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Intertextual Networks: Theorizing and Encoding Textual Connections in Early Women’s Writing

Intertextual Networks: Theorizing and Encoding Textual Connections in Early Women’s Writing

Below are lecture notes from a paper by Sarah Connell and Julia Flanders, part of a panel on intertextuality in early women’s texts at DH2017

I want to begin by thanking our co-panelists for their really thoughtful and exciting presentations, as well as my co-author Julia Flanders, the conference organizers, and, of course, all of you for joining us today. I also have to thank the NEH for their support of this project as well as the rest of the WWP team—Lara Rose, Param Ajmera, Ashley Clark, and Syd Bauman—without whom none of this would be possible.

I’ll begin my talk with a quote from a letter written by Ann Candler to two women who had helped sponsor the publication of Candler’s work. This letter is included within the “short narrative” of Candler’s life by the editor of her Poetical Attempts, and, in fact, it comprises much of that narrative in terms of length and biographic detail. In this letter, Candler writes that these ladies may be “surprized” at her “prolixity” which exceeded her own intentions, but, she says: “one circumstance was so connected with another, and one word naturally introduced others” so that her prolixity was unavoidable. Candler also notes that she wanted to be as “explicit as possible” for the satisfaction of her audience. I’d like to take three things from this quotation. First, as a letter initially written by an author to her patrons for distribution among those patrons’ friends, and then published paratextually with that author’s collection of poems, this is a good example of the kinds of layered intertextuality we’ve been exploring at the WWP. Second, Candler’s discussion of how one word leads naturally to others is very neatly descriptive of what we’ve found in our research thus far, where we’ve been trying to map the webs of interconnected texts that appear in our Women Writers Online corpus. And, finally, in this presentation I hope to take inspiration from Candler and even do her one better, dodging the pitfall of surprising prolixity while nonetheless being as clear and explicit as possible, hopefully to the satisfaction of you friends who have joined us here today. To that end, I’ll start with a bit of background.

The Intertextual Networks project builds off of the Women Writers Online collection, which has about four hundred texts by women. These are largely print texts, although we do have one manuscript collection. We have a relatively broad chronological framing, 1526 to 1850, and the texts themselves are quite generically diverse. These texts are published in a web interface called Women Writers Online, and they’re encoded in TEI. 

While the Women Writers Project has been around since the late eighties and Women Writers Online was first released in 1999, the Intertextual Networks project is a much more recent endeavor; this is a three-year, NEH-funded Collaborative Research grant project that started in the fall of 2016. The project is aimed at fostering research into the rhetorics of intertextuality used by early women writers. We’re interested in both straightforward cases of direct quotation and citation as well as subtler forms of intertextual engagement, such as verbal echoes, stylistic similarities, imitation, and parody. Our work is focused on exploring both early women’s intertextual practices and the representation of those practices through encoding—that is, we’re expecting the project’s literary and historical research to help us study what our markup can do, just as we’re using the markup to help answer literary and historical questions.

For this project, we have three major research activities and outcomes. First, we’ll be linking all of the textual references in Women Writers Online to a bibliography we’re creating. I’ll be talking more about this work soon but I’ve given a quick example of what we’re doing at the bottom of the slide—in this case, we’re using the @source attribute on the <quote> element to point to an entry we’ve created in a bibliography file. We’re also investigating how we might mark up intertextual phenomena that are less straightforward than direct reference or quotation and I’ve chosen this particular example because it illustrates one such phenomenon: parody—and, in fact, is a particularly clear instance, since Charlotte Smith is kind enough to tell us that she’s parodying a “sublime sentence” from Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France. Most of our authors, I’m afraid, are not quite this kind. But that’s what makes this interesting!

Which leads to our second project outcome: we’re publishing our research into encoding complex intertextual features on our blog and we’ll be sharing a final report at the end of the project. And finally, we have assembled a team of collaborators who are completing individual research projects, to be published on our open-access Women Writers in Context platform, with more incremental reports on our blog. These collaborators are doing some really promising work—for example, we have a project using network and braid analysis to look for similar dialogue patterns in the works of Margaret Cavendish and Molière, one collaborator who’s been tracing references to Elizabeth I throughout the whole WWO collection, and another project using markup to study marginal biblical references as a counternarrative to the “main” poetic text in Lucy Hutchinson’s Order and Disorder. I’m not going to focus on these today, but I really can’t stress enough how exciting our collaborators’ projects are—and I’ve given some links where you can learn more about everything I just mentioned. 

Today, I’d like to focus on that first strand of our work, the encoding enhancements, and share some lessons that might be useful to other projects engaging in large-scale markup expansions. I’d also like to discuss some of our initial discoveries about early women’s intertextual networks—and the representation of such networks in a collaborative online environment.

On a corpus-wide level, what we’re doing is extracting all of the contents of the <title> and <quote> elements in our collection and creating bibliography entries for each text.  To give you a sense of the scope of this work: we have around 5,500 separate <title> elements in Women Writers Online and around 11,500  distinct <quote> elements. Thankfully, some of those <quote> and <title> elements are pointing to the same texts, so we’re not looking to create a bibliography with 17,000 entries, but it’s still a fair amount of work!

The “before” example here shows you some of the markup we’re relying on to pull out the titles and quotations in our collection so we can create entries for them; you can see that we’ve already marked that Midsummer Night’s Dream is a title and that this group of poetic lines is a quote. The sharp-eyed among you may have noted that this is actually a misquotation, and one that changes the meaning of the quoted text to the much more optimistic claim that “the course of true love ever did run smooth.” Given that this is corrected in the second edition, it’s likely a typesetting error, but we’re still investigating whether this might be deliberate. As an epigraph with an associated bibliographic reference, this is one of the more detailed examples in WWO, so we can even see that “Shakesp.” is not just an abbreviated person’s name but also the name of an author nested in the same <bibl> element as our title. In the “after” version on the right, we’ve created a bibliography entry for Midsummer Night’s Dream and, in our encoded file, we’ve used the @ref and @source attributes on <title> and <quote> to point to that entry. We’re also using @ref to point to our personography entry for Shakespeare. In this example, and most of the ones I’ll show, I’ve simplified the encoding to focus on the features I’m discussing here.

Okay, so how are we getting from before to after? Well….

To begin with, we’ve taken an an aggressive lowest-hanging-fruit stance. In fact, if I can abuse the metaphor a bit, we actually started by scooping up all the apples that had already fallen to the orchard floor: that is, those <title> elements that were inside of <bibl> elements and, thus, likelier to have such helpful information as who their authors were. We wanted to start with the references that would be easiest to track down, so that we could fill in our bibliography file and then apply everything we learned from that process to our work on the increasingly obscure references: that is, <title>s that are not inside of <bibl>, <quote> elements with associated title or author information, and then unattributed quotations.

Other key aspects of our approach have been: combining human and programmatic interventions, using the lightest possible tools for each task, and continually testing our encoding decisions against our actual corpus. For example, here’s the spreadsheet we used to fill in the majority of the <title>s in the collection; we decided a shared spreadsheet would be the best way to make input and versioning very lightweight for the bulk of our title references: that is, all of the ones inside of <bibl> as well as those with multiple attestations. We used XQuery to pull out lightly regularized versions of all the contents of those <title> elements, aggregating, for example, variations where one text might use a long s and another might not. The columns with the titles and authors that we extracted from WWO are locked in the spreadsheet so that encoders can’t accidentally edit them, since we’ll be using that information to automatically add the unique identifiers back into WWO when we’re done. Our encoders are then filling in display titles and full titles, along with standardized versions of authors’ names, publication locations, and publication dates. This is all operating at a high level of abstraction; we usually don’t know which edition or printing is at stake, so we’re instead filling in the earliest-known information. We took advantage of the capabilities the spreadsheet format offered by, for example, using simple color coding to assign texts to our encoders, mark texts that we needed to discuss as a group, and so on.

Our most pressing concerns are ensuring that our unique identifiers are unique and making sure our data is consistent, so we also set up a separate sheet to enter preferred formats for each publication location and then locked the input column in this sheet so encoders can only input publication places established in our “canonical” list. When there are duplicates—for example, you can see we have references to Benjamin Church’s History of Philips War under two title variations—we give both have the same unique identifier and mark repeats with “[dup]” in the “Display title” column. In the parts of the spreadsheet I couldn’t fit on this slide, there are the publication location and date columns, as well as columns for notes and source documents, and for the XPath that located each title, which lets encoders find usages in our WWO corpus whenever more context is needed.

So, this spreadsheet worked really very well for the most straightforward cases. But as anyone who’s worked with bibliographic data knows, you never have as many straightforward cases as you’d hope. We’d known from the outset the spreadsheet would be inadequate for some kinds of texts, but, I have to confess, we didn’t think we’d hit those in the very first week.

But, of course we did. So we also set up an XML input file for the cases where our spreadsheet was inadequate. And we found that these balanced nicely; the spreadsheet made it possible to have two people working on fifteen hundred records without any version-control issues and the XML was there for the smaller number of cases where we needed more structure. Such as: 

Periodicals, analytic-level references to works published within a larger monograph, references to particular editions or printings, and so on. For one example, here is a quotation from the preface to Finch’s Sonnets and Other Poems, citing some advice from Tales of the Castle that a “woman ought never to suffer a man to add a single word to her writings” lest he “pass for the original inventor” and we have a fairly full bibliographic citation with a title, volume number, and page number. Tales of the Castle is a work in translation, so to create a record for this text, we needed to turn to the XML bibliography, which is designed to handle such complexities. 

As you can see here, we are using the different levels of bibliographic abstraction represented in the Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records (FRBR), and mapping them onto specific TEI elements for recording bibliographic information. Although it’s more detailed than the example I showed in the “before” and “after” slides, this is still is not the final version of how our XML bibliography will be set up. Instead, it’s been sufficient for our encoders to record the information we knew we needed to have—such as adding Thomas Holcroft’s role as the translator of Tales of the Castle.

After we’d reviewed all of the contents of the <title> elements in <bibl>, which amounted to about 1,100 texts named in 2,100 individual <title> elements—we had enough data to feel we’d sufficiently tested both our work processes and our handling of bibliographic complexities. Before we turned our attention to the rest of the collection, we held the first of several review phases, in which we checked for duplicates and inconsistencies. We’ve found that building in periodic review processes has been a really important aspect of our work. Unless your input processes are extremely restrictive, you probably will get some duplicates, so it’s matter of finding a balance where you actually get some work done, check for duplicates, work some more, check for duplicates, and so on.

We’ve adopted a multipronged approach to deduplication: we use alphabetization as a first-pass method, beginning with our input phase in which our alphabetized extracted titles made it clear that, for example, “Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society” and “Collections of the Historical Society” should be checked as potential duplicates. Of course, variant titles aren’t always alphabetically proximate, so if one author refers to the “New and General Biographical Dictionary” as the “General Biographical Dictionary” and another calls it just the “Biographical Dictionary,” the fact that these are duplicates is less immediately clear. But, since our mechanisms for creating display titles are well-documented and our encoders have been very consistent, we can review the display titles, as the report here shows, to see if there are any apparent exact duplicates as with “A Geographical and Historical View of the World” or likely cases of duplication as with the “Adventures of Telemachus.” In resolving potential duplicates, we’ve been able to use authorship and other publication details to determine which actually are duplicated, which has been particularly necessary for the great many works named in WWO that are titled “Poems.” In addition to alphabetization, we’ve also found that ngram counting is a helpful mechanism for locating potential duplicates and we now have a pool of tests we can draw on to check our data.

We followed an iterative process of data gathering and review to collect information on all of the titles in our collection that were in <bibl>s or named more than once in ways that could be identified programatically. We then set up a canonical bibliography, which our encoders now check before they create any new textual records, to make sure we haven’t already encountered a text, since we’ve now encountered so many.

Before we took on the remaining 1,800 “singleton” titles, that is the ones outside of <bibl> named only once in ways that our routines could identify, we made another adjustment to our processes and switched our primary input mechanism from the spreadsheet to…

The inspectre, which Ashley Clark created as a web-based platform for inspecting and editing XML documents using XPath and XQuery, a platform that enables us to combine programmatic and human interventions. If you’re curious about the inspectre, Ashley and I have a paper on it and I’ve provided the link on this slide. For today, I’ll just say that this interface was ideal for handling the singletons because it allows our encoders to easily see the context for each title, without having to open an XML file. We took all of the process hacks we’d developed in our first phase and applied them here. So, you can see that this particular entry for “The Arraignment of Lewd, Idle, Froward, and Inconstant Women” was assigned to Lara and you can see the XPath Lara would use if she needed to access the original text. In the box, the encoder can see each title in context, with the ability to switch to the XML as needed. We’re now using webform mechanisms like checkboxes to track the information our first phase taught us we would need, including the fact that this is a duplicate, since we already had an entry for the more commonly used version of the title “The Arraignment of Women.” The rest of the inspectre page, not shown here, gives the encoder spaces to fill in all of the publication details and to add some more flags, such as “I have a question about this” and “I’m done with this.” Those flags really come in handy for reviewing the remaining titles as a whole to locate the entries that have been completed, those that need group discussion, and so on.

Currently, we’re wrapping up the last few hundred singleton titles and completing another review of our data, after which we’ll be able to automatically add the unique identifiers for each title back into the WWO corpus and finalize our XML bibliography with all of our entries, regardless of their input mechanism. Then, we’ll turn our attention to the quotes and we’re very optimistic that the processes we’ve established so far will continue to ensure that we’re working efficiently while taking care to produce data we can rely on. We’ve also begun some exploratory investigation of the data that we’ve created thus far, which means that I can now share one example of the research into early women’s intertextualities our encoding enhancements have enabled.

I’ve been looking at citation patterns for a subset of the texts referenced by our authors, narrowing the scope here from all the texts named in WWO to just the histories, two hundred titles out of several thousand.

I took inspiration from Margaret Cavendish, who asserts that there are many sorts of histories, the primary of which are world histories, national histories, and biographies—and, using a slightly broader taxonomy, I categorized the historical works named in Women Writers Online, based on the regularized and deduplicated list of titles that we created.

