Creative Commons License
Victorians Institute Journal Annex content in NINES is protected by a Creative Commons License.
Peer Reviewed

“The New Science of Literary Mensuration”: Accounting for Reading, Then and Now

Jonathan Farina, Seton Hall University


1  Moretti explicitly ascribes his interests in quantitative scholarship to Marxism, quantitative history, geography, and evolutionary theory—all nineteenth-century issues—so it makes sense too that his form of scholarship has a Victorian predecessor.

2  See his keynote lecture to The 2010 Victorians Institute Conference: “Searching for the Victorians” at

3  Lecture I describes five categories of analysis to evaluate novels by: idea of subject, incident, characters, and scenery, and “extra-poetical contents" (40), and in so doing Masson discusses the differences between verse and prose, the importance of probability, and sketches a history of European narrative. Lecture II also tracks the development of the modern novel from prose allegory.

4  On this distinction in relation to the incommensurate forms of literary scholarship in a contemporary institutional context, see Bill Brown, “Counting (Art and Discipline),” Critical Inquiry 35 (Summer 2009): 1032-1053. Masson does argue, particularly at the end of Lecture IV, that the novel ought to be more like epic—novels should have epic breadth and epic interest in the “elemental.”

5  Mary Carruthers has made the point that inventories are requisite to invention: “Having ‘inventory’ is a requirement for ‘invention. Not only does this statement assume that one cannot create (‘invent’) without a memory store (‘inventory’) to invent from and with, but it also assumes that one’s memory-store is effectively ‘inventoried,’ that its matters are in readily-recovered ‘locations.’” The Craft of Thought: Meditation, Rhetoric, and the Making of Images, 400–1200 (New York: Cambridge UP, 1998), 12. Stallybrass discusses Carruthers’s insight in terms of databases in “Against Thinking,” 1582.

6  “On the Protocols of Victorian Citation,” NOVEL: A Forum on Fiction (June 2009): 326-331.

7 Omitted: “ — to wit, in Scotland, or of Scottish birth, and under the immediate shadow of the author of Waverley, John Galt, Mrs. John Stone, Miss Ferrier, the Ettrick Shepherd, Allan Cunningham, Scott’s son-in-law Lockhart, Professor Wilson, Sir Thomas Dick Lauder, Andrew Picken, and David M. Moir; in Ireland, or of Irish birth, Mr. Thomas Colley Grattan, Banim, Crofton Croker, Gerald Griffin, and William Carleton; and in England, and chiefly of English birth, Godwin’s daughter Mrs. Shelley, Lady Caroline Lamb, Mr. Peacock, Thomas Hope, Leigh Hunt, Theodore Hook, and his brother Dr. James Hook, James Morier, Mr. Lister, Mr. Plumer Ward, Mr. Gleig, Mr. Horace Smith, Miss Mitford, Miss Landon, Mr. Disraeli, Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton, Mrs. Gore, Captain Marryat, Mr. James, and Mrs. Trollope.”

8  Omitted: “when I mention those of Lady Blessington, Miss Martineau, Mrs. S. C. Hall, Mr. Harrison Ainsworth, Mr. Leitch Ritchie, the Howitts, Mr. Folkestone Williams, Charles Dickens, Mr. Lever, Mr. Samuel Warren, Douglas Jerrold, Elliot Warburton, Mr. James Grant, Mrs. Crowe, Miss Jewsbury, William Makepeace Thackeray, Mr. Lewes, Mr. Shirley Brooks, Mr. Whyte Melville, Mr. Wilkie Collins, the brothers Mayhew, Mr. Charles Reade, Mr. James Hannay, Mr. Whitty, Mr. Anthony Trollope, Mrs. Marsh, Mrs. Oliphant, Miss Kavanagh, Miss Mulock, Miss Sewell, Miss Yonge, Miss Craik, Miss Brontë, Mrs. Gaskell, Charles Kingsley, and the author of Tom Brown, they…”

9  Masson footnotes this estimation: “The names cited by me are those of the writers with whose works my own acquaintance, direct or indirect, chances to be greatest; but, in the list prefixed to the second volume of Mr. Jeaffreson’s Novels and Novelists (1858), I count thirty-five additional names, and every season is adding fresh ones” (217). Masson refers to John Cordy Jeaffreson’s Novels and Novelists from Elizabeth to Victoria, 2 vols. (London: Hurst and Blackett, 1858). Masson also adds: “You will understand that I do not suppose included in this catalogue the contemporary American writers of prose fiction. These also have been numerous, and there have been among them, as you know, writers whose works have interested as powerfully on this side of the Atlantic as on the other; but, except by implication, I do not take them into account.”

10  See Amanda Anderson, The Powers of Distance: Cosmopolitanism and the Cultivation of Detachment. Princeton: Princeton UP, 2001.

11  Dallas mocked natural science and counting, complaining of how scientists count “the number of legs on a crab, the number of joints on a lobster’s tail,” and so on and call it knowledge of God (47). As Suzy Anger has noted, Frederick James Furnivall sought an objective, statistically based criticism (134).

12  As John Keating (Robin Williams) says in Dead Poets Society, “I like Byron, I give him a 42, but I can’t dance to it.” The film Dead Poets Society (1989) refers to the fictional “Understanding Poetry by J. Evans Prichard, Ph.D.,” but the passage on graphing poetry according to perfection (execution) and importance (of subject) is copied from Laurence Perrine’s Sound and Sense, An Introduction to Poetry (1956).

13  For examples: “one” (78), “two” (49), “three” (78), “several” (88), “ten … six” (63), “thirty” (69), “thirty-six” (67), “forty-four” (82), “fifty” (74), “70,000” (164), “first” and “third” (54), “sixth … twelfth … eighth” (47), “thirteenth” (48), “fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth” (52), “seventeenth” (55), “eighteenth” (84), “thirtieth” (69), “sixty-first” (88).


No links