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The Kisses of Dinah Mulock Craik’s Olive

An Introduction to the Kisses of Dinah Mulock Craik’s Olive

            Why count kisses? It seems almost silly to state “I’ve counted the kisses in a Victorian novel,” but perhaps that discounts the emotional and informational potential a kiss can hold. The original goal of collecting this data was to test whether counting kisses could reveal anything about the relationships between the characters within Olive. This rather vague general goal was refined further by looking for theories and ideas about Olive which could be tested or studied through the kisses. Indeed, readings of Olive through the lenses of racial hybridization, gender and queer theory, and Freudian psychology can all be examined through the interaction between characters. My subsequent blog posts will show that the network of kisses, with each kiss’s complex of meaning, can question, disprove, approve, or add nuance to those close readings of Craik’s novel.

            Perhaps a more problematic question is: why use the tools of distant reading? The honest answer: to see what such an approach had to offer, and to see what limitations there were. One of the most apparent benefits was an increase in scope, despite the fact that I am examining a single text. To explain, in her paper “The Victorian Literary Kiss” Elizabeth Gitter asserts that in Victorian literature, the meaning of a kiss was “complex and contradictory” (167).[1] Problematically, though her selection of texts is expansive (though mostly limited to male authors), her definition of a kiss is limited to that between male/female lovers, engaged in some sort of courtship behavior (166, 169). A close-reading of Olive can actually back up at least one aspect of Gitter’s paper; when Olive kisses her mother, Craik explicitly states “With that last kiss she received her mother’s soul” (chap 32)[2], clearly backing up Gitter’s claim that in one aspect “the kiss … is a symbol of spiritual fusion” (166). However, neither that assertion nor the one regarding a kiss as a way to ingest the lover can cover the two kisses Christal Manners gives to Meliora Vanbrugh in greeting, to provide but one example. The kisses in Olive are not always heterosexual, nor even necessarily sexual. This opens the possibility that it may take a distant reading of a large amount of Victorian texts to take in a wider scope of kisses, showing how complex and contradictory the Victorian kiss actually was.

            That said, my project may not be classified as “distant reading”. Moretti, in Graphs, Maps, Trees describes close reading as focused on specific works of literature and even specific “unique” and/or “exceptional” portions of text (3). Technically, I did just that. I focused on a single text, and it was I who, out of necessity, physically read each instance of kissing within the text, recording elements (kisser, kissed, gender-mix, reason for kiss, etc.). This, arguably, is close reading. However, Frederick Gibbs and Daniel Cohen argue that close reading and distant reading need not be divorced, stating specifically that one can combine “textual work and technical tools” (70), though they limit “textual work” to the generation of questions and the provider of context to and interpretation of the results of the computer generated data. Distant reading, that is studying texts without directly reading them (Moretti “Conjectures” 56-57), plays a role in my project as well, in the form of the analysis of the collected data and the graphs it generated, and even of most of the gathering methods. My project is largely focused on reading the quantitative data generated, rather than Olive directly. Thus perhaps my approach could be called a “hybrid reading”.

            With the goal of making the data more amenable to critique and to use by other researchers, I shall now detail how I collected the data (Search Terms), how I categorised/organised the kisses (Subject Headings) and briefly what I tend to omit from my graphs (Begone!). This discussion shall transparently show where certain limitations to distant reading data gathering techniques required my input and thus the interpretations offered through close reading.

Search Terms

            Using Voyant to search Olive for every instance of the word “kiss” quickly proved to be too unrefined a net. Gitter unintentionally illustrates the problem with her paper’s first quote (from Shelly) which describes a kiss without using the word “kiss” even once (165). Widening the search terms to include the “sources” of a kiss – lip(s), mouth, face and cheek(s)[3] – proved successful, but generated word-use instances with nothing to do with kisses, which had to be discarded. The final pass humbly followed the footsteps of Ryan Heuser and Long Le-Khac by expanding the terms using the OED’s historical thesaurus function (82) to find synonyms for “kiss” and other similar terms that were in use in the mid-1800s. By trying to ensure my preconceived notions did not interfere with data gathering (see Heuser and Le-Khac 81), I made a move against data errors. All the kisses, with all the various ways Craik wrote about them, were counted. Not looking at every synonym and different expression would have been akin to forgetting about the use of the long-s in typography, counting only short-s instances of a word and mistakenly drawing conclusions (Mandell et al. section 1). Therefore, every avenue to finding and counting all the kiss forms was used.

Subject Headings

            While it is true that, given my limited programming skill, it was I who typed each data point into the excel spreadsheet, most of the time I was simply recording easily read ‘facts’ from the text. Only occasionally did I have to make decisions due to narrative ambiguity. Thus, though I will not be using all of the data in the later blog posts, it seems prudent to disclose those troublesome moments.

Some of the Excel data for this project

Some of the Excel data for this project

            Kisser and Kissed – Normally straightforward as Craik tends to word things such that it is clear Person A kissed Person B. There were two instances where Craik wrote anything akin to “A and B kissed”, which would have complicated the ability to label Kisser and Kissed. First, Olive laments to herself, “Elspie was going away, for ever, without one kiss, one good-bye” (chap 8). I recorded it as Elspie kissing Olive (though it never happens, see below), but the reverse could be just as true. Second, one of the kisses between Lyle and Olive does not state who the kisser and kissed are; the decision was thus based on how Lyle worded his request (chap 17).

            Type of Relationship – Examples: parent-child, friends, spouses. I decided on the heteronormative categorization of “friends” for the kisses between Olive and Sara, despite the possible queer reading of their relationship, because the narrator labels them first friends (chapter 11). Olive and Christal’s relationship tag changes based on a reading of how the two characters saw their relationship at that time.

            Chapter – Recorded which chapter a kiss occurred in (or in which it was mentioned, if it never actually happened; see below). One kiss happens in chapter 14, and is recalled in chapter 41; the recollection is only noted in the Quotation column as it is not another instance.

            Requested by – Simply records who requested the kiss, if anybody; “request” requiring the character to inform another character vocally, or in a letter. Therefore, Olive’s lament regarding Elspie (see above) does not qualify.

            Actually Happened? – Asks if the kiss actually occurs within the story world/narrative; normally easy to tell, there were four exceptions. A) The first kiss between Olive and Lyle is only confirmed to have happened because Lyle uses the word “again” in his request for the second (chap 17). B) & C) Twice when Olive asks Angus to kiss Sybilla, it is uncertain whether he does so, though one can assume he did. The first time (chap 10) was labeled NO because there is no in-text proof. The second (chap 14) was labeled YES, because Angus leaves the room, then returns, likely fulfilling Olive’s request in the interim. D) In chapter 31, Olive begs her mother to kiss her, but in the next sentence begins talking with Harold. It is extremely unclear if the kiss was given, thus labeled NO, even though it seems strange Sybilla wouldn’t.

             Body Part Kissed – Easy when the body part is explicitly stated; a few body part labels were normalized. For example, “brow” was changed to “forehead” for consistency’s sake. When no body part was stated it was assumed to be on the lips, though perhaps a few instances could be argued against.

            Reason for/Quality of Kiss – General classification of the kiss based on the situation it occurs in (greeting, parting, etc.) or a character’s apparent reason for kissing (healing, consoling, etc.). “Free/loving” became the classification for those kisses which seemed to have no other reason than wanting to kiss the other. Please note: these labels simplify the kisses to make them countable, only a close reading can argue all the nuances in this category.

            Gender Mix – Self-explanatory as Olive lacks any cross-dressing or otherwise ambiguously gendered characters. Stated as [sex of kisser] – [sex of kissed].

            Race of Kisser/Kissed – The labeling of races follows Juliet Shields’ categorization of the characters. Celt refers to characters with Scottish Highland, Welsh, and/or Irish heritage (such as Harold), with Saxon referring to the English (Shields 287). Ailie and Olive are “Celt-Saxon Mix” and Christal is “Octoroon” also following Shields (288).

            Iteration/Single/Multiple – This column was included to deal with the problem of counting the kisses which otherwise would be uncountable. Most kisses were single events, thus took up one row and were labeled “single”. Some were “iterations”, that is, a single instance of an uncertainly numbered chain of kisses. For example, Olive once kisses Christal “as usual” (chap 28), meaning this one kiss within the narrative (thus only one row, like a single) is just one of a regular occurrence of unknown quantity. An unknown amount of kisses at one time, unfortunately, had to be treated as a single instance: one row, with the label of “multiple”. When the amount was known (half-a-dozen, for example), each single kiss was put on a separate row, and labeled “single”.

