Christine Persak

Representing the social order: Rhetoric and Victorian hierarchy, 1839-52

Christine Persak

  • School: Purdue University (0183)
  • Degree: Ph.D.
  • Date: 1991 pp: 215
  • Advisor: Berlin, James
  • Source: DAI-A 53/01, p. 135, Jul 1992
  • Subjects: Language, General (0679); Literature, English (0593)
  • ProQuest Document Number: 303941913
  • ISBN:
  • UMI Number: AAT 9215647


    • The commonplace of the “death of rhetoric in the nineteenth century” has, until recently, proved a problem to historians of the discipline and a paradox to Victorian scholars familiar with the social conflicts of that century and the volumes of deliberative discourse to which they gave rise. This alleged death or diminution derives from limiting research into rhetorical pedagogy. Recently, however, the scope of historical investigation has been broadened to include analysis of texts which are themselves persuasive acts and which define the roles of community and authority in prescribing ethical behavior. This constitutes a redefinition of rhetoric which widens the area of inquiry for historians of the discipline.
      • This dissertation examines the role of rhetoric in articulating competing concepts of society in five texts of social criticism written in the period 1839-52:

Labour’s Wrongs and Labour’s Remedy 

      • (1839) by John Francis Bray;

Past and Present

      •  (1843) by Thomas Carlyle;

Principles of Political Economy 

      • (1848) by John Stuart Mill;

London Labour and the London Poor 

      • (1851-52) by Henry Mayhew; and

Social Statics

    •  (1851) by Herbert Spencer. These works exhibit a variety of symbolic responses to a rapidly changing social structure caused by the division of labor and the institution of the free market. Each promotes a different concept of human motivation and social hierarchy.
    • The critical method used to analyze the texts is that developed by Kenneth Burke whose theories have been a major contribution to the discipline of rhetoric. Burke argues that representations of social order and social roles are manifestations of the dialectical resources of language. Thus, “definitions” of society are both symbolic responses to a situation as well as programs of action.
    • The dissertation explores how each text’s key terms define the scope of human action and the foundation of social order. It finds that hortatory and scientific terminologies were both used in depicting social order and were sometimes even fused. It concludes that Burke’s dramatistic analysis provides a valuable resource for investigating rhetoric in the nineteenth-century in its manifestation as social discourse.