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Thomas De Quincey

British Rhetoric's Romantic Turn

Lois Peters Agnew

Publication Year: 2012

This wide-ranging volume gives proper attention to the views on rhetoric and style set forth by British literary figure Thomas De Quincey (1785–1859), whose contributions to the history of rhetoric are often overlooked. Lois Peters Agnew presents an overview of this theorist’s life and provides cultural context for his time and place, with particular emphasis on the significance of his rhetoric as both an alternative strain of rhetorical history and a previously unrealized example of rhetoric’s transformation in nineteenth-century Britain. 

Agnew presents an extensive discussion of De Quincey’s ideas on rhetoric, his theory and practice of conversation, his theory of style and its role in achieving rhetoric’s dialogic potential, and his strategic use of humor and irony in such works as Confessions of an English Opium Eater. Synthesizing previous treatments of De Quincey’s rhetoric and connecting his unusual perspectives on language to the biographical details of his life, Agnew helps readers understand his intellectual development while bringing to light the cultural contexts that prompted radical changes in the ways nineteenth-century British intellectuals conceived of the role of language and the imagination in public and private discourse.

Agnew presents an alternative vision of rhetoric that departs from many common assumptions about rhetoric’s civic purpose and offers insights into the topic of rhetoric and technological change. The result is an accessible and thorough explanation of De Quincey’s complex ideas on rhetoric and the first work to fully show the reach of his ideas across multiple texts written during his lifetime.

Published by: Southern Illinois University Press

Rhetoric in the Modern Era Series

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Title Page

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pp. vii

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pp. ix

A number of people have contributed to my work on this project. I first thank the editors of the Rhetoric in the Modern Era series, Arthur E. Walzer and Edward Schiappa, whose interest in the project and excellent suggestions for revision have made this book possible. I also thank Karl Kageff, editor...

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Chapter 1: Introduction: Thomas De Quincey’s Dialogic Rhetoric

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pp. 1-17

Most accounts of British rhetorical history end with the 1828 publication of Richard Whately’s Elements of Rhetoric. The long-standing assumption that Whately speaks the final word about British rhetorical theory has led to gaps in British rhetorical history, as it has obscured other nineteenth-century...

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Chapter 2: De Quincey’s Life

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pp. 18-44

De Quincey’s rhetoric emphasizes subjectivity, an orientation that is reflected in his own literary corpus, which focuses extensively on the events of his life and his complex interpretation of those events. As discussed in the previous chapter, De Quincey conceives of rhetoric as an intensive, subjective...

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Chapter 3: Eddying Thoughts and Dialogical Potential

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pp. 45-77

De Quincey’s facility with classical languages, immersion in contemporary concerns, and unorthodox outlook are all factors in his development of a rhetoric that is grounded in earlier traditions but anticipates the changing intellectual climate of the nineteenth century. De Quincey’s position as a theorist of...

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Chapter 4: De Quincey’s “Science of Style”

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pp. 78-102

As the previous chapter argues, De Quincey responds to what he perceives as a decline in the intellectual energy of nineteenth-century society with an argument for rhetoric’s capacity to revitalize public life through facilitating a free and imaginative exploration of the individual’s subjectivity. His Romantic...

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Chapter 5: De Quincey’s Writing: Dialogic Rhetoric in Action

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pp. 103-127

De Quincey’s presentation of his ideas about rhetoric defies expectations for cohesion and consistency that traditionally surround the genre of the rhetorical treatise. Embedded in De Quincey’s notion of rhetoric is the presumption that systematic accounts of how rhetoric should function jeopardize the subjective...

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Chapter 6: De Quincey’s Place in Rhetorical Histories

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pp. 128-148

Thomas De Quincey’s rhetorical theory and practice offers a modern alternative to classical theories that define rhetoric in terms of an interaction among speaker, text, and audience directed toward addressing specific civic questions. De Quincey’s writings about rhetoric, language, and style draw upon his interpretation of classical and modern rhetorical theories, criticism...

Works Cited and Referenced

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pp. 149-156


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pp. 157-165

Author Biography

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pp. 166

Books in the Rhetoric in the Modern Era Series

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pp. 1

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780809331499
Print-ISBN-13: 9780809331482

Publication Year: 2012