Stylometry and the Defoe canon: a reply to Irving Rothman

Owens, W.R. and Furbank, P. N. (2002). Stylometry and the Defoe canon: a reply to Irving Rothman. Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America, 96(3) pp. 463–465.


In PBSA (94 (2000), pp. 375-98) Irving Rothman attacked P.N. Furbank and W.R. Owens for their work on the Defoe attribution problem, arguing that they had not paid sufficient attention to the stylometric work of Stieg Hargevik (published in 1962). This article is a rejoinder to Rothman, arguing that he has not grasped the fundamental principle that it is not necessary to prove a negative: in other words, where no good reason has ever been put forward for attributing a work to Defoe, that work has no right to a place in the 'canon' of his works. Hargevik's early attempt at a 'stylometric' method of attributing works to Defoe was deeply flawed, and provides no reason for believing that works tested under his method should be regarded as by Defoe.

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