A Counterfactual Canon

Fedor Karmanov, Joshua Kotin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


The article analyzes the relationship between gender and taste at Shakespeare and Company. Using the Shakespeare and Company Project datasets, we discover that the majority of the books in the lending library were by men, and that women were almost twice as likely as men to borrow books by women. We also discover that the female authors with a high ratio of male to female readers are now canonical: Agatha Christie, Emily Dickinson, Gertrude Stein, Marianne Moore. In contrast, the female authors with the highest ratio of female to male readers are less well-known: Margaret Kennedy, E. M. Delafield, Rebecca West, Elizabeth von Arnim. These final two discoveries are surprising: they suggest that the reading practices of men determined the canon of female authors, and that the reading practices of women might reveal a counterfactual canon of modernism. We consider how this counterfactual canon of female authors might influence future work in literary history.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalJournal of Cultural Analytics
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2024

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Computer Science (miscellaneous)
  • History
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Literature and Literary Theory


  • canonicity
  • digital humanities
  • gender
  • literary history
  • modernism
  • readers and reading
  • Shakespeare and Company


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