The G.K. Chesterton Prize for Ignoring Women

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Yogi Berra may or may not have said that "You can observe a lot just by watching". He didn't add that you can learn a lot just by counting — but as a baseball person, he surely knew the power of simple statistics.

You can learn a lot about G.K. Chesterton from the Wikipedia article about him, including his observation that "The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of the Conservatives is to prevent the mistakes from being corrected." But Wikipedia won't tell you that his fiction writing had a striking, perhaps unique, statistical property: he hardly ever uses feminine pronouns.

One simple metric for attention paid to men as opposed to women is the proportion of gendered third-singular pronouns that are masculine (he, him, his, himself) as opposed to feminine (she, her, hers, herself). Chesterton racks up the highest score I've ever seen in his 1908 novel The Man Who Was Thursday: in 58,744 words overall, he uses 2,291 masculine pronouns against only 16 feminine pronouns, for a masculinity quotient (MQ) of 99.3%. And The Napoleon of Notting Hill (1904) is not far behind, with 1,502 masculine pronouns and 43 feminine pronouns in 55,716 words overall, for an MQ of 97.2%. His 1922 collection of detective stories, The Man Who Knew Too Much, has 2,383 masculine pronouns and 54 feminine pronouns in 60,464 words, for an MQ of 97.8%. His 1926 collection of Father Brown stories has 2,607 masculine pronouns and 90 feminine pronouns in 73,010 words, for an MQ of 96.7%.

In contrast, Arthur Conan Doyle's The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1892) has 3,148 masculine pronouns and 867 feminine pronouns in 105, 991 words overall, for an MQ of 79.4%. Joseph Conrad's The Secret Agent (1907) has 4,034 masculine pronouns and 1,411 feminine pronouns  in 91,848 words, for an MQ of 74.1%. Jack London's Martin Eden (1909) has 8,349 masculine pronouns and 2,516 feminine pronouns in 141,999 words, for an MQ of 76.8%. Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises (1926) has 2,998 masculine pronouns and 895 feminine pronouns in 104,400 words, for an MQ of 77.0%.

Turning to some novels by female authors, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1818) has 1,401 masculine pronouns and 645 feminine pronouns in 75,302 words, for an MQ of 69.5%.  Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice (1813) has 3,498 masculine and 4,169 feminine pronouns in 122,976 words, for an MQ of 45.6%. Virginia Woolf's The Voyage Out (1915) has 3,188 masculine pronouns and 4,692 feminine pronouns in 142,479 words, for an MQ of 40.5%. Her novel Night and Day (1919) has 5,329 masculine pronouns and 7,585 feminine pronouns in 172,852 words, for an MQ of 41.3%.

And there's some fiction by male authors with MQs less than 50%: Thomas Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49 (1966) has 998 masculine pronouns and 1,094 feminine pronouns in 48,316 words, for an MQ of 47.7%. And his Bleeding Edge (2013) has 1,459 masculine pronouns and 1,859 feminine pronouns in 146,958 words, for an MQ of 44.0%.

Overall, English-language fiction in most genres, by authors of whatever gender, tends to have MQs higher than 40%, and often in the 70-80% range. But Chesterton really seems to be a special case.

For a bit more on gendered use of gendered pronouns, see

"Sex, age, and pronouns on Facebook", 9/19/2014
"More fun with Facebook pronouns", 9/27/2014
"400 years of referential inequality", 9/28/2014



  1. Mara K said,

    October 6, 2015 @ 10:06 am

    What about Moby-Dick, which has no women but lots of ships?

    [(myl) 5,688 masculine pronouns and 459 feminine pronouns in 221,442 words, for an MQ of 92.5%, still well shy of Chesterton territory. My impression is that most of the feminine references are not to ships — a surprising number are references to human women, and many refer to whales (e.g. famously "Thar she blows!")]

  2. Daniel de França said,

    October 6, 2015 @ 10:25 am

    Shouldn't the MQ be a deviation from 50%?

    [(myl) 0% to 100% makes sense to me, but you could take the log of the male-female ratio if you prefer.]

  3. Dick Margulis said,

    October 6, 2015 @ 10:35 am

    Looks like overall the movement toward more gender neutrality started to pick up steam in the 1970s:

    [(myl) You can actually get the app to calculate the metric I used:

    I've cut off the legend on the right hand side, but it's

    (he+him+his+himself) / (he+him+his+himself+she+her+hers+herself)

    …and I've asked the ngram viewer to calculate this for "English Fiction" (publications overall have a substantially higher MQ).

    Obviously different genres of fiction, as well as different authors, will also have different characteristic values.]

