After I finally got Cirrus to work on my computer, I found it to be mildly addicting. I did several novels and some poems that ultimately did not yield very interesting (or surprising, as Lingerr noted) results, but one novel’s word cloud that intrigued me was Bronte’s Villette, which you can view here. Apologies in advance for those who haven’t read the novel yet.

I found that the Voyant tool was useful in detecting names and words that fell below the radar as I was recollecting Villette. Since Bronte’s novel itself is so concerned with invisibility and surveillance, I thought it was interesting how my memory seemed to elide over certain characters’ ubiquity in the novel. A question for fellow Bronte-ists: if you had to make your own word cloud for Villette, would you immediately list “Madame” (331 times, 4th in overall frequency, 1st character) as one of the primary words? I suppose I would pick out John (163)/Graham (202), Paul Emmanuel (166), or Polly (didn’t even make the word cloud) before Madame Beck. But upon further reflection, her prevalence makes complete sense, given her omnipresence and omniscience, operating as the “thought” (307) police within the girls’ school that she runs. Did I just forget about her because the bildungsroman and romance plots stuck in my mind more than other aspects of the book a couple months later?

Her predominance also made me think about the similarities between Lucy and Madame Beck; I suppose that Mme Beck is Lucy’s closest female “double,” in a way. One could re-evaluate the power and gender dynamics of the novel — particularly in terms of Lucy herself — and how that manifests itself in the story’s structure as a whole. Bronte demonizes Mme Beck in so many ways, but if one chose to be *generous* and look past her heartless disposal of employees or the drugging Lucy into an opium frenzy…she does ultimately secure Lucy’s independence by the end of the story.

Since Villette is Bronte’s reconfiguration of her earlier novel, The Professor, I was interested in how issues of power and gender emerged in that respective word cloud. Here it is. One obvious difference between the two novels is that one is narrated by a man and the other by woman, but it’s more interesting how Bronte subtly encoded gender in each story. (N.B. Villette is much longer than The Professor so the proportions might be slightly off.) A word what occurred more often than I remembered: “monsieur” (155 times, also the 4th in frequency). “Mdlle” (112) occurs pretty often, too, but that seems to be dispersed among multiple female characters, whereas “Madame” in Villette generally just refers to Madame Beck. I am interested to know what you guys think of these results — do they alter/re-adjust one’s perception of the novels?

Other interesting and slightly amusing word frequencies: “little” is second in frequency for both novels. Going through Villette, the word seemed mostly to apply to Paulina, though there is also that scene when Lucy enters the “very tiny” salon with its “little couch” and “little chiffonniere” (p. 485). This maybe reflects Bronte’s preoccupation with compartmentalization and containment. As aforementioned, Bronte refers to Dr. John Graham Bretton more often as “Graham,” his name as a youth, than as “John.” Notable absences from Villette: “Emmanuel” and “Polly/Paulina.” Are Paul E. and Polly supposed to add up to each other in a way? And “Hundsen” figures predominantly in The Professor’s word cloud, though he just seemed to be a disconcerting presence that showed up haphazardly at various points in the story.

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