A meaningless poll

The arXiv postings of today include the analysis of a poll by Mikhail Simkin that certainly has very little to do with the Physics category it appeared in! The poll was about the ability to distinguish between Dickens’ prose and Bulwer-Lytton’s prose. The later is apparently infamous as the “worst writer in history” (he is responsible for the opening “It was a dark and stormy night”). While I appreciate Dickens very much, I do not think his style is the reason why I enjoy his books: he is often discursive, using almost continuously an ironic distanciation from his characters, and some of his descriptions are utterly boring… Not unlike Balzac, Dickens wrote most of his novels as series in newspapers and often had to fill up volume with those descriptions  in order to meet publication deadlines. Therefore, the result of the poll, namely that it seems impossible to distinguish both authors based on the twelve extracts provided by Mikhail Simkin, is quite anticlimatic! (I got 8 out of 12 and I am afraid this is more luck than literary skills.) Looking at the sentences, it is easy to see the underlying common culture of those two 19th Century men, which means that their styles understandably sound very much the same to us… So to conclude that “people can’t appreciate great prose when the name of a great writer is detached from it” is a gross exageration! (Again, I do not see a clear reason for the paper to be published on arXiv, either in the Physics or in the Statistics sections…)

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