Rhetoric: Readings in French Literature

Rhetoric: Readings in French Literature

Rhetoric: Readings in French Literature

Rhetoric: Readings in French Literature


Rhetoric is the art of persuasion, whether spoken or written. In the first chapter of Rhetoric: Readings in French Literature, Michael Hawcroft sets out its principles comprehensively and lucidly, providing an easily-consulted outline of key terms and a wide range of illustrative examples. Subsequent chapters explore rhetoric at work in different genres, via close reading of texts which range from the drama of Moli¿re, Racine, and Beckett; Montaigne, S¿vign¿, and Gide on the self; the prose fiction of Laclos, Zola, and Sarraute; poetry by D'Aubign¿, Baudelaire, and C¿saire; and the oratory of de Gaulle and Yourcenar. Rhetorical analysis uncovers subtleties and complexities in texts which emerge as exciting dramas of communication. This is at once a handbook of rhetoric and a guide to its application to French texts from the sixteenth century to the present.


Le monde est incroyablement plein d'ancienne rhétorique.

(Roland Barthes)

This book is about rhetoric as the art of persuasion, and aims to promote its use as a critical tool for the close reading of French literary texts. It is both a handbook and a demonstration of critical practice, and it is addressed to anyone with a serious interest in French literature.

The word 'rhetoric' has a variety of connotations in modern usage. Most commonly, it conjures up insincerity and verbal deceit, as in the injunction to drop the rhetoric and tell the truth. It sometimes refers to the expression of an ideology, as in the claim that the rhetoric of recent governments has constructed members of society as consumers. It has also been used by literary critics to evoke, usually with pejorative overtones, a kind of writing or speech that is highly wrought and pompous. None of these connotations applies to the use of the word 'rhetoric' in this book.

Ever since its beginnings in the ancient Greek world, rhetoric has been an academic discipline. It is the art of persuasion, as codified by ancient rhetoricians and synthesized, refined, and developed by their numerous successors in the Western world. This art, traditionally divided into five parts, teaches the techniques of finding appropriate material (invention), arranging it (disposition), expressing it in the most effective words (elocution), and, in the case of oral communication, memorizing it (memory) and delivering it (action). For hundreds of years, rhetoric was a core subject in the school curriculum. It shaped the writing and speech of all those who learnt it. Moreover, rhetoric not only taught the techniques of persuasive writing and speech; a useful and fundamental exercise was to use the framework of rhetoric to analyse the discourse of others (typically, famous writers of the past), and it is in this respect that rhetoric is of interest to the critic today.

Traditional rhetoric is the subject of this book. But the book aims to make no contribution to the history of rhetoric, which is now a . . .

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