From Character to Identity … and back?
URSZULA TERENTOWICZ-FOTYGA JADWIGA WĘGRODZKA
It is the privilege of novelists to create characters who kill those of the historians. The reason is that historians only evoke mere ghosts, while novelists create persons in flesh and bones.
Alexandre Dumas, Memoirs
Most readers would agree that literature is written for and about people. A great majority of non-professional readers, “gentle skimmers” as Beckett called them, read books to find out about other people, their worlds, thoughts, emotions, fortunes and adventures. It is the characters that focus the readers’ attention and are usually most vividly remembered long after the reading of a fictional text. Some characters are so fascinating and memorable, that they may acquire some mode of existence apparently independent of their original text (like Hamlet or Don Quixote, for example). They may even pass the threshold of the fictional narrative and – in the belief of many readers – live or have lived their lives in the actual geographical locations in the readers’ reality associated with the characters in their original texts. Umberto Eco mentions an amusing incident of Alexandre Dumas who, on visiting the Chateau d’If, “discovered that the visitors were shown the ‘real’ cell of Montecristo, and the guides were speaking of him, Faria and other characters of the novel as if they had really existed” (Eco 2009: 82). Similarly, many readers believe that Sherlock Holmes was a real detective lodging at 221B Baker Street (Eco 2009: 87).
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