Katy Rosen

Austen Fancies “Fancying” and Nabokov Loves “Mauve”: Patterns in Popular Literature

Katy Rosen

Synesthesia is generally described as a neurological crossover of the senses. Essentially, the stimulation of one sense causes the experience of another. In his autobiography, author Vladimir Nabokov wrote that his synesthesia caused his brain to conjure colors when he heard different letters and sounds.

In Nabokov’s Favorite Word is Mauve, data journalist Ben Blatt seeks to learn more about the Russian-American author, as well as other famous writers, by quantifying their writing styles. Blatt created a database of text from twentieth-century classics and bestsellers to discover patterns within great writing. By analyzing the novels of popular writers, Blatt created an extensive library of data to draw from.

One general trend he found was that shorter opening sentences and fewer adverbs are two characteristics of many popular novels. Other findings were more specific. For instance, Danielle Steel mentions weather in the first sentence of 46 percent of her 92 analyzed novels, and Jane Austen’s top three most-used words were civility, fancying and imprudence. Fancy that!

Based on Blatt’s title, I bet you can guess one of Nabokov’s trends. Blatt found that Nabokov “used the word mauve 44 times more often than the average writer in the past two centuries.” This makes a lot of sense, given his synesthesia. I wonder which words caused Nabokov to see mauve?

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