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Europe #1?

2 min read

Considering that many of the texts we’ve read were originally published in 18th century England, it would be interesting to revisit Eurocentrism as a potential research topic. These 18th century novels seem to place an emphasis on European exceptionalism, primarily by glorifying European social and ideological customs. Since it might be hard to explore this Eurocentrism with the guidance of single question, I would probably turn to Ian Watt’s idea of formal realism. In the simplest of terms, Watt argues that the novel serves as a reflection of the individual human experience. Contextualizing this with the novels we’ve absorbed this semester, the human experience that Watt identifies seems to be a predominantly European one—specifically pertaining to England.

We discussed this concept briefly in our discussions of Robinson Crusoe, but I imagine it can be further contextualized by using the software from exercises 6 and 7. Using the available metadata, I would create a word cloud for the ‘TitlePlaces’ column and keep an eye out for European locations. I might also experiment with the ‘TitleNames’ and ‘TitleNouns’ categories to see if any results seem specific to Europe (European names, objects, etc.). Additionally, I would run digital facsimiles through the topic modeling software. I would probably use chunks from the novel to this, as that seemed to be the most effective method in exercise 7. After doing this, I’d pinpoint topics that evoke European social conventions, locations, and ideologies. Given the importance of location and setting in this proposed research project, I would also be enticed to input the results of the ‘TitlePlaces’ category into Google My Maps, which is similar to what we accomplished in exercise 2.


Exercise 7: Topic Modeling

3 min read

Full text, 50 Topics, 1000 Iterations, 20 topic words printed:

“Sea Adventure”: [ship men sea water richard captain made capt adventures falconer…]

“Every 18th Century Epistolary Novel”: [lady lord letter dear heart brother love man mother happy poor goodness family…]

Full text, 20 Topics, 200 Iterations, 10 topic words printed:

“Chinese Nationalism”: [country great men people order number laws spirit chinese china]

“Authoritative Power”: [king england war people army english power time duke prince]

“I Think Your “S” Key is Broken”: [fo fuch fhe faid firft fome moft thing thefe muft]

Full text, 10 Topics, 100 Iterations, 10 topic words printed:

“Topic Gone Wrong”: [ihe ed flie ing wife day friend good woman tion]

Chunks, 50 Topics, 1000 Iterations, 20 topic words printed:

“Virtue”: [happy heart love hope dearest gratitude good goodness god generous duty…]

“The Domestic”: [door bed room house night chamber found heard put servants…]

“That’s Depressing…”: [death distress grief melancholy poor soul despair tears unhappy wretched sorrow despair…]

“Authorship”: [author read book history work great books life written stage poet…]


It was incredibly satisfying to see the software successfully identify a topic, yet simultaneously hilarious when it failed to identify another. One trend I noticed is that a lot of the same topics appeared in each new iteration. For example, almost every cluster contained a topic filled with words that used the long s. While the software obviously didn’t pick up on the fact that the “f” was meant to be an “s”, it still identified a trend. Similarly, each cluster featured a topic that was complete gibberish, not unlike the “Topic Gone Wrong” that I’ve highlighted above. I’m not entirely sure why this is, but I’m guessing it has something to do with words being cut off by pages, lines, etc.

Some topics were also a little difficult to contextualize, featuring words that, if anything, were only loosely related. Tristam Shandy sometimes feels like a bunch of deviating and unrelated stories/themes that are subsumed into one novel, so I think there’s definitely a connection to be made. Other topics were a bit more linear and consistent, so they didn’t feel quite as reminiscent of Sterne’s writing specifically. Lots of them dealt with goodness/virtue, authoritative powers, the epistolary, adventure—themes that are indicative of most, if not all, of the novels we’ve read this semester.

Generally speaking, my final iteration was the most successful as it picked up perhaps the most specific topics. The words in each topic felt more closely related to one another, making it far easier to give the cluster an appropriate title. It would seem that using chunks from novels is far more effective than using the full texts. I guess that as the texts get smaller and more specific, so do the topics/categories.

Experimental Bibliography

2 min read

When choosing a novel for this project, I looked for a piece of literature that is mostly undocumented. After a bit of digging I found a novel called The Fine Lady, which is authored by Sophia Briscoe. Aside from the facsimile I discovered on ECCO, the internet houses very little information on the novel or its author. Most of what I know is that Briscoe was paid 20 guineas for the copyright of the Fine Lady and it is one of only two novels she had written. Beyond that, I'm completely in the dark.