These numbers are based on the individual titles named, rather than the number of times each title might be referenced—I wanted to examine the historical lexicon of our authors, as it were. From here, I can look at actual numbers of citations, as well as where these different sorts of histories are being named, using our metadata to track references by publication location, genre, or time period. I can also look at the markup around these references to see whether these histories are appearing in notes, in running prose, in advertisements, and so on. I’m planning to add more layers to this general taxonomy of historical texts and I’ve found it very helpful to consult the types of biographies and collections already shared by the CBW project.

Even given the preliminary nature of these results, I’m finding some threads that merit further investigation, particularly in the higher numbers of biographies referenced, which I think may be reflecting a larger historiographic trend. Biographies were a historical genre that became accessible to women writers earlier than the prestige genres such as the universal or national history, so the fact that our authors are also citing more biographies is quite interesting.

As we continue with our encoding enhancements, we’re very excited about the potential that WWO will have to answer research questions much like this one. 

I want to close with some thoughts on how our three projects connect with each other, and with others working on women’s writing. While the scopes of our respective projects are quite distinct, there are some shared threads that I think are worth noting: we are concerned with balancing the large scale and the finely-grained in both the taxonomies and the metadata we are creating. We call attention to the labor-intensiveness of the work that we do and we frame that work as being in conversation with, and—at least ideally—interoperable with other projects’. We have many of the same research questions as we investigate what women were reading, as well as how women were being read and written about—and as we explore digital methods for representing women’s textual networks.

The fact that the texts we are studying, modeling, and publishing are so distinct, while our methods and our research goals intersect in so many ways actually opens up some really exciting opportunities for collaboration and discussion—whether that might be consulting other projects’ taxonomies in developing our own or examining where the texts and persons we are studying appear in multiple contexts.  At the WWP, we’ve worked to support such inquiries by linking our own data to catalogues such as ESTC and WorldCat, and we’re now in the planning stages for creating Linked Open Data datasets for the places, persons, and texts in our collections.

I started with a letter from Ann Candler, describing how one word led so naturally to others that she could not contain them. I’d like to close with a different depiction of interconnectedness: Charlotte Smith’s description of a patchwork quilt produced by an “industrious landlady.” In this description, Smith highlights the disparateness of the quilt’s varied components: “here a little bit of chintz, surrounded by pieces of coarse and tawdry cotton”…”in one place a remnant of the fine gown of the Lady of the manor; in the next, a relict of the bed-gown of her house-maid.” Nevertheless, these scraps do create a whole, motley though it may be. And, just as the quilt stitches together the lady of the manor with her housemaid, despite their differences in status, I think that our work has the potential to uncover connections at many levels: between the women that we study, their texts and those that are written about them, how those these writers and texts circulated in their own times and the mechanisms that we are using to circulate information about them today.

Thank you!


Intertextual Networks has been made possible in part by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this project, do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Intertextuality in Mary Astell’s A Serious Proposal to the Ladies (1694) and in Reflections upon Marriage (1706)

Intertextuality in Mary Astell’s A Serious Proposal to the Ladies (1694) and in Reflections upon Marriage (1706)

This post is part of a series authored by our collaborators on the Intertextual Networks project. For more information, see here. 

By Ioanna Kyvernitou, National University of Ireland, Galway

 For Intertextual Networks, I am evaluating the markup in two works of Mary Astell (1666–1731) as found in Women Writers Online–A Serious Proposal to the Ladies, for the Advancement of Their True and Greatest Interest (1694) and the third edition of Reflections upon Marriage (1706)–in order to consider practices for encoding intertextuality. Astell, a philosopher and theologian who supported women’s right to education, is considered one of the earliest English feminist writers. She is also known for her critiques of the philosophers John Norris and John Locke. Current scholarship analyses her writings within the context of her political (Toryism), philosophical (Cartesianism-Platonism), and religious (Anglicanism) beliefs. Within this framework, this study aims to identify Astell’s intertextual practices by exploring WWP’s the XML markup–specifically the elements designed to encode bibliographic features (e.g., <quote>, <said>, <bibl>). These two works are treated here as case studies in order to discuss the ways in which XML representation can provide a formal framework for representing complex intertextual practices in literary works.

In my preliminary work, I have identified relevant markup in relation to intertextuality (from the WWP’s Internal Encoding Documentation) in order to query and retrieve the occurrences of those tags from the two XML files as provided by the WWP. Specifically, with the help of Sarah Connell and Syd Bauman, I used XQuery–a language for querying XML data–to search for Astell’s references to proper names (i.e. <persName>, <name>, <placeName>, <orgName>). Further, I investigated the personal names’ structural contexts (<p>), aiming to identify the function of onomastic intertextuality (person and place names). Finally, I searched for biblical, classical and bibliographic references (i.e. <quote>, <said>, <bibl>, and <regMe>) in these works.

In the case of indirect references, which go beyond the straightforward markup of direct quotations, it is necessary to consult secondary literature to help us identify the source(s) of reference and the identity of implicitly noted authors. The challenge is that, on many occasions, there are different interpretations among scholars regarding the source of influence or person quoted (as discussed below). Thus, in incorporating multiple interpretations within the markup, the encoding process becomes more complex and expensive—but also more enriched. While the existing markup does not annotate implicit references to an author or indirect quotes, the Intertextual Networks project will be piloting such encoding in an initial set of texts; the project will also be linking quotations to their sources and authors, which will make retrieval and analysis of quoted passages easier.


 According to the WWP’s internal documentation:

The <quote> element is used to encode material which is identified as originating outside of the passage where it appears, regardless of where the material actually originates. For our purposes, <quote> can include proverbs, mottoes, common sayings, passages from other texts (including fictional passages from imagined texts), or quotations from other parts of the same text in which the quotation appears.

Following this definition, I searched within the XML files for occurrences of the <quote> element in order to identify its use in Astell’s works. In Proposal, is used only four times and in Reflections eighteen. Currently, the WWP uses a pilot encoding in order to implement more detailed markup for cases where quoted material is paraphrased or parodied from its source. For these cases, the @type attribute is used with values of “parody” and “paraphrase”. Some of these conceptual challenges are addressed in the ‘Methods’ section of the proposal for Intertextual Networks: Reading and Citation in Women’s Writing 1450-1850, where it is recommended, similarly to parody and paraphrase, to handle allusions by treating them as special types of quotation and using the TEI @type attribute to characterize quotes as “direct,” “paraphrase,” “allusion” (and other terms as needed).

Along these lines, updating Astell’s XML files with an expanded and more detailed markup–for example, tagging paraphrases, proverbs and echoes–would be useful, especially for retrieval purposes of these instances. This post uses a passage from Reflections to explore how a more in-depth encoding can be made in order to include information concerning: quoted person(s) – explicitly or implicitly mentioned –, paraphrased passages, and ways to connect quote(s) with quoted person(s).

In the passage below (presented first without markup), Astell argues about the role of custom in perpetuating the subordination of women (emphasis added),

That the Cuſtom of the World has put Women, generally ſpeaking, into a State of Subjection, is not deny’d; but the Right can no more be prov’d from the Fact, than the Predominancy of Vice can juſtifie it. A certain great Man has endeavour’d to prove by Reaſons not contemptible, that in the Original State of things the Woman was the Superior, and that her Subjection to the Man is an Effect of the Fall, and the Puniſhment of her Sin. And that Ingenious Theoriſt Mr. Whiſton aſſerts, That before the Fall there was a greater equallity between the two Sexes. However this be, ’tis certainly no Arrogance in a Woman to conclude, that ſhe was made for the Service of God, and that this is her End. Becauſe God made all Things for Himſelf, and a Rational Mind is too noble a Being to be Made for the Sake and Service of any Creature. The Service ſhe at any time becomes oblig’d to pay to a Man, is only a Buſineſs by the Bye. Juſt as it may be any Man’s Buſineſs and Duty to keep Hogs; he was not Made for this, but if he hires himſelf out to ſuch an Employment, he ought conſcientiouſly to perform it. Nor can any thing be concluded to the contrary from St. Paul’s Argument, 1 Cor. II. For he argues only for Decency and Order, according to the preſent Cuſtom and State of things. Taking his Words ſtrictly and literally, they prove too much, in that Praying and Prophecying in the Church are allow’d the Women, provided they do it with their Head Cover’d, as well as the Men; and no inequality can be inferr’d from hence, neither from the Gradation the Apoſtle there uſes, that “the Head of every Man is Chriſt, and that the Head of the Woman man is the Man, and the Head of Chriſt is God” (A2r–A2v)

Astell uses three sources to support her argument. She first notes ‘A certain great Man’ who argued about women’s superiority before the Fall; she then paraphrases William Whiston, a Cambridge theologian; and she concludes with a biblical reference (1 Corinthians 11:3) to support women’s equality. In the current markup, only the biblical reference (i.e. <bibl><regMe>1 Cor. II.</regMe></bibl>) and the direct quote are encoded, whereas the two cases of indirect references are not tagged.

‘A certain great Man’ & ‘Mr. Whiſton

For a more complete encoding, the <quote> element and @type attribute with a value of “paraphrase” could be added to highlight instances of these indirect references, bearing in mind that, as noted in the ‘Methods’ section of the proposal for Intertextual Networks, “the boundaries of paraphrases and allusions are less determinate than those of direct quotations.”

Regarding the authors quoted, in the first case, Astell refers indirectly to ‘A certain great Man’, whereas ‘Mr. Whiſton’ is explicitly named (i.e. <persName ref='p:wwhiston.ycp'>Mr. <hi rend='slant(upright)'>Whiston</hi></persName>). For the latter case, we can also use @role on <persName> to indicate that Mr. Whiston is being referenced as an author; we can use @source on <quote> to point to a bibliography entry, with more detailed information on the source.

 For the “certain great Man,” we could add <rs> with a @type of “author” to mark this as a reference to an author, however indirect; we can also use @ref to point to more information on the identity of this author. In this case, there are different interpretations among scholars regarding the author’s identity. Specifically, Apetrei suggests that it is possible that the “great Man” was Agrippa von Nettesheim, a German polymath, who argued for the superiority of the female sex (131). Springborg, on the other hand, proposes that this could be a reference to the English philosopher Thomas Hobbes (11). Based on these authorship claims, one approach would be to use @ref to point to an <alt> element, whose @targets would themselves point to personographic entries for the two potential authors. Even where there is no agreement on the quoted person, it would be helpful to incorporate current scholarship in the encoding of the primary text to reflect the different interpretations. This can be achieved, for example, by adding a <note> element in the XML file, discussing the different scholarly interpretations and identities of probable sources.

Biblical and Bibliographic References: ‘St. Paul’s Argument’

The third case is an example of encoding bibliographic references and citations by using the <bibl> element. Within <bibl>, the tag <author> is used to encode the author’s name, if present, along with a nested <persName>. The <regMe> element is used to encode bibliographic references or citations of the Bible or other texts for which a standard or canonical reference system exists.  The WWP internal documentation suggests that <regMe> should be placed within the <bibl> element that encloses the complete reference. Following these definitions, I have counted eight occurrences where <regMe> is nested within <bibl> in Reflections and found none in Proposal.

A closer look at these occurrences, with the XML markup of this passage from Reflections, shows two distinct usages of personal names (the markup below has been simplified for the purposes of this example):

Often a personal name can be a quoted author, as in the case of Saint Paul in the above example. But there are also occasions where personal names are nested within a <quote>, as in the case of ‘Christ’. This is another case where we can use @source as described above to make authorship and other bibliographic information more explicit and queryable. Lastly, before introducing Saint Paul’s quote, as seen above, Astell refers to him as ‘Apostle’. This is one of many examples of coreference–when two or more expressions in a text refer to the same person. Thus, this is another example of where <rs> with @role of “author” and @ref pointing to a persongraphy entry could make the markup more detailed and useful for future research.

The challenges of formally representing the various types of intertextuality mean that the boundaries of structural and interpretive markup become more fluid. The more detailed the markup becomes, the more in-depth understanding of the primary text and its secondary literature is required. This is a process that can be time-consuming, especially for large-scale projects. Nevertheless, investigation of the use of personal names within their surrounding contexts can enrich the representation of intertextuality. As a next step for this study, I will explore further how linguistic and rhetorical emphasis tags (i.e.<emp>, <term>, <distinct>) can be connected to indirect quotation practices in order to identify other implicit references, currently not present in the markup. I will base this on Astell’s practices in her correspondence with John Norris, Letters Concerning the Love of God (1695), aiming to compare references in her three works, and open the way to reconstructing a more complete picture of her intertextual practices.

Works Cited

Apetrei, Sarah Louise Trethewey. Women, Feminism and Religion in Early Enlightenment                

England. Cambridge University Press, 2010. Print.

Springborg, Patricia. Mary Astell, Political Writings. 1st ed. New York: Cambridge University

Press, 1996. Print.



The Queen’s Two Corpora: Finding Elizabeth and Creating Corpora using the WWO Database

The Queen’s Two Corpora: Finding Elizabeth and Creating Corpora using the WWO Database

This post is part of a series authored by our collaborators on the Intertextual Networks project. For more information, see here. 

By Kristen Abbott Bennett, Stonehill College

At Tilbury, Elizabeth I gave a rousing speech to motivate her subjects, exclaiming: “I know I have the bodie, but of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and Stomach of a King, and of a King of England” (Cabala). Elizabeth’s recognition of her female princely bodies as simultaneously separate and the same reflects awareness of her politically constructed dual corpora. Historically, the “King’s two bodies” theory was adapted from ideas surrounding the divine right of kings. During Elizabeth’s reign, it was legislated to preserve her interests in lands acquired by Edward IV in his minority:

For the King has in him two Bodies, viz., a Body natural, and a Body politic…. [The latter] is a Body that cannot be seen or handled, consisting of Policy and Government, and constituted for the Direction of the people, and the Management of the public weal, and this Body is utterly void of Infancy, and old Age, and other natural Defects and Imbecilities, which the Body natural is subject to, and for this Cause, what the King does in his Body politic, cannot be invalidated or frustrated by any Disability in his natural Body. (Kantorowicz 7)

The “King’s Two Bodies” construction offers an apt metaphor for thinking about approaches to corpus-based linguistic analyses. These approaches allow one to consider a single body of work in and of itself, as well as realize its rhetorical relationship to a larger corpus.1 In the context of sub-corpora created from the Women Writers Online database, the “intertexts” corpus I discuss here analogizes Elizabeth’s “body politic” that both embodies, yet remains distinctive from “the body natural”–here another sub-corpus containing Elizabeth’s speeches.

