No difference between Charles Dickens and the world's worst writer.

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posted on May, 7 2013 @ 03:38 PM
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One is feted the world over as a titan of English literature; the other is ridiculed as a byword for clunky, artless fiction.

But can anyone tell the difference?

A new study has found that people really are none the wiser about whether they're reading a Charles Dickens masterpiece or one of the works of Edward Bulwer-Lytton, billed as 'the worst writer in history'.

In a university experiment, more than 9,000 people worldwide were presented with a dozen passages from the novels of the two Victorian authors.

Then they were asked to identify which was the soaring prose of Dickens and which were penned by his unfortunate contemporary.

Startlingly, the average score was a meagre 5.78, meaning that only 48 per cent of answers were correct and respondents would have done better by simply tossing a coin.

To eliminate any suggestion of snobbishness, the researchers also isolated the responses of those at prestigious universities, including Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard and Yale.

However, even among the educational elite, the success rate rose only to 50 per cent.

Read more: Charles Dickens… or the world's worst writer?




posted on May, 7 2013 @ 03:57 PM
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reply to post by simus
 


They both spoke a different language to the language we all speak today, this is why people might find it difficult to tell them apart. To the modern reader all they hear in their heads is white noise.

Edward Bulwer-Lytton coined the term "the pen is mightier than the sword", obviously this was a time before television...



posted on May, 7 2013 @ 04:14 PM
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I'd rather read either of those authors than L. Ron Hubbard, or most of Frank Herbert. Really, there are awful authors these days too. Outside the bound of respectful, serious literature, there is some really dreadful stuff. I have seen some good writing in science fiction (excepting Hubbard and Herbert (except for Dune)), fantasy, and even the pulps, but what about literature where Strunk & White would not dare to tread? I don't quite know where to point the finger, as I have come to be careful with what I read. Can anyone name some uncommonly bad literature??



posted on May, 7 2013 @ 09:55 PM
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I've always found Moby Dick to be horrendous.

I've tried to read it multiple times because, well its a classic, but I can never keep going for very long. I simply hate the way he writes.



posted on May, 8 2013 @ 06:45 AM
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I think this study is a bit disingenuous. Dickens is not a great stylist. He was a great storyteller and social commentator. He created vivid characters and put them through awful situations to see them prevail. But his "style" was very typical of his time, and so many writers are going to share that style. It would be like pitting Thomas Pynchon versus Don DeLillo, or Stephen King versus Dean Koontz. A hundred years from now it may be just as difficult for people to distinguish writers with a similar literary style.



posted on May, 8 2013 @ 07:22 AM
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Originally posted by Hopechest
I've always found Moby Dick to be horrendous.

I've tried to read it multiple times because, well its a classic, but I can never keep going for very long. I simply hate the way he writes.


So you are saying you can't tell the difference between Dickens and Melville?

CJ



posted on May, 8 2013 @ 12:48 PM
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Originally posted by Toromos
I think this study is a bit disingenuous. Dickens is not a great stylist. He was a great storyteller and social commentator. He created vivid characters and put them through awful situations to see them prevail. But his "style" was very typical of his time, and so many writers are going to share that style.


Was not Bulwer a great story-teller and social commentator?

"Of course, the method used in this investigation has limitations. A novel is characterized not just by its prose style, but also by its plot and characters. The method compares only prose styles. Note, however, that the Bulwer-Lytton quotation, used as an epigraph for the wretched writing contest [3] is just as long as those used in the quiz. At the very least results of the quiz show that the contest could well be named after Dickens. In addition, in a related experiment, publishers had rejected Booker prize-winning novels submitted as works by aspiring authors [5]. The publishers were given the whole chapters of the books, not just paragraphs, but still failed to spot great prose."

arxiv.org...



posted on May, 8 2013 @ 01:52 PM
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It's interesting for sure, idiom can ruin things for some modern readers, though i suspect re Dickens (whom i have never read ) is that the overall story (rather than isolated paragraphs) is where the quality starts to show.

However i love literature, and read many greek and roman authors, be they history or story and thoroughly enjoy them - re-reading some many times. Yet i have read both Sir Walter Scott and Thackeray and ended up trudging through them and not enjoying them at all simply due to the style, despite there being some fantastic stories and characters present... the difference being that the ancient classics have benefitted from modern translations - i cant help but feel though, that re-writing/transliterating Dickens or Scott in a modern idiom would be cringe-worthy and quite wrong though
edit on 8-5-2013 by skalla because: typos, clarity



posted on May, 8 2013 @ 02:20 PM
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Originally posted by simus
Was not Bulwer a great story-teller and social commentator?


I have no idea. I've never read him. My point was that if you're being asked to compare the literary style of two authors, with passages taken at random and anonymized, it could be very hard to distinguish if they share the same archetypal style of their time.

Some authors are easy to distinguish. If you put together texts of William Faulkner and Ernest Hemingway, they are both so markedly different even someone who has never read either author would be able to distinguish them. Other authors are not so easy. It becomes much easier if you have an algorithm that can measure certain things such as sentence length, vocabulary used, syntactical structure, etc., which is what the authors of the study have.



posted on May, 10 2013 @ 04:48 PM
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Originally posted by Toromos
My point was that if you're being asked to compare the literary style of two authors, with passages taken at random and anonymized, it could be very hard to distinguish if they share the same archetypal style of their time.

So it is the style of the time what they ridicule Bulwer for?


Originally posted by Toromos If you put together texts of William Faulkner and Ernest Hemingway, they are both so markedly different even someone who has never read either author would be able to distinguish them.

It is more difficult to tell Faulkner from machine translation.






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