            Quote – Here I recorded the quote of the kiss, and its request. A few OED definitions were added too, for clarity.


            I took Heuser and Le-Khac’s caution against “the tendency to throw away data that does not fit our established concepts” very seriously (81). Thus, my spreadsheet contains both the kisses that do not actually happen and the two metaphorical kisses in the text.[4] That said, in the graphs, which were made using Tableau, I tended to filter out both, as I wanted to draw most of my conclusions (and further questions) on the kisses that actually occur between characters.

            So, in the subsequent blog posts, I will mention the few times I include the NOs and why. Other exclusions, such as limiting my examination to a subset of characters, will also be detailed as required.



            [1] Published in 1985, Gitter’s paper provides the additional benefit of an older academic viewpoint that could be reborn and re-examined using the newer approach of distant reading. Old conversations could be shown to have relevance still though DH projects.

            [2] All quotations from Olive are from the 1875 edition of the novel, as found on the Project Gutenberg website, as this was the text I used for the collection of the data. Unfortunately, that means there are no page numbers, thus chapters are cited.

            [3] These terms were chosen because, from the preliminary search, they appeared to be the terms Craik used with kisses.

            [4] The two metaphorical kisses are, first, the sealing-wax kisses [kiss: “A fanciful term for a drop of sealing-wax accidentally let fall beside the seal.” – “kiss, n.” OED] a hypothetical woman (the reader?) and her first “girlfriend” (chap 11).  While technically not a real kiss, perhaps the emotion remains. Second, is a sunbeam “kissing” a portrait (chap 37).


Works Cited

Craik, Dinah Maria. Olive. London: Macmillan, 1875. Project Gutenberg. 24 Oct. 2012. Web. 12 Mar. 2015.

Gibbs, Frederick W., and Daniel J. Cohen. “A Conversation with Data: Prospecting Victorian Words and Ideas.” Victorian Studies 54.1 (2011): 69-77. Project Muse. Web. 22 Mar. 2015.

Gitter, Elizabeth G. “The Victorian Literary Kiss.” Browning Institute Studies 13 (1985): 165-80. JSTOR. Web. 22 Mar. 2015.

Heuser, Ryan, and Long Le-Khac. “Learning to Read Data: Bringing out the Humanistic in the Digital Humanities.” Victorian Studies 54.1 (2011): 79-86. JSTOR. Web. 22 Mar. 2015.

“kiss, n.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, March 2015. Web. 10 Mar. 2015.

Mandell, Laura, et al. “How to Read a Literary Visualisation: Network Effects in the Lake School of Romantic Poetry.” Digital Studies / Le Champ Numérique 3.2 (2012): n. pag. Web. 11 Feb. 2015.

Moretti, Franco. Graphs, Maps, Trees: Abstract Models for a Literary History. London: Verso, 2005. Print.

—. “Conjectures on World Literature.” New Left Review 1 (2000): 54-68. Web. 10 Apr. 2015.

Shields, Juliet. “The Races of Women: Gender, Hybridity, and National Identity in Dinah Craik’s Olive.” Studies in the Novel 39.3 (2007): 284-300. JSTOR. Web. 2 Feb. 2015.


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The Kisses of Dinah Mulock Craik’s Olive by Aaron Ellsworth is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

The Kisses of Dinah Mulock Craik’s Olive, Pt. 2

Looking at Racial Hybridity through the Kisses of the Rothesay Family

            Both Juliet Shields and Alisha Walters offer close-reading interpretations of the interracial couples and mixed offspring in Olive. Both argue that Craik wrote Olive midst racial tension, evidenced in part by Robert Knox’s text published the same year, 1850, as Craik’s novel (Shields 285-86; Walters 326). Some, like Knox were against racial mixing and under the opinion that only Saxons (English or Scottish Lowlands heritage) were British, which thus excluded Welsh, Scottish Highlands and Irish Celts, not to mention peoples in the British colonies, from the national identity (Shields 285; Walters 326). Though argued and nuanced differently, both Shields and Walters show Olive (and the character Olive) as a statement showing the benefits of a racially hybrid conception of Britishness (Walters 326; Shields 297-98).

            While it seems somewhat unlikely that the kiss data could speak of the racial qualities within a character,[1] as a kiss is an interpersonal interaction, the kiss data, in general, appears to support the ideas of Shields and Walters, showing a high degree of physical, likely emotionally charged, interaction between races. Figures 1 and 2 show whether the kisses were interracial or kept within one race. All races and racial-mixes are included in the first figure; the mixed-races (Celt-Saxon mix [Ailie and Olive] and Octoroon [Christal]) are filtered out in the second pie chart.

Figure 1 - Same Race (All Kisses)

Figure 1 – Same Race? (All Kisses)

Figure 2 - Same Race (No Mixed-Race Individuals)

Figure 2 – Same Race? (No Mixed-Race Individuals)

In both cases, kisses between different races outnumber those within one race (or type of racial hybrid). In fact, if limited just to instances with a Saxon kisser and/or Saxon kissed, one can see that every Saxon kiss is an interracial one (figs 3A and 3B).

Figure 3A - Saxon Kissers

Figure 3A – Saxon Kissers

Figure 3B - Saxons Kissed

Figure 3B – Saxons Kissed

Thus, if kisses can be used as a pointer towards sexual and/or emotional connection, or what Walters calls “emotive engagement with raced Others” (326), the data indicates that the novel seems to be strongly against Saxon isolationism. Unfortunately, the data does not include anyone who is not a “kisser” or a “kissed”, thus making it impossible to tell if the Saxon and Celt kissers form a majority of the novel’s character “population”. Perhaps gathering that data could add additional support, by informing us whether Craik made her interracial kissers a true majority, rather than just an exceptional minority that she focused the majority of her novel on.

            Still, the kiss data can reveal something about the interactions between Craik’s characters, and thus about Craik’s presentation of interracial contact. Looking just at the kisses of the Rothesay family – the Celt Angus, the Saxon Sybilla, and their mixed offspring Olive – reveals a troubled family unit, perhaps indicative of the racial tensions in Craik’s Britain. Shields herself posits such a reading by calling Olive a descendent of “Scottish and Irish novels by women”, which “construct an analogy between the domestic and the national” (288). So, one can read the Rothesay family’s kisses as political or social interaction between Saxons, Celts and hybrids; perhaps showing how Craik saw the situation, and what she hoped for.

            So, let us examine the data, beginning with the married couple, through the lens of racial analogy, while cautiously keeping aware of possible interpretive errors. Figure 4 is an overview of every kiss that actually happens[2] in the novel; it shows kissers on the x-axis and kissed on the y-axis. The colour and size of the circles at the intersections of kisser and kissed show how many kisses occurred.

Figure 4 - All the Kisses

Figure 4 – All the Kisses

Looking at the far right, one can see that Sybilla kisses Angus eight times – the most times any character kisses another – whereas (bottom row, left) Angus only kisses Sybilla three times. One could thus mistakenly conclude that this unbalanced situation shows a relationship where the Saxon wants integration with the Celt, more than the Celt wants the same. More nuance appears when looking at other elements of the data. Figure 5, limited just to the three Rothesays, groups the data first by kisser, then by kissed, colour coding “the reason for/quality of” the kiss.

Figure 5 - Rothesay Family (Reasons/Quality)

Figure 5 – Rothesay Family (Reasons/Quality)

Here, one sees that six of Sybilla’s kisses were long-distance.[3] This means that their face-to-face relationship is not as uneven: three kisses to two.[4] Additionally, since Sybilla kissed Angus more often when he was away, one could ask if the data indicates a Saxon desire for what the Celt had to offer Britain that was greater when the Celt was “out of the house”, as it were. Perhaps one could use the fact that four of the couple’s five face-to-face kisses were at partings[5] to support the notion that Craik saw that the two races wanted to be separated. Another nuance to the racial relationship picture comes from looking at which kisses were requested. Figure 6 shows that Angus only kisses Sybilla when asked, whereas Sybilla always kisses him without prompting. This points to a hesitancy on Angus’ part towards the relationship, and by analogous extension of Celts to a relationship with Saxons. A close-reading could connect these data points with Angus being upset by Sybilla’s “deceitfulness” regarding Olive (chap 5)[6], and thus to Celtic wariness towards Saxon “affection”.

