Character Networks and Centrality

A character network represents relations between characters from a text; the relations are based on text proximity, shared scenes/events, quoted speech, etc. Our project sketches a theoretical framework for character network analysis, bringing together narratology, both close and distant reading approaches, and social network analysis. It is in line with recent attempts to automatise the extraction of literary social networks (Elson, 2012; Sack, 2013) and other studies stressing the importance of character- systems (Woloch, 2003; Moretti, 2011). The method we use to build the network is direct and simple. First, we extract co-occurrences from a book index, without the need for text analysis. We then describe the narrative roles of the characters, which we deduce from their respective positions in the network, i.e. the discourse. As a case study, we use the autobiographical novel Les Confessions by Jean-Jacques Rousseau. We start by identifying co-occurrences of characters in the book index of our edition (Slatkine, 2012). Subsequently, we compute four types of centrality: degree, closeness, betweenness, eigenvector. We then use these measures to propose a typology of narrative roles for the characters. We show that the two parts of Les Confessions, written years apart, are structured around mirroring central figures that bear similar centrality scores. The first part revolves around the mentor of Rousseau; a figure of openness. The second part centres on a group of schemers, depicting a period of deep paranoia. We also highlight characters with intermediary roles: they provide narrative links between the societies in the life of the author. The method we detail in this complete case study of character network analysis can be applied to any work documented by an index.

Volken, Henri
Kaplan, Frédéric
University of Lausanne

 Record created 2014-12-22, last modified 2018-03-17

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