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Data Miners Dig For Answers About Harper Lee, Truman Capote, and 'go Set a Watchman'

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Harper Lee's new novel.

A pair of literature researchers have used data science to investigate of the works of Harper Lee.

Credit: European Pressphoto Agency

The release of Harper Lee's new novel, "Go Set a Watchman," has been a sensation in the literary world, the first new book from the author since her classic "To Kill a Mockingbird" was published more than half a century ago. A pair of literature researchers took the new book's release as an opportunity to use data science to investigate long-standing debates about Lee and her work.

Many have long theorized that substantial portions of "Mockingbird" were written not by Lee, but by her childhood friend and colleague Truman Capote, and many have wondered how authentic the new book is.

Researchers Jan Rybicki and Maciej Eder fed "Watchman," "Mockingbird," and two of Capote's books into software that analyzes word–usage patterns and found that "Watchman" shows more of Lee's authorial voice than "Mockingbird." The research confirms the publisher's claims that "Watchman" is an only lightly-edited version of the book Lee originally presented to her publisher two years before the release of "Mockingbird" and that it served as that book's inspiration.

Rybicki and Eder's analysis also found that sections of "Mockingbird," especially the book's climactic scene, seem more similar to Capote's style than Lee's, although this could mean that Lee heavily rewrote those sections, and not that they were written by Capote.

From The Wall Street Journal
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