In Search of the Voice of the Edinburgh Review

Benatti, Francesca and King, David (2016). In Search of the Voice of the Edinburgh Review. In: Romantic Voices, 22-23 Jun 2016, The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities, Oxford, UK, British Association for Romantic Studies.



The Edinburgh Review was the main literary journal in early nineteenth century Britain, its contributors including some of the most prominent authors and politicians of the age. A review from the Edinburgh could make or break the fortunes of a new publication. The Edinburgh adopted a complex “corporate” style from its beginnings in 1802. All articles were published anonymously, their authority stemming exclusively from their presence in the Edinburgh and not from the name of an individual author. In addition, editor Francis Jeffrey often modified articles to make them more conformant to the style and politics of the periodical.

We want to assess whether, despite Jeffrey’s interventions, the main authors of literary reviews retained their unique voices without being absorbed by the overall voice of the periodical, or if instead the style of the Edinburgh Review was based upon that of Francis Jeffrey. We will create a stylistic profile of each author and compare it against that of Francis Jeffrey and the Edinburgh Review’s corporate style. In order to answer these literary questions, we will use methodologies from the fields of computational linguistics and stylometry such as parts-of-speech tagging and term frequency: inverse document frequency together with digital tools such as NLTK and Stylo. We will study a corpus of 44 articles, comprising 234,309 words drawn from ten authors and chosen from the reviews of works of literature or history published in the Edinburgh during the period 1814 to 1818, when the periodical was at the height of its influence.

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