Figure 6 - Rothesay Family (Requested by)

Figure 6 – Rothesay Family (Requested by)

            Of course, the “requested by” graph (fig 6) also opens up the question of how these two race-exemplars treat their mixed offspring. Angus kisses Olive without request five times, Sybilla never does (fig 6). Does this mean Craik saw Celts as more accepting of hybrid individuals than Saxons were? Further research, perhaps into the author’s letters, could potentially offer answers. Regardless, Figure 6 alone is not conclusive enough about Sybilla and Olive’s kissing relationship – though it shows requests, it does not show how they were answered.[7] Figure 7 shows the “reason for/quality of” each kiss given from mother to daughter, separated by who asks (top names – Elspie or Olive).

Figure 7 - Mother kisses Daughter (Requested by X Reason for/Quality of)

Figure 7 – Mother kisses Daughter (Requested by X Reason for/Quality of)

Of the three that occur – the comforting one does not clearly happen (see first blog post) – two are rather positive: “free/loving” and “celebratory”. Thus, the data indicates that even though asked the Saxon still cheerfully responded to her daughter; a closer reading would clarify if this was so. Furthermore, out of all the kisses Olive gives Sibylla, the mother asks for one; and the circumstance is Sybilla’s death (fig 8).[8]

Figure 8 - Daughter kisses Mother (Requested by X Reason for/Quality of)

Figure 8 – Daughter kisses Mother (Requested by X Reason for/Quality of)

So, the Saxon asks the hybrid to kiss her at the Saxon’s death. Given Elizabeth Gitter’s reading of such kisses as the transmission of the soul (165-66), which clearly happens in the text (see fig 8 annotation; chap 32), one could argue that this moment reflects Craik’s hope that the Saxon people would willingly give up their soul (i.e. Britishness) to a more hybrid conception of nation. A close reading could support such a reading, given Sybilla’s movement from rejecting Olive to full acceptance.

            The kiss data of the Rothesay family, can be read using an analogy for the British nation, showing tensions between races and distaste towards hybridity. Still, the overall picture that interracial kisses are the norm in the novel, combined with a reading of the final kiss Olive shares with her mother could offer strong evidence for an argument on Craik’s stance in the racial arguments of the day. Thus the kiss data can offer quantitative support to the work of Shields and Walters.



            [1] It says little or nothing directly about Olive’s Celtic or Saxon qualities for example. That said, the possibility exists that the data could be used, with some further interpretive work, to look at character and thus race. Seeing how Olive’s kisses resemble those of the Celt and Saxon characters, for example. Space and time do not allow for such an investigation at present.

            [2] See first post.

            [3] Similarly graphing “body part kissed” would confirm that Sybilla is kissing Angus’s letters those six times.

            [4] This is altogether less than Harold and Olive’s relationship, which is even five-to-five, perhaps indicating a) that the Angus-Sybilla marriage is colder (as close reading supports), or that Celts, like Harold, are more accepting of Hybrids. Again, this aspect is beyond the present study.

            [5] “Parting” from the Rothesay home as a whole, or just for another room. “Parting” is a very simplified term in the spreadsheet.

            [6] All Olive citations are from the 1875 edition of the novel, as found on the Project Gutenberg website, as this was the text I used for the collection of the data. Unfortunately, that means there are no page numbers, thus chapters are cited.

            [7] Such an examination could also look at Angus and Sybilla, though for space and time considerations, it was omitted.

            [8] One should note that there are two other potential “death” kisses that do not actually happen in the narrative. Both are imagined by Olive, between her and her mother, and between Olive and the Celt Elspie. Given the forthcoming interpretation of the one “death kiss” that does occur, further could be done with these two instances.


Works Cited

Craik, Dinah Maria. Olive. London: Macmillan, 1875. Project Gutenberg. 24 Oct. 2012. Web. 12 Mar. 2015.

Gitter, Elizabeth G. “The Victorian Literary Kiss.” Browning Institute Studies 13 (1985): 165-80. JSTOR. Web. 22 Mar. 2015.

Shields, Juliet. “The Races of Women: Gender, Hybridity, and National Identity in Dinah Craik’s Olive.” Studies in the Novel 39.3 (2007): 284-300. JSTOR. Web. 2 Feb. 2015.

Walters, Alisha R. “Affective Hybridities: Dinah Mulock Craik’s Olive and British Heterogeneity.” Women’s Writing 20.3 (2013): 325-43. EBSCO Host. Web. 21 Mar. 2015.


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The Kisses of Dinah Mulock Craik’s Olive by Aaron Ellsworth is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

The Kisses of Dinah Mulock Craik’s Olive, Pt. 3

Do the Kisses Queer Olive?

            There is something queer about the relationship between Sara and Olive. Queer in that it is both unusual and has homosexual overtones.[1] A close reading and a class discussion (Bourrier ENG 607 class notes) revealed the latter point, particularly in the narrator’s insistence that female first-friends, like Olive and Sara, share many qualities with “first loves”; “fore-shadowing” those later relationships (chap 11).[2] The kiss data supports the notion that there is something queer, meaning unusual, about Olive’s relationship to Sara, but it is less definitive on the homosexual reading, as the data can also support the possibility that the girls behave as siblings.

            In total, the kisses in Olive support notions of heteronormativity, thus making Olive and Sara’s kisses an unusual case. Figures 1 and 2 show that while female-to-female kisses seem to form the majority of those in the novel, kisses between males and females are more frequent, only split based on which gender is kisser and which is kissed.

Figure 1 - Gender Mix [Kisser-Kissed]

Figure 1 – Gender Mix [Kisser-Kissed]

Figure 2 - Same or Different Genders?

Figure 2 – Same or Different Genders?

By filtering out the familial relationships (types: “parent-child”, “sibling”, “future in-law”, “distant relative”, and “caretaker-child”) – leaving only the “courting”, “spouse” and “friends” kisses – shows that, in terms of friendship or romantic/sexual love, the female-to-female kisses in Olive form a tiny minority (fig 3).

Figure 3 - Genders of Friends and Lovers

Figure 3 – Genders of Friends and Lovers

The blue wedge shows the kisses of two “friendships”: two cheek kisses between Marion M’Gillivray and Sister Ignatia (chap 38; fig 3), and three kisses on-the-lips between Olive and Sara. Looking at what body parts are kissed in the heterosexual courting and spouse relationships (as shown by the labels in fig 3) seems to show Olive and Sara having more in common with lovers than with friends. Like the girls, the heterosexual couples also kiss on the lips, but not on the cheeks, like the other pair of “girlfriends”. The kiss data at least supports the idea that Olive and Sara share a unique friendship in the novel; after all, Olive never shares a kiss with her other friend, Meliora Vanbrugh (fig 4).

            So, there seems to be something queer, in the homosexual sense, in this friendship, but a more general look into the “friendship” kisses of Olive hints at another reading: Olive and Sara behave as sisters. Figures 4 and 5 compare all the kisses one could construe as being between two female friends, even though the “type of relationship” label says otherwise.[3] Thus we can compare the Olive-and-Sara kisses with those of Olive-and-Christal, Christal-and Meliora, and so forth. Furthermore, the “Actually Happened?” filter allowed in the NOs to definitively show that a kiss between Meliora and Olive was not even imagined or requested by a character.

Figure 4 - Female Friendships [Reason for/Quality of]

Figure 4 – Female Friendships [Reason for/Quality of]

Figure 5 - Female Friendships [Body Part]

Figure 5 – Female Friendships [Body Part]

From these two graphs, it appears that the Olive-and-Sara kisses share the most similarities with the Christal-and-Olive kisses. Both couples share “parting”, “free/loving” and “comforting” kisses, unlike any of the other “girlfriends” (fig 4). Additionally, Olive shares on-the-lips kisses with both girls; no other girlfriend-couple does so (fig 5). The problem is that Christal and Olive are, arguably, not friends. Figure 6 shows the “type of relationship” labels for all the kisses between Olive and Christal.

Figure 6 - Olive and Christal: What Type of Relationship?

Figure 6 – Olive and Christal: What Type of Relationship?