What follows is a brief account of the methods I have used to create corpora from the WWO database, ranging from basic keyword searches to more complex computationally assisted searches, along with a short discussion about the choices I made along the way. With an eye toward next steps, I close with an overview of how one may convert XML documents into different kinds of file types that lend themselves well to computational and visual analysis.

Finding Elizabeth

Initially, I used keyword searches to find the works that mention Elizabeth; works authored by her are listed, with WWO links, here. I quickly learned that my attempts to search “Elizabeth I” in a database featuring works produced between 1526–1850 was not the best move; Elizabeth II was yet to exist. This initial foray revealed 120 works of the 390 in the WWO corpus (as of spring 2017) that mention an Elizabeth, plus 276 discrete references to women named “Elizabeth.” I persevered, using Ctrl + F and skimming, ultimately locating suitable intertexts (that is, intertextual references to Elizabeth I) dating between the early seventeenth and early nineteenth centuries that discuss her in both historical and fictional contexts.

For example, both Esther Sowernam’s 1617 pamphlet, Esther Hang’d Haman and Bathusa Makin’s 1673 Essay to revive the ancient education of gentlewomen laud the historical Elizabeth’s virtues and learning. Yet in Mary Deverell’s 1792 play, Mary Queen of Scots, the fictionalized Scottish queen suggests that Elizabeth’s learnedness is undesirable and unfeminine: “my sister’s mind is masculine” (O2v).

Although Deverell’s work ultimately presents an even-handed assessment of two Queens surrounded by male advisors and doing the best they can, American writer Judith Sargent Murray’s 1798 fictional account of Elizabeth and Mary’s history portrays the English queen as manipulative, dissembling, and self-serving. I had high hopes for Margaret Cavendish saying something excessive, but she mentions Elizabeth’s reign only to mark time in Nature’s Pictures. This early research generated enough information and questions for me to propose, and commit to creating, a multimedia intertextual exhibit that networks transcontinental representations of Elizabeth by six other WWO authors in the context of common discourses associated with the queen: her dual-gender, her “cult of love,” renowned learning, relationship with Mary, Queen of Scots, and her refusal to marry.

At this point in the process, I was introduced to Ashley Clark’s (Northeastern) brilliant Counting Robot (an XQuery for performing basic counts on WWP files) and saw an opportunity to test human-brain approaches to “finding” related texts in a large database against basic computational methods.

Creating the Corpora

A  <persName> search for “Elizabeth” produced 103 files including Elizabeth’s speeches, but it still threw out false positives. Eventually, I adapted Ashley’s code to create multiple search strings using early modern spellings and alternate names (Eliz, Elizabeth, Princess, Bess, etc.) and then checked contexts manually—this method resulted in finding 33 files, including Elizabeth’s works.

The results were similar when my colleague Mary Erica Zimmer suggested the labor-saving method of searching for cases where @ref on <persName> pointed to the unique identifier established for Elizabeth in the WWP’s personography; this method helped us extract Elizabeth I from her many (likely) namesakes and locate 21 valid intertexts.

During the first pass, it made sense to create one corpus containing Elizabeth’s works, another of her intertexts, and a third including all the files. Although this seems relatively straightforward, the concept of “Elizabeth’s works” is problematic. The WWO database includes her speeches, one translation, and one “true copie of a letter.” Although Elizabeth’s speeches were transcribed and printed by men, they offer a record of the way she presented herself to her subjects. It made sense to limit the “Elizabeth” corpus to her speeches, and excise the “true copy of a letter” and the translation to focus on a single genre. Once “Elizabeth” was defined, the intertexts were easy to manage; the sole criterion for inclusion was at least one clear mention of Elizabeth I. In the context of the “two bodies” metaphor, these corpora situate Elizabeth’s “natural” body in the context of her “body politic.”

Now What?

The first corpora were encoded in XML and lent themselves well to computational inquiry using the Counting Robot, XPath searches in oXygen, and AntConc. For example, these initial forays revealed that elements with @rend (indicating typographic changes) often point to a given work’s proper nouns and linguistic shifts, in addition to elements such as <persName> and <emph> that mark such features more explicitly. For the purposes of this project, I put that query aside for the time being and thought about the possibilities for these specific corpora.

It quickly became apparent that any computational analysis of these works called for creating additional corpora. Any text mining, visualization, or mapping approaches required removing the tags from the texts. Following Sarah Connell’s suggestion of a quick, if relatively low-tech, method for transforming the XML files, we opened the texts in oXygen, switched to “Author” mode, and then copied and pasted each text into a Word document. The last step was to make a plain text corpus.2

Why so many corpora? The first set, in XML, lend themselves well to computational queries about tagged elements. Reformatting the corpora into Word docs made the works more easily searchable, plus these documents lend themselves well to visualization using tools like Voyant. Similarly, conversion into text files permits users to work with visualization and analytical tools such as AntConc and Recogito. Although clearly exceeding the “two corpora” promised by this title, I hope to have offered people who may be new to working with literary databases helpful approaches toward getting up and running.


Anon. Cabala: sive Scrinia Sacra. London, Printed for G. Bedel, and T. Collins, and are to be ſold at their Shop at the Middle-Temple-gate in Fleetſtreet, 1654. Women Writers Online, Accessed 5 May 2017.

Cavendish, Margaret (Lucas), Duchess of Newcastle. Natures Pictures Drawn by Fancies Pencil to the Live, J. Martin and J. Allstrye, 1656. Women Writers Online, Accessed 5 May 2017.

Deverell, Mary. Mary Queen of Scots; an Historical Tragedy, or, Dramatic Poem. Deverell, 1792. Women Writers Online, Accessed 5 May 2017.

Kantorowicz, Ernst A. The King’s Two Bodies: A Study in Mediaeval Political Theology. Princeton UP, 1957.

Makin, Bathusa. An Essay to Revive the Antient Education of Gentlewomen. J.D., 1673. Women Writers Online, Accessed 5 May 2017.

Murray, Judith (Sargent). The Gleaner, I. Thomas and E.T. Andrews, 1798. Women Writers Online, Accessed 5 May 2017.

Sowernam, Esther. Esther Hath Hanged Haman. Nicholas Bourne, 1617. Women Writers Online, Accessed 5 May 2017.



Rhetorical Intertextualities of M. R.’s The Mothers Counsell, or Live Within Compasse

Rhetorical Intertextualities of M. R.’s The Mothers Counsell, or Live Within Compasse

This post is part of a series authored by our collaborators on the Intertextual Networks project. For more information, see here. 

By Dr. Elizabeth Ann Mackay, University of Dayton

My project for the Women Writers Project explores an oft-cited, but rarely studied, mother’s advice book: M. R.’s The Mothers Counsell, or Live Within Compasse (1631). Compared to other seventeenth-century mother’s advice books, blessings, and legacies, such as Dorothy Leigh’s The Mothers Blessing, Elizabeth Clinton’s The Countesse of Lincolnes Nurserie, and Elizabeth Joceline’s The Mothers Legacie to her unborn Childe, M. R.’s Counsell is either ignored by critics or disparaged for what most critics identify as its derivative, formulaic writing style. M. R. is also criticized for misogynistic attitudes towards women in her written advice to a daughter, which appears to endorse and reinforce a limited and conservative feminine ideal. In studies of women’s writing or mother’s advice, it’s therefore a text usually mentioned only in passing or in a footnote.

But I’ve found that a close reading of M. R.’s Mothers Counsell and, in particular, a closer reading of its intertextual nature, reveals its unique rhetorical status as a woman’s and a mother’s text. The Mothers Counsell has always been read in the context of mother’s advice books and legacies (always, precisely because it is a mother’s advice book), but, to be sure, this text has as much in common with grammar school boys’ notebooks as well as with the male-“authored” commonplace, quotation, and miscellany books that were incredibly popular, “best-selling” texts in early modern book markets. In my study of The Mothers Counsell, I have traced nearly all of M. R.’s maxims, proverbs, and sententious sayings to other published sources, specifically to several published, popular miscellanies in the period. As I’ve found, M. R. participates in what Adam Smyth has called a “commonplace book culture.”

My work for the Women Writers Project is part of a larger book project on “maternal figures,” a study of figurative language strategies (depicted or personified as mothers) and fictional and actual mothers who gave their daughters instructions in the uses of these rhetorical devices. In this book project, I explore representations of a wide variety of these “maternal figures” and I argue that mothers were at the center of thought in early modern England, that mothers were both a shaping force for and participants within early modern rhetorical culture. M. R. is one of many mothers who teach their daughters rhetorical strategies; specifically, M. R. teaches her daughter such “maternal figures” as the notebook method, proverbs, and the gathering and framing of “sayings” (more on sayings below).

In my WWP project, I focus on the intertextual nature of M. R.’s advice book, planning to show that, like many male editors of the period, M. R. acts as a compiler of her own commonplace book, but even beyond compiling quotations, she makes these quotations her own, transforming them, whether she edits sayings to suit her own purposes, repackages the sayings under new titles and categories, reworks and reframes them so that they become unrecognizable as others’ quotes, and ultimately, composes her own original work by “translating” quotations into her own writing. Therefore, I reassess M.R.’s The Mothers Counsell by putting it into new contexts. Doing so, I do not simply consider its links to the genres with which it has always been in conversation (mother’s advice books and maternal legacies). I also analyze it in a more substantial way, reading it as as a text uniquely positioned to show us several important aspects of early modern textuality and intertextuality.

As I plan to show, it is the very intertextual nature of M. R.’s Counsell that sets it apart from other mother’s advice books; its intertextual character also provides us with a unique example of a woman collecting, editing, and then making public her commonplace or miscellany book. My WWP project will discuss a variety of M. R.’s source materials while analyzing the range of rhetorical strategies (those “maternal figures”) that M. R. used to both draw on and work against her sources, including her deliberate choice to obscure her identity, her views on chastity, her uses of section headings, her own understanding of textuality and its relationship to women’s speech and writing, her tongue-in-cheek attitude to her sources and to the construction of women in male-authored texts, and her maternal vocabularies and allusions.

In this blog post, I’d like to share a very few examples of what I’ve discovered in my reading of The Mothers Counsell. First, a few notes about the structure and some conventions of Mothers Counsell. The advice book is divided into four sections (with four corresponding subsections), each of which is a “point” on a moral compass about which M. R. instructs her daughter (thus, the subtitle of the book, “Live Within Compasse”).

Additionally, each of the four points includes its opposite behavior in the four subsections. For example, the book begins with a discussion of “Chastitie,” which is followed by a section on “Wantonness,” what it means to turn “out of compass in chastitie”; thus, M. R. conveys to her daughter the behaviors and actions to be avoided. Each section is primarily written in prose, culminating with verses that comment back on or bring the description of the compass point to its conclusion.

A first example of M. R.’s intertextuality: in “Wantonness,” M. R. ends the section with these verses:

Such is the crueltie of women kind,
when they haue shaken off the shamefac’st hand,
with which wise nature did them strongly bind.
t’obey the hests of mans well ruling hand,
that then all rule & reason they withstand,
to purchase a licentious libertie.
But vertuous women wisely vnderstand
that they were borne to Humilitie,
vnlesse the Heauens them life to lawfull Soueraigntie.

Importantly, this is passage is one that critics such as Betty Travitsky and Elaine Beilin have recognized as a quotation; Travitsky, for instance, writes in The Paradise of Womenthat this passage is one of a few “(unacknowledged) quotations from Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queene” (66). (In reading Travitsky’s assessment of M.R., I was struck by a contrast with her praise for Elizabeth Grymeston, who uses the same rhetorical strategies in her mother’s advice book,Miscelanae, Meditations, Memoratives, written to a son. There, Travitsky applauds Grymeston’s style and her “ability to assimilate and even to alter quotations from many sources for her own purposes.”  M. R., on the other hand, doesn’t seem to warrant the same kind of praise (51).) Indeed, here is Spenser’s passage, from Book 5, Canto 5, stanza 25 of The Faerie Queene. Note how Spenser’s passage is mostly identical to the passage of M. R., with some minor changes in spelling, capitalization, punctuation, and the like:

Such is the crueltie of womenkynd,
When they haue shaken off the shamefast band,
With which wise Nature did them strongly bynd,
T’obay the heasts of mans well ruling hand,
That then all rule and reason they withstand,
To purchase a licentious libertie.
But vertuous women wisely vnderstand,
That they were borne to base humilitie,
Vnlesse the heauens them lift to lawfull soueraintie.

Here’s another example, one of the few passages where M. R. includes a discussion of the self:

Corrupt company is more infectious than corrupt aire; therefore let women be houised in their choise; for that text of thy selfe that could neuer bee expounded; thy companion shalt as thy commentarie, lay open to the world: for it is seene by experience, that if those which are neither good nor euill accompany with those that are good, they are transformed into their vertue. If those that are neither good nor euill consort with those that are euill, they are incorporated to their vice. If the good companie with the good, both are made the better; if the euill with the euill, both the worse: for such as the companie is, such is the condition.

Strikingly, the same quote appears in an edition of Lord Burghley’s published Precepts, but, as I’ll highlight in the following passage, we can see that M. R. has made one slight edit:

Corrupt company is more infectious than corrupt aire; therefore let women be houised in their choise; for that text of thy selfe that could neuer bee expounded; thy companion shalt as thy commentarie, lay open to the world: for it is seene by experience, that if those which are neither good nor euill accompany with those that are good, they are transformed into their vertue. If those that are neither good nor euill consort with those that are euill, they are incorporated to their vice. If the good companie with the good, both are made the better; if the euill with the euill, both the worse: for according to the Proverbe, such as the companie, such is the condition.”

