The First Step in Creating Symonds’s Network

Network theory, also commonly referred to as graph theory, uses graphs to represent relations between distinct objects, whether those be people, neurons, companies, or even abstract concepts. Due to its versatility, network theory can be applied to a variety of fields such as sociology, neuroscience, operations research, and public health, and offers an efficient way for researchers to visualize and analyze all the connections among one’s objects of interest.

As part of the John Addington Symonds Project, I have been working with one of my peers, Kendra Brewer, on building a network of people surrounding John Addington Symonds. We used The Memoirs to compile a list of people who had an impact on Symonds’s life, both directly and indirectly. We included the people that he interacted with in real life, but we also included those who he never met but who still inspired him and influenced his work, such as authors, ancient philosophers, and mythological figures.

We grouped the people based on their relationships with Symonds, using the categories “Family,” “Ancestor,” “Friend / Colleague,” “Amour / Comrade,” “The Stranger,” “General Acquaintance,” “Inspiration,” and “Other.” “Family” includes relatives of Symonds by blood or marriage with whom Symonds had in-person contact, “Ancestor” includes relatives of Symonds who were dead before his time, “Friend / Colleague” includes people that Symonds was close to, “Amour / Comrade” includes people who had a romantic and/or sexual relationship with Symonds, “The Stranger” includes people with whom Symonds did not have a romantic or sexual relationship but about whom he fantasized, “Inspiration” includes those whose work inspired Symonds, and the “Other” category includes anyone who did not fit into any of the above-mentioned categories. The following figure depicts a breakdown of the different groups shown in the data we collected from The Memoirs.

Figure 1. Breakdown of the relationship categories.

In basic network theory, a graph is defined as a collection of nodes and edges, where an edge represents a connection between two nodes. In this case, we defined the nodes as people, and every edge signified the existence of a relationship between people. The original dataset focused mostly on the relationship each person had with Symonds and not necessarily on the relationships they had with each other, so we arbitrarily sub-sampled a few notable figures from The Memoirs and Symonds’s Letters to construct a preliminary graph representation of Symonds’s network. We chose people whose relationships with one another can be clearly inferred from our sources, and we used Palladio [1], a web-based data visualization tool developed by the Humanities + Design Lab at Stanford University.

Figure 2. Rudimentary graph representation of a sub-sample of Symonds’s network.

Our sub-sampled graph provides a good partial visualization of Symonds’s network, but there is much room for improvement. Palladio does not allow for much manipulation of network features such as node color, edge color, or edge thickness, which would be a very effective visual aid to the user. The nodes could be colored based on location or profession, the edges could be colored based on the relationship categories as defined above, and edge thickness could represent how close two people were. There are several ways we could quantify closeness, such as the number of mentions in The Memoirs or the number of letters sent between two people. It may be necessary to create a scale with bins, where a certain thickness corresponds to a range of the number of mentions/letters. For example, we could define the transformation such that 10 to 20 mentions correspond to a “closeness” value of 2, 20 to 30 mentions correspond to a “closeness” value of 3, and so on. Thus, it would be interesting to see if we could add any extensions or make any modifications to the program that would allow the user to change various network features as they see fit, making the program more interactive and flexible.

Once we have a more robust graph that can represent a larger dataset effectively, there are several ways we could characterize the network, such as finding the largest connected component, which is defined as the largest subgraph where the nodes are all connected to one another; this component would represent the largest community in which everyone was connected to one another. Or we could find triangle subgraphs in the network, which would tell us if there were any trios that maintained strong communication. We could also try clustering the nodes in the network based on various metrics, to see whether they would cluster differently from their original categories.

There are many creative methods we could use to analyze the network once it has more visually identifiable features as well as more information on not just how the people are related to Symonds but how they are related to each other. The results might act as additional evidence to simply reinforce the knowledge we already have about Symonds’s network or they could shed light on some new connections and communities. I hope future cohorts will be able to build on the basic network that we have created, to unveil novel information from a new, more mathematical perspective.

Works Cited

[1] Stanford University Digital Humanities, “Palladio,”

Symonds and His Photographic Memory

We formulate new memories every day, and sensory cues are often associated with each memory that we create. We hear the loud rattle of a train, and we are suddenly taken back to a family trip we took when we were 10, staring out the window, mesmerized by the whole world passing by us in a blur of color. We smell the sweetness of caramel, cinnamon, and butter, and we are reminded of the apple pie we baked from scratch with our friends over Thanksgiving break. We can recall details from these memories and relive them because they are true … or are they?

