Search results for ‘character list’

Character List Confession

I have been using an index card for my character list of Don Quixote.  Bauer suggests keeping “a list of characters: their names, their positions, and their relationships to each other.”  After fourteen chapters, I’m quickly running out of room on this handy-reference bookmark of mine.  Last night I read The Well-Educated Mind(‘s) notes on the novel and

“There are 669 characters in Don Quixote

I’m going to need more index cards.


Posted by on April 6, 2011 in Don Quixote


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Naturalist Writer

So, Hardy is a “naturalist writer”.  Did you know this?
Did you guess based on chapter 1 of The Return of the Native?
Wow, he wrote a whole chapter just about the setting.

Here’s what SWB had to say about naturalist writers in our handbook The Well-Educated Mind:

Naturalist writers were convinced that they could write “purely scientific” novels.  The individual, the subject of all novelization since Don Quixote, was no longer free.  The “self” was only the product of inherited traits plus environmental influence.  Naturalist writers–most notably Thomas Hardy–gave their characters certain genetic characteristics, plopped them down into a sheer hell of environmental factors, and then described the resulting behavior.  The naturalist’s job (in his or her own eyes, at any rate) was jut like the scientist’s: Put the rat in the maze, watch what it does, and record the outcome without elaboration.
(WEM p. 64)


Posted by on December 2, 2012 in The Return of the Native


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P&P character web: spiders not included

As a student of the Well-Educated Mind, I am required to keep a list of characters.  Author Susan Wise Bauer suggests that I not only list characters but give a brief description for each one.   I’ve tried a couple different ways of doing this. 

For Don Quixote I listed characters on index cards that I used as a book mark.  This got frustrating since there were so many characters and so few of them ever made a reappearance.  I think by the time I finished the book I had five index cards covered front and back with tiny script.  As an added insult, the cards continually fell out of my book, losing my place.

For Pilgrim’s Progress I used the same format with some of the same frustration.  Few characters return in later chapters.  At least in this book, the characters’ names are their descriptions, so that part was easier.

For Gulliver’s Travels I confess that I neglected to keep a list.  I was so wrapped up with end notes that I completely forgot about it.  Again, it wasn’t that big a deal because once Gulliver left a location, he never came back.

For Pride and Prejudice, the first character-based novel on our list, I planned to do a stupendous job.  SWB suggests when there are lots of related characters, one should make a family tree.  This sounded like a great way to maintain the list (and to gather blog post material!).  Sadly, I do not know anything about family trees, and it took me many chapters to figure out who was related to whom and how.  I abandoned that idea and created a list organized by family in my journal (the one I use for chapter summaries).

I finished the novel.  Still I dreamed of a P&P family tree.  Fortunately there’s google and Wikipedia

It’s not a family tree, but isn’t it beautiful?!  It’s more of a family web.  A family and friends web.

I love how it shows the relationships between the characters. 

Oh, what a tangled novel!  What a web!  Though I suppose it is a web without a spider… 


Unless you think of Lady Catherine as the spider, using her silken threads of wealth and power to compel others to do her bidding…

Maybe there was a spider after all.



Posted by on November 16, 2011 in Pride and Prejudice, Well-Educated Mind


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If on a winter’s night a traveler is tough.   Salman Rushdie said so.  In my search for some guidance about the book, I stumbled upon the website Shmoop.  The site’s tagline is “We speak student.”  Shmoop has character lists, quizes, and analysis–like many other sites.  What I had not seen before was a Tough-O-Meter: a calculator of literary difficulty.  Shmoop states:

We’ve got your back. With the Tough-O-Meter, you’ll know whether to bring extra layers or Swiss army knives as you summit the literary mountain. (10 = Toughest)

I loved it!  I was uncertain about its usefulness, but, boy was it entertaining.  I looked up several WEM novels and either gloated or dispaired about my literary “toughness”.

In case you were wondering, If on a winter’s night a traveler scores an eight.


PS–Shmoop also has a steaminess rating.  Consider yourself warned; our next book, Song of Solomon, is rated R.


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Posted by on August 13, 2014 in If on a winter's night a traveler


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Diary of of a Wimpy WEMer

JournalsUnlike my super cute journals (Jeannette’s right, invest in ones you love,) I’m a mess.

I feel like you need to know that before you read this post about my WEM methodology.  Don’t let the doctored photos and wordy explanations fool you.  Those are pitfalls in the dangerous land of internet perfection.  My classics journey takes place in the land of illegible scribbles, rushed chapters, half-written ideas, misspellings and forgotten deadlines.

For instance, I read late at night.  I need the quiet silence.  I’ve come to terms with the fact that it goes against SWB’s recommendation.  But I do try to follow some of her other suggestions.

I keep a character list.

Character List

Although this is an example from back in the day when I took notes about each person.  Prior to that I used to put the page of their first appearance here as well.  Oh, the glory days.

I summarize every chapter, if by “every” you mean the ones at the beginning of the novel thoroughly, the middle ones in sloppy scrawl, and the last two to twelve not at all.  I try to write the factual summary in cursive, and then print out my reactions, questions, analysis, foreshadowing and the like below.

