Complete Story

ROSS, Christine

Spring 2002, pages 85-110

Logic, Rhetoric, and Discourse in the Literary Texts of Nineteenth-Century Women

Abstract: This essay traces the reception of a new grammatical-rhetorical theory of personification in the canon of textbooks widely used to teach vernacular literacy in the nineteenth century. Invented, in 1751, by James Harris' Hermes, a work in universal grammar, this new doctrine contributed to the increased masculinity of standard literate performance. Hermes increased the representivity of gendered pronouns and required a contradictory use of gendered personification as if it were both literal and figurative. As a result, two distinctive relations to language were made possible. For men, grammar and rhetoric appear in strict opposition and are always representative of their experience of language. Women literates, who were not taken into account by the masculinist sensibility of Hermes, were assigned, de facto, an anomalous position and a potentially more critical relation to language. The texts of Emily Dickinson, Jane Austen and Sarah Willis ("Fanny Fern") provide examples which demonstrate that women recognized and profited from their anomalous difference, which suggests the creation of a historically specific l'ecriture feminine.

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