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The largest ever survey of contemporary fiction launched


A research project, run by the University of Wolverhampton and the Dutch Huygens Institute that is looking at readers’ opinions about the literary quality of contemporary fiction, launched on Monday at the Being Human Festival.

Novel Perceptions: towards an inclusive canon’ was launched by Wolverhampton’s Professor of English Literature Sebastian Groes in an online session with ‘My Name is Leon’ author Kit de Waal.

Groes’ team have launched the ‘2020 Reader Review’ survey, the largest ever assessment of contemporary fiction.

Joining Kit de Waal was Karina van Dalen-Oskam, Head of Literary Studies at the Huygens Institute for the History of the Netherlands (Amsterdam), a Professor of Computational Literary Studies at the University of Amsterdam and recently appointed Honorary Professor in the School of Humanities at the University of Wolverhampton. During the event attendees took part in an interactive online quiz to rate the covers of books included in the BBC’s ‘The Novels That Shaped Our World’ list in order to see whether they influence people’s perceptions of literary quality.

Van Dalen-Oskam is well-known for the project ‘The Riddle of Literary Quality’, which she led from 2012 to 2019. This project analysed perceptions of literary quality in the Netherlands by combining a large survey of readers’ opinions about 400 recent novels with computational analysis of the same novels.

The results of this project inspired a UK version of this research, which will be executed at the University of Wolverhampton.

Professor van Dalen-Oskam’s expertise will be firmly embedded in the Wolverhampton team through her appointment as Honorary Professor whilst working with Professor Groes on the Novel Perceptions research.

Professor van Dalen-Oskam said: “Reading fiction, or listening to audiobooks, is important for many people for all kinds of reasons.

“I am looking forward to finding out what makes a novel literary in the perception of British readers, in what ways this differs from what I learned about Dutch readers, and how these differences may be explained.”

BBC Arts and the University of Wolverhampton have launched a similar quiz to that shared in the online session that asks people to judge book covers where the name and title have been taken out. Take the quiz here: 

Novel Perceptions: towards an inclusive canon’ received £300,000 from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) earlier this year.


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