And I’ll include one last example from M. R.’s section on “Humilitie,” one that, I think, demonstrates the nuances of M. R.’s advice to her daughter; again, I’ll highlight subtle (or not so subtle) revisions in all three examples:

Shee that gathereth vertues without Humilitie, casteth dust against the winde, and loesth her labour.

Compare M. R.’s presentation of this line to a saying included in Nicholas Ling’s commonplace book, Politeuphuia, under the section heading, “Of Humilitie”:

Hee that gathereth vertues without humilitie, casteth dust against the winde.

The same saying also appears in another commonplace book, A Treatise of Morrall Philosophie, compiled by William Baldwin, under his section heading, “Of Humilitie and Gentlenesse”:

He that doth gather vertues together (for estimation and comelinesse) with out the vertue of humilitie, doth as he that openly beareth fine powder in a rough and boisterous winde.

What is so intriguing about this example, which is concerned with the “gather[ing of] vertues,” is that M. R. deliberately edits the saying so that such gathering is done by women, while also giving her daughter precise instructions on how to collect sayings in her own commonplace book (and while modeling this practice for her daughter). In Framing Authority: Sayings, Self, and Society in Sixteenth-Century England, Mary Thomas Crane argues that the gathering and framing of sayings into notebooks or commonplace books was a distinctly humanist mode for learning self-expression and virtuous behavior, was a method of self-fashioning, and was a practice crucial to understanding the nuances of early modern authorship. Crane explains that sententia—which included a wide range of rhetorical devices, like proverbs, aphorisms, maxims, apothegms, general sentences and quotations—traditionally were means of “appropriating cultural code[s] as a basis for authentic discourse,” a means of “rhetorical invention” and “self-definition,” and a means “to teach and provide political counsel” (17, 25). More importantly, as I argue in my larger project, because sententia provided persuasive guidance on how one should behave appropriately in a variety of social situations, they performed in texts as precepts (“teachers”), as examples (to be “imitated” in one’s own practice), and thus, as “maternal figures.” Indeed, as these rhetorical devices are depicted in a variety of texts, English sayings were clearly grounded in a “maternal” authority—coming from England’s “mother’s wit” and spoken in her “mother tongue.”

The three examples I’ve presented above are only a few of hundreds of examples of M. R.’s intertextuality in The Mothers Counsell. It appears that all of her “writing” is done by gathering, framing and reframing, and editing quotations—but the question of how we characterize and evaluate these practices depends on historical context. Modern concepts of originality ignore that in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries many people kept their own manuscript commonplace and miscellany books additionally, commonplaces and miscellanies occupied a special niche in the early modern book market. In my research, I’ve found several commonplace books M. R. appears to turn to for gathering her sayings. Some of these commonplace books include:

  • Robert Allott, Englands Parnassus: OR The choysest Flowers of our Moderne Poets, with their Poeticall comparisons.
  • William Baldwin, A Treatise of Morrall Philosophie: Wherein is Contained the worthy sayings of Philosophers, Emperours, Kings and Orators.
  • John Bodenham, Bel-vedere or The Garden of the Mvses.
  • Nicholas Ling, Wits Commonwealth. Newly Corrected and amended.

M. R. also appears to collect sayings from other texts, not commonplace books but instead instructive, religious, or imaginary genres, including:

  • William Cecil, Lord Burghley, Certaine preceptes or directions, for the well ordering and carriage of a mans life.
  • Nathan Field, Amends for Ladies. A Comedie.
  • Johann Gerhard, Gerards meditations writing originally in the Latine tongue by John Gerard Doctour in Divinitie, and superintendant of Heidelberg.
  • Robert Greene, Greenes Vision: Written at the instant of his death. Conteyning a penitent passion for the folly of his Pen.
  • John Hooper, A declaration of the ten holy commaundementes of allmygthye God.
  • John Lyly, Euphues and his England.
  • Thomas Overbury, His Wife, With New Elegies upon his (now knowne) vntimely death.

But perhaps you’re wondering: “Ok, this is all very interesting, but how did you discover all of this?” I’ll admit that my discoveries began with a rather spotty and shoddy research process, where I wanted to contextualize characterizations of M.R.’s practices as unoriginal or formualic. There was something about that notion that just didn’t sit well with me. At the same time, I was spending a lot of time reading about early modern grammar school and domestic learning processes and knew that commonplace book or notebook methods were encouraged for learning in both the schoolhouse and the private home. And I also knew that it while it was the convention in these books to “collect” quotations or sayings, it was not usually a practice to attribute those sayings to their original authors. Adam Smyth, of course, has made this argument about authorship and verse miscellanies in his monograph, Profit & Delight—particularly the notion that these quotation collections suggest that original authorship a) doesn’t matter all that much and b) would have likely been recognized by the early modern audience.

Frontispiece of The Faerie Queene. Wikimedia Commons.

For me, Smyth’s arguments became crucial to the ways I thought about The Mothers Counsell. I thought: if M. R. is quoting Spenser, Drayton, and Shakespeare in the few moments other critics have recognized, could it be that she’s collecting sayings from other writers? What if all of the “points” in her “compass” (her aphoristic pieces of advice to her daughter) are sayings originating elsewhere? With these questions, I began the process of Googling quotations (which I recognize is not a most reliable or academic method) and started making connections between the quotations in M. R.’s book and in other early modern commonplace and miscellany books published around the same time as The Mothers Counsell. I found titles of early modern commonplace books through Googling quotations, then began to search those titles in Early English Books Online (EEBO), and started reading those commonplace books more carefully. Also, very recently, through the University of Michigan libraries, I’ve discovered the Text Creation Partnership, which “creates standardized, accurate XML/SGML encoded electronic text editions of early print books” and is in the midst of transcribing texts “from the millions of page images in ProQuest’s Early English Books Online, Gale Cengage’s Eighteenth Century Collections Online, and Readex’s Evans Early American Imprints.” TCP has made it possible for me to use a “find” search with keywords to locate possible texts, quotations, and sayings, expediting the process of locating M. R.’s sources, while also searching in original sources, rather than Googling.

One of the primary problems with my research and my study of this mother’s advice book is that I’m not always sure I’ve tracked down the “correct” source. Many of these texts exist in several editions with multiple printings, some of which are edited themselves throughout the years. For example, Baldwin’s Treatise of Morall Philosophie appears in 22 editions on EEBO and many of the subsequent seventeenth-century printings expanded the original. Similarly, Lord Burghley’s Certain Precepts is listed on EEBO in five printings, but was also published under several different titles, and was expanded beginning in 1617. Ling’s (and/or Bodenham’s) Politeuphuia (a text that is attributed at various times to each of these authors) exists in 24 printings; there is also its companion, Palladis tamia, which doesn’t appear to be as popular with only three reprintings. Thus, when it comes to edition choice, I am trying to use my best educated guess. Given publication dates for Englands Parnassus (1600), Bel-vedere (1600, 1610), Burghley’s Certain Precepts (1611-1637), Greenes Vision (1592), and Amends for Ladies (1618, 1639), and how they correspond with M. R.’s publication date (1630 or 1631), my best guess is that M. R. selected editions for her sources that were published primarily between the years 1615-1620, with only a few exceptions (Greenes Vision, for example).

One last problem is that out of about 250 quotations, I cannot find sources for or locate quotations that seem to inspire the writing of eight sayings. Here they are (in order of appearance). Where I think necessary, I’ve included the surrounding quotations that I have been able to locate, highlighting the one or two lines that I have not:

The eyes are the instruments of lust, therefore make a couenant with them, that they betray not thy heart to vanitie.

From idle wit there springs a brain-sick will,
Which wise men lust, which foolish make a god;
This is the shape of vertue reigneth still,
But ‘tis the onely vice, one worst and odde.
Will puts in practice what the wit deuiseth;
Will euer acts, and wit contemplates still,
And as from wit the power of wisedome riseth,
All other vertues daughters are of will.

Beautie in this world is the delight of an houre, and the sorrow of many dayes; but in the world to come, eternall rest and long ioy.

Shee that is an enemy to beautie is a foe to nature, and shee that doats on beautie is a high traytor to nature.

Beauties that should be concealed, grossly discouered, are faire signes hung out to entice to an unhospitable June.

A sparke of beautie burnes a world of creatures,
When it is of sophisticated features.

Neuer wish impossible wishes, for it expresseth but a wanton passion, or a most greedy couetousnesse, both grounded on folly.

As a woman without humilitie is vnpleasant, so humilitie without seueritie draweth neare to prostitution.

Pride did first spring in men from too much abundance of wealth, in women from too much trust in beautie, and the flattery of men.

I’m not sure what to make of this. Did I hit a wall with my search process? (Entirely possible.) Are these quotations in sources that are no longer extant? (Also possible.) Are these quotations in sources that are in libraries that I haven’t had the opportunity (or financial means to) visit? (Absolutely possible.) And if so, how to find these proverbial quotes in all of those haystacks? Or, on the other hand, could these quotes, usually added as clauses to complete sentences, be M. R.’s own additions, her own original writing? If any of you, the good, smart people reading this blog have any ideas here, I’d be most grateful for your help in locating the sources of quotations, or for any suggestions about improving my slapdash process.

In both my WWP exhibit on M. R.’s intertextuality and in my book project on “maternal figures,” I’m ultimately arguing that, when read beyond its surface, M. R.’s Mothers Counsell is a mother’s advice book or a mother’s legacy that is anything but conventional, expected, or conservative. I think such a re-reading of M. R.’s book can encourage us to reassess the mother’s advice, blessing or legacy, especially where this genre’s notions of inheritance are concerned. Since mother’s advice traditionally is read as mothers attempting to write last wills and testaments or to “bequeath” their advice to daughters, as I argue, M. R.’s advice book alerts us to the idea that mothers are also attempting to pass on a rhetorical tradition, a rhetorical inheritance.

Frontispiece of Englands Parnassus. Wikimedia Commons.

In many texts, including rhetorical treatises and style handbooks, figurative language devices are imagined as material objects—described as rhetorical “flowers,” “jewels” or “ornaments,” as well as in metaphors of treasures, clothing, apparel, accessories, foodstuffs, and cosmetics. M. R.’s intertextual advice book demonstrates the theory that sayings are material objects, goods that can be gathered together, gifted and bequeathed to a daughter, goods that have use value. And M. R. models for her daughter how to use these “riches” to create one’s own “persuasive discourse,” a discourse that also can be given to others. Smyth indicates that this is a particular feature of the early modern commonplace book, that “it was often owned by (and sometimes augmented by) several generations of owners (“Commonplace Book Culture” 93).  He also notes that when “a woman inherit[s] a family commonplace book,” she then can “exert[] ownership over the text, making it her own.”

I’m arguing that mothers take this a step further, creating their own texts that can be read, used and re-used, added to, amended, etc. Mothers like M. R. piece together not just advice, but rhetorical devices, advice and figures they understand daughters as needing.  Engaging with an early modern commonplace book culture, ultimately, M. R. crafts a text that is meant to teach her daughter (and other women) lessons in how to style one’s public written arguments and how women might offer their public (and perhaps political) counsel.


Beilin, Elaine V.  Redeeming Eve: Women Writers of the English Renaissance.  Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987.

Crane, Mary Thomas. Framing Authority:  Sayings, Self, and Society in Sixteenth-Century England.  Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993.

R., M.  The Mothers Counsell, or Live Within Compasse.  London: John Wright, 1631.

Smyth, Adam. “Commonplace Book Culture: A List of Sixteen Traits.”  Women and Writing c. 1340-c. 1650: The Domestication of Print Culture.  Eds. Anne Lawrence-Mathers and Phillipa Hardman. York: York Medieval Press, 2010.

_____.  “Profit & Delight”: Printed Miscellanies in England, 1640-1682.  Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2004.

Text Creation Partnership.  Text Creation Partnership, 2009. Accessed Jul. 2016.

Travitsky, Betty.  The Paradise of Women: Writings by Englishwomen of the Renaissance. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1981.

Food History and Auto-Intertextuality in Delarivier Manley’s Letters Written by Mrs Manley

Food History and Auto-Intertextuality in Delarivier Manley’s Letters Written by Mrs Manley

This post is part of a series authored by our collaborators on the Intertextual Networks project. For more information, see here. 

By Dr. Cassie Childs, University of South Florida

My project for Intertextual Networks involves creating a digital exhibit that examines the intertextuality between Delarivier Manley’s Letters Written by Mrs Manley (1696), food history, archival manuscripts, and Manley’s later writing, both fiction and non-fiction. The project will develop in two stages: the first phase will engage with material history by annotating the primary text with archival images from eighteenth-century recipe books and botanical guides; the second will examine the textual history of Manley’s letters, charting the influence of her letters on her later social and political fictions.

From her trip to Exeter in 1694, Manley composed a series of eight letters to “J.H.,” initially published without her permission as Letters by Mrs Manley, which were, by her request, reissued by Edmund Curll after her death in 1725 as A Stage-Coach Journey to Exeter. Describing the Humours on the Road, with the Characters and Adventures of the Company. This understudied text is ripe for an exploration of layered intertextuality and potentially valuable for exploring new forms of TEI markup. My project will act as a test case for the kinds of text encoding available when intertextual readings cross genres and disciplines.

The first phase of this project builds on research questions I have already addressed in my book chapter on Manley’s letters: what is the interplay between food history and women-authored travel writing? what is the relationship between food and place? I propose a digital exhibit that combines archival images and botanical illustrations that will highlight food references made by Manley and that connect to eighteenth-century recipe books. A research moment at the New York Public Library (NYPL) best illustrates the ways manuscripts will help to build the exhibit.

