Distant Reading

‘Distant Reading’ is a phrase coined by the literary critic Franco Moretti, in his book of the same name (2013). It outlines quantitative ways of analysing texts, using maps to visualise how they imagine space and how they circulate among readers, and computer analysis to capture aspects of their style. The Prismatic Jane Eyre Project seeks to add a dimension to Moretti’s work with our emphasis on Close Reading, but also to build on his work with our Maps, and in these Distant Reading pages which concentrate on digital analysis of the novel and its translations.

Our aim, in ongoing work, is to develop new means for analysing, visualising and understanding the relationship between source text and translations, in line with the prismatic conception of translation as metamorphosis and growth across a landscape of language variety and change. The work will involve continual dialogue between the literary scholars involved in the project and experts in digital analysis.

For now, we are able to give you just a taster of the kind of analysis that we hope to build on. The window below shows you what happens to the English text of Jane Eyre when it is put through the ‘Links analysis’ feature of Voyant Tools, a programme developed by Stéfan Sinclair (McGill) and Geoffrey Rockwell (University of Alberta).

The blue rectangles show you the most frequent words in Jane Eyre (excluding ubiquitous words like ‘a’ and ‘the’); and they are connected to the words which appear most often alongside them in the novel, in collocation (the orange rectangles). If you let your cursor hover over the rectangles you can see the number of occurrences of each word in the text.

Reader, we have left this active tool on the page for you to enjoy. The form at the bottom left allows you to select a word to investigate: you can click on one of the suggested most frequent words, or type in any word of your choosing. If you find anything interesting, and would like to share it with us, please use the Contribute button in the sidebar.

(A word of warning: Voyant Tools is a great resource but, like all online services it sometimes goes down. If you find that it does not work for several days, please let us know via the Feedback button in the sidebar.)

The Distant Reading pages are work in progress: most of our research in this area is still to do. Please let us know if you have reactions or suggestions: the Digital Humanities are a collaborative world in which every idea is precious. If you would like to propose an instrument, an analysis or simply a thought, we would be happy to hear from you.

Text by Giovanni Pietro Vitali