A.Q. Morton, Stylometric Analysis, Pastoral Epistles, and C.S. Lewis?

Christianity Today’s website has an article titled “Shedding Light on The Dark Tower: A C.S. Lewis Mystery Solved“. (h/t Targuman. Thanks, Chris!)


The backstory: There is a somewhat questionable work attributed to C.S. Lewis titled The Dark Tower. Katherine Lindskoog has disputed Lewis’ authorship of this work (and some other writings attributed to Lewis after his death). She published a book with her case.


In 1994, with the release of the Lewis bio-pic Shadowlands, an updated and revised version of her book was released. And the re-release included stylometric analysis to “prove” Lewis wasn’t the author. Here’s the paragraph from the CT story:



With the 1994 release of the movie Shadowlands, Lindskoog reissued her book as Light in the Shadowlands, adding two new chapters. In this edition, she reported on a new study by the Rev. A. Q. Morton, which employed cusum (cumulative sum) statistical analysis of the first 23 sentences of chapter one of The Dark Tower, the first 24 sentences of chapter four, and the first 25 sentences of chapter seven, comparing them with similar passages from Out of the Silent Planet and That Hideous Strength. This type of style analysis has been used to prove that Shakespeare did not write his plays, that Paul did not write some epistles attributed to him, and that Jesus did not speak some sayings attributed to him. It assumes that a person’s use of language remains constant over one’s lifetime and in all situations. Morton concluded that Lewis could not have written chapters one and four, but that he did write chapter seven. Therefore, The Dark Tower was “a composite work.


The Point: A.Q. Morton’s work has been cited numerous times to support the argument that lexically, linguistically and stylistically, Paul couldn’t have written any of the Pastoral Epistles. Any discussion of authorhship of Pauline material usually cites a number of articles and a few books by Morton. He did, I would guess, use the same style of analysis here in examining Lewis’ work.


Note also that Morton’s analysis sounds sort of like P.N. Harrison’s “fragmentary” hypothesis of the Paulines. Could The Dark Tower be Walter Hooper’s pseudeipigraphic paean to Lewis? Tha’s what the stylometrist would have us believe.


Most of Lindskoog’s case (from what I can tell by the CT article) rests on her internalized read of what Lewis’ authorial tone should sound like; and The Dark Tower doesn’t sound like Lewis to her. That, plus she contends that there was no one living to confirm Hooper’s attribution of the work to Lewis — the only name he could muster has long since passed away. Because it couldn’t be proven directly, it was suspect. And the stylometric analysis proved it, at least from her perspective.


However, in this case we have a smoking gun. Lindskoog and Morton are wrong. The CT article continues (which I quote at length):



In 2003, Fowler wrote an essay for the Yale Review about Lewis as a doctoral supervisor. (I included his article in C. S. Lewis Remembered, a collection of essays by former students of Lewis.) Fowler began studies with Lewis in 1952. In describing how Lewis lectured, read, and supervised, Fowler also discussed how Lewis wrote.


In the Yale Review article, he mentioned that their relationship went to a different level when Lewis discovered that Fowler had writer’s block with a piece of fantasy he was attempting. Lewis helped Fowler through his block and continued to ask how Fowler’s fiction was coming. Fowler then added this about Lewis’s writing habits:


Not that he always wrote without difficulty; sometimes he had to set a project aside for a long period. He showed me several unfinished or abandoned pieces (his notion of supervision included exchanging work in progress); these included “After Ten Years,” The Dark Tower, and Till We Have Faces. Another fragment, a time-travel story, had been aborted after only a few pages.

Lewis told Fowler that getting to another world was a particular problem that had forced him to give up on several stories.


“Lewis certainly talked about TDT [The Dark Tower],” Fowler wrote to me. “He said he had been unable to carry it further. He didn’t say when he had written the fragment. I got the impression that tdt had been meant as a sequel, but I have no idea at what stage in the development of the published trilogy.”


“Like many fantasy writers,” Fowler wrote, “Lewis wasn’t much interested in the question of the literary quality of his writing.”


And there you have it. Stylometric analysis can be wrong. In this case, very likely using the same techniques, carried out by the same man (A.Q. Morton) responsible for the primary cited sources that conclude Paul couldn’t have written some of the epistles attributed to him, made the wrong conclusion.


Realize that even if one limits Lewis’ writing to his fantasy writings (even just to one volume of his Space Trilogy), that’s more material by far than we have for Paul. In other words, stylometry would be much more likely to get the C.S. Lewis case correct! But it didn’t work. Stylometrists have even less material upon which to base their conclusions regarding Paul and the NT. So in what esteem should we hold their conclusions? (Note I say conclusions, not the underlying work — stylometry need not only be marshalled in the argument about authorship!)


The lesson: Stylometry can be interesting, but it can tell us nothing definite regarding authorship of the letters within the Pauline corpus.


Thanks, Christianity Today!

Comments

  1. Vincent says:

    But if Fowler only admits to being aware of a fragment and Morton says that Lewis did write chapter 7, where is the smoking gun?

  2. Great post Rick. Hal Poe is a colleague of mine.
    This stylometry stuff is so weak.

  3. PLStepp says:

    I’ve often wondered why, in a world where you can win a prize for sounding like bad Hemingway, people INSIST that an author should always have the same style. Doesn’t make sense.

    Are we going to measure everything Dickens wrote by the first sentence of A Tale of Two Cities? Either Dickens didn’t write that monstrousity, or he didn’t write anything else that bears his name.

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