The Case of “Chy Lung, The Chinese Fisherman”

“Chy Lung, The Chinese Fisherman” is one of Fanny’s short stories. It appeared in 1880 in an edition of St. Nicholas, a popular children’s magazine. It is the story of a lonely fisherman, Chy Lung, who suddenly finds himself unable to catch any fish in his voyages to open sea. In an attempt to correct his situation, Chy Lung seeks the help of the God of Plenty, and lays a fish before the idol as an offering. In return, Chy Lung does not find immediate prosperity: he crosses path with a Sorcerer of the Sea, two mermaidens, momentarily becomes rich only to fall into poverty, amongst other misadventures.

In our stylometric analyses, this short story constantly came up as distinctly separate from the rest of Fanny’s stories. Was this perhaps because it was authored by Louis? Unlikely. There is little doubt that this story was penned by Fanny. The reason for its strange placing had to be related to the way in which our tests projected the data. Following Burrows’ method,1in order to account for the anomaly we decided to look into the word-frequency list which the analyses used to produce the graphs, and to try to find any pattern that would help us understand the unexpected location of “Chy Lung, The Chinese Fisherman”.

The most conspicuous statistic was one that corresponded with the frequency of the word “for”; this word appears significantly more often than it does in the rest of the texts in our corpora. After rereading the story, it became evident why this occurred: “for” is profusely used as a coordinating conjunction and not only as a preposition. We can surmise that Fanny chose to do so in this story for reasons related to its intended audience, children. Since “for” is the 10th most frequent word on our list, this alone might account for its particular place in the PCA graphs. However, when we look at the rest of the words, “Chy Lung, The Chinese Fisherman” stands out in several other ways: words such as “many”, “enough”, “without”, “each”, are used with a higher frequency than in the rest of the stories. This comes as no surprise if we look at the story itself. In a magical fable of scarcity and abundance written in an easy prose intended to engage the imagination of children, such denominators of possession and quantity are bound to be common.

Other words are interesting to look at and understand how they correlate with the story’s setting: “near” is uncommonly frequent in “Chy Lung, The Chinese Fisherman”; and when we look at our general table of most-frequent words, we only find a similar frequency in Treasure Island. It is not hard to understand why: in both of the texts, location has a greater significance than it normally would. Nearness is key in relation to a sought-for buried treasure, as it is when a fisherman goes farther or nearer in relation to the sea, the place of his very livelihood.

In order to prove if our interpretation was correct and that this was the cause of “Chy Lung, The Chinese Fisherman”’s strange placing, we modified the frequent-word list by eliminating all the words that had an abnormal frequency in the story. This is how “Chy Lung, The Chinese Fisherman” used to come up before modifying the list:

Chy Lung Tests_PCA_100_MFWs_Culled_0_Pronouns deleted_PCA_001

When we re-ran the tests with the list modified, this was the result:

Chy Lung Tests_PCA_100_MFWsMod_Culled_0_Pronouns deleted_PCA_001

Our tests confirmed the fallacy of methodologically distinguishing between novels and short stories expecting to find homogeneous characteristics within each genre. “Chy Lung, The Chinese Fisherman” was not a story penned by Louis but rather an atypical story within the corpus of Fanny’s writings, for several reasons related to the relationship between genre and readership. When this issue arises in stylometric analysis, the importance of our work as humanists is illuminated. In such cases it would be impossible to carry out a successful analysis on authorship attribution without interpretation and close-reading.

  1. Burrows, John. “Not Unless You Ask Nicely: The Interpretive Nexus Between Analysis and Information”. Literary and Linguistic Computing 7.2 (1992): 91-109. Print.