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Flowers rhetoric : the nineteenth-century improvisatrice tradition

by Ianetta, Melissa Joan

Abstract (Summary)
Nineteenth-century literature played a central role in shaping rhetorical paradigms for Englishwomen. Examining the development of one construct of the woman orator, the improvisatrice, in conjunction with George Campbell's The Philosophy of Rhetoric (1776) and Hugh Blair's Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres (1784), reveals how imaginative literature was a site for the production and circulation of rhetorical theory.With the 1807 publication of Germaine de Staël's Corrine, or Italy, the improvisatrice became a well-recognized representation of the private woman bringing her role as moral guardian into the public sphere. De Staël's notion of the improvising woman quickly became popular not just as a literary figure but as a supposedly authentic representation of women's oratorical processes as well. As the improvisatrice was thus seen as an enactment of a rhetorical theory, this dissertation reads works in the improvisatrice tradition alongside the rhetorical theories of Campbell and Blair. Such an approach foregrounds the manner in which the discourse of power was used to recognize woman's widening role even as it established her newly-recognized rhetorical abilities as innately inferior to man's.The inventional process of the improvisatrice rhetoric feminized Blairian belletrism and Campbellian epistemology. Reading Corinne alongside these rhetorical treatises therefore reveals a system of persuasion founded on imagination and innate taste, two key components of nineteenth-century rhetoric. Likewise, the treatment of style in the improvisatrice rhetoric reiterates related precepts from Campbell's Philosophy and Blair's Lectures. The poems of so-called English Improvisatrice Letitia Landon illustrate well the redeployment of the rhetoricians' discussion of the relation of style to musicality and the moral sublime.As demonstrated by the waning of Landon's reputation, the improvisatrice rhetoric increasingly lost popularity as the century progressed. While Charlotte Brontë's juvenilia reveal an infatuation with this system, she later critiques it The Professor and Villette. George Eliot is likewise critical of the improvisatrice rhetoric, an opinion which informs The Mill on the Floss but also "Erinna" and Daniel Deronda. As indicated by Brontë and Eliot's treatments, then, by the century's end, the improvisatrice rhetoric had fallen out of favor.
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School:The Ohio State University

School Location:USA - Ohio

Source Type:Master's Thesis

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Date of Publication:01/01/2002

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