The Riddle goes Lausanne

A well-know fact amongst digital humanists is that the Digital Humanities Conference of 2014 will be organized in Lausanne, Switzerland. However, most of them will be less familiar with the (fictional) conference that took place in Lausanne 67 years ago:

“Over een eeuw, over driehonderd jaar, als mijn moeder, mijn zuster en ik niet meer leven, zal iedereen die de moeite neemt in het gedenkboek Mallinckrodt kunnen opzoeken wie er deelgenomen hebben aan het congres in Lausanne, juli 1947. Von Karbinsky uit Krakow, Stahl uit Göttingen, Pelletier uit Lyon. Maar als hun blik over het hoofd van mijn vader glijdt, weten zij niets. Mijn moeder, Eva en ik zijn de enige bezitters van het gedenkboek die hem kennen. Alfred de eerste. Alfred de eerste, mompel ik dan, en zet het boek op zijn plank terug.”

A century from now, or two or three, when my mother, my sister and I are long dead, anyone who cares to will be able to find out who attended the conference in Lausanne by consulting the MALLINCKRODT MEMORIAL VOLUME. Von Karbinski from Cracow, Stahl from Göttingen, Pelletier (Lyon), James (Oxford)… But when their gaze stops at my father’s face they won’t know who he is.

– Nooit meer slapen, 1966, Willem Frederik Hermans
(cited from the 32th edition included in Volledige werken, 2010
& translation Beyond Sleep by Ina Rilke, 2006).

A lot of Dutch literary scholars, as well as W.F. Hermans fans, will most probably recognize this particular scene from Nooit meer slapen (Beyond Sleep); one of the most studied modern Dutch novels which is considered to be very literary. In The Riddle of Literary Quality project we examine what text-intrinsic factors might play a role in evaluating a novel as literary and/or as good. Unfortunately, Hermans’ novel is not included in the corpus, because we study fiction that has been published after 2006. But if the novel were part of the corpus, we would definitely investigate if the formal features of his novels share characteristics with the novels of his contemporaries that nowadays are part of the canon, and differ from the authors from the sixties that are completely forgotten.

Half a century after the conference described in the abovementioned paragraph, not so much seems to have changed. Scholars still attend conferences, and conferences are still being organized in Lausanne. The object of literary scholars might for some time have moved away from the intrinsic properties and the style of texts (see Rónán McDonald, Death of the Critic, 2007), but textual and stylistic analysis are having a comeback. This phenomenon seems to coincide with the rise of the digital and computational methodologies within the humanities. Innovative tools and methods offer new opportunities of studying the intrinsic properties of literature in a more empiric manner. In the Riddle-project this is exactly what we pursue. Therefore, we have submitted the papers summarized below to the DH conference, which all have been accepted. And perhaps a century from now, or two or three, when our mothers, sisters and we are long dead, anyone who cares to will be able to find out who attended the conference in Lausanne, 2014. Van Dalen-Oskam, Coolen, Jautze and Filarski; from The Hague and from Amsterdam.


  1. In the long paper μServices and The Riddle of Literary Quality, written by Gertjan Filarski, Hayco de Jong and Karina van Dalen-Oskam, the general aims of the project The Riddle of Literary Quality will be summed up. Then they will describe the technical workflow in the project: a chain of μServices written in Java for the analysis of the features in our corpus and survey data that can also be used by others to repeat and to verify our analyses.
  2. Beautiful lips and porcelain cheeks: extracting physical descriptions from recent Dutch fiction by Corina Koolen, Sander Wubben and Andreas van Cranenburgh, presents how (well) descriptions from fiction can be extracted. In this long paper they zoom in on the physical description of fictional characters. They compare two approaches to extract the descriptions: (1) manual development of lexical-linguistic patterns and (2) machine-learning, and will show that the latter approach is more successful than the former.
  3. Kim Jautze examines in Measuring the style of chick lit and literature if stylometric analysis can be applied for stylistic research of novelistic genres. During her poster presentation she will present that, with regard to the distribution of the most frequently used words, the literary authors of this corpus have a more detailed-orientated descriptive style when compared to the chick-lit style, which tends to be more informal and involved.

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