Tracking the "Voice of Doxa" in the Victorian Novel

  1. 1. Sarah Allison

    Stanford University

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The nineteenth-century British novel is known for its
moralizing: is it possible to defi ne this “voice of doxa,” or
conventional wisdom, in terms of computable, sentence-level
stylistic features? A familiar version of the voice of doxa is
the “interrupting narrator,” who addresses the reader in the
second person in order to clarify the meaning of the story.
This project seeks to go beyond simple narrative interruption
to the explication of ethical signals emitted in the process of
characterization (how the portrayal of a character unfolds
over the course of a novel). It also takes a more precise
look at the shift in tense noted by narratologists from the
past tense of the story to the present-tense of the discourse,
in which meaning can be elaborated in terms of proverbs or
truisms. (An example from Middlemarch: “[Fred] had gone
to his father and told him one vexatious affair, and he had left
another untold: in such cases the complete revelation always
produces the impression of a previous duplicity” 23). This
project is the fi rst attempt to generate a set of micro- stylistic
features that indicate the presence of ethical judgment.
Through an analysis of data derived through ad hoc harvesting
of frequently occurring lexical and syntactic patterns (e.g. word
frequencies, part of speech saturation, frequent grammatical
patterns, etc) and data derived through the application of
supervised classifi cation algorithms this research attempts to
determine a set of grammatical features that tend to cluster
around these moments of direct narrative discourse.
This research is an alternative application of the method
developed in Joe Shapiro’s Beyond Search workshop project
(see abstract above), which seeks to identify computable
stylistic differences between narrative and descriptive prose in
19th century American fi ction. In this work we seek to create
another category within the “descriptive,” a subcategory that
captures moments of explicitly moralized description: the
Voice of Doxa. We identify the formal aspects of this authorial
“voice” in order to “hunt” for similar moments, or occurrences,
in a series of novels. The work begins with a limited search
for patterns of characterization evident among characters in a
single George Eliot novel; from this we develop a model, which
we will then apply to the entire Eliot corpus. In the end, the
target corpus is extended to include 250 19th century British
novels wherein we roughly chart the evolutionary course of
the “ethical signal."

Conference Info


ADHO - 2008

Hosted at University of Oulu

Oulu, Finland

June 25, 2008 - June 29, 2008

135 works by 231 authors indexed

Conference website:

Series: ADHO (3)

Organizers: ADHO

  • Keywords: None
  • Language: English
  • Topics: None