Chapter Summaries

The printed part is the equivalent of talking to myself.

Confused Note

Which I also sometimes do.  By reading aloud, that is.  This is my go-to strategy for dealing with a particularly difficult section of a book or a dreary, weary brain.  And then there are the times that I just turn the whole shebang over to the professionals:  audiobooks.

I also picked up a helpful hint from John Bunyan.  You remember how throughout Pilgrim’s Progress he gave us those clever little side notes told you what was happening?

Pilgrim's Progress Margin Notes

I try to pencil in little things like that if 1) the action is hard to follow 2) I think something pivotal has just occurred, or 3) I have reread the same paragraph four times.

I also jot other notes in the margins next to a plethora of underlined text.  In college wind symphony our conductor once gave a helpful bit of advice that I’ve carried into my classic book marking.  He said that we shouldn’t just circle a note or dynamic marking; doing so wouldn’t help us fix the mistake.  Instead we needed to write something that explains the problem to be addressed; name the note, draw eyeglasses to remind you to watch the director, write the words “slow down.”  Deceivingly simple, astoundingly effective.

Margin Notes

So when I highlight a passage I try to take the time to scribble a few words to myself that explains the significance of the section.

Recently I implemented a new technique in my WEM journaling.  For past novels I’ve simply added pages to the end of each section to answer SWB’s questions.  For the reading of POAL I put those questions in my journal first, and as I came across portions of the book that seemed to specifically address those things I had a preorganized location to drop the page numbers for safe keeping.  It’s hard to tell how well it worked because I did a really lousy, half-baked job of answering the questions on James’ snoozer novel.

Rhetoric Answers

Because we blog about the books I also have an additional note-taking method.  I keep a small piece of lined paper (I’m definitely with Christine about the importance of lines) as a bookmark.  On one side I list words and pages for future Classic Word of the Day posts, and the other I brainstorm ideas for other posts.

Bookmark List

So, now you know what I’ll be up to in about an hour.  Sooner or later I’ll quit cleaning/grading/planning/chilling-with-my-husband, don my pajamas, and crawl into bed.  I’ll crack open the Huck Finn, read a chapter, stop to chat with my beloved about it, journal a little, remember something I should have told him earlier, jot down some more, complain about how he turns over as many times as a puppy when he gets into bed thereby messing up my handwriting, start another chapter, finally decide my eyes will stay open no longer, flip off the reading light and snore away the hours.

See you in the morning.


Posted by on February 19, 2013 in The Blog


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Journaling 101

It works out perfectly for me that Adriana asked us to share our journaling techniques just as CCOM is starting The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The beginning of a new book is a great time to reflect on the details of this DIY Master’s program.Christine's journal

The Syllabus

  • Keep a Character List: I use an index card as a character list bookmark.   I find that if I write the names of new characters in my chapter summaries, I lose them.  For example, when we read Crime and Punishment, I added each new character to my chapter summaries.  I completely lost Kitty’s friend Varenka.  Later when she returned to the story and there was that almost proposal from Koznyshev, I was utterly confused.  Sometimes I toy with SWB’s idea of a family tree for novels that have lots of related characters, but for now my index card technique lets me easily refer back to my list for those minor characters who keep popping in and out of a story.Christine's bookmark
  • Mark Up Your Book:  I write in my book. Gasp!  I know! It does takes some getting used to. I underline, bracket, and circle.  I draw smiley faces and jot down notes. I write “Ha-ha!” and “Gasp!” and “Boring!”  Sometimes I’ll write “Reminds me of….. (a character or scene from another book).”  I refer back to these markings when I’m answering WEM wrap-up questions and when I’m blogging. Christine's underlined book
  • Summarize Chapters: I take notes in my journal as I read.  A three-page-long Huck Finn chapter isn’t a problem for me to summarize, but those twenty and thirty page chapters from some of our tomes have me scratching my head, trying to remember all that happened, so I read and write, and write and read. What do I write? Factual things such as a sequence of events or a description of a character.  I list the page number of great quotes.  What else do I write? I make note of words I don’t know and want to look up later.  I ask myself questions: things I’m wondering or things I need to reasearch (which I may or may not do).  Sometime I take note of events I suspect are foreshadowing.  I make connections between the current book and previous novels.  I praise, and I complain. “Such witty dialogue!”  “So boring!  When do authors get editors?”Christine's chapter summary
  • Disclaimer:I always take notes in pen, and my paper must have lines.  That being said, I am a messy note-taker.  I scratch things out.  I misspell things.  I abbreviate words all the time.  I’m sure I’ll never write out the name Huckleberry Finn but instead the boy will be “HF” in my notes.  That’s okay because this is a DIY Master’s program with the focus on the DIY!

Happy Journaling!

It’s fun to see how other approach the WEM program.  Check out Adriana’s blog for a listing of other WEM students who are tackling the topic of journaling today.


Posted by on February 19, 2013 in The Blog


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The Discipline of Note-Taking

We’ll be posting our notes on note-taking throughout the day today, beginning with Jeannette’s.  Come back later to find out how Christine and Christina Joy manage their unassigned assignments.  Don’t forget to check out our host, Adriana, and all the links she supplies to our WEM classmates.

