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.

Quote of the Week

According to my experience, the conventional notion of a lover cannot always be true. The unqualified truth is that, when I loved Estella with the love of a man, I loved her simply because I found her irresistible. Once for all; I knew to my sorrow, often and often, if not always that I loved her against reason, against promise, against peace, against hope, against happiness, against all discouragement that could be. Once for all; I loved her none the less because I knew it, and it had no more influence in restraining me than if I had devoutly believed her to be human perfection.

-Charles Dickens, Great Expectations

#99 Great Expectations, Charles Dickens

 

Calling your book Great Expectations is, of course, a recipe for disappointment. Charles Dickens, ever the King of Brilliant Plots and Boring Prose, leaves you feeling like you’re waiting for water to boil. And yet it could be so awesome, what with the fugitive-convict-turned-mysterious-benefactor, and the creepy specter bride that is Miss Havisham, and her heartbreaker/cynic of an adoptive daughter. Who wouldn’t want to read that book? 

Well, me, it turns out. After A Tale of Two Cities, I gave up on you, Dickens. You’re having a rainy day even in the afterlife, aren’t you? Also, why are you so obsessed with orphans?

Great Expectations is a story about karma and class. Pip’s entourage spends years repenting the not-so-terrible things they did to him, and applauding him for the not-so-admirable things he did for them. Class rears its ugly head just long enough to point out that higher social status doesn’t always mean greater happiness.

And if you can make it through the whole book without a single yawn, you’re my hero.

Is It One of the Greatest Books of All Time?

Ugh, yes. Fine. But I begrudge it.

Favorite Quotes:

Ask no questions and you’ll be told no lies.

According to my experience, the conventional notion of a lover cannot always be true. The unqualified truth is that, when I loved Estella with the love of a man, I loved her simply because I found her irresistible. Once for all; I knew to my sorrow, often and often, if not always that I loved her against reason, against promise, against peace, against hope, against happiness, against all discouragement that could be. Once for all; I loved her none the less because I knew it, and it had no more influence in restraining me than if I had devoutly believed her to be human perfection.

Read: 2003