Common Library 1.0: A Corpus of Victorian Novels Reflecting the Population in Terms of Publication Year and Author Gender
Research in 19th-century book history, sociology of literature, and quantitative literary history is blocked by the absence of a collection of novels which captures the diversity of literary production. We introduce a corpus of 75 Victorian novels sampled from a 15,322-record bibliography of novels published between 1837 and 1901 in the British Isles. This corpus, the Common Library, is distinctive in the following way: the shares of novels in the corpus associated with sociologically important subgroups match the shares in the broader population. For example, the proportion of novels written by women in 1880s in the corpus is approximately the same as in the population. Although we do not, in this particular paper, claim that the corpus is a representative sample in the familiar sense--a sample is representative if "characteristics of interest in the population can be estimated from the sample with a known degree of accuracy" (Lohr 2010, p. 3)--we are confident that the corpus will be useful to researchers. This is because existing corpora--frequently convenience samples--are conspicuously misaligned with the population of published novels. They tend to over-represent novels published in specific periods and novels by men. The Common Library may be used alongside or in place of these non-representative convenience corpora.