The Trollopes and Stylometry

by Eleanor Dumbill

The name Trollope is familiar to most readers of Victorian literature. It is most readily associated with Anthony Trollope, though many Victorianists are also familiar with at least the headlines of his mother’s (Frances Milton Trollope) life. There were, in fact, seven published authors in the family over the course of the nineteenth century. We wanted to see how similar the writing styles of these authorial Trollopes were, especially after our identification of particular similarities between works by Thomas Adolphus Trollope and his mother. We suspected that this may, in fact, have stemmed from the mother and son’s professional collaboration, in addition to their close personal relationship. They also acted at various times as the other’s editor. We decided to use stylometry (the statistical analysis of writing style) for a fresh perspective on the relationship between these Trollopes, and between members of the Trollope family more generally.  

After removing those family members who primarily worked in genres other than prose fiction or to whom only one novel was attributed, our corpus consisted of four authors: Frances Milton Trollope, Frances Eleanor Trollope, Thomas Adolphus Trollope, and Anthony Trollope. Rounding out the group was Charles Dickens, chosen because of his editorial relationship with the three younger members of this group and his more scandalous connection to Frances Eleanor Trollope, née Ternan. Our work was guided by two research questions. To what extent can we trace the influence of familial relations on one another’s work? How might we go about the process of untangling these influences when some of these authors are markedly more well-known by modern readers?  

Figure One. Stylometric analysis of prose by the five Trollopes.

The latter question warrants more substantial thought than is possible in an initial study of this kind. However, our results indicated several interesting conclusions about familial and editorial influence. The five authors appear in more or less overlapping clusters (see above figure). A particularly busy area of this analysis represents the similarities between the fiction of Thomas Adolphus, Frances Eleanor, Dickens, and Frances Milton. In our Victorian Review article, we explore what this busyness might mean. In the article, we also reflect on other conclusions we draw from our computational literary analysis, showing how researchers can use ‘distant reading’ techniques like stylometry to complement more traditional methods.  

For more, see Henrickson, Leah and Eleanor Dumbill. “Tangling and Untangling the Trollopes: A Stylometric Analysis of Frances Milton Trollope, Frances Eleanor Trollope, Anthony Trollope, Thomas Adolphus Trollope, and Charles Dickens.” Victorian Review, vol. 47 no. 2, 2021, p. 243-262. Project MUSEdoi:10.1353/vcr.2021.0032.

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