Character Centrality in Present-Day Dutch Literary Fiction

Roel Smeets, Eric Sanders, A. van den Bosch

Research output: Contribution to journal/periodicalArticleScientificpeer-review


In the critique of literary representation, the depiction of literary characters has been studied from ideological perspectives. Hierarchies can
be exposed by determining the centrality of a character relative to other
characters. As an addition to such close reading methods, the present
paper proposes an approach to character centrality that combines network
analysis with narratology. This explorative study is based on a dataset of
demographic metadata on 2,137 characters from a corpus of 170 contemporary Dutch novels. We extract social networks of characters from each
novel, and rank all characters according to five centrality metrics. Then,
we perform a multiple linear regression to test which of the demographic
variables predicts a character’s position in the rankings. Our results suggest that immigrant and female characters score higher on two of the five
centrality metrics. As a narratological evaluation, we contextualise this
observed pattern in relation to a close reading of Özcan Akyol’s Eus (2012),
a novel from the corpus that thematises both descent and gender. We
demonstrate that our data-driven and empirically informed approach to
character centrality lays bare surprising patterns of representation which
only gain relevance in light of close readings of specific cases.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)71-90
JournalDH Benelux Journal
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2019


  • Dutch literature
  • character representation
  • social network analysis


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