OED Gender Genre

In “Sex in the OED” I  ran through some figures on female vs male representation in OED quotation evidence, comparing the original OED1 with the later Supplements that resulted in OED2. Here I look a little closer at what kinds of works by women the two editions tended to cite.

Below are two charts breaking down female-authored quotations by textual genre. They show trailing 25-year totals (so the point 1800 shows everything from 1776 to 1800) from 1500 to 1989, and are split out by edition, overlapping between 1800 (where the Supplement counts begin to be unnegligible) and 1928, when OED1 is published. The first chart shows totals; the second shows percentages of those totals.

1. Female-authored quotations in OED1 (1928) and OED2 (=Supplements), by textual genre (trailing 25-year count). [click to largen]
Can you spot Elizabeth Barrett Browning on this graph? She is, basically, that blue bump starting around 1840 and running to 1880 or so. Christina Rossetti is in there too, a little, as are Joanna Baillie, Eliza Cook, and George Eliot (though the latter is much more present in the red bit than the blue). Who are the scientists? Anne Pratt, the botanical illustrator, Mary Somerville, the physicist, chemist, astronomer, and all-around smarty, and a small handful of others.

Obviously fiction writing dominates both OED1 and the Supplements, here. In order to see just how much, we need to look at percentages on a year-to-year basis:

2. Female-authored quotations in OED1 (1928) and OED2 (=Supplements), by textual genre (trailing 25-year percentage). [click to largen]
The chart is so choppy until about 1650/1700 because the totals are so low, meaning that one or two works will easily skew percentages by a lot.

Comparing the Supplements to OED1 in the overlapping period, we notice a very prominent difference in the proportion of letters being quoted, especially at the early end, to about 1875. This is because the Supplement is quoting editions of letters and diaries (George Eliot, Maria Edgeworth, Jane Austen, Elizabeth Gaskell make up the bulk) that were mostly published after OED1 came out — in practice it was unusual for the Supplement to quote material to which OED1 editors had had access, as I discussed–along with some exceptions to this rule–in the last post.

We also notice relatively little poetry, almost no “other literary” (plays, e.g.), and essentially no scientific works. Along with letters, the other genre overrepresented in the Supplement, compared to OED1 is reference works.

These, it turns out, are cookbooks and handbooks on embroidery, household management, and handicrafts. But for a gap between 1920 and 1950, these make up more quotations than poetry, drama, and science combined.

But nothing really holds a candle to female fiction writing, which is highly oversampled from the mid-late 1700s (i.e., the time of the rise of the novel) right through to the very end. All the names you remember from your nineteenth century novel survey course are there, especially in the OED1 corpus.

But what was Burchfield quoting, when he wasn’t catching OED1 up on Charlotte Yonge and Jane Austen?

Mysteries, mostly, and stories about orphans: Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, Kylie Tennant, Elizabeth Bowen, and Margery Allingham are the most-quoted modern female authors (of any genre) in OED2. The three most-quoted novels in the Supplement are not by Yonge, Austen, or Eliot. They are Tennant’s Lost Haven, M. K. Rawlings’s The Yearling, and Elizabeth Bowen’s Death of Heart.

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