  4. Curtis said,

    October 6, 2015 @ 10:42 am

    Number of times Masculinity Quotient is calculated in this blog post: 18 (plus once in the comments)

    Number of times Femininity Quotient is calculated in this blog post: 0

    [(myl) Well, we ARE focusing on Chesterton. In fact my code originally (and still) calculates the FQ, but I inverted it relative to 100% for expository purposes. If we were looking at (say) Josephine Tey's Miss Pym Disposes (1946), I would stick with the version that calculates 269 masculine vs. 3,035 feminine pronouns in 74664 words as an FQ of 91.9%.]

  5. J. W. Brewer said,

    October 6, 2015 @ 11:12 am

    Even if non-fiction generally has a higher MQ than fiction, has anyone checked Chesterton's non-fiction to see whether it is or isn't unusually high-MQ compared to some relevant comparables (some haphazardly chosen sample of male British writers of the same generation writing in similar genres of non-fiction, I guess)?

  6. Scott W said,

    October 6, 2015 @ 11:25 am

    I'd be interested in seeing where JRR Tolkien ranks. His works are often criticized for a paucity of female characters.

  7. Ken Miner said,

    October 6, 2015 @ 11:45 am

    All of Antiquity had a paucity of female characters, but what characters they were…

  8. Rube said,

    October 6, 2015 @ 11:50 am

    I haven't read any Chesterton in a long time, but thinking back, I can't remember a single female character. Funny how I didn't notice that at the time, but maybe all the anti-semitism distracted me.

  9. popegrutch said,

    October 6, 2015 @ 11:50 am

    I'd be fascinated to see how H.P. Lovecraft compares. According to my memory, there are major female characters (both villains) in only two of his stories: "The Thing on the Doorstep" and "The Dreams in the Witch-House." The occasional mention of the main character's mother in his longest work, "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward" might bring up the average slightly, but his next-longest ("At the Mountains of Madness") has nary a female character, monster, or even a penguin, so far as I recall.

    [(myl) Combining all of the Cthulhu stories, we get:

    Lovecraft: 260261 words, 4913 masc (18.9 per k), 401 fem (1.5 per k), 7.5 % fem

  10. Chris Waigl said,

    October 6, 2015 @ 11:52 am

    The N-gram viewer is a really nifty tool for this — thanks Dick (and Mark). I see that even for raw counts (I do his+him, he, her, she) there's a big difference between the "English" corpus and the "English fiction" corpus. Male pronouns have actually increased in number in the latter while they've gone down in number in the former. For both, ratio of female/male is getting smaller.

  11. Gordon Mohr said,

    October 6, 2015 @ 12:20 pm

    For those who'd like to count pronouns in other texts, I've put an example of how to do Moby Dick, from a Linux/OSX command line, at:

    Also for reference: the MQ of this post's text is 75% (12/16), about on par with Joyce's Ulysses (7756/10334).

  12. GH said,

    October 6, 2015 @ 12:28 pm

    @ J.W. Brewer:

    I assume the first batch of other examples – Conan Doyle, Conrad, London, Hemingway – were meant to be broadly comparable, though you can quibble with each on various grounds. Who would you suggest? Maybe Shaw, Wells and Jerome K. Jerome?

  13. cameron said,

    October 6, 2015 @ 12:49 pm

    I also immediately thought of Tolkien and Lovecraft as probable extreme cases. There's not a single female character in The Hobbit, for example.

  14. Jim said,

    October 6, 2015 @ 1:00 pm

    "There's not a single female character in The Hobbit, for example."

    Since it was apparently very difficult to distinguish a male from a female dwarf, that ay not necessarily be true.

  15. Ralph Hickok said,

    October 6, 2015 @ 1:01 pm

    I'm not sure if there's any real significance in these numbers. Obviously, the pronouns used in a fictional work are very largely dependent on the sex of the characters and their importance to the story. If I recall correctly, both Chesterton novels have all-male casts, so one would expect masculine pronouns to predominate overwhelmingly. I'm sure the same is true of "Moby Dick," for the same reason (but I'm sure the proportion of feminine pronouns in "Pierre" is much higher, since there are two major female characters).

    The Holmesian canon includes frequent appearances by Mrs. Hudson and Holmes has a number of female clients, as well as a very formidable female foe, and his investigations involve many female characters.

    Just to mention a couple of other with which I am well familiar, the chief protagonist in "The Crying of Lot 49" is a woman, so a preponderance of feminine pronouns is to be expected; Jane Austen presents more female than male characters; and Lady Brett Ashley is a major character in "The Sun Also Rises."

  16. Nicholas Feinberg said,

    October 6, 2015 @ 1:09 pm

    @Ralph: presumably the intended significance is to calculate a (very rough) proxy for the importance of female characters in a given novel. That is to say, the extraordinary lack of female characters in Chesterton's novels is the point being illustrated…

  17. cameron said,

    October 6, 2015 @ 1:11 pm

    @Jim, I suspect your memory of Tolkien is over-colored by the works of Terry Pratchett.

  18. Sue Sims said,

    October 6, 2015 @ 1:26 pm

    Are you sure about these Chesterton figures? I don't dispute those for the two novels you mention, both of which are set firmly in a men's world, so to speak, but the stats you quote for Father Brown sound very dubious.

    I don't have time to do a proper survey, but using the Project Gutenberg 'edition' of 'The Wisdom of Father Brown' (only one of the five compilations which go to make up the complete run), my search box came up with 'More than100 matches' for both 'she' and 'her': I used spaces on either side, as well, to avoid words like 'shed' and 'rather', so there may well be some examples of 'her' which, coming at the end of a sentence, aren't included.

    [(myl) Pulling in the other Father Brown collections, I get, in ascending order of MQ:

    SecretOfFatherBrown: 64056 words, 2258 masc (35.3 per k), 407 fem (6.4 per k), 15.3 % fem
    ScandalOfFatherBrown: 64942 words, 2304 masc (35.5 per k), 272 fem (4.2 per k), 10.6 % fem
    InnocenceOfFatherBrown: 80119 words, 3090 masc (38.6 per k), 302 fem (3.8 per k), 8.9 % fem
    WisdomOfFatherBrown: 72993 words, 2779 masc (38.1 per k), 247 fem (3.4 per k), 8.2 % fem
    IncredulityOfFatherBrown: 73010 words, 2607 masc (35.7 per k), 90 fem (1.2 per k), 3.3 % fem

    So you're right, most of the Father Brown stories are somewhat lower in MQ. Adding them all up, it comes to 13038 masculine pronouns vs. 1318 feminine pronouns, so 13038/(13038+1318) = 90.8% MQ.

    That number is still a lot higher than Sherlock Holmes at 79.4% or The Secret Agent at 74.1%.]

    On 'The Hobbit', Cameron is technically incorrect: there is, of course, one female character – Lobelia Sackville-Baggins. However, one wouldn't perhaps call her an example of positive female presentation;-)

  19. Sue Sims said,

    October 6, 2015 @ 1:30 pm

    And Cameron, Tolkien has a note about female dwarves and the difficulty outsiders have in telling them apart from males in one of the Appendices to LOTR (no time to look up the precise reference here, but will do so if anyone wishes). Pratchett was following Tolkien here.

  20. HelenS said,

    October 6, 2015 @ 1:32 pm

    Tolkien did actually say that about female dwarves in the appendices somewhere. Pratchett ran with it.

    It was said by Gimli that there are few dwarf-women, probably no more than a third of the whole people. They seldom walk abroad except at great need. They are in voice and appearance, and in garb if they must go on a journey, so like to the dwarf-men that the eyes and ears of other peoples cannot tell them apart. The Return of the King, 360 (App A)]

  21. Flex said,

    October 6, 2015 @ 1:37 pm

    Wow. In The Man who was Thursday I am amazed because there is a female character in the first chapter. Rosamond is Lucian Gregory's sister, and is the focus of Gregory's and Syme's discussion of their differences in what defines poetry.

    I just checked my copy and I think I found all 16 feminine pronouns in the first chapter. Rosamund speaks 28 words.

    But I will always love Syme's defense of the poetry of the mundane.

  22. J. W. Brewer said,

    October 6, 2015 @ 2:18 pm

    GH: yes, those seemed plausible comparators for Chesterton's fiction in terms of being rough generational contemporaries and maybe working in similar subgenres; I was simply curious as to what a similar comparison on the non-fiction side would show, although maybe it's harder to find comparators (your nominees aren't a bad first cut) as Chesterton's distinctiveness of style and idiosyncracy of concerns may be more pronounced on the non-fiction side than in his fiction.

    FWIW, I pulled up a selection of Chesterton's poetry that includes at least two poems (Bay Combe and The Earth's Vigil) that on first perhaps imperfect glance appear to have an MQ of zero, i.e. multiple instances of fem. 3d pers. sing. pronouns but none of masc.

  23. Y said,

    October 6, 2015 @ 2:48 pm

    In "thar she blows", 'she' is not really feminine, but rather indefinite, as in she'll be right.

  24. Rubrick said,

    October 6, 2015 @ 2:49 pm

    I too am curious how The Hobbit scores.

    Sadder than its total lack of female characters, large or small, is the fact that through many many readings over the course of my childhood I never noticed.

  25. Francois Lang said,

    October 6, 2015 @ 2:51 pm

    @ Y re "she'll be right": Just like "get 'er done".

