Thursday, May 18, 2017

Author Attribution Analysis of the Brontë novels

Once in awhile, we discover truth is stranger than fiction. Strange as it may seem, I contend, and science now supports my view, that Charlotte Brontë is the sole author of all the Brontë novels, which include those believed to be written by her sisters Emily and Anne. My findings are explored in detail in Charlotte Brontë's ThunderNames matter, and Charlotte’s pen names enabled her to execute her literary deception.

In December 1847, when Wuthering Heights debuted on the London bookshelves, the author Ellis Bell appeared to be a relative, a brother perhaps, of Acton Bell whose novel Agnes Grey arrived in the shops at the same time. These two books had followed the publication of Jane Eyre: an Autobiography edited by Currer Bell. The public, curious at the sudden glut of Bells, wondered if the three were brothers or perhaps sisters, and even considered Acton and Currer ladies, and Ellis a man. They agreed no lady could have written Wuthering Heights because of its violent and harsh depictions. A suspicious reviewer, based on the novels’ similarity in sensibility, suggested one author wrote all three books; she found the books contain ‘singularly unattractive’ protagonists, and the writing presents a coarseness and brutality that combines ‘genuine power with such horrid taste.’[1]

The three Bell brothers were later unmasked to be sisters and, after their deaths, the public discovered that the sisters were Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Brontë.

Prior to their deaths, a highly respected Victorian literary critic Sidney Dobell deduced that Currer (Charlotte) wrote Wuthering Heights, Agnes Grey, and a later Acton Bell book The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. He had found similarities between them and Jane Eyre. Interestingly, in the second edition of Wuthering Heights issued after Emily and Anne had died, Charlotte as Currer Bell states in her ‘Biographical Notice of Ellis and Acton Bell’ that only one critic—Sydney Dobell— ‘discerned the real nature of Wuthering Heights.’[2] Was this an allusion to authorship? If ‘nature’ is defined as the identity as much as the essential character behind the work, perhaps she was providing a hint.

In the late 1840s, the editor who published Ellis Bell’s Wuthering Heights, and Acton Bell’s Agnes Grey and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall had also read a fourth Bell manuscript, one penned by Currer Bell and entitled The Professor. He rejected it for its lack of excitement, but was privy to important information: he had viewed all three Bell brothers’ works and, therefore, had seen the handwriting on their manuscripts. He sent The Tenant of Wildfell Hall to New York and told the publisher ‘he was about to publish the next book by the author of Jane Eyre, under her other nom de plume of Acton Bell—Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell being, in fact, according to him, one person.’[3]

If Currer Bell was using pseudonyms, this revelation posed a problem for the author.

I believe Charlotte Brontë denied the one-author claim for pragmatic reasons: her Currer Bell novels were with a different publisher, and she understood the legal complications of having two publishers. As well, as a safeguard, if she were to predecease her sisters, they could continue to receive royalties. Her denials seemed to end the controversy but, if she is the sole author, was there another reason for Currer Bell to use one or even two pseudonyms?

Virginia Woolf notes in A Room of One’s Own that women, like Currer Bell, needed to use pen names. The women were ‘victims of inner strife as their writings prove.’ They ‘sought ineffectively to veil themselves by using the name of a man’ because ‘[a]nonymity runs in their blood.’ But why use a male pen name? Woolf states that men considered women who sought ambition and fame to be ‘detestable,’[4] so Currer Bell would have preferred to protect her identity from the harsh judgment of a biased public. Or, she may have had the additional motive of copyright discrepancies as suggested above. If Sidney Dobell was correct and Currer Bell is the sole author of the Bell novels, how could one prove that Charlotte Brontë wrote Wuthering Heights, Agnes Grey, and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall?
One possible means of clarification would be the discovery of these long lost manuscripts.  If the pages were in Charlotte’s handwriting, as the early publisher stated, then readers would acknowledge her as the true author.  Unfortunately, the only manuscripts missing from the Brontë oeuvre, coincidentally, happen to be those penned by Ellis and Acton Bell. Without the manuscripts, however, scholars could use the science of stylometry to determine authorship. Author attribution or stylometry uses computer software to analyze texts, such as literary works, to detect the distinct linguistic signature in their personal writing style.

