The longue durée of literary prestige

Ted Underwood, Jordan Sellers

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


A history of literary prestige needs to study both works that achieved distinction and the mass of volumes from which they were distinguished. To understand how those patterns of preference changed across a century, we gathered two samples of English-language poetry from the period 1820-1919: one drawn from volumes reviewed in prominent periodicals and one selected at random from a large digital library (in which the majority of authors are relatively obscure). The stylistic differences associated with literary prominence turn out to be quite stable: a statistical model trained to distinguish reviewed from random volumes in any quarter of this century can make predictions almost as accurate about the rest of the period. The "poetic revolutions" described by many histories are not visible in this model; instead, there is a steady tendency for new volumes of poetry to change by slightly exaggerating certain features that defined prestige in the recent past.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)321-344
Number of pages24
JournalModern Language Quarterly
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2016


  • Distant reading
  • Literary prestige
  • Literary reviewing
  • Longue durée
  • Poetic diction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Literature and Literary Theory


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