A Proposal for Teaching the Literary Essay through a Rhetorical Analysis


The literary essay is a heterogeneous genre that may contain expository, narrative, descriptive and argumentative types of text. Due to its indefinite nature, it is difficult to find critical studies that develop an accurate understanding of the essay that may lead to an objective teaching of this genre. However, as an exemplar of the argumentative discourse, the literary essay can be studied following a rhetorical model of analysis. Rhetoric can be seen as a general model of text production and as an instrument of textual analysis. In this vein, some rhetorical principles related to inventio, dispositio and elocutio can be recognised in the construction of the modern essay. Inventio is concerned with the generation of arguments. Dispositio is related to the order of the arguments, and contain the partes orationis: exordium, narratio/expositio, argumentatio and conclusio. By means of elocutio, the students recognise the expressive devices that contribute to defining the style of the essay, such as rhetorical figures. To illustrate my proposal, I use several extracts from Virginia Woolf’s short essays. Woolf wrote a large number of literary reviews for the press that can be read following this rhetorical approach and that provide a rich source of arguments and rhetorical figures. In the course of my analysis, I offer undergraduate students of English language and literature some guidelines for the analysis. By using this model, these students can also acquire the training to examine other essays belonging to past and present essayists.

Author Information
Margarita Esther Sánchez Cuervo, University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Spain

Paper Information
Conference: LibEuro2014
Stream: Literature - Teaching Literature

This paper is part of the LibEuro2014 Conference Proceedings (View)
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Posted by James Alexander Gordon