They are “siblings” only once Olive and the reader explicitly know that information (chap 41).[4] Earlier Olive takes on a caretaker role regarding Christal,[5] for example, by handling Christal’s finances (see the horse discussion, chap 28).[6] In both stages Olive seems to be the “big sister”. If one looks at Figure 4 again within this light, one can see that “big sister” Olive gives a comforting kiss to Christal, whereas “little sister” Christal kisses with a “free/loving” quality. Turning to Olive and Sara, it seems that Sara is the comforting “big sister” and Olive is the “free/loving” younger sibling. The “reason for/quality of” descriptions of the kisses seem to reveal what kind of relationship this is, and what role each participant occupies.

            So far the kiss data has offered some evidence pointing to homosexual undertones and sisterly qualities in the Olive-Sara relationship. However, neither case is definitive; perhaps requiring supplemental evidence looking at another aspect, such as what the girls call each other. The arguments presented so far must deal with the fact that the kisses between Sara and Olive could indicate both a romantic/sexual and a familial relationship, shown by widening the kiss data to all of the kisses that actually occur in the novel. Lip-to-lip kisses occur in both relationship types (fig 7, second-bottom row), as do “comforting” and “free/loving” kisses (fig 8, third and fifth rows).

Figure 7 - Type of Relationship X Body Part Kissed

Figure 7 – Type of Relationship X Body Part Kissed

Figure 8 - Type of Relationship X Reason for/Quality of

Figure 8 – Type of Relationship X Reason for/Quality of

With the goal of pinning down what kind of relationship Sara and Olive have, let us, briefly, look at another set of quantitative data: direct addresses.[7] Figure 9, much like figures 4 and 5 above, just compares the data for those female characters who could be considered “friends”. The data is further limited to just those who are friends with Olive.

Figure 9 - What the Girlfriends Call Each Other

Figure 9 – What the Girlfriends Call Each Other

Olive and Sara call each other most often by the first name; Olive does likewise towards Christal, but Christal keeps things more formal, using Miss Rothesay ([title] [surname]). Contrariwise, looking at Meliora and Olive, who are friends, shows a comparative lack of first name use (fig 9). In the text, Olive and the narrator make a big deal about calling Harold by his first name (chap 47)[8] and about getting called “Olive” by Harold – it causes her heart to leap (chap 36) – and by Harold’s mother (chap 33). As such, it seems that greater intimacy comes with the first name; thus perhaps supporting a queer (homosexual) reading of Olive and Sara, provided one can explain Olive’s use of “Christal” in her caretaker or sisterly role.[9]

            Similarly, the appellation “friend” – which Olive and Christal never call each other – becomes a relationship test; though ironically “friend” is not used by female friends (fig 10). The data on the use of “friend” actually provides evidence against the homosexual undercurrents between Olive and Sara. “Friend” is almost solely used between characters who, at some point in the novel, show the desire for romance, marriage or sex.[10]

Figure 10 - Direct Address: All Uses of Friend

Figure 10 – Direct Address: All Uses of “Friend”

Angus and Alison Gwynne call each other “friend”, Harold and Olive do likewise; and the two other men who propose to Olive either call her “friend” or are called that by her. None of the book’s same-sex friends use the term; the direct address “friend” is almost completely limited to potential, or actual, lovers. Thus it seems a queer reading of Olive, while still possible, has one more hurdle to jump. Perhaps Sara and Olive are acting like sisters.

            The kiss data of Olive shows kisses between Olive and Sara to be unusual for female friends in the novel. Some of the evidence supports a queer reading, some points to Sara and Olive treating each other as sisters. Perhaps, in truth, their relationship is a little of both. The supplemental evidence from the direct address data perhaps points to a kind of intimacy or familiarity between the girls, but it also offers a road-block to reading Olive as having homosexual feelings towards Sara. A close reading of Craik’s novel does show there to be an unusual, and possibly homosexual, element in this “friendship”, particularly on Olive’s side, but the kissing data alone does not definitively show exactly how the relationship is queer.



            [1] Though only the former meaning would be understood in Craik’s time, as the “homosexual” definition of queer only dates from the 1910s (“queer adj.1”).

            [2] All quotations from Olive are from the 1875 edition of the novel, as found on the Project Gutenberg website, as this was the text I used for the collection of the data. Unfortunately, that means there are no page numbers, thus chapters are cited.

            [3] Thus, in addition to testing the theory with the kiss data, perhaps we are also seeing some of the limits to the categorisations.

            [4] The kiss labeled thusly happens in chapter 49; so Christal knows the truth too.

            [5] First with Meliora, and later alone.

            [6] The dying Sybilla even charges Olive to “take care” of Christal (chap 32).

            [7] This data comes from my counting of the approximately 950 direct addresses in Olive – with “Direct Address” simply meaning what Person A calls Person B when, and only when, talking to Person B. What person A calls Person B when talking to Person C is not counted. The data was collected with strict rules, most similar to the kissing data, or analogous to it. There is not enough space here to get into all the details.

            [8] See also “For of late—perhaps with more frequently hearing him called by the familiar home appellation, she had thought of him less as Mr. Gwynne than as Harold” (chap 33, emphasis in original).

            [9] The data also show many uses of first names between family members, parents to children for example; so the use of first names is not solely indicative of a romantic/sexual relationship. Olive calling Christal by her first name is just one example.

            [10] The one exception is the single instance of Olive calling Alison Gwynne “friend”.


Works Cited

Bourrier, Karen. ENG 607 L01. University of Calgary. Winter 2015. Class discussion notes.

Craik, Dinah Maria. Olive. London: Macmillan, 1875. Project Gutenberg. 24 Oct. 2012. Web. 12 Mar. 2015.

“queer, adj.1.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, March 2015. Web. 14 Apr. 2015.


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The Kisses of Dinah Mulock Craik’s Olive by Aaron Ellsworth is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

The Kisses of Dinah Mulock Craik’s Olive, Pt. 4

Who Does Olive Actually Marry?

            After doing some research, the question occurred to me: what if Olive is marrying Harold as a substitute for some other character? Sara, perhaps, given our discussion last post. To explore such a possibility, the approach used was to let the data about Olive and Harold’s shared kisses determine what qualities to examine. To explain, Olive marries Harold; the kisses between them are indicative of their courtship.[1] So to see if the kiss data could show that Harold is a substitute for someone else, it was necessary to let the details of their kisses become the “filter” for comparison. For example, Figure 1 shows which of Harold’s body parts Olive kissed: eyes, forehead and lips.

Figure 1 - Where Olive Kisses Harold

Figure 1 – Where Olive Kisses Harold

Thus, I set the “body part kissed” filter to just show the data for those three parts when Olive was the kisser, and I opened the “kissed” filter to include “All”. The data on kisses between Olive and Harold became the lens through which all Olive’s other relationships were viewed. Therefore, all characters had a shot, regardless of my preconceptions. Though Sara seemed a good possibility at first, in total the data provides stronger evidence that Olive actually marries both her parents in the guise of Harold, with the case for Olive’s mother being somewhat more solid than the one for Angus.

            Unlike the last post, this question is not based on a close reading of Olive. Rather, the question was raised upon reading the sociological paper “Cousin Marriage in Victorian England” by Nancy Anderson. Anderson argues that because of the limits placed on “extra-familial heterosexual social contacts” in the Victorian age, romantic or sexual longing was largely focused on “incestuous feelings” for parents and/or siblings (286). Marrying a cousin, Anderson writes, was often a socially accepted manner of realizing the bond between “nuclear family members”, making the cousin a sexual substitute for one’s taboo desire for sibling or parent (286, 287, 289, 290, 291). Such a conception fits for Olive and Harold as they are technically relatives linked through Aunt Flora, though the relation is at least partly by marriage and not by blood. Therefore, Olive’s family members joined Sara as candidates for who Olive actually marries.

            After reading Anderson’s paper, I hypothesized two options for such “incestuous” desire: Angus and Sibylla. Olive’s deceased infant brother (chap 7)[2] was quickly rejected, simply because with only one kiss to look at, the data was almost useless (chap 7). Christal, though she is Olive’s sister, was also raised as a possibility, but she seemed problematic as Olive only learned Christal was her sister (chap 41) after she started loving Harold (chap 35). Even though I had my theories, the data was left open so it could show me otherwise.

