I am currently preparing an article about stylometry and genre in which I correlate clusters with metadata. One of the present results is that those texts with non typical values in its metadata are better distinguished than the rest: non realistic, texts in which the action takes place in other times or other continents… It seems that the well known structuralist categories of marked and unmarked could help organize the texts and genres. In order to get boolean values (like “yes“ or “no“) I looked for the central tendencies of the texts: which is the typical end of a novel of this period? Which is the typical gender or social level of its protagonist? How long are the novels of this period typically? Another way to see this information is: if I take a random novel from Spain and this period, what will I probably find?
For this purpose I am using the metadata of the Corpus de novelas de la Edad de Plata, from which you can find a first release on our GitHub account. The current state of the whole corpus contains around 250 novels from 1880 until 1939. I am not claiming that this corpus could be statistically representative for the literature of this period (although I am skeptical that the concept of representativeness, as used in statistics, could be any useful for humanist fields). Anyhow, this is a way for achieving very specific information about literature, or at least about this corpus.
For this purpose I have written a short script with the module Pandas of Python. You can find it in our Toolbox on GitHub (annotate > tendencies_metadata.py). With the categorical values I have searched for the mode, and for the numerical values I have calculated the median (which is never worse than the mean, as far as I know).
So, the big question, what can I expect from a random novel of this period? Let’s start with things that we can be very confident about: it was written by a male author, the action takes place in the contemporary times, in Europe, and is realistic. 90% of the corpus agrees with that. But there are good odds about other aspects: it takes place in Spain, its protagonist is a young man with medium social level (neither starving, nor rich) with a sad ending, the text is written in third person, the history of literature doesn’t think that the text represents in any form the author’s life, and (congratulations!) is already in the public domain. All these aspects are true for more than 50% of the corpus.
From the numerical values we can know many other things: it was probably published in the the decade of the 1900, to be more specific in 1905. We have already said that its action takes place in contemporary times, but it reasonably lasts around a year. The text is about 65 000 words (around 250 pages) and presumably contains around 1500 paragraphs, from which around 40% contain dialogue. And it has only four verses, believably. We already know that the author was quite probably a man, but we could even perhaps guess that he lived 64 years, since he was born around 1866 and died around 1930. We even presume that he changed his ways of writing around 1890, so the random book comes from his second period. And finally we may also think that the author was quite important, because manuals of history of literature have actually dedicated a whole chapter to him.
And there are other aspects that are not present in the majority of the corpus, but that represent anyway the most common value. Not only the texts takes place in Spain: around a third of the action of the novels takes place in Madrid. We can also guess that the author wrote it in the late period of the modernism (with a big concept of the Generación del 98 being part of it) and this author probably also wrote collections of short stories. Actually there is 15% chance that the author was Pío Baroja since he was the most prolific author of this period (and it is also in the corpus). And, although it has only a 2% chances, the most common name of the protagonist of the text is Xavier de Bradomín.
Many of you will argue that it is impossible to read a novel written by Pío Baroja with a protagonist called Xavier de Bradomin: this name belongs to a fictional character of Valle-Inclán. And it is true, all this information doesn’t apply to the texts altogether; some parts contradict strongly others: how could possible lords have a medium social level? This script only seeks the central tendency of each category independently. There are many ways to get a sharper and more representative picture of the the literature of this period: better and more data (many of the information shows the bias of my corpus), not only using mode or median, having in consideration correlations between categories,etc.
But other aspects (realistic, contemporary, Europe, Spain, male author and protagonist…) are ideas very present in the history of the literature. With this playful post (I have really enjoyed discovering and writing about it!) I am only suggesting this way to scrutinise texts: this way of treating metadata provides statistical values that can summarize, tinge or reinforce different ideas about literature.