If there’s one thing our blog doesn’t lack, it’s flowcharts about Mansfield Park. I mean, not to brag or anything, but we are the #1 Google image result if you search for “Mansfield Park flowchart.”(…we’re also #2 and 3, so we’ve really cornered the market, here.)
So I’m particularly excited to see that this already-really-interesting research from three professors at Columbia integrates so seamlessly with our strengths.
This image is the result of inter-departmental collaboration between professors in Computer Science and English. They developed a program to “read” novels and collect, essentially, social networking data: who talks to whom, and how frequently?
The program looks for dialogue tags, such as quotations and speech attribution, and groups together all the versions of a character’s name: “Fitzwilliam Darcy” is “Mr. Darcy” is “Darcy.” It then models the conversation network in a chart like to the one above (the Ragbag actually mapped out this version of the chart—the one provided in the paper was a bit less elegant) with the size of the oval indicating how frequently a character is mentioned and the width of the line indicating conversation length.
The program analyzed 60 nineteenth-century novels, allowing them to take a broad, systematic perspective as a counterpoint to deep literary analysis. What their study allowed to look at, then, is the patterns of interactions in (nineteenth-century) fiction and our ability (or lack thereof) to categories types of communities. Are rural communities, like the one in Mansfield Park, smaller and closer knit? Their results suggest not:
We would propose…that the form of a given novel– the standpoint of the narrative voice, whether the voice is “omniscient” or not– is far more determinative of the kind of social network described in the novel than where it is set or even the number of characters involved. Whereas standard accounts of nineteenth-century …emphasize the content of the novel as determinative (where it is set, whether the novel fits within a genre of “village” or “urban” fiction), we have found that content to be surprisingly irrelevant to the shape of social networks within…We are suggesting that the important element of social networks in nineteenth-century fiction is not where the networks are set, but from what standpoint they are imagined or narrated. Narrative voice, that is, trumps setting.
I have to admit, I love this concept. I love the data it gives us, and I love how people are looking at novels in unexpected and interesting ways. And it’s interesting, too, how very little it shows. I mean, Fanny spends most of the novel cringing in a corner and the rest of it hiding. But looking at this graph, she’s the primary figure. (And I’m also quite curious because I can’t seem to find any data on Mr. Henry Crawford!)
Anyway, I know how much you love Austen flowcharts so, since I don’t know how long it’ll be until we post on this again, I’ve found you one more to hold you over.
P.S. If you’re more into maps that charts, there’s an adorable (interactive!) map to Pride and Prejudice over at Pemberley Pond. Here’s a sample: