What is “character”? How can it be measured, improved, or built? Are character traits fixed or changeable? Is character innate, or can it be taught?
Since at least the time of Aristotle, philosophers, theologians, moralists, artists, and scientists have engaged with the enigma of human character. In its oldest usage, “character” derives from a word for engraving or stamping, yet over time, it has come to mean a moral idea, a type, a literary persona, and a physical or physiological manifestation, observable in works of art and scientific experiments. It is an essential term in drama and the focus of self-help books.
In Character: The History of a Cultural Obsession, Marjorie Garber points out that character seems more relevant than ever today—theterm is omnipresent in discussions of politics, ethics, gender, morality, and the psyche. References to character flaws, character issues, character assassination, and allegations of “bad” and “good” character are inescapable in the media and in contemporary political debates.
Praise for Character
“Can an examination of the single word ‘character’ sustain a book of 383 pages and another 40-odd pages of endnotes? Turns out it can, and does so brilliantly in Marjorie Garber’s magisterial book . . . Scholarly by training and savvy by instinct, she writes without any of the dampening jargon now common in academic prose and with an impressive respect for the complexity of her subject.” —Joseph Epstein, The Wall Street Journal