The Riddle of Literary Quality

Duration: 2012 - 2021
Subsidy provider: KNAW Computational Humanities Programme
Remarkable: Is literary quality measurable? The project answered that question in part thanks to readers' opinions on the literary quality of those novels collected in 2013 in The National Readers' Survey.
Valorisation: Various stimulating publications, including the books 'Het raadsel literatuur. Is literaire kwaliteit meetbaar?' and 'Reading beyond the female' on gender inequality in literature.

The Riddle of Literary Quality (2012-2019) was a research project of the Huygens Institute for the History of the Netherlands in collaboration with the Fryske Akademy and the Institute for Logic, Language and Computation (University of Amsterdam). The project was funded by the Computational Humanities Programme of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Literary quality is one of the most fascinating issues in Literary Studies. Scholars have found that social and cultural factors play an important role in the acceptance of a work as literary or non-literary. Making use of the growing availability of digital texts and software tools, the project “The Riddle of Literary Quality” has explored whether formal characteristics of a text can also be found to be responsible for readers’ perceptions of a novel as being literary or non-literary. Measurements of the style of 401 recent novels have been correlated with the perception of the literary quality of these novels. The project team gathered these opinions in 2013 in The National Reader Survey. This innovative correlation of textual features and readers’ opinions resulted in many intriguing observations about the current literary conventions in Dutch society.

The project delivered two PhD-theses and a host of articles and conference presentations:

A follow-up project is currently in preparation: The Riddle of the Literary Canon.