In Letter IV Manley shares a basin of heart cherries with a fellow woman traveler, prompting a moment of commensality. In an initial reading of this moment I wondered about the significance of the cherries themselves: were cherries in season? did they connate a sense of hospitality? were they a popular fruit? Digging in the archives at the NYPL, I hoped to unearth answers to these questions that would inform and change the scope of my project. In the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, I perused volumes of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century archival materials primarily from the NYPL’s Whitney Cookery Collection, whose holdings contain fifteen English manuscripts related to cookery and medicinal recipes and remedies. The aim had been to find a recipe that included cherries or a description of their popularity in the eighteenth century, but the discovery was much more illuminating.

From Mary Davies (1684) and Lady Anne Morton’s recipes “to dry Cheries,” “to preserve Cheries,” and “Marmollatt off Cheries,” to Elizabeth Blackwell’s illustrated plates on “Red Winter Cherries” (Plate 161), “Red Cherry” (Plate 449), and “The Black Cherry” (Plate 425) from A Curious Herbal (published between 1737 and 1739) to John Parkinson’s section titled “Cerafus, The Cherry tree” (570-575) in Paradisi in Sole Paradisus Terrestris (reprinted from the 1629 edition. 1904.) an intersection of food history and literary women’s history emerged.

Photo taken from Mary Davis [Collection of medical and cookery recipes] 1684. Manuscript from the Whitney Cookery Collection, The New York Public Library, by Cassie Childs (November 2015).
Photo taken from Elizabeth Blackwell’s A Curious Herbal (published between 1737 and 1739), The New York Public Library, by Cassie Childs (November 2015).
Photo of Plate 449, “Red Cherry,” from Elizabeth Blackwell’s A Curious Herbal (published between 1737 and 1739), The New York Public Library, by Cassie Childs (November 2015).

Photo taken from Mary Davis [Collection of medical and cookery recipes] 1684. Manuscript from the Whitney Cookery Collection, The New York Public Library, by Cassie Childs (November 2015).
What became visible was a material and cultural history that connected cherries to women-authored medicinal handbooks, recipes books, and botanical guides to women-authored texts—a spatial and thematic intertextual network between women, food, and archival materials. I had anticipated finding a single cherry recipe or one historical reference to note and instead I discovered these archival materials represented a banquet themselves—a representation not only of food history, but also a material representation of the way food and writer and text interconnect. The cherry, a single food item, shows up in a wide range of texts used for a variety of purposes by a wide spectrum of women, connecting eighteenth-century women in different places and resulting in a shared cultural history centered on food.

The cherry reference is only one of many food moments that appear in Manley’s letters. Other references are literal food references, such as eating mutton, and others are figurative, like a “feast for the mind.” For the digital exhibit I will author for Women Writers in Context, the reader will encounter images from manuscripts, like the above, that show images of cookery and medicinal recipes alongside the primary text. References to food will be highlighted and will be accompanied by eighteenth-century receipts and a brief food history. Eventually, I would also like to discover whether or not there are any food references that appear across genres and authors. I am inclined to think that with the many cherry recipes I unearthed that Manley may be one of many women authors that include cherries in their texts.

I hope to visually represent the ways food functions simultaneously as concrete, (intended for consumption), as a symbol (used as a literary topic and device), and as historical and cultural markers of identity. Such an exhibit may offer opportunities to better understand and criticize the nation and Manley’s own identity within the nation, but also lends itself to questions of auto-intertextuality. For instance, Manley’s Adventures of Rivella contains several scenes of herself and others at meals and references to conversations after meals. I anticipate annotating the food moments in the epistolary genre while also finding interconnections across various texts written by Manley.

The second phase of this project will allow me to explore research questions related to Manley’s own self-intertextuality. Not only are there possible intertextual patterns to other fiction and non-fiction travel narratives from the eighteenth century, but I also argue that Manley may have used her early letters as fodder for her later scandal fictions. Most of Manley’s letters include short tales told by fellow travelers; these stories interrupt her own narrative and contain possible allusions and references to her later, more popular writing. Pursuing this research may lead to interesting TEI markup questions about auto-intertextuality among multiple genres by a single author, and could offer an encoding of quotations and citations within Manley’s own oeuvre and that of secret histories and letters in general.

I have several autobiographical questions I would like to pursue. At what point in Manley’s life were her works written as Tory propaganda? How might I be able to determine something that seems like Tory propaganda in her writing? Manley’s own childhood was steeped in political discourse and I wonder how this influence might appear across texts.

I imagine I will seek connections and write annotations for names, places, food, and repeated words and phrases. For example, a name key could offer us the chance to search for the names of fictional figures (and in Manley’s case there are also historical figures and individuals) that (re)appear. In Letter II, for instance, Manley tells the story of a fop that she meets, and I am curious if this fop archetype appears (either by name or through similar characteristics) in her later work. Is the fop figure likely to appear in multiple Manley texts? I have also thought that plot lines might carry over into multiple Manley texts. I wonder if she uses similar phrases or terms to describe, say, the moment a lover is jilted. These initial curiosities, I believe, have potential and will eventually lead me to discover whether or not my hypothesis regarding Manley’s own auto-intertextuality is correct.

With the first phase of this digital exhibit, I aim to demonstrate that women’s connections to food are much more complex than simply thinking of women’s bodies as fat or thin, young or old, and beautiful or ugly, and that women’s relationship to food is not singularly about feeding others or cooking in the kitchen. Rather, food and consumption shape identities, both personal and national, signify tastes, individually and culturally, and provide insights into lived experiences. Food language, food practices, and food tastes give us a way of knowing women’s own language and their voices, and it allows scholars of the eighteenth century to reconsider the landscape of women’s writing as culturally and historically relevant. The second phase, with potential for auto-intertextuality, positions Manley, already a rich part of eighteenth-century scholarship, as fuller and more interconnected than previously discussed. These interconnections I hope will reflect a shared experience of food, place, and language written on the page for our consumption, a literary and historical feast for our pleasure.

Cavendish X Molière: Braiding The Politics of Inter-Gender Dialogue

Cavendish X Molière: Braiding The Politics of Inter-Gender Dialogue

This post is part of a series authored by our collaborators on the Intertextual Networks project. For more information, see here. 

By Arnaud Zimmern, Ph.D. Candidate in English, University of Notre Dame

Were it but for matters of language—that Margaret Cavendish’s French was, like Molière’s English, non-existent—the titular resonance between her 1662 The Female Academy and his 1662 L’Ecole des femmes would defy coincidence. Similarly, the ambitions for all-female education and for celibate female autonomy at stake in her 1668 The Convent of Pleasure would find their satirical counterpoint in his 1672 Les Femmes Savantes. And thus the influence of Restoration England’s most under-appreciated female playwright on early modern France’s most admired male comedian would be unmistakably sealed.

Unfortunately, as Laura Carraro and Antonella Rigamonti intimated in 2000, scanty evidence that the two playwrights ever referenced each other makes it that Cavendish’s plays and persona as a learned lady can only be considered a loose “subtext” of Molière’s, nothing more (138). Whether these contemporaries read each other’s works or drew on common sources of inspiration are points of intertextuality clamoring for further elucidation. But let me propose that we take intertextuality from a less verbal and more structural vantage point. In the absence of a common language and common sources, did Molière and Cavendish share a common dramaturgical approach? More specifically, did they stage dialogue in similar ways, especially dialogue between witty, learned women and the men who would oppose and/or espouse them? If both playwrights staged the figure of the learned lady, whether satirically or heroically, did they give her distinct idiosyncratic modes of conversation or analogous ones? That, at least, is the question I’m setting out to answer for my project for Intertextual Networks. In this first post I want to present in some detail the historical background I’m addressing and I want to introduce the particularities, strengths, and weakness of the visualization method I am currently developing in order to track and compare dialogue, a method we can provisionally call “braiding.” My hope is that in bringing a visualization method to bear on the work of a woman writer who disparaged the Royal Society for its microscopes and who rightly elevated baking and cosmetics to the status of “chymistry,” I’ve at least paid her the homage of drawing my guiding metaphor from the realm of brioches and hair fashion.

That Cavendish knew of Molière by the time she self-published her second volume of plays, Playes Never Before Printed (1668), is rather safely attested. In 1667, her husband, William Duke of Newcastle, translated the Frenchman’s early play L’Etourdi (to be later revised and staged by Dryden). In September of the following year, William was also the dedicatee of Thomas Shadwell’s The Sullen Lovers, an overt adaptation of Molière’s Les Facheux. William’s contributions in verse to Margaret’s The Convent of Pleasure—which she carefully identified with individually pasted markers in the folio editions of the Plays (think early-modern Post-Its)—suggest the couple collaborated and would have discussed the latest trends in the comédie de moeurs (comedy of manners), as several scholars have noted.1

It would be difficult also to underestimate the press surrounding Molière’s L’Ecole des femmes, in equal parts a box-office smash and a tabloids scandal. The controversy cut on both sides of Molière’s professional and private lives. Hardly four years into his Paris career, Molière single-handedly relaunched the querelle des femmes, or debate on women’s education, as he satirized the efforts of the middle-aged Arnolphe who tries to keep his ward and bride-to-be, Agnès, untainted from all forms of knowledge, be they scientific or carnal. Molière opened himself to identical satire as he set about marrying his young ward, the actress Armande Béjart, whom many alleged to be his own illegitimate daughter. In February of 1662, under a chorus of wedding bells and a storm of gossip, Molière effectively succeeded where Arnolphe comically fails. 2 Unabashed, Molière rode the waves of popular attention to financial gain, producing in the following year a response play, La Critique de l’Ecole des femmes, which netted record profits.

Charles Robinet’s Panégyrique de l’Ecole des Femmes, the last of several published critiques of the original play, reports on the stir that Molière’s Ecole caused especially in England, where debonaire British husbands allegedly found the play’s male protagonist too tyrannical in his efforts to preserve Agnès’ innocence and ignorance.3 Whether Robinet’s report can be taken at face-value remains to be corroborated. For instance, his claim that the British have little appetite for Molière’s variety of “languishing comedies” but feed rather on a regular diet of the purest Tragedy, is historically specious.4 The most recent study of Molière’s impact on England suggests rather that his brand of comédie de moeurs—combining social documentary and lampoon—“parallels… the great manners tradition in Restoration comedy.”5 But Robinet’s characterization of laxer, more complaisant British husbands does seem to match Margaret Cavendish’s portrait of an obliging William Cavendish in her defensive biography, the Life of the Duke (1667). So with that point of sympathy in mind, we can conclude that if Margaret did not hear about L’Ecole des femmes from the public sphere, she knew of its author from the private sphere of her husband’s theatrical work and his collaboration, and of its themes from the kind of gossip that dogged her own marriage, as snide critics labelled her as pseudo-intellectual and her husband as lackadaisical.

Whether Molière, in turn, knew of the Duchess of Newcastle or of her works is a question altogether harder to answer and perhaps less promising. If he knew of her or of other learned women’s intellectual ambitions, he seems to have made both much and little of them, as the whim suited him. Ian MacLean reminds us: “Why should an opportunistic playwright in search of controversial material limit himself to a single view or consistent line? Education for women is implicitly defended in L’École des femmes; its excesses are attacked in Les Femmes Savantes. Women’s literary creativity in the form of romances is satirized in Les Précieuses Ridicules; the restrictions of women to such domestic activities as needle-work and sewing and their exclusion from education are impugned in L’Ecole des femmes.”6 Scholars often point to Mademoiselle de Scudéry, the 17th century female novelist, as a particular target of ridicule in Molière’s misogynistic plays. But there is no reason Cavendish should be exempt from her company, for Molière’s satires are capacious. Specific evidence, however, remains hard to come by in the plays themselves.

At stake then in finding intertextualities beyond the usual inter-citational or referential patterns, are two portraits. The first is that of Cavendish as a playwright more acutely aware of, adaptable to, and critical of continental trends in dramaturgy than the recent scholarly focus on her Shakespearean, Jonsonian, and purely anglo-English inheritance has suggested.7 If she responded vividly to the scientific discourses of René Descartes and Pierre Gassendi, whom she hosted at her table, there is little reason to doubt she responded with the same energy to developments in French theater. The second portrait is that of Molière, whose dramaturgical debts might extend across the channel in ways historians tracking his relationship to (and largely unilateral influence on) Restoration drama thus far could not account for.8 Their oversight, if it indeed it is one, would stem in large part from the fact that Cavendish’s plays have remained in the bibliographic shadows—a dilemma presently being resolved. But it would stem also from a lack of methods with which to track various kinds of non-verbal intertextuality—a dilemma I want to try to address with braiding.


Braiding sounds tricky but isn’t—in fact, it’s almost naïvely simple. In this second, more DH-heavy half of the post, I want to introduce it as a method for visualizing, tracking, and comparing structures of dramatic dialogue.

Let me begin by saying that, just like my first-year students (albeit for different reasons), I often get so lost in the language of the 17th century that I forget to read plays with an eye for who is talking to whom when. It takes considerable familiarity with a particular play, its characters, its plot, &c. to back up from the content of the speech-acts and look instead at their patterning, their sequencing, the rationales for the turn-taking within a given conversation, and identify the politics (whether gendered, racial, class-based, &c.) that are determining those turns, sequences, and patterns. It is a matter of the scale at which we read, whether close or distant, but also of the scale at which our methods make us comfortable reading. For instance, in Shakespeare studies, Anthony J. Gilbert tried early on to introduce literary scholars to the terminologies and questions of conversation analysis defined by anthropologists like Harvey Sacks—elements like indexicality, sequence, pre-sequence, announcements, pre-announcements, turn-taking, etc. But 1997 was perhaps still too early in the digital era to envisage how Sacks and Gilbert’s terms could help scholars understand intertextuality. Rather than stimulate scholars to look for analogous structures and strategies of dramatic-speech across plays and playwrights, Sacks’ abstruse terminology likely came across as another alien import from the social sciences that we would be better off not learning. So rather than propose a distant-reading tool predicated on Sacks’ anthropology and its set of assumptions, one that would markedly distinguish itself from the more comfortable realm of close reading, I want to propose braiding as a method that enables what Martin Mueller calls “scalable reading,” or the transition from close, formal analysis to the more structural, big-picture concerns of conversation analysis, and back again to the text.9 I’ll start by presenting the specificity of braiding in contrast to the better-known techniques of network analysis, and conclude with a few remarks on how attention to author-specific strategies of staging dramatic conversation might help us see Molière and Cavendish’s plays informing each other.