In 2013, a confidential informant tipped off a journalist that the author of the Harry Potter books, J.K. Rowling is also the author of The Cuckoo’s Calling, a novel she had written under the pseudonym of Robert Galbraith. London’s Sunday Times asked a linguistics professor, Patrick Juola, to confirm the journalist’s suspicions. Juola has designed a computer program called the Java Graphical Authorship Attribution Program or JGAAP to recognize common but subtle writing patterns that are undetectable to readers. These include language tools such as common words, word lengths, and pairs of adjacent words. The program compared The Cuckoo’s Calling to Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy as well as three sample texts by three fiction authors: Ruth Rendell, P.D. James, and Val McDermid. The results pointed to J.K. Rowling as the author and she immediately confessed that Robert Galbraith is a pseudonym.

Juola stated that author attribution, through his program, allows a curious amateur to gain results of novel analysis in a short time. One such amateur, writing in The New Yorker, was author Paul Collins who used JGAAP to discover, after inputting several samples, that three pieces of prose, previously credited to Edgar Allan Poe’s brother Henry seemed to be Edgar’s creations.[5]  Juola noted that, ‘in the event that we were studying a long-dead author, this is the kind of thing that could and would be argued about in the journals for decades’[6] because the author is no longer available for comment.

Juola’s analysis of documents ‘has been recognized by the Plagiarism Action Network as one of the most accurate methods of authenticating authorship.’[7]  His software helps in his detecting: ‘What we are doing is the same type of judgment that experts have always done about reading documents and figuring out something about the author—just a lot faster, and more accurate than most.’[8] The software tool may not be able to proclaim certainty, but can provide statistically valid evidence that suggests a particular author could have written the tested prose. When analyzed in conjunction with other evidence, however, the results could produce a higher degree of probability.

For the past several years I have been researching the Brontë novels in terms of authorship. Several clues had pointed me in this direction, specifically identical symbolic patterns, themes, riddles, and code in Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. Also, to the naked eye, these two novels share recurring syntax and diction with The Professor, Agnes Grey, and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. One could argue these similarities are the result of the three sisters living under the same roof, but when placed beside other evidence, the probability that all three sisters wrote in such a similar manner decreases. A scientific analysis of the novels, therefore, could either quash or support serious consideration of my theory.

The evidence that strengthened my belief that Charlotte wrote Wuthering Heights and the Anne Brontë novels came from the only handwritten examples of Emily and Anne’s prose. Emily and Anne’s Diary Papers and Birthday Papers provide a sample of the quality of their writing. The two sisters wrote briefly about their lives on four separate occasions in 1834, 1837, 1841, and 1845. The prose, especially Emily’s, has challenged scholars to explain the disparity between this writing and her brilliant novel Wuthering Heights. One biographer states, ‘the dreadful handwriting and spelling are scarcely credible as the work of a highly intelligent sixteen-year-old.’[9]

Margaret Drabble, the novelist, biographer, and critic acknowledges that the authorship of Wuthering Heights is still an unsolved riddle. Part of the problem comes from ‘how little we know of Emily,’ and that her diary papers ‘do not reveal her as a novelist.’ She adds, ‘There is something awkward and freakish about a girl of twenty-seven playing nursery games. The absence of the awkward in Wuthering Heights is stunning,’ so how did Emily ‘write a solid, elegant, original, beautifully constructed and firmly Yorkshire novel like Wuthering Heights,’ especially when her life was known to be ‘outwardly uneventful’? Unfortunately, the ‘dearth of information’ on Emily enables the book’s authorship to ‘remain a mighty enigma,’ and elicits efforts to solve the riddle of who really wrote this ‘work of genius.’[10]

In the existing papers, when Emily was almost nineteen, she misspelled Charlotte’s name twice as Charolotte and Charollote.  In the following excerpt, with errors intact, she is twenty-three: ‘It is Friday evening—near nine o’clock—wild rainy weather. I am seated in the dining room ‘alone’—having just concluded tidying our desk-boxes—writing this document—Papa is in the parlour. Aunt up stairs in her room—She has been reading Blackwood’s Magazine to papa—Victoria and Adelaide are ensconced in the peat-house—Keeper is in the Kitchen—Nero in his cage—We are all stout and hearty as I hope is the case with Charlotte, Branwell, and Anne, of whom the first is at John White Esq- upperwood House, Rawden  The second is at Luddenden foot and the third is I beleive at—Scarborough—enditing perhaps a paper corresponding to this.’

