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Chapter 1 - Stylistic Virtue and the Rise of Literary Formalism

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 June 2021

Matthew Sussman
Affiliation:
University of Sydney
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Summary

The first chapter argues that stylistic virtue was an important concept in British aesthetics that significantly influenced the development of formalism. It begins by examining the prevalence of stylistic virtues in eighteenth-century and early nineteenth-century rhetoric, where they were shaped by two approaches that mirror those described in the introduction: a psychological one that viewed style as extrinsic to textual content, and a belletristic one that emphasized the stylistic construction of aesthetic “character.” As the division between rhetoric and literary criticism began to harden, a new generation of Victorian critics co-opted the belletristic approach, placing the analysis of style at the heart of the emerging discipline of “English.” While some scholars have argued that Victorian readers were insensitive to style, this chapter reveals that wide-ranging figures such as Thomas De Quincey, Alexander Bain, David Masson, and Herbert Spencer each centered the aesthetic distinctiveness of literature around small-scale stylistic properties.

Type
Chapter
Information
Stylistic Virtue and Victorian Fiction
Form, Ethics, and the Novel
, pp. 26 - 46
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2021

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