  26. Peter DW said,

    October 6, 2015 @ 4:14 pm

    Here is some of Tolkien's writing:

    The Hobbit: MQ 99.85 (four references to Belladonna Took in the introduction, one occurence in an Elvish song)

    The Lord of the Rings: MQ 93.90

    The Silmarillion: MQ 83.73

    I also made a spreadsheet with Lovecraft's stories, based on this collection. Lots of stories with an MQ of 100. Two stories that have an unusually low MQ are "The Thing on the Doorstep" and "The Shunnned House", both about 75.

  27. DPickering said,

    October 6, 2015 @ 4:31 pm

    @Y "she'll be comin' round the mountain", "that's all she wrote", "steady as she goes"

  28. maidhc said,

    October 6, 2015 @ 5:56 pm

    "There's not a single female character in The Hobbit, for example."

    Lobelia Sackville-Baggins

    Admittedly not a major character. There aren't any major female characters.

    Tolkein often doesn't mention the gender of elves, such as the ones that sing at Rivendell. Some of them could be female.

  29. Matt said,

    October 6, 2015 @ 7:59 pm

    I don't think that "she'll be comin' round the mountain" can really be considered indefinite; whoever she is, she's definite enough to wear pink pyjamas. (Even if you go back to the spiritual IIRC it refers to the carriage of Christ — so not an actual woman, but not indefinite either.) And "that's all she wrote" definitely refers to a woman, albeit an apocryphal/hypothetical/imaginary one.

  30. Telzey Amberdon said,

    October 6, 2015 @ 8:10 pm

    I'd be interested to see what the MQ for one of my favorite SF authors, James H. Schmitz, would be. Despite writing most of his best-known works in the 1940s, 50s and 60s, his work features, for the most part, strong female characters as both heroes and villains, as well as ordinary background characters of the sort that are usually filled by generic male characters–the exact opposite of the usual stereotypical Sci-Fi space opera of those decades.

  31. Brett said,

    October 6, 2015 @ 8:30 pm

    When I think of writers with few female characters, Lovecraft is always the first author who comes to mind. That's not so much a consequence of there being few females in absolute terms. It has more to do with the fact that virtually all the women who do appear are villains (there's another one, although of lesser importance, in "The Dunwich Horror," as well as the two other stories mentioned) and the that most significant human female character in all the stories actually turns out to be neither female, nor human.

  32. The Other Mark said,

    October 6, 2015 @ 11:17 pm

    Tolkien gets a bad rap for his lack of female characters, but he's writing a piece of genre in which females are not supposed to appear much.

    Think the Odyssey: Homer doesn't go in for females much, and most of the ones he does are bad 'uns or feeble creatures. Nor is Beowulf hugely female centred.

    Journey epics about a band of brothers who are primarily warriors just aren't going to worry too much about women.

    So while it is reasonable to accuse Tolkein of being unbelievably old-fashioned, once he made the choice to write in that genre the lack of female roles was pretty much a done deal. At least he didn't do what Homer did and make the women all evil or pathetic.

    Some genres are like that. Anyone want to have a go at Remarque because All Quiet on the Western Front is short on decent female roles?

  33. Jerry Friedman said,

    October 6, 2015 @ 11:57 pm

    Oddly enough, there was some conversation about female characters in Tolkien in alt.usage.english recently. One could say that there are no female characters in The Hobbit. Lobelia isn't named; the narration says only "Bilbo's cousins the Sackville-Bagginses", so for all we know they might be brothers instead of husband and wife. We don't find out till The Lord of the Rings.

    I wonder where one would look for an MQ less than 40%. The SisterWitch Conspiracy?

    [(myl) Josephine Tey, "Miss Pym Disposes": 74664 words, 269 masculine pronouns, 3035 feminine pronouns = 91.9% FQ or 8.1% MQ.

    Or following Roger Lustig's suggestion, odds of F11.3 ..]

  34. Mara K said,

    October 7, 2015 @ 12:04 am

    @The Other Mark

    No, but I will have a go at Hemingway, who wrote at the same time about very similar subject matter, and went out of his way to make his female characters weak and whiny and the death of one (in A Farewell to Arms) a relief. Or I would, if I could express my opinion of Hemingway's writing and characters accurately without resorting to profanity.

  35. Roger Lustig said,

    October 7, 2015 @ 12:07 am

    The numbers might be better expressed as odds. 95% and 98% look fairly similar, but odds of 19 and 49 are obviously very different–and they represent the same conditions.

    For symmetry, log-odds; but that shoots down simple interpretation. Perhaps a prefix: M30 if there are 30 masculine per feminine; F1.25 when there are 5 feminine per 4 masculine, etc.

    [(myl) This is a good point, and a good idea.

    One possible problem: The confidence intervals for odds when counts are small will be rather large. Thus in your example, if 95% and 98% represent counts of 5 and 2 out of a hundred examples, then the 95% confidence interval for estimates of the true proportions will be roughly 90-99% and 95-99% respectively, yielding the not-so-crisp odds of "somewhere between 10 to 1 and 99 to 1" vs. "somewhere between 20 to 1 and 99 to 1".

