Scholars of contemporary fiction face special challenges in making the turn toward digitized corpora and empirical method. Their field is one of exceptionally large and uncertain scale, subject to ongoing transformation and dispute and shrouded in copyright. It is, however, possible to produce an illuminating map of the field through statistical analysis of midsize, handmade data sets. On such a map one sees a striking shift in the typical temporal setting of the novel, a shift that corresponds to major rearrangements of the relation of literary commerce to literary prestige. This correspondence between formal and institutional developments in turn lends empirical support to the argument that, where anglophone fiction is concerned, the “contemporary” period begins around 1980.

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