The Fine Lady is written entirely in the epistolary form, and its protagonists consist of Miss Louisa Somerville and Miss Emily Herbert, who exchange a variety of letters throughout the story. Just from skimming sections of the novel, I get the sense that The Fine Lady is incredibly straightforward and melodramatic—perhaps even more melodramatic than some of the earlier novels we’ve read. Given these first impressions, I think it would be interesting “translate” some excerpts from the novel’s letters by creating social media profiles for certain fictional characters and posting from their perspectives (using modern language). Considering that letters have largely been subsumed into online communication, I wonder how a conversation like the one embedded within The Fine Lady would play out with contemporary mediums like Facebook or Twitter. I think it would be a ton of fun to draw similarities between the premodern epistolary form and how we communicate on social media today.

Descriptive Bibliography

2 min read

Briscoe, Sophia. The Fine Lady: A Novel by the Author of Miss Melmoth. In Two Volumes. 1st ed. London: Printed for T. Lowndes, No. 77, Fleet-Street, MDCCLXXII, 1772.

THE | FINE LADY | A NOVEL | By the AUTHOR of Miſs MELMOTH. | “ It is the firſt Part of Virtue to ſtrenthen the Mind againſt | “the Attacks of Vice, and ſecure all of the Avenues by which | “it might make its Approaches.” | In TWO VOLUMES. | VOL. I. | LONDON: | Printed for T. LOWNDES, No. 77, in Fleet-Street. | MDCCLXXII,


Vol. I 264p; Vol. II 266p. 12mo.


Volume I. A1r Title, B1r-M6v Text.
Volume II. A1r Title, B1r-N1v Text.


Sourced from the British Library. Digital facsimile retrieved from Eighteenth Century Collections Online. Epistolary form. First person. There is no evident source of the title page quote. Neither volume contains a preface, prologue, or epilogue. The second volume contains a list of novels printed for T. Lowndes. Author Sophia Briscoe was paid 20 guineas for the copyright of The Fine Lady. A German translation of the novel entitled Die Frau nach der Mode was published in 1771, though I’m not sure why/how it was published a year before the original English version.

Exercise 6

2 min read

In conjunction with the other exercises we’ve completed this semester, this week’s assignment highlighted some very familiar trends. Perhaps the easiest trend to recognize from the metadata is that third-person epistolary novels constituted the bulk of novels being written in the late 18th century. While first-person novels certainly weren’t a novelty at the time, they clearly appear to have been in the minority. Also unsurprising from the provided data is that these novels experienced an exponential rise in popularity during the late 1760’s and early 1770’s. Still, as I’ve alluded to, these findings weren’t particularly shocking; they reveal information that previous exercises have already unveiled. While it’s nice to have these expectations confirmed by the metadata provided by exercise six, I went on to create two word clouds in hope that some unfamiliar patterns would emerge.

Using the provided online generator, I began by creating a word cloud using the “TitleAdjectives” column from the metadata. Some of the most common adjectives in the column pertained to sequence and edition number, which was of little help. Once I had omitted these entries using my text editing software, the world cloud proved far more insightful. Some words that immediately struck me were “original”, “unknown”, “new”, and “curious”. Based on this information, it appears that authors and publishers in the 18th century placed a great deal of emphasis on the novel’s ability to tell a story that is new or unusual (hence why they’re called “novels”). The other column I analyzed was “TitleNouns”, which also produced some interesting results, albeit less surprising ones. The usual suspects such as “virtue”, “letter”, “lady”, “history”, “tale”, and “life” all appeared. Also recurrent were “adventure”, “flight”, “voyage”, “travel”, and “world”. These results were hardly unexpected, as they coincide directly with the themes embedded in the novels we’ve read.


Exercise 5

3 min read

Step 1: Skimming through the 1776-1779 bibliography, certain trends immediately struck me. The first, most easily recognizable trend I noticed pertains to the titles. Like older versions of Pamela, Evelina, Tristam Shandy and Robinson Crusoe, many entries imbedded within the Garside bibliography exhibit long and excessively descriptive titles. Shockingly, certain titles took up as much as half of a page. Within these aforementioned titles, I was able to discern more specific trends. Not unlike the novels we’ve read so far this semester, quite a few of the fictional stories within the Garside bibliography seem to be told through letters. Additionally, the majority of them seem to revolve around the lives of female, or “lady” protagonists. Also worth noting is that the price of most of the listed novels ranged between 3 to 7 shillings. Considering average laborers were only making 15 to 20 shillings in the 1770’s, it’s clear that these fictitious works were intended for wealthier readers. It also appears that, in most cases, fewer than 1,000 copies of each novel were initially printed. This leads me to believe that these stories, in their inceptive form, had a very exclusive audience. Perhaps this is why excerpts from these novels were typically posted in magazines and newspapers, as it allowed a more affordable approach.

