Style complexity in the novels of William F. Buckley Jr.

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Meehan, William
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Middle Tennessee State University
The primary purpose of this study is to measure through clause analysis the style complexity in the novels of William F. Buckley Jr. This study also attempts to discover whether Buckley's style exhibits any trends, whether the style in his ten Blackford Oakes novels differs from the style in his one departure form the spy genre, and whether the clause analysis procedure is a reliable measure of an author's style complexity.
The method used to examine Buckley's style is clause analysis, a procedure initiated by Walter A. Cook at Georgetown University and developed by Louis A. Arena at the University of Delaware. Based on tagmemic grammar, this linguistic approach to style analysis involves three steps: (1) reduction of the corpus to single clause structures according to the main verb phrase construction in each clause; (2) identification of each clause type and the separation of main clauses from dependent clauses; and (3) calculation of style complexity, which includes Average Sentence Length (ASL), Average Block Length (ABL), and Average Clause Depth (ACD). A total of 1711 clauses from Buckley's eleven novels is analyzed.
Clause analysis shows that Buckley requires his readers to process less than 3.0 clauses per sentence, slightly more than 2.0 main clauses per clause, and less than 2.0 embedded clauses per clause. This means that Buckley's style is similar or equal to the style in Heller's Catch-22, Twain's Innocents Abroad and Tom Sawyer, Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls, and Lawrence's Lady Chatterly's Lover. It also means that Buckley's style is not as difficult to process as Faulkner's Light in August, Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, Kafka's The Trial, or Thoreaus's Walden.
Clause analysis also demonstrates that Buckley's style over the nineteen years he has been writing novels does not display any detectable trends; that the style in the ten Blackford Oakes novels does not differ from the style in the one departure from the espionage genre; that clause analysis is a reliable method of measuring a writer's style complexity when it is modified to include a larger corpus of at least 150 clauses from a novel.
Director: Michael J. Neth.