If we wanted a snapshot of the dialogue between characters in a given play, we might opt for a character network analysis, like Franco Moretti’s social network of Hamlet below, where an edge or link between two character-nodes represents a spoken transaction between those characters.

The Hamlet Network.

But networks are notoriously poor at representing the passage of time. With a network, a play or a short-story’s diegetic time gets compressed down to a single plane: you see the whole plot summarized in one instant. If we want to see changes in the network within time, if we wish to see the plot unfold, we may resort to a kind of flipbook of consecutive networks, flipping through various instances of the plot (this is often called a dynamic network). But the same problem ultimately persists: at each instant, we can consider only how the present network compares to the network from the previous instant or the upcoming one; we cannot visualize the overall change. What’s more, networks are poor at enabling multiple-graph comparisons. While we can handle comparing two simple network side by side, the intuitive benefits of that visualization break down once we’re looking at six or seven networks: the visual patterns simply cease to stand out because the cognitive load is too great. Networks therefore don’t encourage studies of multiple similar texts or of a single text’s transformation across several editions in historical time.

That’s where braiding intervenes as a supplement to social character network graphs. For clarity’s sake, let me use a text many of us will know well: Little Red Riding Hood (hereafter LRRH). In the scene excerpted below from Charles Perrault’s 1697 version of the tale, Wolf knocks at Grandmother’s door and pretends to be Riding Hood. Imagine Wolf’s voice as a strand in a braid, rather than an edge in a network, and let it cross over Grandmother’s strand to represent that Wolf speaks to Grandmother.

Braiding Demo – Little Red Riding Hood

That’s our first “crossing” within the braid, and we’ll encode it as a “braid-letter.” Assuming Wolf is character 1, and Grandmother is character 2, that braid-letter looks something like (102) where the 0 is a placeholder dividing addresser and addressee. When Grandmother responds and for each distinct ensuing speech-act, repeat the process — and so on and so forth for the rest of the story.

The visualization and the string of braid-letters (or “braid-word”) that emerges by the end is dependent on how you, as reader and encoder, have interpreted what constitutes “conversation.” Does a non-verbal knock at Grandmother’s door count as a speech-act? Is Grandmother responding at once to Riding Hood (in her mind) and to Wolf (in reality) when she responds, in which case the braid-letter might not just be (102) but (1023), entwining Wolf and Riding Hood’s strands together before having them cross under Grandmother’s strand? Similar questions of confused identity famously arise in early modern drama, especially in Shakespeare and Cavendish with their cross-dressing characters. It is precisely to avoid losing this important part of subjective interpretation that I propose braiding as a method and not a tool. I hope thereby to leave braiding available to multiple research interests, including those that need to pay attention to character confusion, focalization through a specific character’s experience of the plot, direct vs. indirect discourse, etc. I hope to encourage the kind of scalable-reading mentioned earlier, where the assumptions driving a visualization-technique are legible first and foremost to the reader/user.

A method though it might be, an important tool-like aspect of braiding, however, does emerge once we’ve encoded several conversations or several versions of a story into braid-words. In the following sample of 12 LRRH stories written between 1697 and 1899, we can certainly proceed visually and intuitively with the braid diagrams with relatively little cognitive difficulty, looking for patterns our eyes are rather good at picking up on.

Twelve Versions of Little Red Riding Hood, Braided and with Braidwords. Note how the dialogue structure of the 1697 Perrault version gets reproduced almost exactly in 1729, 1879, and 1891, while the introduction of the hunter figure at the tail end of the 1812 Brothers Grimm version leads to subsequent adaptations both minor (1889, 1894) as well as major, for instance in 1888 and 1898 when grandmother loudly assumes the hunter’s role.

But we can also quantitatively sequence the “braid-words” to retrieve patterns or near-patterns using rudimentary sequence-parsing algorithms borrowed from genetic sequencing. Braiding becomes an instrument for pattern-recognition and pattern-discovery across relatively large and complex corpuses, in ways networks do not readily allow for. For a brief (and somewhat naïve) gloss of a few interesting patterns in this sample of LRRH stories, you’re welcome to check out an embarrassing TEDx talk I gave my senior year of undergraduate studies at Southern Methodist University. The more important result I want to focus on, the one more relevant to the interests of our group at WWO—which emerges quite palpably from the picture above—is that braids offer the opportunity to consider at a glance the complex ebb and flow of conversations, and to some extent even of plot-line, within one story (synchronically) as well as across stories (diachronically). Moreover, they invite our visual intuition to collaborate with sequence-parsing algorithms, and they allow our comfort with close-reading specific passages to merge with more distant considerations of patterning across a text or multiple texts. Lastly they invite us, upon discovering a pattern, to return to the details of the relevant passage or set of passages to consider what, at the level of power-play and politics, is conditioning that particular pattern. They enable and enact scalable reading in ways I find few DH tools currently encourage.

All is not rosy-eyed, of course: I have yet to automate the transition from braid-words to braid-diagrams. The picture above is made entirely by hand. But my first step for the WWO project will be to automate the transition from braid-word to braid-diagram using either the python-based Numpy library or the MathML braid-visualization library.10 Charming and vintage as Microsoft Paint and manual labor might be, no one has that kind of time to spend. I welcome any suggestions or questions on how best to go about that part of the project and look forward to any thoughts or concerns it might elicit.

To bring things back finally to Molière and Cavendish and to conclude this long post, my project will begin with identifying a set of scenes within the plays aforementioned and others from their corpuses wherein male and female characters, learned ladies and their male antagonists, exchange contested words. As the Women Writers Lab pointed out early on with its helpful visualizations (reproduced below), Cavendish’s The Convent of Pleasure is not especially marked by male-female interactions, and we might add that Cavendish’s 1662 The Female Academy is even less so.

Margaret Cavendish, The Convent of Pleasure, 1668. This visualization illustrates the percentage of female & male speakers in each scene of Margaret Cavendish’s The Convent of Pleasure (1668). In ten out of a total of twenty scenes, female characters are sole speakers. Image reproduced from WWLab.

But the WWO Lab’s visualization depends on whether we encode the play’s central cross-dressing figure, the Prince who eventually marries the learned-lady figure, as male or female. By allowing for multiple possible encodings of the gender dynamics in these scenes, I hope to show that we can think about the cross-dressing Prince as someone who simultaneously parodies, venerably imitates, and obligingly enables the conversational patterns of the play’s learned lady. My literary-historical hunch (and I welcome any critiques or responses to it) is that in the gap between Cavendish’s first collection of plays (1662) and the second (1668), she has had time to consider and digest how Molière and his various critics/imitators represent the learned lady’s conversational patterns in L’Ecole and the Critique de l’Ecole. She is more attune to the learned lady’s strategies for intervening in natural-philosophical or proto-scientific discussions, where the politics of turn-taking are dominated both by intellectual hierarchies and age-hierarchies, and most importantly by gender norms. She is therefore better able to respond to Molière’s Ecole des Femmes in the Convent of Pleasure than she was as she composed The Female Academy. By allying a new scalable reading method with elements of conversation analysis, I hope to capture a glimpse of that otherwise illegible intertextuality.


Intertextual connections in An Collins’s Divine Songs and Meditacions: poetry versus prose

Intertextual connections in An Collins’s Divine Songs and Meditacions: poetry versus prose

This post is part of a series authored by our collaborators on the Intertextual Networks project. For more information, see here. 

By Jenna Townend, Ph.D. Candidate in English, Drama, and Publishing, Loughborough University

My collaborative work with the Intertextual Networks project takes the form of an investigation into how quantitative network analysis can help us map intertextual practices and influences in the poetry of the seventeenth-century writer, An Collins. Her collection of devotional poems, Divine Songs and Meditacions (1653), is the only source of information we have on Collins and her life. Though it is apparent from the poems that Collins suffered from a chronic illness which had affected her since childhood, discerning other influences on Collins’s writing – such as her particular religious beliefs, her reading habits, and how she made use of what she read – is not an easy task. Nevertheless, previous work by Helen Wilcox and Mary Morrissey has established that there are intertextual connections to be found, and it is from these studies that this project takes its departure.

The poems of Collins’s Divine Songs and Meditacions communicate her desire for union with God through her journey from melancholy to grace, and her experiences of spiritual and physical affliction. Divine Songs and Meditacions show that her creative and devotional thinking were influenced by the poetical devices and structural elements of poets such as George Herbert, as well as the prose texts of popular puritan theologians like William Perkins. My project examines and maps in close detail what Collins took from her textual sources, and considers how she used these sources in the context of her desire to achieve union with God. This blog post will consider how I have identified a good number of intertextual connections using a piece of text comparison software called WCopyfind, and will discuss the issue that is now of greatest significance as, in the second stage of the project, I begin to translate these data concerning intertextual connections into a format to which network analysis can be applied.

Inevitably, before the methods of network analysis structure can be used, much recovery work is required to uncover and categorize the intertextual elements of Collins’s text, and this requires the examination of each of the works that Collins may have been influenced by. Taking cues from the work of Wilcox and Morrissey, I began by examining George Herbert’s The Temple (1633), Henry Vaughan’s Silex Scintillans (1650), and William Perkins’s The Foundations of the Christian Religion (1590). This corpus has now been expanded to include other popular poetic works and theological texts, of which Faithful Teate’s Ter Tria (1650) and Richard Baxter’s The Saints Everlasting Rest (1650) are just two examples. Making close comparisons between multiple texts which span the genres of prose and poetry is an exceptionally time-consuming task, but it has been made significantly easier by a piece of software called WCopyfind. WCopyfind is an open-source program that compares documents and highlights similarities between their words and phrases. The software was originally developed to detect plagiarism in student essays, but it is also an invaluable resource for anyone working on similarities or differences between texts.

The interface of WCopyfind is extremely user-friendly, and enables the user to choose to ignore features such as punctuation or letter case: something that is invaluable when it comes to analysing early-modern texts with non-standardized spelling and syntax. Using the EEBO full-text files of each of the texts in the project’s corpus (remembering to remove extraneous metadata and hyperlinks such as ‘View Document Image 9’), it is possible to run comparisons between the phrasing of texts. Users can select various parameters such as the shortest phrase to include (for example, telling WCopyfind that you want it to find shared phrases of no fewer than four words), whether or not to include punctuation, and, perhaps most significantly, a minimum percentage of matching words (setting this value to 80%, for instance, allows WCopyfind to find matches despite minor discrepancies in spelling). Once the comparison has been run, the two texts and their similarities can be viewed in parallel windows, with correspondences shown in red:

Figure 1. Side-by-side comparison in WCopyfind between Collins’s Divine Songs and Perkins’s The Foundation.
Figure 2. Side-by-side comparison in WCopyfind of Collins’s Divine Songs and Perkins’s The Foundation, showing similarities between their comments on faith.

It is worth noting, however, that if such tools are used only for the purposes of noting down statistics relating to the degree of similarity between Collins’s work and that of a probable source, then they become something of a blunt object. As another collaborator on the Intertextual Networks project, Amanda Henrichs, has noted in her own work, doing so often leads to ‘gaining old insights more quickly, rather than coming to new conclusions’. What I would like to do, therefore, is to examine some of the results I have obtained by using WCopyfind, and suggest the direction that this project will take as it begins to experiment with using network analysis to map intertextual influence.

Running comparisons in WCopyfind between Collins’s Divine Songs and Herbert’s The Temple, and then between Collins’s work and Perkins’s The Foundation of the Christian Religion produced some surprising results which have altered the trajectory of this project. When it comes to similarities in phrasing, there are roughly twice as many correspondences between Collins’s poems and Perkins’s work than with Herbert’s verses, despite the fact that The Temple is more than twice as long as The Foundation. Repeating this comparison with other poetic texts that Collins may have been influenced by, such as Vaughan’s Silex Scintillans or Teate’s Ter Tria, produces a similar result. This unexpected outcome has caused me to widen the net of my project. After all, it calls into question any assumption that poets are always most influenced by other poets when it comes to the content of their verse. The fundamental question raised by these results thus concerns the difference between a poet drawing on, or being influenced by, a prose text and a poetic work. What was it about Perkins’s text that Collins found so well-aligned with her own devotional and creative thinking, and what, in turn, did she take from her poetic sources like Herbert? Whatever it was that Collins found appealing in her poetic sources, it does not appear to have been their doctrinal content or phrasing, and we must therefore pay close attention to Collins’s borrowing of verse forms, metaphors, and images from contemporary poets.