            Before looking at the parents, one should note that two other extra-familial options were also considered quite strong, before ever looking at the data: Harold as a substitute for Sara, and Harold loved for-his-own-sake. The queer and sisterly aspects of Sara and Olive’s relationship were touched on last time, hence her candidacy. That Sara was also Harold’s first wife, helped her case (Bourrier ENG 607 class notes). However, Sara’s kisses with Olive show little similarity[3] to Harold’s kisses with Olive, at least not any similarities that other characters could not be said to share too. With regards to the idea of Harold not being a substitute for anyone, hypothetically, if no kiss-similarities showed up, that might not prove that Olive loves Harold for his own sake; though it would definitively remove the kiss data as a support for a love-substitution theory.

            Likewise, the kiss data itself does not prove that Olive marries an Angus and Sybilla substitute named Harold; though it does offer compelling evidence in support of such a hypothesis. Beginning with the weaker case, that for Angus, Figures 2 and 3 help show two limited similarities the father-daughter kisses have with those of the courting couple.

Figure 2 - Where People Kiss Olive [Compared to Harold]

Figure 2 – Where People Kiss Olive [Compared to Harold]

Figure 3 - Harold and Others Kiss Olive [QualityReason]

Figure 3 – Harold and Others Kiss Olive [QualityReason]

Figure 2 shows that of all the characters to kiss Olive only Harold and Angus kiss her hair.[4] Additionally, these are the only two hair-kisses in the whole novel (fig 4). Problematically, the rest of the kisses from these men to Olive lack any similarity, though that perhaps does not rob the power of the fact that these two pairings are the only two to engage in this kiss type.

Figure 4 - All Kisses by Body Part Kissed

Figure 4 – All Kisses by Body Part Kissed

Figure 3, comparing the “reason for/quality of” kisses shows another, less convincing, similarity. Comparing Harold to Angus here requires a recognition of the limits inherent to the “reason for/quality of” kisses (see first post). A close reading of Angus’s “comforting”, “long-distance” and “parting” kisses could show if they are also “free/loving”. A cursory reading of the quotations for these seems to support that notion, as does the fact (fig 5) that these five kisses were unasked for. Harold, too, kisses Olive five times unasked (fig 5). So there is some tenuous kiss-based evidence, requiring further support, that the love Olive receives from Harold is similar to that which she receives from her father.

Figure 5 - Harold and Angus Kiss Olive Unasked

Figure 5 – Harold and Angus Kiss Olive Unasked

            Figures 2 and 3 also reveal that the kisses from Harold to Olive are nothing like the ones from Sybilla to her daughter; however, when Olive is the kisser, the picture changes dramatically, allowing one to use the kiss-data as a basis for a Harold-as-substitute-mother interpretation. Figure 6 takes the data from Figure 1 above – showing which of Harold’s body parts Olive kisses – and expands it to all the people Olive kisses. Two things become immediately clear. First, Olive seems to kiss both Harold and Sybilla the same amount of times. Second, the breakdown of body parts kissed is nearly identical: eyes, forehead and lips, all in almost the same amount.

Figure 6 - Where Olive Kisses People [Compared to Harold]

Figure 6 – Where Olive Kisses People [Compared to Harold]

As I do not wish to change the data to fit my established concepts (Heuser and Le-Khac 81), I will avoid equating face and forehead, though a case could be made based on the quote that covers both kisses.[5] Unfortunately, there is a potential error in this graph (fig 6), as Olive’s single kiss to her mother’s forehead does not “actually happen” in the novel’s narrative (Actually happened? = NO). However, there is a strong reason for including it from the data itself; though the instance does not occur, it is an iteration (see first post) (fig 7).

Figure 7 - Olive kisses Sybilla: Single or Iteration?

Figure 7 – Olive kisses Sybilla: Single or Iteration?

The quote itself – “it must come—she would kiss her mother’s brow for the last time” – shows the iterative quality; Olive must have kissed her mother on the forehead at least once, in order to do it one final time. Though the “body parts kissed” connection is the strongest, some few other weaker similarities show up between Harold and Sybilla as well. If one sees Olive’s “healing” and “death” kisses to her mother as akin to “comforting”,[6] then Olive kisses both her mother and future husband for similar reasons, though not in the same amounts (fig 8). Likewise, both Sybilla and Harold sometimes ask for Olive’s kisses and sometimes get them without asking (fig 9).

Figure 8 - Olive Kisses Harold and Others [Reason for/Quality of]

Figure 8 – Olive Kisses Harold and Others [Reason for/Quality of]

Figure 9 - Who Asks Olive for a Kiss?

Figure 9 – Who Asks Olive for a Kiss?

However, if that did not seem convincing for Sara’s case, why should it here? So, other than the strong correlation between the total number of kisses Olive gives to Harold and Sybilla, and the convincing similarity in body parts kissed, the data does not do much for the theory that Olive marries Harold as a substitute for her mother.

            Still those two similarities are quite striking, offering a least some evidence towards the hypothesis; perhaps further distant- and close-reading evidence could supplement what the kiss data alone cannot provide. Distant wise (fig 10), only three people in the novel call another “darling” in direct conversation with that person: Olive calls Sybilla “darling”, and both Harold and Sybilla call Olive likewise.[7] Additionally Harold and Sybilla do so about the same amount.

Figure 10 - Direct Address All Uses of "Darling"

Figure 10 – Direct Address All Uses of “Darling”

The word “darling” could be an important mother-daughter relationship indicator, [8]  as Olive says it protectively toward her mother, thus potentially making Harold’s inclusion significant. Close reading could help determine this possibility. Close reading does reveal that Harold replaces Sybilla in Olive’s heart within chapters of Sybilla’s death. Sybilla dies in Chapter 32; the next three chapters largely focus on Olive’s growing feelings for Harold (despite a religious interlude), culminating in her admission to herself that she loves him (chap 35). The kissing data is not the sole pointer to Harold being a substitute-Sybilla.

            The kiss data opens the possibility that Harold is a cousin substitute for Olive’s love for her mother, perhaps with some elements of his affection resembling her father’s. More work, both distantly and closely with the text is required to make a strong interpretation in that direction; especially if, following Anderson, one wishes to look at the potential sexual element. The first seeds of this particular Olive tree are there for the planting; and they are there in kisses.



            [1] Olive and Harold never kiss in the final chapter, the only chapter in which they are married. Perhaps this fact warrants a paper of its own.

            [2] All citations from Olive are from the 1875 edition of the novel, as found on the Project Gutenberg website, as this was the text I used for the collection of the data. Unfortunately, that means there are no page numbers, thus chapters are cited.

            [3] There are a few commonalities, such as: both Harold and Sara ask Olive for kisses some of the time (see Fig 9 below).

            [4] Though Angus only kisses a lock of her hair sent to him in Jamaica.

            [5] The quote for both face and forehead is: “To chase it thence, she stooped and softly kissed the face which to her was, and ever had been, the most beautiful in the world; and then, following the train of her former musings, came the thought that one day—it might be far distant, but still, in all human probability, it must come—she would kiss her mother’s brow for the last time” (chap 26). Therefore, arguably the feared future “brow” kiss is strongly linked with the “face” kiss; perhaps making them the same body part.

            [6] Again, like the Angus argument this requires close reading or other evidence to justify.

            [7] This data comes from my counting of the approximately 950 direct addresses in Olive – with “Direct Address” simply meaning what Person A calls Person B when, and only when, talking to Person B. What person A calls Person B when talking to Person C is not counted. The data was collected with strict rules, most similar to the kissing data, or analogous to it. There is not enough space here to get into all the details.

            [8] “Darling” is one of two appellations that the narrator described directly: “Olive often said “darling” quite in a protecting way” (chap 19). The other is a cold “my dear” (chap 10).


Works Cited

Anderson, Nancy Fix. “Cousin Marriage in Victorian England.” Journal of Family History 11.3 (1986): 285-301. Web. 21 Mar. 2015.

Bourrier, Karen. ENG 607 L01. University of Calgary. Winter 2015. Class discussion notes.

Heuser, Ryan, and Long Le-Khac. “Learning to Read Data: Bringing out the Humanistic in the Digital Humanities.” Victorian Studies 54.1 (2011): 79-86. JSTOR. Web. 22 Mar. 2015.


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The Kisses of Dinah Mulock Craik’s Olive by Aaron Ellsworth is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Modelling, McCarty and Me

Computing has no significance whatsoever for research in the humanities other than in what is to be done with it, concretely and immediately. … innumerable directions may be taken. … which do we take? (McCarty 199)

Though in the above quote McCarty questions what the set of agendas for the field of humanities computing should be, he also argues individual scholars engaging with particular works are a “primary” driving force in the field (206). Given that, I feel free to ask myself what my agenda is, what direction I desire to take (see McCarty 200 on desire and planned action), as I examine the relationships between the symbols in Renaissance emblem books.

