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EnumerationsData and Literary Study$
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Andrew Piper

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780226568614

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: January 2019

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226568898.001.0001

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Characterization (Constraint)

Characterization (Constraint)

(p.118) Five Characterization (Constraint)

Andrew Piper

University of Chicago Press

Quantity has a role to play in understanding the nature of characters and the process of characterization (the writerly act of generating animate entities through language). With Alex Woloch’s question of “the many” in mind, the chapter begins with a survey of an estimated 85 characters per novel in the nineteenth century, a conservative estimate of 20,000 novels published during this period in English, producing ca. 1.7 million unique characters appearing in one century in one language. Simultaneously, the process of characterization poses challenges of scale: the great number of characters, plus the vast amount of information surrounding even a single, main character. Characters (like other textual features) are abundant across the pages of novels. Through an examination of over 650,000 characters using new techniques in natural language processing and entity recognition, this chapter explores the "character-text" of novels (how characters are activated, described, objectified). The (surprising) evidence here suggests that the process of characterization is best described as one of stylistic constraint, aligning the practice of characterization more closely with a character’s etymological origins (as representative, general, or “characteristic”—not individualistic). The chapter then explores the rise of “interiorly oriented” characters and Nancy Armstrong’s notion of strongly gendered “deep character.”

Keywords:   digital humanities, cultural analytics, natural language processing, named entity recognition, literary character, gender, female subjectivity, classical realism

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