Step 2: Along with Evelina, the novels I analyzed in ECCO were The Story of Lady Juliana Harley, The Unfortunate Union, Female Stability, and the Mutability of Human Life. As expected, all 5 novels feature the long, rambling, and incredibly descriptive titles that we’ve grown accustomed to in class. What’s interesting, however, is that two of these novels identify their author as “a lady”. The other two authors are explicitly named, and they too are women. Unlike Evelina and the other novels we’ve analyzed this semester, these authors are all mentioned on the title page. Similar to Evelina, however, their stories all seem to be told through letters—a method that was evidently popular in the late 1700’s. In all but The Unfortunate Union, the title pages also mention their protagonist. That being said, Evelina is the only novel out of the five that features its protagonist’s name at the very beginning of the title. Also interesting is that The Story of Lady Juliana Harley is the only novel that mentions that it is, in fact, a novel.

Step 3: Using ARTEMIS, I looked at the English fiction between 1770 and 1800, which produced roughly 4,000 results. Looking specifically at the 1770’s, only about 800 results emerged, proving that fiction would grow tremendously in the subsequent decades. Although I was bit unsure as to how the “term clusters” and “term frequency” features worked, they do reveal some interesting information. For example, “letter” was picked up rather frequently. Coinciding with my observations from step 2, it’s obvious that letters were a widely medium for storytelling in early novels. “Lady” also seems to appear quite often, just as it does in the specific novel titles that I previously looked at. Why did authors place so much emphasis placed on this social title? Is it an indicator for “honor” and “virtue”—two defining characteristics that ARTEMIS also picks up frequently? Would these female protagonists/authors not appear as respectable to readers if “lady” was omitted? Thinking about letters and the “lady”, I wonder if we can draw parallels back to Armstrong’s thoughts about the emergence of “female writing” and its attempts to distinguish itself from other literature.

Exercise 4

2 min read

Using ABBYY FineReader, I decided to look specifically at Tristam Shandy’s first chapter. After converting the PDF by running it through ABBYY, certain mistakes immediately garnered my attention. Most notable of these errors was the program’s incorrect interpretation of the long s which, as we discussed in class, looks strikingly similar to a lowercase f. Considering that even the human eye may have difficulties making this distinction at first, I’m not shocked that ABBYY mistook the long s for another character. Another striking error I discovered is the program’s interpretation of certain punctuation--specifically Tristam Shady’s use of semicolons. ABBYY converted one semicolon into a an asterisk followed by a comma. In another instance, a semicolon was mistaken for a bullet point followed by a comma. Some other mistakes included numbers being interpreted as letters and the letter o being replaced with the letter c. While these errors are certainly abundant, they weren’t particularly surprising or at all difficult to correct. The cause looming behind almost all of these mistakes is a simple one: the 1760 volume of Tristam Shandy features a font and style that differs from modern counterparts. As a result, it’s unrealistic to expect 21st century software to provide us with a clean interpretation of such an old text.

Taking a step back from the minor errors produced in the digital facsimile, it’s interesting to think about process as a whole. Conducting this exercise shows how the authenticity of an old text can be lost when creating a digital copy. The font of the copy produced by ABBYY looks very modern and crisp compared to the faded and almost parched-looking font of the genuine 1760 version. These findings with ABBYY serve as a reminder that contemporary versions of Tristam Shandy--the one we’re reading in class being no exception--are products of refurbishments and revisions that have accumulated over the centuries.


Exercise 3

2 min read

Whilst fooling around with Voyant, I thought it might be interesting to see how often class structure, relative to other themes, is represented in Pamela. One of Armstrong’s overarching points pertains to domestic fiction’s efforts to separate female individuality from class and politics, so I set out test this theory. In order to do this, I searched through the corpus for words that we typically associate with wealth and prominence. I rummaged for indicators such as “rich”, “poor”, “poverty”, “estate”, “money”, “merit”, and “power”. Of these, “poor” was by far the most frequent occurrence, appearing a total of 534 times. This is likely due to the fact that “poor” has the largest variety of connotations; for example, the most common use of the word in Pamela is to describe distressed individuals. Still, I found plenty of instances where “poor” is used in context of poverty, and those instances appear all throughout the novel. Although none of my other entries appear as often, they still seem relevant. “Estate”, “rich”, “money”, “merit”, and “power” each appear roughly 40 to 100 times, giving me the sense that Richardson saw hierarchical class structure as something pertinent within his narrative.