In July of 1845, very near the time she would have been writing Wuthering Heights, she writes, ‘. . . We are all now at home and likely to be there some time—Branwell went to Liverpool on ‘Tuesday’ to stay a week. Tabby has just been teasing me to turn as formerly to— ‘pilloputate.’ [peel a potato] Anne and I should have picked the black currants if it had been fine and sunshiny. I must hurry off now to my turning and ironing I have plenty of work on hands and writing and am altogether full of buisness with best wishes for the whole House till 1848 July 30th and as much longer as may be I conclude E.J. Brontë.’[11]

Scholars believe Emily is referring to the writing of the Gondal saga, one of the ‘nursery games’ that she and Anne had been involved with since childhood, but without prose examples, one can only deduce the narrative.

In Anne’s 1845 paper, she writes, ‘. . . This is a dismal cloudy wet evening  we have had so far a very cold wet summer—Charlotte has lately been to Hathersage in Derbyshire on a visit of three weeks to Ellen Nussy—she is now sitting sewing in the Dining Room  Emily is ironing upstairs  I am sitting in the Dining Room in the Rocking chair before the fire with my feet on the fender  Papa is in the parlour  Tabby and Martha are I think in the Kitchen  Keeper and Flossy are I do not know where  little Dick is hopping in his cage.’[12]
The two sisters show neither exceptional literary prowess nor inventiveness, and their prose is uninspiring.

Their letter writing is also sparse. Charlotte wrote letters that would fill three volumes, but only four of Anne’s letters have survived and Emily’s comprise just over three hundred words. Consequently, when I downloaded Professor Juola’s software program on stylometry, I had a limited number of words with which to compare Emily and Anne’s prose with Wuthering Heights, Agnes Grey, and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.

I studied the stylometry guide, and followed Prof. Juola’s instructions to Paul Collins as how best to program JGAAP. I used a sample 5,000-word text from Wuthering Heights and compared it to a 2500-word sample of Charlotte’s novel The Professor, written in 1846 at the time scholars believe Emily wrote Wuthering Heights. Emily and Anne’s diaries are not ideal samples at 1700 and 1100 words respectively, but at least they are known exemplars of their writing.

I used all of Emily’s diary/birthday papers and Anne’s 1841 and 1845 papers. I then included three contemporary authors as detractors: 5,000 word samples from Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey; Elizabeth Gaskell’s Cranford, and Harriet Martineau’s Deerbrook. I selected words, word stems, and n-grams for parts of speech, characters, and words, and used a Most Common Events culler, Centroid driver function, and Cosine, Histogram, and Manhattan functions. I asked the program to process the information and waited for the results of the fifteen outcomes.

I repeated the exact criteria for Agnes Grey and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.

Juola explained that in order to establish the most likely author, I must look for the number of times Charlotte’s name appears in the top three rankings. The ideal situation is that her name appears first all the time, but the professor added that if her name comes out as first or second ‘almost every time,’ it’s ‘highly likely’ Charlotte is the author.

In the case of Wuthering Heights, Charlotte’s name came up first in 15/15 categories; Harriet Martineau came second 8/15 times, Emily’s name came second 4/15 times, and Jane Austen’s 3/15 times. Apparently, based on science, Charlotte’s prose is an identical match to the prose in Wuthering Heights. Understandably, Emily’s prose fell short.

When I analyzed the Anne Brontë novels, the results were equally supportive of my hypothesis. For Agnes Grey, Charlotte took top spot 14/15 times, while Jane Austen came first 1/15. Anne’s name occurred twice in 3rd place. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall gave Jane Austen the prime spot 10/15 times, with Charlotte coming in second 10/15 times in those categories, and first 5/15 times in the remaining ones. Anne’s name was last 9/15 times and 5th 6/15 times. Jane Austen died in 1817, so she obviously was not the author of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, but a brief manual analysis of Northanger Abbey and the Brontë novels showed a number of syntactical similarities in over 50 examples. This could mean either Charlotte borrowed from Austen’s style or Austen’s style was simply similar to Brontë’s at that time.

To test if the program would recognize a Charlotte Brontë text, I programmed Jane Eyre as the unknown document and kept the detractors and the Brontë samples the same. Her name came out as the author 15/15 times.

Is this proof positive that Charlotte Bronte wrote all the Bronte novels?

