"A thorough knowledge of human nature": An application of George Campbell's "Philosophy of Rhetoric" to selected novels of Jane Austen
Early in the course of Northanger Abbey, one of her earliest written novels, Jane Austen withdraws from the narrative to confront readers with an impassioned defense of the novel. Although many readers and critics may gloss over this defense, it is one of the most important passages in all of Austen's works. In it, she argues that novels display the "greatest powers of the human mind," exhibit "a thorough knowledge of human nature," contain the "liveliest effusions of wit and humor," and are written in the "best chosen language." Such a definition of the merits of the novel not only justifies her own interests in her own art, but also simultaneously exonerates novels from the harsh criticisms of the day by offering a definition of the novel that is rooted firmly in eighteenth-century rhetorical theory. This study investigates the relationship between Austen's conceptions of the merits of the novel and George Campbell's rhetorical tenets in his Philosophy of Rhetoric. By providing extensive examples from three of Austen's works (Northanger Abbey, Pride and Prejudice, and Persuasion), the argument is made that Austen's novels analogically illustrate key rhetorical themes in Campbell's work. This study concludes with a discussion of the ways in which Austen's adherence to rhetorical concepts allowed </DISS_para> <DISS_para>her to give the novel genre an added sense of credibility in an age when the novel was being attacked. The conclusion offers an assessment of the successfulness of Austen's authorial intrusion in the defense of the novel and describes her talents as an author in light of Virginia Woolf's term "incandescence."