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A character sketch is an abbreviated portrayal of a particular characteristic of people. The term originates in portraiture, where the character sketch is a common academic exercise. Following the translation of Theophrastus's Characters into English, a number of British and American painters attempted to illustrate the "types" of humanity. As late as William Hogarth, portraitists were doing studies of (in his case) Nine heads. The artist performing a character sketch attempts to capture an expression or gesture that goes beyond coincident actions and gets to the essence of the individual.
The character sketch entered into literature in the early English novel. As Pat Rogers notes, Henry Fielding, in book I, chapter 14 of Joseph Andrews, invokes William Hogarth to create a character sketch of Mrs. Tow-wouse: "Indeed, if Mrs. Tow-wouse had given no Utterance to the Sweetness of her Temper, Nature had taken such Pains in her Countenance, that Hogarth himself never gave more Expression to a Picture." In later literature, a character sketch became a short story or narrative presented without significant action or plot, as the purpose of the writing is solely to present a character at his or her typical. Character sketches of this sort are also frequently found in journalism and regionalist humor (e.g., sketches of "Big John" or "the country rube" or "the wise Squire"). Each of these attempts to delineate what is believed to be a character who epitomizes a type.
- Rogers, Pat. "'How I Want Thee, Humorous Hogart': The Motif of the Absent Artist in Swift, Fielding and Others." Papers on Language and Literature 2006.
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