As Josh Honn pithily describes it, “Voyant is a suite of tools collocated into a single, interactive web environment.” In these posts, I’ll concentrate on Voyant for collation work (pt. 1) and using Voyant to help students “screw around” (to use a phrase of Stephen Ramsay’s) with the nineteenth-century novel (pt. 2).

First, Voyant is incredibly easy to use. Upload or link to the text on the landing page:

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Immediately, you’ll be taken to the default tools page. The tools here are Cirrus, Words in the Entire Corpus, Corpus Reader, Word Trends, Key Words in Context, and Words in Document.

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The Documentation site for Voyant is useful for understanding the basics of Voyant.

Voyant Collation and Collocation:

For the past couple days, I’ve been insisting to Josh that Voyant hasn’t revealed anything of particular interest about The Missionary or Luxima–at least, nothing more interesting than what I’ve found collating with Juxta.  Then, just two hours ago, I found something incredibly interesting.

First, a few things to know about these texts.

  • As the corpus reader reveals, Luxima is somewhat shorter than the original Missionary. This isn’t all that surprising. When The Missionary was first published in 1811, reviewers almost uniformly criticized its “affectation” and “outrageously romantic” language. It seems that Lady Morgan took these critiques to heart. Julia Wright, in her introduction to the Broadview edition of The Missionary (2002), remarks that the 1859 version omits those “passages most indebted to the literary conventions of sensibility.” In an article about the changes made to the novel, Cóilín Parsons notes that Luxima is about 10% shorter than The Missionary as a result of Morgan’s revisions
  • Because a majority of Lady Morgan’s changes involve removing overly florid, overwrought sentences, critics then and now have tended to dismiss the revised Luxima as a cosmetic, rather than substantive, improvement over The Missionary.*
  • Anything in Luxima that is an addition rather than an excision, then, is of particular interest to me. Additions, I hypothesize, may point to ways in which Lady Morgan updated the novel to reflect the events of the 1850s. After all, if The Missionary constituted a response to the 1806 Vellore Mutiny, wouldn’t Lady Morgan be cognizant of her novel’s immense potential to comment on the “traumatic” (as Christopher Herbert terms it) Indian “Mutiny” of 1857? The timing of Luxima‘s release in 1859 would indicate as much.
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Do you see what I see?

I used Voyant’s Skin Builder to customize my suite of tools. I was especially jazzed about Collocate, partly because it’s pretty to look at and easy to decipher (as opposed to Scatterplot, which I can’t make out), and partly because it’s a relatively new tool for collocation (not to mention collation!) in Voyant.

(It’s worth mentioning that Voyant’s Documentation site has yet to provide write-ups of Collocate and its related visualization tool, Collocate Clusters, though helpful case studies can be found here and here.)

After playing around with a number of key terms (“eyes,” “mind,” “religion”), I decided to see if “missionary” revealed anything of interest. (Initially, I avoided analyzing “missionary” out of sheer perverseness. I didn’t want to go straight for the most frequently-used word in the corpus–a decision born of some misguided superstition that the most obvious choice is probably the “wrongest” choice. This, I should add, is a poor strategy for taking the SATs as well as for using Voyant.)

In both The Missionary and Luxima, “christian” and “emotion” are regular collocates of “missionary.” These aren’t the words most associated with “missionary”–that honor would belong to “the” (as in “the missionary”) and “luxima”–but they are up there, nevertheless. Fascinatingly, “christian” and “emotion” collocate more with “missionary” in the 1859 Luxima than they do in the 1811 Missionary. 

Here are the raw numbers:

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I ignored the “Ratio” column in Voyant. For me, it was easier to think in terms of percentage of times the collocate appears with the keyword “missionary.”

A breakdown of these numbers in their broader context: First, it’s notable that although Luxima is 10% shorter than The Missionary, the word “christian” appears more frequently. If the novels were the same length, the inclusion of two more instances of “christian” hardly seems significant. However, in the larger context of having quite a bit excised from the original novel, any instances of addition (as I said above) are inherently interesting. Moreover, “christian” collocates with “missionary” at greater frequency in 1859 than in 1811. At first glance, the percentages suggest that the change in frequency is negligible. I want to interpret the numbers slightly differently: for me, as I compare two versions of a novel that are in many ways identical, any change in frequency is–at the very least–a point of inquiry.

Second, although “emotion” makes fewer appearances in 1859, the word is more frequently collocated with “missionary” in 1859 than it is in 1811. This suggests that “emotion” is less frequently associated with some other word–I would guess “luxima”–in 1859.

Although these numbers don’t provide me with any solid, irrefutable interpretation of what’s happening in these texts, they do suggest a series of questions to guide my collocation work in the future.  Is the missionary’s “christianity”–rather than his Catholicism or his association with the Franciscan Order–emphasized more in 1859 than in 1811? If so, why? Furthermore, is our titular missionary more filled with “emotion” in 1859 than in 1811? How does this emotion manifest? (Notably, the missionary “exclaims” far more in 1811 that he does in 1859, suggesting–maybe–that if the missionary is more emotional in 1859, such emotions are felt internally rather than expressed externally.)

Keywords in Context also yielded intriguing results. Using “missionary” as my keyword, I was struck by how often the phrase “[x] of the Missionary” was used in the beginning of both versions of the novel, and how this drops out as the novel progresses. In addition, it was fascinating to track down what “[x]” was in both versions of the novel (i.e., the “enthusiasm of the missionary,” the “thoughts of the missionary,” or the “eloquence of the missionary”).

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On the one hand, it isn’t all that surprising that “[x] of the missionary” appears less frequently in later chapters: as the story unfolds, we become far more invested in the missionary’s actions than in his attributes. On the other, however, I wonder if the gradual disappearance of “[x] of the missionary” is symptomatic of the missionary’s growing identity crisis. That is, as the missionary becomes more involved with Luxima and India in general, his initial, seemingly-fixed characteristics become unstuck, more fluid, more unmoored.

In 1859, it’s worth noting, there are also less occurrences of the phrase “[x] of the missionary.” Is this because Morgan has adopted the more colloquial “The missionary’s [x]” in place of “[x] of the missionary” in 1859? If so, what would this tell us about the style and writerly conventions of the Romantic novel as opposed to the mid-Victorian one?

I want to end this post with an apology to Josh. Josh, I’m sorry I said Voyant wasn’t doing anything for me. I was wrong.


*The novel is unbelievably florid. Here’s an example: “The mountains; the ocean; the lake of subterraneous thunder; the ruins of Moorish splendour; the vestiges of Roman prowess; the pile of monastic gloom:–magnificent assemblages of great and discordant images! What various epochas in time; what various states of human power and human intellect did not ye blend and harmonize, in one great picture! What a powerful influence were not your wilderness and your solemnity, your grandeur and your gloom, calculated to produce upon the mind of religious enthusiasm, upon the spirit of genius and melancholy; upon a character, formed of all the higher elements of human nature, upon such a mind, upon such a genius, upon such a character as thine, Hilarion!”