Mapping the Demographic Landscape of Characters in Recent Dutch Prose: A Quantitative Approach to Literary Representation / Het demografisch landschap van literaire personages in de recente Nederlandse roman: een kwantitatieve benadering van literaire representaties
Keywords:diversity, Dutch literature, distant reading, representation, identity, diversiteit, Nederlandse literatuur, representatie, identiteit
The lack of ethnic and gender diversity in the Dutch literary domain has recently been subject to discussions in the public debate. In the academic context, questions regarding diversity are studied either on a literary-sociological level (institutional approaches) or on the level of the individual text (close readings). In this article we question the representation of gender, ethnic and class diversity on a larger scale than most qualitative studies address. This type of quantitative analysis of representation is commonly applied in media studies, but has not yet been utilised in literary studies. We provide an exploration of a quantitative approach to the representation of characters within the Dutch novel. Through ‘distant reading’ we collected identifying marks of 1,176 characters (gender, descent, education, profession, age) in 170 novels from the bulk list of the Libris Literatuurprijs 2013, a prestigious award for Dutch literature. Thus, we intended to map a ‘demographic landscape’ of characters in recent Dutch literature.
On the basis of our results, we argue (1) that a hierarchy of identities can be discerned in which certain categories dominate others; (2) that the emergence of literary norms becomes most visible through the intersections of different categories; and (3) that within matters of diversity in literature a quantitative approach can complement and enhance qualitative literary analyses.