    Another problem: There's a danger that focus on odds, even with tight confidence intervals, might lead to talking about odds ratios as if they were ratios of rates — see "Thou shalt not report odds ratios", 6/30/2007, for some discussion of why this can be a Bad Thing.]

  36. Alan Palmer said,

    October 7, 2015 @ 3:12 am

    One factor that has not been mentioned yet is that it until fairly recently it was the convention i to use the male pronoun when the sex of a person was not known or irrelevant. That probably bumps up the male pronoun count somewhat.

  37. GH said,

    October 7, 2015 @ 3:55 am

    @The Other Mark:

    I don't think that alibi for Tolkien holds up. He wasn't merely following genre conventions for heroic epics, he was actively suppressing any feminine element. By contrast, the Odyssey may be male-centric, but it features a number of important female characters: Penelope, Athena, Calypso, Circe, and Nausicaa (as well as several minor ones).

    I seem to remember Tolkien mention in a letter that since the book is based on stories he told his sons, it was tailored to their likes and dislikes, which in particular meant avoiding anything that seemed "girly" (sex/romance, or just a focus on female characters in general).

  38. PeterDW said,

    October 7, 2015 @ 6:12 am

    So, since the Odyssey has been mentioned, I was wondering if the MQ of different translations would vary much. I found five versions on Project Gutenberg. Answer: not really.

    1611, George Chapman, PG 48895: MQ 75.59 (142k words, 4715 masc, 1523 fem)

    1715, Alexander Pope, PG 3160: MQ 77.69 (111k words, 2930 masc, 841 fem)

    1791, William Cowper, PG 24269: MQ 77.88 (110k words, 3944 masc, 1120 fem)

    1879, Samuel Butcher & Andrew Lang, PG 1728: MQ 78.05 (136k words, 4803 masc, 1350 fem)

    1900, Samuel Butler, PG 1727: MQ 77.08 (118k words, 4275 masc, 1271 fem)

    (In each version I removed the preface and footnotes etc.)

  39. David Morris said,

    October 7, 2015 @ 6:47 am

    According to UCREL's list of word frequency in written and spoken English, he:she = 6810:3801 (or 1.8:10), him+his:her = 1698:1085 (or 1.55:1) (no separate data on 'her' as object or possessive), himself:herself = 311:172 (or 1.8:1). Overall, male:female = 1.74:1.

  40. LFS Alden said,

    October 7, 2015 @ 6:50 am


    I recently put together the concordance of _The Hobbit_, and am fascinated by this conversation!

    Here are our Hobbit feminine pronoun references by paragraph number:

    [01.005] after she became Mrs. Bungo Baggins.
    [01.005] built the most luxurious hobbit-hole for her
    [01.005] (and partly with her money)
    [01.005] her only son,

    There are no occurrences of the word "hers".

  41. Feminine Pronouns | wordsthatyouweresaying said,

    October 7, 2015 @ 6:52 am

    […] conversation on The Language Log has turned to feminine pronouns and how many there are in which […]

  42. Jerry Friedman said,

    October 7, 2015 @ 9:20 am

    MYL: Thanks. I've actually read Miss Pym Disposes, but I didn't think of it.

    For comparison to Tolkien, one writer he mentions is H. Rider Haggard. I take it King Solomon's Mines is a journey epic about a band of brothers. It's about as male-dominated as The Silmarillion (which isn't exactly by Tolkien, of course), less so than The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

    MQ: 84.1%

    MO (masculinity odds): 5.27

    That made me think of Haggard's other famous novel, so since the title made it irresistible, and since I had a weird early-morning braincramp and downloaded it accidentally instead of King Solomon's Mines, here are the unsurprisingly different numbers for She:

    MQ: 53.7%

    MO: 1.16

    Thanks to Gordon Mohr for the commands, which I hardly understand any of.

  43. Jerry Friedman said,

    October 7, 2015 @ 9:31 am

    LFS Alden: I'm curious about why you didn't mention the use of "her" in poetic reference to Night.

    P.S.: I meant to say that the other reason I thought of She was that it, not King Solomon's Mines, was the book Tolkien mentioned as an influence. A less weird brancramp.

    Can I call my bit of grepping a Breakfast Experiment(TM) since I was eating breakfast at the time, even though I was wearing a T-shirt, khakis, and socks?

  44. Flex said,

    October 7, 2015 @ 12:59 pm

    As far as Tolkien goes, it would be interesting in looking at the works of William Morris or Lord Dunsany, who were also influential in the development of the modern heroic fantasy literature.

    My recollection is that both of them used female characters or female personifications of nature fairly frequently.

