Sunday, July 18, 2010

I Write Like . . .

So, yesterday I learned from the Huffington Post about a new website where you type in a bit of your own prose and it tells you what famous author most resembles your style of writing.*

It sounded like fun, so I decided to try it out. Since it's hard to sound like yourself when you're self-consciously trying to, Janice suggested I paste in something from one of my blog posts. I chose the one about our three cats having an unexpected and unwelcome visitor in the home a few weeks back (, plugged it in, and hit the 'analyze' button. The result? It says I write like . . . Cory Doctorow. Eww. Another piece from another post gave the result H. P. Lovecraft. And a third, from yet another post, said James Joyce. So apparently I either 'do the police in different voices', so to speak or the program shows its limitations pretty early on.

Then, thinking about all the faith the anti-Hooper school put into computer word analysis programs no more reliable than this one back in the day, I thought it'd be fun to plug in a passage from Lewis's THE DARK TOWER and see what it made of it. The results: P. G. Wodehouse, of all people. A passage from THAT HIDEOUS STRENGTH it indeed identified as having a different style, suggesting that it might have been written by Margaret Mitchell, while OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET registered as Shakespeare and PERELANDRA as having been written by H. G. Wells.

I have to give it credit for one thing, though: when I typed in the opening sentences from THE LORD OF THE RINGS, it said that author wrote like . . . J. R. R. Tolkien. So, score one out of eight for the system. I'm envious of THE DARK TOWER for having gotten the Wodehouse result, though.

--John R.
current reading: THE QUEST FOR SIR ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE (ed. Lellenberg) & THE LOST EXPLORERS [1906] by Alexander MacDonald
current audiobook: THE FATHER XMAS LETTERS, read by Derek Jacobi

*apparently the site's inventer scanned in three books each by fifty different authors, so its sample size for comparison is relatively limited.


Jeff_Grubb said...

You know this thing would JUST GET WEIRDER -


Extollager said...

May I make a couple of distinctions?

Undoubtedly there were adherents of Lindskoog's ideas who were plainly "anti-Hooper." Certainly Lindskoog herself eventually came to the place where she indulged in endless unseemly "barbs" directed against Hooper. Her antics may have gratified her feelings for a moment, but they did not help her cause as a scholar.

However, I think that some readers of Lindskoog's writings saw the matter this way, that the authenticity of the whole Lewis canon did deserve to be established: C. S. Lewis was not just a favorite writer; he was a significant 20th-century writer, like, say, George Orwell. Suppose that, when that fine four-volume series of Orwell's collected journalism and letters was published, back around 1970, an independent scholar had questioned certain previously-unpublished items and so on, in the pages of the TLS. I think this would have seemed appropriate even if the majority of readers and scholars had thought that Sonia Orwell and Ian Angus had done a fine job. Perhaps some readers might have been offended. "Why, Sonia was Orwell's wife! He loved her! Not nice to insinuate that she was up to something shady." But people would have accepted that, when questions about the integrity of the writings of a major writer are raised, they need to be resolved as thoroughly as is reasonable so that future scholarly work will have a solid basis.

I know, it's not a great parallel, but perhaps it helps to show why someone with the credibility of a Joe Christopher would publicly agree with Lindskoog that there were questions that should be resolved.

The other distinction to be made, lest anyone misunderstand: Lindskoog did deploy a dubious argument about computerized textual analysis. But that was not the only basis for her criticisms.

The whole matter is quiescent for now. I suppose just about everybody agrees that the "Dark Tower" fragment is by Lewis thanks to Alistair Fowler's account, etc. Questions about the texts of some of the work published in Lewis's Poems may linger. But nobody pays much attention to them anyway.

My guess? I wouldn't be surprised if, some years down the road, someone with pretty good scholarly credentials will revive the "Lindskoog" matter, since some questions never were resolved -- just as would be the case if my Orwell parallel were real. It is too bad that a credible and independent panel of scholars was not convened to resolve all of the questions by means of the accepted methods of literary authentication. I'd hope that Hooper's editorial work would've come through with flying colors. But while I may be inclined to trust him for the matters that, aside from the "Dark Tower" business, remain (oh, say, the differences between the text of "Under Sentence" as published in Lewis's lifetime (Spectator 7 Sept. 1945) and "The Condemned" (as published in Poems), I don't think that, in the case of other major 20th-century authors, it would be widely acceptable to just trust the editor.

I'm trying to make a couple of distinctions, and not to ignite, what I'm sure you and I and a lot of other people don't desire, a revival here of the whole Lindskoog-Hooper thing. Just delete this if you prefer, John, and there'll be no hard feelings.

Tom Simon said...

I’ve had amusingly mixed results with ‘I Write Like’. My fiction it finds to be in the style of Tolkien, which is gratifying, but hard to take seriously; some of my essays it classifies with Lovecraft, which is deeply bizarre. But an essay in which I riffed on Twain’s ‘Literary Offences of Fenimore Cooper’ to skewer Terry Brooks, when shoved through IWL, turned out to be in the style of . . . ahem . . . Fenimore Cooper.

Ah well. ’Tis sport to have the enginer, etc.

Jason Fisher said...

First try, Lewis Carroll. Not bad. Second try, H.P. Lovecraft, a writer I've never read. Third try — oh, the horror, the horror! No, not Joseph Conrad. Dan Brown. Gaaaaah!!!

John D. Rateliff said...

Hi Jeff:
Thanks for the link. Too bad if the site turns to be something of a scam, since it's a neat idea. I hope someone with more resources will do a more sophisticated version of it down the line.

