Pale Fire Month-By-Month

One of my ongoing projects involves an analysis of the composition and revision of Pale Fire. The holograph (handwritten) manuscript of PF resides in the Library of Congress and is now accessible to scholars on microfilm via interlibrary loan. I was lucky enough to visit the LOC back before the manuscript was photographed, and I have to say that while the increased access afforded by microfilm is wonderful, the quality of the images (especially to one trying to decipher cancellations and scrawled variants) does not approach the originals. The few photocopies that I was able to make of the original cards are much clearer than the .pdf downloads I obtained from the machines at the LOC. All that aside, I have been interested in developing a series of strictly data-based visualizations that would show Nabokov’s pace and method of composition. I have a ways to go in terms of my knowledge of data visualization, but I did find a handy, free program called Tableau that allowed me to create the bar graph below. The graph is organized by month and shows the volume of dated notecards VN produced during the composition of the novel. I should note that only about half of the cards in the manuscript are dated, so this chart does not present a complete view of novel’s composition.  Below the chart is a link to a more dynamic version of the data, which allows you to click on the bars and see the underlying data from the original Excel sheet.

Pale Fire by Month

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4 thoughts on “Pale Fire Month-By-Month

  1. Matt, this is very interesting! Would you be interested in doing a “dork short” on this project at THATCamp Harrisburg. Basically a 5 minute presentation showing what you are doing, designed to get people with common interests talking with one another.

    I know Charles Palmer at Harrisburg University is interested in data visualization, but I’m not entirely sure if he’s an expert or just interested in learning about the possibilities. Might be interesting to talk to him.

    • matthewsroth says:

      Pete, I would be willing to talk about it. The bar graph is a pretty blunt instrument compared to the one I’m still imagining in my head, so I am definitely no expert and wouldn’t want to come across as one. But, if the points is simply to present an area of interest that needs further development (in this case tools for visualizing data related to manuscript composition) I could do that.

      • Thatcamps are very friendly environs with wide variations or ability and knowledge levels. I admit that I still get a little intimidated by my own lack of real skills when I attend. But I think it would be very welcome to just do a five minute thing that says–“I’m still trying to figure out what to do with this, but this is my idea, this is what I’ve done so far, and I’m looking for people who can give me help or advice on to take this to the next level.” I’m sure there will be some folks there who know a good bit about data visualization and would be willing to talk with you. Totally up to you and your measure of your own bandwidth, but I wouldn’t worry a whole lot that you are right at the beginning of things.

        If someone proposes a workshop on doing data visualization for the humanities, would you be interested in potentially attending it. I can put out a request on the web and see if we can turn up someone to do a workshop.

  2. bethtransue says:

    I was just thinking the same thing Pete! Would be fun to see at ThatCamp. Also excellent to see how you created this through tools you found. I remember when you were trying to figure out a good method for doing this. Glad you kept at it!

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