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:
I know how much you love flowcharts, so in honor of one of the most under-appreciated Austen novels, I’ve decided to post one of my favorite school projects.
Don’t you wish you’d been an English Major?
Essentially, we argued that Austen reinterprets the story of Pride and Prejudice through Mansfield Park. The similarities between the stories can be seen in the flowchart above, and the one below shows the sudden fracturing of P&P’s trajectory. Instead of a romance of inevitable destiny, Mansfield highlights the tenuous nature of Austen’s relationships. Had a few tiny things gone awry (or, as she seems to suggest in the passage below, had these things NOT gone awry), the story would have been completely different. And I’m not merely speculating indiscriminately; Austen explores this what-if scenario herself:
Henry Crawford, ruined by early independence and bad domestic example, indulged in the freaks of a cold-blooded vanity a little too long. Once it had, by an opening undesigned and unmerited, led him into the way of happiness. Could he have been satisfied with the conquest of one amiable woman’s affections, could he have found sufficient exultation in overcoming the reluctance, in working himself into the esteem and tenderness of Fanny Price, there would have been every probability of success and felicity for him. His affection had already done something. Her influence over him had already given him some influence over her. Would he have deserved more, there can be no doubt that more would have been obtained, especially when that marriage had taken place, which would have given him the assistance of her conscience in subduing her first inclination, and brought them very often together. Would he have persevered, and uprightly, Fanny must have been his reward, and a reward very voluntarily bestowed, within a reasonable period from Edmund’s marrying Mary.
The other thing I loved about this project was how very different it was. Yes, obviously, I wrote a paper too, but I loved how our argument was essentially captured in these two flowcharts. As a person that works (has worked, will work…) primarily with words, having something click visually was an unexpected treat. And it’s not about slapping a picture onto something either; it really was easier to conceptualize the book through this framework.
It seems a little ironic to conclude a post in celebration of flowcharts with a message to think outside the box, don’t you think?
P.S. By the way, Irene and Eleni: best project EVER. (Hope you don’t mind the recoloring.)