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Male and Female Gothics

A Computational Approach

Lawrence Evalyn, Author
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In many ways, what I have done here is constructed my own text, which approximates the Gothic. It consists, primarily, of 70 pie charts-- though some additional charts will be added as I delve into the most interesting points. In each chart, the size of the circle reflects the prevalence of the motif in the overall body of texts, and the contrast between colours reflects the level of difference.

I have been working intimately with an invaluable bibliographic work by Ann Tracy, The Gothic Novel 1790-1830: Plot Summaries and Index to Motifs. In it, Tracy provides detailed information on the content of 208 novels; for this project, I restrict myself to a consideration of her index. Tracy's 'motifs' are broad plot elements, images, and character types, encompassing, for example, both "relative, lost, discovery of" and "shipwreck." The index has 208 entries, but many include a multiplicity of sub-categories of increasing specificity-- "pulp, bloody," for example, offers entries for "formerly abbess," "formerly baby," and "formerly devotees of Juggernaut." (As these are the only three bloody pulps Tracy notes, they are not considered at any further length here.) My study, for now, is concerned with the 70 main-level motifs which appear in at least 20 of the 197 novels whose authors' genders are known.

This method, as a necessary trade-off, must elide all the potentially interesting differences between the various lost relatives and shipwrecks it examines. At first glance, this seems to leave out most of the work of the novels in question. However, as my study will show, the wide range of motifs themselves begin to recapture some of the variance in style that we might expect. Moreover, by seeking out traditional categories of the Gothic via a radically different method, it becomes possible to ask-- and answer-- new questions about those categories.

Because the texts in question are inaccessible in their physical copies, and therefore almost entirely unavailable as digital texts suitable for more direct application of computational methods, this method, despite its many levels of mediation, is the closest manageable approximation of the full body of texts consumed under the aegis of the Gothic at the turn of the nineteenth century-- at least, for now.

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