The unreliability of memory has been studied extensively in the field of cognitive psychology.

It is now widely recognized that human memory is not an exact reproduction of past experiences but is instead an imperfect process that is prone to various kinds of errors and distortions. 

Memory Distortion: An Adaptive Perspective, 467

Our brain is continuously adapting to process new memories and to make connections with existing ones, so it’s not surprising that some parts may be overwritten or unintentionally modified. However, John Addington Symonds recounts his childhood memories with striking detail, describing the flowers he saw, the clothes he was wearing, and even the architecture of some of the buildings he was in. Here is an account of his sister’s christening when he was about four years old.

So far as I can now recall it, the building is of pseudo-Graeco-Roman architecture, rectangular in the body, faced with a portico, and surmounted with a nondescript Pecksniffian spire in the bastard classic style … myself dressed in white, with a white hat and something blue in the trimmings of it, half standing, half supported, so as to took over the rim of the pew.

The Memoirs, 64­­­­ – 5

Here is another account from his teenage years, thinking about the view he had from his bedroom at Clifton Hill House.

The “Old Clifton” section of Clifton Hill House. Photograph by Sodium. Uploaded May 2, 2004. Wikimedia Commons.

Winter sunrise provided pageants of more fiery splendour. From the dark rim of Dundry Hill behind which the sun was journeying, striving to emerge, there shot to the clear sapphire zenith shafts of rosy flame, painting the bars of cloud with living fire and enamelling the floating mists which slowly changed and shifted across liquid spaces of orange, daffodil and beryl.

The Memoirs, 119-20

It’s incredible how illustrative his descriptions are, and it’s almost as if we, as readers consuming his memoirs more than a century after his death, are right there experiencing the moment with him. However, even though the details are much appreciated, it’s hard to believe that his memories were not fabricated to some extent. I am curious to see how much of his memoirs have factual evidence for or against what he claims to have happened, but this would be an almost impossible task. So perhaps the more important questions are: Why was it so important for him to make the memory seem perfect? What was so significant about those memories?

Regardless of their authenticity, Symonds included these memories and details because each represented a milestone in his life. Either the details were so important to him that he distinctly remembered them after decades had passed, or he was willing to exaggerate the details so he could depict a vivid image of the scene. Symonds wished to document his story through his memories, an emphasis that is clear in the titling of his autobiography as his Memoirs. He wanted to provide some sort of explanation as to how he came to be by delving into not only his sexuality, even though this was an important aspect of his book, but also his family, his values, and the connections he made along the way. Thus, his memories served as a roadmap for him as recapped his journey, and he wrote detailed recounts of events that were crucial to his character development, such as his first kiss with Willie Dyer.

We were together alone, I well remember, in a clearing of Leigh Woods – where the red quarries break down from tufted yews, and dwarf peaches, and wych elms plumed upon the cliff to the riverside. The afternoon sunlight fell upon glossy ivy, bluebells and late-flowering anemones.

The Memoirs, 157
Windflower Anemone Deltoidea 2. Wikimedia Commons.

Symonds eventually relied more on his journal entries rather than his memories, but nonetheless, his elaborate storytelling of specific moments of his life continued to be a driving force in his Memoirs. As readers, we are able to immerse ourselves in each experience, relive that memory with him, and get a glimpse of the thoughts he had, who he was as a person, and the impact he had on other people in his life.

John Addington Symonds was hesitant about writing this book and intended to share it only privately or not at all. Even so, he was extremely analytical in the way he approached his Memoirs, and his extremely detailed, almost photographic, accounts of significant events in his life perhaps provided an explanation for himself of the formation of the person that he became. Thus, the vivid memories add not only detail and realism to his work, but they also shed light on Symonds’ values and approach to life by giving future readers a chance to analyze him on another level, looking at not only the content of the memories but also the aspects he chooses to focus on.

Works Cited

  1. Schacter, Daniel L. Guerin, Scott A. St. Jacques, Peggy L. “Memory Distortion: An Adaptive Perspective.” Trends in Cognitive Sciences. October 2011; 15(10): 467-474.
  2. Symonds, John Addington. The Memoirs of John Addington Symonds: A Critical Edition. Edited by Amber K. Regis.London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016.