Tussen close en distant. Personage-hiërarchieën in Peter Buwalda’s Bonita Avenue

Lucas van der Deijl, Roel Smeets


The analysis of representations in literature is not only concerned with characters but also with relations and hierarchies between characters. In literary narratives, such relations are inherently ambiguous: they activate different readings and different views on the power dynamics between characters. There have been various attempts to formalise and quantify the analysis of character relations, for instance through social network analysis. However, because of this ambiguity, the meaning of a computational approximation of characters, relations and the strength of such relations is far from evident. Inspired by Stephen Ramsay’s notion of ‘algorithmic criticism’, this article demonstrates how both close and distant reading approaches of character hierarchies rely on an arrangement of text-internal or text-external evidence rather than the text itself. It thus responds to the issue of character hierarchy raised by a specific case, Peter Buwalda’s bestselling novel Bonita Avenue (2010). As a narrative composed of three apparently equal main characters, the novel illustrates the complexity of the interpretation of character relations when analysed either qualitatively or quantitatively. This analysis thus also demonstrates how close and distant reading strategies could go hand in hand in order to approach character representation from different angles.

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© Tijdschrift voor Nederlandse Taal- en Letterkunde | ISSN (print): 0040-7550 | eISSN (online): 2212-0521