    Then, as far as the band-of-brothers epic fantasy goes, The Other Mark might have been thinking less of the Illiad than the Odyssey. The Odyssey does have a dearth of female characters, with Circe and Penelope being the two I recall. Although, I seem to remember that Athena shows up occasionally and I think I recall a hand-maiden or two.

    But the epic fantasy literature has regularly featured female characters, and not just recently. I suspect Fritz Leiber's Lankhmar series would score high on the MQ, but there are a number of stories where female characters were of primal importance. Then in the space opera realm, E.E. "Doc" Smith's Skylark series had two female characters, Dorthy and Margaret (thanks wiki!), even though they were more often used as hostages than protagonists, they were part of the motivation for the plot. (And if you love space opera, pick up a copy of Harrison's Star Smashers of the Galaxy Rangers which is written in a progressing style which parodies space opera from the 1920's through the 1970's. It's a hoot!)

    But there may be some truth in the idea that Tolkien wrote for his boys, and they were just not interested in female characters at that age. I was just considering some of the juvenile literature aimed at young boys from around the same period.

    Robert L. Stevenson's Treasure Island, IIRC has only one female character, Jim's mother.

    And Rudyard Kipling's Kim has only a few for the size of the book; Kim's mother, the Sahiba, and the woman of Shamlegh. There are a few others, people on the train, etc. But only these three I recall as being important to the story.

  45. Elonkareon said,

    October 7, 2015 @ 1:00 pm

    I count Tolkien and Chesterton both among my favourite authors, so this discussion is ah, "mildly", interesting. Though I'm not sure the Chesterton selection is all that representative though. He's not particularly good at writing female characters, and as far as I'm aware he never wrote from the female perspective, but Thursday and Notting Hill were exceptionally lacking in this regard. Apparently so was Incredulity. So, I decided to see how his other novels held up:

    The Club of Queer Trades (1905):
    1510 masculine pronouns, 119 feminine pronouns
    92.7% MQ

    The Ball and the Cross (1909):
    2589 masculine, 209 feminine
    92.5% MQ

    Manalive (1912):
    1598 masculine, 312 feminine
    83.7% MQ

    The Flying Inn (1914)
    2728 masculine, 460 feminine
    85.6% MQ

    Tales of the Longbow (1925)
    1799 masculine : 335 feminine
    84.3% MQ

    The Return of Don Quixote (1926)
    2280 masculine, 674 feminine
    77.2% MQ

    The Poet and the Lunatics (1929)
    2484 masculine, 224 feminine
    91.7% MQ

    Four Faultless Felons (1930)
    2193 masculine, 825 feminine
    72.7% MQ

    The Paradoxes of Mr Pond (1937)
    1834 masculine, 225 feminine
    89.1% MQ


    It's been a long time since I read Four Faultless Felons, so I don't recall why that particular work has such a relatively low masculinity quotient. Nor have I ever read the Return of Don Quixote. On the other side of things, the Ball and the Cross is actually higher, since a not-insignificant number of the feminine pronouns are references to "Nature".

  46. Paolo Merolla said,

    October 7, 2015 @ 1:31 pm

    Author writes he read Chesterton's works. If he did I wonder how he can use silly numbers to show us things that exist only in his own brain. Chesterton appreciated and wrote – in his genius way, not with numbers – that he thought women are simply better than men.

    [(myl) Can you contribute something to the discussion other than a display of your own emotions? I suppose what you have in mind is Chesterton's essay "Woman", which seems to be a clever exposition of the standard old-fashioned idea about how "The average woman, as I have said, is a despot; the average man is a serf", or as he puts it in his ending,

    We are right to talk about "Woman;" only blackguards talk about women. Yet all men talk about men, and that is the whole difference. Men represent the deliberative and democratic element in life. Woman represents the despotic.

    The same view can also be found in Rudyard Kipling's 1911 poem that argues against women's suffrage, because the stereotypical man is an equivocator, "whose timid heart is bursting with the things he must not say." Men in conversation are therefore ready to compromise and to discuss all sides of an issue, and tend to be diverted by humor, doubt and pity. A woman, on the other hand, "who faces Death by torture for each life beneath her breast / May not deal in doubt or pity — must not swerve for fact or jest." For a woman, "her contentions are her children," and anyone who disagrees will be met with "unprovoked and awful charges — even so the she-bear fights." The obvious conclusion is that women should be excluded from politics:

    So it comes that Man, the coward, when he gathers to confer
    With his fellow-braves in council, dare not leave a place for her.

    So is this your position as well? Give us something to talk about besides the fact that you like Chesterton and are annoyed when someone points out that his fiction almost never mentions women — presumably because for him they stay in their place as household despots?]

