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Rhetoric and Pleasure

Readings in Realist Literature


Jan van Luxemburg

This study treats, after a discussion on literary theory, rhetorical and conventional aspects of realist novels from three different cultures: La regenta by the Spaniard Leopoldo Alas (1852-1901), the feminist novel Constance Ring by the Norwegian author Amalie Skram (1846-1905) and three Roman novels by the Dutch writer Louis Couperus (1863-1923). The author argues that part of the meaning of these novels is influenced and in some cases even rendered undecidable by the use of rhetorical figures and tropes or by the exigencies of literary decorum. Part of the rhetoric is strongly estheticizing: it generates a plaisir du texte, and also threatens the postulated «serious» or «emancipatory» meaning of the texts.
Van Luxemburg's rhetorical analysis is influenced by the deconstructionist criticism of among others Roland Barthes, J. Hillis Miller, Paul de Man and Adena Rosmarin. His book covers the representation of women, of servants and slaves and (in relation to this) the depiction of morality and religion.
Contents: The impact of rhetoric - Plaisir du texte - Narrative conventions - Deconstruction - The (undermining) influence of rhetorical figures and tropes and of narrative conventions on the interpretation of some realist and naturalist novels.