To further this investigation, I searched briefly for words that we might associate with Pamela’s individuality. The most obvious indicator is “virtue”, along with any relevant modifiers. In total, the words “virtue”, “virtuous”, “virtues”, “virtuously”, and “unvirtuous” appear 120 times—a number that, to me, is shockingly low. I also took the time to search for instances where “liberty” and “liberties” are used, producing a sum of 50 results. Even scarcer is the use of the word “moral”, of which Voyant only furnished three occurrences. Similarly, “agency” only appears twice throughout Pamela. Considering that Richardson’s novel seems rooted in its defense of Pamela’s virtue and individuality, I find it peculiar that these words don’t emerge very often at all. What also strikes me is the fact that words affiliated with class structure appear just as frequently, if not more.


Assignment 2: Visualizing Eurocentrism

2 min read

Looking at my post from last week, I want to take back my assertion that Robinson Crusoe is a “globalized” novel. After reading deeper into the novel and examining what MyMaps had to offer, I’d tweak this statement to say that the novel is “globally-aware”. When this novel was published amidst the height of colonialism, I imagine most English readers had heard of the many foreign locations picked up by the NER. What they most likely didn’t have was a sufficient cultural understanding of said locations. Perhaps this is why Defoe’s novel still seems to give off a European aura. Despite the fact that Crusoe spends the majority of his time off the shores of England, he still serves as the embodiment of Western European society and its colonial values. This is supported by MyMaps, which indicates that the number of referenced European locations is roughly equal to those that are non-European. While this can lead us to believe that Robinson Crusoe is at least curious about geography on a global scale, I doubt it can convince us of much more. In fact, by mistaking several European locations for non-European ones, the program masks what is actually a disparity between the two categories. Even if we analyze MyMaps spatially, we can see that non-European locations are scattered, whereas the European references are far more congested. On its own, the map can tell us that Defoe’s novel is rich with European culture and not-so-rich with others.

To address some of the errors, I still find it interesting that the NER mistakes references like “Bible”, “Christ”, and “Blessed Virgin” for locations. These would clearly fit more appropriately into other categories, which is why MyMaps was unable to pinpoint them on the world map. Also, as I already alluded to, several American locations—such as “Trinidad”, “Yorkshire”, and “Navarre”—actually belong elsewhere. If these mistakes were to be corrected, the map would appear even more Eurocentric than it already does.

Just as a final note, my PC was far more cooperative for this second go-around! Granted, the steps weren’t nearly as complicated, nor did they require me to install third-party software. Still, I gave a sigh of relief when everything went as planned on my first attempt.


Assignment 1: Name & Location

2 min read

Before disclosing my findings from the lists that I ultimately created, it should be known that the technology I used was rather uncooperative throughout the entire process. While some of the difficulties I faced were likely due to the fact that I’m using a Windows device, I must also admit that my computer skills are sub-par at best. However, after roughly two hours of receiving errors and conducting tedious tweaks, I was finally able to produce a series of lists that I hope have at least some semblance to what the exercise intends. Hopefully my future attempts go a bit more smoothly, but until then I’m just going to run with what I’ve got.

Perhaps an appropriate segue, the “money” list caught my attention largely because I believed it to be a result of yet another technical error. This, however, is due to what I can only assume is a lapse in NER’s coding. Oddly enough, the program seems to be mistaking punctuation for money and tagging it under the corresponding category. What also interested me were the “location” entities and, more specifically, how they form such a broad and extensive list of locales. Given that Robinson Crusoe tells the tale of an aspiring adventurer, this observation should be expected. A similar theme carries over to the “person” entities, which feature a variety of non-European names such as “Friday” and “Xury”. In light of this information, it seems that Robinson Crusoe makes a conscious attempt to be as culturally rich and globally expansive as it physically can within the confines of a 250 page novel. For a reader living in 18th century England, I imagine this ambitious globe-trotting tale was a genuine marvel of its time.


p. 30

1 min read

"I had no body to converse with but now and then this neighbour; no work to be done, but by the labour of my hands; and I used to say, I liv'd just like a man cast away upon some desolate island, that had no body there but himself."