“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” This simple line starts the famous classic Pride and Prejudice while setting up an ironically feminist situation that plays out throughout the rest of the novel. This novel is not only an example of classic literature written by a renowned female author, but also Pride and Prejudice holds a special place in my heart as my long-time favorite novel.
Of course, I could dissect the themes, characters, and interpretations of this famous novel, but Voyant Tools provides an opportunity to analyze the words of Jane Austen in a simple yet effective method. Throughout this investigation into the word choice of Jane Austen, I chose to pursue the use of gender in the novel. Austen’s novel focuses on the Bennet family whose financial situation is secure only as long as the father remains alive which prompts the strong emphasis on marrying off the five daughters and securing their financial futures. The environment of 19th century Europe does allude to some of the gendered divisions within the novel which strengthened my reasoning for a gender-based analysis.
I used the selected corpus of Pride and Prejudice which is not “big data” when considered outside of Jane Austen’s other novels. However, with my limited experience with Austen’s other novels, I felt this limitation would prevent me from making intentional decisions with how to approach the corpus. Additionally, even though the information is not “big data” it is useful to consider within the context of the time it was published to demonstrate the complication to gender roles within the early 19th century. Voyant Tools has all of Austen’s works pre-loaded into their system, but I was able to limit the words down to only Pride and Prejudice which I then pared down by selecting specific words based upon the route that I wanted to research.
The first visualization analyzed the use of male/female titles including Mr., Miss, and Mrs. to determine whether male or female terms were more frequently referred to. While creating this visualization I ran into increasing issues with the need to have direct comparisons between male and female gender depictions as the female terms were split between unmarried and married women. I was able to mitigate these problems by spending additional time with Excel spreadsheets and dividing the terms by gender. Below are three separate visualizations with their respective terms.
Visualization #1 Male and Female Terms
Male Terms Total Count: 875
Female Terms Total Count: 880
The first set of data included the terms: Mr., Mrs., Miss, sir, madam, lord, and lady. This rather limited set of terms reflect a rather equal representation of males and females. This representation is rather weak, as it does not include any pronouns and there are only a little over 800 words in each. The gendered terms (excluding pronouns) reflect a fairly equal presence of both male and female ideas. But this idea is flipped on its head when pronouns are added noting significantly more male pronouns whereas the list of the names of characters has a stronger emphasis on female characters. I utilized a 2-column chart to reflect the data to create an easy to identify comparison between the genders referred to in the novel. I elected for the simple depiction to counteract the problem of information density in visualizations that can complicate narratives as John Theibault notes in “Visualizations and Historical Arguments.”
Visualization #2 Male and Female Terms and Pronouns
Male Terms Total Count: 7293
Female Terms Total Count: 5371
The second set of data included the terms: Mr., Mrs., Miss, sir, madam, lord, lady, her, she, he, his, him, and hers. There is strength in this representation by including a far more inclusive set of male and female reference terms. This portrays a better idea of how much men or women are mentioned outside of themselves. However, this will over-represent the men in the novel as many of the female characters use each other’s first names to refer to one another instead of Miss. For example, if any of the Bennet sisters were talking with each other they would not use the term Miss to refer to another sister.
Visualization #3: Characters
Male Characters Count: 1144
Female Characters Count: 1486
The third set of data is representative of the number of times individual character names are used throughout the book in a male and female breakdown and by section of the book. The terms included are Darcy, Jane, Bingley, Collins, Kitty, Mary, Catherine, father, mother, Lydia, Wickham, Charlotte, and Georgiana. It is important to note that I did exclude some smaller characters and the Gardiners as the last name is used for the key identifier for both Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner.
*As a note, the genders depicted does not refer to the status of each character. The Character Breakdown by Section noted below is also included to provide a background of when these characters were mentioned throughout the novel.
Character Breakdown by Section
Altogether, the data reflects a far more female-centered novel than was common in the early 19th century. This differs from standard publications and reflects a different depiction of women in literature. The most significant piece of information that I identified was that although the terms I outlined in the first data set, the ones that I expected to have a gender disparity, actually did not portray a significant difference in gendering with only pronouns giving it a significant change. It was also interesting to note the exact opposite depiction of how frequently names were used, noting that most of the men were referred to largely by their last name rather than by their first in the novel. Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is an example of a classic romantic novel that, along with her other novels, redefined literary ideas to incorporate stronger female characters than typically existed before. These female-centered narratives, however, are inescapable from the gendered ideas of the 19th century which were most noted in the use of gendered pronouns and titles.
Alex Warren is a public historian living in the Twin Cities. She is passionate about digital opportunities to engage public audiences and encourage community engagement.