A new project by University of Wolverhampton and the Dutch Huygens Institute, in which researchers will investigate readers’ opinions about the literary quality of contemporary fiction, has received £300,000 from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).
The interdisciplinary project, entitled ‘Novel Perceptions: towards an inclusive canon’, will run for 18 months.
In November, the Novel Perceptions researchers will launch the ‘2020 Reader Review’ survey that asks readers to rate the literariness of 400 recent novels. The team will also use innovative computational methods to analyse the language and style of the novels.
The goal is to examine why fiction is perceived to be literary; what qualities does a text need to have, and how do factors such as genre, theme, and the gender of the author shape people’s perception.
The outcome will contribute to the debate about how to rethink the English literature canon, the body of works that are generally agreed to be good, important, and worth studying, to ensure it is diverse and inclusive; fit for the twenty-first century.
The Novel Perceptions project is linked with the University of Wolverhampton’s existing collaboration with a host of project partners including the BBC, Libraries Connected, and the British Library, amongst others, for the BBC’s engagement project ‘Novels That Shaped Our World’, a year-long celebration of three centuries of the English language novel. In January, the Wolverhampton researchers launched a series of online surveys to understand how the public engages with the 100 novels that were chosen by a panel including novelist Kit de Waal and journalist Stig Abell. The team also launched ‘Novel Memories’, research that aims to understand how people remember fiction they read in the past, and what happens when fiction is re-read. The Novels That Shaped Our World surveys comprise the largest ever investigation of English language fiction.