Literary Knowing in Neoclassical France

Ann T. Delehanty

From Poetics to Aesthetics

220 pages
ISBN 9781611484892

Literary Knowing in Neoclassical France analyzes the work of several literary critics in France and England, at the end of the seventeenth and beginning of the eighteenth centuries, who were inspired by the idea that literature - especially the literary sublime - might offer us the deepest kind of knowledge. Dominique Bouhours, Nicolas Boileau, René Rapin, John Dennis, and the abbé Dubos believed that literature could deliver truths that transcend our world and were analogous or even equal to the truths of divine revelation. Ann Delehanty argues that this shift towards the transcendental realm pushed the definition of the literary work away from describing its objective properties and towards its effects on the mind of the reader. After placing these ideas about literature in the context of the religious and philosophical thinking of Blaise Pascal, Delehanty traces the evolution of a debate about literature in the writings of the critics in question. They embraced theories of sentiment and the passions as the epistemological means of identifying and knowing the transcendental aspects of a literary work that eventually came to be known as aesthetics. By tracing the historical evolution of the relationship between transcendentalism and aesthetics in French and English neoclassical thought, Literary Knowing in Neoclassical France provides new and engaging insights into an important moment in our literary history.


"In her book Ann Delehanty explores the passage from the poetics of the seventeenth century to the aesthetics of the eighteenth century. Among the manifestations of this well-known development in intellectual history, she concentrates on changing ideas about the capacity of literature to provide knowledge whose origins or objects transcend human knowers...Delehanty mounts a sharp argument...She brings a fresh and coherent perspective to a complex, watershed moment in the modern history of ideas. In and of itself, that is no mean accomplishment...Her thoughtful book therefore contributes substantially to ongoing discussions of how literature arrived at its station in modern culture."
--David Sedley, Haverford College; H-France Review Vol. 14 (October 2014), No. 169

About the author:

Ann T. Delehanty is an associate professor of French and humanities at Reed College in Portland, Oregon.


Places I've Been

The following links are virtual breadcrumbs marking the 12 most recent pages you have visited in If you want to remember a specific page forever click the pin in the top right corner and we will be sure not to replace it. Close this message.