This book begins in 1901, as the first Oxford English Dictionary is being created and where Esme is born into a world of words. She is 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.
Esme’s journey begins when a slip of paper containing the word ‘bondmaid’ flutters to the floor, she rescues it and stashes it in her friends wooden box. Esme begins to collect other words from the Scriptorium that are misplaced, discarded or have been neglected by the dictionary men. These words help her make sense of the world.
Esme soon realizes 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.
There are many details that are unpacked in this book over the course of 80 years. It begins 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.