Conference Contribution Details
Mandatory Fields
Benatti, Francesca; Tonra, Justin
Reconfiguring Authorship Conference
“English Bards and Unknown Reviewers: In Search of the Author of the Christabel Review.”
Ghent University, Belgium
Conference Paper
Optional Fields
This paper addresses a topic that relates to authorship attribution and authorial anonymity. It examines the unresolved issue of the authorship of the anonymous review of Coleridge’s Christabel which appeared in the Edinburgh Review in September 1816. Since 1930, a number of scholarly articles, relying on both external contextual clues and internal textual evidence, have proposed solutions to this question but have ultimately failed to reach a consensus. This paper will describe the authors’ use of digital textual analysis and author attribution technology in order to bring a fresh perspective to the debate surrounding the authorship of the article. Reviewers in the Edinburgh often exploited the journal’s policy of anonymity to pronounce severe or scornful judgements on new works of literature. The review of Coleridge’s Christabel that appeared in the September 1816 Edinburgh ranks among the most controversial examples of this kind, but its uniqueness lies in its persistent anonymity. Despite the Wellesley Index attributing the article to William Hazlitt, his authorship has not been conclusively inferred and has instead been challenged in the subsequent debate which has wavered between conferring responsibility on Hazlitt or Thomas Moore. Can digital textual analysis bring new evidence to this discussion? Can an author be identified based on the presence or absence of stylistic patterns or specific vocabulary in a text? Is ‘distant reading’ a more objective or reliable means of attributing authorship that close and contextual reading? Or are these apparently competing analytical perspectives actually complementary? This paper describes the process and the results of a new examination of the Christabel review based on digital textual analysis and author attribution technology. Central to the authors’ focus is the encoding, collation, and electronic textual analysis of Moore and Hazlitt’s identifiable contributions to the Edinburgh Review for the period 1814-1816. They will outline their methodology, discoveries, and obstacles in their search for a viable hypothesis for attribution. The dispute surrounding the authorship of this review is part of a larger story of personal and ideological quarrels between authors that characterised the Romantic period. By addressing whether digital textual analysis can contribute to traditional textual analysis, this paper contributes important new information and perspective to this long-running debate.
Publication Themes