Academic journal article Style

Corpus Stylistics, Stylometry, and the Styles of Henry James

Academic journal article Style

Corpus Stylistics, Stylometry, and the Styles of Henry James

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

   They would dine together at the worst, and, with all respect to
   dear old Waymarsh--if not even, for that matter, to himself--there
   was little fear that in the sequel they shouldn't see enough of
   each other.

The beginning of Henry James's The Ambassadors is sufficient to explain why "There has never been any doubt that he had a 'style'" (Lodge 189). And the obvious artifice of sentences like the one above, from its famous first paragraph, have helped to establish James as an exceptionally self-conscious stylist. Furthermore, although change must be expected in the style of any author with a career spanning forty years, the stylistic differences between James's novels of the 1870's and those written after 1900 have long been considered extreme. Shortly after James' s death, Carl Van Doren asserted that the style of early novels like The American, The Europeans, Daisy Miller, Washington Square, or The Portrait of a Lady is quite different from the "obscure" late style that some readers dislike (18). Traditionally, the distinctiveness of James's late style has been attributed primarily to his sometimes convoluted and self-interruptive syntax. R. W. Short notes that James's syntactic "distortions" often "obliterate the normal elements of connection and cohesion. When he has undone the usual ties, his meanings float untethered, grammatically speaking, like particles in colloidal suspension" (73-4). Ian Watt's well-known explication of the first paragraph of The Ambassadors also memorably discusses the syntax (442-55), as do Richard Ohmann (274-5), and Leech and Short (100-1) (see also my "Altered Texts" 110-13).

Other critics have pointed out some non-syntactic alterations James made in his revisions of his early novels for New York edition; for example, more explicit and precise lexis, more figures of speech, more varied and. elaborate speech markers, more contractions and colloquialisms, and more adverbial modifiers. These alterations, as well as syntactic changes, tend to make the revised earlier novels more like the later ones (on non-syntactic differences between early and late James, see Lee; Watt; Lodge; Gettmann; Krause; and especially Chatman). Here, however, I want to investigate the distinctiveness of James's style and the traditional division of his novels into early and late styles by applying methods of authorship attribution and stylometry, methods based not upon syntax, but simply upon the frequencies of words of all kinds.

A corpus approach that takes into account most of the words of James's novels seems especially appropriate for examining the lexical aspects of his style, and it at least partially addresses a problem perceptively discussed by Leech and Short more than twenty-five years ago: "While a condensed poetic metaphor, or a metrical pattern will jump to the attention as something which distinguishes the language of poetry from everyday language, the distinguishing features of a prose style tend to become detectable over longer stretches of text, and to be demonstrable ultimately only in quantitative terms" (2-3). Recent work has shown that stylometric techniques can successfully identify unusual sub-styles and multiple narrators within a novel, can distinguish parodies from originals, and can illuminate the styles of multiple translations of a novel (Stewart; Hoover, "Multivariate"; Hoover, et al.; Burrows, "Englishing"; Burrows, "Who Wrote Shamela"; Rybicki). Here both well-established and emerging stylometric techniques will be used to study the differences between Henry James's early and late styles. These techniques easily distinguish James from his contemporaries and also identify distinct sub-styles within the James's nineteen major novels. They confirm the traditional distinction between early and late James, identify an intermediate style and lay the groundwork for a fuller analysis of the linguistic and stylistic differences that define James's styles. …

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