Research Exercise 7: Aurora Leigh from a distance
English 111: Victorian Novel Research Seminar
Research Exercise 10: Close and Distant Reading of Aurora Leigh
*Adapted from Professor Cyrus Mulready (SUNY-New Paltz) “Close and Distant Reading Assignment” for English Lit.
Dedicating Aurora Leigh to her cousin John Kenyon, Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote:
The words ‘cousin’ and ‘friend’ are constantly recurring in this poem, the last pages of which have been finished under the hospitality of your roof, my own dearest cousin and friend: –cousin and friend, in a sense of less equality and greater disinterestedness than ‘Romney’ ‘s.
Here Barrett Browning notes some keywords that recur in her poem, and even imagines them as floating free from some of the connotations in which the narrative of Aurora Leigh embeds them. For this assignment, we’ll do something similar, identifying some key words in AL and using digital tools to represent them in different ways, in the hopes that in so re-representing them we might learn something new. Se we will be performing a kind of language laboratory experiment, using digital tools as a way of gaining a better – or just different – understanding of Aurora Leigh.
I recommend that you give yourself plenty of time to work through the steps below.
1) This about how you read Aurora Leigh using the reading frameworks we’ve developed in class so far. Note some themes and potential research questions; zero in on a few lines, mark them up, and close read.(Don’t skip this step!) Think about the Tucker and the Woolf articles about the poem. Try to work up your own personal reading, think about what other seminar members will say about this poem, and try to think about what the seminar as a whole will find interesting about this poem, how it will relate to our ongoing concerns. Think about a suspicious reading; think about a just reading. Think about all the readings in between. Jot down a few keywords from the poem that you see as important.
2) Distant Reading of Aurora Leigh. Using Voyant-tools.org, work through the following steps to examine all of the sonnets together.
3) Devise a Research Question or Experiment Based on your analysis of the AL in steps 1 and 2, come up with a question (or a group of related questions) that you would like to answer about AL in the context of the Victorian novel (and in as far as you can if you want to, Victorian poetry), using the tools available in Voyant and (if you like) the Google Books NGram Viewer. Discuss what kind of “experiment” you could you carry out and what might it reveal about AL. If you like, Voyant makes it very easy to set up other texts – how does AL compare to Middlemarch in some specific way? you might ask and answer. (To add texts to Voyant upload a txt file with the text of the novel or other text you are interested in, or just direct Voyant to a url for the etext. And don’t forget to set the Cirrus options to Stopword-English-apply globally if you don’t want common words (if, and, but) to show up in the word cloud.) What kinds of questions do you think this tool can be used to answer? Be creative.
4) Look at the “Resources” page and start to imagine some other possible research questions we might ask and begin to answer using other digital tools.
You might also – based on this relative limited experience – think about what you think is valuable (or not) about distant reading or data mining. Do you think this is a useful tool for literary analysis? Why or why not? What do you think are the strengths and limitations of this method of literary analysis?