Hi Extollager
I like your Orwell example (and have two of the volumes you mention, though I haven't gotten around to reading them). If events had followed the course you outline, I don't think anyone cd have raised any objections. Editors make mistakes all the time, and attributing anonymous pieces that appeared in journals to their favorite author is one of them. But "insinuate [the editor] was up to something shady" doesn't begin to cover the Lindskoog/Hooper case. For example, when Lindskoog's claim that "The Man Born Blind" hadn't been written by Lewis was countered by Owen Barfield coming forward to say Lewis had sent him the manuscript and they'd discussed the story, Lindskoog's response was that Barfield had been seduced by Fr. Hooper, who was now blackmailing him over their homosexual liasion. That's not a reasoned and rational response to evidence that counters your theory.

As for someone down the road reviving Lindskoog's accusations, it wdn't surprise me at all -- after all, in her contribution to the four volume Bruce Edwards' LEWIS: LIFE, WORKS & LEGACY project,* Katherine Harper repeats most of them without any acknowledgment of all the evidence advanced to counter them in the last thirty-two years. And just last year someone published a new biography of Joseph McCarthy claiming that he'd been right all along.

It's ironic that we do know of one Lewis text that was massively interferred with and in places re-written by the editor: Warnie's edition of LETTERS OF C. S. LEWIS. (which was in turn massively re-edited by Christopher Derrick before publication). We know what happened, and why; everyone accepts that there was nothing sinister about it, and the matter has long since been put right.

Afraid I'm not familiar with the poem you mention -- cd you point me toward a discussion of the point you raise? My own position is that Hooper's work was open to criticism, not as an editor (where I've checked an original against his edited version I've been impressed at how faithful he is) but in his tendency to conflate his own ideas with Lewis's and to use the weight of his control of the Lewis Estate to try to impose his interpretations on other scholars.

*Vol. II: Fantasist, Mythmaker, & Poet;
Chapter 9: "C. S. Lewis's Short Fiction and Unpublished Works",
pages 157-173

Extollager said...

"Lindskoog's response was that Barfield had been seduced by Fr. Hooper, who was now blackmailing him over their homosexual liasion."

That's appalling. Was Lindskoog insane?

I must have overlooked that statement. I have a set of her "Lewis Legacy" issues and I suppose I read all of them, plus the first book (The C. S. Lewis Hoax) that she wrote about her "suspicions." (I haven't read Light in the Shadowlands or Sleuthing C. S. Lewis except to dip in here and there.)

Lindskoog printed two versions of a poem in "Lewis Legacy" #66 (Autumn 1995), pp. 12-13. Lindskoog's points in support of her contention that the version published in Poems (the 1964 book edited by Walter Hooper) is inferior to the version published in The Spectator in 1945 are strained, suggesting her ill will towards Hooper. Still, Lewis is an important enough author that the texts of his works should be assessed and established as carefully as we would do for other major authors. The poem ("Under Sentence" in The Spectator; "The Condemned" in Poems) is one I was thinking about quoting in connection with Lewis's and Tolkien's concern about soil health, wholesome food, etc. (they anticipate our Kentucky essayist Wendell Berry, who quotes from Lewis's That Hideous Strength in Berry's major book The Unsettling of America). For that purpose it perhaps hardly matters which version of the poem I use. But the fact is that I have to think about that. The version published in Lewis's lifetime? Or the one that was published posthumously as representing Lewis's final thoughts? Makes me uncomfortable to have to deal with the question. So I wish we could have had matters such as this settled, without recrimination, without haste, but with the attention to detail that a major author deserves.

We have scholars (not me!) who could undertake this, but I fear they would have to fight back nausea prompted by such stuff as you mentioned.

John D. Rateliff said...

Hi Extollager
I don't think Lindskoog was crazy -- I think she disliked Hooper's being King of the Mountain in Lewis studies and wanted to unseat him from that position of power. She certainly diminished Hooper's stature, but failed to take his place.

I wish I had a set of THE LEWIS LEGACY. I felt at the time it wd have been hypocritical to subscribe, since I didn't adhere to her pt of view, but in retrospect it wd be a valuable resource tool to have on hand (at least such has proved the case with the online issues) -- at least such as proved the case when recently I was refuting her claim that CSL didn't write JRRT's obit.

I appreciate yr point re. the Lewis poem. If I shared yr concerns, I'd quote the version from Lewis's lifetime (hoping that the journal's editor presented the text accurately), then if needed cite the later version, along w. Hooper's note in POEMS that Lewis revised many of the poems after their initial publication. Or you cd simply write to him c/o his publisher and ask him about this specific poem.

Having read so much of Lindskoog's material, you might also want at some point to read her original article which appeared in (I think) CHRISTIANITY & LITERATURE back in 1978, where she first sets out her case against Hooper in more moderate terms than she wd later use.


Extollager said...

Yes, I think citing the text as printed in Lewis's lifetime would be the way to go. At least one has a date of publication for it. The revisions in Poems aren't dated.

I did read Lindskoog's original article, and also Owen Barfield's response in a subsequent issue, although I don't have them at hand. Owen could have done a better job of responding to the issues she raised.

Extollager said...

And I withdraw the "insane"; but /what/ could Lindskoog have been thinking with a seduction/blackmail ploy? Never mind Hooper for a moment; consider that Barfield was one of Lewis's closest friends, the legal advisor to whom he entrusted the disbursement, and even in some cases the selection of objects, of his extensive and self-denying charities. Where on earth did she write or say such a thing?

John D. Rateliff said...

Hi Extollager

Lindskoog made the comments at the 1989 MythCon in Vancouver; my wife was one of those in audience at the time.

Barfield's support of Hooper was a major problem for Lindskoog's theory, so undercutting his authority was a major goal of hers.

We shd probably wrap up this thread now, though, since the commentary's now longer than the original post!

--John R.