Stylistics as literary criticism

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5 Citations (Scopus)


Literary criticism concerns itself with the reading, interpretation and evaluation of literary texts. As such its activities sound close to those of modern literary stylistics. One of the most eminent of current British literary critics, Bate (2010) in English Literature: A Very Short Introduction, emphasises the centrality of the study of ‘style’ to literary criticism: ‘Literary criticism has traditionally involved judging pieces of writing on the basis not of the things said but of the way in which they are said… Judgements regarding style are always subjective’ (2002: 30, Bate’s italics). The key difference from stylistic activity is also here spelled out in the emphasis on subjective ‘judging’ where stylistics generally claims to be involved in a more objective or at least replicable study of literary texts: ‘The difference between practical stylistics and the looser, more discursive accounts found in practical criticism is one of degree, along a continuum, with the stylistic account seeking above all else to be made retrievable and recoverable by other readers’ (Carter 2010: 61). Bate refers to ‘the detailed analysis of [English] literary texts’ (Bate 2002: 65) where the basis of stylistic analysis will be linguistic but he does not specify more precisely or illustrate what this might mean in practice. Evaluation of ‘questions of literary style’ (2002: 65-9) is the remit of literary criticism. This is the position also in classic studies such as that of Eagleton (1983) or Lodge (1966). ‘[L]iterary criticism typically involves grasping what is said in terms of how it is said’ (Eagleton 2007: 67). One of the founders of modern literary criticism said the same thing more than a century ago: ‘Our investigations will deal largely with style’ (Quiller-Couch, inaugural lecture at Cambridge University, 1911, in W. Martin 2000: 289).

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge Handbook of Stylistics
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages14
ISBN (Electronic)9781139237031
ISBN (Print)9781107028876
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities
  • General Social Sciences


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