McCarty diagrams the stages of modelling from cultural artifact [emblem books] into computer science and back up to the artifact through humanities computing (197). It seems I have already begun the first two movements: problem specification, and systems analysis. With the first step I have already decided my “specific perspective”: I wish to look at the symbols related to and with the Judeo-Christian God. In a vague way, I already conceived emblem books as “a system of discrete components [the symbols] and relations [within and between emblems]” (McCarty 197). McCarty correctly states “sacrifices” and “compromises” are made during these steps (198). By picking one perspective, I limit what I am studying about the work. How I choose to study the system of symbols affects what sorts of results can be gained, at least from this project.

Yet, because of McCarty, I no longer think my “conceptual design” is “good enough” (see McCarty 198). Originally, I wanted to use the Iconclass hierarchy metadata (see McCarty 89-90 on metadata), to group symbols together in specific emblems and to see which groups persisted in many emblems. In general, projects using Iconclass tend to be very thorough regarding the “what.” For example, looking at this emblem “Invidia [Envy]” as catalogued by the Alciato at Glasgow project, one can see they have missed very little (if anything) with their Iconclass tagging. Reading McCarty’s description of his project looking at personification in the Metamorphosis,[1] lead me to questions of context (54) and weighting (61).[2] Contextually, I want to know what part of the emblem – motto, pictura, and/or subscription – the tags are pointing towards. Within the image itself, the element placement itself could have some contextual meaning: Is the main focal point of the image frequently in the centre? Perhaps I could experiment with image analysis/design software such as Pixcavator IA or PhiMatrix to generate data (taking the “off-the-shelf” route [McCarty 197]). Weighting wise: Should a connection between Iconclass tags be weighted more based on type of relation; in the example, should tags describing envy have a stronger link between them than with the “scenery”?

Like McCarty’s “blind man” I can use received knowledge, in the form of tools (Iconclass and software) and instruction (classes and reading), but my DH work is still self-moving and experimental (McCarty 51). I will learn by doing, and adjust direction based on interaction with the programs and data, making sure to remain explicit about and consistent in applying my choices (McCarty 25).


Works Cited

Adams, Alison et al. Alciato at Glasgow. University of Glasgow. Web. 9 Dec. 2015.

McCarty, Willard. Humanities Computing. Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014. Print.


[1] Oddly, my emblem example is a personification whose subscription comes from Ovid’s Metamorphosis. That was not planned.

[2] McCarty’s application of Heidegger to the process of modelling is quite apt here. For me, the Iconclass tool has gone from “ready-to-hand” as Heidegger defines a tool in use, to “present-at-hand” due to “a failure of the tool” to do what I want it to (McCarty 42), though admittedly not what it was designed for. I have to modify the tool. I expect this will happen more than once, as has been the case in my previous and current DH projects.

Graphs, Maps, Trees: Thoughts on Moretti

            Unlike McCarty, who tended towards generalization, Franco Moretti uses specific projects as exemplars, showing the possibilities of quantitative data and distant reading for the humanities. While my focus is on the “Graphs” chapter, the other two sections impacted my thinking as well. “Trees” made me consider diagramming the representational differences occurring for a single symbol: Dog – Ears Up/Down – Sitting/Standing etc. (see Moretti 77). In “Maps”, Moretti argues that the locations on the map were not at “significant” as the “relations” revealed by the diagrams (54-55). My project is akin to mapping because I wish to look at the relations between symbols; and I could use weighting (see last post) to indicate physical/metaphorical closeness/distance; for example, when the Iconclass tags all refer to aspects of the same ‘figure’ or when a literal image stands in for a metaphorical idea.

            While my project is quite different from Moretti’s study of the rise and fall of genres, several of his comments in “Graphs” are applicable. In general, his comments on the disappearance of genres (18) made me wonder: “How ‘stable’ are the emblem symbols over time?” More importantly, Moretti states “[Quantitative research] provides data, not interpretation” (9, emphasis in original).[1] The data is thus another text, a meta-text, which, akin to close reading, is the object of interpretation. Moretti also mentions how he gathered his data on genres, using the multiple sources and comparing them (18). Unfortunately, while I will be gathering data from other scholars, the Iconclass tagging projects tend not to overlap. Thus, I am limited to one set of tags for most books. Perhaps this fact is mediated by internal double-checking by different scholars within the projects, but it is still something I have to deal with when gathering data.

            Additionally, Moretti discusses the difference between “individual events” and “patterns” each requiring different explanation types (13). I suspect both of these types will occur in my project: symbols that are unique to one author/illustrator, and ones that appear and group repeatedly. Finally, Moretti admits to an instance of not being able to explain something presented by his data (26). This led me to the profound yet simple thought: “It is okay if I do not have an answer.” Such a situation is grounds for further questioning and research.


Works Cited

McCarty, Willard. Humanities Computing. Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014. Print.

Moretti, Franco. Graphs, Maps, Trees: Abstract Models for a Literary History. London: Verso, 2007. Print.


[1] Moretti states that “ideally” data should be “independent of interpretations” (9). That “ideally” hints at, but does not enter into, the problem of interpretation during the data gathering phase. Here is where McCarty’s emphasis “complete explicitness” regarding what one is doing (choice-wise for example) and “absolute consistency” come into play (McCarty 25), hopefully bringing the data as close as possible to the ideal.

A Problem of Standardisation

            My project has a problem. It is one I discovered while researching the Iconclass tags for the Christian deity. Specifically, the issue is whether or not the “single mark-up scheme” – in this case Iconclass – has been applied “thoroughly and consistently” (Cohen and Rosenzweig). In my first post, I praised the thoroughness exhibited in the tagging of an emblem; now I offer one where that level of thoroughness is lacking. This emblem is complex,[1] and at least one element I am interested in has not been tagged in the “Iconclass Headings” section: the tetragram (Hebrew letters representing God the Father – Iconclass tag 11C13) found top-centre near the Holy-Spirit-as-dove. Additionally, there can be multiple tags for similar things: The tetragram could also be tagged 12A111 indicating its use in Judaism.[2] The crucified Christ in the upper-left corner (labeled C in the emblem itself) could be tagged under symbols of Christ (11D) or in images of the Passion (73D), as done here.[3] So, I am relying on the choices and mistakes of others if I use their tags; and I am concerned that this could compromise my results.

            However, there may be no other (expedient) way.[4] Both John Lavagnino and Matthew Jockers offered insight into this problem as I was thinking about it; the latter quite indirectly. Lavagnino writes about how text is different from the elements of a painting (“The Nature of Texts”).[5] He argues you can break text down into “discrete parts”: words or letters. Then you can search through a text, for example, by counting the use of those parts. BUT: “There is no easy way to decompose digital images into anything like an alphabet” (“The Nature of Texts”).[6] Iconclass deals with this ‘searchability’ issue to a certain extent, though the tags are more akin to abstract notions and ideas rather than words or sentences, because Iconclass allows one to tag an image with its associated meaning (see the section on “keys” here, for example). Still, given that one cannot search parts of images directly, that makes the issue of thorough and consistent application paramount. Jockers, quite indirectly, indicates my problem.[7] Writing about TEI, Jockers states “the amount of metadata available [using the TEI markup scheme] is only limited by the encoder’s willingness to modify the documents” (section 10.2). Iconclass is different, but that statement holds true for it as well. Different projects (and different individuals within a project) can have different standards. One project could just tag full human figures for example, while another may get into body parts, positions and expressions. Since I am using metadata from many projects, I cannot guarantee that the Iconclass tags have been applied with the same standard of thoroughness and consistency. Therein lies the problem.


Works Cited

Cohen, Daniel J., and Roy Rosenzweig. “Becoming Digital: To Mark Up, or Not To Mark Up.Digital History: A Guide to Gathering, Preserving, and Presenting the Past on the Web. Center for History and New Media, n.d. Web. 2 Jan. 2016.

Contents of Iconclass. Iconclass. RKD, 2012. Web. 13 Jan. 2016.

Jockers, Matthew L. Text Analysis with R for Students of Literature. Cham, Switzerland: Springer, 2014. Print.

Lavagnino, John. “Digital and Analog Texts.A Companion to Digital Literary Studies. Ed. Ray Siemens and Susan Schreibman. Oxford: Blackwell, 2008. Web. 12 Nov. 2015.