  47. Jonathan Chaves said,

    October 7, 2015 @ 2:48 pm

    Allow me to recommend G.K.'s brilliant essay, "Feminism: The Mistake about Women," in his book, "What's Wrong with the World."

    Meanwhile, here's an example of G.K. not paying attention to women:

    "[She was] a quiet woman in the background, with a pale, patient face, the lines of which had not lost a classical symmetry and severity, but which looked all the paler because her very eyes were pale, and her pale yellow hair lay in two plain bands like some very archaic Madonna. Not everybody knew that she had once been a serious and successful actress in Ibsen and the intellectual drama. . . ." ("The Actor and the Alibi," one of the Fr. Brown mystery stories)

    And don't miss:

    Girl Guides

    by G. K. Chesterton

    When Cleopatra was made a Guide,
    She let her militant duties slide,
    And when her prattle had lost the battle
    Tactfully tickled a snake and died.

    When Boadicea was made a Guide,
    Her visage the vividest blue was dyed;
    So the coat was made of a similar shade
    And she travelled on wheels with the spokes outside.

    When Lady Godiva was made a Guide,
    The uniform had to be simplified,
    But the rates were high, and she was not shy,
    And they say it was only the horse that shied.

    When Bloody Mary was made a Guide,
    She told the people that when she died
    Topographical notes on her views and her votes
    If they took her to bits would be found inside.

    When Queen Victoria was made a Guide,
    She never excelled on the giant stride,
    Or won a place in the obstacle race,
    And historians doubt if she even tried.

    When Messalina was made a Guide . . .
    . . . But the trouble is that the form I've tried,
    Though far from clever, might last for ever,
    With hundreds and hundreds of names beside.

    ("Greybeards at Play and Other Comic Verse")

    *Girl Guides: Like Girl Scouts.

  48. GH said,

    October 7, 2015 @ 4:18 pm

    @ Flex:

    You seem to have misread; we were definitely discussing the Odyssey, not the Iliad, and as I already mentioned you have Penelope, Athena, Calypso, Circe and Nausicaa in relatively major roles, plus more minor characters (or characters referenced but not directly appearing) like the sirens, the ghost of Odysseus' mother, an old serving woman, the Naiads that a certain cove on Ithaca is sacred to, etc. Overall, I don't think women are less present in the Odyssey than in the Iliad.

  49. LFS Alden said,

    October 7, 2015 @ 8:08 pm

    Jerry Friedman, well spotted! I can only attribute this to an ISC error (InSufficient Coffee).

    Jerry refers, of course, to:
    [19.011] And bright are the windows of Night in her tower.

    I'll give you a shout-out in the blog tomorrow morning! (after coffee)
    Word Fans, the paragraph index can be found here:

  50. Chris C. said,

    October 7, 2015 @ 9:46 pm

    It wouldn't have been just his sons as the audience for Tolkien's storytelling, as he also had a daughter. However, it may not have made much difference. The character in LotR who eventually developed into Frodo was at first named Bingo, which according to his biographer was drawn from a family of toy koalas his children owned. On this, his son Christopher remarked, "I find it difficult to believe this… I can only suppose that the demonic character (composed of monomaniac religious despotism and a lust for destruction through high explosive) of the chief Bingo (not to mention that of his appalling wife), by which my sister and I now remember them, developed somewhat later."

    So these were not children accustomed to quietly playing house, and stories calculated to hold their attention would probably not focus much on domestic life.

    But having read quite a lot of Tolkien, The Hobbit is his only work I can think of lacking notable female characters. In everything else, even if there are no major female actors carrying the plot, you at least have daughters, wives, mothers, queens, ladies, and other female community members present.

    Regardless, there's certainly not much of an excuse for this in his sources. Mentions of women are hardly rare in Germanic legend. But then, Hobbit wasn't intended for an adult readership and is in many ways the least interesting piece of his fiction. I have to think it'd be very obscure today if not for the towering success of its sequel.

  51. David Morris said,

    October 7, 2015 @ 9:52 pm

    I was unaware of the Language Pulse blog until a commenter on the 'Grading Political Commenters' thread included a link. Browsing through that, I saw this post there, which expands on my figures above:

  52. J. W. Brewer said,

    October 7, 2015 @ 9:55 pm

    Maybe she doesn't account for that many pronouns, but I always found Eowyn one of the more striking and memorable characters in LOTR. Compared to her, various second-tier male characters like Legolas and Boromir seemed much of a cardboard muchness, however many instances of he/him/his may have had them as antecedents.

    I was one of those adolescent boys who obsessively reread the philological/historical-etc. appendices at the end of the final volume of LOTR, perhaps an early risk factor for subsequently majoring in linguistics. If we think of those sections as "non-fiction" in genre (even if describing a fictional world), does excluding them from the MQ calculation for the work as a whole materially change the result?

