More on “Lolita is Famous, Not I”

August 18th, 2013 Comments Off on More on “Lolita is Famous, Not I”

Inspired by Juan Martinez’s excellent visualization comparing mentions of Lolita to Nabokov in the Google Books corpus (and the 55th anniversairy of Lolita‘s publication in America today!), I thought I would delve a little deeper into the Google Books n-gram data available and test the claims using the raw data (which admittedly is very rough and contains a lot of duplicates, but others a rough estimate of volumes current digitized by Google).

Looking at raw 2-grams (that is, all instances of “Lolita” and “Nabokov” with one word after it referenced in the most up to date data sets available from Google), there are two figures available for analysis: the number of times a word is mentioned in the complete corpus, and the volume of texts that reference the word at least once.

The online viewer does not distinguish between the two categories and is case-sensitive, so the raw data gives us more data to play with.
There is a clear difference between the total references and the numbers of books using the words, as one book may repeatedly mention Nabokov but never Lolita, popularity should be mapped by the number of texts using the word, rather than the total references. Such a graph still shows that Nabokov is more popular for most years other than the publication of Lolita, as Juan noted, and the period from 1966-1969 for some reason.
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The average number of references per book further asserts Nabokov’s enduring popularity. Since Nabokov is mentioned on average more times than Lolita, not only is he discussed by a broader range of texts, but they are engaging with him as a subject in a deeper manner than Lolita.
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There were also some interesting phrases that came out of the data, with their first data of use next to them:

  • Lolita sunglasses (1976)
  • Lolita complex (1959)
  • Lolita Delores (1962)
  • Nabokov Festival (1985)
  • Nabokov studies (1967)
  • Nabokov archive (1989)

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