Prolific and popular playwright, poet, novelist, and translator, Aphra Behn (1640-1689) plays a key role in history as the first English woman to earn a living by her literary works. Quantitative Literary Analysis of the Works of Aphra Behn: Words of Passion offers what no book has done to date, an analysis of all Behn's extensive and diverse literary output. It examines the author's use of words in terms of frequencies and distributions, and stacks the words in context to read Behn's word usage synchronically. This experimental analysis of Behn's literary corpus provides a statistical overview of Behn's writing and a study of her works according to the logic of the concordance, and it reveals Behn's keen interest in the extreme force and paradoxical power of love.

Love, for Behn, is always an external power, sometimes figured as the boy god Cupid or an abstraction, that enters the body with pain and pleasure and leaves the victim searching for understanding. Moving back and forth between the telescopic and the microscopic view, this analysis demonstrates the interpretive potential of digital corpus work, and it provides a fascinating reading of synchronic patterns in Behn's writing, from the dominant love and the small word sir to Behn's unique emphasis on female pronouns. The book works in collaboration with existing literary scholarship to augment the practice of close reading by facilitating the rapid moves from full corpus to unique subsets, individual texts, and specific passages. It facilitates the connections among works that share verbal structures that would otherwise not register in diachronic reading.

Each chapter focuses on one type of writing: poetry, drama, and prose. The chapters begin with an overview of the documents that make up the corpus for the genre (e.g. the 80 published poems attributed to Behn in her lifetime; 18 plays and 12 prose works). By structuring the corpora by genre, this analysis of Behn's works assumes that the works included in each cohere enough to present results that characterize Behn's writing in that genre. The poems share characteristics of style, which include a focus on short lines, nouns, sound patterns, metaphors, and in Behn's case, the language of the pastoral mode. In addition to the distinct conventions of Restoration comedy, Behn's drama corpus highlights verbs and the social dynamism of small words like thou, thee and sir. Her prose works, particularly her fiction, also feature a noun-laden and descriptor heavy most-frequent-word list and words that characterize narrative, like said, time, and self. Her signature lush style, already noted in criticism, is refined in her fiction to tell numerous stories of the heart. Each chapter of the book focuses exclusively on Behn's works from one genre to distill the distinct characteristics of Behn's writing in that form.

Each chapter also features a unique comparative study that illustrates Behn in a specific context. The poetry chapter compares Behn's Poems Upon Several Occasions to a corpus of six contemporary poetry collections by Ephelia (1679), the Earl of Rochester (1680), Nahum Tate (1684), Anne Killigrew (1684), Edmund Waller, fifth edition, 1686, and Philomela or Elizabeth Singer Rowe (1696). The Drama comparison includes plays by Thomas Killigrew, William Davenant, John Dryden, Thomas Shadwell, George Etherege, Edward Ravenscroft, Thomas Durfey, Thomas Otway, Thomas Southerne, and Mary Pix. Behn's Fiction corpus is compared to Aretina by George McKenzie (1660), The Blazing World, by Margaret Cavendish (1668), Five Love-Letters to a Cavalier translated by Roger L'Estrange (1678), John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress (1678), The Princess of Cleves by Madame de La Fayette (1679), Don Tomazo by Thomas Dangerfield (1680), The Royal Loves, by Mademoiselle (Anne) Roche-Guihen (1680), The Martyrdom of Theodora and Didymus by Roger Boyle (1687), Incognita by William Congreve (1692) and The Inhumane Cardinal by Mary Pix (1696).

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.5038/qla.data