Take Part In This Project!

Create a New Character-As-Reader Persona


This activity invites you to create a Character-as-Reader Persona to add to our collection, basing your character outline on a character drawn from The Woman in White and historical research about the nineteenth century. 

See below for participation objectives and a description of the components to include in your written work.

Participation Objectives

The main goal of this activity is for participants to inspire others to look at nineteenth-century readers in new ways. As the project description outlines, this means that you’ll be assuming an educator role by taking up this challenge. However, at its best, the process of writing is about learning just as much as it is about communicating, and so we hope you will gain new insights about print culture history and about Collins’s novel through your research.

As you participate in this research activity, you will practice the following: 

  • Apply close-reading methodologies to identify demographic details about the characters in Collins’s novel.
  • Describe how a Victorian reader’s class, gender, geographic location, economic status, and social role may have influenced how they encountered The Woman in White during its initial serial release.
  • Synthesize information obtained from multiple secondary sources to produce a creative and informative text that accounts for multiple aspects of a Victorian reader’s identity. To accomplish this, you’ll:
    • Devise a research strategy for learning more about life in the nineteenth century and about specific nineteenth-century reading practices
    • Distinguish between general statements about Victorian reading practices writ large and descriptions that apply to a specific historical time range (late 1850s to early 1860s)
    • Observe MLA citation conventions in a way that enables readers to identify the basis for your historical and narrative claims.

Final Components to Include

(I) Character-as-Reader Analysis

Part 1: First, include a basic list of characteristics relevant to your reader’s life.

Category For Example . . .
First appearance in the text Installment 5 (24 December 1859)
Socioeconomic Class working class, middle class, upper-middle class, upper class, etc.
Location London, Blackwater Park, etc.  . . . 
Age Range
Profession or Social Role servant, barrister, farmer . . . 
Other Relevant Details Race/Ethnicity, disabilities, education level . . . 

Part 2: Literary Analysis Statement – How Does Collins Represent This Character?

Target length for written description: 100-300 words

Second, provide a brief overview of how this character emerges in the novel. Some questions you might consider:

  • Do we encounter this character’s written statements, or do we only encounter this person through the eyes of other characters?
  • What tone do Collins’s characters use to describe this person? (Is it admiring? Dismissive?)
  • Do any aspects of this character’s identity dominate in the novel’s descriptions of them? (For example: their physical appearance, their nationality, their employment status?)

In this section, it’s especially important that you draw on specific details from Collins’s novel to anchor your claims. Make sure to cite installments of the novel in your description! Think of these pieces of evidence as a way to help your readers approach Collins’s narrative with more critical attention.

Part 3: Reader Experience Reflection

Target length for written description: 200-500 words

Third, include a brief, research-based description in which you outline how this character’s social or demographic factors might shape how they accessed or read the serial installments of The Woman in White.  

Here, your goal is not to imagine how these characters would have responded to seeing themselves represented as characters in the novel. Instead you’ll use the details the novel provides to guide your research process about Victorian print culture history. Simply put: how would someone in this social position or geographic location encounter serial novels such as Collins’s?

Some questions you might consider as you research and write:[1]

  • In all likelihood, how quickly would this reader have been able to read each installment of Collins’s text as it came out?
    • How might this person’s geographic location or socioeconomic status influence this speed of access?
  • Was this person likely to have the time or money to keep up with each and every ‘episode’ of The Woman in White? Might they have had to read out of order or skip some numbers entirely?
  • Was this person likely to read reviews of the novel’s latest installments in current periodicals?
  • Was this person likely to share a copy of the periodical narrative with other people?
  • Would this person read alone? Would they listen as someone else read the tale aloud in a family group, workplace, or public space?
  • Was this person able to read comfortably or with difficulty? (Was their literacy level and/or eyesight a factor in this?

Note: Some aspects of your literary analysis statement and reader experience reflection may blend with one another. (You’ll need to use details drawn from the novel to support statements you make in this reader experience reflection.)

(II) References

In addition to providing a Works Cited list, include in-text citations in the form of parenthetical citations or footnotes. Please use the MLA 8th Edition style guide to format your citations.

  • If you’re citing the digital version of this novel, you may use installment numbers and installment sub-chapters as a point of reference. For instance: (No. 2: VI).

Visit this project’s “Using Primary and Secondary Sources For Your Research” section for more information about source materials for historical claims.

(II) Researcher’s Reflection Statement

Target length range: 75 to 200 words

The goal of this statement is twofold. The primary goal is to model the methods and experiences associated with a particular kind of research. One of the hardest things to learn in any field is the set of methods that people use to make their claims. By giving your readers a glimpse into your research process, you’re inviting them to see the range of feelings and approaches that are all valid parts of literary studies and historical scholarship.

The secondary goal of this statement is tied to your own experience. Education research suggests that learners at all levels—professors and PhD candidates included—anchor new knowledge best when they reflect on their own process for acquiring it.[2]

Points to address:

  • Who are you?
    • Note that if you don’t want to be attributed by name, you can contribute to this project under a pseudonym or anonymously. If you respond to this reflection question, it’s just fine to do so using general statements. (For example: “I’m a second-year Ph.D. student studying History of Science;” “I’m a senior in high school who likes reading;” “I’ve been out of school for years, but I love research and I used to be the president of the Wilkie Collins fan club in Boise.”)
  • What drew you to this particular character in Collins’s novel?
  • Where did you start in this research process? Where did you look first for information?
  • What was the most challenging part of your research process? Were there any social identities that you found particularly challenging to research in the secondary literature? Where did you finally find the information you were looking for–if you found it at all?

How Should I Start?

Step 1: Identify a character of interest in Collins’s novel

If you’re using a digital version of this text, you may try doing a search for your character’s name first. Many annotation tools will allow you to tag your highlights or notes and then view all of your highlights organized by that tag, something that can be boon to close-reading.

Next, review your initial notes and search hits see whether there are any descriptors that other speakers use to refer to this character in the novel. (For example, Louis is sometimes referred to by his first name and sometimes referred to only as “my valet” or “Mr. Fairlie’s valet.”)

Step 2: Embrace your curiosity!

  • What demographic elements stand out to you in Collins’s descriptions of this character? What details are you still left guessing about?
  • What have you already learned about the ways that people during the 1850s and 1860s encountered serialized novels?
  • Where do you see connections between your prior knowledge or prior reading and this character’s possible experience? Where would you like more information or detail?


Q: The character I’m interested in researching already has a Character-as-Reader page in this book. Can I add to it? 

A: Certainly! If you choose to supplement an existing character description, we will incorporate your additions into the existing page. We’ll credit each contributor both on the character description page and on the Project Contributors page, and we will include details about which aspects of the description each person contributed.

  1. You don't need to consider all of these questions--choose the questions that strike you as most interesting and relevant.
  2. To provide just one example of this research in application: the newest versions of Bloom's Taxonomy for teaching, learning, and assessment emphasize the metacognitive aspects of the learning experience.


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The Woman in White: Grangerized Edition Copyright © 2020 by The 19th-Century Open Pedagogy Project is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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