Collective research project on the construction of characters in Victorian novels
Dear Fellow Darwinians:
We would like to invite you to participate in a collective research project on the construction of characters in Victorian novels. We are a research team consisting of two literary scholars and two psychologists (Joe Carroll, Jon Gottschall, John Johnson, and Dan Kruger). All of the members of the team have an orientation toward Darwinian social science, and we have constructed a web-based questionnaire designed to assess the correlations between human universals and the behavior of characters in these novels. The website contains questionnaires on about 2,100 characters from 202 novels--from Jane Austen through E. M. Forster (that is, from the early nineteenth century to just before the First World War).
Here is the website address: http://survey.ehap.isr.umich.edu/carroll-intro.html
The novels are listed by author's name, in alphabetical order, and under the title of each novel we have listed a selection of characters-an average of about ten characters per novel. Participants can fill out questionnaires on as few or as many characters in as few or as many novels as they choose. Filling out a questionnaire on a single character usually takes less than five minutes. All participation is anonymous. Anyone over 18 is qualified to participate. Please feel free to distribute this URL to students, friends, and colleagues.
The questionnaire contains questions on each character's motives, personality, and agonistic status (protagonist/antagonist), on the criteria the character uses for selecting a spouse or romantic partner, and on your emotional response to the character.
The last ten questions on the questionnaire are designed to assess each character on five major factors of personality: Extraversion, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, Emotional Stability, and Openness to Experience. After you have filled out a questionnaire on a character, the program will provide a graph that displays the results of your coding on those five factors.
We have not set an ending date for the study. We are opening the website in January of 2005, and we anticipate that it will be open for at least a year. Once we have completed the study, we shall share our findings with anyone who asks for them. In the meantime, on the questionnaire itself we shall provide a link to a page on which we shall post the average results on all questions for all the characters in the study, and we shall periodically update these averages.
This study is a type of "census" of vital statistics about the population of "Victorian" literary characters-the first of its kind. The "census-taker" is you, the individual coder sitting at his or her computer. Anyone who has read a Victorian novel is qualified to participate.
We want to gather information that will allow us systematically to answer questions like the following: What features of characterization do males, females, antagonists, protagonists, and other character types tend to share? What exactly makes them different? Do these features change much as we cross historical boundaries? How do these features vary by sex of author? How about by sex or age of the interpreter? What can consistent differences between protagonists and antagonists tell us about the moral universe that gave birth to the novels? Do people generally agree about interpretation of character? Or are there large individual differences? Can we do a better job of answering certain literary questions by systematically gathering data about reader response? And, conversely, can literary works be mined as rich sources of data for formal psychological studies?
These are just some of the important questions we hope to address in our study. But we can't do it without your help. Thank you in advance for your assistance!
University of Missouri-St. Louis
St. Louis, MO 63121