Literary reputations

by on December 19, 2010 at 7:36 am in Books, History, The Arts | Permalink

Somewhat on the way down:







Overall, in other searches also, I see a golden age for "high fiction" in the 1950-1970 period.

Holding steady:

Jane Austen


Joseph Conrad

Norman Mailer

Up, but down since 2000

Ayn Rand

On the way up:



Other than very recent authors, these are harder to find than you might think.

Falling off a cliff:

Robertson Davies

Typing in "Arnold Bennett" is like shooting fish in a barrel.

1 BartA December 19, 2010 at 4:20 am

Way, way up: the Hungarian writer Sándor Márai (1900-1989)

2 Affe December 19, 2010 at 5:03 am

Paris Hilton is THE GREATEST LITERARY GENIUS OF THE PRESENT EPOCH according to this methodology. Meh.

3 adam December 19, 2010 at 6:22 am

Interesting post, thanks.

My favorite authors <A HREF="">Ernest Hemingway and <a href="">Vladimir Nabokov are heading steady since the 70's. My other favorite author <a href="">Jack Vance, seems to have been popular only in the 1980's, when I also started reading him.

There is a huge difference in search results if you leave the first name out. No time to look into why.

4 songar December 19, 2010 at 7:15 am

Cormac McCarthy

5 Gene Callahan December 19, 2010 at 7:30 am

Those ngrams just show mentions, as far as I can tell. Now, I like Tolkein, but maybe all the mentions are to say "Tolkein sucks," in which case his reputation is crashing.

6 Michael G Heller December 19, 2010 at 8:26 am

Coetzee really started improving once he was born.

7 Will McLean December 19, 2010 at 9:43 am


The pre-WWI drop for Kipling isn't odd at all, he was an ardent Imperialist. This had two affects. The first was that it turned off potential readers on the other side of that debate when it was still current events. Second, during those years it sometimes warped his fiction by a tendency to slant the story to show what idiots the Anti-Imperialists were.

It was noticed at the time.

8 albert magnus December 19, 2010 at 10:15 am

Melville isn't capitalized in your search field. Its interesting to see his revival in the 1930s and 1950s.

9 Gabe December 19, 2010 at 11:08 am

Something terrible happened to middle-brow culture after the late 40s – Elvis?

10 Bill Benzon December 19, 2010 at 12:12 pm

There is a huge difference in search results if you leave the first name out.

If the last name is at all common, then it will pop up for every mention of anyone with that last name.

11 Doug December 19, 2010 at 1:56 pm

Couldn't get "Hunter S Thompson" to work because it didn't return anything, so using "gonzo" as a proxy:;…

12 anonymous December 19, 2010 at 2:51 pm
13 dirk December 19, 2010 at 4:16 pm

"It was Virginia Woolf who undertook to destroy Arnold Bennett; she wrote her hit piece in 1923, but their lines don't cross until 1940. She is of course still way ahead abut her reputation also seems to have fallen off a cliff lately."

I suspect Woolf's reputation would be hard to untangle from Albee's using this method.

14 dirk December 19, 2010 at 4:33 pm

Roissy's reputation was pretty up and down throughout the 19th century, rose strongly throughout most of the latter 20th century, but peaked in the mid 90's.

15 dirk December 19, 2010 at 4:58 pm

Can anyone explain why "bonds" collapsed in 1940, never to again return to their pre-1910 level?

16 Mark December 19, 2010 at 6:54 pm

Here's another along Tyson Spraul's line —

17 Nancy Lebovitz December 19, 2010 at 9:44 pm

more fun with engrams: the past vs. the present vs. the future, the history of crisis, is something happening to the obesity epidemic?

There's also discussion of changes in spelling– in particular, the long s (looks like an f) went out around 1800, so you get weird results if you only search on "present" and don't also search on "prefent".

18 James December 20, 2010 at 7:47 am

So, granted that transliteration from Cyrillic is a little dicey, but I believe the "right" or most common spelling is Dostoevsky. At least, that is the most common version in the Ngram viewer. That usage is slightly up from a low around 2000.

19 dirk December 20, 2010 at 11:16 am


"Bonds" got replaced with "Relationships.""

You are correct. Fascinating!

I tend to think that bonds were stronger.

20 Fran Smith December 21, 2010 at 11:23 am

Change Robertson Davies to British English (he was Canadian) and he does just fine.

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