A brief example of the complexity of this issue can be found in the opening verse of Collins’s work, ‘The Discourse’. The one-hundred-and-three stanzas of Collins’s lyric are written in a similar style to the seventy-seven stanzas of Herbert’s own introductory poem, ‘The Church-porch’, and sets out many of the devotional ideas and topics that are also explored later in the volume. Collins uses an adapted version of the verse form of Herbert’s ‘The Church-porch’, rhyming her lyric ABABBCC, rather than ABABCC. We also learn personal details, such as the fact that Collins ‘spent my infantcy, | And part of freshest yeares, as hath been sayd | Partaking then of nothing cheerfully’ (ll. 85-87), and of her desire that ‘Next unto God, my selfe I sought to know’ (l. 246). However, in terms of the number of shared phrases, ‘The Discourse’ possesses a greater debt to Perkins’s The Foundation than any other poem in Collins’s text when it comes to doctrinal content. Perkins’s text, which takes the form of a catechism, was an extremely popular text among English puritans, and it was organized around six devotional topics of God: man’s sinfulness, imputation, saving faith, obtaining faith, and death (Morrissey, p. 469). As an illustrative example of the parity between Collins’s lyric and Perkins’s catechism, it is worth comparing Collins’s comments on faith in stanza seventy-nine of ‘The Discourse’ with a passage from Perkins’s catechism (see also Figure 2 for a side-by-side comparison of these sections in WCopyfind):

That such a man hath Faith it doth appeare
For these desires doe plainly testifie,
He hath the Spirit of his Saviour dear,
For tis his speciall work or property,
To stir up longings after purity:
Now where his Spirit is there Christ resides,
And where Christ dwels is true Faith though weak abides. (ll. 550-56)

Q. How doo you know that such a man hath faith?

A. These desires and prayers are testimonie of the spirit, whose propertie it is to stirre up a longing and a lusting after heavenly things, with sighes and groanes for Gods favour and mercie in Christ. Nowe where the spirit of Christ is, there is Christ dwelling: and where Christ dwelleth, there is true fayth how weake soever it be. (sigs. B5r-B6v)

The parallels in phrasing here are obvious. Following Perkins’s indication that a man’s ‘desires and prayers are testimonie of the spirit’ and that they ‘stirre up a longing and a lusting after heavenly things’, Collins similarly states her belief that faith’s ‘desires doe plainly testifie, | He hath the Spirit of his Saviour’ (ll. 551-52) and in turn ‘stir up longings after purity’ (l. 554). However, given that Collins transposes much of the content of Perkins’s prose catechism into a verse form adapted from Herbert, considering the confluence of both prose and poetic influences is evidently vital to understanding Collins’s lyrics and how she made use of her devotional reading. My current hypothesis is that Collins takes elements of the content and theology of her poems from writers like Perkins, while adapting features of the form, style, and theme from her poetic texts in order to give shape and order to these doctrinal elements. This hypothesis will be tested as the project now moves, in its second stage, to modelling data concerning these intertextual correspondences using network analysis.

Inevitably, using a methodology that is traditionally used to focus on tracing social relationships or connections between members of a network will require some sensitive reworking if it is going to productively examine questions of literary influence. After all, the project is dealing with intertextual correspondences that range from a direct borrowing of phrasing, shared doctrinal or theological topic, poetic form, and particular metaphors or images. Moving forward, then, my next challenge will be to experiment with network software programs such as UCINET and Gephi to conceptualize the most effective way of visually representing these various types of intertextual connection in the work of An Collins and, more broadly, to interrogate how early-modern women’s poetry was influenced by a full range of contemporary writers and their texts.


Collins, An, Divine Songs and Meditacions (London: R. Bishop, 1653)

Morrissey, Mary, ‘What An Collins was Reading’, Women’s Writing, 19 (2012), 467-86

Perkins, William, The Foundation of Christian Religion, gathered into Sixe Principles ([London]: Thomas Orwin for John Porter, 1591)

Wilcox, Helen, ‘The “finenesse of Devotional Poetry: An Collins and the School of Herbert’, in An Collins and the Historical Imagination, ed. by W. Scott Howard (Farnham: Ashgate, 2014), pp. 71-86

Women Writers and Print Networks in Eighteenth-Century England

Women Writers and Print Networks in Eighteenth-Century England

This post is part of a series authored by our collaborators on the Intertextual Networks project. For more information, see here. 

By Kate Ozment, Texas A&M University

My project for the Intertextual Networks traces the material links between women writers in the long eighteenth century in England—their publishers. We have long discussed how significant numbers of women made their way into the literary side of the print market after the Restoration of Charles II. We have also begun to outline with more certainly the changes and developments in the book trade that enabled these women to reach their audiences. This project links these two discourses together by asking: who published women and why?

Accordingly, I investigate the collaborations between women commercial authors and their partners in the book trades by mapping books as data points linked to their producers. Through this method, I hope to uncover the network of publishers, printers, and booksellers who produced women’s literature. I use Gephi to show relational frequency through which tradespeople cluster the most between authors through direct edges. When known printer-publisher-bookseller relationships exist, I also tag who was mostly likely linked to the project as well using indirect edges. Gephi’s relational nodes show the clustering tradespeople between authors to highlight which firms were most often used by more than one author. The difficulty thus far has been how to show chronology along with frequency, which is a problem I hope to solve as this project continues.

An example of a Gephi visualization displaying Aphra Behn’s publishing network.

In order to control the data input, I am focusing on genres and authors that have a scholarly history in literary studies from which to pull. I include poetry, drama, fictional prose, pamphlets and essays, and literary biographies; a future project will expand to herbals, cookbooks, and other forms of technical writing where women have a long and rich history. I have begun with the authors about which the most is known—Aphra Behn, Delarivier Manley, and Eliza Haywood—for ease of reference and as test subjects before moving into murkier waters. All three women were successful (even notorious) commercial authors who created a space for more to follow. A second round will expand to include Katherine Philips, Susannah Centlivre, Jane Barker, and Mary Astell along with their more genteel colleagues: Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, and Mary Chudleigh. One limitation of my first three authors is that they span time periods without significant overlap; the second round will make connections more easily identifiable.

As authors are the primary categorizing variable, the book trade names on imprints are secondary factors, largely exercises in identification. But, even this is rather tricky. Each of the printer, publisher, and bookseller has roles that are both easily defined and difficult to delineate. Printers were responsible for physically printing books; publishers for the financing, and therefore would own the copyright; and booksellers for the sale of physical copies. Individuals or firms could inhabit one or all of these roles; multiple individuals could inhabit each role—and often did through publishing collectives; and there could be various layers of contracts as jobs were sold off in pieces. Further, each book is its own case with a unique set of circumstances. It is difficult to re-create these relationships because imprints and surviving papers rarely offer definitive information about who fills what role. This presents both opportunities and challenges for scholars looking to historicize material decisions in the book-making process: if publishers or bookseller usually commissioned or bought books, would they be the ones to make decisions about design and format? If the book was jobbed out to trade publishers or other printers, would it be given sets of instructions or would the compositors make these decisions? Essentially, to whom do we designate authority?

As I do not (yet) have all the answers to these questions, I have imperfectly decided to input printers’ names but use publishers and booksellers as the primary factors for tracing relationships with authors. Printers could be seen as laborers on certain projects (and would complain of being treated as such as the century progressed), and it is highly unlikely that the designations assigning ownership to booksellers and publishers did not denote financial backing. Such a relationship can be seen with Aphra Behn’s The Luckey Chance: or, an Alderman’s Bargain that was published in 1687. The imprint reads: “Printed by R. H. for William Canning, at his Shop in Vine-Court, Middle-Temple.” In cases such as this, Ralph Holt (as identified by Wing) was Canning’s printer, and the latter was the financier of the project. Nodes like this will cluster with Canning rather than Holt, as trade practices would categorize Holt as Canning’s jobbing printer. More importantly, Canning was the owner of the work so Behn would have had her negotiations with him and he would have owned her copyright, either singularly or in partnership with others.

My examples thus far are of Aphra Behn’s career—Mary Ann O’Donnell’s Aphra Behn: An Annotated Bibliography of Primary and Secondary Sources (2004) has made it possible to track imprints and titles with authority. Behn produced an impressive number of titles in her almost 20 years as a professional writer, ranging from translations to drama to fictional prose and poetry. She also changed publishing firms many times. Her most sustained relationships were with three firms: Canning, Richard and Jacob Tonson, and Richard Bentley and James Magnes. She has also been associated rather strongly with Richard Wellington and Samuel Briscoe, booksellers who jointly bought up many of her copyrights and reprinted them in the 1690s after her death. Little is known of Canning’s practices, which is an area I am currently researching more fully. Fortunately, much is known about the Tonsons and a good deal about Magnes and Bentley. Jacob Tonson and his nephew Jacob, Richard’s son, would go on to become some of the most famous and profitable publishers in London, producing fine volumes of John Dryden, John Milton, Alexander Pope, and William Shakespeare well into the 1700s. Magnes and Bentley were moderately successful printers of plays and novels with a shop outside Covent Garden.

The potential benefits to this project are the ways we can use data to create most-likely scenarios for why these women published as they did. From surviving authorial addresses and letters, we know that Behn, Manley, and Haywood all viewed their writing as a commodity, something with an eager audience and potential profits. It is hardly speculation to imagine they would have been keen to find good partners in the book trade. Nevertheless, the lack of surviving records means that we have largely been unable to meaningfully investigate the motivations behind these decisions, rendering the tradespeople invisible or even parasitic rather than essential partners to book production. My project will build data around these questions so we can make these decisions more visible, giving us tools and information that we can use to reconstruct the agent side of commercial authorship.

It may be that I find patterns within the relationships. For example, both Manley and Behn chose Bentley’s firm as their first publisher. This could indicate that Bentley was willing to take chances on new authors, perhaps even new women authors, that other firms were not. It could also mean that Behn’s ongoing relationship with Bentley made him seem more appealing to Manley when she began publishing plays in 1696. Conversely, I could also find dissonances, as a wide variety of publishing firms produced women’s writing. That it is not limited to a single few, however, opens up the most powerful option of all: that women publishing was less culturally transgressive than we have imagined. We rely on the scribblings of wits, critical reviews, and the authors’ rhetorical self-presentation as our data for re-creating the cultural attitude about women’s commercial authorship. These sources are limited in their scope and filtered through rhetorical lenses that make them dubious as historical fact. Publishing data may tell a different story, one derived primarily from the collaborative production of commodities. It may lead us to consider that the marginal status of women writers was more rhetorical and discursive than economic. At the minimum, it demonstrates that the press and its workers commercially sanctioned these women’s social transgressions, complicating their role as outsiders. At the most, it suggests women could be social outsiders but economic equals.

‘To the most distant Parts’: Reading and writing about the world in The Female Spectator

‘To the most distant Parts’: Reading and writing about the world in The Female Spectator

This post is part of a series authored by our collaborators on the Intertextual Networks project. For more information, see here. 

By Samuel Diener, Ph.D. Candidate in English, Harvard University

In the November 1744 issue of her periodical The Female Spectator, the novelist and essayist Eliza Haywood writes:

What Clods of Earth should we have been but for Reading? —How ignorant of every thing but the Spot we tread upon? —Books are the Channel through which all useful Arts and Sciences are conveyed: —By the Help of Books we sit at Ease, and travel to the most distant Parts; behold the Customs and Manners of all the different Nations in the habitable Globe, nay take a View of Heaven itself, and traverse all the Wonders of the Skies.1

Haywood’s exclamation is an admonition to her female readers to cultivate knowledge of history, ethnography, geography, cosmography, and the art of navigation. But it is also an injunction to employ the social technology of the book to travel all over the globe. For Haywood, books offer access to the frontiers of empire. They are a ticket to the contact zone, one that enables the reader to behold the “Customs and Manners” of the national other.

Haywood suggests that her readers owe it to the mariners who bring back the luxuries of empire to journey with them vicariously: “a Sense of Gratitude, methinks, should influence us to interest ourselves in the Safety and Welfare of the gallant Sailors, . . . commiserate their Sufferings, and rejoice in their Escapes.”2 In the midst of a moment of crisis for the British empire, when its future success was the subject of anxiety, Haywood here advises her readers to confirm the notion of empire and fill a specific gendered role in the imperial project: vicarious participation. But she also suggests that women owe it to themselves to cultivate their knowledge of the globe precisely in order to contest the constraints of that gendered role in the course of interactions with men, reading “to the End they may be enabled to make an agreeable Part in Conversation [and] be qualified to judge for themselves.”3

But did Haywood herself (and other British women of the early modern period) actually engage in this kind of readerly practice? And how did they view their role in the empire’s expansion? The Women Writers Online corpus presents a potentially valuable way to approach this question. It is coextensive with the rise of British imperialism, including many moments when the imperial project was in a precarious position, and contains texts that engage topically with the extra-European world. Since each place-name reference in the corpus is tagged as a TEI/XML element with <placeName>, it is possible to map these references. As part of the Intertextual Networks Project, I will be using the <placeName> tags to explore the extent to which the women writers in the corpus engage topically with the imperial margins. Then, by examining the context of individual references (or clusters of references), I will be able to make conjectures about the networks of information in which these women were embedded, the sources they employ—like news or narratives of travel—and the uses they make of their material. As a result, I envision my project as a two-staged, mixed-method study: first tracking references at the macro-level, and then following up with careful interpretation and analysis.

Computational Analysis

The first obstacle to working with the corpus at a macro level is simply accessing the data. Thankfully, there are multiple resources available for this kind of work. After an excellent workshop with Northeastern University’s Syd Bauman and Julia Flanders on XSLT which I took this January, I’d recommend this language for other users of the WWO corpus; it’s straightforward and intuitive and specifically designed for interpreting XML data. Also, there is an existing set of useful resources produced by the WWO team, including Ashley Clark’s “Counting Robot”, which is available here.

However, since I was eager to begin work and lacked any experience with XSLT at the time I began the project, I conferred with some friends who have significant coding experience and they helped me design a simple counting robot in Python that performs the same function. It extracts the contents of the <placeName> tags to a large tab-delimited table, converts special characters (like the medial S), and eliminates alternate punctuations to obtain reference totals for each work (see Figure 1). Because I am specifically interested in mapping topical engagement in the texts, I chose to exclude frontmatter and backmatter, focusing only on the body of the text itself. (I don’t mean to imply that that material doesn’t contain valuable data, but only that its significance for the questions I wanted to ask seemed harder to predict. Future versions of the project may include this data.) We then created a second data table, which lists all the unique place names and their combined totals across the texts. In all, there were 6,091 unique place-names in the corpus as it stood at the time I began my project. Each place-name was also assigned a unique 4-digit ID based on its frequency-rank.

Figure 1. Example selection from the initial dataset, with columns for author, short version of title, publication date, most common punctuation of the place-name, and count. The sixth column lists all variant punctuations and spellings, so that individual references can be traced.

Together, these two datasets form a rudimentary relational database that will let me use functions in R (my language of choice for data-analysis) both to find patterns in place-name usage over time in the corpus at large and to map the topical engagement of individual texts. Figures 2-4 show the kind of broad-brush analysis that such data makes possible. They map the shape of the data for the entire corpus. A striking dynamic emerges: a collection of just a few locations, often around the metropole (England, France, London), are referenced an enormous amount of times, but the distribution curve falls off very quickly to a very, very long tail. Of the 6,091 unique names, only 487 places are mentioned more than ten times.

