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DESCRIPTIONS OF PHYSIOGNOMIES IN ENGLISH FICTION

FROM REALISM TO MODERNISM


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    Sinopse

    Diploma Thesis from the year 2003 in the subject English - Literature, Works, grade: very good, University of Graz (Institute for Anglistics), 47 entries in the bibliography, language: English, abstract: 1. Introduction: Descriptions of physiognomies in (English) literature and their significance It is a fascinating phenomenon, that whenever we meet another person for the first time, we unconsciously and immediately judge him or her by merely looking at the person's face. Although we may call ourselves the most tolerant people free of prejudices, we cannot help thinking a person likeable or not right away by the first visual impression we get, without ever having talked to him or her. Even though we know that a correspondence of physiognomic and 'inner' traits has never been convincingly or scientifically proved, it is unquestionable that most of us are impressed and influenced by visual data we receive from our fellow human beings' faces. In the course of history (and thus, of literature), people have repeatedly tried to come to terms with this phenomenon and to find explanations as well as definitions that may help to 'face' and deal with physiognomy in everyday life. Apparently, it has always been, and still is, people's wish to 'read' in other faces so as to facilitate contact and to know how to judge characters. That this desire is not new can be seen by the fact that even (Pseudo-)Aristotle set up (very questionable, highly racist and sexist) rules according to which one could 'categorise' faces and thus know what kind of character is hidden behind the surface. Today, nobody relies on his writings anymore, which categorised people, among other factors, by establishing an analogy between animals and human beings. According to the author, those who had certain traits that were seen as resembling certain animals were considered to have the respective animal's 'inner' traits as well, as in the following examples. 'Die [Menschen] mit dicken Lippen, wobei die obere weiter vorsteht als die untere, sind dumm; siehe die Esel und Affen. [...] Die eine kleine Stirn haben, sind ungebildet; siehe die Schweine.'1 In (English) literature, the question of whether there is an indexical or arbitrary connection between inner and outer traits has been approached in many different ways which cannot be analysed in detail here. In a large number of older texts, descriptive passages containing physiognomic hints were not included, which points to a certain disinterest in this field of explanations (as well as in visual details in general). [...] 1 [Pseudo-] Aristoteles (- 300v.Chr./1999). Physiognomica. Übers. u. kommentiert von Sabine Vogt. Berlin: Akademie Verlag. 26f.

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