Jane Austen knew what was up

In depressing news, this article at the Guardian goes into the  decline of women characters and writers.

Academics from the universities of Illinois and California at Berkeley used an algorithm to examine 104,000 works of fiction dating from 1780 to 2007, drawn mostly from HathiTrust Digital Library. The algorithm identified both author and character genders. The academics expected to see an increase in the prominence of female characters in literature across the two centuries. Instead, “from the 19th century through the early 1960s we see a story of steady decline,” write Ted Underwood, David Bamman and Sabrina Lee in their paper The Transformation of Gender in English-Language Fiction, which has just been published in the Journal of Cultural Analytics.

As well as the drop in the number of characters who are women or girls, they also found “a fairly stunning decline” in the number of books written by women in the first half of the 20th century, writing that “the proportion of fiction actually written by women … drops by half (from roughly 50% of titles to roughly 25%) as we move from 1850 to 1950.”

One possible reason for the decline?

The academics speculate that one reason for the drop of female authors, which reversed around 1970, could be the “gentrification” of the novel. In the mid-19th century, novel-writing was not a “high-status career”, but as it increasingly became so, it became more desirable to male writers.

Sounds about right.

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