  53. C said,

    October 8, 2015 @ 4:05 am

    I think one should be wary of reading too much into the raw numbers.

    It's much like the Bechdel test sometimes applied to films to assess the prominence of female characters, and the pitfalls are surely very similar:

  54. Flex said,

    October 8, 2015 @ 6:28 am

    @GH: Doh! You're right. My mistake. Thanks for the correction.

  55. anonymousformyprotection said,

    October 8, 2015 @ 7:09 am

    Maybe you all should get back to linguistics instead of trying so hard to prosecute dead people for thoughtcrime.

  56. KeithB said,

    October 8, 2015 @ 8:25 am

    I agree about Eowyn, though one wonders which came first: Her, or the idea about the "pun" in the prophesy about the Witch-King which kind of forced a female character.

  57. Jerry Friedman said,

    October 8, 2015 @ 10:46 am

    Chris C.:

    It wouldn't have been just his sons as the audience for Tolkien's storytelling, as he also had a daughter.

    In addition, Tolkien wrote his sequel to The Hobbit at the request of his publisher. Also, he started The Lord of the Rings in 1937, the year his oldest son tuned 20 and his youngest (Christopher) turned 13, and while working on it in 1944 he sent chapters as he wrote them to Christopher, who was serving in the RAF in South Africa. So for most if not all of the time of writing, his children old enough to appreciate stories of love and lust—though I know nothing about what kind of fiction Christopher Tolkien liked at that age.

    But then, Hobbit wasn't intended for an adult readership and is in many ways the least interesting piece of his fiction. I have to think it'd be very obscure today if not for the towering success of its sequel.

    My taste is similar to yours, but a lot of people like The Hobbit better than The Lord of the Rings.

  58. Jerry Friedman said,

    October 8, 2015 @ 11:03 am

    J. W. Brewer: Here are the MQs for the individual volumes without the appendices. I don't have an electronic version of the appendices.

    I: 94.2%
    II: 95.2%
    III: 92.2%

    So not materially different. However, if you took out the "fiction" sections of the appendices—Helm and Wulf, Thrain and Thorin and Gandalf, Aragorn and Arwen, and maybe others—I suspect what's left of the appendices would have an MQ over 99%.

  59. Rich McDowell said,

    October 8, 2015 @ 1:02 pm

    It's a long time since I've read any Chesterton other than the Father Brown stories. And those didn't seem particularly lacking in female characters compared to other mysteries from the time. However, I did notice that there's only one female culprit in the whole series, and even there Chesterton may have chosen a female killer simply because there's no way for the alibi idea to work otherwise. So this isn't an enormous surprise! I'm more surprised that this seems to have touched a nerve with so many people.

  60. DWalker said,

    October 8, 2015 @ 3:50 pm

    I remember reading, before the first LOTR movie came out, that various adjustments were being made to the books, for the movie scripts. This happens a lot, of course.

    At the time, someone mentioned that this set of works is "relentlessly male". I thought that was a good phrase!

  61. Chris C. said,

    October 8, 2015 @ 6:13 pm

    @Jerry Friedman: So for most if not all of the time of writing, his children old enough to appreciate stories of love and lust

    That's true enough, but The Silmarillion surely contains enough love, passion, incest, and tragedy to supply that kind of thing. It naturally features many more female characters than the books we're talking about.

  62. Briefly | Stats Chat said,

    October 9, 2015 @ 2:33 am

    […] Linguistic statistics: G K Chesterton almost never used feminine pronouns in his novels. […]

  63. GH said,

    October 9, 2015 @ 3:33 am

    @ Chris C and Jerry Friedman:

    It wouldn't have been just his sons as the audience for Tolkien's storytelling, as he also had a daughter.

    In addition, Tolkien wrote his sequel to The Hobbit at the request of his publisher. Also, he started The Lord of the Rings in 1937, the year his oldest son tuned 20 and his youngest (Christopher) turned 13 […] So for most if not all of the time of writing, his children [were] old enough to appreciate stories of love and lust

    Well, we were speaking specifically of The Hobbit (no one has argued that there aren't any female characters in The Lord of the Rings! – or that it was written for his children, for that matter), and Tolkien finished his first complete draft of that book by the end of 1932 (two years after the story was originally conceived), when his sons were 15, 12 and 8, and his daughter was 3. So his daughter was too young to be a factor, and at least the two younger sons were presumably not yet old enough to be much interested in "stories of love and lust" during the period of writing.

  64. Jerry Friedman said,

    October 9, 2015 @ 11:12 am

    GH: Sorry, I didn't realize which book you meant by "the book".

  65. Chris C. said,

    October 9, 2015 @ 10:46 pm

    @GH — I was talking about The Hobbit too; the remark about early drafts of LotR was to look at what might be interesting to the children in question.

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