Stäcker, Thomas et al. Emblematica Online: Resources for Emblem Studies. University of Illinois and Herzog August Bibliothek. Web. 13 Jan. 2016.



[1] Click on “View scanned image of Emblem” to open the image in another tab.

[2] However, such a tag may be inappropriate here given the Christian context.

[3] I might add that I believe the latter was the correct choice, given the specific options.

[4] I could tag all the emblems myself, if I had the time. Of course, there would likely still be errors, as I could very well miss elements or incorrectly tag things.

[5] This is a section heading of the online text.

[6] I should note that Lavagnino uses this observation to argue that unsearchable elements, such as font selection and page spacing – that is elements of form – also potentially have importance for the “aesthetic dimension” of the text.

[7] I wish to note that I quite enjoyed Jockers’ book “Text Analysis with R for the Students of Literature” as it excited me with the possibilities for using DH tools. However, most of my responses to Jockers were based on analogy/simile from what he was discussing to what I wanted to do. For example, Jockers wrote about the coding needed to show that multiple text files held works written by the same author, thus creating the “vector of author names” (section 12.7). In the margins of the section, I wrote “I need a way of showing that Iconclass subcategories [analogous to individual text files] are types of the primary categories [analogous to the vector of author names]; but unlike this instance I want both the larger category and the smaller specific type.” I include this to show that my mindset while reading Jockers’ text was not that of following him to the ‘t’; rather I let my mind wander using his text as a springboard to problems and ideas for solutions. Hence the tenuous connection I’ve included in the main blog post.

The Challenge of Hoover and McGann

[Note: When I originally wrote this post it was simply my reaction to David L. Hoover’s essay “Quantitative Analysis and Literary Studies.” The ending of the post was rather weak, largely because I was discouraged by my own desire for definitive and objective data within my project and the realisation that, at present, it does not exist. Perhaps I had fallen into the cognitive distortion of “All or Nothing” thinking,[1] where because it could not be perfect, I viewed my project as a total failure, unable to provide any knowledge about the emblems. So, I delayed posting it.

During the delay, I began reading Jerome McGann’s book Radiant Textuality: Literature after the World Wide Web. Hope returned, bringing with it a more realistic sense of how things stand. What follows is partially the original post, now edited with some references to McGann. As a nod toward McGann’s work with online archives, I have decided to clearly indicate my edits: additions are italicised in square brackets; deleted sections have been retained in footnotes. My goal with this experiment, is to retain both interpretations, to explicitly show my subjective view, simply because I believe my project, and other quantitative humanities projects, benefit from such candor, as it makes interpretive decisions more apparent for the end-user/reader. Thus, it seems a good idea to begin the practice now, showing what was changed much like the “historical log” of project changes McGann discusses (92-93).]

Given the problem I discussed last post, it is of little surprise that reading David L. Hoover frustrated me further. Hoover differentiates what close reading and quantifiable analysis can do, and thus what sort of arguments one can make based on the approach. Additionally, he emphasises the “numerical” nature of quantitative approaches especially the element of “accuracy” inherent in mathematics in “measurement, classification, and analysis” (“History, Goals,…”).[2] One thus gets the idea that Hoover wants to separate an individual’s interpretations from the gathering of the data itself. Such a reading is bolstered by his emphasis on automating steps (“Methods”) and his critical response to a quote regarding using “traditional critical interpretation” to “understand the meaning of those statistics.” Hoover indicates that such an approach could be misleading, though he does not seem to discount it entirely (“Four Exemplary Studies”).[3] [Hoover wants a high level, or even complete, objectivity; the objectivity of mathematics (“History, Goals,…”). Jerome McGann counters that “Objectively considered, objectivity is impossible” and the pursuit of it potentially a hindrance (24). What can/should be aimed for is “self-conscious subjectivity” (24), that is, a high-level awareness of one’s interpretations, influences and choices. Such a goal includes, ideally, an accounting of those choices/standards to one’s end-user/audience, allowing them to make a more informed decision as to the usefulness of your data and interpretations. That is not an easy task; Emblematica Online, for example, discusses that it will use Iconclass on its “About the Project” (last paragraph of “Metadata” section). However, I haven’t been able to locate a statement regarding how thorough and complete they intend to tag, or what decisions/guidelines they mandated in their tagging.[4] Where Hoover would likely discard the data I intend to use, McGann would likely accept it, granting that there are challenges to over-come as I go.]

Hoover presents several challenges in his first two sections. In discussing Woolf, he states that to claim something as “characteristic” as “unusual” requires quantified comparison (“History, Goals…”). I would like to know which symbols/symbol complexes are part of larger patterns and which are restricted to a particular work; but I cannot, at present, compare all 1,388 emblem books on Emblematica Online simply because not all of the emblems have been tagged, nor is there a program that can accurately search images for specific parts (given differences in drawing, for example). So perhaps I cannot make claims regarding what is truly a pattern for the whole genre, but I could make a statement regarding the texts I do sample, presenting it similarly to how Hoover does “in a corpus of 46 Victorian novels by six authors…” (“Methods”). Hoover is right when he says that anything “that can be reliably identified can be counted” (“Methods” my emphasis). The issue is inherent in the word “reliably”. Even Hoover admits that “semantic categories”, which images as signs/symbols arguably fall into, are “more difficult to count” (“Methods”), likely for that very reason. [While Hoover proposes an automated system to deal with “semantic categories”(“Methods”), McGann discusses the need for tools for individuals to mark up images, specifically allowing parts of images to be accessible to researchers in a searchable, and likely countable, way (62, 69, 94-95). McGann, unlike Hoover, seems to favour a hands-on approach in this regard. McGann leaves room for the human.]

[5][Originally, I bought in to Hoover’s statement that “poor initial choices can lead to wasted effort and worthless results” (“Methods”) and I considered whether using the Iconclass decisions of others was such a mistake. McGann himself writes “it does not bode well to begin with a logic one knows to be inadequate” (90). It is quite easy to see issues with the Iconclass data I intend to use; for example, individual taggers may have tagged things slightly differently.[6] If I aspire to Hoover’s level of objective certainty, then the issues with this data become unbearable. BUT, McGann’s next sentence applies: “On the other hand, what were the choices?” (90). Additionally, like McGann, I take issue with Hoover’s apparent assertion that failure is “worthless” (“Methods”). McGann writes about the “unexpected rewards of failure” (82). He indicates a growth in knowledge not just of the object(s) studied, but also of the one’s own methods.[7] He even relates an instance where playing, or experimenting, with tools revealed unexpected things, prompting further exploration (82-87). While Hoover seems to want each project to know exactly where it will go,[8]McGann is more open to serendipity, while still arguing for documentation of choices and standards (91-93 for example) and for consistent application (for example, image alterations that appeared useful in one instance, were recorded and exactly applied to others for comparative purposes; see 85). From such a perspective, one cannot know if a previous choice is “poor”, until one works with it, and since one still learns, the effort and results can never be completely “worthless”. I choose to follow McGann, and learn where I am going, as I am going there.]


Works Cited


Burns, David D. “Checklist of Cognitive Distortions.” 1999. PDF file.

Hoover, David L. “Quantitative Analysis and Literary Studies.” A Companion to Digital Literary Studies. Ed. Ray Siemens and Susan Schreibman. Oxford: Blackwell, 2008. Web. 4 Jan. 2016.

Lavagnino, John. “Digital and Analog Texts.A Companion to Digital Literary Studies. Ed. Ray Siemens and Susan Schreibman. Oxford: Blackwell, 2008. Web. 12 Nov. 2015.

McGann, Jerome. Radiant Textuality: Literature after the World Wide Web. New York: Palgrave, 2001. Print.

Stäcker, Thomas et al. “About the Project.” Emblematica Online: Resources for Emblem Studies. University of Illinois and Herzog August Bibliothek. Web. 13 Jan. 2016.



[1] See this PDF for more info on cognitive distortions and “All or Nothing” thinking – particularly the first entry in section “The Ten Forms of Twisted Thinking”.

[2] Citations for Hoover indicate section headings due to the lack of page numbers.

[3] Original post: Since the Iconclass metadata relies on humans inputting the data, it seems that human interpretation of the images is inevitable, even if I get a computer to count the tags I am arguably not counting elements of the emblems themselves, (remember that Lavagnino discussed how difficult it is to program a way to count images, given how an object can be drawn many different ways), I am counting others interpretations, even if I can reasonably argue for a level of accuracy in those interpretations. While I am still questioning if that may offer something useful and meaningful, I don’t think Hoover would approve.

