The Riddle of Literary Quality (Huygens-ING, Fryske Akademy, Universiteit van Amsterdam)

Literary quality is one of the most fascinating issues in Literary Studies. Scholars have found that social and cultural factors play an important role in the acceptance of a work as literary or non-literary and as good or bad. In the project “The Riddle of Literary Quality” we assume, however, that formal characteristics of a text may also be of importance in calling a fictional text literary or non-literary, and good or bad – non-literary texts can also be good and literary text can also be bad. Many formal characteristics can be thought of as having a part in this, e.g. the use of difficult words, the number of adjectives and adverbs, or complex syntactic style. This project explores this assumption, integrating the analysis of low-level lexical-statistical features and high-level syntactic and narrative features. The main results that will come out of this project are:

• a list of formal characteristics and their distribution in a training corpus of differently valued Modern Dutch novels,

• an evaluation of other Modern Dutch novels based on the results of the training corpus,

• results of first experiments of the application of the same measurements on novels from another time period or language.

The first two will be described in publications, and the third will take the form of a project plan for a new research program to adapt the tools for diachronic and cross-language application, to make the method applicable to longitudinal research and to the comparison of formal characteristics of literary quality in different languages.

Please find the project proposal here.

People Involved

Project leaders:
Karina van Dalen-Oskam, Huygens ING
Rens Bod, UvA, ILLC (associate project leader)
Hanno Brand, Fryske Akademy (associate project leader)

Researcher PhD:
Andreas van Cranenburgh, Huygens ING and e-Humanities Group
Kim Jautze, Huygens ING and e-Humanities Group

Coordinator software development:
Gertjan Filarski, Huygens ING

Corina Koolen is PhD-student focusing on the cross-section of literary studies and natural language processing.

Gijs Kruitbosch is software developer in the Development team of the Huygens Institute for the History of the Netherlands.

Fernie Maas is assisting the project in different kinds of data preparation