The Key(Word) to the Madwoman’s Attic

By Emma Cubellis

The application of distant reading has the potential to change the ways we study literature. Distant reading focuses on the intersection between data analysis and literary analysis; it focuses on grounding literary work in the macroscopic. One aspect of distant reading is text mining, a process via which computer systems extricate specific keywords, and their immediate context, from large bodies of text. That data is then informed by the theoretical frameworks of more traditional literary criticism. Sandra Gilbert’s and Susan Gubar’s The Madwoman in the Attic (1979) broke new ground in feminist literary studies by applying a feminist perspective to Victorian literature to define hidden themes of rebellion within nineteenth century female-authored novels. This project translates the close reading methodology employed by Gilbert and Gubar into distant reading processes using text mining to test for the presence of the hidden themes they define in three sets of novels. This process uses a set of keywords to identify similar themes of feminine rebellion in nineteenth century works not considered by Gilbert and Gubar. In proving the efficacy of this approach, I intend to demonstrate that traditional literary scholarship can be applied using digital tools to gain a better understanding of a larger, underrepresented body of literature.

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