Discipline.   When you are a kid you hate it.   When you are an adult you hate it too, at times, but realize its necessity.

Note-taking felt like a discipline at first.   Susan Wise Bauer’s suggestion of keeping a journal, summarizing each chapter and keeping lists of characters seemed onerous.  But now that we are well into the list, I can see the wisdom behind her suggestion.  It IS helpful to look back and find out what happened without having to read the entire book or chapter over again.  It DOES help you spot trends and important information.  It DOES help keep your mind from wandering (or at least force you to re-read if your mind has wandered so that you can actually write a chapter summary.)

Adriana has already given us quite a few ideas about note-taking over at Classical Quest. Here are a few additional random things that may have worked for us, in no particular order.  Since Adriana likes lists so much, we might as well continue that here!

1.  Get an inspiring notebook.   Find one that you enjoy seeing on your table, one with a cover that intrigues you, or one with quality paper.   Mine (Jeannette) has a leather cover with a cord to wrap around it for closing.   To me it feels decadent…my own personal indulgence.  Journaling in this book is a privilege!

2.  Jot down page numbers (or locations if using a Kindle) when something feels important, along with a brief description.  You may not know why it is important at the time, but trust your instincts.  Most of my blog posts have come from these things that have jumped out at me while reading.

3.  Stick with the character lists!  I got lazy with them for awhile, but have returned to them.   It’s amazing what I can forget in the course of one novel.   I also use this for a convenient spot to write down additional information about the character as the novel runs its course such as what he/she wants.

4.  Mark quotes you love.  If I’m reading in an “actual” book, I fold down page corners when I find quotes I love.   It’s my book, so I can if I want to!  (That’s the first child in me responding to parental voices in my head about desicrating books.)   At the end I go back and re-read all my favorite quotes, and if I (or anyone else) ever picks the book up again, they can see the quotes I enjoyed as well!   (Not expecting to pick up Portrait of a Lady ever again…but we’ll see.)


Posted by on February 19, 2013 in The Blog


You’re Welcome

coterie – n. a close, exclusive group of people with shared interests

Classical Usage:  Have you been keeping up with your character list?  If so, you probably have Countess Lydia Ivanovna on there with the following description from Part One Chapter 31, The Countess Lydia Ivanovna was a friend of her (Anna’s) husband’s and the centre of that coterie of Petersburg society with whcih Anna, through her husband, was most closely connected.

Classically Mad Usage:  We’re close, we have shared interests, but we try not to be too exclusive.  We don’t want to be known as A Classic Case of Coterie.

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Posted by on October 3, 2012 in Anna Karenina


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Go, Go, Go! You’re almost there!

Norma, Lutheran Mama, and Christina’s husband have crossed the Crime and Punishment finish line.

Some of us are still mid-race looking around desperately for an aid station that has cups of sports drink and bananas.

And it sure wouldn’t hurt if a few family members started cheering us on with signs that say, “You can do it!” and “Keep reading!”

Don’t give up!  Our WEM training won’t let us down.

What mile, I mean, chapter have you finished?

Christine: I made it to Part VI chapter 1.  I’m still consulting my character list occasionally, but the Russian names are getting a little easier for me.

It’s roll call time, so share your place in the comments.


Posted by on August 20, 2012 in Crime and Punishment


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Breaking the Rules

I’m thinking about breaking the rules.

I’m seriously considering it.

What’s causing this temptation to cheat?  The Russian names!

In the “How to Read a Novel” section of our guide-book, The Well-Educated Mind, SWB suggests that I keep a list of characters as I read.  In the past, I have done this faithfully (okay, I did completely forget to for Gulliver’s Travels), but I am having a doozy of a time keeping a list for Crime and Punishment.  The names!  Oh, The NAMES!

And I was warned. SWB says, “Sometimes (especially in Russian works) characters have two (or more) names; your character list can help keep them straight.”  I thought I was prepared.  I was wrong.

I finished chapter four last night.  In fifty-four pages I’ve met Raskolnikov, Rodya, and Rodion Romanovitch Raskolnikov.  Hey, what do you know?  It’s three names for the same person.  Silly me for calling him Rask in my notes.

Okay, so Rask’s name game isn’t too difficult to play, but what about Sonia?  Did you catch that her name is Sofya Semyonovna Marmeladov?   Her nickname is Sonia?  Because that’s so much shorter than Sofya (hear the sarcasm?)  I confess that when I wrote down Pyotr Petrovitch (Dounia’s fiancé), I missed that his last name was Luzhin until the next chapter when I couldn’t figure out why Rask was so angry at Mr. Luzhin.  Mr Luzhin?  Who’s that?  He wasn’t on my list.  I had to backtrack until I found my omission.

Today I sneaked a peek at Sparknotes.  I want their character list.  No! I’m not linking up to it.  If you’re going to cheat you’ll have to do it yourself.

I promise to tattle on myself if I do cave and print out that list.

Are you keeping everyone straight?


Posted by on July 25, 2012 in Crime and Punishment


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