A Question of Style: individual voices and corporate identity in the Edinburgh Review, 1814-1820

Benatti, Francesca and King, David (2017). A Question of Style: individual voices and corporate identity in the Edinburgh Review, 1814-1820. In: DHSI 2017 Colloquium, 6-15 Jun 2017, University of Victoria, Canada.


This short paper presents our project, A Question of Style: individual voices and corporate identity in the Edinburgh Review, 1814-1820, which is funded by a Research Society for Victorian Periodicals Field Development Grant running until October 2017.

We want to assess the assumption that early nineteenth-century periodicals succeeded in creating, through a “transauthorial discourse”, a unified corporate voice that hid individual authors behind an impersonal public text (Klancher 1987).

We are creating a sample corpus of approximately 500,000 words comprising 325,000 words from the Edinburgh Review and 175,000 from its competitor, the Quarterly Review, for a total of about 80 articles. To assist our OCR correction, metadata creation and textual markup, we are developing a suite of Python scripts, based on our previous work with post-OCR correction (King 2013) and semi-automated TEI markup (Willis et al 2010).

We employ methods from periodical studies, book history, computational linguistics and computational stylistics to “operationalise” our definition of style in order to select features that can be measured empirically, transforming concepts into a set of operations (Moretti 2013). We are focusing on features at the level of words and sentences such as: vocabulary richness, length of articles, length of sentences, length of quotations from text under review, distribution of parts of speech, distinctive vocabulary of each journal, distinctive vocabulary of each author, distinctive vocabulary in each type of review (literature, travel, politics etc.), using methods such as term frequency: inverse document frequency, Burrows’ Delta and Zeta methods, Corpus Stylistics, and Principal Component Analysis.

We will focus on three research questions:
- Did the authors writing for the Edinburgh Review actually hide their identity behind the “mask of anonymity” (Coleridge)?
- Did editor Francis Jeffrey impose his stylistic conventions on the entire Edinburgh Review?
- Are there differences in style between the Whig Edinburgh Review and the Tory Quarterly Review?

We will qualitatively describe the preliminary results of this stylistic analysis and evaluate them within the context of both literary scholarship on nineteenth-century periodicals and computational linguistics scholarship, using our literary and historical interpretation to generate critical knowledge out of our measurements.

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