, the words that are spoken by never written down.
As Esme moves from sitting under the sorting table to having her own desk in the Sciptorium, she gathers her own words written on slips and stored in a small box – her dictionary of lost words. Esme actively seeks out the women of the markets, the words of mothers, the words that the scholars of Oxford would never consider worthy of a space in their dictionary.
“‘You are not the arbiter of knowledge, sir. You are its librarian.’ I pushed Women’s Words across his desk. ‘It is not for you to judge the importance of these words, simply to allow others to do so.’”
This book made me cry. It is emotional. It is inspirational. It is beautifully written. I loved the insight into the process of creating the dictionary. I loved Esme and her father’s relationship. I loved following Esme’s journey as she fights for women’s rights in her own way.
A must read.
Read more about the author, Pip Williams