Juola has stated that ‘modern computational linguistic technologies have produced a faster, more objective, and more scientific method of answering such questions on the basis of document statistics.  If some notion of writing style can be objectively measured, it becomes possible to quantify exactly the idea that this document is likely to have come from this person. Just as every person has their own fingerprint or DNA, so every person has their own writing style, an extension of their personality and cognitive habits.’[13] He would never claim that his program is as certain as DNA, but that a set of markers can raise the level of probability. 

The results suggest Charlotte Brontë wrote the novels; the results are indicative of her being the author, but without her comments, as in the case of J.K Rowling, we can only speculate on the possibility. At the very least, the results of these Author Attribution tests could ignite spirited debate over authorship. Perhaps my suggestion that Charlotte is the sole genius in the Brontë family contains the elements less of fiction and more of truth.


[1] Elizabeth Rigby, ‘Vanity Fair—and Jane Eyre.’ Quarterly Review: 84:167, (December 1848): 153-185. Accessed October 2015.

[2] Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights. (London: Penguin Classics Edition, 2003) xlvi.
[3] Smith, George. The Recollections of a Long and Busy Life. (1895); typescript in the National Library of Scotland, MSS 23191-2.
[4] Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own. (London: Granada, 1978) 49.
[5] Paul Collins, “Poe’s Debut, Hidden in Plain Sight?” <>. Accessed October 2015.
[6] Patrick Juola, “Rowling and “Galbraith”: an authorial analysis.” . Accessed October 2015.
[7] Anya Sostek, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “Duquesne professor helps ID Rowling as author of ‘The Cuckoo’s Calling.’<>. Accessed October 2015.
[8] Steve Kolowich, “The Professor Who Declared, It’s J.K. Rowling.” July 29, 2013. <> Accessed October 2015.

[9] Juliet Barker, The Brontës. (New York: St. Martin’s, 1994) 221.
[10] Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights. Introduction by Margaret Drabble. (London: Everyman Ltd., 1978) ix-xx.
[11] Emily Brontë’s Letters and Diary Papers. <> Accessed October 2015.
[12] Anne Brontë’s Birthday Paper July 30, 1841 and Diary Paper July 31, 1845. <> Accessed October 2015.
[13] Patrick Juola, “Computational Analysis of Authorship and Identity for Immigration.” <> Accessed October 2015.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Charlotte Brontë, James Joyce, and Virginia Woolf

Joyce Carol Oates recently blogged about Jane Eyre, the classic book that has remained a favourite novel after its first publication in October of 1847. The story of a plain, poor, female orphan revolutionized the novel: the reminiscences of its narrator as she progressed through childhood to adulthood, chronicling her deep emotions and spiritual dilemmas were considered shocking but engrossing. Here's an excerpt from Ms. Oates' blog.

Even after nearly seventeen decades of its first publication, Jane Eyre remains adored all around the world. The fictional autobiography and love story was published in 1847 and adapted into numerous film, television and theatre versions. It is as enjoyable and engrossing as holiday reading and as layered as a school/college textbook. The novel that secured Charlotte Brontë (or Currer Bell, the name she adopted to author this) a spot in the revered canon of English literature is noted for its memorable titular character and her stirring life story, the passionate love between Jane and the mysterious-and-attractive Mr Rochester, its intellectual and religious debates, and the dark, Gothic undertones.
Jane Eyre is a heartrending, haunting read that seems oddly familiar even though it is set in an unfamiliar era. One of the first to explore the human consciousness to this extent, Brontë is sometimes considered the literary ancestor of Modernists like James Joyce and Virginia Woolf, who later perfected this art. Jane’s dilemmas and troubles, and her struggle to strike a balance between religious duty and passion, ring very close to the reader’s heart. Moreover, her determination to find acceptability, equality and unfettered freedom amongst the men who try to restrain or subordinate her in a world that only seems to value rich and/or beautiful women, suggest the beginnings of literary feminism. The other characters too, especially the Byronic Mr Rochester, the quiet and stoic St John, and the angelic Helen Burns, stay with one forever.
The book is an antecedent to many modern individual-centric, coming-of-age and romance novels, and is a must-read classic even today.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

B O O K  R E V I E W


Over a year ago, I went to a lecture on the Brontes and met Dr. Andrea Westcott, a prof at a local university who had done her PhD on Anne Bronte. I asked her if she would be willing to take a look at Charlotte Bronte's Thunder. I warned her that the book contained a controversial theory that might shock her and I would, therefore, understand if she preferred to decline the invitation to venture into enemy territory. 

