What They Learned: Max Sonin ’19

The English major informed their analysis of comedy writer P.G. Wodehouse through an incorporation of techniques common to computer science.

English and computer science may seem rooted in different aspects of the liberal arts, but in writing an English thesis, titled “The Coding of the Woosters,” Max Sonin ’19 sought to put the two studies in dialogue with each other.

“I was inspired by the works of Alexander Galloway and Roland Barthes as well as the prose of P. G. Wodehouse,” said Sonin. “Instead of going for statistical analysis, which is a great tool that has been used extensively to prove authorship and collect data about writing, I wanted to establish parallels between writing and coding that could lead to new analytical frames for writing.”

The attempt proved fruitful as Sonin was able to identify a recurring code in English comedy writer P.G. Wodehouse’s works. The English major’s efforts were an attempt to discern what makes Wodehouse funny in translation to non-English readers who miss the cultural references that the author embeds in his work, a concern which was of personal interest to Sonin, who, coming from Moscow, first read Wodehouse in Russian.

Sonin’s code calls attention to a repetition of the manner in which problems are introduced and resolved in Wodehouse’s stories, and it delineates the functions certain characters repeatedly play in triggering the recurrent sequences.

Sonin was aided in their research by Visiting Professor of English Gabriel Sessions, whose assistance was invaluable to the senior.

“He was a great guide in fields of literary theory that I had little experience with—for example, in trans-Atlantic Readership,” said Sonin. “He also encouraged me to take risks and dive into analysis that I would have shied away from on my own.”

The risks appear to have been well worth it, as Sonin is looking forward to continuing their studies and expanding on their thesis post-graduation.

What are the implications of your thesis research?

My research is in conversation with previous academic work on P. G. Wodehouse, and I attempted to describe the underlying structure of Wodehouse that other critics have only touched upon previously. In greater theory, my research establishes a connection between writing and open source ideology as well as translation. In a global world it is important to study internationally successful projects because their success can be recreated and reproduced.  

What are your plans for the future and does your thesis have anything to do with helping guide your future career path?

I am hoping to be able to continue my work on P. G. Wodehouse as well open source technology. I will be applying to Ph.D. programs next fall with the goal of rewriting my thesis into a monograph and then book.


“What They Learned” is a blog series exploring the thesis work of recent graduates.