Punctuation Maps of Classic Novels (Medium)

This is one (actual, several) of the strangest literary projects I’ve come across in all my internet trawling: a study of punctuation in classic novels. If you’ve ever wondered what your favorite books look like stripped of words, well, here they are in their undergarments.

The author, one Adam Calhoun, looked at titles ranging from Great Expectations to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and found remarkable disparities in the use of commas, semi-colons, periods, and quotation marks. A Farewell to Arms is, of course, full of short, comma-less sentences and dialogue. Blood Meridian apparently tolerates only the period. And then there’s Absalom, Absalom!, Calhoun’s favorite book, for reasons we can only begin to diagnose.

In Calhoun’s own words:

Clearly, some authors are more okay with long, rambling sentences than others. William Faulkner looks at your short sentences and says nothing less than fuck you.

Calhoun lays out chart after chart to map punctuation use in increasingly interesting ways. Where it gets really weird, and especially beautiful, is in the final “heat map” section—also known as all of the classics rendered as sunsets.

Happy reading, and mapping, if that’s your thing.