[4] [Even with that, McGann notes problems of ambiguity and interpretation of the markup systems within his own project (91). It seems that there is always some wiggle room, no matter how self-conscious or explicit one makes one’s subjectivity. My preference would be for each tag to ‘highlight’ or somehow indicate which portion of the image it is referring to, thereby giving me, and other end-users, an opportunity to evaluate the choice of tag. Alas.]

[5] Original concluding paragraph: Thus I am left with the question, is using the Iconclass tags a “poor initial choice” which “can lead to wasted effort and worthless results” (“Methods”)? I suppose it depends on what questions I want to answer and what claims I hope to make. Still, perhaps I can counter Hoover by asking, what makes a result worthless, even if a result cannot answer questions because of issues in its method, does it not at least teach us about the holes in the method itself and what needs to be improved? If so, is the effort actually wasted?

[6] [I haven’t been able to confirm or deny whether the emblems were tagged by more than one person each; I hope they were, as it at least gives the opportunity for one person to see and tag things the other missed.]

[7] [Or even the limitations of one’s software (94).]

[8] [To be fair, Hoover does leave room for “happy surprises”, though he seems to indicate that those should lead to a separate study in that they call for “further or different quantification” (“Methods”), rather than an integration into the present project.]

Counting Symbols – A Proposal

Semiotics and religion seem inseparable. Christianity itself has a rich tradition of symbols used to indicate aspects of their deity. Emblem books, a genre which began and flourished during the Renaissance, partook in that symbolic history, using earlier symbols and perhaps creating their own. However, each symbol did not exist in a vacuum on the emblem book page, they united with other characters, objects and settings in a complex of visual semiotics.

Though the Iconclass data of Emblematica Online’s large collection of emblem books is limited, simply because not every emblem has been tagged, I wish to test the available data’s ability to answer the following two questions. First, which particular symbolic representations for the Christian deity (this includes abstract notions of god, the trinity, and each of the three persons) were culturally prevalent (and to what extent), and which were likely quirks of a particular emblem creator? Second, which other tagged image-signs appear most frequently with the symbols for God (whether they have signifiers pointing to physical things or abstract notions) and what can be inferred from their common association? For example, it could be an artistic tendency by emblem creators (for a type of setting, perhaps), a known and still used semiotic linkage between the ideas expressed, or one contained to the cultural circumstances of the genre. While working towards answering these questions, I will also be able to examine if Iconclass tags are an accurate enough data set for quantitatively based literature investigations.

I will compile (hopefully with the assistance of Emblematica Online staff) a data set for a selected corpus of 1686 emblems,[1] indicating the book, author and illustrator (if the latter is available), nation of publication (and language), and year published for each emblem, using this information to map out the currently known extent of use for a particular set of symbols as labeled with Iconclass. For the same set of Iconclass categories, I will compile data on which other Iconclass categories appear with each most frequently and offer an interpretation of why, perhaps in conjunction with a close reading, as needed. I have selected about 50 Iconclass categories that tend towards abstractions and personifications rather than the illustration of biblical narrative, as these tend to be more inclusive of an overall theological picture, rather than just a repetition of biblical scenes.[2] These categories cover abstract notions of God, including the deity’s wrath and role as creator; symbolic representations of the trinity as a group, and for each of the persons: Father, Son and Holy Ghost.[3] These symbols can be geometric – circles and triangles – objects, animals, words and letters, mythological creatures or personifications. Thus they can be studied not just individually, but perhaps grouped as well.

Ferdinand de Saussure explained signs (both signifiers and signified) have “no natural connection with the signified” (854). While a drawing of a tree can problematize this notion,[4] it remains true for symbols of a religious nature. Looking at the symbols for the Christian deity within emblem books, examining how widespread they were in place and time and what pictorial/relational contexts they were used in, can offer a clearer picture of the social conventions regarding religion and spirituality within which the emblem book creators and their audiences lived. Not only may it reveal instances of symbolic inheritance from earlier visual arts, it could indicate potential avenues for symbol groupings that exist even today.



Works Cited

Stäcker, Thomas et al. “About the Project.” Emblematica Online: Resources for Emblem Studies. University of Illinois and Herzog August Bibliothek. Web. 13 Jan. 2016.

Saussure, Ferdinand de. “From Course in General Linguistics.” Trans. Wade Baskin. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd Ed. Eds. Vincent B. Leitch et al. New York: W. W. Norton, 2010. 850-66. Print.



[1] This number may be smaller in the end, given that some emblems could include more than one of the symbols I wish to study.

[2] Biblical scenes may still be included, simply because the symbols are used in them as well. In fact, I may discover that, in the emblem books, certain symbols are most frequently associated with such scenes.

[3] AKA Holy Spirit, depending on one’s time period and tradition.

[4] As it could intentionally be symbolising the visual aspect of an actual tree, and thus is not as arbitrary.

Learning from Emblematica Online

            When I placed “Descriptive Metadata, Iconclass, and Digitized Emblem Literature” on my reading list for this project I had no idea, or I had forgotten, that it was written by librarians directly involved with Emblematica Online. Basically, the article discusses issues that they ran into while making the site, and digitising and marking-up the emblems. It also explains the choices they made, such as why they picked Iconclass (it allows for multi-lingual access to the tags [112], and it has a controlled vocabulary [113]). In short their goal was “increased knowledge” about emblem books, and as such the emblems had to be marked-up individually, rather than just digitised. Against the issues I had with David L. Hoover (see this post), the Emblematica Online team recognised that given the “heterogeneous” nature of emblems, determining where an emblem began and ended, as well as “labeling its components requires analysis and interpretation” (114). Humans, specifically librarians and emblem scholars, collaborated on the emblem-level metadata (114). Given that assurance of expertise and reasoning, I am much more confident in the quality of the metadata I wish to use, both Iconclass and bibliographical.

            Cole, Han and Vannoy’s introduction to this paper was quite helpful for my understanding of emblem books; it widened my period of study from just the Renaissance into the Baroque period, covering the years 1531-c. 1750 (111). The trio also discuss the language emblem books were written in, giving credence to my suspicion that the language metadata could indicate where a book was published; in fact, they assure, the vernacular was more common than Latin (111). They also list possible broad sources that inspired the emblem creators: fables, mythology, the Bible, etc. (11). Not that I was unaware of that fact, but it is nice to have a citable source.

            The paper introduced a new term to me: “granularity.” Granularity refers to the “scale or level of detail present in a set of data” (Google definition – the OED failed me on this one; their definition has not been updated, apparently). Basically, the Emblematica Online team dealt with emblem books at different levels of detail: book-level (providing bibliographic details of a full book), emblem-level (112), and even pictura-, inscriptio-, and subscriptio-level (the parts of the emblema triplex [113]). My concern, as I have discovered while using the site, is the transferable access of metadata through different granular levels. Unfortunately, if one uses Iconclass notation as one’s search term, one will only get a listing of applicable emblems; the site does not indicate how many books have emblems meeting that criteria. That means, from a user standpoint, a lot of clicking, counting and copy-pasting; especially since the bibliographic information is locked into the book-level, and does not repeat on the pages at the emblem-level.

            It seems, perhaps, that the type of quantitative project I am undertaking was not originally considered by the team behind Emblimatica Online. Fair enough! It would be impossible to predict every user’s wishes ahead of time. Still, I am encouraged that the librarian trio ended their paper noting that “Collaboration [with Emblem Scholars] is Key” (119). Though this last section seems to say that the scholar is there to ‘fill up’ the metadata information, it also indicates that emblem scholars have helped delineate how “resources” were “sub-divided, identified and made accessible” (119-20). Perhaps I am offering a new problem for the librarians, scholars, and IT personnel to discuss and work to solve.


Works Cited

Cole, Timothy W., Myung-Ja K. Han, and Jordan A. Vannoy. “Descriptive Metadata, Iconclass, and Digitized Emblem Literature.” Proceedings of the 12th ACM/IEEE-CS joint conference on Digital Libraries. New York: Association for Computing Machinery, 2012. 111-20. ACM Digital Library. Web. 28 Jun. 2015.

“granular, adj.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, December 2015. Web. 17 February 2016.

“granularity, n.” Google. Web. 17 February 2016.