She replied that any worthwhile scholarship should be given a fair chance, and would certainly read the book with an open mind. This is a fantastic response for anyone who challenges the status quo: you hope your work will be viewed impartially. 

The only problem Dr. Westcott had was finding the time. She wanted to give the book its proper due, so if I didn't mind waiting a few months, she would accept the book and try to get to it as soon as her schedule allowed. I told her I would appreciate any effort on her part, and was prepared to wait.

Recently, she completed the book and invited me to her office to discuss her views. 

Dr. Westcott is a lovely woman who, aside from being bright, is a major athlete. She had just completed a brutal triathlon in Whistler, British Columbia that made me wonder how a person's body can withstand that kind of physical rigour. What an accomplishment! She kindly stated that my book was also a major accomplishment.

I am including the introduction of her review here, but if you're interested in reading the entire piece, I have added a link at the bottom of the post.

Michele Carter’s book Charlotte Bronte’s Thunder: The Truth Behind the Bronte Sisters’ Genius is an extensively researched and meticulously detailed account of Charlotte Bronte’s life that aims to redefine Bronte’s achievements. The book has been favourably reviewed by former editor Bob Duckett in the January 2013 issue of Bronte Studies. 

In her introduction Carter admits that she “never set out to challenge the status quo,” but originally intended to study the sisters’ corpus “for a shared symbolic design” (iv). In the process, Carter discovers that Jane Eyre evokes the “rituals and symbols of Freemasonry” (iv) because “Charlotte knew her Freemasonry as well as she knew her Shakespeare and her Bible” (78). Furthermore, Carter learns that Charlotte’s ability with certain types of memory was so elevated that she, like a savant, could create long and involved anagrams in her head. 

From this form of genius, Charlotte wove a story behind the words of her novels and other writing, such as the “Biographical Notice of Ellis and Acton Bell” about the authorship of the Bronte novels, that revealed surprising and little known events taking place in the Haworth community, which profoundly shaped the lives of the Bronte family members. Not only does Carter claim that the Masons were corrupt, but also that it was Charlotte who wrote all of the novels credited to herself, to Emily (Ellis) and to Anne (Acton). Feeling threatened by the wicked machinations of local Freemasons, Charlotte Bronte ascribes her work to her sisters, while revealing her deception in coded messages, anagrams scattered throughout her writings.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Thank You Readers

A big thanks to all who downloaded their free copy of The Bronte Code. For those who missed this great opportunity but would like to see examples of the code hidden in the Bronte novels, click here for your copy.

Monday, August 12, 2013


Beginning August 15th, 2013 we will be hosting a week-long 'Giveaway' of The Brontë Code.

Click For Link

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Charlotte Brontë and The Brontë Code

After writing Charlotte Bronte's Thunder, I decided to write a fictional account that would present some of the material found in the nonfiction, and provide an entertaining introduction to the controversy. The Bronte Code became a murder mystery set in Haworth. 

When the story opens in the present-day, Lucy Owens, a struggling journalist from San Francisco, has made her way to Haworth, in the north of England, to visit the Brontë museum and to immerse herself in the local scenery. While in the village, Lucy's absorption of Brontëana lends a slight dissonance to her musings when she learns she shares several odd, life coincidences with her favorite Brontë sister, Charlotte. Nonetheless, she roams the moors to retrace the steps of her literary muse with the hope that she will connect with her own talent as a novelist.

Her adventure begins during an afternoon ramble among the heather and harebells. Haunting cries and the image of a man (Heathcliff?) draw her to an abandoned farmhouse where she discovers a body. The dead man is Danny Cowan, and his ancestry links back several generations to the 1840s when the Brontë fictions were first published. Lucy's curiosity drives her to investigate the murder, which leads directly to Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. Her interest in Charlotte and the strange similarities in their lives create a further pull beyond simple curiosity. The undercurrent of a mysterious force, while frightening, enables Lucy to crack a secret code that's been hidden in plain view for over one hundred and sixty years.

Your level of enjoyment is not predicated on your level of knowledge of Brontë lore or literature: the book introduces you to the Brontës and expands your awareness of their story while inserting a dab of romance with a dash of controversy