Figure 2. Bar plot of place names in the WWO corpus, sorted by number of total references.
Figure 3. Histogram plot of frequencies. The y axis is the number of references; the height of each bar represents the number of place-names that are mentioned at that frequency. Thus the first bar shows the number of places mentioned just once.
Figure 4. Frequency histogram, omitting place names mentioned just once.

Unfortunately, as Figure 1 illustrates, there are significant problems with this data. A glance at the text will show, for example, that the different names in the sixth column of lines 732 and 741 refer to the same place. To correct such issues, I am going through the entire second data-table, editing the ID’s so that alternate spellings of the same place-name are assigned the same unique ID. I will also have to look up archaic place-names to identify their geographical referent and to make distinctions between real-world places and “heaven,” “topsy-turvy,” “Abraham’s bosom,” and other fictional, mythical, or non-terrestrial locations. Finally, in order to map the geographical distribution of these places, I will have to retrieve (using the “ggmap” package available for R)—and check by hand—latitude/longitude coordinates for each place.

This labor-intensive process is simply beyond the realm of possibility for a busy PhD student like myself. (I can do about 15-20 place names in an hour.) However, there are 3,524 place-names that appear only once in my dataset. Trimming off this “long tail” will still give me valuable, if somewhat simplified, data, as shown in Figure 4. And a diversity test of the data, like the one shown in Figure 5, shows that nonce place names are fairly evenly distributed across the corpus. Getting rid of them only excludes a few texts, which mostly prove to have had just a small number of place-name references. (Examining these texts to see what generic or other conventions predict such less-spatially-localized writing might prove fascinating matter for another project). So far, I have only worked my way through about 700 of the 2,567 place names that occur more than once in the database, so it will be quite a while before I can begin to do analysis at the aggregate level.

Figure 5. Shannon diversity plot of authors in the corpus, showing their place-name diversity (threshold >0) and how it is affected by excluding place names that occur in the corpus just once (threshold > 1), twice (threshold > 2), three times (threshold >3), etc. Authors with only the “>0” bar use no place names that appear more than once in the corpus, and thus will no longer be represented in the dataset if nonce place names are eliminated.

Spectator as Case Study

Since my project was inspired in part by the section of The Female Spectator that I mention above, I’ll return to that work as a test case to see what these methods can tell us about a text using the data I have so far. I’ve checked and obtained coordinates for the 192 unique place names mentioned in the four volumes of the periodical available in WWO. The distinct character of their distribution is immediately apparent, and it reveals—surprisingly, in light of the passages I quote above—a tightly localized focus. The text’s most-used place name by far (at 46) is “London,” which (by contrast) takes a distant third place in the corpus’ overall place-name distribution (see Figure 6). As Figure 7 shows, many of the other place-names mentioned in the periodical (including, for example, the street-addresses of its ostensible contributors) also cluster densely around the metropolitan area of London. Meanwhile, most of the foreign high-scorers in the corpus data set (Rome and America, for example) drop well down in The Female Spectator’s data (see Figure 6).

Figure 6. Top 20 most-referenced places in the WWO corpus (left) vs. top 20 most-referenced places in The Female Spectator (right).
Figure 7. The Female Spectator: Place-names in the vicinity of London.

I’d suggest that an explanation for this geographical localization is easily found in the structure of the work. The first periodical aimed at women authored by a woman in English, The Female Spectator was produced by Haywood in London between 1744 and 1746. It engages with debates about politics and domestic life that were topical for bourgeois and upper-class women in and around London in the period and takes the same form as many other famous periodicals of the century like The Tatler and The Spectator. It consists of one essay each month engaging with a particular topic, often including and responding to a letter ostensibly written by a reader from the same geographical area.

The periodical thus attempts to mirror formally, while also providing a medium for, a public sphere for 18th century women living in its primary area of distribution in the environs of London. Comparing this map to the England/France map (Figure 8) and the world map (Figure 9) show us how dramatically place-name references drop off as we go farther from the metropolitan center; for example, one occurrence of “Canada,” two of “America,” and three of “West Indies” are the only references to the Western hemisphere (unless you count two references to the Pacific and one to the South Sea).

Figure 8. Place-name distribution in Britain and France in The Female Spectator.
Figure 9. Global place-name distribution.

As Figure 9 shows, Haywood’s primary sustained engagement with the non-European, non-Mediterranean world seems to have been with the island of Sumatra in Indonesia, then the site of a small British colonial trading post called British Bencoolen. Most of these references come from a single section in the October 1745 issue of The Female Spectator, which tells the tale of a British crew shipwrecked on Sumatra. The story opens with a breakdown in Western technical prowess: the ship leaking badly, the crew deliberately runs it ashore, where it lodges fast between two rocks. To this breakdown is quickly added a reversal of the documentary gaze. The shipwrecked sailors are surrounded by indigenous locals, and kneel in surrender: “This made them withdraw their Bows . . . and draw round us in a Circle, staring as the Rabble of England would do on one of them, had we had them here in the odd Habits they wear there” (186). The inversion of roles upsets colonial hierarchies, reminding us that on the soil of another Empire—as we soon find out, the Empire of Summatra—the British seem as bizarre, and their clothes as garish, as indigenous people might seem to the British. The entire anecdote seems to be fictional: despite extensive searching, I have been able to find no corroborating sources. Haywood’s point in the tale, she states explicitly, is to contest the othering rhetoric of travel writers, who imply “that God had endued only the Europeans with reasonable Souls.”

The variety of travel-books Haywood mentions and summarizes for her readers—mainly in the July 1745 issue—suggests that she was reading voyage narratives with comprehensive deliberateness. She describes (among others) works by Aubry de la Mottraye (1674?-1743), Bernard de Montfaucon (1655-1741), William Dampier (1651-1715), Jean-Baptiste Du Halde (1674-1743), François Maximilian Misson (1650?-1722), Cornelis de Bruyn (1652-1726?), Jean-Baptiste Tavernier (1605-1689), and Jean Chardin (1643-1713). Her list concludes, “There are yet some other Books I would fain take upon me to recommend; but . . . I have been already too ample in my Detail.” It is thus particularly striking that in The Female Spectator itself, so far from enacting vicarious participation with the British imperial project, Haywood employs her mastery of the genre and the discourse of travel narrative to fabricate a fictional voyage of her own that calls into question the ideological assumptions of what was, at the time, a genre dominated almost entirely by men.

R, Voyant, and the Search for Computational Delicacy in an Early Modern Corpus

R, Voyant, and the Search for Computational Delicacy in an Early Modern Corpus

This post is part of a series authored by our collaborators on the Intertextual Networks project. For more information, see here. 

By Amanda Henrichs, Institute for Digital Arts and Humanities, Department of English, Indiana University

My contribution to the Intertextual Networks takes up the literary and historical relationships between Lady Mary Wroth (1587–1651) and her aunt Mary Sidney-Herbert (1561–1621). These two women are members of the Sidney family, one of the most influential families in English literature and politics for over 200 years (the 2015 Ashgate Research Companion is invaluable here.) Both women were active in Queen Elizabeth’s court, and both provided literary and artistic patronage to writers, artists, and musicians. Further, both were known as prolific and respected authors to their contemporaries. Wroth in particular has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity (and scholarly praise for her literary skill) over the past few decades.

These women lived together and—scholars tell us—wrote together. Yet, the primary evidence for their relationship is historical. That is, when scholars assert that Sidney-Herbert was a formative literary influence for Wroth, they do not cite stylistic similarities. Rather, they mention the time the two spent together at Penshurst, the Sidney family’s home in Kent, and the loving relationship between the two women. But it seems nearly necessary that there would be stylistic evidence of Wroth’s literary homage to her aunt: Wroth is a highly allusive and intertextual writer, with clear allusions to, and borrowings or translations of, Petrarch, Philip Sidney, Fulke Greville, Edmund Spenser, and others. But Sidney-Herbert seems to be entirely absent from Wroth’s works.

There is thus an absence of intertextual connection where there should be a presence. And this is what my current project takes up. I am writing an R script to mine Wroth’s long prose romance Urania and Sidney-Herbert’s translations The Tragedie of Antonie and A Discourse of Life and Death for similarities in word choice, sentence structure, turns of phrase, and other stylistic similarities. Then, based on these results, I will use another coding language to visualize the results. In effect, I want to visualize literary absence.

I want to pause here, though, and mention some of the problems I’ve run in to. The biggest one is R itself. For those who aren’t familiar, R was originally used to run statistical analyses on very large datasets, and is now quite popular with humanists who want to do things like text mining and topic modeling. R is a very powerful tool, but it is also idiosyncratic, complex, and difficult to master. Even working through Matthew Jockers’ incredible book Text Analysis with R for Students of Literature, I keep getting bogged down in cleaning and parsing the text files I’m examining; I also have to continually remind myself of R prompts and commands, since even a single wrong keystroke creates an error I need to go back and dig out—a debugging practice that is second nature to trained programmers, but less familiar to traditional researchers in the humanities. From what I can tell, this is a common experience for scholars who, for whatever reason, want to employ computational approaches in their research.

Other problems include asking the right questions; or rather, asking questions in a way that R can understand. I am at the point where I can tell R to pull a .txt file from the internet (or my computer), clean out the extraneous metadata from the beginning and end of the text, split the text according to its internal divisions (be they chapters or stanzas), find the relative frequency of a word or words across the text, and plot those frequencies in a graph of my choice. In Shakespeare’s Sonnets, for example, I found that there are 4,612 unique words in the collection. The word “I” accounts for 1.8% of the total words; “my” for 2.6%. But a patient and dedicated reader could do this work without a line of code. At this point, I’m saving enormous amounts of time, which is of course incredibly valuable in itself, but I am gaining old insights more quickly, rather than coming to new conclusions. And what does this data actually mean? It isn’t enough simply to spout statistics, as interesting as it may be to have these numbers handy.

In the case of Wroth’s Urania, for example, I know that the word “she” declines dramatically toward the end of the romance, precisely at the point when the words “lo”, “loue”, “louing”, “loued”, etc., spike dramatically. In the interest of quick results, I uploaded the romance to Voyant, an online visualization tool that remediates a text of your choice. Here, the blue line is the “loue” variations and the purple is “she.”1

Voyant visualization of “she” and “loue” variations in Wroth’s Urania.

Towards the end of the romance is where the heroine Pamphilia finds happiness in love; and “she” simultaneously disappears, both literally and figuratively. Does this chart also open up a feminist critique of the loss of selfhood of an otherwise proactive and literarily productive female protagonist? Or does it simply reflect that Wroth appended the sonnet collection Pamphilia to Amphilanthus to the romance? In this collection, she details her constancy in her “loue” for Amphilanthus, but writes in the first person instead of the third. Thus the decline of “she.” I’m inclined to the latter interpretation; but, given the immense difference in length between the prose romance and the sonnet collection, there is still an interesting shift that might need further investigation. If you’re reading this blog, I don’t need to convince you of the value of digital or computational approaches and what these kinds of results remind me is that approaching old texts in new ways might let us see things we simply haven’t noticed yet. Computational approaches—once we learn them—are not only incredibly fast, they can also help us make remarkably subtle observations.

Though the multi-text capabilities of Voyant are not as subtle as I would like, they still gesture towards the simultaneous reach and delicacy of computational tools that I hope to achieve with R. When I uploaded all three texts to Voyant, I started to find some interesting things. For example, Antonie has the highest vocabulary density, while Urania has the lowest. (Urania is also the longest text; however, Discourse is the shortest, which lends credence to the density result. That is, Antonie seems to have a proportionally higher vocabulary density than the other texts, regardless of length.) More suggestive still are the words which are distinctive to each text; in Antonie, “hir” is most prevalent (56 instances), followed by “cl”—the speaker tag for Cleopatra(43), and “Antony” (40). In Discourse, we have “wee” (51), “worlde” (20), and “porte” (6); in the Urania, “shee” (1,386), “Amphilanthus” (392), and “Pamphilia” (269).

Again, the question is, what do we do with this data? I might conclude that Antonie is an extended blazon of Cleopatra’s qualities: her estates, her person, her speeches, her beauty. I might also say that it appears that the Urania doesn’t pass the Bechdel test; even though “shee” is four times more present than Amphilanthus, we still have more mentions of Amphilanthus’ name, suggesting that characters (or the author) talk about him more than they talk about Pamphilia.

Yet I am not tied to any of these interpretations; they could be completely wrong. Instead, I am more inspired by the possibilities that are suggested by these lists of numbers. While I will eventually need to come to conclusions about the specifics of my data, for now I am content with what tools like Voyant and R certainly provide me: a different view. In other words, numbers are not enough; but more satisfying are the subtle characteristics that computational tools let me visualize, even when the sheer amount of text seems anything but subtle.

One short postscript: I spent hours (three, I think) trying to create a comparative scatterplot in Voyant of the distinctive words I mentioned above. The closest I came was this:

Attempt at a comparative scatterplot in Voyant.

And this is clearly not very legible. In order even to get to this point, I had to use the raw frequency of each word, and manually strip out partial words like “lo-”, “-ed”, “-ing”, “ha-”, and “bra-”. I also had to use a proximity tool; I asked Voyant to show me the words closest to “she,” and limit the results to about 35 words. One thing we can see is that “he” is the most common word closest to “she”; we also see verbs like “doe” and “make.” This suggests that “he” and “she” are both very active in the texts, and because “she” is more common than “he,” that the female protagonists are most active. However, I’m still not committed to these results, partly because I didn’t tell Voyant how to determine proximity, and partly because I still have a very hard time understanding what this plot is telling me. I present this plot for two reasons: one, because the prevalence of verbs is suggestive; and two, because I want to emphasize how important it is for humanist researchers to know at least a little bit about the back-end of the tool they might use. Since I don’t know exactly how Voyant determines proximity, and I also can’t tell it to consider the “u” character as part of a full word (as in loue, haue, or braue), I’m not willing to draw interpretations from this data. In other words, with Voyant I’m left with interesting directions for future inquiry; with R, because I will have written the code myself, I will feel confident in my results.