Researchers Map the Emotions of Fictional London

Stanford Literary Lab
Stanford Literary Lab / Stanford Literary Lab

London has served as the setting for sweeping romances, murder mysteries, and pretty much every other genre of fiction you can name. But not every London neighborhood has received equal literary treatment. As reports, a new project from Stanford’s Literary Lab explores the emotions attached to different parts of London in 18th and 19th century novels.

The literary maps are featured in a pamphlet titled “The Emotions of London” [PDF]. For their study, researchers fed novels into a computer program that searched for mentions of specific place names in London. From there, they paid freelancers to look at the context of 15,000 locations and identify the emotions associated with them.

It’s no surprise that London’s historically affluent West End is depicted in a happier light than the historically poor East End, which is most heavily associated with fear. What’s more interesting is how little the data changes from one decade to the next. The British capital underwent major shifts between 1700 and 1900. An exploding population stretched the borders outward while the City in central London became less crowded. Despite this, London writers remained preoccupied with the West End and the City throughout the 18th and 19th centuries.

“It is fascinating to measure how novelists both reflect normative space and diverge from ‘real’ space,” the pamphlet’s primary cartographer Erik Steiner said in a release. “London novels tended to be slow to adopt new places as they were populated over time.” You can check out some highlights from the pamphlet below.


All images courtesy of Stanford Literary Lab.