Examines America's creation of a national literature and its effect on higher education today
No sooner had American independence been achieved than the New England intelligentsia set out to establish cultural independence from England through a uniquely American literature, the creation of which became a moral imperative. The architects of this new literature shared a vision about what an American writer should be: moral and educated, with an appreciation for proper art and literature and a genteel bearing and manners.
Situated in mid-nineteenth-century Boston culture, Genteel Rhetoric combines history and cultural studies to examine the shaping of nineteenth-century North American rhetoric and aesthetics. The practitioners of genteel rhetoric included many of the writers who belonged to the New England school: Ralph Waldo Emerson, James Russell Lowell, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Charles Eliot Norton, and Thomas Wentworth Higginson. Harvard graduates and students of Edward T. Channing, Boylston Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory from 1819 to 1851, these men were also influenced by the Unitarian rhetoric of Channing's brother, William Ellery Channing, as well as by orators such as Edward Everett. They were part of a larger North American refinement movement—a movement interrupted by the Civil War.
Broaddus argues that the genteel and coherent voices with which these writers discuss literature and high culture break apart when they begin to write about material issues related to slavery, abolition, and war against the background of growing dissent between North and South. Genteel Rhetoric examines the writers as they live through and write about the Civil War—Emerson and Lowell from a safe distance, Holmes searching for his wounded son in Maryland, and Higginson in the thick of the action as colonel of the First South Carolina Volunteers, the first regiment of former slaves in the Union army.
Broaddus applies her theories to modern trends by contending that although the genteel rhetoric represented by these writers eventually became irrelevant, it is now being revived in higher education throughout the country.
Dorothy C. Broaddus is an associate professor in American Studies at Arizona State University West in Phoenix where she teaches courses on women and literature, rhetoric and grammar for writers and teachers, and the history of literary criticism.
"Broaddus provides a valuable historical resource that addresses why these writers sought a national literature, how they attempted to cultivate an 'upper-class' aesthetic appreciation for culture, and how genteel rhetoric ultimately attempted to create a 'social reality' at a time of national unrest."—Choice
"Dorothy c. Broaddus has written an immensely thoughtful analysis of the influence of Edward T. Channing's rhetoric … "—Journal of Communication Studies