Gender and Generation

In his interpretation of the 44 genres that rise and fall during the history of the British novel from 1760-1900, Franco Moretti theorizes that it is the audience which accounts for the shifts in genre, that it is generational shifts in taste that has a direct effect on the style of novels being published. I find this analysis interesting because its logic seems to play out and be continued throughout multiple art forms and business models. Advertising lives by this idea, sometimes quite directly and literally with slogans like “the choice of a new generation” but what Moretti is describing is something more subtle and below the surface. I have a few questions about these findings–

1. Where do the authors fall generationally? For someone like Dickens who was prolific for a long enough career to please several generations of readers — was he a savvy businessman studying the changing demographics or was he simply swept into the prevailing zeitgeist unaware?

2. How would this method of inquiry play out in other art forms? I was intrigued by the one map that looked at success of American comedic film overseas. The conclusion drawn by the author was that jokes don’t translate, but I couldn’t help but notice that Serbia topped the list of countries not laughing at American humor during a time that directly coincided with great political upheaval and genocide in their country– an idea mentioned earlier with novels changing during periods of upheaval and revolution.

3. Finally, the gender shift in novels was interesting to me because I don’t think other art forms included female artists in quite the same way. Could we find a similar swing of the pendulum in painting from the same time period? Music composition? Or film direction of the last 100 years? Why are those forms so dominated by men but novels have included women writers in more equal fashion?

One thought on “Gender and Generation”

  1. I think these are almost all questions that we could answer with a qualitative, “distant” approach. For example, for #1 we could map an author birth and death dates alongside the dates of publication of his novels and (if we had it) sales data to show the “market influence” over time (maybe even something like Amazon would have stats on the age of buyers so we could see more about the age of readership?).

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